1. Things far more important than baseball were almost certainly circulating in Jose Abreu‘s mind this past weekend. With the homes and lives of nearly everyone he holds dear in danger thanks to hurricane Irma, Abreu had two of the best back-to-back games of his career. On Saturday he capped a tremendous night by legging out a triple to complete the analytically meaningless but anecdotally special feat known as a cycle. As if that weren’t enough, he went out on Sunday and clubbed two home runs. His season numbers now sit closer to his outstanding rookie campaign than either of the two previous seasons. He’s slashing .302/.353/.556 with a 138 wRC+. It’s still not quite the setting-the-world-on-fire results that fans expected after such a strong rookie season, but it’s far enough above average that he’s the White Sox best player in 2017.
2. Abreu’s real life factors are certainly fresher, but the struggles that Tim Anderson has endured this season have been well-documented as well. These players are not robots, after all, and the emotional ups and downs that come with life affect them just like they do the rest of us. Growing pains and emotional turmoil piled on Anderson during the first half of the season, leading to results much poorer than could have been expected going into the season. Since August 1st, however, he’s hitting .284/.299/.546. The OBP is never going to jump off the page, but his combination of average and power in the last month has been a good showing of what he can be in the future. The White Sox will certainly take a .262 ISO from a shortstop that hopefully smooths out some of the wrinkles defensively as long as his middle infield partner lives up to his potential as well.
3. Sunday’s pitching matchup was between Carson Fulmer and Madison Bumgarner, which on paper is a bit of a mismatch. The final score of the game suggested a mismatch as well, but it was shockingly in favor of Fulmer, who put together what was by far the best start of his career. It was in September against a Giants lineup that even before the expanded rosters struggled to perform, but his stuff looked better than it has at almost any other time in his career. Fulmer averaged 93.4 mph with his fastball with an 88.3 mph cutter while mixing in a curveball and changeup here and there. It worked to perfection, giving Fulmer nine strikeouts over six innings with 12 swinging strikes.
Manager Rick Renteria told reporters after the game, “Fulmer did a real nice job. Six innings. Gave up the homer early. Was very effective. Kept the ball down. Was using his cutter a little bit more today. Worked at a good tempo. . .His fastball had some life, some sink, some cut. It was getting on top of those guys. Look, he’s got a quick arm. He’s 94, 95, it looks like it’s getting on top of you pretty quickly.” Renteria’s analysis of Fulmer’s game is incredibly apt, describing the authority with which his pitcher established his fastball early on. Fulmer used the fastball and cutter in 82 of his 98 pitches and was especially reliant on the hard stuff early in the game as he established himself on the mound.
Confidence and command with the fastball were key early on according to Fulmer, who told The Athletic, “You have to go with what feels good. Luckily for me, today I was able to command everything that I had. But when you fall into a rut sometimes you have to rely on what works for you and I think that the fastball up sets up a lot of other things for me and I’m going to continue to work on it.” Command is key for Fulmer, who has been walking batters at a greater rate than he’s been striking them out this season. His stuff is good enough if he can get ahead, but doing so is no small task. Fulmer, like every other high end pitching prospect in the system, is going to get every opportunity to start. If he can work out the kinks at the highest level and turn things around, he can add even more to the White Sox embarrassment of pitching riches.
4. Abreu, Anderson, and Fulmer all had great performances this weekend, but the best player of the weekend was Yolmer Sanchez. He went a total of 5-for-9 on Saturday and Sunday with two triples, a double, and a home run. Rick Renteria told reporters, “I think it’s more like anybody, probably swinging at a lot more strikes. You’re trusting your swing path. Your trusting getting the barrel to the baseball and driving it. Obviously he’s got quite a few pull-side homers. But that’s just a consequence of good pitch-selection, barrel to the ball.” While Renteria wasn’t extremely specific with his quick answer, he’s not far off in his analysis of what Sanchez has done right. Sanchez’ swing rate on pitches in the zone has increased by 1.2 percentage points from last season to 2017, and he’s made marginal improvements in making contact on those pitches (0.6 percentage point increase).
Those changes aren’t massive or glaring nor do they necessarily mean anything at all. What has been meaningful is the change in results for Sanchez, who looked like a failed prospect less than 12 months ago. He’s now hitting .268/.321/.420 with a 96 wRC+. That doesn’t make him an All Star, but it’s certainly good enough for the White Sox to keep him around as a utility infielder. With Leury Garcia faltering and battling injury in the second half, it seems as though Sanchez has earned the title of future utility infielder that seemed all but wrapped up for Tyler Saladino coming into the season. These types of seasons, finding a diamond in the rough of former prospects, are one of the few advantages a rebuilding team can have.
5. The White Sox playing the Giants is a relatively uncommon and unimportant matchup in the grand scheme of things. There was some importance, however, if one believes in scoreboard watching in hopes of the White Sox having the first pick in the draft. Chicago took a series against the Giants, making them the team with the third worst winning percentage in baseball. Needless to say, fretting about a series victory where Yoan Moncada, Abreu, Anderson, Fulmer, and Sanchez all performed well simply because of draft position would be pretty silly. A better draft position is certainly never worse, but the steps forward taken by young White Sox talent already at the major league level is far more important to the overall rebuild.
It’s becoming clear that Chicago will draft within the top three in almost every scenario for the remainder of the season. In a recent interview with James Fegan of The Athletic, Scouting Director Nick Hostetler remarked, “The only thing that’s really different, it might eliminate a couple players from your pool, and it might lessen the money, or increase the money, but other than it doesn’t change how we go about our business.” If Hostetler is unconcerned about draft position, it’s safe to say that fans should be unconcerned as well. Hostetler also commented on the next stage of a White Sox rebuild that has already been a massive success, which is well-worth reading.
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