It’s officially the best month of the year as the Academy Awards, March Madness, and this author’s birthday (the target audience of this intro consists of me and maybe my family, if we’re being honest) serve as welcomed distractions from the monotony of meaningless Spring Training games. Before we know it real, live, baseball games that matter will be in front of our eyeballs. Just four more weeks, to be exact!
1. Until then, however, we’re left scouring reports from the beats, box scores, and the random glimpse at MLB.tv where you have to squint and figure out who No. 92 is while awaiting the next Luis Robert at-bat or Michael Kopech inning. Patrick Leonard, who the hell is that?
The story Wednesday was the spring debut of one Lucas Giolito, whose results didn’t match his feelings about the performance after the game.
“Some of my pitches were working really well. I know what I did wrong on a few. It was a little fast — first one out (I had) a little adrenaline going (and was) working a little too fast. There’s a lot to take away and build on for the next one.”
Giolito went two innings, giving up two runs (one earned) while walking two and striking out one. Reports had his fastball hitting as high as 95 — a positive sign — and while his command wavered, he generated swings-and-misses with his curveball. Commanding the fastball throughout the zone and generating whiffs with his curveball will be the keys to his success going forward.
2. Adam Engel has become something of a whipping-boy in this space as the offseason has gone on. The speed and defensive potential are great, but his bat is such that optimism about his future with the team is very low. And with Charlie Tilson, Leury Garcia, and perhaps one or two others (Ryan Cordell?) seen as big-league ready options in center field, the desire to see another young piece who isn’t coming off a sub-.500 OPS season has increased.
But Engel will undoubtedly get another shot this season, perhaps even as the Opening Day starting center fielder, and he’s reportedly overhauled his swing — an added leg kick — in an effort to get better timing and rhythm that can help him cut down on what was a 35 percent strikeout rate in the majors last season.
“From a mechanical approach he’s actually developed a little bit more rhythm,” Renteria said. “He’s trying to get his feet underneath him and get comfortable with it. Hitting is timing and I think he’s trying to find a way that he can generate some momentum and more fluidity into his swing. We want him to touch the baseball a little bit more, take advantage of his speed, maybe bunt a little more. Yesterday he tried to bunt a couple of times so he’s trying to take his game, the things he’s capable of doing, use him a little bit more this spring and see if we can take advantage of his speed.”
The odds remain stacked against him. The above-linked article by James Fegan of The Athletic noes an inability to find external scouts who express the same optimism as the White Sox in Engel as anything more than a fourth outfielder, but the point of a rebuild — as we’ve said over and over again — is giving guys like Engel every chance possible to succeed. At 26, there may not be much development left, but given his speed and athleticism, there’s still enough to dream on to hope.
3. Last season, Anthony Swarzak went from non-roster invitee to legitimate trade prospect to someone who a team is willing to invest two years and $14 million. All offseason, as the White Sox scooped up a number of downtrodden veteran pitchers, the running gag has become the search for the Next Swarzak.
In reality, it’s a futile exercise. Success stories like Swarzak’s aren’t altogether impossible, but expecting it on a regular basis would be foolish. Still, with a bullpen filled with inexperienced, volatile arms and more than a few injury risks, names like T.J. House, Jeanmar Gomez, and Xavier Cedeno likely have a better chance of finding relevance with the White Sox than most organizations.
Lead Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports