The White Sox have lost 9 of 11 games and only recently snapped an eight-game losing streak. They have the third worst winning percentage in baseball. There’s a whole lot of bad worth discussing in their games, a lot of which ultimately doesn’t matter. But a weekend split of a four-game series against the Oakland Athletics provided us with several bright spots. So let’s focus on those, shall we?
1. Imploring a player to be more aggressive when he has the second most strikeouts and fourth highest strikeout percentage in baseball seems a strange gambit, but it’s been a focal point for Yoan Moncada as his advanced batter’s eye has sometimes worked against him in the sense that he hasn’t afforded himself to drive hittable pitches. On Sunday, an aggressive approach paid off for the 23-year-old in the most opportune of spots, as he drove a first pitch fastball for a bases loaded, bases clearing double in the fifth inning to put the White Sox ahead for good in what turned out to be an easy 10-3 victory. He added a three-run homer, taking a grooved, 94-mph fastball on a 3-1 count out to right field (he swung at the first pitch of that AB, too, for what it’s worth).
Moncada’s been mired in a terrible slump since returning from the disabled list in mid-May, hitting just .195/.247/.305 with 56 strikeouts in 166 plate appearances entering play Sunday. But the tools that made him one of the top prospects in baseball and the centerpiece of the White Sox trade of Chris Sale 18 months ago were on display in what was undoubtedly the best game of his still very young career.
That last point is worth repeating again: His still very young career. Moncada still has fewer than a season’s worth of plate appearances in his career, and while it’s frustrating that Moncada isn’t one of those top prospects to come up and just start outright mashing, it’s important to remember that there’s no linear developmental path all prospects follow. Moncada has flaws, but he also has an immense amount of talent. And Sunday we saw the best that talent has to offer.
2. It’s been discussed enough during the last two seasons, but the focus during a rebuild is more on the individual progression of key young players than actual wins and losses. Along with Moncada, the White Sox got promising outings from two others in the form of Lucas Giolito and Carlos Rodon in their pair of weekend victories over the A’s.
Giolito’s performance in Friday’s 6-4 win was perhaps more surprising but also more desperately needed. He looked more the part of his late-2017 or even Spring Training self over seven innings, striking out a season-high eight with a fastball that topped out at 96 and sharp breaking pitches. The line was only diminished after Rick Renteria sent him out to start the eighth inning at 89 pitches only for him to allow back-to-back singles that ultimately scored when Jace Fry and Chris Volstad couldn’t limit the damage. Still, it was the type of performance that makes one optimistic the pitcher the White Sox hope he’ll become is still in there somewhere.
“I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “[Omar Naváez] and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.
“Feel for slider today was really good. I felt like there were a couple of times I could have gotten it down a little bit better with two strikes but other than that it was a good go-to pitch. Curveball feel was a lot better, though I didn’t throw it very much. Overall just felt like I was getting on top of all my pitches a lot better. I’ll look at it tomorrow but especially the angle of my fastball was probably the best it has been, too.”
Rodon wasn’t at his absolute peak in his eight innings of work Sunday, as we didn’t see the overpowering fastball or devastating slider induce a whole lot of strikeouts. He only had three, but was efficient in a 99-pitch outing with 69 strikes, which is nice, and perhaps more importantly zero walks. Despite the low strikeout total, he still got 10 swinging strikes, including eight with the fastball.
MOST importantly, though, is that through four starts Rodon looks healthy and unencumbered by the injuries that plagued him for most of the last year and a half. Seeing Rodon perform well and injury free for the rest of 2018 will make you feel a lot better for both him and the team going forward.
3. Believe it or not, it’s not all sunshine and roses with this 26-51 team. Dylan Covey got battered around for his second straight start before leaving with what turned out to be a groin injury. Fortunately for both him and the White Sox, it doesn’t seem as serious as the oblique that sidelined him for three months a year ago, but it’s still unknown how much, if any, time he will miss.
It’s amazing we’re at a point where Covey missing starts is considered a detriment to the team, but here we are. If he’s sidelined for any significant amount of time, the White Sox will have a couple of different options in terms of what to do with that rotation spot. The obvious and boring answer would be to insert Hector Santiago back in that spot, or even to call up Triple-A veteran Donn Roach, who’s 28-year-old but put together solid results for the Knights.
4. The option everyone will be clamoring for, of course, is the promotion of Michael Kopech. The 22-year-old top prospect has struggled mightily over the last month, and James Fegan of The Athletic detailed his command issues at great length last week, but given his pedigree and advanced stuff, the White Sox are bound to give him a shot at getting major league hitters out before long. He’s still posting high strikeout totals amid the slump, after all.
BP’s lead prospect writer Jeffrey Paternostro said in his weekly chat that “you should be a little worried” when it comes to Kopech, and when I asked him to expand on that thought he mentioned that, at some point, you get tired of waiting for the command to show up, particularly with a pitcher who is as close to major league read as Kopech.
It’s true that the command is a worry, but no prospect is a finished product by the time they reach the majors. Even with the struggles, you get to a point where you need to prove it at the major league level and Kopech has about reached that point. (Some may argue he was there long ago, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree). We don’t yet know if Covey is going to miss significant time, but if he does, whether or not the White Sox opt for Kopech will be interesting to see.
5. Kopech hasn’t been promoted, but several White Sox prospects were, in fact, promoted after their respective leagues’ All-Star breaks last week. You surely already know the whole list, but the highlights include Eloy Jimenez and Seby Zavala going to Triple-A, Dylan Cease and Luis Alexander Basabe going to Double-A, and Luis Robert going to High-A.
Starting from the top, Jimenez’s promotion had been telegraphed and was wholly unsurprising. That he’s off to a solid start in Charlotte (he hit his first home run Sunday) only further proves how close he is to the majors. Zavala’s promotion isn’t what you would consider surprising, but it’s an important step for a player who has continued to surprise along every step of his development since the White Sox selected him in the 12th round of the 2015 draft. The difference between Zavala and his former Double-A counterpart, Zack Collins, as James Fegan detailed, was the defensive improvements, with Chris Getz saying he’s “major-league ready” in terms of how he handles the pitching staff.
Cease’s promotion would have been considered aggressive at the beginning of the season, as the 22-year-old had yet to surpass 93 innings at any point in his still very young professional career. Having a clean bill of health thus far in 2018 has allowed him to show the advanced stuff that make many scouts project him as a potential frontline starter, as he struck out 82 in 71 2/3 innings at High-A before his promotion. Similarly healthy after an injury-riddled and ineffective 2017, Basabe is displaying all the tools that the White Sox believed he had when they acquired him in the Sale trade prior to last season.
Robert going to Winston-Salem after just 13 games in Kannapolis may surprise some, but even at just 20-year-old, he’s advanced enough that his initial Low-A assignment was never going to be much more than a pit stop.
One final note: In the area of prospects who aren’t yet technically prospects, first round pick Nick Madrigal is not yet a White Sox. The reason being that his collegiate season just won’t end. Madrigal and Oregon State begin a three-game series with Arkansas Monday night in the College World Series final. His season will end no later than Wednesday, we know now. One would hope he’ll be signing with the White Sox shortly thereafter.
Lead Photo Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports