Palka slims down, works on D over offseason

White Sox notes on Lopez, Jimenez, Castillo, McCann

February 16th, 2019

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- placed a focus on improving his defense this past offseason.

But that work had nothing to do with the White Sox acquisition of , reducing the amount of potential at-bats at designated hitter and pushing Palka almost exclusively into a battle for playing time in left field.

"For me to be able to contribute to the team, I need to be playing defense," Palka said. "I didn't care what the move was.

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"I wanted to be able to contribute on both sides of the ball instead of just sitting. It just makes me more valuable to the team, and the more ways I can contribute the better."

Palka, 27, dropped somewhere around 17 or 18 pounds by eating right and doing much more sprint work than he has in years past. He said the difference was "night and day" after going through reps on the first day of Spring Training with outfield instructor and first-base coach Daryl Boston.

"Everything was smooth," Palka said. "Defense is one of those things where you have to put in the work. Hitting is fun, but defense is work.

"It's the first year I did that, so I'm pretty confident. Whether we have 18 DHs or not, I wanted to be able to say, 'Hey, if I'm going to contribute on the team, I need to be in the outfield every day and playing a position.'"

The 27 home runs hit by Palka in 2018 tied him for the Major League lead among rookies with . His four pinch-hit home runs were the most in a single season in White Sox history, and his six ninth-inning home runs were tied for the most in the Majors. But Palka wants to be more than a home run hitter in regard to his offense.

"My plan is to be a hitter first. The homers will come," Palka said. "I was a little raw last year in my approach, but it was a good learning curve.

"It's really just the mental side of it. You can do all the hitting and stuff you want to do in the offseason, but until you start and have a different approach in live at-bats, that's where it's going to change."

Lopez has a basic goal

posted a minuscule 1.38 ERA over his final seven starts last season, achieving a goal of getting his season ERA under 4.00 at 3.91. The right-hander's early target for 2019 takes that number a step lower.

"Last year my ERA was a three something," said Lopez through interpreter Billy Russo. "I would like to have an ERA below three."

Lopez also likes being viewed as a rotation stopper, which he proved to be while fanning 48 over 45 2/3 innings during those final seven trips to the mound. It's all part of the development curve for the 25-year-old.

"You feel honored. You have been working for this your whole life," Lopez said. "If the team has that way of thinking when you're on the mound, that you are going to have a good outing and an opportunity to win the game, that encourages you to be better every day."

The Jimenez/Guerrero connection

and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will be tied together as two prime candidates for 2019 American League Rookie of the Year. They also should be All-Star staples of the White Sox and Blue Jays, respectively, for years to come. But Jimenez said Saturday the duo's conversations usually have a different baseball focus.

Talented Jimenez drawing comparisons to greats

"Yeah, we're talking about how it can be when we get there," Jimenez said. "Most of the time we're talking about when the [World] Baseball Classic is coming so we can represent the Dominican Republic."

Early communication

Lopez threw to catcher during a Saturday bullpen session, with Castillo stopping a few times to give words of advice or encouragement to Lopez.

"Not only Weli, but ," manager Rick Renteria said. "They talk through sequencing for a right-handed hitter, left-handed hitter. How the execution of a particular pitch will be effective off another located pitch."

Renteria believes young catchers and will follow the veterans' lead.

"Those guys are gaining confidence," Renteria said. "The conversations they are having after the 'pens are very good."

They said it

"I feel like the same stud I was before." -- A smiling Palka, on feeling noticeably different on his feet down 18 pounds