CHICAGO -- Here are a few things we learned about the White Sox during the last month of Spring Training.
Luis Robert has arrived
With a six-year, $50 million extension in tow and possessing a verified five-tool skill set, the 22-year-old center fielder has star written all over him. The White Sox core is loaded with talent, from Eloy Jiménez to Yoán Moncada to Lucas Giolito to Tim Anderson, but Robert might be the fulcrum at the heart of this move from rebuild to contention.
Just look at Robert’s easy power or the way he seems to glide around the bases turning what looks like a double into a standup triple. He even showed off patience at the plate during some Spring Training at-bats, a skill surely to be tested as he gets adjusted to the Majors. But Robert has the right mindset and the right support system to get him through the tough times.
Andrew Vaughn should arrive soon
The White Sox selected Vaughn in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft, and the word was the first baseman could flat out hit. After watching the No. 16 prospect overall per MLB Pipeline in action for the past month in Arizona, the words “Yes, he sure can” should be added to that profile. Even at 21, with only 55 games of Minor League experience, Vaughn already shows off consistently professional at-bats with the ability to work the count and make hard contact.
And Vaughn looks this good even while battling a little bit of nerves during his first big league camp.
“It’s a good thing, I think,” Vaughn said. “I need to have them or else the game really means nothing. It’s nice to have that and being able to control it.
“I want to get something good to hit. If it’s not there, you can definitely tell with that big league strike zone that you can take a few more pitches that you get called.”
No injury issues but maybe slight injury concerns
Giolito, the team’s projected Opening Day starter, suffered a setback before camp even began with a minor chest muscle strain near his right ribcage. Catcher Yasmani Grandal originally was limited by a left calf strain, while fifth starter Gio González dealt with left shoulder discomfort. Grandal and Giolito returned to action, while González was scheduled to pitch last Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., before the game against Colorado was rained out.
None of them were the least bit concerned about the physical maladies, but Giolito only threw one Cactus League inning and González never got into a game before camp was halted. So, while they certainly should be 100 percent healthy when baseball returns, building them back up will be key. Encarnación, who finished 0-for-15 with eight strikeouts in whatever those numbers really mean for an accomplished veteran, was sidelined by a sore right hip.
The young hurlers are ready
This statement covers the entire young White Sox core, and by ready, it’s ready to win. But let’s focus on the starting pitchers. Giolito already proved himself as Cy Young worthy in ’19, but he could be joined soon by a frontline staff of Dylan Cease, Reynaldo López and Michael Kopech.
Kopech, who had Tommy John surgery in September 2018, made his Cactus League debut Tuesday against the Rangers with his first four pitches going 100, 101, 100 and 101 mph. Talk about announcing your presence with authority. But Kopech is transforming into a pitcher more than simply a hard thrower.
“It feels nice to be able to compete again. 18 months out, I feel like I haven't really had a chance to compete the way that I like to and the way I know that I can,” said Kopech after that start. “Having that ability today, even in a short stint, it's relieving.”
Cease talked about feeling the best he ever has on the mound, specifically focusing on exceptional fastball command. López worked on the mental aspect of his game in the offseason, and people have noticed a change.
“I’ve never seen him like he is right now,” said special assistant to baseball operations José Contreras of López through interpreter Billy Russo. “Physically, yeah, he’s the same, but mentally he’s stronger than what he was before. You can see all the work he’s put in.
“His pitches have been much better. He’s been executing his pitches. He’s going to be very good this year. I don’t have any doubt about that.”
The core is building
Give credit to general manager Rick Hahn, executive vice president Ken Williams, assistant general manager Jeremy Haber and the front office for doing an exceptional job of continuing to lock down the White Sox core. Aaron Bummer, one of the game’s most talented left-handed relievers, agreed to a five-year, $16 million deal during Spring Training, while it was a five-year, $70 million deal for Moncada. The White Sox have lined themselves up for a five- to seven-year run, with cost control in place.
Mercedes can mash
Yermin Mercedes is a third catcher behind two solid veteran catchers. He’s battling for the 26th roster spot on a team better served by a left-handed bat or a more versatile defensive-based speed-oriented reserve. But since joining the White Sox, Mercedes has been crushing it offensively. He was one of the team’s most exciting Cactus League presences, with a team-best four home runs.