CHICAGO -- The White Sox made the biggest investment in franchise history when they signed catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million deal in November. But that investment in Grandal also shows an investment in the continued development of the team’s young pitching rotation, a group that the White Sox are hoping Grandal can guide into the future.
Grandal has earned a reputation around MLB not only as one of the best pitch-framers in the game, but also as one of its best game-callers. His ability to game plan against lineups, work with pitchers and help take them to the next level has made him the premier two-way catcher in baseball.
Grandal’s impact on the Sox pitching staff could be the difference between a steady progression and a disappointing regression in 2020.
“I’m not a pitching or catching guru. I just put a lot of time into this game, and it’s rewarding me,” Grandal told MLB.com at SoxFest. “I like to talk to guys and have them see the game the way that I see it.
“Being in L.A. [as a Dodger] for four years kind of helped me turn into the guy that I am today, as to trying to figure out 13, 14 or at times 30 different pitchers, because we had so many different pitchers on the IL and coming up from the Minor Leagues. So the question was, ‘How can we start thinking outside the box and stay within our limits?”
That creative thinking helped Grandal in his most recent success as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. While he was only in Milwaukee for one season, the effects were significant. Grandal helped starters Adrian Houser and current Padres starter Zach Davies unlock some untapped potential. Ace Brandon Woodruff had a career year on his way to his first All-Star appearance in ‘19.
“I taught them how to do what they had already done, just more efficiently and slightly better,” he said. “Once they got it -- ‘I’ve done this before’ -- everything was backed up by numbers and as we know, numbers don’t lie. Once I showed them how to do it, it was just easy for them.”
The White Sox think Grandal’s experiences and expertise will be vital for starters Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease, who Grandal has had a keen eye one since his arrival.
“Cease kind of reminds me of [Adrian] Houser,” Grandal said. “Here’s a guy that didn’t quite make the roster out of Spring Training [in 2019] and all of a sudden comes up and is a huge piece for us. That’s kinda what I told Hous, ‘If I can get you past the fifth inning, then I can show you what I’m talking about.’ After the first time we did it, from then on he was expecting to get to the seventh or eighth inning.”
Getting more longevity out of the rotation will be a point of emphasis for Grandal as he works with the White Sox rotation during Spring Training. It’s also an area where Cease struggled during his first season in the big leagues.
The 24-year-old right-hander went 4-7 with a 5.79 ERA over 73 innings last season and made it to the seventh inning in just two of his 14 starts for the White Sox, with high pitch counts often contributing to his early exits.
“When you talk about Cease, here’s a guy who can do a lot of things. Now, it’s figuring out how we can show him how to do it. He already knows how to do it,’ he continued. “I’m not even going to tell you how to do it. It’s just going to be based on pitch selection, sequencing and we’ll go from there.
“Just being more efficient. Knowing what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it [and] at the same time, giving him as much confidence as he can possibly have and then knowing how to turn it up a bit and then turn it down."
The growing excitement is mutual between Cease -- who threw primarily to Sox catcher James McCann in 2019 -- and Grandal.
“I’m looking forward to learning from him and throwing to him,” Cease said. “He’ll probably lead a lot of it, and then as I start understanding how he’s calling the games, I can start picking up, ‘This is how we’re doing it, this is how we’re having success,’ and picking up off of that.”