Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What the Academic Fraud Scandal Means for Notre Dame

With the regular season just two weeks away, Notre Dame’s football team suffered a huge blow when it was announced last Friday that four players were suspended indefinitely while being investigated for academic fraud. After a few days have gone by and the rumors have died down, it is time to assess what this means for Notre Dame going forward on and off the field.

Early reports stated that wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams, and linebacker Kendall Moore were all dismissed from the team for the entire 2014 season due to academic fraud. While it is very likely that all four players will be suspended for the entire 2014 season or even expelled from the university, it can’t be made official until the investigation has been completed. For now, Notre Dame must move on without four key contributors for the foreseeable future.

DaVaris Daniels might be the biggest name on this list, and he was also already suspended for the spring and summer due to academic probation. Daniels is Notre Dame’s best and most experienced receiver, and he and quarterback Everett Golson seemed to build some chemistry in the final games of the 2012 season. Now with Daniels gone, Chris Brown is the only receiver on the roster that has caught a pass from Golson in a regular season game. Despite the lack of experience, the Irish receiving corps seems loaded with young talent.  Last season, we caught a glimpse of what Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, Will Fuller, C.J. Prosise, and Amir Carlisle can do on the field. In addition, top recruits Justin Brent and Corey Holmes have elite talent and may be asked to contribute a lot sooner with Daniels no longer in play. There’s no doubt the loss of Daniels is big, but it appears that Notre Dame has the depth to still make plays through the air.

KeiVarae Russell is probably the biggest loss of the four players. Russell has started at corner for two seasons and has made great strides since first taking the field as a true freshman in 2012. Russell was expected to be Notre Dame’s lockdown corner and looked poised for a breakout year. In the offseason, Notre Dame added a big piece to their secondary when fifth-year senior Cody Riggs transferred from the University of Florida. Riggs was expected to be more of a nickel and dime defensive back, playing both corner and safety, but now he will take Russell’s spot. Riggs is talented enough to start at corner, but now he must master the responsibilities of his position in a short time. With Riggs moving to starting corner, sophomore Devin Butler and freshman Nick Watkins figure to see more playing time in nickel and dime sets. While both players are talented, they lack experience and will be tested against some of Notre Dame’s tougher opponents.

Ishaq Williams was once a five-star recruit, but he has yet to live up to the hype. After being blocked behind players like Darius Flemming and Prince Shembo, Williams hasn’t had a shot at a starting position. This season, Williams was expected to start a defensive end and add experience to a young unit. Even with Williams starting, the defensive end positions were a big question mark for the Irish. The middle seems stout with Sheldon Day moving to the inside along with Jarron Jones, but the Irish could struggle on the outside. True freshman Andrew Trumbetti was slated to start opposite of Williams, and now sophomore Isaac Rochell will start in-place of Williams. With two freshmen Grant Blankenship and Jay Hayes behind Rochell on the depth chart, Notre Dame is an injury away from being in serious trouble in terms of depth.

Kendall Moore is the least significant name of the group, but his loss will be felt the most in the special teams department. In addition, Moore is a fifth-year senior and is considered one of the leaders in the locker room. Notre Dame will likely be able to fill the gap with Moore on the field, but it remains to be seen how much he will be missed off the field.

Once the investigation plays out, there will likely be off the field consequences for the Irish. If proven that any of these players would have been deemed academically ineligible during anytime they played regular season games, wins might be vacated from previous seasons. Considering that all four of these players were on the team in 2012 and that there might also be past players involved, it is possible that the entire magical 2012 regular season will be wiped out of the record books. While that would be disappointing, hopefully that is where the punishment would end. It is important to note that the University of Notre Dame is conducting their own investigation and the NCAA is not involved. At this point, there is no reason to think that Notre Dame officials, coaches, or personnel were involved in the scandal and have done nothing to try to cover up the situation. Given that, there shouldn’t be any reason to reduce future scholarships or put the football program on postseason probation. Obviously, there is always a chance that could happen, but hopefully the players and coaches won’t have to suffer in the future for what some players did in the past.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, August 17, 2014

White Sox: Five Things to Watch in Final Whites

With the Chicago White Sox nearly ten games out of first place in the American League Central Division and only six weeks left in the regular season, there is not a lot to be excited about as a White Sox fan. However, there are several things to watch for as the 2014 season winds down.

Waiver Trades

Although the White Sox failed to make any moves prior to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, players can still be dealt through waivers for two more weeks. While it seems unlikely that any big deal would be consummated, there is a possibility that general manager Rick Hahn could deal a player or two to a contending team hoping to make a push towards the playoffs.

Avisail Garcia’s Return

To the surprise of many, right fielder Avisail Garcia returned to the lineup Saturday night. Garcia suffered torn labrum in his left shoulder diving for a ball on April 9th. After undergoing surgery, it was assumed that Garcia would miss the remainder of the season, and be ready to go in the spring of 2015. Now after missing the last four months, Garcia will have six weeks to face major league pitching and continue his developmental process. The fact that Garcia was immediately inserted into the cleanup spot speaks volumes of how much potential the 23-year-old possesses.

Paul Konerko’s Final Games

Paul Konerko’s outstanding career is coming to an end, and I’m looking forward to seeing him play as much as possible during the final six weeks. Hopefully, Konerko will play a little bit more often during home games to give fans a chance to give him a proper farewell. Knowing that the next time Konerko hits a home run could be his last one is a bittersweet thought. For 16 years Konerko has been the face of the White Sox and will forever be remembered for his dramatic grand-slam in Game Two of the 2005 World Series. I think I can speak for all White Sox fans that Paulie will be dearly missed.

Potential September Call-ups

As always, MLB rosters will be expanded in September allowing for minor league players to continue playing after their season’s are finished. It’ll be interesting to see who gets called up in September, but the most intriguing names are Carlos Rodon, Micah Johnson, and Andy Wilkins.

Rodon was drafted to slide into the number two spot in the future starting rotation behind Chris Sale, and he may get that chance as early as 2015. Rodon could be promoted in September, but I think he’d probably pitch on the bullpen if that happened. There’s no need to rush Rodon into being a starter this season, and obviously there would be less innings added onto his arm if he pitched out of the bullpen.

Micah Johnson is considered to be the second baseman of the future and will likely take over for Gordon Beckham sooner rather than later. The White Sox should try to move Beckham for whatever they can in the next two weeks or during the offseason to open up a starting spot for Johnson in 2015.

Andy Wilkins is an interesting case because he wasn’t considered a top prospect prior to the season. At 25 years old, the first baseman is not necessarily young in prospect terms, and I doubt he needs more development. At this point, Wilkins has likely maxed out his potential and it is time to find out if he can hit major league pitching. In 115 games this year at Triple-A Charlotte, Wilkins has hit .297 with 28 home runs and 77 RBI. With Jose Abreu firmly entrenched as the team’s first baseman, Wilkins may have to settle on being a designated hitter. Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko will be gone in 2015, so there is an opportunity for playing time. Considering that Wilkins is a left-handed bat, he has a great chance at getting a shot due to the lack of left-handed power in the White Sox projected roster for 2015.

Jose Abreu’s Historic Season

Jose Abreu is having a historic first season in the major leagues and will undoubtedly win the American League Rookie of the Year award. Whether or not Abreu should be considered a rookie is something that is debatable, but his season is historic either way. While Abreu played professional baseball in Cuba, the caliber of talent isn’t the same, and Abreu had to make a ton of adjustments throughout his first season in the majors. Abreu has exceeded everyone’s expectations by hitting .305 with 31 home runs and 89 RBI. Despite missing two weeks due to injury earlier this season, Abreu still has a chance at 40 homers and 120 RBI. It should be fun to see if he can reach those marks in the final 38 games.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07

Monday, July 21, 2014

White Sox Trade Candidates

The Chicago White Sox are currently nine games back of the division leading Detroit Tigers, and 5.5 games back of the second wild card spot. Given where they are positioned and how the current roster is structured, the White Sox should be looking to sell some assets in the next ten days prior to the trade deadline. With that being said, it is time to look at a few trade candidates.

Alexei Ramirez

Ramirez is having one of the best years of his steady career and could be a nice addition for a contender. He is also potentially under contractual control through the 2016 season with a $10 million salary in 2015 and a $10 million team option in 2016. Ramirez’s skill set and affordable price for the next two seasons makes him a very attractive trade chip. The question is whether or not the White Sox will be willing to part ways with their all-star shortstop? With several middle infielders starting to mature in the minor leagues, it would make sense to see what type of package Ramirez could bring back. I would imagine the White Sox are looking for right handed pitching, outfielders, and a catcher. If the White Sox could get two above average prospects from those positions, I’d be in favor of moving Ramirez this season. If not, there is nothing wrong with keeping him and seeing if a deal could get done in the offseason or during next season. The White Sox figure to be in a better position to contend in 2015, and having Ramirez as your everyday shortstop wouldn’t be a bad thing. Having said that, I think the White Sox will find a contender that really wants Ramirez, and general manager Rick Hahn will pull the trigger.

Gordon Beckham

Just like most White Sox fans, I was a huge believer in Gordon Beckham upon his arrival in 2009. I thought that he was going to be a perennial all-star and a fixture in the White Sox lineup for 10-plus years. Unfortunately, Beckham has never been able to produce consistent offensive numbers which has hampered his value. Still, Beckham remains one of the best defensive players at any position, and he offers value to contending teams. The question is how much would a contender be willing to give up for Beckham? Considering that Beckham could become a free agent after the 2015 season if a contract extension isn’t worked out significantly hurts his value. Unless a team wanted to work out an extension for Beckham, I doubt any club would offer the White Sox much in return for his services. Like the Ramirez situation, the White Sox have several options waiting in the minors to replace Beckham making him expendable. The White Sox might not get much in return for Beckham, but I would trade him for whatever you can get just to clear up a roster spot. However, my feeling is that the organization still believes in Beckham and he won’t be traded in the next ten days.

John Danks

For the most part, John Danks has had a successful 2014 season. Like Sunday afternoon, Danks has run into trouble, but he’s really only had four bad starts that have skewered his season numbers. Usually, a left-handed starting pitcher that can provide consistent innings is a hot commodity at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, Danks has two things working against him. Even though Danks appears fully recovered from his shoulder surgery in August 2012, teams will still be leery of offering up anything substantial. If a team can get over the shoulder concerns, teams definitely won’t love Danks’ contract. Danks is under control through 2016, but it will cost teams a combined $28.5 million for the next two seasons. Given those two issues, I don’t think the White Sox will find a club willing to offer up enough to acquire Danks. The White Sox would probably have to eat a ton of money to get a decent prospect, and I don’t think they’ll do that. If you have been watching this season, you’ve noticed the White Sox have serious starting rotation issues after Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks, so holding onto Danks isn’t a bad thing. Of course, the salary is less than ideal for what probably is a fourth starter, but the White Sox can afford the salary hit with Sale and Quintana locked up with club-friendly contracts.

Dayan Viciedo

Dayan Viciedo has flashed tremendous potential during his time with the White Sox, but many trade rumors have surfaced this season. The earliest Viciedo can become a free agent is after the 2017 season, so having three more years of control certainly increases his trade value. I might be biased since I’ve always like Viciedo’s potential, but I’m still leaning towards holding onto him. Unless a team blows Rick Hahn away with an offer, Viciedo should stay put. The White Sox don’t have a ton of depth in the outfield, and they will have a glaring hole at designated hitter next season. With Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko gone, I’d prefer to see Viciedo shift over to DH since his defense is a liability, but having the option to play him occasionally in the outfield is a plus. Either way, the White Sox will need to replace Dunn’s power, and trading Viciedo creates another hole on the roster. With three more seasons of affordable control, I’d like to see the White Sox hold onto Viciedo a little bit longer.

I did not include Adam Dunn or Alejandro De Aza in this piece because I think it is obvious that the White Sox should deal both players for literally anything they could get in return.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, July 11, 2014

White Sox Sign Rodon; Sale Wins Final Vote

As the all-star break approaches next week, the Chicago White Sox find themselves 9.5 games back of the division leading Detroit Tigers. I know some fans might believe that the White Sox can still make a run at a wild card spot, but I don’t see it. This team lacks two starting pitchers, a catcher, an outfielder, and multiple bullpen arms. As it stands now, I’d be content with a record near .500 or close to my 78-win projection before the season. Having said that, nothing has happened to change my mind that this organization is positioning itself to compete for an extended period of time.

White Sox Sign Rodon

The White Sox and third overall selection Carlos Rodon agreed on a minor league contract this afternoon. The deal was highlighted with a $6.582 million signing bonus for the left-handed starter out of North Carolina State University. Obviously that is a lot of guaranteed money to an unproven commodity, but the key here is that Rodon can now start his path to the major leagues. If he lives up to his potential, the hefty signing bonus will be long forgotten. Rodon is expected to join Class A Winston-Salem shortly, and general manager Rick Hahn wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him reaching the majors in a bullpen role this season. If the White Sox were in contention, I’d be all for that idea, but I think it would be wise to have him stay in the minors as a starter given the club’s current scenario. Assuming Rodon can put together some quality innings this season, I see no reason why he can’t be a major contributor at the big league level next season. If everything goes well, expect to see Rodon in the rotation next June.

All-Star Representatives

White Sox ace Chris Sale won the American League final vote to join teammates Jose Abreu and Alexei Ramirez as this year’s representatives for the mid-summer classic. All three players are deserving of the honor, and I’m glad to see them recognized for different reasons.

Jose Abreu was an obvious choice after an incredible start to his major league career. Despite missing two weeks on the disabled list, Abreu is tied for the league lead with 28 home runs, 71 RBI, and an improving .287 batting average coming into tonight’s game. It is remarkable what he has been able to do coming over from Cuba, but I selfishly wish he would participate in the Home Run Derby.

Alexei Ramirez gets his first all-star nod in his seventh season, so it is nice to see him get recognized for being a solid player for so long. Ramirez’s selection was based mostly on his fast start to the season where he was hitting well-over .300 for the first two months of the season.

Chris Sale should have been on the initial roster when it was announced on Sunday night, but I had complete confidence that he would end up on the team by winning the final vote. Even though Sale missed nearly five weeks worth of starts, the lefty has been dominant when healthy. Sale is leading the league in ERA (2.08) and WHIP (0.842), and he would be right at the top in strikeouts if he had more starts under his belt.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Saturday, June 28, 2014

White Sox to Use Closer-by-Committee

Despite winning the last two games versus the Toronto Blue Jays, the current 11-game road trip for the Chicago White Sox has been one to forget. Most notably, the White Sox have found ways to blow late leads that has resulted in a change at the back of the bullpen. Ronald Belisario’s near blown save on Friday night finally forced manager Robin Ventura to make a change. I know many fans, myself included, have been clamoring for this to happen for a while, but unfortunately there are not many options to choose from on the current roster. As a result, Ventura has stated that the club will be using a closer-by-committee approach for the time being.

Since there are no obvious candidates to fill the role permanently, this decision makes the most sense. Jake Petricka bailed out Belisario on Friday night and Zach Putnam got the first crack this afternoon, but I imagine others will get a shot as well depending on matchups. Ideally, you would hope that someone emerges and takes over as the primary closer within a few weeks. If that does not happen, then the committee will be in place until Nate Jones returns from the disabled list. Currently, there is no timetable for Jones’ return, but he is reportedly progressing well from back surgery. If I had to guess, I would say that he should be back shortly after the All-star break. Since Jones was the most likely candidate to take over as closer following the departure of Addison Reed, it would be nice to have him healthy for the final two months to prove whether or not he has what it takes to pitch in the ninth inning.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Danks Tries to Avoid Sweep

The Chicago White Sox have lost the first three games of a four game set with the Minnesota Twins, and have now dropped 10 of their last 14 contests overall. The White Sox’ recent struggles are a humble reminder that they are not ready to win right now. Despite having some success and showing vast improvements from last year, this year’s team still has too many holes and has been too inconsistent to be considered serious contenders.

Danks Continues to Shine

The White Sox will send John Danks to the mound this afternoon while hoping to avoid a sweep. The left-hander has been outstanding recently after overcoming a dreadful outing in Houston on May 18th where he allowed seven earned runs on ten hits in 4.2 innings pitched. Since then, Danks has been on quite a roll with five straight quality starts and three straight victories. During that stretch, Danks has hurled 35.2 innings while surrendering just six earned runs on 24 hits, 9 walks, and 21 strikeouts. The current hot streak has lowered Danks’ ERA from 5.64 to 3.97, and it appears that he is finally back to being the pitcher that he was from 2008 to 2011 before his shoulder problems.

Flowers in a Funk

Tyler Flowers’ hot start seems like a distant memory now that the catcher has reverted back to his 2013 form. Flowers’ batting average was at .312 on May 25th, but as I noted previously, his success was due in large part to an unsustainable BABIP. Since then, Flowers has collected just four hits in 62 at-bats with a whopping 30 strikeouts and only five walks. Just as Flowers’ torrid start wasn’t going to last very long, neither will this horrific slump. However, I think it is safe to say that Flowers will never be the hitter the White Sox hoped he would become after posting a .275 average across six seasons in the minors.

Davidson Still Struggling

When the White Sox acquired Matt Davidson during the offseason, I firmly believed that he would be the starting third baseman by this point in the season.  However, after a horrible first half of the season at Triple-A Charlotte, Davidson is nowhere near ready to supplant Conor Gillaspie as the team’s starting third baseman. Davidson is hitting a mere .191, with 11 home runs and 24 RBI and the lack of contact (87 Ks in 241 Abs) is very worrisome. I still think it is far too early to label Davidson as a bust because he could turn things around in the second half of the season, but it does not look too good right now.

Rodon Remains Unsigned

Top-pick Carlos Rodon has yet to sign with the White Sox, but that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering that he is a Scott Boras client. The White Sox have stressed that it would be beneficial to Rodon’s career to sign sooner rather than later, but Boras and Rodon are trying to get as much guaranteed money as possible. When Rodon was drafted, there was talk about him possibly being on a ‘Chris Sale’ type path to the majors and pitching out of the bullpen this season, but I don’t think that is reasonable at this point. Unless the White Sox get on a serious roll, they won’t be contenders in September and there would be no reason to rush Rodon to the majors. More realistically, it would be nice to see Rodon sign quickly so that he can start his career in the minors and position himself to make his debut as a starting pitcher with the White Sox at some point in 2015. With rotation issues after Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks, White Sox fans can’t wait for that day to happen.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Monday, June 9, 2014

No Issues with Sale's Usage

After winning two out of three games versus the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago White Sox were swept away by the Los Angeles Angels to conclude the California road trip. The White Sox now sit 4.5 games back of division leading Detroit as the Tigers come to U.S. Cellular Field tonight to begin a big four-game set.

No Issues with Sale’s Usage

Probably the biggest story to come out of Anaheim this weekend was whether or not Chris Sale should have came out to pitch the eighth inning with a 5-0 lead Saturday night. Manger Robin Ventura decided to let Sale start the eighth inning after breezing through the first seven innings while throwing just 90 pitches. As a result, Sale ended up loading the bases and giving up a game-tying grand slam to Mike Trout on a 3-2 changeup. Sale then departed the game after throwing 115 pitches, leading to many fans angrily questioning the usage of Chris Sale. Despite losing the lead, I have no issues with how Sale was used. Chris Sale is the ace of this pitching staff and arguably one of the top five starting pitchers in baseball, and I see no reason why he should have been pulled after seven innings. I understand that the White Sox had a five run lead, but keeping Sale on the mound gave the White Sox the best chance at holding onto the lead. The Angels have a potent lineup, and we have all seen the White Sox’ bullpen blow substantial leads this season. If Ventura had opted to go to the bullpen and they blow Sale’s lead, the same fans would have been clamoring to leave Sale in the game. You can’t have it both ways.

The other reason many fans were upset with sending Sale out for the eighth inning is his health. This was Sale’s fourth start since returning from the disabled list and some feel he shouldn’t be overused. I completely agree, but sending your ace out for another inning after only throwing 90 pitches is harmless. The White Sox would not have activated Sale from the disabled list three weeks ago if he was not fully healthy. Given that, there should be no restraints once his pitched count is built back up. Considering it was Sale’s fourth start, I have no problem with having him pitch 110-120 pitches every fifth day. Maybe I’m old school, but I think every starting pitcher should and could pitch 110-120 pitches every fifth day if their arm and body is conditioned to do so. If not, then they should not be in the major leagues, and they are definitely not an “ace”. I applaud Chris Sale and the White Sox for not surrendering to the fallacy of pitch counts and babying pitchers.

Semien Playing Some Outfield

Infielder Marcus Semien has started to see some time in the outfield at Triple-A Charlotte over the last few days. The White Sox would like Semien to learn left and center field to increase his versatility to the organization. This seems like a great idea to find ways to get Semien on the field whenever he makes his return to the White Sox.

Flowers and Viciedo Regress

About a month ago I examined the hot starts of Tyler Flowers, Dayan Viciedo, and Alexei Ramirez and determined that all three players would likely regress due to inflated BABIPs. Since then, Flowers has seen his average fall from .354 to .267, while Viciedo’s has dropped from .337 to .260. Alexei Ramirez is still producing at a very high level, but even his average has dipped 40 points from .356 to .316. Even though Flowers and Viciedo have come back to earth, they are both still having quality seasons. On the other hand, Ramirez looks like he is on his way to having a career year and he will likely be rewarded with a trip to the All-Star game this summer.

White Sox Draft Carlos Rodon

With the third overall selection in last Thursday’s MLB Draft, the White Sox selected starting pitcher Carlos Rodon. The left-hander is a junior at North Carolina State, and he was widely considered the best college pitching prospect in the draft. With high school standouts Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek going first and second respectively, the White Sox had a pretty easy choice with Rodon. Rodon figures to move quickly through the White Sox farm system, and he could be in the rotation as soon as mid-2015. In addition, it would not surprise me if Rodon reaches the majors this year and pitches out of the bullpen much like how Chris Sale made his debut the year he was drafted. Obviously, draft picks are never guaranteed to pan out, but the White Sox have to be happy with the possibility of having Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon as the anchors to their pitching staff for the future.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Monday, June 2, 2014

Sale Dominates; Abreu Set to Return

Chris Sale was dominant once again during yesterday’s series finale victory over the San Diego Padres. Sale surrendered just one earned run and struck out nine batters during his complete game gem. The victory brought the White Sox back to .500 at 29-29, just 4.5 games behind the division leading Detroit Tigers. While it is still very early to be scoreboard watching, it is refreshing to see that the White Sox appear ready to remain competitive throughout the summer. It’ll be interesting to see where the White Sox stand in late-July as the trade deadline approaches, but I hope management does not decide to trade away the few good prospects that they have in the farm system. Even though this year’s team is vastly improved over last year’s, they still need several pieces to be legitimate contenders and I don’t think they can fill all those holes through mid-season trades. Hopefully, general manager Rick Hahn and company will stay true to the plan of reshaping this team for long-term success.

Abreu Set to Return

The White Sox hit the road tonight for six games against the two Los Angeles baseball teams. Jose Quintana gets the ball tonight versus Clayton Kershaw and Dodgers in what figures to be an entertaining pitcher’s duel. Although the mound matchup is worth watching, the real story is the return of slugger Jose Abreu. The first baseman has been activated from the disabled list prior to tonight’s game, and will reclaim his spot in the heart of the batting order. I’m excited to see the big man back on the field, and I will surely have my eyes glued to the TV set every time he steps into the box.  I would love nothing more than the see Abreu sit on Kershaw’s fastball and send the first one he sees into the seats.  Starting with tonight, Abreu’s return to the lineup could allow this offense to really take off now that the Opening Day lineup (other than Avisail Garcia) is finally healthy at the same time.

Semien Sent Down

Jose Abreu’s activation meant that somebody had to be sent down, and that person was Marcus Semien. Semien did a tremendous job filling in for Gordon Beckham and Conor Gillaspie for their respective stints on the disabled list, but unfortunately there isn’t a spot in the lineup for him. At this time, it is best for both Semien and the White Sox that he receives everyday at-bats to continue developing as a player. I am certain that this will not be the last we see of Semien, and he could regain a starting role if there is an injury or trade later this summer. Semien proved what he is capable of during the first six weeks of the season, so I’m confident he will be in the White Sox long term plans.

Danks Stays Sharp

For the better part of the season, I have been critical of John Danks’ increased walk rate and poor strikeout-to-walk ratio.  However, the lefty has turned the corner in those two departments since his start on May 7th versus the Chicago Cubs. Since then, Danks owns a 4:1 K/BB ratio with 28 strikeouts and just seven walks in his last 31.2 innings pitched. The improved ratio has resulted in quality starts in four of his last five outings. This is exactly what I wanted to see from Danks going forward and hopefully it will continue for the rest of the season. Last year Danks only walked 27 batters in 138.1 innings pitched, so there is no reason to believe that it shouldn’t continue from here on out.

MLB Draft

In case you weren’t aware, the MLB First-Year Player Draft will begin on June 5th and the White Sox have the third overall selection. I have heard several analysts state that the White Sox might be in the best position in this draft given their needs and spot in the draft order. The White Sox are expected to draft a pitcher at No. 3 overall, and many scouts believe they will take the best pitcher that is left between Carlos Rodon (LHP/NC State), Brady Aiken (LHP/HS), and Tyler Kolek (RHP/HS). All three prospects have been labeled as being the potential top pick in the draft at one point or another, so it does indeed look like the White Sox are in great shape. General manager Rick Hahn has publicly stated that he will not draft based on need, but that the top five players on his draft board are pitchers. Personally, I’d be shocked if the White Sox don’t take one from that trio of pitchers.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, May 23, 2014

Sale Returns; Lindstrom Out

Chris Sale returned to the mound last night in dominating fashion. The left-hander allowed just one runner to reach base on a single, and struck out 10 batters in his six innings of work. Sale was on a pitch count after having thrown 68 pitches in his rehab start last week, so he only threw 86 pitches while cruising through six frames. Sale looked like he was in midseason form after being out for five weeks, but the White Sox still have to be cautious. The biggest thing is to make sure Sale can stay on the mound for the rest of the season and beyond, so the White Sox will monitor how his arm and body responds after last night’s outing. As long as everything checks out fine, Sale will be toeing the rubber in five days where he will likely be limited to around 100 pitches.

State of the Rotation

Chris Sale’s return obviously helps out a beleaguered rotation that has struggled to find consistency. With Sale and Jose Quintana the White Sox have two front-end of the rotation guys, but that’s where the rest of the rotation gets troublesome. John Danks had a nice start to the season, but he was allowing too many base runners and getting out of a lot of jams to keep his ERA down. However, over the last few starts Danks has been unable to pitch over the walks, and he has been hit hard when failing behind in the count. We’ll see if Danks can correct the wildness because it is surprising considering that his walk rate is the worst of his career at 4.44 walks per nine innings. Danks’ career rate is 2.91 BB/9 and he was superb last season with a 1.76 BB/9 mark after having not pitched for a year following shoulder surgery. In my opinion, Danks is the key to this rotation. If he can be consistently above-average and solidify the third spot on the staff, then the remaining two starters will have a lot less pressure on them to succeed. With Sale’s return, Scott Carroll was sent to the bullpen, leaving Hector Noesi and Andre Rienzo as the team’s fourth and fifth starters. Ultimately, both starters are pitching for one spot because Erik Johnson will likely rejoin the rotation at some point this season. As it stands now, I’d lean slightly in favor of Rienzo as I feel he has been more consistent and he has looked better recently with an increased use of his tight slider/cutter.

Closing Situation

Closer Matt Lindstrom left Monday night’s game after coming off the mound awkwardly and injuring his left ankle.  An MRI revealed a tear in the sheath of his left ankle, and Lindstrom is scheduled to have surgery today to repair the injury. Lindstrom is expected to be out for at least three months, and his loss leaves the White Sox’ closing situation uncertain moving forward. Ronald Belisario received the first shot at closer simply because he has been the most effective reliever of late, but he has allowed five base runners and two runs while recording his first two saves. As good as Belisario has been, he is merely a short-term solution for the White Sox. With Lindstrom essentially out for the season, the White should and likely will look to find a long-term answer at closer. Daniel Webb has the arm and demeanor to close, but he has walked too many guys to be anointed closer right now. If Webb can string together some clean appearances, then he could ascend to the closer’s role in the coming weeks.  Other candidates would be Nate Jones (when he is healthy), Jake Petricka, and possibly Zach Putnam. We’ll see how this all shakes out, but expect the White Sox to eventually settle on a younger option.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07

Monday, May 19, 2014

Abreu DL'd, Eaton Activated, Sale Close to Return

Prior to dropping the rubber match to the lowly Houston  Astros, the Chicago White Sox announced a pair of roster moves yesterday. Leadoff man Adam Eaton was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list after recovering from a hamstring issue, while slugger Jose Abreu was shelved due to posterior tibial tendinitis in his left ankle.

Adam Eaton went 1-for-4 in his return to the lineup, and he should provide the spark that has been noticeably missing since his has been out. Unfortunately, the White Sox offense will be hampered for at least the next two weeks while Abreu tries to heal his nagging left ankle.  Like the injuries to Eaton and Chris Sale, the White Sox are taking the right approach in being cautious with their future core. Abreu clearly has been bothered by this ankle problem for the past 10 days, so it’s wise to force him to sit and get healthy.

Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko will split first base and designated hitter duties while Abreu is out. The loss of the American League leader in home runs and runs batted in is never a good thing, but at least the White Sox have Konerko to fill in for a few weeks. Abreu is scheduled to undergo an MRI on his left ankle this afternoon to make sure that the injury isn’t more severe than the initial diagnosis showed.

With Abreu being placed on the disabled list, Marcus Semien and Leury Garcia once again dodged a demotion to the minors for another two weeks. Semien has seen his at-bats significantly diminish with the returns of Gordon Beckham and Conor Gillaspie, and I am starting to think that sending him down to get regular playing time is the best option when Abreu comes back.

Sale Close to Return

Chris Sale made a rehab start on Friday for Triple-A Charlotte and the results were encouraging. Sale breezed through his four innings of work, striking out 11 hitters on 68 pitches. Sale will rejoin the White Sox in Kansas City to meet with the coaching staff and team doctors to decide on the next step. The White Sox have three options with Sale. One, Sale could make one more rehab start on Wednesday to build up his pitch count and return early next week. Two, Sale could start Wednesday in Kansas City with a pitch count limit of roughly 90 pitches. Three, Sale could throw a side session in Kansas City tomorrow or Wednesday, and then come off the disabled list this weekend against the New York Yankees. Regardless of what option the White Sox choose, Sale should be making a start in a White Sox uniform within the next week.  Sale’s return to the rotation will do the White Sox pitching staff wonders as they have struggled to find consistent starting pitching during Sale’s absence.  

Farm Report

While sifting through some of the stats for the White Sox affiliates, a few players that are critical to organization moving forward stood out the most.

Matt Davidson, Third Base, 23 years old

Of course, Matt Davidson was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Addison Reed this winter. Davidson has been labeled as the third baseman of the future, but failed to crack the Opening Day roster with Conor Gillaspie ahead of him on the depth chart. Davidson was sent to Triple-A Charlotte and has really struggled so far this season with a .198 average, four home runs, and 13 RBI. However, Davidson has shown some life during the past ten days while hitting .294 with a homer and five RBI in 34 at-bats. The problem is that Davidson continues to strikeout at an alarming rate with fourteen strikeouts in the past ten days, and a whooping 57 whiffs in 131 at-bats. Although Davidson is starting to string together some hits, he’ll have to cut down his K-rate if he is ever going to have success at the major league level. While Davidson has certainly struggled, it is not time to panic, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was starting to worry a little bit.

Micah Johnson, Second Base, 23 years old

Micah Johnson made some noise this March after a great spring training where he hit .360 with three stolen bases, but he was ultimately sent to Double-A Birmingham to develop his skills. Johnson responded by hitting .329 in 146 at-bats with three homers and 16 RBI. Johnson’s hot start earned him a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte last week and he has batted .296 during his first six games. Johnson could very well be the White Sox second baseman of the future, but he might have a hard time cracking the major league level this season before the rosters expand on September 1st. Either way, we will likely see Johnson at some point this season, and he could be in line to compete for a starting spot next spring.

Erik Johnson, Starting Pitcher, 24 years old

Erik Johnson earned a spot in the starting rotation after showing some promise during five starts last season and a solid spring training this year. Unfortunately, Johnson had a rough April and was ultimately sent down after struggling to find the strike zone. That lack of command (18:15 K:BB ratio) resulted in five inconsistent starts and a 6.46 ERA in 23.2 innings pitched.  Since being demoted, Johnson has made four starts and has shown some progress with a 3.38 ERA and a 19:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings pitched. Johnson will have to string together some more solid starts to show that he can be consistent with his delivery, but he should be back with the White Sox this summer.

Courtney Hawkins, Outfielder, 20 years old

Courtney Hawkins immediately became one of the White Sox top prospects after being drafted with the 12th overall pick in the 2012 Draft. Hawkins signed quickly and had a promising start to his professional career in 2012 with a .284 average, eight home runs, and 33 RBI in 59 games between two minor league levels. But, in 2013, Hawkins took a huge step back by hitting just .178 with 19 homers and 62 RBI in 383 at-bats. Hawkins also struck out 160 times and walked just 29 times, leading some people to no longer consider him a top-prospect. However, to the surprise of many, Hawkins has rebounded to have a solid first six weeks to the season with a .272 average, nine homers, and 34 RBI. Hawkins still has 41 strikeouts in 38 games, but that is a much better rate than 160 strikeouts in 103 games. Hawkins still has a long way to go, but at least he has put himself back into the discussion of being part of the White Sox future.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Monday, May 12, 2014

White Sox Have Decisions to Make as they Hover Around .500

The Chicago White Sox travel to Oakland to face the Athletics after winning four out of seven games this past week. At 19-20, the White Sox keep hovering right around .500 and figure to remain there for the foreseeable future. Injuries have played a big factor in limiting the success of this team, but the White Sox are hoping to get two key players back shortly.

Leadoff man and center fielder Adam Eaton is set to begin a rehab stint at Triple-A Charlotte on Wednesday. If everything goes well, Eaton is scheduled to rejoin the White Sox this Sunday versus the Houston Astros. Eaton’s injury has hampered the White Sox roster over the past ten days while only having three outfielders. When Eaton returns, the White Sox have some decisions to make with regards to their roster.

The first decision is who gets sent down when Eaton comes back? Marcus Semien and Leury Garcia avoided demotion when Conor Gillaspie returned from the disabled list last week, but I’m not sure how much longer the White Sox can operate with only three outfielders. So, one of the two infielders will likely have to go. Semien is the better player, but Garcia’s versatility might be more valuable at this time. Semien needs to get at-bats, and I don’t know if starting only against left-handed starters will be enough action to warrant him staying in the big leagues.

If the White Sox still elect to only go with three outfielders, then either Moises Sierra or even Alejandro De Aza will be designated for assignment. Some White Sox fans might be surprised if De Aza was DFA’d, but the reality is that he is a terrible outfielder, an even worse base runner, and his .194 batting average shouldn’t be enough to save his job. In addition, manager Robin Ventura hinted that changes might be in store after yesterday’s lackluster performance, and De Aza is the only starting player I could think of being in jeopardy of losing his job. On the other hand, the White Sox just acquired Moises Sierra and they reportedly see a lot of potential in him. Sierra has eight hits in his first twenty-two at-bats, including a home run yesterday, so his early production could be enough to help him stick with the White Sox when Eaton comes back on Sunday.

Sale Coming Back?

For the first time since starting pitcher Chris Sale went on the disabled list, the White Sox have disclosed a detailed plan for the lefty’s return. Sale threw a simulated game on Saturday and will now make two rehab starts before hopefully returning at the end of the month against the New York Yankees. Since Sale has already been out longer than originally expected, it makes me wonder if the injury is more serious than reported. While that is certainly a possibility, I think the White Sox are just being cautious with their “Ace”. As much as the White Sox want Sale on the mound this season, they realize that it is more important to have Sale healthy and on the mound in 2015 and beyond. Given the state of the current starting rotation, I think I can speak for all White Sox fans that we are eagerly awaiting the return of one of the best pitchers in baseball. Hopefully, he’ll remain on the mound for the final four months of the season and provide the stability that is desperately needed to the pitching staff as a whole.

Cooling off?

Last week, I examined the hot starts of Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo, and Tyler Flowers and determined that all three players would start to regress in the coming weeks. One week later and all three players have seen their batting averages drop by at least .20 points. Ramirez saw his average fall from .356 to .333, Viciedo’s average dropped from .337 to .297, and Flowers’ average dipped from .354 to .324. I’ll be interested to see where all three of these players’ averages sit at the end of May, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they are all hitting under .300 by June.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Can Ramirez, Viciedo, and Flowers Keep it Up?

Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo, and Tyler Flowers all have been fantastic through the first 30 games of the season, but can they keep it up? I seriously doubt that any of them will be batting around .350 much longer, but any .300 averages from that group would have been a reach before the season started.

Alexei Ramirez leads the American League with a .356 average and has four homers, 19 RBI, four steals, and 18 runs scored. If you do the math, that means Ramirez would be on-pace for a 20/20 season with about 100 runs and 100 RBI. Can he reach those numbers? Let’s start with the batting average. Ramirez is a career .280 hitter and will have a hard time keeping his average over .300 as the season progresses. Ramirez’s high average is due in large part to an inflated .365 batting average with balls in play (BABIP). With a career .297 BABIP, I would expect Ramirez’s average to decrease as his BABIP decreases during the season. Expect Ramirez’s average to be between .280 and .300 at the end of the year. While I don’t think the average is sustainable, I certainly believe that Ramirez can reach 20 home runs and 20 steals. Ramirez stole 30 bases last year and he shows no signs of slowing down. After only hitting a combined 15 home runs the last two seasons, 20 homers is definitely a stretch, but he’s done it before. Ramirez hit 21 homers in 2008 and 69 over his first four seasons, so I think it is doable. If not, he should finish the year with at least 15 home runs. Finally, both the RBI and runs scored totals likely won’t be approaching 100 at year’s end. With Ramirez’s batting average severely inflated, his RBI and runs scored pace will likely fall off when his average does as well. So, Alexei Ramirez won’t finish the season with a .356/100/20/100/20 stat line, but a .290/80/15/80/25 stat line is probably more realistic.

Dayan Viciedo has had a unique start to the season because White Sox fans have always seen Viciedo as a hitter with a mediocre average and good power. So far this season, Viciedo has been the complete opposite with just one home run, a .337 average, and a surprising .404 OBP. The low home run total is fluky to me, so it should rise with more at-bats and as the weather heats up. But, what about the batting average and on-base percentage? Viciedo owns a career batting average of .269 and a .314 on-base percentage. Like Ramirez, Viciedo’s high average is a result of an inflated BABIP of .390, and his average will fall once that BABIP normalizes to his career .312 clip. However, the biggest difference in Viciedo’s game is his improved patience at the dish. Viciedo has got on base via the walk eleven times and has only struck out fifteen times in 104 plate appearances. Those numbers equate to a 10.6% walk rate and a 14.4% strikeout rate, with both numbers being huge improvements over his career marks of 5.5% and 21.0% respectively. Since Viciedo has nearly doubled his walk rate and cut down on his strikeout rate by nearly one-third, that suggests he could be in store for a career year in batting average and on-base percentage. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see Viciedo hit near .300 with a OBP around .340 if he can continue to walk more and cut down on his strikeouts. If he does that, the homers should also skyrocket to his 20-plus potential throughout the next five months.

Tyler Flowers’ hot start is the least likely one to continue out of the trio. Flower’s is hitting .354 and his BABIP is .560. Simply put, both of those numbers will start to plummet very soon. Flowers’ walk rate of 6.8% and strikeout rate of 35.2% are right in-line with his career percentages of 7.8% and 34.1% respectively. In other words, Flowers’ hot start is really fluky and is very unsustainable. While I don’t expect Flowers to hit .195 like he did last year, expecting anything over .250 is unrealistic. The one thing that Flowers does have going for him is that he has yet to hit for power and extra base hits by netting singles on 26 out of 29 hits. If he starts to drive the ball in the gaps and over the fence, then that should help neutralize his regression a little bit. Based on that, I think a .230 to .250 average with 15-plus home runs is a more reasonable expectation.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter @etichel07


White Sox Drop Third Straight; Eaton to DL

Following last night’s 12-5 defeat against the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago White Sox have now lost their last three games to fall to a 14-16 record. The White Sox are currently in third place in the American League Central Division, four games behind the Detroit Tigers. For a team that was supposed to be in a rebuilding year, the White Sox have been competitive, but they are still far from being a playoff team. There are plenty of issues with this team (mainly pitching), so expecting them to more than a .500 team is unrealistic at this point. The good news is that newcomers like Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton have shown what they care capable of and youngsters like Marcus Semien and Daniel Webb have flashed their potential.

Injury Report

Adam Eaton strained his right hamstring while trying to beat out double play ball and left the game after the inning. With Eaton’s left knee also still slightly bothering him, the White Sox placed him on the 15-day disabled list this afternoon. Even if Eaton is ready to go in 4 or 5 days, it is wise to force him to sit for a couple weeks to prevent a more serious injury from occurring. As good as Eaton can be, the one knock on him is his health. Eaton has had trouble staying on the field during his brief career, and his hard-nosed playing style doesn’t help matters. But, you would hate to see a player like Eaton “tone-down” his approach to the game because that’s part of what makes him an effective player. Unfortunately, this is something you just have to deal with and hope that it doesn’t occur too often.

Chris Sale won’t come off the disabled list this weekend, but he will throw a bullpen session on Monday. If everything goes well, Sale should either go on a rehab assignment later next week or be activated for a start next weekend. Obviously, the White Sox are desperately awaiting his return.

Jeff Keppinger (Double-A) and Felipe Paulino (Triple-A) are both set to being rehab assignments. As for Keppinger, I’m not really sure where he would fit on the roster, but I don’t think the White Sox will have to make a decision any time soon. Keppinger is probably going to need a few weeks worth or at-bats before he is ready to be activated. Felipe Paulino will start tonight in Charlotte, and will likely need several starts to not only show that he is healthy, but that he can be effective as well.

Nate Jones was transferred to the 60-day disabled list this afternoon. He last pitched on April 4th, so he likely will not be back until mid-June at the earliest. This is another unfortunately blow to Jones and the White Sox who expected the righty to close games this season. There is still a chance for that to happen in the second half of the year, but he’ll have a lot of work to do whenever he is fully healthy.

Bullpen Improves

Prior to last night’s contest, the White Sox bullpen has pitched quite well during the past two weeks.

After they posted a 6.12 ERA in their first 18 games, White Sox relievers have a 1.79 mark over the past 11 contests. The 1.79 ERA over that span is the lowest in the American League and helped to drop the team’s season mark to 4.83.” (courtesy of Comcast SportsNet’s Dan Hayes). 

Of course, the bullpen starts to settle down now that the starting rotation is a major issue, but it is encouraging. Once the White Sox get Chris Sale back pitching every five days, the pitching staff should at least be closer to being league average.

Danks Gets Roughed Up Again

John Danks had a rough outing last night, highlighted by a 5-run first inning. The lefty finished the night with 5 innings pitched, 10 hits, 8 runs, 3 walks, and 3 strikeouts. As I stated last week, the final two numbers of Danks’ stat line are the most troubling. Danks has now walked 20 batters while recording just 21 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched. Pitchers are simply not going to be successful when they are walking guys at a high rate and not missing bats. Danks needs to correct this issue soon, and he will have a chance to do that during his next start when he faces a Chicago Cubs team that struggles to score runs.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter @etichel07

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rotation Problems Continue for White Sox

After Friday’s dramatic walk-off win, the Chicago White Sox got shutout last night and will attempt to get back on track this afternoon.

Rotation Issues

To fill the hole in the rotation, the White Sox purchased the contract of journeyman Scott Carroll. The 29-year-old right hander owned a 1.57 ERA over four starts in Charlotte, and he will make his major league debut today. It remains to be seen how long Carroll will stay in the rotation, but he has a chance to stick if he throws well given the White Sox uncertainty in the starting rotation.

In a separate move, the White Sox also optioned Erik Johnson to Triple-A Charlotte to refine is mechanics. Johnson has walked 15 batters in 23.2 innings of work, so the White Sox want him to work on commanding his pitchers better. I would expect to see Johnson again in a month or so after he shows that he can throw strikes more consistently.

Chris Sale is scheduled to throw a bullpen session today, and he hopes to return when he is eligible to come off the disabled list on May 3rd. Obviously, the White Sox desperately need Sale back to help sure up the rotation.

John Danks has had a solid April, but last night was another example of why he needs to cut down on his walks. Danks has issued 17 walks in 31 innings pitched and only he only has 18 strikeouts. A 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio does not equate to long term success, so Danks’ 3.48 ERA will start to climb if he doesn’t correct that problem. Fortunately, Danks has been able to pitch out of jams, but that likely won’t last all season long.

It goes without saying that the White Sox rotation is a mess. Right now the starting rotation is Jose Quintana, John Danks, Andre Rienzo, and Scott Carroll. The White Sox aren’t sure who will start on Wednesday when they need a fifth starter, so that will be another situation to monitor. With Chris Sale coming back, and hopefully a more effective Erik Johnson in a month or so, the White Sox could be in better shape. But for now, it is looking pretty ugly.

Offense Stays Hot

The White Sox hitters have cooled off a bit, but they still have carried this team through April. The White Sox lead the American League in runs scored (134), are third in average (.269), second in home runs (30), and third in OPS (.763). This is a pleasant change after last year’s dismal offensive performance, but it is also needed with how bad the pitching has been.

Jose Abreu continues to lead the offense and he snapped out of a 1-for-25 slump this week. Abreu has 12 hits in his last 34 at-bats, including five home runs and 13 RBI. After Friday night’s two homer, six RBI performance, my man crush for Abreu has reached an unhealthy level. It was great to see him make adjustments to bust out of that slump, and he will likely have to do that a few more times this season.

Remarkably, Dayan Viciedo (.368) is leading the league in hitting, while Alexei Ramirez (.343) is fourth. Tyler Flowers is hitting .388, but he does not have enough at-bats to qualify in the rankings. All three of these averages will start to come down as the season progresses, but it is refreshing to see for now.

Injury Moves

Gordon Beckham was reinstated from the disabled list on Friday and immediately inserted into the starting lineup at second base. Beckham will need to perform much better offensively if he wants to stay in the lineup.

Conor Gillaspie was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 22nd with a left-hand contusion below his thumb. The move might be precautionary, but it also allows the White Sox more time to figure out what to do with their infield situation. Marcus Semien now shifts over to third base with Beckham back, but he could either move to the utility role or even the minor leagues when Gillaspie returns. Either Semien or Leury Garcia will have to be sent down, and the White Sox could decide to keep Garcia to let Semien get every day at-bats in the minors.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bullpen Struggles Continues to Haunt White Sox

The Chicago White Sox dropped the final two games of a three-game series with the Boston Red Sox to lower their record to 8-8 after 16 games. Over the past two days, White Sox fans have witnessed arguably the most boring and most exciting games of the season. Wednesday night’s 5-hour, 14 inning marathon was brutally painful to watch as the White Sox issued 15 walks on the night. Last night’s game featured one of the best pitching duels of the young season with Chris Sale and Jon Lester both carrying no hitters into the sixth inning.

What else has happened in the past week?

The most talked about issue with this team continues to be the problems in the bullpen. As mentioned, Wednesday’s performance was one to forget, but unfortunately it hasn’t been the only one. After 16 games, the White Sox bullpen owns a staggering 6.48 ERA and alarming 1.82 WHIP in 50 innings pitched. Relievers Scott Downs (10.80 ERA), Ronald Belisario (12.91 ERA), and Donnie Veal (7.50 ERA) have been the main culprits of the disastrous start. Veal has been since sent down and Zach Putnam has been recalled from the minors, so hopefully he can add something to the group. But, in order for this bullpen to be effective, Downs, Belisario, and even Matt Lindstrom need to perform better to provide veteran stability. The good news is that youngsters Daniel Webb, Jake Petricka, and Maikel Cleto have been reliable for the most part. In addition to that, Webb has emerged as the most effective option in the bullpen, and I believe it is just a matter of time before he ascends into the closer’s role. Lastly, the absence of Nate Jones has had a tremendous negative effect to the bullpen. Whether Jones is pitching in the 7th, 8th, or 9th inning, the White Sox expected him to be one of their best relievers. Robin Ventura said today that Jones’ back injury might now be worse than what they had originally thought and offered no timetable for his return. Hopefully, Jones will be back in a few weeks and he can help everyone settle into their roles. If not, this is going to continue to be a problem all year long.

After all that negative talk, it is time for some encouraging news and that comes from the performance that starting pitcher Erik Johnson delivered on Tuesday versus the Boston Red Sox. The young right-hander was brilliant during his 6.2 innings of work by allowing just one run and striking out nine batters. After two dismal efforts to start the season, Johnson’s outing was a pleasant surprise. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks all pitching well, the White Sox would have a formidable starting rotation if Johnson can improve on each start.

With one half of the pair of struggling hurlers finding his rhythm, the pressure is now on Felipe Paulino to follow suit. Paulino will take the mound tonight versus the Texas Rangers in Arlington, and he will have to be at the top of his game to hold a potent Rangers’ lineup intact. I have my doubts that he will be able to do so this evening, but I am not ready to write him off just yet. I would imagine the White Sox will give Paulino every chance there is to get going, and I wouldn’t expect a move to replace him for at least another month.

As good as Jose Abreu was to start the season, the first baseman is really struggling over his last several games. The Cuban slugger is in the midst of 1-for-21 slump and has seen his average fall to .213.  Even with the red-hot start, we all knew that Abreu would face some hard times as soon as pitchers figured out a weakness to his approach. Opposing pitchers have had their way with Abreu by getting him to swing and miss at low off-speed stuff. As a result, his strikeout totals have increased and obviously his production has suffered. Having said that, I fully expect Abreu to make the proper adjustments in the coming days and end this slump. In my opinion, Abreu is taking too many fastballs early in the count and falling behind, allowing pitchers to throw him junk. Since the beginning of spring training, Abreu has made a conscientious effort to work counts and see as many pitches as possible in order to learn the style of pitching in the major leagues. While that is a great approach to start with, I think Abreu needs to start being more aggressive early in the counts and drive the ball into the gaps. Let’s see if he can get back on track in the hitters’ friendly ballpark this weekend.

With Abreu facing some struggles, the White Sox offense has slowed down a bit, but the hot starts by Alexei Ramirez and Tyler Flowers have continued to this point. Ramirez is batting .381 with four home runs and 14 RBI, while Flowers is hitting at a .395 clip with a homer and six runs batted in. Having these two players at the bottom of the order has really helped the lineup turnover, and it has allowed leadoff man Adam Eaton to rack up 10 RBI in 16 games. While I don’t expect either player to continue their torrid pace, it is worth noting that Tyler Flowers really looks like a different hitter this season. Flowers talked about how he tweaked his batting stance late last year and he said he has never felt more comfortable at the dish. I’m curious to see if this is really the case, because it will be a huge for the future of this club if Flowers is an option at catcher going forward.

Lastly, Gordon Beckman appears ready to return to the club sometime next week. I’d imagine that Beckham will be reinserted as the starting second baseman, but it will be interesting to see how his return impacts the roster. Leury Garcia will likely be the odd-man out and get sent back to Triple-A Charlotte, and Marcus Semien will take over as the utility infielder. Even though Beckham will have his job back, he won’t have much room for error with Semien breathing down his neck.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Notre Dame Spring Game Recap

Notre Dame held their annual Blue-Gold spring scrimmage game yesterday afternoon which provided a glimpse of what the Fighting Irish will look like next fall. While there is plenty to talk about with what occurred on the field, the biggest news of the day was delivered by Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick when he announced that FieldTurf will be installed prior to the 2014 regular season. Swarbrick said that the process will begin after graduation in mid-May and is scheduled to be completed by August 15th. I know that there will be some Notre Dame fans that are upset over the decision based on “tradition”, but I couldn’t be any happier with the switch. For the past several years, the playing surface at Notre Dame Stadium has been an embarrassment. I had grown tired of watching players routinely slip when trying to make a cut or plant their feet. It would be one thing if Notre Dame didn’t play in a cold weather city, but since they do, having FieldTurf is a must. Honestly, there is no excuse for any major college program or professional team residing in a cold whether city to not have FieldTurf installed. They owe it to their players and fans to have the best playing surface possible. But, enough of that…now let’s focus on what happened on the field.

Obviously, the biggest point of interest yesterday was the quarterback play of both Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. Because of Golson’s suspension in 2013, Brian Kelly has stated that he would have to earn his starting job back. At the time, I thought that was just “coach-speak” and Golson was all but guaranteed to be the starter for the season opener versus Rice. Having said that, the quarterback competition might be a little closer than originally thought. While I still expect Everett Golson to ultimately be under-center this season, Malik Zaire is certainly in the discussion. As a matter of fact, Zaire actually out-performed Golson yesterday, but both quarterbacks played well.

I thought that Golson was a little bit hesitant and rusty to start the game, but he made some really nice throws on the run, as well as in the pocket. In particular, Golson’s throw on a deep route to Corey Robinson was perfectly placed. Golson threw the ball high enough and with enough arch that Robinson was the only one that had a play on the ball. That catch was one of several that Robinson made on the afternoon, and he looks like he’ll be huge mismatch for teams with his size and strength. On the other hand, Golson also had some poor throws. Most notably, Golson severely overthrew Amir Carlisle on a skinny post that would have been an easy touchdown. Carlisle had his man beat and there was no safety help in the middle of the field. Since that play came during Golson’s first drive, I think nerves and rust had a big impact on the errant throw. The biggest negative out of Golson’s performance was that he was looking to run way too soon on many occasions. Even though the defense was vanilla and didn’t blitz, Golson faced a lot of pressure and took off running whenever he was pressured. We all know that Golson can run, so it would have been nice to see him try to keep his eyes downfield and find an open receiver without the fear of getting hit. All things considered, it was a pretty impressive day for Golson. He showed his tremendous arm strength and athleticism throughout the day, and he definitely looks more mature physically and mentally.

As mentioned above, if the quarterback competition was based solely on the performance yesterday, then Malik Zaire would be the starter. Zaire started off on fire by hitting C.J. Prosise while rolling out to open the game. Later that drive, Zaire also hit Will Fuller on a deep ball, but the play could have resulted in a touchdown if it wasn’t slightly underthrown. But, the good news is that he gave Fuller a chance to make a play. I’d much rather have a quarterback underthrow a receiver as opposed to overthrowing him. The most exciting play of the game might have occurred during Zaire’s second drive when he threw a strike to Prosise on a curl route, who then proceeded to make a few nice moves and sprint to the end zone. Prosise looks like a nice fit in the slot this season, and should be able to make a lot of plays in space with DaVaris Daniels and Corey Robinson on the outside. Zaire’s second touchdown pass of the day came on a short quick slant to Amir Carlisle. Carlisle had just enough separation from the defender and Zaire threw a bullet for the score. That play was just one of several throws where Zaire showed off his strong arm. Zaire later hit Durham Smythe while rolling to his left by zipping the ball right past the defender’s arm. While watching the play develop, I thought the pass was going to either get knocked down or intercepted (by the way, Smythe looks like he’ll be the next solid option at tight end for Notre Dame). Like Golson, Zaire performed very well and has made this a legitimate competition. We’ll see what happens this summer, but it looks as though the Irish will be in good shape regardless of who is the starting quarterback.

Outside of the quarterback play, I was also interested to watch the running back situation. The Irish will primarily use a trio of backs this season with Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, and Greg Bryant all figuring to see plenty of action. The three backs all have different running styles, so the offense will be able to be diverse with their running attack. Brian Kelly has also stated that he expects the running backs to be more involved in the passing game this season, and that was evident with McDaniel and Folston each making some nice catches out of the backfield. Bryant stole the show late in the game when he broke off a 51-yard run, showcasing some great moves and lateral quickness. Bryant only had three carries last season and missed most of the year with a knee injury, but it appears he will have a much larger role this season. I’m excited to see what these three can do with the ball in their hands. With having Golson or Zaire to go along with the running backs, Notre Dame should be one of the better rushing teams in the country this season.

While it is hard to evaluate the defense in a game where they don’t blitz or hit the quarterback, there were some nice plays made. Despite not being able to blitz, I was really surprised by how much pressure the defensive line was able to get on the quarterbacks. Since they couldn’t hit the quarterback it is hard to tell how many sacks they would have had, but I counted at least three instances where the whistle should have been blown to signal a sack. Add those to the number of “sacks” they did have, and the total would have been over double digits. I’m really excited to see what the defense will look like this season. Brian Kelly has stated that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will be more aggressive with his play calling than Bob Diaco. As much as a respect the job Diaco did, the “bend but don’t break defense” was frustrating to watch at times. Of course, the defense excelled at tightening up near the red zone to limit the amount of touchdowns scored, but the defense was on the field a lot with extended drives. VanGorder’s style of play might result in the defense giving up some quicker scores due to the blitz being beat, but I expect plenty of more sacks and turnovers with the aggressive style. One thing that I do like is that VanGorder has said that Jaylon Smith will be used in various roles. Smith is without doubt the best defender the Irish have, and it makes a ton of sense to have him playing all over the place. This will allow Smith to make more impact plays by utilizing his speed and athleticism in certain situations. The last thing I would like to mention is that I was impressed with some plays in the secondary. Cole Luke, Elijah Shumate, and Max Redfield all made their presence felt by each having a spectacular pass breakup. The secondary should be vastly improved over recent years, and thus will allow the Irish to be more aggressive with their pass rushing schemes.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, April 11, 2014

White Sox Lose Garcia for the Season

After taking the opening contest of a four-game set with Cleveland Indians, the Chicago White Sox now sit at 5-5; tied with the Indians for second place in the division. The up-and-down season continues tonight as the White Sox look to win consecutive games for the first time since winning the first two games of the season.

It has been a week since my last update and a lot has happened on and off the field since then.

Let’s start with the bad…

The White Sox and outfielder Avisail Garcia got terrible news yesterday when a MRI revealed a torn labrum in Garcia’s left shoulder. Due to the extent of the injury that involves part of the labrum being torn off the bone, surgery is required to repair it fully. Garcia will likely undergo surgery early next week and will be out for the remainder of the season. General manager Rick Hahn indicated that the White Sox expect Garcia to be ready to go for spring training in 2015. This news is very disheartening for all parties involved, but it is not the end of the world. Garcia will be just 24 years old next season and is still a huge part of the future with the White Sox having control of him for five seasons. Assuming Garcia fully recovers from the injury, the worst part of this situation is him missing a full season of at-bats in the major leagues. The 2014 season was supposed to be big developmental year for many White Sox players and Garcia was no exception. Now because of the season-ending injury, Garcia won’t be able to progress with the rest of the building blocks this summer, and he will be season behind his projected development.

Despite the devastating news, the White Sox must move on this season. Although the Garcia injury is a major blow to his development, it should not affect the White Sox too much in 2014 in terms of wins and losses. With or without Garcia, I don’t view the White Sox as a playoff team, much less even a .500 team. To replace Garcia, the White Sox called up Jordan Danks and he figures to see some more playing time along with Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo. Between the three outfielders, I expect the White Sox offense to withstand the loss of Avisail Garcia in 2014.

Besides the injury, the White Sox have experienced some problems within their pitching staff. After two turns through the starting rotation, the left-handers have looked good, but the righties have struggled to get going. Rookie Erik Johnson and veteran Felipe Paulino have combined to allow 18 earned runs in 20 innings (It is worth noting that two of those starts came at Coors Field). I wouldn’t worry about either Johnson or Paulino just yet, but both pitchers need to start performing better. Outside of the struggles in the rotation, the bullpen has had a tough time as well. Youngsters Daniel Webb, Maikel Cleto, and Donnie Veal have pitched well, but veterans Ronald Belisario, Scott Downs, and Matt Lindstrom haven’t been impressive. Lindstrom did enjoy a nice 1-2-3 inning last night, so hopefully that is a sign of things to come. If Lindstrom doesn’t get his act together quickly, then Webb, Cleto, or Nate Jones (when healthy) will take over his duties as closer. The other two, Belisario and Downs, have been brutal (10 earned runs in 5.2 innings), but their track record suggests that they should at least be major-league average pitchers moving forward.

Now the good…

As bad as the White Sox pitching has been at times this season, the offense is on quite a roll. After ten games, the White Sox lead the American League in batting average, home runs, runs scored, on-base percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage. I’m doubtful that the White Sox will lead all those categories even a month from now, but it is certainly a vastly improved offense over last season. Leading the offensive surge have been Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Alexei Ramirez, and Tyler Flowers. Abreu’s start to the season couldn’t be going any better as the slugger is hitting .310 with 4 home runs and 14 RBI. This pace certainly won’t last and Abreu will likely face some slumps as pitchers begin to adjust to his swing. The key to Abreu’s success will be how quickly he is able to make his own adjustments at the plate. Eaton continues to be the igniter at the top of the order, and surprisingly has seven RBI to go along with his terrific on-base skills. Ramirez is off to the hottest start of his career with two home runs and nine RBI to go along with a .421 average, and he could be in for a career-year. If that still proves to be the case in July, then the White Sox will have an extremely valuable trade chip in Ramirez. Just as we were all ready to dismiss Tyler Flowers as an option at catcher going forward, he starts the season on an absolute tear with a .444 average, one homer, and five RBI. Despite the hot start, Flowers will have to continue to show that he has changed his approach and show some sustained success.

Injury News

Gordon Beckham had a slight setback in his rehab assignment and has been shut-down until he no longer feels pain in his oblique. The timetable is unclear at the moment, but I wouldn’t expect Beckham to be back with the White Sox until the end of the month at the earliest.

Nate Jones’ injury status has changed slightly as doctors determined that his injury is actually related to his lower back and not his hip or glute. Jones received an epidural the other day, and the White Sox are now hoping to have him back a little sooner than originally thought.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, April 4, 2014

Roller-coaster Start for White Sox

The Chicago White Sox dropped the opening game of a three-game series with the Kansas City Royals by a score of 7-5, falling to 2-2 on the young season. Although it has only been four games, the White Sox have been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride to start the season.

Given that, there is plenty to talk about as the first week of action comes to a close.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Jose Abreu will be worth every penny of his 6-year $68 million contract. All of the reports from spring training indicated that the free agent first baseman had tremendous work ethic and displayed professionalism with his approach to the game. Not only that, but the guy can flat out hit! Abreu went 0-for-4 this afternoon, but he did pick up his 6th RBI of the season and is still hitting .313 with two doubles and a triple. Probably the most impressive aspect of Abreu’s hot start has been the power that he has shown to both right and center field. The ball seems to jump off Abreu’s bat, so if he continues to drive the ball to all fields, he will put up some serious numbers when the weather warms up.

Alejandro De Aza is doing everything he can to prove that he deserves everyday at-bats in left field by hitting three home runs versus the Minnesota Twins. I have been pretty adamant about my preference of Dayan Viciedo for the long-term, but I have to give credit when it is due. Despite the hot start, De Aza will have to prove that he can play better defensively and improve on his base running skills before I start to campaign for him. Last season, I saw way too many instances where either he wasn’t paying attention or lacked the fundamentals necessary to be an everyday player. Regardless of what happens, De Aza will find his way into the lineup or another team’s lineup via trade if he continues to hit.

Don’t look now, but Tyler Flowers has seven hits in his last eight at-bats to give him a .571 average. Obviously, this won’t last, but it is nice to see some production offensively from the catching position. I doubt that Flowers has “figured it out” and will be a .280 hitter, but the lineup will be a lot stronger if he can hit just .230-.240 with 15-plus home runs. We’ll see what happens as the season progress, but for now just enjoy it.

Chris Sale’s Opening Day victory was one of the best performances I have ever seen from him. The final line may not look as glamorous as his other stellar outings (7.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 8 K), but the way he pitched impressed me the most. Early on in the game, it was apparent that Sale did not have his best stuff (particularly his devastating slider), but he battled through it. After giving up two runs on two hits and a walk in the third inning, Sale settled down and relied primarily on his fastball and changeup to get through the Twins’ lineup. Sale retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced, fanning four of the last five before departing with one out in the eighth inning.

Newly acquired Adam Eaton is also off to a fast start in a White Sox uniform. The leadoff man has done a great job getting on-base (.421 OBP) with five hits, two walks, and an HBP during his first 19 plate appearances. Eaton has definitely been the sparkplug that he was labeled as, and it is refreshing to see after watching an offense that looked dead for the better part of 2013. Not only has he done well at the plate, Eaton also made a fine running catch before slamming into the wall to rob Oswaldo Arcia of a game tying extra-base hit during yesterday’s contest.

While there have been plenty of bright spots, there have been some troubling issues as well.

Most notably, the bullpen has been brutal to start the season. Before the opener on Monday, manager Robin Ventura named Matt Lindstrom as the team’s closer going forward. I was really surprise by the move at the time, but it sort of makes sense now. Nate Jones was the favorite to land the closing gig in spring training, but he missed some time due to a strained glute. It appears that the injury is still an issue as Jones was placed on the 15-day disabled list this morning. It is possible that Ventura was still worried about Jones’ health heading into the season, and thus went with Lindstrom instead. Lindstrom figures to serve as team’s closer for now, but I have almost no confidence in his ability to hold the job for the entire season. While Lindstrom is a quality reliever, he doesn’t possess the career strikeout rate (7.2 K/9), walk rate (3.3 BB/9), or WHIP (1.42) that would project long-term sustainability in the role. It will be interesting to see who emerges from the pack, but I’m starting to like my Daniel Webb dark-horse call a little bit more each day.

Other than the on-field play, there are two things that Robin Ventura has done that I have to question.

First, I am not a fan of Conor Gillaspie hitting third. Nothing against Conor, but he is not a three-hole hitter. I understand that he had a great spring and Ventura might be playing the hot hand, but I hope this doesn’t continue. I am a big believer in having your best hitter hit third, and the best hitter on this team is Jose Abreu.

I can’t believe I’m about to say this but, why did Ventura have Paul Konerko hit for Tyler Flowers with the game on the line on Thursday? Yes, Konerko is the better hitter, but Flowers was for 4-for-4 and Konerko had been sitting on the bench for three hours. Thankfully it doesn’t seem as though that move fazed Flowers since he had a three-hit game today, but I wouldn’t be too happy about being pulled after getting four hits in a game. Having said that, it is important to point out that Ventura pushed all the right buttons during Wednesday’s comeback win by having Paul Konerko pinch-hit for Alejandro De Aza and then Dayan Viciedo for Tyler Flowers. Both of those moves were instrumental to the outcome of the game.

After four games I feel pretty much the same as I did before the season started. This White Sox team will be vastly improved over last year’s team. With a little luck, this team should be right around .500 at the end of the year.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Monday, March 31, 2014

MLB Season Predictions

AL East

Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Baltimore Orioles
Toronto Blue Jays

AL Central

Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Cleveland Indians
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins

AL West

Los Angeles Angels
Texas Rangers
Oakland Athletics
Seattle Mariners
Houston Astros

NL East

Washington Nationals
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies
New York Mets
Miami Marlins

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Brewers
Chicago Cubs

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies

2014 Playoffs

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox over New York Yankees
NL Wildcard: San Francisco Giants over Cincinnati Reds
ALDS: Detroit Tigers over Boston Red Sox
ALDS: Tampa Bay Rays over Los Angeles Angels
NLDS: Los Angeles Dodgers over San Francisco Giants
NLDS: Washington Nationals over St. Louis Cardinals
ALCS: Detroit Tigers over Tampa Bay Rays
NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals
World Series: Los Angeles Dodgers over Detroit Tigers

2014 Awards and League Leaders

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt
AL CY Young: Justin Verlander
NL CY Young: Clayton Kershaw
AL ROY: Jose Abreu
NL ROY: Oscar Taveras
AL MOY: Brad Ausmus
NL MOY: Matt Williams
AL Comeback: Grady Sizemore
NL Comeback: Matt Kemp
AL HR King: Chris Davis
NL HR King: Giancarlo Stanton
AL Batting Champ: Miguel Cabrera
NL Batting Champ: Paul Goldschmidt
AL K’s Leader: Yu Darvish
NL K’s Leader: Stephen Strasburg

-Eric Tichelbaut


Follow me on Twitter @etichel07