The Sights, The Sounds, The Smells of a Baseball Team On The Road would make Spinal Tap Proud, but the White Sox won’t be getting lost in Cleveland.
I have seen the future, and the future is bright.
Friday I witnessed first-hand the crew of young White Sox talent that will most certainly be terrorizing American League teams in the future and for some time. In my first spring training game of the year and one that included what must have been the longest single inning in the history of the game (the third, with 18 combined hitters from each team in the frame), the Sox narrowly lost out to last year’s World Series runner-up Los Angeles Dodgers.
Fans watching the game including this writer were surprised by something I have not read anywhere in the press this year: Jose Abreu appears to have lost weight. Whether he’s changed his workout regimen or focused on dropping pounds through diet and nutrition isn’t clear. What is, is that he was nearly unrecognizable to fans sitting as close as the first row behind the dugout. He looks great and appears to move more fluidly in the field and at the plate.
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Speaking of Abreu – I don’t see him over-swinging these days like he did in 2015 and the first half of 2016. He still swings hard, don’t get me wrong. He just seems more balanced in what he’s trying to do at the plate. His first four years have been so consistent, I don’t think it’s occurred to anyone that a breakout year is possible. But I think he’s prime for it. He knows the league.
Over his four years, Abreu entered the league to wild success, struggled as pitchers adjusted to him, and now has adjusted to their adjustments. I believe he’s capable and prime for a full year performance like his 2017 second half, which would amount to a breakout year. A .320 average with 40 home runs and 120 RBI is not unimaginable and just might put him in MVP discussions.
Nicky Delmonico finished the game 0 for 3 on Friday but just missed hitting a pair of home runs. He crushed the ball each time, they just didn’t reach the outfield lawn. It’s important to note because he’s been dominating pitchers all spring, and I saw him dial into Dodger pitching with that live bat of his. Barring injury, Sox fans should expect big things from Delmonico. He has a great eye and a very quick power bat. I’m personally expecting a 30-homer year from this guy, and I think he could do it on just 400 at-bats.
There were other Sox performances and contributions, but I’d like to call out a few different things not visible in the scorecard. One was getting to see Micker Adolfo and Luis Robert hit. Good lord! These guys each look like Superman in a baseball uniform. I’m not kidding. When these physical specimens stepped out of the dugout and began taking warm-up swings, I wasn’t certain what to think other than “Yikes!”
Adolfo struck out but was not overmatched. Considering a few days ago it was thought he might have a UCL injury (just ask Tommy John what that means), it was pretty inspiring to see him swinging the bat hard and healthy.
Robert was another story. He appeared more like a Greek God than Superman. Again, I’m not kidding. He is a monster. Quiet and confident, and just as strong. Robert flew out in his only at-bat, and let me explain to you how it went. First pitch, called a strike. Second pitch, ball. Third pitch, ball. I commented to my friend sitting next to me on how confident he was that he wasn’t chasing anything. Then on the fourth pitch, we got to see his first swing – BANG! He drove a bomb to deep right center that just missed going out.
The collective gaze of the entire Sox dugout was laser focused on that drive. Fans were clamoring before the at-bat wondering what he looked like, and at the crack of the bat one could hear “Wow!” and “Boom!” exclamations from fans. To have that level of command at age 20 facing a Major League A squad is remarkable. Independent of where Robert starts the season, he appears to be at least Double-A talent at this moment, and I honestly think he could compete at the Triple-A level. Robert is something special. Again, Yikes!
I didn’t get to see Eloy Jiminez hit, which was the only real disappointment from the day for me personally. But it’s just a matter of time. Jiminez may see a call-up later in the year, either before September if he continues to raze minor league pitching, or at the very least a cup of coffee when rosters expand at the end of the season.
My favorite single moment of the game fits into this unseen category. In the sixth inning, Yoan Moncada hit a towering foul ball just over the netting behind the Sox dugout. This was a major league fly ball – hit almost straight up like a rocket that nearly leaves your sight, then eventually you realize it’s starting to get bigger and screaming back to Earth right down at you.
We all started shouting “Heads up!” so no one would get hurt and readied to see where it landed, not quite certain we wanted to risk any broken fingers or hands trying to make a brave catch. The ball just missed the woman sitting two seats to my left and utterly smashed her iPhone sitting on the ground. The ball skirted along the ground, and despite getting my fingers on it her husband made the grab. Which seemed like karma, given that her phone was literally smashed. The glass was completely shattered and peeling away from the severely bent metal like a car windshield after a terrible wreck. It literally looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it.
The overall best part of the game for me was sitting in the first row behind the dugout and watching the young players. These guys really do like each other. One can sense personalities emerging. Lucas Gioloto stands out among the others given his 6’7” stature but looks like an awkward teenager with a funny personality. You can always spot the geeks a mile away, let alone from the front row. He’s already popular and always in the center of the young pitchers who stick together like glue.
Michael Kopech behaves a little bit like a surfer. Jeff Spicoli with a 100-mph heater. Carson Fulmer looks the country boy, looking shaggy and laying low behind the shades but intently watching every pitch and play. Reynaldo Lopez floated throughout the dugout with a towel over his head and hiding behind dark shades like some sort of ethereal supreme being brimming with equally supreme confidence.
When Eddy Alvarez hit a blast over the right-field wall late in the final inning to pull the Sox within a run, those remaining in the dugout lined up to congratulate him like seasoned pros but with a youthful enthusiasm.
For you Winter Olympics fans, yes this is the same Alvarez who won a Silver medal in short track speed skating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. I don’t know much about that other than seeing Matt Vasgersian and Harold Reynolds interview him on MLB Network’s Hot Stove, but the boy can sure hit a baseball.
There really is something special brewing here, and it’s not just based on these young player’s pedigrees or fans expectations of them. They already believe they’re going to win and it’s just a matter of time.
They already believe. They’re going to win. And yes, it’s just a matter of time. This is White Sox Spring Training 2018. Winning Starts Now.