It’s a shame that Lance Lynn‘s first spring appearance with the White Sox wasn’t televised or streamed anywhere. The spring training calendar demanded we click “SIMULATE” instead of “PLAY GAME,” so we can only look back and check the box score for any glitches.
The AI held up. Lynn only allowed a walk while striking out three over two innings of work, and because the game was on autopilot, he of course wanted to throw one more inning than the program called for.
“For me, just get out there, get back accustomed to being in a game,” Lynn said. “It was fun, everything went well, threw all the pitches I needed to throw and on to the next one just to keep building up pitch count.
“Pitch count-wise, last live BP, I was more than I was today, so I was looking forward to going back out. But they’ve got a plan and we’re in a good spot and everything physically feels good. Looking forward to the next one.”
Jonathan Stiever takes the mound as the White Sox return to captured games. He’s less exciting to watch, but it’s probably more enlightening to start tracking him this early, if only to get an idea of which form he might closely resemble — the guy with 96 and a sharp curveball, or the guy who sat low 90s and floated a lot of stuff over the middle of the plate.
* * * * * * * * *
Stiever also looms a little larger than normal because Michael Kopech isn’t considered to be starting rotation depth, what with his season-opening assignment taking him to the bullpen.
But … Tony La Russa said things could change.
“Becoming a starter in the big leagues where you’ve got the assignment every five days, is a tremendous responsibility,” La Russa said. “Many times it’s unfair unless a pitcher has a lot of experience. Nowadays, as quickly as we’re rushing pitchers to the big leagues, it makes even more sense if you can take him for year — it’s what we did with Adam — and pitch him as needed. The advantage is Michael’s going to be watching the veteran starters that we have; watch what they do in between starts. It’s all to the good.” […]
“Nobody has a crystal ball,” La Russa said. “You start out with him as a starter-in-waiting and getting some experience and learning, but as the season gets on and the opportunities are there and the way he competes, we’re going to try and win, so you take your best shot and he’s going to try to be part of that best shot. So, not putting any limitations on him.”
On the subject of simulations, I would’ve loved to know whether the plans for Kopech would have changed were the minor league schedules starting on time. In terms of the “tremendous responsibility” La Russa outlined, it’d probably be best to reintroduce him to pitching with lower stakes, yet in a role he knows. Kopech said on the Zoom call that he’ll have to figure out how pitchers recover to get ready for consecutive days, or even every other day.
But there is no other meaningfully competitive place for Kopech to pitch, so wading into the water via the bullpen is probably the most sensible course. And because it’s unclear what kind of options will be available for grooming unproven players until a month into the season, the White Sox have all the reasons to more or less make it up as they go along. Here’s a case where I feel a little better having La Russa in charge over Renteria, because Renteria had plenty of opportunities to improvise with pitching assignments, and he never looked comfortable even entertaining it, much less trying to execute it.
* * * * * * * * *
As for the alternate sites, The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler story provided a rough overview of how they’ll work in 2021. It’s initially Yankee- and Florida-centric in accordance with her beat, but there’s plenty to glean regarding how April could unfold for alternate training sites and extended spring training.
A couple of interesting wrinkles:
No. 1: There will be an attempt to get those Triple-A and non-roster invitee players experience against other teams if possible.
The plan for alternate sites in May and beyond is yet to be determined. In April, clubs will be allowed to set up what amount to Triple-A exhibition games against other alternate sites at their discretion. However, clubs will have to submit proposals for exhibition games to the league office for approval.
To receive approval, MLB must receive “measures the Club will take to comply with” health and safety protocols, as well as details about how travel between alternate site teams will take place.
If the alternate training sites remain the same, then the White Sox’s nearest opponent would be the Cubs in South Bend, Ind., which is about two hours away from Schaumburg. The Brewers trained just north of Oshkosh, making it a three-hour trip instead of the usual 90 minutes to Milwaukee. The Cardinals last year drove up from St. Louis in separate cars for their series against the White Sox, so these would theoretically represent shorter caravans.
No. 2: At the second spring training, players will have to leave spring training facilities unless they are scheduled to appear in a game that day. Adler notes that this means starting pitchers will be spending a lot of time away from teams.
* * * * * * * * *
Thinking through the ramifications — without overthinking it, because these things are subject to change — the arrangement could end up benefiting the same groups who found success last year:
- Non-roster invitees (the Alex McRaes of the world)
- Promising hitters without upper-level reps (Andrew Vaughn)
- Pitchers needing design help (prep arms)
That’s why Stiever stands a chance at being instructive this spring. He supposedly looked sharper at Schaumburg than he did in Chicago. Give him a spring training that isn’t interrupted by a forearm issue, and maybe he’ll be better equipped during his second shot at contributing.
If it’s not Stiever, perhaps it’s Jimmy Lambert, who could also benefit from a regular spring training after his attempt to return from Tommy John surgery hit a snag in 2020. He left everybody wanting to see more after two successful innings last year, and both La Russa and Dallas Keuchel like the cut of his jib.
“I’m real, real high on Jimmy Lambert, he’s one of my favorites out of the whole group,” [Keuchel] said. “I look at the little things in guys, especially young guys that have a little bit of the knowledge upstairs.
“When you’re talking about talent, there’s guys that stand out to you. Like Garrett (Crochet), he’s throwing 97, but he’s also 6-4, 6-5 or even bigger than that. With Jimmy, if you see him on the street, you don’t really see him as a prototypical athlete, but the competitive edge is there and the knowledge is there. The way the ball comes out of his hand, it’s so heavy. You don’t expect that from a guy who’s sitting 6-foot and 180 (pounds).
“He’s got three plus pitches that, at an early age, is advanced. And I think the mental mindset is also there. So I’m anxious for him to have a healthy first full season in there to see what he’s going to be doing.”
Stiever and Lambert face the same “tremendous responsibility” as Kopech would, but it lessens the individual load if all three can be considered options at some point, and on their own schedules. It’d also be a boon for the depth if the first two ideas to fill out the rotation — Carlos Rodón and Reynaldo López — can stay healthy enough to slug it out for the fifth spot, only the fifth spot.
That’s Keuchel with the last comments.
Keuchel turning out to be quite the quote. Very open with his opinions, which I enjoy.
Kopech’s usage will be interesting to follow. Such a stacked bullpen, not sure where he’ll fit in. Can’t imagine he’ll get high leverage situations out of the gate, and with the top 3 hopefully pitching deep into games, I don’t see a lot of innings or back to backs for him. Pairing him with Rodon makes sense. I just hope he’s fully on board with the plan.
He also shaved a couple of inches off Crochet’s height. Maybe it’s a form of rookie hazing.
In this video Lynn looks to me like he might be slimmer than last year. It may just be the black uni and trimmed beard. Hard to say.
I had the same thought. I’ll wait for Keuchel’s assessment before calling it best shape of his life.
This game actually on TV anywhere? I cant seem to find it in the guide.
It’s streaming online. whitesox.com, YouTube, Facebook.
Lance Lynn is Lamarr Hoyt 2.021