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Jonathan Lucroy wasn’t a standalone acquisition.
It turns out a coach is coming with him.
James Fegan reports that the White Sox are adding catching guru Jerry Narron as a major league instructor to Tony La Russa’s staff.
If you’re unfamiliar with Narron, he’s a presence through the White Sox’s turnaround at the position. James McCann sought Narron’s counsel over the offseason after his ugly receiving numbers prompted the White Sox to sign Yasmani Grandal. The result was dramatic improvement that brought his defense on par with his offense, and the Mets rewarded him for his work with a four-year, $40 million contract.
McCann’s gone, but here comes Lucroy with his own Narron narrative, as the two overlapped in Milwaukee during Lucroy’s ascendance at the position over the first half of the 2010s.
Narron won’t necessarily be a cure for what’s been ailing Lucroy, as they both spent last year in Boston. Narron was the bench coach for manager Ron Roenicke, but Lucroy only got one plate appearance before spending the bulk of the season at the alternate training site. There’s perhaps some hope that the titanium plate in his neck could boost him to “adequate backup” status, but the hope is probably more that Narron can coach up Zack Collins into such a role. There’s also the idea that Lucroy could provide some veteran assistance, but Lucroy might focus on breaking his own bad habits.
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Ethan Katz season is arriving early this year. The “New Pitch He’s Working On” story is an underappreciated offshoot of the “Best Shape Of His Life” genre that usually is thrust into the spotlight during the weeks between pitchers and catchers reporting and the first spring training game. This week, we’re already getting one of each.
Scott Merkin tells us that Lucas Giolito is working with Katz on a modified curveball he’s calling “the downer.”
“It’s like a 12-6 curveball, but it just goes down,” Giolito said. “It comes out of my hand almost like a slider variant. It’s hard to give it a real true name like curveball or slider. But the whole idea of it is it comes out on my fastball plane and then just goes down kind of later, whereas my slider is a little more right to left with that downward action. This one is more like out of the hand fastball plane, straight down late.”
Meanwhile, Cease is a year or two behind Giolito on his plan with Katz, as he told Fegan that he’s spent the winter establishing a habit with the core velocity belt in an attempt to stop his fastball from cutting in ways he doesn’t want.
Off-speed stuff wasn’t specifically the issue for Cease last season, but he believes everything will play better if his fastball is riding straight through the zone, and is a swing-and-miss offering to be accounted for on its own. Going off Rapsodo readings and scale, a fastball needs 17 inches of ride to have the desired effect up in the zone. Cease recalls being around the 18-inch territory when he was the MLB Pipeline pitcher of the year in 2018, dragged down to 14-15-inches by his cutting issues the last two seasons. His “best I’ve felt” optimism entering February is that he’s sitting in the 20-inch range during his preseason throwing.
(Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire)