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It had been a few weeks since the White Sox had a scheduled off day in Chicago, so it had been a few weeks since we had cell phone video footage of events at the team’s alternate training site in Schaumburg.
If this homer off Bennett Sousa is any indication, separating a shoulder might’ve been just the thing Nick Madrigal needed to unlock his power.
I’m guessing Madrigal didn’t pull a hitting equivalent of Henry Rowengartner or step on a radioactive Lego at Woodfield Mall, but any footage of authoritative contact is welcome, because Danny Mendick has made it incumbent on Madrigal to show at least a little extra-base pop when he returns to the White Sox lineup. Mendick’s OPS (.724) is nearly 100 points higher than Madrigal’s (.627), and his production isn’t luck-based. Then again, “Mendick or Madrigal” could flip to “Mendick and Madrigal” a little too often for everybody’s liking if Mendick slides over to third on Yoán Moncada’s bad days.
It’s good news in the big picture. Mendick confirmed what he’d hinted at last year with his September call-up by showing real utility-infielder value on a consistent basis, and the Sox need additional layers of adequacy with Leury García out for the (regular) season. His contributions just weigh less on a relative scale when they’re trying to compensate for the absence of the team’s most valuable player. A bottom of the order with Mendick, Madrigal and (Nomar) Mazara is not something that makes you say “MMM…”, unless it’s followed by “no.”
(Update: Yolmer Sánchez is now back in the mix, as the White Sox signed him to a minor league deal.)
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Jake Burger is back under White Sox supervision after getting long-sought game reps with the CarShield Collegiate League in the St. Louis area. According to the league’s stats on GameChanger, Burger hit .297/.395/.405 with a homer and a double over 43 plate appearances. If there’s any evidence of his rust, it’s in the strikeout column. He fanned 10 times against three walks.
The numbers are less impressive when compared to, say, Chase Krogman‘s. The Sox selected Krogman out of Liberty High School on the other side of Missouri, and signed him away from Burger’s Missouri State Bears with a $190,000 bonus. He had an unremarkable seven games with the Arizona Rookie League affiliate in 2019, but he’s followed up by hitting .398/.510/.590 for the O’Fallon Hoots, and he doesn’t turn 20 until February.
But the numbers aren’t as important as Burger showing he’s physically able to perform after rupturing the same Achilles twice. He’s finally putting the surgeries in his rear-view mirror, exuberant to the point that third base isn’t the only position he’s considering.
“I feel like I could play almost anywhere they put me,” said Burger during a Zoom call on Monday. “Maybe not center field or shortstop. But I feel great.” […]
“Obviously, the situation didn’t unfold the way we first saw it,” said Burger, referring to the COVID-19-related Minor League postponement. “I took the momentum going home and played tennis every day, did a pool workout every day and biked every single day.
“After I did that for three months, I was feeling better than I ever have. Lost some weight. Felt good physically, mentally. I honestly feel better defensively now than I did prior to the Draft, almost just because of the quick-movement stuff I did with tennis and stuff.”
The Schaumburg environment isn’t a great place to develop most players, but it could have a special appeal for somebody like Burger, who can log hours and hours of baseball activity against players more advanced than him without the pressure of bad stats hanging over his head.
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This imbalance of benefits from the Schaumburg environment can also be seen on the pitching side, at least per James Fegan’s account. Jonathan Stiever is somebody who would be best suited coming back from spring forearm discomfort in Winston-Salem or Birmingham, but instead he has to take moral victories in losses to better players.
All on one field, there’s more of a feel for what a balancing act this is between a surfeit of pitchers and selected reserves as you watch Cheslor Cuthbert, designated for assignment twice this year, drill top pitching prospect Jonathan Stiever all over the yard repeatedly in the many at-bats a sim game allows. Since Stiever had forearm soreness in spring and finished last season in the Class A Advanced Carolina League, that he’s stretched out to throw six innings and looked healthy and lively doing it — and is getting vital development time out of an otherwise lost year — are the key takeaways, rather than that his struggles to get ahead with his curveball were exploited by significantly more experienced hitters.
On the other hand, it’s a perfectly fine introduction for Jared Kelley, the White Sox’s flame-throwing second-round pick. Were he able to pitch a full season, he probably would have faced a similar program that Matthew Thompson and Andrew Dalquist adopted after their selections in the draft — new training regimens and a minimal amount of innings.
But with his season cut short by the pandemic, he’s able to get into some live action against those more experienced hitters, and a guy who struck out 34 batters over 12 innings in the Texas prep ranks has difficulty making Nicky Delmonico flinch.
“Threw some good pitches and it was like he didn’t even budge on them,” Kelley said on a Zoom call. “So I was like ‘I guess this is pro ball.’”
Reading about these repeated successes by Cuthbert and Delmonico helps explain their repeated call-ups. It also suggests a zero-sum nature to the alternative training site, where valuable lessons for young pitchers come at the expense of a veteran who is biding his time against competition that doesn’t help raise his game.
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The White Sox will cross the halfway point of the 60-game season on Monday, and after minimal complications on the front half of the schedule, the team shed some of the AAAA pitching depth it stored in Schaumburg in the event of all hell breaking loose. Gone are Bryan Mitchell and Adalberto Mejía, with Kodi Medeiros and Danny Dopico getting reps in their stead.