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White Sox: All-Star Break Prospect Profile Update, Lucas Giolito

During the Major League Baseball All-Star break we will examine the progress made by some of the top prospects across the Chicago baseball landscape, this evening we will take a look at one of the returns in the Adam Eaton deal with the Washington Nationals back in December, Lucas Giolito.

Back in February I wrote about White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper‘s approach to getting former top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito back on track, and it was centered around the plan to get back to the basics. Giolito attributed some of his inconsistencies with the Nationals to a modified delivery that the Nationals wanted him to use during his brief cup of coffee with the major-league club late in the 2016 season.

Over the course of six games (four starts) Giolito struggled to command the strike zone during his brief stint with the Nationals. In 21.1 innings of work Giolito posted a 6.75 ERA with the Nationals while striking out only 11 hitters and walking 12. So what gives? It’s not that he just forgot how to pitch from Triple-A to the major-league level, but he was clearly a different pitcher according to his numbers at the two different levels.

“I experienced a lot of hardship in the big leagues last year. I didn’t pitch well at all. I got hit pretty hard. So I learned a lot from that. I took a lot away just dealing with adversity, being able to make adjustments on the fly, slowing things down when things are speeding up. I’m going to try to take everything I’ve learned and apply that and be a little bit better this year.

“For me, it’s just get back to basics, keep it really simple,” said Giolito. I’d say last year, I overcomplicated things a little too much in my head, got a little out of whack. I’m looking forward to keeping it as simple as possible and getting back to what makes me successful.”

So this spring Giolito and Cooper decided to scrap the modified delivery, and have Giolito return to his natural delivery that he saw success with during his rise through the Washington minor league system.

Through his first 17 starts with the Charlotte Knights in 2017, Giolito has posted a very underwhelming record of just 3-8 with an equally underwhelming 4.98 ERA. While Giolito’s numbers are most definitely painting a picture of a pitcher that isn’t near ready to pitch at the major-league level, numbers can in fact be deceiving.

Giolito has had a mixed bag of results this season, at times looking like the future ace of the White Sox pitching staff, and at times causing Sox fans to scratch their head and wonder if the 22-year old starter will ever pan out to be the pitcher we thought that we were getting back in early December.

Over his first eight starts with the Knights, Giolito struggled mightily, posting a 6.41 ERA. That was until he made his ninth start of the season near the end of May. Photo

During that ninth start, Giolito tossed a seven-inning no-hitter against his former club, the Syracuse Chiefs, showing flashes of the brilliance that we expect out of him. Giolito allowed only three baserunners on walks while holding the Chiefs hit-less through all seven regulation innings, throwing  only 87 pitches, 50 for strikes.

After the game Giolito said that he had been feeling more comfortable as of late overall, and that he felt as though that start was the one that would turn the tides for him in 2017.

“It was kinda of that click I was loking for,” he said during a conference call Friday. “Just feeling confidence on the mound, commanding my pitches much better.

Giolito has been as good as advertised when it comes to the strikeout ability, logging 97 strikeouts in 90.1 innings pitched for the Knights, good for a K/9 of 9.7. The problem has been the walks and high pitch counts as a result of the walks. Giolito has allowed 41 walks thus far and has an alarming 4.1 BB/9 to go along with a 1.41 WHIP. His inability to command the strike zone on a consistent basis has also led to a HR/9 rate of 1.5, meaning he’s good for a home run per game if his command is not on.
As I said earlier, numbers can be as deceiving as they are damning, and while Giolito’s ERA is sitting just a tick under five after his first half of the 2017 season, his downfall this season can be solely attributed to his struggles to consistently command the strike zone. When Giolito has his command working for him, he looks like a dominant strikeout pitcher, and when he doesn’t he gets into trouble with walks and spends too much of his day in the stretch, a place where pitchers are less comfortable and successful.
In the second half of 2017 Giolito needs to continue to get comfortable mechanically, and place a huge emphasis on filling up the strike zone, even if that means seeing decreases in his strikeout numbers because teams are putting the ball in play more frequently.
As far as an ETA for Giolito’s arrival on the South Side is concerned, you may see him join the expanded roster in September for the sake of getting more work in after Charlotte’s season ends, but expect sometime in 2018 to be the point in which Giolito becomes a permanent fixture on the South Side.

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