Editorials

White Sox: The Search for Bullpen Reinforcements

The Chicago White Sox traded much of their 2017 bullpen during their previous season and reshaping that segment of the team was a big priority for General Manager Rick Hahn this off-season. David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Dan Jennings, Anthony Swarzak and Tyler Clippard to a lesser extent all served roles in Chicago last year. All of them were traded for prospects as well. The oft-injured Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka were non-tendered and also won’t be in Glendale for spring training. There are 7-8 open spots for relievers on the Sox opening day roster and there will be arms aplenty in competition for those spots.

Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante and Danny Farquhar were given the opportunity to pitch down the stretch for the team last year and they are back to compete for spots once again. Farquhar was signed late in the 2017 campaign and the soon to be 31-year-old compiled a 4.20 ERA in 49.1 innings pitched for the White Sox and Rays last year. His 41.7 percent ground ball rate is attractive and the Sox gave him a one-year contract worth $1.5 million to avoid arbitration.

The 30-year-old Infante finally accumulated some big league innings in 2017 and was fairly reliable in different roles. He threw 54.2 innings and posted a 3.13 ERA with a 3.58 FIP. He has a big fastball and has a solid chance to remain part of the Sox bullpen this year. Minaya was given the closer’s role down the stretch in 2017, and he flashed a nice repertoire of pitches in addition to being somewhat successful. The save stat is a bit overrated in my opinion but he did finish nine contests in September. The 27-year-old Dominican also struck out 51 hitters in 43.2 innings. He likely has the best chance of these three to break camp with the big club.

Closers and bullpen arms in general aren’t the most important cogs on a rebuilding team. It’s often been said that if a club is going to win 75 games then they might as well just go all the way and win 65 games. This was an approach adopted by the White Sox front office last year. Hahn also recognizes the need for stability for the 2018 season however. It’s disheartening for a young, promising pitching rotation to have a multitude of decisions blown by sub-par relief efforts.

The Sox aren’t, and shouldn’t be in the market to pay veteran relievers substantial dollars for multiple years. They’ve shown that they can find cheap assets, turn them over to pitching coach Don Cooper, and resurrect a career that benefits both the player and club. Back in November, Hahn gave the media a glimpse of what was to come this off-season. In discussing the needs in particular for the 2018 club he said, “As to our short-term goals and our 2018 team, we have made no secret that a lot of our deals will center around the bullpen. The moves last summer we made put a big hole in our bullpen. We will have to look for reinforcements just like the other 29 teams will be doing”.

Fire-baller Nate Jones should be returning to the Sox this year after rehabbing an arm injury and is the leader in the clubhouse for the closer job. For awhile there, it looked like it was going to be Nate and the kids in the bullpen but Hahn struck a deal for some veteran reinforcements in early January. Our Patrick Flowers detailed the trade that brought Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan to the Pale Hose earlier this year. Jones, Soria, and Avilan are all veterans and all seem to be locks at this point to start the season in Chicago.

Left-handed pitchers Aaron Bummer and Jace Fry also had brief stints with Chicago last season and will be afforded the right to compete again during spring training. Both southpaws have minor league options remaining though and it’s likely they could use some more seasoning in Charlotte. Thyago Vieira and Jose Ruiz are both interesting young right-handers that were acquired by Hahn this off-season. They will also be given the opportunity to compete for bullpen jobs in spring training and they could each be a part of the long-term plan on the Southside. That coronation doesn’t have to start in April however and they are both likely candidates to return to the minor leagues at the outset of the 2018 campaign.

An important aspect of going through the pains of a rebuild is when clubs are able to witness some of the fruit that has been beared. Relievers are important assets for contending teams and clubs at the bottom often have arms to trade around the deadline to help fortify clubs in the hunt. Jones, Soria and Avilan should have a commensurate amount of trade value for the Sox. Guys like Kahnle and Swarzak brought back interesting returns in-season and it is expected that Hahn and his staff will try to replicate that success this season by burning more holes in that bullpen.

Kahnle was once acquired after being designated for assignment and given up on by Colorado. Swarzak was at a crossroads in his career before having it resurrected in Chicago. Jennings was wasting away in Miami prior to his stint with the Sox. These guys were all really good under Cooper and have since been traded to supplement a top-5 farm system. Can the White Sox find this year’s version of Anthony Swarzak or Dan Jennings? Will they be at Camelback Ranch in a couple of weeks? The answer to those questions might be in the affirmative. The Sox have extended non-roster invites and have signed some potential relievers to minor league deals with the chance at making the club this spring. Some of the interesting names are: Jeanmar Gomez, Bruce Rondon, Xavier Cedeno, T.J. House and Rob Scahill.

Jeanmar Gomez (RHP)

Gomez is a 30 year-old from Venezuela and he fits the profile of “typical White Sox reclamation project”. The 6’3, 215-pounder began his career as a starting pitcher in the Indians organization. Like many others, he turned his career around with the Pirates under the tutelage of pitching coordinator Jim Benedict (now with the Cubs) and respected pitching coach Ray Searage. He became a high-leverage reliever in Pittsburgh and was successful in a short inning role after being more of a long guy originally.

Gomez doesn’t possess a huge fastball and he doesn’t fit the mold of many other high-leverage options. He doesn’t strikeout a ton of guys, but he changes speeds very well. He throws a sinker quite often and keeps the ball down in the zone when at his best. The Venezuelan right-hander saved 37 games for the Phillies in 2016 but struggled in 2017. In 22 innings pitched last year, Gomez had a 7.25 ERA to go along with a 6.56 FIP. He was pretty good in 14 innings pitching for the Triple-A affiliates of the Mariners and Brewers.

There may be a silver lining in the numbers though. It was a very small sample, and relievers are often volatile from year to year, but his xFIP of .381 is somewhat promising. Gomez got pounded in the strike zone in 2017 and didn’t keep the ball down enough as evidenced by his .381 BABIP. This is a very worthwhile gamble for the White Sox to take and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeanmar is signing a major league deal next year after being flipped to a contender mid-season.

Here is a slow-motion breakdown of Gomez’s mechanics from Philadelphia.

Some highlights from Jeanmar’s 2016 season.

 

Bruce Rondon (RHP)

This is an interesting addition. Rondon is 27-years-old now after being discarded by the rebuilding Detroit Tigers. The 6’3, 275-pound Venezuelan has excellent raw stuff but has struggled with conditioning, effort, and has had significant attitude issues in the past.

Bruce made his debut way back in April of 2013 and displayed his tantalizing potential. He throws a fastball that regularly touches triple digits and he’s been given 70 and 80 grades in the past. When at his best, his fastball runs in on the hands to right-handed hitters and he possesses a slider and solid changeup as well. In 2016, the big righty threw 36.1 innings while striking out over 11 batters per nine innings. He walked less than three per nine as well, which was a big change for him. He posted a 2.97 ERA to go along with a FIP of 3.70. Rondon has very inconsistent command and struggles to repeat his delivery at times. Delivery repetition is another Don Cooper specialty and it will be interesting to see the changes implemented to try and harness some of Bruce’s wildness.

In 15.2 innings for the 2017 Tigers, Rondon struck out 12.64 and walked 5.74 hitters per nine. His ERA of 10.91 doesn’t look very good on the surface and the resurgent attitude issues are a recurring problem, but guys that throw this hard are typically afforded multiple chances. Much like Gomez, some of the peripheral statistics here are worth a second glance. Despite the absurdly high walk rate, Rondon pitched to a 3.29 FIP with Detroit. He strikes out a lot of guys so that is a contributing factor to the positive data but he also was quite unlucky.

It was a very small sample size last year but he compiled a BABIP of .476. If Rondon puts in the time and takes to coaching in Chicago some of those stats should normalize and there’s a solid chance that we could be looking at this year’s version of Tommy Kahnle.

Some evidence of Rondon’s nasty stuff.

 

Xavier Cedeno (LHP) 

Cedeno is a 5’11, 210-pound left-handed reliever from Puerto Rico. He played college ball at Miami Dade College and has bounced around in the big leagues. He only threw three innings in 2017 after dealing with a forearm issue and was non-tendered by the Rays earlier this off-season. The 31-year-old southpaw was very good for Tampa Bay in 2016. In 41.1 innings pitched, Xavier posted a 3.70 ERA to go with a 2.64 FIP and he shutdown left-handed hitters.

He also averaged 9.36 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2016, Cedeno compiled an ERA of 2.35 with a 3.26 FIP in 46 innings. He’s best used as a lefty specialist, and lefties have hit just .226/.286/.299 against him during his career. He’s not overpowering and he doesn’t possess lights out stuff. His fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range and he displays a mid-70’s curveball. He throws a changeup as well but relies heavily on the curveball. He is deceptive on the mound and he switches between a three-quarter and overhand delivery while pitching. If Cedeno is healthy, he seems like a pretty good bet to start the year in the White Sox bullpen with Avilan on the left-side.

Cedeno’s curveball in action.

 

Rob Scahill (RHP)

Scahill is a Winfield, Illinois native and he attended Willowbrook High School, and Bradley University. The 6’2, 220-pound right-hander pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers last season. The 31-year-old Scahill threw 22.1 innings for Milwaukee last year. He wasn’t very good in the majors and posted a 5.75 FIP. He did post an ERA of 1.40 in 25.2 innings pitched at Triple-A. Rob has solid life on his fastball and usually throws 94-95 mph.

He doesn’t miss many bats, and owns a lifetime strikeout rate of 15 percent, which doesn’t bode well for his future prospects. He has a 3.79 career ERA in 144 big league innings. There are crater size holes in the White Sox bullpen and it’s likely that Scahill found coming home to be attractive but he likely fits best as organizational depth in a role with the Charlotte Knights in 2018.

Some video of Scahill during his time in Colorado.

T.J. House (LHP)

The 28-year-old lefty only threw two major league innings in 2017, but has seen big league time during his career. The 6’0, 205-pounder has pitched out of the rotation and in relief in his career. In 133.1 innings for Toronto in Triple-A, he posted a 4.32 ERA along with a FIP of 4.39. In 2014, House threw 102 innings with the Indians while compiling a 3.10 xFIP. The Mississippi native has posted a .279 FIP vs left-handed hitters in his career. He could be a starting pitcher in Charlotte, or even a spot starter in Chicago at times. He could also possibly pitch his way into a long-relief role with the White Sox or transition into a niche as being a traditional LOOGY. He will be given a legitimate opportunity to earn some sort of role on the 2018 White Sox in spring training.

House showing his sling-shot delivery with Cleveland back in the day.

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