Prospect Watch: Rodon, Anderson & More!

We're just about two weeks clear of the deadline for team to sign players selected in June's MLB Draft (or not sign, sorry Astros), so the prospect hounds are out updating their lists of top players in each organization.

Let's take a look at some of the highlights surrounding the White Sox, shall we?

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Frank Thomas memories

As we bask in the tear-stained glow of Frank Thomas’ induction into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, the staff of The Catbird Seat share their favorite memories of the greatest White Sox they have ever seen. We tried to make a rule of one memory per person. We failed. Matt didn’t contribute because he hates Frank Thomas.

Collin: My memories of the White Sox — and of baseball in general — begin in earnest around the year 1996. While I attended games in years prior, probably as early as 1993, and watched games with my dad, I don’t have a lot of solid memories of Frank as a rookie, of the ALCS against the Blue Jays or of the unfortunate way ‘94 ended.

In 1996 I was 9 years old and finally starting to understand the game as somewhat of an observer, so the first memory of Frank that sticks out in my mind — and I’ll use Baseball Reference as a bit of a refresher on the date — is Sept. 15, 1996.

On that day, Frank Thomas was invincible.

The White Sox were playing in Boston and Tim Wakefield was on the mound. This was my first real look at Fenway Park and I remember being in awe, even just from watching on TV, of the gigantic Green Monster. I didn’t quite understand at the time that, while the wall towered over the rest of the stadium, it wasn’t impossible to knock a ball over the wall as it stood closer than most normal left field walls.

If that weren’t enough for me to take in, Wakefield’s odd delivery — my dad did his best to describe the intricacies of the knuckleball to me — was fascinating. How could a ball that moved so slowly and was delivered seemingly so simply give big league hitters fits?

Wakefield’s knuckleball didn’t give Thomas fits on that day at Fenway.

1st inning: Thomas homers over the Green Monster off of Wakefield.

3rd inning: Thomas homers over the Green Monster off of Wakefield.

5th inning: Thomas homers over the Green Monster off of Wakefield.

It was an unbelievable sight, particularly for a baseball-obsessed 9 year old. Thomas could take that crazy dancing ball and hit it over the highest point imaginable. And not just once, not just twice, but three times!

The White Sox ultimately lost the game, as Baseball Reference’s box score reminds me, but it didn’t matter. To that 9 year old, Thomas solved the riddle of the knuckleball and conquered the unconquerable Monster.

My other Thomas memory occurred 10 years later at a game I was lucky enough to attend. It was the year after the 2005 World Series title and Thomas was back at U.S. Cellular Field for the first time in a different uniform.

I remember being way up in the upper deck, but among 40,000 White Sox fans to give Thomas a standing ovation when he stepped in the batter’s box against Jon Garland for his first at-bat in Chicago as a member of another organization.

So what did he do? If you’re reading this, I’m sure you know, but he launched a solo home run that gave Oakland a 1-0 lead. Sox fans, of course, stood and cheered the entire time he rounded the bases, a particularly odd sight for a visitor.

In the fifth inning he duplicated the feat, taking Garland deep for the second time — another solo shot — that extended Oakland’s lead to 4-0. Fans stood and cheered once again, though slightly more subdued this time.

The White Sox ultimately won the game, coming back from a 4-0 deficit to win in 10, but the story of the night was Thomas’ return. He put on a show and got a deserved welcome from a packed Cell full of fans who appreciated his Hall of Fame career.

James: There’s not an immediate signature Frank Thomas memory that comes to mind for me. He’s not David Freese. He didn’t win a playoff game (though he did tie Game 4 of the ALCS) or hit a walk-off blast to clinch a playoff berth. He had his clutch moments, but wasn’t particularly known for them, since a machine has no sense of the moment. I remember him popping out with the bases juiced to end Game 2 of the ALCS when he was with the A’s in 2006 and my heart just ached for him. That was his chance.

If anything, Frank was the first to teach me about sample size. My older sister is my only sibling, and being the oldest, she got first pick of anything, including who she got to pick to be her favorite player. So her favorite Bulls player was Michael Jordan and mine was Scottie Pippen, and her favorite White Sox player was Frank Thomas and mine was Robin Ventura. Robin gave me plenty to love, and I got into plenty of trouble emulating him by sprinting toward a stuffed White Sox ball on the floor, grabbing it all in one motion and firing off-balance toward the fireplace (which I had decided would play the role of Frank) before flying into the living room couch. But most of the time, I was keenly aware what a raw deal this was. I cheered for a very good player, and my big sister got a legend. If you were a White Sox fan your favorite player was Frank Thomas, I just had to pretend like Robin was just as good like he was my kid or something.

My only respite from this was going into games in person, where for the handful of games my family would make it out to every year, Robin had a tendency to go bezerk, where Frank seemed like he must be pressing to impress my sister. This came to a head on April 22, 1996. The Sox roughed up Bobby Witt of the Rangers for five-run first inning, of which neither Frank nor a slow-starting Ventura took much part in, but Robin teamed up with Harold Baines for back-to-back shots to put the nail in Witt’s coffin in the sixth, once again giving me the upper hand on my sister, in terms of seeing our favorite player perform for us. When Ventura homered again off a young Rick Helling in the eighth, and Frank and Karkovice were the only Sox starters without hits (Frank walked, of course), she had just about had it. As much as I don’t like to revel in my sister’s displeasure, I was a bit amused, because I knew her complaints were absurd--no one would ever use one game to argue Frank wasn’t awesome.

Frank was so huge, he needed so little extension to smack something four miles, I felt like we hardly ever saw him get unmoored. Hawk was always saying “He just muscled that one into center field” or “he didn’t even get all of it and he got it out of here,” or “he just poked that one to right and it carried out.” “Well, let’s see him, get all of one and see if leaves the stadium, dammit!is what I always thought. To top it off, Frank was so unfailingly patient, that it seemed like he wasn’t even interested in selling out for a moonshot. For a dinger-loving child this was very frustrating, and Frank’s unfailing perfection encouraged this kind of selfishness.

So, I always treasured August 13, 1993. The Sox were fending off the Kansas City Royals in the AL West and trailing at home after that contemptuous little jerk Mike MacFarlane* had put the Royals up with a sixth-inning home run off Jason Bere. Trailing 4-2 by the time the eighth had come, and with Royals closer Mike Montgomery trying to work a two-inning save, the Sox started a rally with back-to-back hits from Ron Karkovice and Warren Newson, and shot ahead for good when Monty hung Frank a breaking ball, and I mean really hung it. Frank seemed to lurch and extend his arms in a way he almost never got to, and rocked his hips forward and out as he connected, sending a booming two-run, go-ahead shot out to left. As SportsChannel fired up the replay, it showed the ball disappeared in the second half of its flight, into a cloud of fog that had begun rolling into the stadium. “He hit it into the night,” Wimpy cackled. That’s an image and description that has never left me. It seemed magical, like Frank had banished the ball with a spell.

*I don’t think Mike MacFarlane is actually a contemptuous little jerk. He was a very good offensive catcher. Hawk just called him a “Sox Killer,” and I took it very literally, and he moved strange, like a spider. Growing up, I was afraid of spiders.

Nick: As far as individual memories go, I always will remember seeing him and Raines go back-to-back at Yankee Stadium in...I think ‘95. Oddly, another one of the specific memories I have of him was not with the White Sox, but rather when he was with Oakland in 2006 and he hit two homers off of Johan Santana while in the process of sending home the hated Twins in the playoffs.

The fact that I will always think of Thomas as someone who never got enough credit may belie my age. He won his back-to-back MVP awards when I was 6 and 7-years old respectively. After that it was an exercise in his performance very slowly eroding into his 30s, and it seemed like no matter how well he did he would just be compared unfavorably to when he was better.

In many ways he was a symbol of injustice - blamed when the White Sox pitching was never good enough to support what was usually a good or very good offense. The hometown newspaper literally owned the local rival, and that local rival was insecure and looking for excuses - so they, a team usually winning 70-or-so-games would write hit pieces about the best player on the South Side team winning 80-or-so games. Thomas probably didn’t deserve to win the MVP award in ‘97 over Ken Griffey Jr - but he definitely deserved to finish ahead of Tino Martinez for second.

That’s what’s so crazy about his Hall of Fame process. All of a sudden everybody appreciated him ahead of guys who sometimes - fairly or unfairly - overshadowed him in the latter half of his career.

A guy who had so many almosts- only won a World Series while on the DL, finished lower in MVP voting a few times than he should have, had the World Series canceled when he was the best hitter on the planet, the 2000 team collapsing in the playoffs, etc. - all of a sudden cracked the Hall on his first try when so many deserving players did not. Guys like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, who were frequently Thomas’ equal in many ways, are in danger of not making the Hall after multiple tries.

A horrifying injustice was avoided. Thankfully. And at the end of the day, this was a guy who was just a pleasure to watch play - the pitches in on his hands that he would muscle over the infield, the walks on pitches just a hair off the corner, and of course the titanic bombs he crushed to be followed with that glowing smile...I’m so glad and lucky to have watched him play. There are a lot of “almosts” in his career, but fortunately, he got this one and it was a no-doubter.

 

Important Stuff from the 4-3 loss to the Twins that happened during the HOF induction

The White Sox took the lead while Frank Thomas was reciting his love poem to baseball, so they got the thematic punch down in an otherwise miserable day where they were again mystified by Yohan Pinto and left the tying run at third despite having three cracks to make contact compelling enough to bring Leury Garcia home in the ninth. An entire weekend without getting Twain'd is just too much to ask. This day gave us the Frank Thomas speech, already. Don't be selfish. They lost 4-3, in case you wondered.

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Important stuff from Chris Sale Day, a 7-0 victory over the Twins

When the Twins announced they were giving left-hander Logan Darnell on Saturday against the White Sox's Chris Sale, one could reasonably assume they were essentially doing the real-life equivalent of pressing the "sim game" button on this one.

But the games are played for a reason, and Saturday night's showdown went, well, about as one would've expected as Sale and the Sox cruised to a 7-0 victory, their third straight in the Twin Cities.

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The Shifting Market for Dunn & Danks

I keep returning to this subject, because to me it seems so obvious that Dunn should be traded. He's hitting a solid .229/.366/.440 on the year, good for an OPS+ of 124. He's 5th in the majors in pitches seen per plate appearance.* He's also going to be a free agent this offseason, there's no way the White Sox make him a qualifying offer in an attempt to gain a draft pick, and the White Sox probably aren't making the playoffs this year. Despite all of this, I haven't heard as many trade rumblings about Dunn as I might have thought.

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Important stuff from a fairly easy 9-5 victory in Twinland

Poor Kevin Correia. He's carved out what's now a 12-year MLB career of soft-tossing, throwing strikes, being below-average but reliably present. And yet, whenever he's off his game, anyone watching wonders how he's still in the league. Correia and all observers knew he was up a creek when he hung a curve that Jose Abreu blasted to Duluth for three runs, and since that happened in the first inning, Correia spent his whole night making unsuccessful attempts at damage control, unaided by his defense. In Correia's defense, he only accounted for 10 of the Sox 17 hits on the night, two of their three home runs--and not the one to Tyler Flowers!--and if the bullpen had just shut out the Sox after his four innings, they would have needed to use Jake Petricka,

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This isn't going to work, Tyler Flowers

Tyler Flowers is hitting .345/.406/.517 over his last nine games. That's something, even if it comes with the same luck of doinked singles and grounders finding holes that his helium-infused month of April was full of.

Flowers own words on the matter are rather vague, discussing feeling better and more comfortable, as people tend to be during a hot streak.

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Important stuff from Thursday's 5-2 win in Twinland

What can I say about tonight's Hector Noesi start in Minnesota that's more telling than this: it prompted a discussion about Zach Stewart's near-perfect game against the Twins in 2011. Noesi retired the first 11 batters he faced, and took a one-hit shutout into the eighth. He did this mostly via flyouts. Long flyouts, medium-length flyouts, not so many short flyouts, and one swinging strikeout, which came against Danny Salazar, who later blasted an enormous two-run homer off Noesi in the eighth, his only runs allowed. You have to throw strikes to do this kind of work, and Noesi did that,  which beats the pants off the time he walked seven people in under five innings. 

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Done with Gordon Beckham

It's a tremendous testament to what phenomenal teases Dayan Viciedo and Gordon Beckham are that they have both have had streaks this season that led to wide speculation that they had made real improvements to their game, and now, streaks that have led to wider speculation that they have exhausted all reasonable hope of developing into worthwhile players.

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Important Stuff from Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Royals

It's always preferable for the white Sox to play well, and show progress from the important members of their franchise. But if they're not, if they're going have Jose Abreu and Adam Dunn combined for six strikeouts, while Tyler Flowers posts the only multi-hit game on the day, if they're going to spoil another Jose Quintana gem and get into a knowingly hopeless dry heave-athon with a bullpen infinitely more ability to carry on a dry heave-athon...well,then, fine. This is a fine result. Go right ahead and let Mike Moustakas knee a ball out of Tyler Flowers' glove fro the game-deciding run. See if I care.

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Important stuff from Tuesday's 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Royals

Five innings worth of a crisply pitched game is lot of innings. It's most of the game, even! It's certainly plenty to ask of Scott Carroll. But as Carroll snuck out of the fifth inning, throwing something that vaguely resembled a wipeout slider but obviously couldn't be, it was obvious that the Sox were not preparing the calvary to rescue Carroll at the first spot of trouble--as they have none--and instead hoping to stretch Carroll out for as long as he could go.

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Important stuff from Monday's 3-1 victory over the Royals

That Chris Sale guy sure is good. A statistically dominant 8:1 K/BB outing over seven one-run innings that is instantly dismissed from any discussion of the best 20 starts of his still very brief career. Perhaps one of the tricks of managing Sale's workload is his resilience. He doesn't follow a linear path of decline over a start. He started leaving his changeup up in the fourth inning and got hammered for a bit and needed a relay line to save him from a crooked number inning, then corrected the problem and burned worms for the entire fifth. He had to reach back for extra life in his fastball to blow his way through a tight scoring situation and strike out the side in the sixth, then returned with nearly 100 pitches and cruised through a perfect seventh.

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The AL Central in 2015

I will almost certainly write several more articles on this topic before next season starts. But, with the All Star Game come and gone, the Amateur Draft Deadline in our rearview mirror, and teams having played between 95-100 games this season, it seems as good a time as any to take stock of the White Sox' competition for the near future.

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Important stuff from Saturday's 4-3 win over the Astros

Surely back-to-back nights of the bullpen clinging to one-run leads over multiple innings to prop up average or worse contributions from the offense will be prominently featured in the best-seller "How an Awful Bullpen Derailed the 2014 White Sox Juggernaut."

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Saturday White Sox update and such

So far in the second half, the White Sox are undefeated, Dayan Viciedo is a stud and the bullpen is perfect. There is a lot of confidence that this is how things will continue to play out. Starting the second half with a fun 3-2 comeback win over the Astros was nice, but the implications were more interesting.

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The first half is over; are the Sox reaching their goals? Part II

Way later than originally promised, we will look into the progress of the White Sox core. With Chris Sale and Jose Quintana being the only established, young, above-average contributors on long-term contracts, they were pretty much it for this category, and their main responsibility was not getting hurt or do something to indicate that long-term investment in them was a huge mistake.

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