Just a few days before pitchers and catchers are set to report to Spring Training in Arizona, the Chicago White Sox were busy yet again. In perhaps the busiest offseason of any team in the Majors this year — the South Siders added another reliever to their bullpen mix — Matt Albers.
A native of Houston, TX, Albers has appeared at the Major League level in parts of nine seasons since 2006. Originally drafted by his hometown Houston Astros in the 23rd round of the 2001 draft, Albers has a career Major League record of 25-31 with a 4.42 ERA in 364 games.
Last season, Albers returned to the Astros and appeared in eight games out of the club’s ‘pen. In 10 innings pitched, he posted a 0.90 ERA along with eight strikeouts.
Going back to the previous two seasons (2012 and 2013), Albers has been sharp out of the bullpen for four different teams. The San Jacinto College product went 2-0 with a 2.29 ERA in 40 games for the Boston Red Sox in 2012. He also posted a 1-1 record with a 2.57 ERA in 23 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks that season.
A year later, the right-hander went 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 56 games for the Cleveland Indians. He finished a season-high 21 games for the Tribe that season.
Albers, 32, is one of 34 pitchers in White Sox camp this spring vying for a spot on the club’s 25-man roster.
All good things must come to an end.
Sunday was my last day in Chicago and it was the last day of SoxFest. I had a flight to catch at 3:59 PM CT — and with snow in the forecast — I made the arrangements to get to the airport early. My shuttle was set to pick me up at 12:30 PM, so I didn’t have too much time on Sunday — but I made the most of it.
I started out early on Sunday and made my way down to the lobby by 9 AM just in time for the SoxFest festivities to get going. With over three hours left of SoxFest for me, I made sure to hit as much as I could. It was also the first day I set up shop in the media room. I set up my laptop and then went on my way.
I made my way over to the #SoxSocial Lounge and finally took a photo with Aaron Rowand — the Sox Racer — not the real Aaron Rowand. After posting the photo I took with Joe Crede on Friday, I had many people tell me that I needed to take a photo with Rowand since we “looked alike”. I guess the facial hair had something to do with that comment, but still, I happily took the photo.
I spent most of the day in the #SoxSocial Lounge and just took it all in. Being that I handle all of the social media platforms for the Knights, I have to admit that I felt right at home in the lounge where Twitter was a big topic! Don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter @Tommy_the_V.
After leaving the #SoxSocial Lounge, I made my way around the Hilton. There were tons of fans on hand already and waiting for autographs.
At 9:00 AM on stage, fans had their pick of Zach Duke, Tim Anderson, Courtney Hawkins, David Robertson, Avisail Garcia, and Alexei Ramirez. Although I didn’t get a chance to talk to Tim or Courtney, it was nice to see fans so interested in them. Both are highly touted prospects in the system and both could make their way through Charlotte in the future.
Hawkins was Chicago’s first round pick (13th overall) in the 2012 draft. The Texas native, who recently earned an invite to White Sox Spring Training, has spent the last two full seasons with the Winston-Salem Dash. The 6’3″, 220 pound outfielder hit 19 home runs in back-to-back seasons for the Dash (2013-14). Hawkins is just 21 years old.
Anderson, also 21, was the first round pick of the White Sox out of the 2013 draft. A native of Alabama, Anderson made his way through the White Sox system last year and ended up in Double-A Birmingham. In 10 games with the Barons, he hit .364 (16-for-44). Before that, he hit .297 (85-for-286) with seven triples, six home runs, 31 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases in 68 games with Winston-Salem.
I continued walking around the Hilton and that was fun in itself. There were so many White Sox photos and banners hanging around. I noticed a large banner of former Charlotte Knights catcher and current White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers hanging, so I made sure to snap a photo of that. That banner was among a number of current White Sox players and I thought overall they were really well done.
I then began hearing some loud cheers and noticed a familiar face taking photos with fans. His name was not listed on the schedule, so it was a bit of a surprise to me to see him. It was none other than Charlotte Knights legend, 1993 IL MVP and MLB all-time great, Jim Thome.
I had an opportunity to meet Jim last year as he made two appearances at BB&T Ballpark and one at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown when the Knights played the IronPigs. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Knight, April 11, 2014 and came back to Uptown Charlotte later in the year to work with some Knights hitters.
I snapped a few photos of Jim on Sunday and moved on to the next stage. I’ll keep an eye out for Jim around BB&T Ballpark in 2015.
After seeing Jim interact with fans, I then saw another familiar face one more time before leaving SoxFest — Carlos Rodon. I interviewed Carlos on Friday during the media session and we spoke about the 2014 season, his expectations for 2015 and more. You can hear that interview and read more about him in my Knight Fever blog here: Carlos Rodon Interview. There is a big year in store for Carlos in 2015. Stay tuned.
Before I left, I spent some more time in the #SoxSocial Lounge. White Sox manager Robin Ventura was on stage for a fun interactive game with a fan. There was a huge crowd on hand to watch that.
After spending some time between the lounge and the media room, it was time to pack up and head back home. I finished my day 2 blog at 12:28 PM and ran to catch my 12:30 PM shuttle to the airport. In case you missed it, you can view that blog here.
When I got into the shuttle (and braved the snowy conditions on my way to the airport), I took a moment to reflect on the weekend. I learned so much about the White Sox organization and their diehard fans.
Thank you to the White Sox staff for the hospitality and making me feel at home on the South Side. It was so great to see first and hear all of the buzz of the 2015 Chicago White Sox. Baseball season seems closer than ever. Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month, and Opening Knight will be here before you know it.
If ever there was a year to attend SoxFest, this was the year. Rick Hahn, Robin Ventura, and the White Sox have a very talented team on their hands. This team should be able to compete for a playoff spot. With a solid rotation, bullpen, and offensive and defensive lineup, the White Sox could be contenders for a long time.
As for me, I’m back in Uptown Charlotte preparing for the 2015 season. It’s going to be a busy, but amazing year. I can’t wait to start year two at BB&T Ballpark. It all begins on April 3rd when the White Sox come to Uptown. I hope to see you at the Knights Leadoff Luncheon and the game later that night.
As Hawk Harrelson says… “You can put it on the board… YEEEEESSSSS!”
The 2014 season will be one that Carlos Rodon will never forget. Pitching — and excelling for NC State University — Rodon made a huge name for himself around the baseball world. He was highly touted, highly scouted, and highly regarded as one of the top pitching prospects at the collegiate level. And rightly so.
In his final season at NC State, Rodon broke the school record for strikeouts. He finished the season with 117 in 98.2 IP and the overall record with 436.
When draft day came around, the White Sox selected Rodon with the third overall pick in the first round of the 2014 draft. A native of Holly Springs, NC, Rodon made his way through the White Sox system after being drafted at the age of 21. He made his professional debut with the Arizona White Sox, before heading home to North Carolina to pitch for the Winston-Salem Dash.
In four games with the Dash — two starts — the 6’3″ left-hander pitched to a 1.93 ERA over 9.1 innings pitched. He fanned 15 batters over that span and earned a promotion to Charlotte, where he continued to excel.
With the Knights, Rodon made three starts — the first two coming at BB&T Ballpark in Uptown Charlotte. In his first Triple-A appearance on August 19 in front of a sold-out crowd, Rodon allowed one run on one hit over three innings. He threw 55 pitches, 35 for strikes.
In his second start with the Knights, Rodon went four innings and struck-out eight batters. He allowed one run on one hit and two walks and tossed 73 pitches. In his final start of the year, Rodon pitched against the Gwinnett Braves in Lawrenceville, GA and threw a season-high five innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and three walks. Rodon also struck-out seven batters — giving him 18 over his 12 Triple-A innings.
Rodon was a big hit at SoxFest. Fans couldn’t wait to meet him. Media couldn’t wait to talk to him. He certainly has a very bright future ahead.
I caught up with Rodon and we talked about the 2014 season, expectations for the 2015 season, and we joked a bit about which side he sees himself on at the April 3rd exhibition game.
The game of baseball lost an icon on Friday night. Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, passed away at the age of 83. Banks was a true ambassador of the game. White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, along with White Sox legend Minnie Minoso, and White Sox television analyst Steve Stone, all spoke about Banks to the media on Saturday. I’m glad I attended.
Jerry Reinsdorf; “When you talk about Ernie, you have to smile,” Reinsdorf said. “He was always in a great mood. I never heard him complain about anything. He was always upbeat. He always had a wisecrack. I know he was Mr. Cub, but he was really Mr. Baseball. He was really a great, great ambassador for the game.”
Steve Stone: “I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘I don’t like Ernie Banks,'” Stone said. “It’s like saying you don’t like Santa Claus. How can you not like Ernie Banks? He was one of the most lovable human beings that our game has ever produced, and he never lost that childlike enthusiasm that we see from the youngsters but we tend to lose as adults.”
Minnie Minoso: “The city belonged to him,” Minoso said. “Everywhere you move, they just not talk about him like a ballplayer. They talk about him like a person. That’s the more important thing. I don’t think I’ll be able to explain to you what I think about him. I don’t have the words to put together to express what I feel about him.”
If Superman is “faster than a speeding bullet”, than just how fast is Micah Johnson? I should have thought of that question when I was interviewing him. I’m sure he would have had a great answer for that. Oh well, maybe next time.
As a 25-year-old, Johnson entered the 2014 season ranked by Baseball America as the “Fastest Baserunner” in the White Sox system. And, there was good reason for that.
In 2013, the Indianapolis native swiped 84 bases between Kannapolis (61), Winston-Salem (22), and Birmingham (1). A year after being drafted by the Sox in the ninth round of the 2012 draft, Johnson’s 2013 season was one for the ages.
He ranked first in all of Minor League Baseball in steals — nine more than speedster Billy Hamilton — who stole 75 in the minors in 2013. (By the way, Hamilton would go on to steal 56 bases for the Cincinnati Reds in 2014).
It was an impressive season for Johnson both on the basepaths and at the plate. He hit .342 (104-for-304) with Kannapolis before earning promotions to Winston-Salem and Birmingham. He ended the season by helping the Barons win the Southern League Championship. Johnson hit .368 over 10 playoff games en-route to the championship.
Last season, Johnson entered Spring Training as a non-roster invitee to White Sox camp. Ranked as the number six prospect in the White Sox system by Baseball America, Johnson opened the season with the Double-A Barons and excelled at the plate. He hit .329 (48-for-146) before earning a promotion to the Knights on May 13. Although he was placed on the disabled list with the Knights just 11 days later, he started strong. The Indiana University product hit safely in eight of his first 10 Triple-A games.
On June 8, 2014, Johnson was activated off the DL and quickly made an impact with the Knights. He went 2-for-5 with two runs scored, a double, and a triple in his first game back. He went on to rip four hits in a game twice, launch his first Triple-A home run on June 18, and rack up four RBIs in a game against the Gwinnett Braves on June 28.
Overall, it was a solid season, even if it was cut just short due to a strained hamstring in August. Still, he hit .275 in his first taste at the Triple-A level — adding 10 doubles, five triples, two home runs, and 12 stolen bases.
I caught up with Johnson and we talked about last year, a busy offseason — which includes yoga — and much more.
I first met Jake Petricka in 2013. He was promoted to the Charlotte Knights on July 4, 2013 after pitching extremely well for the Double-A Birmingham Barons. At that point, the 2010 second round pick of the White Sox was moving through the system quickly. He was also excelling.
Petricka, a native of Northfield, MN, was 3-0 with a 2.06 ERA in 21 games (one start) for the Barons that season. He last pitched with Birmingham on July 1, 2013 — before earning that call to Triple-A. He immediately made the transition to the Knights — and before long — he made that transition to Chicago.
He made his Triple-A debut on July 4, 2013 in Lawrenceville, GA against the Gwinnett Braves. Four days later, he made his Knights Stadium debut. In all, he would go on to make just 10 appearances for the Knights in 2013 before the White Sox would give him a call. He went on to post a 2-0 record with one save and an impressive 1.17 ERA for the Knights. While eight of his 10 appearances were scoreless, six of his 10 appearances were on the road, so Knights fans didn’t get to see him for very long.
When 2014 came around, Petricka was back with the Knights — even after going 1-1 with a 3.26 ERA in 16 games for the White Sox in 2013. In fact, in his Major League debut on August 17, 2013, the Minnesota native induced an inning-ending double play in the bottom of the 11th inning to earn his first Major League win. It came against the Kansas City Royals in Kansas City.
On April 4, 2014, Petricka became the first of 19 Charlotte Knights players promoted to Chicago during the season. He took the place of Nate Jones, who went on the disabled list. Petricka never returned to Uptown Charlotte.
I had a chance to catch up with Jake and talk to him about his impressive 2014 campaign in Chicago. He pitched to a 2.96 ERA in 67 games for the Sox. He finished 33 games and saved 14. We laughed about his brief stay with the Knights — he was there for Media Day and gone before the 2014 season started. We also talked about his thoughts on coming back to BB&T Ballpark on April 3rd for the exhibition game.
On Friday, January 23, 2014, I made my first-ever trip to Chicago. Yes, it was the first time I would get a chance to see the “Windy City” and my first chance on the “South Side”. My reason: to attend Sox Fest, the annual Chicago White Sox event, which brings together current and former White Sox players, and of course, White Sox fans!
This year seems to be the biggest and best of them all — especially after an incredible offseason in which the team has transitioned into a legitimate contender in the American League Central Division. With the additions of Jeff Samardzija, David Roberston, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, Adam LaRoche, and Melky Cabrera, the Sox should be a tough team to beat this season. All of those newcomers, except LaRoche and Cabrera, are in attendance for SoxFest.
Friday was a long day. I arrived to Charlotte/Douglas Airport at 7:30 AM (nice and early for my 9:50 AM flight). After waiting around in the airport, I boarded my flight to Chicago. After two hours on the plane, in which I read media guides, I arrived to Chicago just around 11 AM Central Time. I picked up a shuttle from the airport to the Hilton Chicago and made my way into SoxFest around 12:30 PM.
When I arrived to SoxFest, I could already sense the excitement. There’s a true buzz surrounding this Sox team this year!
Fans were lined up outside of the Hilton on Friday, eager to see some of their favorite players arrive. Once I made my way into the hotel, all I could see were Sox fans — tons of Sox fans. It was pretty cool.
All fans in the lobby had something Sox-related on. There were many hats, shirts, and jerseys! Tons of Paul Konerko jerseys.
I must say, the White Sox did a fantastic job of decorating the Hilton — and making their fans feel at home. Doors were decorated, elevators too. There were many banners hanging and people behind the front desk were even wearing SoxFest shirts. As someone who works in baseball, I can certainly appreciate all of the hard work that went into this event. I can appreciate all of the time spent putting this magnificent event together. Even though it is the offseason, work never ends for a baseball front office.
Once I finally checked into my room (there were a few issues, but nothing to share here), I made my way down to the media session, which was scheduled for 2:30 PM.
During the media session, members of the media were able to hear from Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura, who each took the podium to answer questions. Both spoke of the number of offseason moves. The media had many questions about potential lineups, bullpen arms, 2014 first-round pick Carlos Rodon, and the team chemistry without having the leadership of Paul Konerko. Both Hahn and Ventura were great answering questions.
That reminds me — I can’t wait to see Hahn, Ventura, and Buddy Bell in Charlotte on April 3rd when the Knights host the “Knights Leadoff Luncheon”. This time, Knights fans will be able to ask them questions. Of course, there will be an exhibition game later that night at BB&T Ballpark, too.
During the media session, I caught up with a few familiar faces. I took a few minutes to interview 2014 Charlotte Knights Micah Johnson, Jake Petricka, and Carlos Rodon. Keep an eye out for those interviews, as I will post them later today.
All three spoke of the excitement in the organization. While all three are youngsters in the organization, all three are on different paths to the majors. It will be a very interesting spring training this year.
Along with Johnson, Petricka, and Rodon, current and former White Sox players were also on-hand for the media session. There were a large contingent of media members surrounding White Sox fan-favorite Adam Eaton, who spoke to the media for awhile. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him, but I’d love to be able to sit down with him on Saturday or Sunday and talk to him about his experience playing at BB&T Ballpark last year. Stay tuned.
Current White Sox stars Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia, Conor Gillaspie, Alexei Ramirez, David Robertson, Dan Jennings, Zach Duke, Tyler Flowers, Jose Quintana, members of the coaching staff, and members of the 2005 World Series winning team, were also on-hand to talk to the media.
After the media session, I made my way into the Continental Ballroom for the Opening Ceremony. It was a packed house and it was the first time for fans to get a glimpse of their favorite Sox players. The stage was set, the video screens ready, and the ceremony officially took place at 4:00 PM. After a video highlight package, it was time to introduce the stars of SoxFest.
One-by-one, former and current White Sox players made their way onto the stage. Fans went bananas when names like Bo Jackson, Minnie Minoso, Aaron Rowand, and Bobby Jenks were announced. Once the former players were introduced, the prospects were then introduced. There were loud cheers for Johnson, Rodon, Tim Anderson, and Courtney Hawkins. All four have a very bright future!
Then, it was time for the current players. There were loud cheers for all of the players. Eaton was certainly a popular name called. Fans went nuts when life-long White Sox fan Jeff Samardzija came out. The final name to be called was Jose Abreu — the 2014 American League Rookie of the Year. Some fans even chanted, “MVP” when he came out. Certainly, if he puts together a season like he had last year, Abreu could be a strong contender for 2015 AL MVP.
As part of the opening ceremony, each Sox player was accompanied by a little league player. That was very nice to see. I thought that was a nice touch to include local little league players in the event.
After another video was shown, players began throwing items out to the crowd. With that, the opening ceremonies were over and fans were on their way to meet the players and get autographs. As for me, I walked around and just took it all in. I checked out the #SoxSocial Lounge, and caught up with an old friend of mine, Sarah Marten. Sarah, who I worked with during my time with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, is now working for the White Sox in their Community Relations department. She gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of the event. I had a chance to check out a White Sox museum, which featured a number of important jerseys, photos, bats, balls, and more.
I later made my way down to the Chicago White Sox Charities Garage Sale and Chicago Sports Depot, where I picked up some new gear. All and all, it was an amazing first day of SoxFest. There were so many things to do and so many things to see.
As for the end of the night, I took my new car out for a test-drive (I wish). Wouldn’t it be nice to drive this Sox car (pictured, right) back to Uptown Charlotte and park it outside of BB&T Ballpark on April 3rd? I would happily make the trek from Chicago to Charlotte in the Sox car anytime!
Stay tuned for my interviews with Johnson, Rodon, and Petricka, as well as more exciting things from SoxFest on day two of my adventure from the South to the South Side.
The Chicago White Sox invited 24 players to Major League Spring Training on Thursday, January 22.
Among some of the names on the list were seven players who spent time with the Charlotte Knights in 2014. LHP Carlos Rodon, Chicago’s first-round pick last season, was one of the seven members invited. The other six members of the 2014 Charlotte Knights to earn invites are: Chris Beck, Dan Black, Scott Carroll, Micah Johnson, Jared Mitchell & Michael Taylor.
Along with the seven recognizable names to Knights fans, there were a number of recognizable names around Major League Baseball. One of those recognizable names to earn an invite was RHP Brad Penny, who has compiled 121 wins at the Major League level over parts of 14 seasons. Penny, 36, appeared in eight games (four starts) with the Marlins last season and posted a 2-1 record with a 6.58 ERA.
Penny was originally drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fifth round of the 1996 draft. He made his Major League debut on April 7, 2000. Over the course of his 14-year career, Penny won 16 games in a season twice (2006 & 2007). He was a National League All-Star in each of those seasons. In 2007, Penny posted a 16-4 record with a 3.03 ERA in 33 starts. He finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting that year.
Here are more details from the White Sox press release:
– The Chicago White Sox have agreed to terms on minor-league contracts with the following free agents: right-handed pitchers Jairo Asencio, Scott Carroll, Jesse Crain, Logan Kensing, Arcenio Leon, J.D. Martin and Brad Penny; left-handers Zach Phillips and Joe Savery; catchers George Kottaras and Geovany Soto; infielders Juan Diaz and Andy LaRoche; and outfielders Tony Campana and Michael Taylor.
All 15 players, in addition to nine players from within the organization, have received non-roster invites to the club’s spring training camp in Glendale, Ariz.
Right-handers Chris Beck, Tyler Danish and Nolan Sanburn, left-hander Carlos Rodon, infielders Tim Anderson, Dan Black and Micah Johnson and outfielders Courtney Hawkins and Jared Mitchell received invites to major-league camp from within the organization. Thirteen of the 24 invitees have major-league experience, while five are rated among the club’s Top 10 Prospects by Baseball America entering the 2015 season.
I’ll have more on the non-roster invitees, as well as numerous updates live from SoxFest in Chicago. Stay tuned!
The Chicago White Sox signed free agent RHP Shawn Haviland to a Minor League contract on January 12. Haviland, a native of Farmington, CT, was originally drafted by the Oakland A’s in the 33rd round of the 2008 draft.
The 29-year-old right-hander is a product of Harvard University and has appeared in six seasons in the A’s organization (2008-2014). He missed the entire 2013 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Haviland was a Mid-Season Midwest League All-Star in 2009 and a year later, he was a Post-Season California League All-Star. In one of his finest seasons as a pro, he posted a 9-6 record with a 3.65 ERA in 27 games for Stockton (A+) in 2010. Haviland won California League Pitcher of the Week honors twice that year — both in August.
Over the course of his six-year Minor League career, Haviland owns a 37-49 record with a 4.68 ERA in 160 games (141 starts). He appeared in one game at the Triple-A level in 2010 with Sacramento and has spent significant time at the Double-A level in parts of three seasons — 2011, 2012, and again in 2014. Overall, Haviland has tossed 410 innings at the Double-A level over 83 games.
Last season, in his return from Tommy John surgery, Haviland compiled a 1-2 mark with a 3.24 ERA in three starts with Stockton (A+) and a 7-7 record with a 3.87 ERA in 25 games with Double-A Midland. Over two levels last season, he combined to post an 8-9 record with a 3.81 ERA (28 starts).