On Tuesday evening, old friends Lucas Giolito and Ethan Katz held a media session for Chicago writers:
Giolito, you may have heard of: Washington Nationals bonus baby, flameout 2018, superstardom in 2019 and 2020. You know the riches to rags back to riches story.
Katz? No, he’s not a (known) Twitch pal of Giolito’s. He’s the guy who mentored three future MLB starters as a high school pitching coach, rescued Giolito’s flailing career in 2018, and is now the new pitching coach on the South Side.
“It’s awesome,” Giolito beamed. “Ethan’s had his eye on this since I began working with him as a 15-year-old kid. When that spot came open for us, I knew he would be a great fit.”
Katz, who previously worked as a coach in the Seattle Mariners system and was the assistant pitching coach for the San Francisco Giants in 2020, definitely kept tabs on the South Siders from across leagues.
“There’s definitely a big crop of talent,” he said. “I pointed out some [areas to improve] in the interview, from the outside looking in. It’s a very nice system.”
Given Giolito’s friendship with Katz, as his longtime “personal coach” in the offseason, it seems that the ace played a role in bringing Katz to Chicago. But first, there was the matter of the departed Don Cooper, who I asked Lucas about:
“I wasn’t expecting [Cooper’s firing],” Giolito said. “I’m obviously excited to be working with Ethan, but I really, really loved Coop and working with him. He was in my corner from the get-go. He was one of the guys in my corner, keeping me confident. I had conversations with him in 2018 that were extremely helpful. It sucks. It’s a business, and I’ve talked to Coop since.
“Once all the dust settled there, I started to think, ‘OK, now that that spot’s open, what’s the situation, what kind of coaches are available?’ Ethan was the first guy to come to mind to me. I made sure to talk to the people in charge about that.”
Katz needed no favors from Giolito in getting the gig, however, as he was on the fast-track to running his own MLB staff.
“I had a couple of conversations with the front office leading up to it,” Gioltio said. “Once Ethan got in the door, he took it from there. Even before Ethan got the job, I was pretty much expecting him to do well and kind of lock it up. I know how good he is at his job.”
Per Giolito, Katz’s work ethic is what sets him apart from other coaches, charting every pitch he threw even way back in high school. He’s since incorporated analytics in a way that can appeal to any extreme, from an old-school thrower (Reynaldo López?) to a cerebral sort (Dylan Cease?).
There’s no doubt that Katz should have great success with Cease, given his track record with the analytical Giolito.
“Working with Lucas was very easy,” Katz said. “He asked a lot of questions and wanted to get better. Our relationship grew because he saw the work I was putting in behind the scenes. Once that relationship was built, it got easier to work together. We found each other, and it all worked out.”
The session peered into the managerial change for the White Sox, as well, as Lucas reflected on his time with Ricky Renteria:
“Ricky was very similar to Coop,” Giolito said, smiling in recollection. “He was injecting confidence in me when I didn’t have any in myself. He and Coop kept me going in 2018. I always think about a conversation we had in Minnesota, when I saw Ricky in the elevator and he whispered to me, “You’re going to be an All-Star.’ And I was like, ‘Come on, I got a 6 ERA!
“We will always be thankful with what Ricky did for us. He taught us to wear our White Sox uniform with pride.”
And contrary to the noise surrounding Chicago’s controversial hire of Tony La Russa, Giolito is all-in.
“Having Tony La Russa as our manager, not much to complain about there,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of conversations on the phone. I’m a big fan of his coaching philosophy, what he wants to bring to the team from Day 1 of spring training.”
Katz, who was interviewed by La Russa, concurs.
“I’ve been really impressed with Tony,” he said. “My first interactions with him were the interview process, and it was more that he got to know me there. Afterwards, we’ve had quite a few conversations. I’m really excited. I’m really impressed with him. Getting a chance to work with him is going to be something special.”
Katz remarked that one of the things that stood out for him was La Russa taking the reins of planning the entire spring training schedule, a task usually shoved off on the bench coach.
As for those in the White Sox rotation, like López and Cease, who haven’t found the consistent success Giolito has, Katz is already on it.
“When the Sox were in the hiring process and I was starting to think there’s a good chance Ethan gets this job, I was reaching out to various [teammates], saying get ready, he’s going to bring a lot of good stuff to the table. He’s been working with all of the pitchers already.”
Katz reports that there has been some talk and exchange of video, but stopped short of outlining plans.
“We’ve got some stuff brewing,” he said. “I won’t divulge anything yet.”
On a day that had been marked by a cryptic and seemingly negative Tim Anderson tweet, sent right after the announcement of the coaching staff
They shook it up. Kinda wasn’t feeling it.— T A 7 (@TimAnderson7) December 1, 2020
Giolito and Katz having such positive impressions of La Russa were heartening. However, Giolito admits it’s all still an adjustment period.
“I haven’t talked too much to the teammates about Tony’s hire, here and there,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to take us all in the same room, putting the work in, for us to let it all sink in.”