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News and notes from three days with the Knights

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Down in Charlotte, Yoan Moncada met expectations, Willy Garcia exceeded them, and Zack Burdi is trying not to think about them

High-fives and handshakes abound for Willy Garcia.
Jim Margalus / South Side Sox

Usually it’s customary to wait until the end of a minor-league trip to empty the notebook. Yet after three days in Charlotte, I’m approaching it in reverse order since the other ones require GIFs.

I arrived in Charlotte expecting Yoan Moncada to be the headliner of this trip, but Willy Garcia jumped out at me the most. Until he popped out to first with a runner in scoring position in Durham on Monday, I hadn’t seen him lose a matchup. Even when his other plate appearances resulted in outs, the contact was worthy.

The size of the sample is such that three games accounts for half his season, but the other three games would’ve looked good, too.

  • Three games: 6-for-10, 6 R, 2 HR, 3 BB, .600/.692/.1.200 over 13 PA
  • Other games: 5-for-12, 1 2B, 3 BB, 5 K, .417/.471/.500 over 17 PA

He hit one homer to right and one to left, flashing the power that had vanished during his last year in the Pittsburgh organization. He also showed uncharacteristic discipline for a guy who had struck out roughly five times for every walk over his career. I imagine the Pirates envisioned these kind of hot streaks when they signed him $300,000 out of the Dominican Republic, but here he is, somehow addressing his two biggest flaws in his first week with the Knights and earning the International League’s Batter of the Week honors in the process.

Charlotte hitting coach Andy Tomberlin says he’s been impressed with the way Garcia has been able to shape plate appearances into his favor. Given the disparity between his start and his history, this one will require a bigger body of work. For the time being, he’s at least shown why the White Sox were more intrigued by him than Jason Coats, and at a position where the Sox could use some depth.

As for Moncada, he’s having a hot start that also qualifies as characteristic. He’s hitting .370/.452/.593, with that production heavily buoyed by his work as a left-handed hitter. His approach from the right side is in need of work, although he did homer and draw two walks from that side of the plate on Monday.

His range looks fine for a second baseman — especially if he’s an offensive-minded one — although he was guilty of “trying to do too much” with a spinning throw. He ran the bases very well, both stealing and advancing.

The biggest blemish is the expected one: He’s striking out 32 percent of the time. Yet one could consider that slightly comforting considering he struck out 30 percent of the time at Double-A Portland last season, and the Red Sox aggressively pushed him to the majors regardless. On a somewhat typical development curve, Moncada would be expected to float around that line early on, then whittle it down as he becomes more familiar with the level.

As for Tomberlin, he said that this early in Moncada’s White Sox career, his job is to make sure he helps Moncada establish a strong routine. “We’re really pleased with the work he’s put in” was his summary.

The oneupmanship we saw between Danny Hayes and Nicky Delmonico in the spring has continued apace in Charlotte.

  • Delmonico: .280/.400/.560, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 5 K over 28 PA
  • Hayes: .391/.500/.783, 3 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 5 BB, 8 K over 30 PA

Delmonico’s line includes a 1-for-11 spell (with a walk and HBP) over his last three games, which gives you an indication of just how forcefully he burst out of the gate. It’s also a reminder of how regression can erode the foundation built by a great start.

With Cody Asche starting with one hit and seven strikeouts over his first 13 at-bats with the White Sox, there figures to be an opening for a left-handed bat on the bench at some point (Jerry Sands lasted into June, so Asche might be able to hang around at least one month). Hayes has the the history of better strike-zone recognition, while Delmonico has played third base and the outfield. Over my three days watching Charlotte, Delmonico made a few plays at third that I hadn’t seen from him, either last year or this spring, although he’s still not particularly fluid there.

The question for both is how much development each has left. Hayes, for example, showed home-run power in Charlotte in 2016 after hitting just 18 combined in 259 games between Kannapolis and Birmingham the previous two seasons. Charlotte’s BB&T Ballpark is heaven for hitters, but Tomberlin says the surge is indicative of his strength.

“The power, to me, has been there,” Tomberlin said. “I remember seeing him when he was in Birmingham and that was a big ballpark. This is a smaller park, but yet the power is still there. I think he’s gotten a little bit more mature and he’s able to be more selective and understand his swing. He’s a more mature hitter this year, for sure.”

As for Delmonico, he came to the White Sox under mysterious circumstances and, after an unremarkable 2015, posted a 1.073 OPS in 38 games at Birmingham as a 23-year-old in 2016. That put him on the map, and Tomberlin sees a difference.

“He’s really gotten himself into a controlled — he likes to play hard and he’s got great energy. I think he’s controlling his energy and channeling it in a great way for his benefit.

“It’s a pleasant—” Tomberlin continued, before reconsidering. “I’m not surprised, because I’ve felt like he’s had this type of ability the whole time.”

In Charlotte’s season preview, I said it’s worth watching how the White Sox divvy up the playing time at catcher. So far, it’s been tilted in Kevan Smith’s favor. He’s started four of the six games, including all three I saw. Driving in nine runs over four games — with the batting line to match — is a good way to earn one’s keep.

Given that Zack Burdi is a Downers Grove native who is on the cusp of pitching for his hometown team, I was curious how much his life had changed. He said he was at home for about two months during the offseason, spending the majority of the remainder training at Louisville.

“It’s kind of a lot different; a lot of people coming out of the woodwork to say congratulations,” Burdi. “Nothing bad. Everyone’s awesome, everyone’s been friendly. A lot of old friends from high school congratulated me when I got drafted. My parents’ friends threw me a party when I got home. It’s been awesome.”

That said, Burdi said he can’t let it change the way he approaches the task ahead.

“When I first got drafted, that moment can’t really be topped, and then to be drafted by the White Sox made it even better. But overall, it’s no longer in my mind that I’m with the White Sox, even though such it’s a blessing. It’s an unbelievable experience so far, but I’m just playing baseball now. All that stuff is background noise.

“Playing for a team from my hometown is awesome, but I can’t approach it any differently than if I played for the Orioles or the Marlins or something like that. As cool as it is, it definitely can consume you, and I try not to let that happen.”