INDIANAPOLIS — It’s just AAA ball, but lately the Charlotte Knights seem like a bigger deal than that. That’s because it’s hard to turn around without bumping into a White Sox prospect who’s so close to the Show, it’s almost like he could reach out and touch it.
Second baseman Yoan Moncada, the top-ranked prospect in baseball, is all the rage. Starting pitcher Carson Fulmer and closer Zack Burdi, the Sox’ first-round draft picks in 2015 and ’16, respectively, have put themselves in excellent positions. So has starting pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, acquired last December in the Adam Eaton trade with the Nationals.
But then there’s Lucas Giolito.
Speaking of the Eaton trade, right? Giolito, the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, a towering right-handed starter who knows a thing or two about wearing a “can’t-miss” label, was supposed to be the best part of that deal for the Sox. He’d touched 100 miles per hour and been likened, fairly or not, to Stephen Strasburg.
He’s still only 22 and less than five years removed from Tommy John surgery. A giant opportunity still sits in front of him. But right now, anyway, he can’t reach out and touch it. Giolito is off to a dismal start to the season — 0-5 with a 7.31 ERA in six starts.
“The numbers are atrocious,” he said matter-of-factly after another forgettable outing here on Monday. “It frustrated me, definitely — a lot — earlier in the year. It’s like, why aren’t I figuring it out? Now, all I can do is just trust the work I’m putting in and hopefully put it together soon.”
Poor fastball command has been a primary culprit. Giolito’s velocity isn’t fully there, either. The mental part of the game has been a problem at times for him, too. He was outstanding last season in seven starts with the Nationals’ AAA club before a late-June call-up. The brief big-league stint didn’t go well.
“Sometimes, when you’re not ready to go to the big leagues and you go there and success isn’t easy for you, it can weigh on you mentally and you put a lot of pressure on yourself,” said Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, who was the Nationals’ pitching coach from 2009 to ’15.
Giolito’s spring training performance this year with the Sox wasn’t exactly encouraging. Lately, Giolito has found himself thinking back to his sophomore year of high school, when one day he suddenly figured out where the ball was going and his star instantly began to rise.
“I’ll hopefully have that one game where it clicks,” he said, “and it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m back. I’m good to go.’ ”
Fulmer, 23, is 4-1 with a 2.88 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. He struggled in eight relief appearances with the Sox last season — his first and only taste of the big leagues — but he has responded well since. Besides, this guy is a starter.
“Obviously, you have to trust the process and respect decisions that are made,” he said. “But I’m ready, man.”
Burdi is shaping up nicely as a potential closer of the future for the Sox. Will the Sox trade current closer David Robertson at some point this season? Might Burdi, who has a 1.03 WHIP and a natty 19-to-4 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, be pulled into the mix regardless?
The Downers Grove native is trying not to think about it.
“That type of stuff will consume you,” he said.
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