After posting a 6.75 ERA during his stint with the Washington Nationals in 2016—which was followed by rumors that the team had tweaked his mechanics—there was lingering concern about White Sox newcomer Lucas Giolito. Giolito came as the headliner in the deal that sent Adam Eaton to Washington last December, teeing off the White Sox’s rebuilding efforts.
The trepidation was warranted as the 23 year-old certainly came with a mildly concerning resume. Giolito fell to the 16th round of the 2012 draft due to concerns about a sprained UCL, after many thought he would be taken in the first. Shortly after the draft, the Nationals scheduled Giolito for Tommy John surgery. Once he returned, the team began to work with Giolito on changing his delivery and, suddenly, the pitcher everyone expected to go in the first round looked as though his stock may be falling rapidly.
That was all before White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, though. Cooper has become renowned for helping reinvent pitchers simply by showing them how to maximize their efforts while being true to themselves on the mound. Cooper isn’t interested in stat sheets; he’s interested in good old-fashioned feel for the game.
“I don’t think his first trip to the big leagues with us could have went any better,” Cooper said enthusiastically of Giolito’s season. “It couldn’t have gone better.”
Giolito was shut down during the final week of the season for precautionary reasons and did not make his last scheduled start. “He’s had enough innings,” Cooper said. “There’s nothing left to prove this year. There’s nothing really to gain.”
Giolito seemed just as satisfied with his success this season as Cooper was.
“Overall, this was such a crazy year,” Giolito said. “I started not the way I wanted to. I had to kind of get over some trials and tribulations down in the Minor Leagues trying to fix some things, trying to find myself and see who I was as a pitcher.”
Giolito threw 45.1 innings over seven starts for the big league club, averaging just over six innings per start to the tune of a 2.38 ERA and 6.75 K/9. He lowered his walk rate from 5.05 BB/9 with the Nationals to just 2.38 with the White Sox.
“He’s throwing strikes with four pitches,” Cooper said. “He’s got angles, he can change speeds, he can ride the ball up in the zone. He’s done everything. He’s been great.”
But for Giolito, his sights are already set on new goals for 2018. “For me, it’s get prepared to throw 200 innings,” Giolito said. “I threw, like, 175-ish this year. I feel like the next step is to get to 200. So that will be a personal goal for me next season.”
“Obviously his stuff was lights out then, his stuff is lights out now,” catcher Kevan Smith said of Giolito’s time in the minors. “I think this year is just boosted his confidence. He can see that he can perform at this level.”
Giolito may have had to work through his trials and tribulations but it’s become evident that the Giolito that once was regarded as one of the best prospects in baseball is still alive and well.
“I feel very confident,” Giolito said. “I’ve hit that point where I trust all my pitches in any count, any situation. I feel like that’s what a top end of the rotation guy has to be able to do is pitch deep into games and put up as many zeroes as possible and at the same time trust all your stuff.”
The White Sox may have moved on from Eaton, who was considered a key piece of their future during the team’s prior attempt at contention, but what they’ve gained in Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who also came in the Eaton deal, are two young pitchers who have showed the ability to perform at the major league level and will become a pivotal piece of this club’s bright future.
“His personality and just the way he goes about his business, he’s a smart kid,” former White Sox pitcher Miguel Gonzalez said of Giolito. “He likes to learn, he asks questions just like any other guy that’s been getting called up “
With Carlos Rodon no longer a lock to begin the season with the club, the time is now for Giolito to step up to that 200-inning goal. He’ll be leaned on heavily in the near future, something that will help him become accustomed to that feeling for the coming years.
Perhaps for Giolito, all it took was getting back to basics coupled with regaining confidence. And of course, a little Don Cooper magic.