Jul 21, 2021

Gavin Sheets and the decision that pushed him to be better

Gavin Sheets and the decision that pushed him to be better
(USA Today Sports)

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Good morning, frents!

The Bucks won their first NBA title in 50 years last night and as I wrote in last month's members mailbag, I think it's OK to be happy for them, mostly because there's no way any reasonable human should dislike Giannis.

But can we talk about Chance the Rapper here for a sec? I get that he has some new projects to pub, but showing up courtside last night dressed head to toe in Bucks gear? No way he lives that down next time he shows up to the UC to cheer the Bulls in a big game. — Kevin Kaduk

Tuesday's results
Sox 9, Twins 5
Cubs 7, Cardinals 6

Today's schedule
Twins at Sox (7:10, NBCSCH)
Cubs at Cardinals (7:15, Marquee)
DC United at Fire (7, WGN)

The story of Gavin Sheets

By David Brown

Not long before he was hitting Twins-beating, doubleheader-splitting, walk-off three-run homers, rookie outfielder Gavin Sheets was on the outside looking in as far as the White Sox were concerned.

The time: July 2020.

The place: Schaumburg, Ill. (hello!)

The endeavor: the White Sox alternate site.

The Sox roster: Did not include Sheets.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the White Sox did not bring Sheets closer to their collective organizational bosom. It caught Sheets off guard that the team’s No. 9 prospect, a second-round pick in 2017, just wasn’t all that interesting to them. It made him sad. It made him angry. It made him frustrated. The Sox did Sheets dirty, he thought.

But even though anyone who saw Nomar Mazara play right field in 2020 might differ, the White Sox shunning Sheets was the best thing they could have done to him and for him.

Feeling shorted, Sheets would have to change himself.

In a terrific feature in the Baltimore Sun published earlier this month, Sheets explained how he responded to the disappointment of the Sox leaving him off the roster:

As he processed this shock to his system, Sheets did not have to look far for sound counsel. His father, Larry, had banged around the minor leagues for six years before making his debut with the Orioles in 1984. Larry Sheets could have raged on his son’s behalf. Instead, he gave the most practical advice he could summon: “The bottom line is you’re not the man in this organization. There’s only a few people that are the guys. So what you have to do is bring more value to yourself and the organization.”

Larry obviously did his homework on young Gavin. He took dad’s advice to heart, mind and body. Back home and isolated from the Sox, Sheets went about remaking his 6-foot-5 body and revising his attitude. He lost weight, added strength and agility by adopting a grueling workout regiment. Sheets making it to the majors transformed from a given into a mission.

Sheets’ numbers in the minor leagues out of context were OK before this season — he hit .293 in 2018, and he connected for 16 home runs in 527 plate appearances in 2019. He walked a good amount. He kept his strikeout rate under 20 percent. But his potential had gone mostly untapped through his first 1,250 plate appearances. He needed to take better advantage of his good strike-zone judgment, along with his ability to get around on the high fastball —  something that many left-handed batters can’t do.

Those qualities were exactly why Sheets was able to beat José Berríos with the home run Monday night, which also improved his overall slash line to .245/.333/.633 with five home runs and a .388 isolated power in 57 plate appearances. A reborn Sheets started to put it all together well before that, first by making a strong impression on manager Tony La Russa in spring training.

“What everyone could see, when he hit the ball on the barrel, was the life of it coming out,” La Russa said this week. “What was most impressive was, in this league, you’ve got to have a good strike zone. If you go up swinging at everything, you’ll never get enough pitches to hit. They’ll work you over.”

Instead, it is Sheets working over opponents as part of the shock troops the Sox have used to make up for the injuries to Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and others.

“Our depth is deep,” La Russa said. “It’s saved us.”

And Sheets saved his career, at least with the White Sox. If he hadn’t, someone else possibly would have stepped up in his place, given how the 2021 season is going. But, as a power-hitting left-handed batter capable of playing solid defense in right, he’s put himself in position to be a valuable player for the Sox beyond this season. And when you look down the list of second-round picks in Sox history, Sheets won’t have to do much to be the best ever. For now, it's just cool that they finally got one right.

Good thing, also, that Larry had that talk with his son and told him the right things. It's what got Sheets in the fold.

News and results

Sox 9, Twins 5:  Down, but never out

A two-run homer by Jorge Polanco gave the Twins a one-run lead in the top of the eighth, but it wasn't long before the Sox seized it back. RBI singles by Andrew Vaughn and Billy Hamilton put the Sox ahead and a monster three-run homer by Jose Abreu (above) completed the shock and awe attack. Abreu finished the night a single short of the cycle and already has 21 RBI in the month of July.

  • The Sox lead the Twins by 18 games in the AL Central and picked up another game on Cleveland, who are 9.5 back after a loss to Houston.

Next:  Dylan Cease (7-5, 4.15) against Michael Pineda (3-5, 4.11)

Cubs 7, Cardinals 6: Historic comeback

The Cubs had three hits, one run and a 0.5 percent likelihood of winning this game entering the ninth. But a dropped third strike to Patrick Wisdom kicked off a wild six-run inning that capitalized on three hits, three walks and an error from the Cardinals.

It also caught those who were watching the end of the NBA Finals (guilty) off guard and changed the narrative of the night, which had been Kris Bryant's early exit in the fifth inning. While there was a brief panic and a #hugwatch, the Cubs announced Bryant was suffering from right hamstring fatigue after a night of diving for baseballs in left field.

  • Fun fact: Wisdom struck out to both start and end the ninth inning, which gave him a golden sombrero for the night.

Next: Kyle Hendricks (12-4, 3.65) vs. Adam Wainwright (7-6, 3.71)

Zach LaVine clears protocols

Team USA in six.


Who passed John Paxson the ball for the three-pointer that beat the Suns in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals?

  1. The Bears' "Meet the Rookies" YouTube series is well-produced and the Teven Jenkins' debut episode is worth your time. YouTube
  2. Powers and Laz on the 10 key questions facing the Blackhawks in their legal battles. The Athletic
  3. The Tribune has two staffers in Tokyo and they did a Q&A on what it's like on the ground so far. Tribune
  4. Toni Kukoc thinks the Bulls would've beaten the Rockets in 1994 and 1995 without Michael Jordan. Which is a thought. Sportscasting
  5. How Chicago's suburbs have shaped popular culture. Chicago Mag

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