CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Lucas Giolito had an inkling the news would be coming, but finding out was still a jolt.
Giolito, the former No. 1 prospect in baseball, was hanging out watching TV with a friend in December when he decided to look down and check his phone. He knew his name had been floated in trade talks all week at the winter meetings.
The 22-year-old right-handed pitcher opened up Twitter, and the news was right there. He had been traded by the Nationals, along with fellow pitchers Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning, to the White Sox in exchange for outfielder Adam Eaton.
Giolito, who struggled in a cup of coffee with the Nationals last year, is now part of a stunning core of talent that will start the season with Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate, the Charlotte Knights. He joinsthe likes of Lopez and fellow offseason acquisition Yoan Moncada, as well as recent Chicago draft picks Carson Fulmer and Zack Burdi.
“It was exciting [to be traded] from the get-go,” Giolito said Tuesday during the Knights' Media Day at BB&T Ballpark. “Exciting to be in this organization with all the young talent coming up as well as the veteran presence up there in the big leagues. It’s a great time.”
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The White Sox's other offseason prize, Moncada, wasn’t as prepared as Giolito to be dealt. Moncada was the centerpiece of the blockbuster trade that sent Chicago ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox one day before the White Sox acquired Giolito.
“That was something that I wasn’t expecting,” the 21-year-old infielder said through a translator. “It caught me by surprise.”
Since coming to the U.S. from Cuba and receiving a $31.5 million bonus from the Red Sox in 2015, Moncada has done little to calm the hype that contract brought, a lackluster major league debut in 2016 notwithstanding.
Now he and Giolito will help give their new organization one of the strongest farm systems in the major leagues.
“I’m really content with everything that’s going on right now,” Moncada said. “Obviously everywhere you go and every movement you make is going to have adjustments. But I’m happy I’m going to have the same routine wherever I’m at.”
Part of that routine includes eating at Chipotle — where he reportedlyate almost every day because he could order in Spanish. Moncada said he has already found the closest establishment in Charlotte.
One thing Moncada won’t continue is his obsession with Hostess Twinkies. Reports last week said that when he first arrived in America, he would sometimes go through 85 of them a week.
“I’m kind of over [Twinkies] already,” he said. “That was just my first year here. In a first year, you kind of fall in love with something new, in a different place. But I’m over it already.”
Moncada should do just fine without the creme-filled snack. He is a consensus top three prospect in baseball and is coming off a season in which he was named the MVP of the Rising Stars Game.
Knightsmanager Mark Grudzielanek, in his first year with the team, joked that he wants to hold onto the chiseled second baseman as long as possible.
“I’d love to keep him all year, but I’m just thankful to have him here to start off,” Grudzielanek said. “He’s got some things to work on and get comfortable. I think it’s a great idea to get him settled in here and get him off to a good start.”
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Another benefit to the two blue-chip prospects landing in Charlotte and with the White Sox organizationis the already-present support system here.
Giolito and Lopez have been teammates since low Single-A ball; also, Giolito's pitching coach with the Knights is Steve McCatty, the former Nationals pitching coach with whom Giolito already has at least a baseline relationship.
Moncadais the only part of the haul from the Red Sox who's in Charlotte right now, but he saidhe looks forward to playing in Chicago with fellow Cuban Jose Abreu. The two played together on their native island several years ago.
Giolito doesn’t think any of those prior relationships were necessary for a smooth transition.
“It’s awesome knowing a few people going in,” he said. “But honestly, everyone has been super welcoming from the beginning of spring training and down here in Charlotte as well.”
Neither Giolito nor Moncada will likely remain in Charlotte for long, but they seem to grasp just how vital their time down on the farm is to their careers.
Giolito in particular is excited to use the time to ensure he doesn't repeat his rough 2016 MLB stint, which included a 6.75 ERA and 12 walks in 21 1/3 innings.
“Last year I did get that experience in the big leagues. I didn’t perform as well as I would have liked,” he said. “That’s why the minor leagues exist. You can work on your game, you can do all the things you need to do to be successful.”
Grudzielanek, who played for six different teams in his 15-year major league career, said a straightline focus on improving despite a new environment is key.
"They have to understand, that, 'Hey, I’m one step away,'" he said."'One phone call away from being somewhere I've worked my whole life for.'"