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White Sox Tanner Banks Is A Pleasant Surprise

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After last week, many White Sox fans are hard-pressed to find any positive thoughts about their beloved team. The Sox went through one of the worse weeks in recent memory, getting swept out of both Cleveland and Minnesota. After a 6-2 start, the Sox have lost seven in a row, and are also experiencing a rash of injuries that seem to get worse with each game. This last trip saw the loss of Josh Harrison, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and possibly Liam Hendriks. While Harrison and Robert are due back soon, Jimenez will be out for a while. The status of Hendriks is uncertain at this point in time.

So, it wouldn’t be a reach to say that the White Sox are at a very low point, the lowest point in three seasons. While it is early, the team often looks uninspired and lifeless on the field, committing errors in the field and on the basepaths. They look nothing like the team that many expected them to be in 2022. Yet, with all the doom and gloom that persists on the South Side, there is at least one good story for the 2022 White Sox. That good story is also rather surprising, as it involves a 30-year-old rookie. Hey, with this Sox team, you never know what you are going to see next.

Introducing The Kid: Tanner Banks

In a dismal start to the 2022 season, rookie Tanner Banks has burst onto the scene as a middle reliever and has been outstanding. If you are not familiar with the name, you are not alone. Banks has not been on the radar screen of many Sox fans, and with good reason. Banks is a career minor leaguer who was drafted in the 18th round of the 2014 MLB draft. He was the 528th player taken overall after pitching at Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah. Banks started his minor league in Low A in 2014, graduating to High A in 2016. Since 2018, he has shuffled between AA and AAA in the Sox system.

Banks was primarily a starter for most of his minor league career. However, in 2021, the AAA Charlotte Knights use him mainly as a reliever. Banks appeared in 25 games with just five starts. In 59 2/3 innings, he posted an ERA of 4.53, with a WHIP of 1.374. He did have a solid K/BB ratio of 5.38. For his minor league career, his overall ERA was 3.51, a WHIP of 1.226, and a K/BB ratio of 3.75. He won 49 games while losing 41. These numbers don’t scream MLB quality, so nobody had any expectations for Banks going into spring training 2022.

Opportunity Knocks

Sometimes opportunities can pop up out of nowhere. The White Sox entered spring training with a bullpen that appeared to be settled. With a combination of veterans and youngsters, Tony La Russa and his staff had every reason to expect great things from the pen. At that point, Tanner Banks was just another guy, pitching as often as asked and hoping for a miracle. It seemed as if he was headed to Charlotte to add to his seven-year minor league resume. Maybe a September call-up, but even that was a bit of a reach.

Then, as fate would have it, the injury bug showed its ugly face in beautiful Arizona. First, new acquisition Joe Kelly discovered that he would not be ready for Opening Day. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, versatile lefty Garret Crochet suffered a serious injury and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. Just like that, the Sox bullpen was down two solid arms. Finally, veteran starter Lance Lynn went down with a knee injury, which would cause a ripple effect on the bullpen. The White Sox suddenly found themselves scrambling to fill out their pitching staff.

Tanner Banks, Welcome to The Show

Sometimes in baseball, it is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. In the case of Tanner Banks, when opportunity knocked, he answered the bell. Banks pitched well enough in spring training to earn one of the final spots in the Sox bullpen. Being a lefty was certainly one of the main factors, as replacing Crochet will be a tall order. Another factor in Banks’ favor was the fact that he could throw multiple innings. This would be a major asset at a time when starters are not going deep into games. So, finally, at age 30, Tanner Banks made it to The Show.

Banks has wasted no time in justifying his promotion to the South Side. On April 10th, Banks made his MLB debut in Detroit against the Tigers. He pitched the eighth and ninth innings, retiring all six batters he faced, with four strikeouts. Quite a debut for the 30-year-old rookie, one that he will never forget. Banks wasn’t done, though. Since his debut, he has pitched in four more games for the White Sox and continues to pitch well. In fact, in a total of five appearances, Banks has posted an amazing stat line: ERA of 0.00, a WHIP of .581, nine strikeouts, and four walks. Additionally, Banks has allowed two hits in 10 1/3 innings thus far. Yes, it’s early, but Tanner Banks has been the best reliever in the Sox pen.

What Does the Future Hold for Tanner Banks?

While Tanner Banks has only pitched in five games, it is impossible to predict how he will do over a long season. Hitters have a tendency to adjust to pitchers as they become more familiar, and Banks will be no exception. In addition, rosters will be reduced from 28 to 26 soon, so at least one reliever will be sent to Charlotte. Joe Kelly will return at some point. So Banks’ roster spot is by no means guaranteed, especially if he stumbles along the way. The pressure will be on Banks to continue to throw the ball well.

One thing that we do know is that if he does continue to pitch well, he will make it difficult for La Russa and Ethan Katz to send him down to Charlotte. Who knows, at this rate, maybe he can chase Dallas Keuchel to mop-up duty, although that seems unlikely. Yet, with Banks’ ability to provide strong relief from the left side, it would not be surprising to see him stick with the Sox for the season. Winning teams need to rely on players who have proven themselves. Tanner Banks should be a big part of the Sox bullpen as long as he performs. Hopefully, La Russa and Katz will see it the same way.

main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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Mike Fisk is a lifelong baseball fan. For him, there is nothing like being at a baseball game, with the sights, the sounds, the smells. Writing about baseball is a bonus!