State of the White Sox rebuild: Now we play the waiting game

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AP

State of the White Sox rebuild: Now we play the waiting game

CLEVELAND — Rick Hahn confirmed Tom Petty’s assertion about waiting — the White Sox general manager would love if it were already 2019.

He’d prefer to hit fast forward instead of having to wait.

The White Sox have experienced the pains of tearing down a veteran roster, transformed their farm system overnight from rags to riches, started to establish the hard-nosed brand of culture they desired and have seen numerous positive signs of development from top prospects with the belief many more are on the way. All of those aspects were neatly wrapped within a season that concluded with a 3-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon.

But as much progress as they've made, the White Sox — who finished with the fourth-worst record in the majors — know they’re not yet in the catbird seat. Though their current rookies have laid a strong foundation for potential success and provided hope, the White Sox must make sure they do the same for the next wave of highly touted prospects. Given how great Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez already look, Hahn admits it might not be so easy.

“We know we might be entering a slightly more difficult phase of this rebuild, and that is the phase where we have to allow this talent the time and patience to develop,” Hahn said. “With (Yoan) Moncada and (Lucas) Giolito and (Reynaldo) Lopez, there was a lot of people clamoring for them to come to Chicago and we had to remain strong and not bring them until we felt they were in the best position to have success.

“There’s going to be temptation again next year, whether it’s high-profile guys like (Michael) Kopech and (Eloy) Jimenez … or others on the fast track — that in order to get this thing right for the long term, we have to make sure they answer our questions that we have for them at the player development level before they come to Chicago. Ultimately, that may prove to be challenging,”

The optimism has already begun to surface around the White Sox. Buoyed by the performance of several top prospects, a winning record in September after a bumpy post-trade deadline stretch has the White Sox upbeat.

Manager Rick Renteria always sets a high bar. But he’s said several times during the final week he likes what he’s seen from a young squad that has a pair of heavy-hitting veterans in the middle. Whether it was Thursday’s “this choo choo is moving forward,” or Sunday’s answer, Renteria is already optimistic about the possibility of competing as soon as next season.

“It’s possible,” Renteria said. “You never know. 

“Anything is possible.”

But Hahn is likely to stick to the same patient, long-view strategy he applied to the 2017 season. That means no prospects will be rushed and no short-term solutions will be used. If the White Sox are going to compete next season, they’ll have to do it with what is on hand.

Given how the bullpen was decimated by trades and injuries, the White Sox appear to have plenty of holes to fill. They also will feature an extremely young, albeit, talented starting rotation.

The growing pains the team is likely to experience should prevent the front office from being placed in that awkward spot where fans clamor for Kopech or Jimenez before the White Sox believe they’ve answered all their development questions.

You can expect the demand to come at an absurdly high volume if Kopech and Jimenez perform similar to the way they did in 2017, when both soared up the charts and turned into top-10 prospects.

Hahn and Co. applied the same patient approach this season to Giolito, Lopez, Moncada and Carson Fulmer with strong results. They waited, waited and waited some more to promote the young group. The success the White Sox achieved in developing their older prospects would likely only encourage them to remain thorough with Kopech and Jimenez as painstaking as it may be.

“We’re going to have to remain diligent and realize that this isn’t about any individual player or any individual season, this is about building something for the long term,” Hahn said. “For this next phase, that’s going to require player development to play its important role and for us to have patience in Chicago that would allow that to unfold.”

Why Carson Fulmer's fifth-inning escape could be a building block

Why Carson Fulmer's fifth-inning escape could be a building block

CLEVELAND -- With every pause in the fifth inning, and there were quite a few, the Progressive Field crowd booed Carson Fulmer and the White Sox a little louder.

There was the delay after Fulmer balked the go-ahead run to second base and sought an explanation for the call. A few seconds after that, manager Rick Renteria made a trip to the mound in search of clarification. Beyond that, Fulmer, in an attempt to slow things down, stepped off the rubber several times.

Each time, the sellout crowd got louder.

Yet Fulmer maintained his composure throughout it all. In yet another plus for the team’s future, Fulmer pitched out of a tricky situation to silence the gathering of 33,173. The White Sox rewarded their rookie for the effort with a run in the top of the sixth inning and the bullpen did the rest in a 2-1 victory over the Indians. Fulmer’s third win in four decisions meant the White Sox finished September with a 15-14 record.

“He showed a lot of poise and character throughout that whole situation,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Things like that happen. There’s going to be disagreements. But it’s how you deal with it and I thought he did a nice job continuing to get back out there.”

Everything was in place for Cleveland in the fifth inning. The atmosphere tensed up when Michael Brantley stepped into the on-deck circle as a pinch-hitter after Fulmer hit Yan Gomes with one out and the White Sox ahead by a run. Brantley, who was activated off the disabled list earlier Saturday, followed with a single on the 10th pitch of his at-bat, putting runners on the corners. Francisco Lindor tied it with an RBI fielder’s choice.

With Jason Kipnis at bat, then came a “left knee buckle” from Fulmer, according to plate umpire Pat Hoberg. Instead of picking Lindor off first to end the inning, the runner advanced 90 feet into scoring position. But Fulmer didn’t let the situation get out of control. He stepped off the mound, twice, before Kipnis flew out to center.

“We wanted to make sure I was clear to make the right pitch,” Fulmer said. “There were a couple of things that happened that I just wanted to take a deep breath. With a veteran guy like that, you have to respect his time in the box. But like I said, the game couldn’t go in your favor if you didn’t make the right pitch. I tried to control the situation as much as I could. I was able to get the fastball in after him barreling some balls up foul. I was lucky enough to make the right pitch and get out of the inning.”

Blister issues aside, Fulmer’s had several confidence-building moments in September. He returned to the majors after getting shelled in his Aug. 21 start and pitched well.

Upon returning, Fulmer started in the bullpen and then moved into the rotation. Overall, he posted a 1.64 ERA in 22 innings, allowing four earned runs, 12 hits, 10 walks and struck out 19. Fulmer also went toe-to-toe with Corey Kluber on Saturday, a master of handling the moment. That wasn’t lost on Fulmer, who hopes his fifth-inning escape is something to build off of.

“It's these experiences,” Fulmer said. “If I want to get to where I want to be, and the guys want to get on this team to where they want to be, we have to be put in situations like that.”

“Definitely having success is great but he threw a heck of a game. You've got to give respect to him but take this experience and continue to move forward.”

Why White Sox pushed Carson Fulmer's final start back until Saturday

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USA TODAY

Why White Sox pushed Carson Fulmer's final start back until Saturday

The White Sox have pushed back Carson Fulmer’s final start for precautionary reasons even though he’s made progress with his blister.

Fulmer will next pitch on Saturday night at the Cleveland Indians. He exited his previous start on Thursday after only 20 pitches because of a blister on his right index finger. Veteran Chris Volstad will start instead of Fulmer.

But Fulmer said on Monday afternoon he felt ready after a 25-pitch bullpen session on Sunday. He also understood the White Sox might want to let his finger completely heal before what will be his final turn of the 2017 season.

“I was able to go through all my pitches,” Fulmer said before the announcement was made. “Didn’t have any issues. Feels really good.

“Obviously, the decision is up to them. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if they want to take precautions.

“But I’m all good to go. … Feel great and hopefully this time it doesn’t open up or give me discomfort.”

The White Sox are erring on the side of caution so that Fulmer’s final turn won’t be disrupted. By waiting an extra several days, the club is limiting a reoccurrence of a blister that initially bothered Fulmer near the end of his Sept. 15 start at Detroit.

“Give it a couple of more days to heal up,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It fits. He’ll be able to hopefully get out there and feel comfortable. He threw a side yesterday and it was fine. It’s just making sure he’s able to get through his start.”

After plenty of treatment, Fulmer has improved much over the past few days. Fulmer said the treatment included sealing, solution, super glue and eventually peeling skin.

“New skin is coming in,” Fulmer said. “It’s not very sensitive.

“Feel really good. It’s a lot better than it was last time.”