Luis Robert

Three questions answered — and three questions unanswered — through a couple weeks of White Sox spring training


Three questions answered — and three questions unanswered — through a couple weeks of White Sox spring training

March is almost here, and the White Sox are in the thick of spring training down in Glendale, with Cactus League games getting going over the weekend.

After watching workouts and hearing from players and manager Rick Renteria for two weeks, some of the offseason's biggest questions seem to have answers, while others still remain.

Here are three questions that have been answered and three that still need solving.


1. Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert are something to get excited about

There are no guarantees in player development, but the White Sox top two outfield prospects seem to be legit. The highly touted pair, along with fellow prospect Micker Adolfo, generated a ton of buzz whenever they stepped into the batting cages at Camelback Ranch, and after watching them smoke baseballs over the practice-field fences, it’s easy to see why.

All three guys shared that they’re dreaming of playing together in the team’s championship outfield of the future, and if the White Sox can develop that talent, then watch out.

Of course there’s a long way to go. Jimenez has only played a handful of games above the Class A level. Adolfo has played none. And Robert hasn’t even played a minor league baseball game in the United States. General manager Rick Hahn keeps talking about how baseball has a cruel way of reminding that not all prospects pan out. Look no further than Adolfo, who now has a pair of arm injuries after being rated as the best thrower in the White Sox farm system.

But hearing the cracks of the bats and watching the baseballs fly, it’s easy to get excited about these guys’ futures.

2. Carlos Rodon won’t be ready for Opening Day

This one wasn’t that difficult to predict, but after having shoulder surgery last fall, Carlos Rodon won’t be a member of the White Sox starting rotation on Opening Day.

That was actually made relatively clear when the team brought back Miguel Gonzalez, seemingly locking the starting rotation into place alongside James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer. But now there’s confirmation that Rodon will not pitch during the Cactus League schedule and will stay at extended spring training after the White Sox leave Glendale for Kansas City.

There’s still no knowing, of course, when Rodon will be back. The White Sox are happy with his progress, and he was throwing during the early parts of the spring, cleared to throw right before SoxFest at the end of January.

Who knows if it will be as late as June this time around after he didn't make his 2017 debut until June 28 after suffering a separate injury last spring. But when he returns, he’ll have to prove that he’s healthy and capable of being the same pitcher who was envisioned as an ace of the future.

3. Hector Santiago gives the White Sox a long man — and starting depth

There didn’t seem to be a member of the White Sox bullpen who could serve in the long-relief role. Then the team brought Hector Santiago back on a minor league deal.

Even though it’s a minor league deal, the former and now current White Sox hurler seems likely to make the bullpen as the long relief man. That role was needed regularly last season, and it’s an important one for a bullpen filled with guys looking to prove themselves as either long-term pieces or midseason trade chips.

But Santiago also gives the White Sox starting pitching depth, providing a one-time All-Star starter as a backup in case any of the five guys in the rotation go down with an injury. Rick Hahn already said he wouldn’t rush Michael Kopech or any of the team’s other pitching prospects to the majors just because someone was hurt at the big league level. And now he won’t have to thanks in part to Santiago’s presence.


1. Who will be the closer?

While there might not be as many open spots in the White Sox bullpen as initially believed, there is a huge question mark at closer. Who will throw in the ninth inning for the White Sox this season?

Juan Minaya had closing duties at the end of last season and fared pretty well after much of the bullpen was traded away in summer deals. But do the White Sox see Minaya as a closer of the future?

If not, they might be more likely to go with one of the new acquisitions in order to try and establish a deadline trade chip. Maybe someone like Joakim Soria, who has tons of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. Of course those days are getting longer and longer ago.

But if the White Sox go with Soria and he does well, they could try to fetch the same kind of return they got last season when they shipped David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and other relievers away from the South Side.

2. Who will be the starting center fielder?

The White Sox are not short on options in center field. But there aren’t necessarily any slam-dunk ones, hence why the job is still up for grabs.

Adam Engel started 91 games in center last season and hit just .166. While his glove is terrific, his offensive production is not that of a starting position player in the major leagues. Leury Garcia was far better with the bat but might be more valuable as a versatile infielder who can spell the four guys around the diamond. Charlie Tilson has high hopes but has struggled mightily to just get on the baseball field and stay there, much of his White Sox career wiped out so far due to injuries. Further down the list is Ryan Cordell, the guy acquired in the Anthony Swarzak trade last summer who has a good Triple-A track record and got some love from Rick Hahn at SoxFest.

Garcia seems to be the best option if the White Sox are looking for the most consistent bat. But for a rebuilding team not expected to contend in 2018, maybe giving guys like Engel and Tilson more chances to prove themselves makes more sense.

3. Do the White Sox have another move left in them?

For a rebuilding team like the White Sox, this perplexing offseason might be a really rare opportunity.

In the last week, the White Sox were mentioned as a potential landing spot for a pair of All-Star position players: Mike Moustakas and Carlos Gonzalez. Considering the slowness of the market, guys who were once pegged for multi-year deals could now be bargains one one-year contracts. That could allow a team like the White Sox to swoop in and sign these guys at very low risk. If they produce, they could become long-term options or midseason trade chips. If they don’t, it was a one-year flier and did no harm for a team not expected to contend — and it does not negatively impact the rebuild in any way.

The White Sox already pulled the trigger on a springtime addition with Hector Santiago. There are still tons of free agents out there, and even if it’s not someone the caliber of Moustakas or Gonzalez, the White Sox could still ink someone who could really benefit the short- and long-term success of the team at a bargain.

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

GLENDALE, Ariz. — All that was missing was a dinner bell.

From all over the White Sox spring training complex at Camelback Ranch they came, lined up in front of the third-base dugout and all around the cage to see a trio of future White Sox take batting practice.

This is all it was, batting practice. But everyone wanted to get a glimpse of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo swinging the bat. And those three outfield prospects delivered, putting on quite a show and displaying exactly what gets people so darn excited about the White Sox rebuild.

How to sum it up if you weren’t there? Just be happy you weren’t parked behind the left-field fence.

Jimenez and Robert are two of the biggest stars of the White Sox rebuilding effort, with Adolfo flying a bit more under the radar, but all three have big dreams of delivering on the mission general manager Rick Hahn and his front office have undertaken over the past year and change: to turn the South Siders into perennial championship contenders. The offensive capabilities of all three guys have fans and the team alike giddy for the time they hit the big leagues.

And those three guys can’t wait for that day, either.

“Actually, just a few minutes ago when we were taking BP, we were talking about it,” Jimenez said Tuesday. “Micker and Luis said, ‘Can you imagine if we had the opportunity one day to play together in the majors: right, left and center field? The three of us together and having the opportunity to bring a championship to this team?’ I think that’s a dream for us, and we’re trying to work hard for that.”

“We were just talking about how cool it would be to one day all three of us be part of the same outfield,” Adolfo told NBC Sports Chicago. “We were talking about hitting behind each other in the order and just envisioning ourselves winning championships and stuff like that. It’s awesome. I really envision myself in the outfield next to Eloy and Luis Robert.”

How those three would eventually line up in the outfield at Guaranteed Rate Field remains to be seen. Adolfo’s highly touted arm would make him an attractive option in right field. Robert’s speed and range makes him the logical fit in center field. Jimenez will play whichever position allows his big bat to stay in the lineup every day.

Here in Arizona, the focus isn’t necessarily on some far off future but on the present. As intriguing as all three guys are and as anticipated their mere batting practice sessions seem to be, they all potentially have a long way to go to crack the big league roster. Jimenez is the furthest along, but even he has only 73 plate appearances above the Class A level. Adolfo spent his first full season above rookie ball last year. Robert has yet to play a minor league game in the United States.

The group could very well make its way through the minor leagues together, which would obviously be beneficial come the time when the three arrive on the South Side.

“We were talking about (playing in the big leagues), but also we were talking about just to have the first stage of the three of us together in the minor leagues first and then go to the majors all three of us together,” Robert said. “To have the opportunity to play there should be pretty special for us. We were dreaming about that.”

For months now, and likely for months moving forward, the question has been and will be: when?

Whether it’s Jimenez or top pitching prospect Michael Kopech or any other of the large number of prospects who have become household names, fans and observers are dying to see the stars of this rebuilding project hit the major leagues. Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez made their respective jumps last season. Hahn, who has said repeatedly this offseason that the front office needs to practice patience as much as the fan base, has also mentioned that a good developmental season for these guys might involve no big league appearances at all.

And it’s worth remembering that could be the case considering the lack of experience at the upper levels of the minor leagues for all three of these guys.

“In my mind, I don’t try to set a date for when I'm going to be in the majors,” Jimenez said. “That is something I can’t control. I always talk with my dad and we share opinions, and he says, ‘You know what? Just control the things that you can control. Work hard and do the things that you need to do to get better.’ And that’s my key. That’s probably why I stay patient.”

But staying patient is sometimes easier said than done. The big crowd watching Jimenez, Robert and Adolfo send baseballs into a to-this-point-in-camp rare cloudless Arizona sky proved that.

Dreaming of the future has now become the official pastime of the South Side. And that applies to fans and players all the same.

“I’m very, very excited,” Jimenez said, “because I know from the time we have here, that when the moment comes, when we can all be in the majors, the ones that can finally reach that level, we’re going to be good, we’re going to be terrific. I know that.”

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.