Reynaldo Lopez

The good, the bad and the mixed: What went right and what went wrong for the 2017 White Sox

1004_yoan_moncada.jpg
USA TODAY

The good, the bad and the mixed: What went right and what went wrong for the 2017 White Sox

The White Sox lost 95 games, and yet their general manager described himself as pleased with certain aspects of the 2017 season.

He isn’t wrong to be.

Welcome to life in a rebuild.  

There’s undoubtedly analysts and fans who rightfully have questions about the direction the White Sox are headed. They traded almost all of their top players for unproven prospects who come without any guarantees. There’s no promise this will work. The White Sox haven’t proven anything yet, and it’ll likely be a few seasons before anyone knows if they’ve executed it.

But as crazy as it sounds, the White Sox had a good season that has begun to generate optimism from the fanbase. Whether it’s the number of trades Rick Hahn completed, the talent the team accumulated, how young players developed or several other reasons, the White Sox had plenty of positives this season. Here’s a look at what went right, what went wrong and what could have gone better.

The Good

1. Hahn traded almost everyone

What seemed impossible in December and more difficult in May was suddenly complete several days before the Aug. 1 nonwaiver trade deadline. When the White Sox started 2017 with Jose Quintana on the roster after trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, some thought Hahn had overvalued Quintana. Then Quintana struggled through May, and the volume of those questions significantly increased. But everything was reduced to a whisper when the White Sox traded Quintana to the Cubs on July 13 for a package featuring elite prospect Eloy Jimenez. Hahn then spent the next six weeks trading everyone, completing his work with an Aug. 31 deal that sent Miguel Gonzalez to Texas. In all, nine players were traded during the season.

2. New kids prospered

Not everyone had great seasons, but many of the top prospects acquired since December took large steps forward. Lucas Giolito rediscovered his confidence. Reynaldo Lopez and Yoan Moncada forced the issue and fared well in the majors. Michael Kopech and Jimenez developed into elite prospects, and Dane Dunning continues to look like a steal.

3. Prospecting went well

Nowhere was the staggering amount of talent acquired by Hahn more evident than the farm system’s top-30 rankings. Even as Giolito, Lopez and Moncada graduated, the White Sox still have six prospects remaining on MLB Pipeline’s top-100 list. Ten on their current top-30 list have been added via trades since December. Three more came from the 2017 draft.

But the biggest move, one that signaled to fans the White Sox are serious about rebuilding, was the May signing of Luis Robert for $52 million. The penalties they faced — the $26 million tax and two years of international signing restrictions — weren’t enough to dissuade them from signing Robert, who is currently ranked No. 22 in MLB Pipeline’s list.

4. Foundation laid

Nearly as important as adding talent is making sure it’s fostered in the proper environment. Hahn thought manager Rick Renteria would instill the appropriate atmosphere and hired him.

The White Sox are ecstatic with what Renteria has done. Hahn and the front office have recognized those efforts all season long, praising the team for its unrelenting attitude and unwillingness to quit.

5. Older players developed, too

Tommy Kahnle went from project to setup man almost overnight and keyed a trade that brought Blake Rutherford and Ian Clarkin over from the Yankees. Avisail Garcia finally released his untapped potential and turned into an All Star and a potential trade chip. And Yolmer Sanchez found a new level and ensured himself a lot of future plate appearances.

The Bad

1. Carlos Rodon’s future is uncertain

The hope was Rodon would develop into a 33-start, 200-inning pitcher this season. Instead the White Sox have more questions about if Rodon will ever reach his potential. Rodon appeared to be unaffected by the bursitis in his left biceps that cost him three months when he struck out 9.9 batters per nine over 12 starts. But what Rodon’s future holds after he had arthroscopic surgery last week is anyone’s guess, even if the White Sox are optimistic he’ll fully recover.

2. Starting pitching gambles flop

Ten starts in, Derek Holland looked like a find and a potential trade candidate. But his fastball velocity dipped and his ERA soared, leading to Holland’s release last month. Rule 5 pitcher Dylan Covey showed some signs in his final two starts but struggled much of the season. Still, don’t be surprised if the White Sox follow a similar formula next season and try to convert a rehabbing pitcher or two into trade candidates.

3. The injury bug hit hard

Rodon wasn’t the only important player sidelined for a large chunk of the season. Nate Jones was limited to 11 games, Zach Putnam pitched in seven before he and prospect Zack Burdi had reconstructive elbow surgery. Catcher Geovany Soto was hurt twice and never got going. Leury Garcia’s breakout season was slowed by injuries, and even Avisail Garcia missed time with finger and knee soreness. It was hoped Charlie Tilson would take over in center field, but he didn't play a single game this season.

Mixed results

1. Anderson struggles before rebounding

Shortstop Tim Anderson’s ascent was derailed for several months as he struggled to cope with the May shooting death of his close friend, Branden Moss. Anderson made far too many errors and had a .608 OPS before he sought a grief counselor and turned around the toughest season of his life. After making 22 errors in 80 games, Anderson made six in the final 65. He also produced a .793 OPS in his final 54 games.

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

rickhahnwhitesox.jpg
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.”

Reynaldo Lopez finishes rookie season with White Sox on strong note

Reynaldo Lopez finishes rookie season with White Sox on strong note

Reynaldo Lopez’s fastball was the best it had been in three weeks as he made his final start of the season on Wednesday.

The White Sox rookie hit 99 mph on the radar gun in the first inning and generated a bunch of swings and misses in six innings pitched. While Lopez earned a no decision, he pitched well and punctuated what he described as his best season with a strong effort. Lopez finished with seven strikeouts.

“My fastball was good today,” Lopez said through an interpreter. “My command with the fastball was good, and I was able to attack the strike zone.”

Lopez made it clear from the outset he brought with him his best four-seamer in a few weeks. He hit 97 and 98 during a strikeout of Kole Calhoun, touched 99 with Mike Trout at the plate and struck out the side in the first inning.

Lopez felt so good with the four-seamer that he threw it 69 times among 97 pitches. The right-hander averaged 95.5 mph with his four-seamer, according to Baseball Savant, and generated 10 swings and misses.

Over his previous four outings, Lopez had averaged 92.9 mph, 93.8, 94.7 and 94.5, dating back to Sept. 6. In those four starts he got a combined 11 swings and misses and only four strikeouts.

Despite the lack of swings and misses, Lopez still found a way to persevere, posting a 3.55 ERA in 25 1/3 innings.

“I know everybody keeps talking about the strikeouts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He was throwing 96 today. He hit 96 before. It was working around 93 to 94. Had five or six strikeouts early. Was elevating up out of the zone a little bit, above the hands. Then at the end, another breaking ball a strikeout or two. He’s been throwing well in general.

“I know the last couple of outings everybody keeps talking about the strikeouts, but he’s been throwing well and keeping us in ballgames. Today he got some strikeouts and he had one inning where he had to work a little bit.”

Lopez was outstanding until there were two outs in the fifth inning. That’s when he hit C.J. Cron with a 1-2 curveball, which kickstarted an Angels rally. Two batters later, Calhoun blasted a game-tying, three-run homer to center.

Lopez allowed four earned runs and five hits in six innings. He walked two and threw strikes on 64 of 97 pitches.

Overall, Lopez is pleased with his production. He’s pitched a combined 168 2/3 innings between the majors and Triple-A Charlotte.

“It was a very good season, probably the best season in my career,” Lopez said. “I learned a lot, and that’s something I really appreciate. All of the things I learned this year, I’m going to try to put into next year and throughout my career because that’s the way you can be better as a pitcher and you can develop.”