Rick Renteria

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.

Could the White Sox win the division? Joakim Soria 'wouldn't be surprised'

Could the White Sox win the division? Joakim Soria 'wouldn't be surprised'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Can the White Sox compete in 2018? Coming off a 67-95 season and this only being Year 2 of the rebuild, let’s be honest, many things have to go right for that to happen.

But it’s spring training. It’s a time for optimism. And Wednesday, we learned that new White Sox reliever Joakim Soria might be the most optimistic player in the entire clubhouse.

Forget about just competing. He raised the ceiling even higher.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up winning the division,” Soria said.

The Cleveland Indians might have something to say about that, but Soria who pitched in the playoffs with the Detroit Tigers (2014) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2015) knows this is a crazy game. How things look in February are often times much different come September.

“Baseball is a different animal, and you never know if this is going to be the year," he said. "If everybody has the best year of their career, we can go on a good run.”

We’ve seen teams quickly turn their fortunes around in the recent past. The Minnesota Twins went from 59 wins in 2016 to 85 wins in 2017. Truth be told, those kind of yearly improvements are extremely rare, but the White Sox have arrived at Camelback Ranch believing that anything is possible.

“We love the excitement, not only coming out of that clubhouse but from our fans as well. I know there have been various podcasts talking about whether we’re ready to win,” Rick Hahn said with a wink to the most recent episode of the White Sox Talk Podcast. Thanks, Rick.

“We're not going to do anything to stifle that level of excitement. At the same time, we know we're one year into a rebuild. These things traditionally take longer than that. We're thrilled with the progress we've made in the last year, but we know we still have a fair amount of work to go in this process.”

Manager Rick Renteria knows it’s a rebuild, but he won’t be managing like it. He wants to win as much as anyone. He hears the confident chatter coming from his players and likes what he hears.

“I’m not going to sell them short. We’ll shoot high and we’ll see where we fall from there,” Renteria said. “I’m not going to lower the bar and be happy if we surpass that bar. I’m not that person. I want to shoot high and we’ll see where it falls.”

Should enthusiastic White Sox fans pump the breaks on their excitement for this season?

“No, don't pump the brakes. It's fine,” Hahn said. “The enthusiasm is great and again, a lot of it is coming out of the clubhouse, a lot of it is coming from these players who think that they have the ability to surprise some people. That's the mentality Ricky and his staff have helped create. They fight every game, they fight 27 outs, they are playing their tails off to win each and every night.”

It’s that kind of talk that has White Sox fans excited for what could be ahead. But those are just words. If their actions can back it up through September, then maybe Soria’s prediction could wind up being more prophetic than we think.

Ricky's boys don't quit — and the White Sox have no plans to quit on the right manager for the rebuild

Ricky's boys don't quit — and the White Sox have no plans to quit on the right manager for the rebuild

No, Rick Renteria is not going to get "Cubs'd."

The White Sox manager has been in his current position before, waiting for a much-heralded group of prospects to arrive at the major league level and turn a Chicago baseball team into a perennial World Series contender.

That plan worked on the North Side of town, but Renteria wasn't allowed to stay around long enough to see it through, jettisoned when the Cubs had the opportunity to hire Joe Maddon ahead of the 2015 season. Maddon's taken the North Siders to three straight National League Championship Series and won the World Series in 2016. Who knows if Renteria would've done the same had he been the one to manage Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and all the other guys who came up after his one-year stint with the Cubs concluded.

But Renteria now has a second chance to fulfill that mission, tasked with shepherding the White Sox bevy of young talent to major league stardom and annual contention on the South Side.

And it looks like this time, he'll at least get that opportunity. The White Sox front office and players alike rave about Renteria, and the way they talk about him makes it seem mighty unlikely he'll suffer the same fate that he did at the other end of the Red Line.

What do they love about him? Well, any White Sox fan worth his or her salt knows one thing: Ricky's boys don't quit.

"There is a way this team has been playing this game under Ricky and this coaching staff over the last year or so that not only is contagious but is the kind of thing that can endure year in and year out as the player personnel changes," general manager Rick Hahn said ahead of last weekend's SoxFest festivities at the Hilton Chicago. "I've heard from many Sox fans over the course of the offseason about how they've never been as excited over a team that lost 95 games.

"A lot of that I think is a testament not just to ... the excitement that they have about what's coming and understanding what's coming, but I think almost as importantly as how that team fought on a nightly basis and the whole 'Ricky's boys don't quit' thing is that sort took on a life of its own but is emblematic of a team that plays 27 outs.

"It was a theme that Ricky and the coaches emphasizes at the start of spring training, they carried it through. Again, player talent level is going to change over the course of the next couple years, perhaps ability to contend is going to change over the coming years, but that kind of environment and that kind of culture is the thing that we wanted to make sure was in place so that every young player as they started joining that in Chicago, they know what we're about and they're in a position to fight on a nightly basis."

Now, just because they didn't quit doesn't mean they won every game. The White Sox lost 95 times in 2017. But that was to be expected after the announcement of the rebuild and the trades that sent Chris Sale and Adam Eaton — and later Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera and a significant chunk of the bullpen — away from the South Side.

Wins and losses, however, are not important right now. Culture is. And that's why the White Sox believe Renteria continues to be the right man for the job. Because when the wins do start coming in bunches — that's the plan, at least — these guys will still be playing with the same drive and same energy that they did when they were on a fourth-place team.

"I think that we’ve made a concerted effort to connect all the players to each other," Renteria said. "Because I think in an environment in which everything that they do on a 24/7 basis is judged, failure and success, if they’re grounded in what I believe to be a family environment, as far as them picking each other up, it allows them an opportunity to be able to overcome some of those difficulties. Because the way the world works today with the media, in terms of information being shared with everybody, in terms of their performances, I always kind of tell players, ‘Don’t believe everything you read about yourself.’ You might get a big head when things are going well, and then the game has a way of humbling you when you start to struggle. So keep perspective.

"I think bringing them together as kind of a unit, they become good friends, they’re a pretty tight-knit group. I know I heard Rick (Hahn) talk about that a little bit. Even right now when we’re sitting up there waiting for all the youngsters to come out, they’re pretty happy to be here, they’re very excited about the prospects of what the organization is doing. We’re going to continue to move forward, and it’s really important for them to be doing it together."

All this praise goes to Renteria not just because he happens to be the guy in the manager's chair while the organization is undergoing such a transformation. Renteria's a part of all this change. He's fostering a culture. He has the ability to effectively communicate with both English- and Spanish-speaking players. And perhaps his most important role will be using his coaching ability to finish off the development of so many of these highly touted young players.

Hahn might get the credit for stocking the farm system with so many big-name prospects. But if all goes to plan, Renteria will have an equally important part in the rebuild. He will have helped turn those prospects into impact big leaguers.

"(Yoan Moncada)’s not a finished product, Tim Anderson’s not a finished product, Carlos Rodon’s not a finished product, despite being in the big leagues for a couple years. It’s part of the reason Ricky and the coaching staff is perfectly suited for this process," Hahn said. "They’re all teachers, they all have roots in player development, they all have a history in setting organizational goals and holding players accountable for it, and that continues not just through our system, but once players get to Chicago."

The carefully laid rebuilding plans have a lot more to them than just trades and international signings. The other parts, be they tangible or intangible, are why the White Sox continue to be so adamant that Renteria is the right man for the job.

In other words, they have no plans to quit on him.