White Sox

Amid constant rebuilding talk, White Sox out to 'surprise a lot of people' in 2018

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USA TODAY

Amid constant rebuilding talk, White Sox out to 'surprise a lot of people' in 2018

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The quote came from a veteran pitcher who looked around the clubhouse assessing his team.

“There’s a lot of talent for sure. I’ll tell you that much. It’s going to be an exciting year.”

This sort of confidence wasn’t coming from the Houston Astros clubhouse, or the Cleveland Indians or the New York Yankees.

Nope, this was Miguel Gonzalez describing the rebuilding White Sox.

“We’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to switch things around.”

Did you hear that, Las Vegas sports books? Most of them have the White Sox winning about 68 games in 2018.

If you believe what Gonzalez is throwing out there, consider placing your bets now.

It’s only the second year of the rebuild. Judging by past teardowns in the majors, there should be plenty of losing ahead. But this White Sox team is out to shed that rebuild label very soon — like this upcoming season.

“We want to win, and we want to start shifting this rebuilding state,” Matt Davidson said. “We don’t want to always be stuck here.”

Playing his first full season in the majors in 2017, Davidson got off to a solid start, batting .245 with 18 home runs and 42 RBIs in the first half. However, his stats and confidence plummeted in the second half when he slashed .185/.226/.364 with only eight home runs and 59 strikeouts compared to six walks.  

He says he doesn’t need to be reminded about his struggles last season. He admits it only takes a quick search of his name on the internet to find the evidence. He and many of his teammates have reported early to camp to prove they’re better than what people might think — and that might even include the coaches.

“We want to make it hard on them,” Davidson said. “We want them to sit in those meetings and wonder what to do. We want to all be good.”

Reliever Nate Jones has almost become a forgotten man with the White Sox. Tommy John surgery, back surgery and elbow surgery since 2014 will do that. But he’s already in camp, feeling 100 percent, and when asked if he’ll be ready for Opening Day he said, “Absolutely.”

As the elder statesman with the White Sox in terms of seniority — he’s been with the team since 2012 — Jones’ first year with the club was also Robin Ventura’s first as manager.  

He says there’s a big contrast between now and then.

“It’s a different vibe for sure,” Jones said. “Ricky (Renteria) is creating that from the top. He wants us to realize what it takes to be a playoff contender year in and year out, and it starts now. It started last year in his first year getting us all together and bonding. Everyone has talked about how tight-knit a group this is. It truly is. It’s something we bought into, and we know what we need to do to win.”

The White Sox are hoping the winning comes sooner rather than later.

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

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

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USA TODAY

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.