White Sox

With so much talent in minor league system, not outrageous to think White Sox could someday have their own Zito-Hudson-Mulder combo

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AP/USA TODAY

With so much talent in minor league system, not outrageous to think White Sox could someday have their own Zito-Hudson-Mulder combo

The White Sox are in Oakland this week, a place that's seen its fair share of rebuilding efforts.

Thanks to Moneyball and some excellent drafting, the A's, at one time, were the template for creating a homegrown contender. Before Theo Epstein and Jeff Luhnow, there was Billy Beane. And the A's found particular success when it came to pitching. Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder formed one of the elite 1-2-3 starting-rotation punches of recent memory. And if the White Sox rebuild pans out the way they hope it will, there could be a second coming of the homegrown Zito-Hudson-Mulder triumvirate on the South Side.

That trio dominated for years in Oakland, taking the A's to four straight postseasons from 2000 to 2003. Zito was still around for another trip in 2006. While the A's famously failed to do much in those postseason appearances, eliminated from the first four in the first round and then swept out of the ALCS in 2006, there's no doubting that they had one of the best rotations in baseball during that stretch. Hudson was a two-time All Star and finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting three times during his six seasons with the A's. Zito was a three-time All Star in eight seasons in Oakland and won the Cy Young Award in 2002. Mulder was a two-time All Star in his five seasons there and was the Cy Young runner-up in 2001.

Do the White Sox have three pitchers who could reach that kind of success?

The White Sox haven't drafted all their high-end pitching talent, like the A's did with Hudson (sixth round, 1997), Mulder (first round, 1998) and Zito (first round, 1999). But they do have four pitchers ranked in the top 100 prospects in baseball: Michael Kopech (10), Alec Hansen (54), Dylan Cease (61) and Dane Dunning (92). That's without mentioning current members of the big league rotation Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer or the currently injured Carlos Rodon. The White Sox spent high first-round draft picks on Fulmer and Rodon, while Hansen was a second-round pick. They acquired all the others in those rebuild-launching trades with the Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals and Cubs.

That's a heck of a lot of talent. So much talent that it produces quite the potential future conundrum for Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and Don Cooper, who will have to figure out a way to fit all of that talent into one major league starting staff. That would be one of those problems, of course, that qualifies as a good one to have.

Now, as exciting as these young players might be — and as impressive as what they're doing in the minor leagues is — it's unrealistic to think that all of them will reach the status of big league ace. As Hahn will tell you, baseball has a cruel way of reminding that not all prospects pan out. But the White Sox are starting from a very strong position, with such a high volume of top-end talent. It betters the odds of developing a front-end-of-the-rotation pitcher, and a few of these guys are already looking capable of reaching that level.

Kopech is the obvious candidate to be that kind of pitcher. He's got blow-em-away stuff with his triple-digit fastball and is currently one of the top pitching prospects in the game. He showed signs of mortality during spring training, leaving the Cactus League with an ERA above 11.00, but he's looked good in his first two regular-season starts at Triple-A Charlotte, with an 0.90 ERA in 10 innings. When he'll be up to the major league level remains a mystery, though it figures to be at some point this season.

Hansen has equally dominant stuff and actually struck out more hitters in 2017, punching out 191 batters at three different levels of the minor leagues. He's yet to start his regular season while getting back to full health. But he's got as high of hopes as any one of these guys, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see the 6-foot-7 righty team with two others to make an elite 1-2-3.

Who would the third guy be? Well it could be any of them, really. Cease and Dunning are off to great starts in their minor league seasons. Giolito and Lopez impressed at the end of last season, with Lopez carrying that over into the beginning of the 2018 season. Rodon still carries high hopes even as he works through recovery from shoulder surgery. And with so many options and unknowns remaining in the development of all these players, it's really possible it could be any three-arm combination — including ones without Kopech or Hansen.

In the end, the question might not be whether the White Sox can match the Zito-Hudson-Mulder three-headed monster. It might be whether or not they can outdo it.

Robinson Cano sees superstar potential in Yoan Moncada

Robinson Cano sees superstar potential in Yoan Moncada

The greats know greatness.

Looking across the field this week at Yoan Moncada, 8-time All-Star Robinson Cano not only saw a lot of himself in the White Sox second baseman, he believes he was witnessing a future baseball star. 

“I can see a guy who’s going to be a superstar in this game,” Cano said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “He can field, he can throw, he can hit. In the first game against us, he was a hit away from the cycle. He can hit right now. Imagine when he’s in the league two or three years and is facing the same guys for the last couple years. Then you have a different approach. The guy that I see, you just got to give it time and keep working hard because I think he’ll be a superstar.”

Cano had heard the comparisons between himself and Moncada, but until this week, he had never seen his protege play baseball in person.

The two of them hadn’t even met until Monday when they encountered each other at of all places—second base. Moncada had just doubled for his second hit of the night. That gave Cano a close look at the swing that happens to be identical to his.

“I was watching that the other day on second base and I was like, ‘Wow, it’s the same swing,’” Cano said.

Growing up in Cuba, Moncada idolized Cano. He didn’t just play the same position and copy his swing, he wore Cano’s jersey number and even named his son after him.

“It’s something you can’t describe because as a player it’s the first time that’s happened where you see a player name their kid after you,” Cano said.

Despite their similarities, Cano admits there are some differences that favor the young Moncada.

Who hits the ball harder?

“I would say him. He’s stronger.”

And speed?

“He’s got something I never have. He can run. I was slow, always.”

Moncada’s biggest problem right now is strikeouts. He has 38 this season, second most in baseball. Cano, who has only 14, provided some advice for Moncada.

“The only thing I can give him for that is making the game simple and try not to swing so hard,” Cano explained. "The thing is when we swing too hard and try to hit a homer, we chase pitches. When you try to stay simple, try to make contact and use the whole field that’s when you can minimize the strikeout.”

Cano was 22 in his rookie season. Moncada is currently 23. A player’s first few seasons in the majors is mainly about learning and maturing, which Moncada is essentially doing every time he comes to the plate. Often times his talent just takes over like it did on Wednesday when he homered in the first pitch he saw against Felix Hernandez. After that, he struck out three times.

Moncada’s offensive game has so far been quite boom or bust. Over time that should level out. When it does, look out. 

In the meantime, more wisdom from Cano:

“Sometimes as a kid, you want to go out and all you think is about putting out numbers compared to playing the game that you know how to play. You need to let the numbers come to themselves, not try to get a hit every time, or I’ve got to hit a homer or want to swing hard. Just go out and try to win a game.”

Cano didn’t learn this on his own. It helped having former Yankees teammates like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield show him not just how to play, but how to win.

“When you have someone who can help you in this game, that’s the best thing to happen to a player,” Cano said. “When someone can be there for you and say, “In this situation I think you’re wrong.’ Someone who can tell you something you don’t want to hear.”

For Moncada, one of those players right now is Jose Abreu.

“Having a guy like (Abreu) who can help is good especially since they’re from the same country.”

At one point during Wednesday’s game, Moncada and Cano crossed paths between innings. They smiled at each other before going their separate ways. Cano to second base where the 35 year-old is in the twilight of his career. Moncada to the White Sox dugout where most of his career awaits.

“He’s going to be great in this game,” Cano said about Moncada. “He just needs to stay healthy and keep working hard. People don’t realize that this game is more about time.”

That was Cano's way of saying: be patient White Sox fans. A "superstar" is here. His time will come.

White Sox record isn't pretty, but Yoan Moncada has provided a shiny silver lining of late

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USA TODAY

White Sox record isn't pretty, but Yoan Moncada has provided a shiny silver lining of late

The silver linings aren’t always a joy to find during this rebuilding season. “Well, at least …” can become a somewhat tired refrain as the White Sox sit at 5-16.

But that’s the reality for the rebuilding White Sox, for whom brighter days surely lie ahead. The stocked farm system keeps delivering news of prospect achievements, and the young players at the major league level are providing their own positive signs for the years that are coming.

The South Siders wrapped a 1-5 homestand Wednesday afternoon with their second straight one-run defeat to the visiting Seattle Mariners. They only had one hit after the third and saw the last 13 hitters go down in order. James Shields walked four more guys to bring his season total to 17 in six appearances. The White Sox starting staff leads the majors with 65 free passes issued.

Well, at least … 

Wednesday, it was Yoan Moncada’s leadoff homer in the bottom of the first, a ball that was absolutely crushed into the right-field seats. The distance and power were strong signs for a player expected to be at the center of all that future success. But perhaps of greater note to those who have watched his still-nascent big league career was the fact that the homer came on the first pitch Felix Hernandez threw, a departure from the long at-bats Moncada has been famous for working in his first two seasons on the South Side.

But perhaps it’s just as strong a showing of his hitter’s eye that he was able to do what he did with that first pitch.

“I was trying to be aggressive in that at-bat, swing at the first pitch,” Moncada said. “It was a good pitch for me, and I put the barrel on the ball and made good contact. That was it.”

Moncada, to add luster to this silver lining, has been mashing of late. In the last nine games, Moncada is slashing .333/.421/.848 with eight extra-base hits, four home runs, eight RBIs and eight runs scored. His five home runs rank second on the team, behind only Jose Abreu. And he's just two days removed from coming a single short of the cycle in Monday's win. Yes, he’s also struck out 14 times in the nine-game span, a constant concern for a guy who’s right around the major league lead in punch outs. But he’s also drawn five walks and stolen four bases.

Yes, the White Sox went 1-8 in those contests. But if the 2018 campaign is about developing the players who will power future contenders, then this recent surge by Moncada, one of the rebuild’s biggest stars, ought to please the front office and fans alike who have bought in to the rebuild but remain eager for the strategy to translate into big league success.

“As experience and time give him more opportunity to gain more knowledge of himself and the opponent, and what he’s capable of doing, he’s barely scratching the surface of who he is,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There’s no way that any of us believe in any way, shape or form that he’s a finished product. He continues to develop his skill set, continues to learn, make adjustments as do most players, but one as young as he is, with the skill set he brings to the table, you hope that it ultimately winds up playing really big dividends, which I believe we expect that in the near future.”

“I agree with Ricky,” Moncada said. “I also think that I’m just in the learning process. It’s step by step. I think that I have a lot of talent and I can be a much better player overall. I agree with him. It’s just a process. I try to improve and get better every day.”

An interesting question might be how many leadoff home runs Moncada will have a chance to hit when the oft-projected 2020 lineup takes full shape. Moncada was seemingly entrenched in the leadoff spot when this season began, though Renteria has already moved him out of that spot against left-handers, opting instead to put Tim Anderson at the top of the lineup. Moncada’s got just one hit in only four at-bats outside the leadoff spot, more an indication of his struggles against lefties, against whom he’s batting .130 with 12 strikeouts in 23 at-bats.

Though with his increased power display in the last week and a half, it sparks curiosities of Moncada being more of a middle-of-the-order bat than one that is parked at the top for the remainder of his career.

“He has an extremely good eye,” Renteria said. “Right now, as you see, we’ve mixed and matched him with Timmy now the last two or three days maybe to give him the best chance to have the most positive outcomes possible. We know that right now against righties, he’s very, very good. And right now he’s working on improving his approaches against left-handed pitchers. Seems to me the last couple of days he’s shown some pretty good signs against lefties in his at-bats, contact, swings, approach, and so we’re going to try to continue to develop whatever we need to do in order to maximize the confidence he can gain and the opportunities he gets in any situation.

“And then at some point, I’m sure it will be defined as to what he is ultimately from both sides of the plate and if he’s going to be ultimately a leadoff hitter from both sides of the plate against anybody. His eye says to me that he’s capable of doing that. But sometimes you want to give him the best matchup and you also want to, within the construct of the lineup that you have and the guys that you have, maximize what those guys are capable of doing.”

Moncada and the White Sox both have a long way to go until they transform from 5-16 to the planned contender this rebuilding effort is supposed to yield. But if this season is about anything at the big league level, it’s about Moncada’s development. It’s a small sample size, yes, but of late, Moncada has shown some signs of a guy who could be one of the reasons the South Siders are contending one day.