Welcome to the heart of the White Sox rebuild.
SoxFest is sold out this weekend, the fleet of highly rated prospects is on parade, and the questions are already coming about when all these young guns will turn the team into a perennial contender.
That’s the plan, anyway, and the fact that everyone expects it to come true and come true any day now shows how good a job Rick Hahn’s front office has done in assembling such an incredible amount of young talent in such an incredibly brief amount of time.
But the waiting game is easier discussed than played, and this weekend’s festivities will surely feature frequent queries about when Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez will crack the major league roster and when free-agent superstars like Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado can be expected to be introduced at Guaranteed Rate Field.
And so Hahn will likely spend a lot more time talking about patience.
“The fan support has been stunning. It has been overwhelming in terms of the amount of enthusiasm and energy that they’ve shown," Hahn said Friday ahead of the festivities at the Hilton Chicago. "Obviously, this weekend is sold out. Virtually every fan that interacts with me directly or calls or emails or writes a letter has expressed their support, and actually a few last night as I was out at a sponsor event expressed, ‘Why was their any doubt that we would support that? You articulate a clear plan that makes sense and follow through on it, you’ll have our support through thick and thin.’ Which, as an organization, we very much appreciate.
“I think when we preach patience at this point, to an extent we’re saying it to ourselves. There’s going to be a temptation. All of you that are gonna be in Glendale for the first few weeks of spring training are going to see players that are going to get you excited, and people are gonna want to see them at the big league level, just like a year ago when they wanted to see (Yoan) Moncada start at the big league level, and (Lucas) Giolito and (Reynaldo) Lopez. But we have to be patient with their development, there’s still some finishing elements that have to happen at the minor league level and then we’ll bring them on when the time is right to the big league level. That’s what it is in terms of asking for patience, and preaching too, to ourselves in the coaching staff and in the front office.”
As Hahn mentioned, White Sox fans are all aboard the rebuild train. They’ve completely bought in and know it will take time for all these guys to deliver consistent contention. But there’s a reason the SoxFest lineup includes as many minor league players as major league ones. Kopech, Jimenez, Alec Hansen, Zack Burdi, Zack Collins, Blake Rutherford, Dylan Cease. None of these guys has spent a day in the major leagues. Only a few have spent a day in the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Is expecting them to reach the majors so soon perhaps a tad unrealistic? Well, it depends. They are all pretty darn good.
“As we sit here right now I want to say Eloy has roughly about 70-odd plate appearances above A-Ball,” Hahn said. “If at age 21 he spends the entire year in Double-A in the Southern League and is even close to the level that he performed at for the three weeks he was there already, that’s a really, really good developmental year. Now, the good ones have a way of sort of changing your timeline on that, and it’s not going to shock me if at some point over the course of the summer Eloy forces our hand a little bit and we’re going to have to wind up being a little more aggressive than what would be a very fine developmental plan for a 21-year-old who is hardly above A-Ball.”
The thing is, however, that the performances of guys like Kopech and Jimenez — not to mention the fact that Moncada, Giolito and Lopez are already at the major league level — has created a bit of an expectation that this thing could come together ahead of schedule. Kopech said recently he’s ready for his major league moment. Jimenez said he’ll be ready when the call comes.
But when those promotions do occur — be it during the 2018 campaign or after it — the presence of these young guys alone doesn’t mean the rebuilt White Sox will be a finished product. Far from it, in fact, as Hahn continued to discuss the development that will need to occur at the major league level, as well.
“It’s the rare, rare player that gets to the major league level and doesn’t need any further refinement or adjustment,” Hahn said. “Even if it’s just getting comfortable with the speed of the game or the amount of the scrutiny that comes with being a big league ballplayer on a daily basis. So we know that’s going to continue.
“And it’s going to happen with Moncada. He’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 (Renteria) and the coaching staff is perfectly suited for this process. 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.”
And so, more patience.
The rebuild is generating the kind of excitement not seen from South Side baseball fans since new Hall of Famer Jim Thome sent that ball out of Guaranteed Rate Field to score the only run in the Blackout Game. Renteria, for one, said he can’t control his excitement. White Sox fans know the feeling. But he said that he can control his patience.
“There are two things that I’ve been asked: Can I contain my excitement? No, I can’t,” Renteria said. “I’m very excited about the men we’ve been watching at the camp and last September, the guys that we’ve seen here, the kids we’ve seen at instructional league in the Dominican. But I can contain control my patience.
“I don’t want to contain my excitement. I want everybody to see my excitement because it is real. The players’ talents, not everybody is going to make it, not everybody is going to be The Guy. But there is a lot here. I can contain my patience knowing that if we do it the right way, at the end of the day we’re going to have a chance for some successful seasons and have a lot of fun.”
Homer Simpson once said the waiting game sucks. He might have been onto something — anyone want to play Hungry, Hungry Hippos instead? — but it’s a necessity right now on the South Side, one fans seem willing to accept.
Though no one ever said you can’t be patient and have a little fun at the same time, right?