White Sox

In 'frustrating' season, Hahn doesn't want to write off White Sox yet

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In 'frustrating' season, Hahn doesn't want to write off White Sox yet

Entering Monday’s series opener against the Angels at 51-58, sitting 14 1/2 games out of the division-leading Royals and 7 1/2 games out of the American League’s second Wild Card spot, Rick Hahn’s description of the White Sox season as “frustrating" was not surprising.

But the general manager wants everyone to remember one thing: The White Sox haven’t been mathematically eliminated from anything yet.

So those who want the page turned to 2016 are just going to have to wait until the math says the White Sox playoff hopes are officially dead.

“Until there’s an ‘X’ next to our name, we’re going to approach it like we have a shot,” Hahn said Monday. “It doesn’t really change how the 25 guys in there, the coaching staff goes about their business. The focus is going to remain on trying to win that night’s ballgame. As for us in the front office and how we approach things, obviously we’ve got to be cognizant of how we sit in the standings and how each loss makes that road a little more difficult to travel down, the road to the playoffs more difficult to travel down. So we’re aware of the situation, and we’re aware of what potentially needs to be done in coming weeks. But for me, in that clubhouse, the focus needs to be on winning tonight’s ballgame.”

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With fewer than two months remaining, the White Sox, realistically, will have to do an awful lot of winning to reach the postseason. It isn’t impossible, Hahn’s certainly right about that. But the way the White Sox have played this year makes that hope a hard one to latch on to.

After one of the team’s best stretches of the season, a seven-game winning streak against last-place teams in Cleveland and Boston, the White Sox have lost eight of their last 10 against the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Royals. Most recently, those AL Central-leading Royals swept the White Sox out of Kansas City over the weekend.

That hope that Hahn preached Monday was understandable in the thick of seven straight wins. After this latest downturn, though, it seems more implausible.

“Obviously the up-and-down nature has been frustrating,” Hahn said. “I do think the last positive wasn’t just the eight-game road trip in Cleveland and Boston, I felt that it extended back to late June. I believe we had the second-best record in baseball in the month of July. So it was our belief that was a sign of momentum building. Obviously it was plain for all to see that the improvements in the offense seemed to have arrived. So it is certainly disappointing, the most recent stretch coming out of July, the way we’ve played thus far for the first 10 days (of August). Positive news is we do have a lot of schedule left, we play a lot of the teams we’re chasing, so we still have an opportunity here for us shake off as quickly as we can these tough one-run losses and get going tonight.”

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Many argue that seven-game winning streak came at precisely the wrong time for the White Sox, bumping up against the trade deadline. With the White Sox out of the running, trading Jeff Samardzija — who’s due to become a free agent at season’s end — could have netted a piece or two for the future. That trade didn’t happen, and this current stretch of losing immediately followed. Is standing pat at the deadline something Hahn regrets?

“I don’t think it’s really helpful to do that,” Hahn said of looking back on what some deem a potential missed opportunity. “I think the best way to look at things is make as good a decision as you can at the time based on the information available at that time. And obviously we were real comfortable with the path we decided to go down on the 31st, leading up to the 31st and on the 31st. When we’re presented with another opportunity to potentially make the team better or start looking at the future, we’ll make that decision based on the information available at that time.”

There’s still time to make a deal. The waiver trade deadline is at the end of the current month, and the White Sox have made August deals in the past, showing they aren’t averse to such a deal.

And whether things get better, worse or stay the same, that possibility is on the table.

“We’ve been approaching the deadline and now the waiver period as a hopeful opportunity, hopefully an opportunity to improve ourselves for the long term, not just something specifically for ’15. Obviously thus far we haven’t had that opportunity,” Hahn said. “We aren’t to the point yet where we’re looking necessarily strictly at the future. As we get deeper into August, if things don’t improve, that is something we’re going to have to take seriously. But at this point, we’re taking the same approach of looking at long-term fits that we think can help with this year and beyond.”

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Both short-term and long-term, one thing is certain: Hahn has his mind on a turnaround. That might mean an incredible stretch of winning in August and September with the White Sox clinching an unlikely playoff berth. Or it could mean planning on turning around several straight underwhelming seasons in 2016.

Regardless, Hahn doesn’t want his team written off until it’s mandated by the math. As long as that’s how the White Sox players treat each day, he’ll worry about expediting that turnaround.

“Obviously it hasn’t gone according to how we had hoped other than short stretches where we haven’t been able to maintain for a long period of time. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to lament the way we have played while we still have games to be played,” Hahn said. “I’m talking about in that clubhouse. They need to continue to be focused on winning tonight’s game and focused on this series that we have ahead and this weekend, which should be a good series, as well.

“For us in the front office, we can take a longer view, take a more analytical or long-term approach to why are we in this situation here and how do we rectify it as quickly as possible?”

Less heralded than prospects White Sox acquired with them, it's Dylan Cease and Luis Basabe starring in Futures Game

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USA TODAY

Less heralded than prospects White Sox acquired with them, it's Dylan Cease and Luis Basabe starring in Futures Game

WASHINGTON, D.C. — You don’t need to be a headliner of one of the White Sox major trades to make an impact on the ongoing rebuilding effort.

The White Sox two representatives at Sunday’s Futures Game had one very big thing in common: Neither was the most talked-about player in the trades that brought them into the organization.

Luis Alexander Basabe was the No. 3 piece in the Chris Sale deal, overshadowed by Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. Dylan Cease was the No. 2 player in the Jose Quintana trade, overshadowed by Eloy Jimenez.

But as their selections to the Futures Game show, these guys weren’t just throw-ins. Cease is having a sensational season, the best campaign of any of the White Sox highest-rated pitching prospects. Basabe had a hot start to the season and showed his potential with a two-run homer on a 102 mph pitch in the third inning Sunday.

Rick Hahn’s talked all during this rebuild about his desire to make the White Sox farm system as deep as possible. Moncada, Kopech and Jimenez brought star power to the rebuild. Cease and Basabe have helped bring the depth.

“I love the fact that Dylan and Basabe are the two down there at the Futures Game, in part because — through no fault of their own — in their own transactions, publicly, they got a little bit overshadowed by the headliners, so to speak, in those deals,” Hahn said last week. “But the Quintana trade doesn’t happen without Dylan Cease being part of it. He was a very important part of that for us, and we’re thrilled to see him getting some recognition for his ability and his accomplishments, and the Futures Game honor is very fitting.

“Basabe, obviously, was overshadowed in the Sale trade by Moncada and Kopech, and they’re bigger names, but our scouts felt very strongly about his upside and what his tool set presented. And you saw it at Winston-Salem, the way he was able to perform at an All-Star level there.

“It’s nice to see guys who might not be at the top of mind for people when they think of our system being recognized in that way and certainly for those two guys, who were important parts of big trades for us but perhaps not perceived previously to the recognition they deserve.”

Until recently, Cease has been the fourth name mentioned when discussing the White Sox fleet of starting-pitching prospects, behind Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning. And that’s typically after mentioning guys already in the majors like Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. But Cease has certainly moved to the front of that conversation with his big 2018.

Basabe is still buried, in conversation, behind Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo. Blake Rutherford is ranked ahead of him, too. But he’s shown himself worthy of consideration for a spot in the White Sox future plans. His performance at the Futures Game will keep him in that discussion.

Down in the minors, these guys are going about their business. And as headlining names like Jimenez and Kopech have either dealt with injuries or gone through struggles, “under the radar” guys like Cease and Basabe have produced.

Of course, the descriptors of “headliner” and “under the radar” don’t mean much to them.

“Eloy Jimenez is such a good player. That’s nothing, necessarily, against me, it just happens to be the way it is,” Cease said Sunday. “With Basabe, Kopech and Moncada are really studs, too. You’ve just got to be grateful for the opportunity you have. That doesn’t upset me by any means.”

Projecting lineups and depth charts of the future has become one of the favorite pastimes on the South Side during this rebuilding period. And while it’s easy to pick the highest-rated guys for the starting spots, rebuilds have a way of surprising. And maybe the emergence of guys like Cease and Basabe count as the surprises that awaited the White Sox effort.

Getting to the big leagues is obviously the end goal, and starring in the big leagues would mean usurping the projected place of one of the more-heralded prospects ahead of them. That’s not how Cease is looking at it, though, just sticking to that old baseball axiom of controlling what he can control.

Which is really the only way to get to where he and all these prospects want to be.

“It’s easy to dream on it,” Cease said of getting to the major league level. “It’s just that baseball’s such a difficult game that if you take your focus away from what you’re doing right now, it’s very easy to snowball away. So you can sit and dream about it, but you’ve got to do it and let it happen.”

Futures Game pitcher Dylan Cease on loaded White Sox farm system: 'There's so much talent that you almost take it for granted'

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USA TODAY

Futures Game pitcher Dylan Cease on loaded White Sox farm system: 'There's so much talent that you almost take it for granted'

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A couple weeks ago, Dylan Cease was sitting in the stands charting pitches during a Birmingham Barons game when White Sox director of player development Chris Getz came over and said, “I just want to let you know …”

Inside his head, Cease immediately had a flashback to last July and the time the Cubs informed him he’d been dealt to the White Sox in the Jose Quintana trade.

“Did I just get traded again?” Cease thought to himself.

Fortunately, that’s not what this conversation was about.

“And then (Getz) said, ‘You’re going to the Futures Game,’ and I was kind of speechless and I just said thank you,” Cease recalled.

Playing in this All-Star showcase with some of the best prospects in baseball had been a goal for Cease ever since he started watching the game as a kid.

Now one of the best young pitchers in the minor leagues, Cease has even bigger plans for his baseball career, like reaching the big leagues and dominating there like he has since coming over from the Cubs.

At Class A Winston-Salem, Cease went 9-2 with a 2.89 ERA. Since getting called up to Double-A Birmingham, he’s 1-0 with a 3.24 ERA in three starts, but he’s given up only one earned run in his last two games.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn says that Cease has developed at such a rate that he’s exceeded their expectations this year. Cease might feel the same way.

“In terms of growth, which is really what the minor leagues is for, I came into the year not that confident with some of my off-speed (pitches),” Cease said. “And now I feel like I can throw anything at any time, so I’m really happy with the progress.”

Ask coaches, teammates and scouts about Cease, and they always point to two things: his velocity (which frequently hits 98 and 99) and his composure.

The velocity is a God-given gift. The composure is something he’s picked up along the way.

“I’ve been watching the best pitchers in baseball since I was a little kid. You see how most of them act, guys like Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander, who whether they’re up five or down five you’d never know,” Cease explained. “To me, that’s the most intimidating thing when a guy looks like he’s just going to take care of business and give everything he’s got. I try to be the same way.”

The trades of Quintana, Chris Sale and Adam Eaton kickstarted the White Sox rebuild. Add in some strong drafts, and the minor league system is currently stacked.

Cease knows first-hand.

“There’s so much talent that you almost take it for granted when you play with them everyday, there’s that much talent,” Cease said.

Who stands out?

“Joel Booker is the most underrated guy we have. Micker Adolfo, when that dude connects with a baseball it sounds like a shotgun is going off the bat.”

White Sox prospect Luis Basabe said before the game that he wanted to hit a homer in the Futures Game off Cease, his Barons teammate.

When I told this to Cease, he first responded like a good teammate, but by the end of his answer the competitor in him took over.

“That would be sick. I’m rooting for (Basabe). I want him to do well, if he gets it off me, I’m going to tip my cap. But I guarantee it’s not going to happen,” Cease said.

Instead, Basabe crushed a two-run homer off Reds prospect Hunter Greene deep into the right-field seats. The speed of the pitch was 102 mph.

This game might have been about the future, and at some point White Sox fans will be cheering for Cease and Basabe in Chicago. But until then, two of the White Sox best prospects are on a big stage here in the present. They know that eventually their time will come.