White Sox

Healthy international program could be big contributor in White Sox rebuild

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White Sox

Healthy international program could be big contributor in White Sox rebuild

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox reportedly have strong interest in 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert and are perhaps even poised to sign a player who produced a 1.213 OPS last season.

That the organization has reached a point where it would make a significant investment in an extremely talented international prospect is yet another signal about the strength of its Latin American program. Headed by Marco Paddy, the White Sox have endured a transformation from the days of the Dave Wilder scandal to having a minimal presence in Latin America to once again becoming a player on the international market. 

General manager Rick Hahn said much of the credit for the shift belongs to Paddy, a highly-respected, well-connected evaluator with an eye for talent who's in his sixth season with the team. Paddy has not only helped refurbish the team's once-tarnished reputation, but he also has provided ownership with a renewed sense of confidence. Such assurance could be critical for the White Sox to make another big international signing when Robert becomes eligible for free agency either in June or July.

"It wasn't just a matter of us going out and getting somebody and putting him in place internationally," Hahn said. "It was a matter of going out and getting someone we felt was among the best in the game and would bring his expertise and his network to our organization and help essentially re-establish ourselves from zero, which is where we were before he joined us."

"We were not in a great spot before he joined us internationally. He carries a lot of weight down there and gets us access to the right guys and is an excellent evaluator of talent."

As a result of Wilder's dismissal in May 2008, the White Sox had limited credibility in the international community when they hired Paddy away from the Toronto Blue Jays on Nov. 30, 2011. The involvement of Wilder and two scouts in a skimming scandal resulted in a two-month investigation by Major League Baseball and a two-year sentence on federal charges for the team's former player development director in 2013. 

The team's international investments dried up almost immediately. The club's largest signing in the 3 1/2-year gap between Wilder's firing and Paddy's hire was a $125,000 bonus for left-handed pitcher Jefferson Olacio in 2010. Beyond him, most signings were of players valued in the $10-to-30,000 range. 

The team had such a minimal scouting infrastructure that trainers rarely brought their top players to showcases because they didn't believe the White Sox were worth it.

"They had at best a token presence in Latin American up until Marco Paddy took over," Baseball America's Ben Badler said. "They just weren't finding any talent in any of those years.

"He was a very important addition for them. They were pretty much a non-factor and the trainers who have players throughout Latin American (knew) the White Sox were not going to spend money down there — ‘Why should we bother bringing them to the White Sox?'"

Paddy's hiring as Hahn's special assistant in charge of international operations gave the White Sox instant access to players previously unattainable. His resume includes five seasons as Toronto's Director of Latin America Operations (2007-11) and 14 with the Atlanta Braves, including the final three as their international director. 

He also has earned a reputation for finding major league talent. Paddy signed Toronto closer Roberto Osuna as well as pitcher Henderson Alvarez, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, both of whom were included in the trade for Mark Buehrle. The Blue Jays traded outfielder Wuilmer Becerra to acquire R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets and catcher Carlos Perez to the Houston Astros for J.A. Happ. Both were signed by Paddy.

(Photo courtesy of El Nacional)

Within two weeks of his hire by the White Sox, Paddy signed right-handed pitcher Luis Martinez — who last season struck out 141 batters in 137 innings with a 3.81 ERA at Single-A Kannapolis — to a $250,000 bonus. But Paddy had plenty of work ahead to get the White Sox into position of overall respectability.

"It's safe to say it was more just standing still," Paddy said. "It was just there, just stagnant and not a lot movement. It was kind of waiting for someone to take over and lead the way. It was still functioning, but it needed someone to take the reigns and say ‘Ok, we're going to go in this direction.'"

Paddy's improvements include the hire of four scouts, including three full-timers in Venezuela. He also recommended an overhaul of the team's Dominican Republic academy in Boca Chica, which was close to dilapidated. 

"It was really rundown, beat down," said amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler. "It was rough."

Among the items the White Sox added: an additional batting cage, air conditioning units, a computer lab and outdoor agility courses. They also upgrade the players' rooms and kitchen in a total refurbishing of the dorms. But beyond the improved infrastructure, the rest has been up to Paddy and his network of connections.

"Baseball is an industry where everybody knows everybody," he said. "What helped me was the reputation I have in the industry, especially internationally, the relationships I'd built during the time I was with Atlanta and then Toronto. It made it a lot easier for the White Sox to get more attention from (trainers)."

(Photo courtesy of the White Sox)

Paddy said the investment from ownership was the final piece to the program and it has steadily increased with time and trust. An ex-Braves farmhand, Paddy, 52, was instrumental in the team's pursuit and October 2013 signing of Jose Abreu, who was acquired for $68 million. Paddy suggested the White Sox sign the Cuban slugger and executive vice president Kenny Williams recommended it to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf after he attended a workout. Abreu's success after signing a franchise-record deal has only given the White Sox more confidence in Paddy. 

The Abreu deal occurred four months after the team made its biggest international splash under Paddy, signing outfielder Micker Adolfo for a $1.6 million bonus. 

While he hasn't yet exceeded his signing bonus pool with the White Sox, Paddy has continued to sign high-profile international teenagers. Infielder Franklin Reyes received $1.5 million in July 2015, a year after infielders Amado Nunez and Ricky Mota received $900,000 and $750,000, respectively. Catcher Jhoandro Alfaro also signed in July 2014 for $700,000. 

Fernando Tatis Jr. — who was traded to San Diego last summer — signed for $700,000 in July 2015. 

Last July, the White Sox signed three outfielders ranked among Baseball America's top-50 international prospects: Josue Guerrero (33rd overall), Luis Mieses (36) and Anderson Comas (37). Guerrero received $1.1 million, Mieses got $428,000 and Comas earned $450,000. The team also signed righty pitcher Henderson Caraballo for $350,000 and shortstop Lenyn Sosa for $325,000. 

"They're definitely in a better position than they were previously," Badler said. 

Hostetler and Williams raved about the sheer quantity of talented players who had begun to trickle into the system after the team held its instructional camp from mid-September through October. Those players had previously been absent after the club's three-year hiatus from adding international talent and hurt the depth of the club's farm system. 

Though none of Paddy's 15-to-16-year old signees have yet reached the majors, the White Sox expected a five-to-six-year process at the minimum.

"He's starting to influx the system with really good, high ceiling, athletic, middle of the diamond-type guys as well as some power guys," Hostetler said. "My guess is we're looking at the next 18 months, these guys are going to start surfacing and flying up boards and (prospect) rankings."

While Adolfo was the biggest name at the time and Tatis' stock has risen to where he'd potentially be the first overall pick this summer were he available in the amateur draft, Robert could be the biggest of the bunch. Were MLB to be make Robert available before June 15, teams could bid for his services under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement. There's no telling where the bidding could go for the lean, 6-foot-3 outfielder who last season hit .401/.526/.687 in 232 plate appearances in Cuba's Serie Nacional. 

Two years ago, Boston signed current White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada for $31.5 million. By exceeding its bonus pool, the Red Sox had to pay an additional $31.5 million tax. 

Though Baseball America reported that the White Sox are one of the most talked about teams as a landing spot for Robert, those talks could be premature as several key officials have yet to see him in person. 

If Robert doesn't get cleared in time by MLB, he'll be added to the July 2 class and subject to a new set of rules under the recently signed CBA. Under the new system, teams' bonus pools max out near $5 million with most having about $4.75 million to spend. Several big spending teams already can't sign players during the upcoming period because they previously exceeded their max in 2015-16. Baseball America said the White Sox "would have more room than most in their bonus pool" starting July 2.

Whereas the previous CBA only taxed teams, the new one has harsher penalties, including the loss of draft picks and the inability to sign future prospects.

"This (new) system now is more about history, it's about knowing the player, who's willing to invest your entire pool, portions of it, whatever," Paddy said. "If you have history, and we've been fortunate to have history because we do our due diligence, then now you're more prepared to make an investment that may involve the entire amount you have for your signing pool."

Their confidence in Paddy and his staff and the leveled playing field have the White Sox liking their chances under the new CBA. When a similar change took place with signing bonuses in baseball's amateur draft in 2012, the White Sox became far bigger spenders on amateur talent. Since then, the White Sox have spent their entire bonus pool amount each time and even exceeded it to sign first-rounder Carlos Rodon in 2014. With an emphasis on adding young, homegrown talent, the rebuilding White Sox plan to do more of the same in the future.

"Now that there's a little firmer cap internationally it does tend to make it a little bit more perhaps old school and that's a competition among player evaluators — through player evaluation and economic muscle," Hahn said. 

"We've got the utmost faith in Marco and his staff.

"With Marco's reputation and the work he has put in, and the network he has assembled down there, I feel like we have access to all the finest talent and good of a chance as anybody to sign them."

José Abreu: Dallas Keuchel's words or not, White Sox would have played better

José Abreu: Dallas Keuchel's words or not, White Sox would have played better

Dallas Keuchel spoke, and the White Sox responded.

That was an easy way to read what happened this week in Detroit.

After a seemingly listless performance in the series-opener — a 5-1 defeat that followed the sting of a missed opportunity against the Cleveland Indians one night earlier — Keuchel addressed the team. Then he told reporters what he told his teammates.

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“I would have liked to see the team play better tonight, especially after a kind of defeating loss last night,” the veteran left-hander said Monday. “We just came out flat, and I feel like we just stayed flat the whole game. … We've got some guys coming out and taking professional at-bats, being professional on the mound and doing what it takes to win, and we've got some guys going through the motions. So we need to clean a lot of things up. If we want to be in this thing at the end of the season, we're going to have to start that now.

“When you have enough talent to potentially win every game, it's very frustrating when you have games like this, and it just seems like we were out of it from the get go.”

The White Sox won the next two games in Detroit, scoring 15 runs on a combined 18 hits.

So Keuchel woke everybody up. His words spurred these White Sox.

Right?

“I think the conversation that we had with him, that he had with us, it didn’t really effect the way that we played the last two games,” first baseman José Abreu said Friday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I think that we would do that either way.

“I do appreciate the conversation that he had with us. He had some concerns, and he’s a veteran. He shared those concerns with us, and I appreciate that. But it’s not a secret that the first game in Detroit wasn’t one of our best games. That was a bad game for us. But it wasn’t because we didn’t want to do good. It just was one of those games where we couldn’t do better in that particular time. The next two days, we did perform and we did what we were supposed to do.

“That’s why I think there’s no reason for people to put the spotlight on what Dallas said because we won the last two games. I think we would do it either way.”

Before anyone thinks of making the leap to clubhouse controversy, know this. Abreu, who’s been described as a team leader and certainly has been a mentor and a role model to the young players around him over the last few seasons, has been a vocal proponent of two things: the need for players to work hard and do the things they’re supposed to do to put themselves in position to win, and the high level of talent these young White Sox have.

With rebuilding cornerstones like Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez and now Luis Robert firmly under his wing, it’s understandable Abreu would be protective of them and their fellow youngsters when called out for a lack of effort. And why shouldn’t he if that’s not what he’s seeing? Few are closer to those guys on a daily basis, and he would know if they weren’t living up to his own high standards when it comes to work ethic. Of course, Keuchel didn’t name any names, and those closest to Abreu might not have been the ones he was referencing Monday night.

Abreu has spent years talking up how good this group of players can be, and he knows what it's capable of. It's no surprise that he believed the White Sox capable of turning in a better performance than the one they did Monday night, and that belief would have been the same whether Keuchel opened up or if no one said a word.

RELATED: White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

For what it’s worth, another White Sox mainstay was more willing to connect the dots between what Keuchel said and what happened in the days that followed.

“I hope they had some effect,” manager Rick Renteria said Friday. “I hope it affected them. I think any time you have a peer trying to motivate you, it's a good thing, especially somebody who's been around a little bit.

“As we've talked about before over the last three or four years, at some point we want the players to go ahead and take ownership. We've had guys doing it subtly, you guys haven't heard about it. In this instance, you heard about it. And I hope it did have an effect.”

This seems less like the White Sox answering the prayers of talk radio with a brewing battle inside the clubhouse and more just an interesting comparison of vantage points.

Keuchel knows what it’s like to win. He’s got a World Series ring on his finger. But Abreu knows this team. He knows these guys. Keuchel’s a newcomer, but one brought in partially because of his winning experience. Abreu has no winning experience in the major leagues, all six of his previous White Sox seasons ending in sub-.500 finishes, but perhaps no player in that clubhouse is more familiar with the intricacies of this franchise’s rebuilding process. And the White Sox made what seemed like an easy decision to keep him a central part of it with his three-year contract in the offseason.

This season — before it was all jumbled up by the pandemic — was supposed to be about the White Sox finally reaching the stage of their rebuild where they started to win. But it was also supposed to be about getting to that point. A schedule squeezed down to 60 games, and an American League playoff field expanded from five to eight teams, might have given the White Sox a better chance to do something they haven't done in more than a decade. But the shortened season robbed them of the typical six-month marathon in which a team can evolve into a winner.

Keuchel and Abreu both have important roles to play in getting the White Sox to where they want to be, and both of those vantage points will be critical along the way.

Remember: They both want the exact same thing.

“I told Rick Hahn this,” Keuchel said during spring training, “I said four out of the last five years I've made the playoffs, and I don't expect any of these three years to be any different.”

“I think it's just about time for us to start winning,” Abreu said around the same time. “It's just that time for us to start winning games and start to be relevant.

“The team that the front office put together, we're going to be able to do it. We have to be united. We need to be strong in good times and bad times if we want to be successful this season. With the guys that we have right now, that's something that's doable. That's our goal.

“I think expectations are high because we all know that this is the time for us to win.”


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White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

Despite their preseason stockpile of starting-pitching depth, the White Sox will resort to their second bullpen day of the season in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader.

Lucas Giolito, the ace of the South Side staff, takes the ball in the first game against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, who will be seeing game action for the first time in more than two weeks as they finally resume play at the end of a pause caused by nearly 20 positive tests for COVID-19 among players and staff.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria revealed Friday that Game 2 will feature another group effort by his relief corps. Remember that doubleheader games are now just seven innings long.

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This bullpen day comes just one week after the last. A week ago, in the second game of the White Sox series with the Cleveland Indians, Renteria called on seven different relievers in a 7-1 loss. While Matt Foster started things well, Drew Anderson, who was newly called up from the team's alternate training site in Schaumburg, fell apart in the fourth inning and was tagged for six runs. With the White Sox unable to solve Indians starter Zach Plesac that day, the remaining five White Sox pitchers mostly served in mop-up duty.

Now, that's certainly not to say every bullpen day will yield a similar result. The White Sox bullpen has looked like a strength this season, even if the team's relief ERA of 4.15 was just the 15th best in baseball as of this writing. But it's a perfect example of how quickly the White Sox starting-pitching depth has been drained and the position it's put the team in just a third of the way through this shortened 60-game season.

Reynaldo López and Carlos Rodón remain on the injured list with no timetables for their returns to the White Sox rotation. Gio González has been called on to fill in for López, and he's been unable to make it out of the fifth inning in any of his first three starts in a White Sox uniform, though the team has won two of those three games. There has been no replacement in the rotation for Rodón.

RELATED: White Sox, Cardinals to play doubleheader after Friday's game postponed

Back on Aug. 5, general manager Rick Hahn said both injured pitchers could be back in action within a few weeks, certainly better than season-ending diagnoses for those two key cogs. But a few weeks is a big chunk of this 60-game season. With Renteria not delivering timelines for either pitcher Friday, it seems Saturday's bullpen day might not be the last one we see from the White Sox this summer.

For those wondering where highly touted pitching prospect Dane Dunning fits into all this, Hahn specifically said that Dunning would not be called upon to take Rodón's spot last weekend. The general manager said on Aug. 5 that Dunning, coming off Tommy John surgery, had not yet worked his way to the kind of length the team wants to see from starting pitchers at the big league level. That's not to say Dunning won't appear at all for the White Sox this season, but as of nine days ago, he wasn't ready yet, not to mention that the front office continues to operate under the idea that an injury at the major league level should have no effect on when a prospect is ready for a promotion.

But with López and Rodón on the shelf — along with youngster Jimmy Lambert, who's on the 45-day injured list — Dunning not ready, Michael Kopech electing not to play this season due to personal reasons and Ross Detwiler limited to a relief role at the moment, there are few if any places for the White Sox to turn. The team inked veteran left-hander Clayton Richard to a minor league deal, but Hahn said going outside the organization for rotation help isn't very likely with the trade deadline approaching at the end of the month.

That all makes it seem like bullpen days might be something to get used to for a little while.


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