White Sox

Jose Abreu 'in a much better place' as he aims to make an impact for White Sox

Jose Abreu 'in a much better place' as he aims to make an impact for White Sox

Jose Abreu began his fourth year in the major leagues with a clear head and desire to do more for the franchise with which he hopes to spend his entire career. 

Abreu doubled, singled and delivered an RBI in four at-bats in the White Sox 6-3 Opening Day loss to the Detroit Tigers Tuesday at Guaranteed Rate Field. It was a promising start for Abreu (minus his sixth-inning error), who during spring training testified in a case against his former agent, Bartolo Hernandez, and athletic trainer, Julio Estrada, that involved his 2013 defection from Cuba. 

"Everybody knows last year was a difficult year for me off the field, but that's in the past already," Abreu said through a interpreter. "This year I'm in a much better place. My family is good. Everything is good from me."

The White Sox believe the case Abreu eventually testified in had an impact on his 2016 season, which was a down year by his standards. Abreu's 25 home runs and .820 OPS were both the lowest of his three-year career, though he still drove in 100 runs. 

"Everybody realizes last year he had a part of a season that was a little bit down then he ended up turning it on at the end," manager Rick Renteria said. "There were a lot of things going on with him at the end of the year and a lot of those things have been resolved."

A slow start muted Abreu's production last year, with the Cienfuegos, Cuba native entering the All-Star break with only 11 home runs and a .756 OPS. He hit much like the 2014-2015 Abreu in the second half, though, slamming 14 home runs with a .898 OPS.

That's the kind of production Abreu wants to have over the course of the 2017 season.

"I'm very glad with the results that I've (had) the last few years," Abreu said. "But I also think that I can do more. I can do more. I'm not one of those people who likes to be satisfied with the results. I know I can do better and I can do more for this team."

Abreu has value beyond his on-field production, too. His locker was next to Yoan Moncada's at Camelback Ranch during spring training, and Abreu said he would probably text MLB.com's No. 2 prospect soon. Moncada and the Charlotte Knights will begin their Triple-A season on Thursday. 

Abreu has three years left on his six-year, $68 million contract — still the richest in White Sox history — and wants to stay here at 35th and Shields. But his name popped up in a winter trade rumor connecting him to the Colorado Rockies, and with the White Sox in the early stages of rebuilding, the possibility exists that he'll be dealt for a package of prospects at some point.  

"I (want) just to spend my whole career with this organization," Abreu said. "At the same time, you have to realize this is a business and that there are too many factors you can't control. I can't control that. I'm just glad to be here today and that's what I like, to enjoy every time, every day with this team. It's a great organization and I would like to spend my whole career here."

Michael Kopech's arrival shows White Sox and a rebuild-loving fan base what progress looks like

Michael Kopech's arrival shows White Sox and a rebuild-loving fan base what progress looks like

Tangible, visible, hit-you-over-the-head obvious signs of progress have at times seemed hard to come by for the rebuild-loving legions watching the White Sox on a nightly basis during this developmental 2018 campaign.

That’s not to say there haven’t been tons of positives throughout the organization. Those who sprung for the MiLB.TV package have been able to see every Eloy Jimenez home run, and people around the baseball world found out just how fantastic Dylan Cease has been when he represented the organization at the Futures Game.

But the inconsistencies of Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, the strikeout-heavy first full major league season from Yoan Moncada and the early season demotion of Carson Fulmer have left those watching the big league team praying for some sign that things are improving.

Enter Michael Kopech.

The news that the team’s top-ranked pitching prospect, one of the top 15 prospects in baseball, will make his major league debut Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field must have seemed like an oasis in a 31-games-below-.500 desert when it was announced Sunday afternoon.

It’s sure to make for an even more hyped atmosphere than the one that greeted Yoan Moncada last July, when the No. 1 prospect in the game made his debut in a White Sox uniform. And while the architects of this rebuilding effort know the inner workings of the organization like no outsider ever could, they’re going to be part of that atmosphere Tuesday, too, part of a celebration of progress coming to the South Side.

“As focused as we have been, the front office and even White Sox fans, on the future and progress we feel we’re making, we’ve also been tested,” general manager Rick Hahn said on a conference call Monday morning. “We’ve talked about, going back to last offseason, this would very likely be the most difficult year of the rebuild and the patience this year would require would be a challenge for all of us. So I do think it’s important to try and enjoy these moments along the way where you do see that progress.

“We can talk all we want about how we’re only in Year 2 and that it is going to take time and there is a bright future ahead of us, but we’re all human, we’re all sports fans, we all want to see progress along the way. That has nothing to do with the timing of making a move like this, but when a move like this does occur and when the developmental reasons line up accordingly, we all should take a moment to enjoy the progress and excitement that comes.”

Those paying close enough attention knew what Hahn cautioned prior to the beginning of the season, that this was going to be the hardest part of the rebuild. Tom Petty said it first, to be fair, that the waiting is the hardest part, and that’s what 2018 was always going to be for the White Sox, a waiting game. The incredible amount of talent Hahn brought into the system needed time to develop, and in many cases it still does.

And so during that waiting came what fans and observers have seen on a nightly basis at the major league level. For the young players who are still slated to be key pieces of the team’s long-term plans, we’ve seen growing pains and the continued development that comes in the bigs. In certain cases, we’ve seen players who are fighting to make themselves a part of the long-term plans and players who simply won’t end up being a part of those long-term plans.

But few players are expected to have as a big a starring role as Kopech, hence the excitement surrounding his promotion. He’s tantalized with his last seven starts at Triple-A Charlotte, posting a 1.84 ERA with a ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio — 59 punch outs and only four free passes — over his last 44 innings.

While fans have been clamoring for promotions — be it of Kopech or top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez — for months, it’s taken this long into the season for a big one to come to the major league team. That, too, has all been part of the plan. Hahn mentioned multiple times throughout the year that how the team handled Giolito and Lopez a season ago could be a kind of template for how they handled Kopech this season. And while all three are different pitchers dealing with their own developments, Kopech will make his debut one day away from the one-year anniversary of Giolito’s White Sox debut.

In the end, though, Kopech’s promotion is the manifestation of the patience Hahn said everyone involved with this organization — him and his own front office included — had to practice this season. The White Sox waited until they knew Kopech was absolutely ready. They didn’t make a promotion to better a team that wasn’t contending for a playoff spot or to please an antsy fan base hungry to see progress happen as soon as possible. Baseball players constantly say that it’s all about execution. Well, Hahn and the White Sox executed their plan exactly how they wanted.

“Outside noise or emotion or even passion or excitement for seeing the rebuild progress has nothing to do with our decisions in terms of the timing of promotions,” Hahn said. “Each of these decisions are motivated by what’s best in terms of putting both the organization and the individual player in the best long-term position to reach their potential.

“We knew the 2018 season would be a challenging one and one in which we were going to have to not fall prey to outside influences or the influence of outside factors beyond what’s best for the organization and what’s best for our players’ long-term development. It’s going to require patience. I think you’ve seen that we’ve exhibited that this season, and we’re going to have to continue to do that throughout the coming weeks and months.

“The short-term gratification that would come from eliminating white noise or promoting a high-profile player just isn’t worth it when you consider the long-term benefits that come from us just showing the requisite patience that is required to put these guys in the best long-term position to succeed.”

Now it’s time for Kopech to execute his own plan and meet the huge expectations he has for himself and that Chicago has for him.

But for those watching the big league team, this is the hit-you-over-the-head sign of progress you’ve been waiting for, a tangible sign that the rebuild is moving forward.

White Sox Talk Podcast: White Sox call up Michael Kopech


White Sox Talk Podcast: White Sox call up Michael Kopech

With the big news that Michael Kopech is coming to the majors, Chuck Garfien and Vinnie Duber talk about the decision by the Sox to bring up their top pitching prospect and the excitement that Kopech will bring to the team and the 2018 season.

Kevan Smith discusses what kind of stuff Kopech has and what it was like catching him in the minor leagues. Plus, they talk about Paul Konerko’s unforgettable day in the booth with Hawk Harrelson.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: