White Sox

Out of public eye, Ventura is essence of streaking Sox

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Out of public eye, Ventura is essence of streaking Sox

Its a couple hours before game time on Sunday, and Robin Venturas head is in a fog. The flu bug that has been floating around the White Sox clubhouse since last Friday has reached the manager. But hell battle through it, just like Nate Jones did the day before. The rookie reliever showed up Saturday at the ballpark, threw up, and then threw 99 miles per hour on the radar gun in two scoreless inning of relief.

Go back and watch the tape. Jones stumbled around the mound in a daze, giving whatever he had in the tank for those few seconds when he actually had to pitch. The rest of the time his face was a shade of green and purple. At one point he looked at veteran catcher AJ Pierzynski and with all his might said, Just give me the ball.

And that is the essence of this White Sox team of 2012.

Give them the ball.

Give them a glove.

And then: Give em hell.

Thats how Ventura was as a player. Its also how he manages. Now were seeing it on the field.

The White Sox have won 14 of their last 16 games. Theyre in first place in the American League Central by 2 12 games. They have a better record than the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Tigers -- all preseason favorites to make the playoffs.

You hear that rumbling in the distance? Its the White Sox. Last year, they barely made a peep.

Despite all the doubts and criticisms coming into this season, the White Sox have quickly formed into a squad of fighters who have followed the lead of their rookie manager.

Theyre playing well. Theyre confident, Ventura said. Thats what you want. You want guys coming ready to play. They have the feeling theyre going to win every game.

As the manager who has set the tone in the clubhouse from the beginning, you could say that Ventura is the man responsible for that winning atmosphere. Just dont tell that to the humble Robin, because hell never admit it.

I don't want to go there, he said. It's everyone, everyday coming with the same attitude. These guys are the ones who play. You can do the same things Im doing every day, but if you have guys who don't have the ability and arent capable of doing it, it doesnt matter. It's really about how these guys are doing and coming every day to compete. That's the thing Im happiest about.

In his dealings with the media, Ventura can be about as exciting as cabbage. During his press conferences, he comes across like a bored high school student sitting in the back of math class continually being pestered by the teacher.

Hes a man whose personality has different shades. Publicly, he prefers to give the media nothing but gray. Privately, there are more colors in his spectrum.

My personality with the team is a lot different than what people get to see, Ventura admitted.

In this way, he is the exact opposite of Ozzie Guillen, who didnt hesitate in speaking openly and honestly about anything, and to anyone: media, fans, players, coaches, pets, insects.

Nothing was off topic. He was a reporters dream.

I suggested to Robin that he reveal more of himself and whats going on behind closed doors when the microphones are on. He smiled. Then politely shook his head no.

For me, I've always felt it's better to have that in the clubhouse. You have a few tricks up your sleeve for guys in different situations. That's just stuff I use with these guys in different situations whether it's a winning streak or losing streak. To be able to talk to guys and get through stuff and get them refocused and let them laugh in a tough situation. Some things have to be held back.

I told Ventura that I asked some players to describe him as a manager.

Do you want to hear what they said?

Not really.

They said some bad things about you. (I was joking).

Well, now I need names, he said sarcastically. Just give me their jersey numbers.

Heres what they said:

Robins like a player.
He doesnt look for the spotlight.
Hes the same in a winning streak as a losing streak.
Hed be a great manager for any ballclub.

Not being one for compliments, when I read this to Ventura he looked like I just ran my nails down a chalkboard.

For me, this is where I want to manage. This feels right to me, he said, trying desperately to get control back of the conversation. It's about these guys. Nothing happens without them.

Where would the White Sox be without Ventura?

Something tells me not here. Not in first place and feeling theyre going to win every game like Robin said.

It was looking like a long, boring summer in Chicago.

Maybe not anymore.

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.