White Sox

Royals think White Sox have done 'phenomenal job' acquiring young talent

Royals think White Sox have done 'phenomenal job' acquiring young talent

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Only six years after they had the “best farm system of all time,” the Kansas City Royals see a bright future ahead for the upstart White Sox.

Several current Kansas City players who graduated from that farm system and led the Royals to a 2015 World Series title and manager Ned Yost all said they’re intrigued by how quickly the White Sox have built up their minor league talent.

Through four major trades and the signing of international free agent Luis Robert, the White Sox boast a system that features 10 top-100 prospects, according to MLBPipeline.com. Baseball America ranks eight White Sox prospects in their top 100. While the system isn’t yet ready to compete with the 2011 Royals for the unofficial title of best ever, it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.

“Have you seen what they’ve gotten back from tearing it down?” Yost said. “MLB ranks the top 100 prospects. Most teams have one or two. I don’t think we have any. They have 10. They’ve done a phenomenal job of restocking their system with incredibly talented young players.”

Not everything is identical between how these organizations built their farms.

The Royals headed into 2011 with nine top-100 prospects and five in the top 20 alone (Eric Hosmer 8, Mike Moustakas 9, Wil Myers 10, John Lamb 18, Mike Montgomery 19). The Kansas City Star in 2016 reviewed the best-ranked systems of all-time and determined by a point value system (100 points for the No. 1 prospect and one point for the No. 100 prospect) that the 2011 club was better than all others with 574 points.

But that group was the byproduct of a painstaking stretch in which the Royals averaged 96 losses from 2004-12. The slower path taken by Kansas City allowed its young core to develop and learn how to play together in the minors. As pitcher Danny Duffy noted, “we went to the playoffs every year.”

They won at Rookie-Burlington, Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha took home three titles. Working together was a big key to the team’s success at the major league level, said catcher Salvador Perez.

“We didn’t come from different teams,” Perez said. “We all came from here. We had a young team together. We learned how to win and win in the big leagues.

“We learned how to win together, play together and play for the team. It was really important.”

The only time the Royals didn’t win was at Advance-A Wilmington Blue Rocks, Duffy said.

“You learn how success feels and how some failure feels,” Duff said. “We lost in Wilmington and you would have thought the world was coming to an end.”

According to the Star, the Royals haven’t had much recent competition for the best system. Until now.

The 2006 Diamondbacks accrued 541 points and the 2000 Florida Marlins had 472. The 2015 Cubs scored 450 points.

After the addition of Blake Rutherford on Tuesday (the No. 36 prospect on BA’s current top 100 list), the White Sox have 483 points. But the 2017 Atlanta Braves are even better with 532 points, the third-highest total of all-time.

The White Sox farm system has created excitement among the fan base that had wavered in recent years. Not everyone is on board, but the majority seems to be and that can create hysteria.

“We had people at the games who were super excited about the wave of prospects,” Duffy said. “Obviously they have a stacked system over there, very similar to what we had coming up. There was a lot of excitement. It was crazy.”

But excitement didn’t immediately translate into victories. Though a fair amount of the 2011 class graduated to the majors by later that season, the Royals didn’t get on track in the big leagues for a few years.

It wasn’t until the second half of 2013 that the Royals got going. The 2014 club ended a 29-year playoff drought with a wild-card berth that led to an American League pennant. They followed that up with a World Series title in 2015. Had it not been for a Herculean effort by Madison Bumgarner, Kansas City might have had consecutive titles.

Still, getting there takes time.

“The first thing you had to do was get them here,” Yost said. “Experience has taught me that it’s generally 2 1/2 years before they can get to a point where they can compete. They just have to gain that experience at the major league level because it’s definitely a much more difficult style of play up here. The talent is just so incredibly good that it takes a while for talent or players to adjust to where they’re productive. It just takes time then being able to go out and play every single day.”

Even though that means the White Sox will experience difficult times the next few years, Duffy and Co. think it’s worth the wait. While Duffy imagines losing Jose Quintana and David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier isn’t fun, he has a good sense what is headed this direction.

“Losing Quintana stings, but they got a king’s ransom back,” Duffy said. “It’s the way of the game. But they’re going to have a really good time in the next few years.”    

Gio Gonzalez still hoping to throw 'at least one pitch' for White Sox

Gio Gonzalez still hoping to throw 'at least one pitch' for White Sox

Forgive Gio Gonzalez if his short-term goal is pretty basic.

"I just want to throw one pitch in a White Sox uniform. At least one pitch," he said Tuesday.

Gonzalez, 34, has waited 16 years for that one pitch. And he’s still waiting.

Originally drafted in the first round by the White Sox in 2004, he was traded twice – once for Jim Thome in 2006 and once for Nick Swisher in 2008 – by the organization. His reunion with Chicago came last December, when he signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the team.

Then a shoulder injury struck.

And then a global pandemic.

“It's sad to say I did that have that depression, kind of like, am I ever going to get to wear this wonderful uniform in this city that drafted me and get to pitch, finally, an inning with them?,” Gonzalez said.

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Tuesday signified a step closer to making that pitch a reality. For the first time since he was drafted by the White Sox, Gonzalez returned to the home bullpen in left field to throw.

“It was funny, today, after a bullpen session, I was telling (executive vice president Kenny Williams and pitching coach Don Cooper), the last time I threw off this mound was in 2004 (because) when you get drafted, you get to throw a bullpen for the team that drafted you,” Gonzalez said. “I had that little moment with Kenny and Coop and I told Coop, 'The last time you saw me, I was a young kid and I had a lot of maturing to do when you had me, and now I'm an older gentleman with a little bit of mileage in my arm.’ I think it was worth the wait.”

Now Cooper and everyone else with the White Sox are hoping that mileage still allows Gonzalez to throw in actual games during this shortened 60-game season. A shoulder issue prevented Gonzalez from getting much work in during spring training and it’s now apparent that he wouldn’t have been available had the season started on time. Gonzalez said he spent the hiatus getting physical therapy in Pinecrest, Fla., where he lives.

“The staff there really took care of me, really helped my shoulder kind of get to where it needs to be now. From where I started to now, I think I've made a dramatic change,” he said.

But he’s still not 100 percent.

“I think my shoulder has progressed almost 95 percent, which this break really did help in a way where I could rest my arm and kind of get it going,” he said.

It’s possible that Gonzalez will make up that last five percent in the next 17 days before the regular season begins, and with Michael Kopech not even in camp with the White Sox, it sounds like Gonzalez will be needed. But when asked if he would be OK coming out of the bullpen if necessary, two things were clear: 1) Gonzalez would prefer to start, and 2) there’s still some trepidation with the left shoulder.

“It's putting me in a tough spot. I'm coming from a shoulder injury, trying to get into a healthy season as far the 60 games for the guys and trying to get into a postseason for the team,” Gonzalez said. “I don't want to risk it by putting myself on a shorter day rest to kind of get more innings.”

That said, he understands that traditional pitching roles could be in flux during this wonky season.

“If the time comes down the stretch, I think so, but I think it's too early to ask for that kind of help, but we'll see,” he said. “You never know. I'd like to help as much as possible, but again, I have to make sure I take care of my arm before I decide to make those decisions.”

The good news? Gonzalez is talking like someone who plans on pitching for the White Sox soon. The bad news? The shoulder issue might not be completely behind him.

So as Gonzalez still waits for that one pitch with the White Sox, the White Sox will be hoping for a whole lot more.

 

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White Sox pitchers up for any role in short season: 'We want to win'

White Sox pitchers up for any role in short season: 'We want to win'

So how's this whole pitching thing going to work in 2020?

The baseball season has been squeezed down from its typical six-month marathon to a 60-game sprint to the postseason. The sport's been on hold for months, spring training abruptly halted back in March, with "Summer Camp" not starting up until the beginning of this month. Opening Day is two weeks from Friday, and the White Sox have more arms than they know what to do with.

Rick Hahn's fond of saying you can never have enough pitching, and certainly it's the truth, especially ahead of a season where the White Sox, nor any other team, can be certain of what they'll get from any one of their players. But with Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodón, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert all able to be full-season additions after their various recoveries from Tommy John surgery, the White Sox have a much deeper group of pitchers — starting pitchers — than they were expected to have in March.

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The elements of the long layoff and the 60-game sprint, which certain players have described as potentially having a playoff atmosphere from Day 1, make it so Rick Renteria suddenly has a ton of options when it comes to managing his pitching staff. And the skipper himself, in the past no fan of new pitching trends such as the opener, has admitted that everything is on the table, including an expanded rotation or the art of "piggybacking," multiple starters pitching one right after the other in the same game.

It wouldn't be outlandish to expect creative deployments of the White Sox many arms. Wouldn't Kopech and his triple-digit velocity make a menacing late-inning option? Wouldn't opposing teams be shaking in their cleats if they finally chased Dallas Keuchel, only for Rodón to appear right after?

There are tons of possibilities, and the lines between starting pitcher and bullpen pitcher could get blurred in this most unusual of campaigns.

And another new variable for these White Sox could make things even more different: It's winning time on the South Side.

"We want to win. And in order for us to accomplish that, we have to be open to do whatever it takes to win every game," White Sox starting pitcher Reynaldo Lopez said Tuesday through team interpreter Billy Russo. "We as the starters, I think we're open to help the team in any role or capacity the team needs us to pitch. I think we don't need to be heroes, we just need to do our job."

"This season's pretty unique, obviously, with a 60-game schedule. I think a lot of us are going to have to encompass different roles," Rodón said Sunday. "Plus, we have a surplus of arms that we'll get to use, and I think there's some creative ways we could go about using them. I think all of us are pretty willing to step into any role we can to help this team win. We have a chance just as much as anyone."

That "whatever they ask of me" attitude might not strike as super uncommon, especially when teams get into pennant races and the playoffs. But this season will feature a pennant race from Opening Day to the end of September. Fast starts will be essential, and any losing streak could derail everything.

If the White Sox are going to compete alongside the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians for the AL Central crown, they'll need to do it from the jump.

"It's just going to be 60 games, and we have to win right away," Lopez said. "We have to start winning from the beginning because we won't have any chance to regroup or get better as the season progresses. We need to start in a hot situation and just try to keep it."

"We have 60 games," Keuchel said, "and I figured we’re probably going to be in playoff-mode type of coaching, when you get five or six innings from the starters, depending on how good they’re doing, and you turn it over to the bullpen."

RELATED: White Sox said to have one of MLB's easiest schedules, but not so fast

If Renteria has plans to utilize his pitching staff in a drastically different fashion, he might not have settled on it just yet. "Summer Camp" is still just a few days old, and the White Sox are still figuring out what kind of shape their pitchers are in after the months-long layoff. Simulated games and live batting practice sessions are starting to happen, and the team will play its first intrasquad game Thursday.

And the players are in that same mode of discovery. They usually get a month and a half to work themselves from offseason shape to in-season shape. This year, they got the majority of the way down that road, then went home for three months, and now they'll get only three weeks before the games start counting.

It's far from a perfect setup, and what pitchers can or will do once the season starts remains one of baseball's myriad mysteries.

"It’s such a weird way to say this, but it’s almost like you have to come to work and figure it out as you go," Gio González said Tuesday. "And it’s tough because it’s putting everybody in a situation where no one — we’re trying to make the best of it, but this is all new to everybody. I don’t know what is going to happen, I don’t know how they’re going to start us or move the guys around. We’re just trying to get our feet under us."

The same can be said for everyone involved in putting on the Major League Baseball season right now.

As with the questions surrounding the season's viability itself, the question of how the White Sox will alter their pitching strategy won't be answered for a while longer.


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