White Sox

State of the White Sox rebuild: Now we play the waiting game

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AP

State of the White Sox rebuild: Now we play the waiting game

CLEVELAND — Rick Hahn confirmed Tom Petty’s assertion about waiting — the White Sox general manager would love if it were already 2019.

He’d prefer to hit fast forward instead of having to wait.

The White Sox have experienced the pains of tearing down a veteran roster, transformed their farm system overnight from rags to riches, started to establish the hard-nosed brand of culture they desired and have seen numerous positive signs of development from top prospects with the belief many more are on the way. All of those aspects were neatly wrapped within a season that concluded with a 3-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon.

But as much progress as they've made, the White Sox — who finished with the fourth-worst record in the majors — know they’re not yet in the catbird seat. Though their current rookies have laid a strong foundation for potential success and provided hope, the White Sox must make sure they do the same for the next wave of highly touted prospects. Given how great Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez already look, Hahn admits it might not be so easy.

“We know we might be entering a slightly more difficult phase of this rebuild, and that is the phase where we have to allow this talent the time and patience to develop,” Hahn said. “With (Yoan) Moncada and (Lucas) Giolito and (Reynaldo) Lopez, there was a lot of people clamoring for them to come to Chicago and we had to remain strong and not bring them until we felt they were in the best position to have success.

“There’s going to be temptation again next year, whether it’s high-profile guys like (Michael) Kopech and (Eloy) Jimenez … or others on the fast track — that in order to get this thing right for the long term, we have to make sure they answer our questions that we have for them at the player development level before they come to Chicago. Ultimately, that may prove to be challenging,”

The optimism has already begun to surface around the White Sox. Buoyed by the performance of several top prospects, a winning record in September after a bumpy post-trade deadline stretch has the White Sox upbeat.

Manager Rick Renteria always sets a high bar. But he’s said several times during the final week he likes what he’s seen from a young squad that has a pair of heavy-hitting veterans in the middle. Whether it was Thursday’s “this choo choo is moving forward,” or Sunday’s answer, Renteria is already optimistic about the possibility of competing as soon as next season.

“It’s possible,” Renteria said. “You never know. 

“Anything is possible.”

But Hahn is likely to stick to the same patient, long-view strategy he applied to the 2017 season. That means no prospects will be rushed and no short-term solutions will be used. If the White Sox are going to compete next season, they’ll have to do it with what is on hand.

Given how the bullpen was decimated by trades and injuries, the White Sox appear to have plenty of holes to fill. They also will feature an extremely young, albeit, talented starting rotation.

The growing pains the team is likely to experience should prevent the front office from being placed in that awkward spot where fans clamor for Kopech or Jimenez before the White Sox believe they’ve answered all their development questions.

You can expect the demand to come at an absurdly high volume if Kopech and Jimenez perform similar to the way they did in 2017, when both soared up the charts and turned into top-10 prospects.

Hahn and Co. applied the same patient approach this season to Giolito, Lopez, Moncada and Carson Fulmer with strong results. They waited, waited and waited some more to promote the young group. The success the White Sox achieved in developing their older prospects would likely only encourage them to remain thorough with Kopech and Jimenez as painstaking as it may be.

“We’re going to have to remain diligent and realize that this isn’t about any individual player or any individual season, this is about building something for the long term,” Hahn said. “For this next phase, that’s going to require player development to play its important role and for us to have patience in Chicago that would allow that to unfold.”

Reynaldo Lopez continues hot start to second half, helps snap White Sox losing streak

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez continues hot start to second half, helps snap White Sox losing streak

After a rough outing against the Detroit Tigers on July 4 — his last before the All-Star break — White Sox starting pitcher Reynaldo Lopez vowed to be a different pitcher going forward.

“At this point, after a really bad first half, there's not much I can say about that. Starting today, you're going to see a different pitcher going forward for the second half of the season,” Lopez said after his July 4 start through team interpreter Billy Russo. “What is done is done. There's nothing else that I can do to change what is done.

“I can do different things to get better and to be a better pitcher for the year and that's what I'm going to do.”

Two outings later, and Lopez is nearing the point where he can say “I told you so.”

Lopez has come out of the break firing on all cylinders after struggling to a 4-8 record and MLB-worst 6.34 ERA before the Midsummer Classic. Friday, he tossed seven innings of two-run ball, allowing just six hits and one walk compared to eight strikeouts. This follows his brilliant outing against the Athletics on Sunday in which he pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and one run — albeit unearned — with two walks and seven strikeouts.

Lopez exited Sunday’s game in line for a win before the White Sox bullpen slipped up. The offense allowed no such opportunity on Friday, tallying 16 hits en route to a 9-2 drubbing of the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s Lopez’s first win since June 9 against the Kansas City Royals.

Lopez has received a fair share of criticism this season for his struggles, but his recent success should not come as much of a surprise considering how he fared in 2018. The 25-year-old posted a 3.91 ERA in 32 starts, striking out 151 batters in 188 2/3 innings.

Lopez’s strikeout rate in 2019 is up compared to 2018 (8.19 K/9 in 2019 vs. 7.20 in 2018) and his walk rate is down (3.32 BB/9 in 2019 vs. 3.58 in 2018). The major difference is that opponents are hitting .284 against him this season compared to .234 in 2018, while also holding a .319 BABIP, up from .260 last season.

It may just be two starts, but Lopez is backing up his vow to pitch better. Between Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and the returns of Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodón from Tommy John surgery in 2020, the White Sox future starting rotation is in good hands. Getting Lopez back to pitching how he did in 2018 will only take that group to the next level.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Interview with Hall of Famer Harold Baines

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NBC Sports Chicago

White Sox Talk Podcast: Interview with Hall of Famer Harold Baines

Chuck Garfien sits down with new Hall of Famer Harold Baines.

First, Chuck, Ryan McGuffey and Chris Kamka share their memories of watching Baines play with the White Sox (1:40). Then, Baines explains why he's always been so soft-spoken (8:45), how he was able to play 22 seasons in the majors (13:00), why he's never spoken to GM Larry Himes for trading him to Texas (15:30), the apology he received from President George W. Bush (16:30), what he thinks about the critics who don't think he should be in the Hall of Fame (18:25), a replay of Baines emotional interview with Chuck about his dad (20:50) and more.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: