White Sox

White Sox hope dive into water polo pool pans out

White Sox hope dive into water polo pool pans out

The White Sox went so far outside of the box with draft pick Sam Abbott that they wound up in the pool.

Whereas 34 of the team’s 40 picks were spent on college players with proven track records, the White Sox bought a lottery ticket with a potentially huge payoff when they selected the three-time Washington high school water polo MVP in the eighth round of last week’s draft. The White Sox know they possess a work in progress in Abbott, who officially signed with the club on Monday and reported to the team’s facility in Glendale, Ariz. But scouts and club officials feel if Abbott can ever tap into the potential he put on display in a workout earlier this month that gambling on the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder would be worth the risk.

“This is one of the most unique stories we’ve ever drafted,” amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. “This is going to take some time, there’s going to be some patience. But this is one of those high-risk, high-rewards where if this hits, it’s a story good enough for a movie.”

Though the White Sox think it could take Abbott time to develop into a bonafide power hitter, it’s no surprise to Abbott’s high school baseball coach that he quickly chose baseball over water polo. Curtis High School (Tacoma, Wash.) coach Bryan Robinson said other area coaches wondered about what Abbott might do after the White Sox selected him with the 237th pick in the draft, a pick with a $161,600 slot value. Abbott had committed to play water polo at Long Beach State on a partial scholarship. He’d helped Curtis High win consecutive state titles. And he’d had success immediately after setting foot in the pool as a freshman.

But Robinson suspected that Abbott would sign immediately with the White Sox, who had flown him to Chicago for a June 4 workout at Guaranteed Rate Field. Even though he was a stud in the pool, Robinson knew Abbott loved baseball as much as the other sports.

“His freshman year he was the Washington state player of the year in water polo,” Robinson said. “He had a ton of success in the pool. But at the same time was playing baseball in the spring and summer ball. Swimming and water polo were just kind of taking the driver’s seat in terms of him getting noticed a little bit.”

“I didn’t even question (if he’d sign). The White Sox made a really big commitment. That’s something you don’t turn your back on.”

[MORE: What Carlos Rodon still needs to accomplish before he returns to White Sox] 

The White Sox initially noticed Abbott when area scout Robbie Cummings went to see an opposing school’s pitcher. Cummings immediately liked Abbott’s frame and his power potential and began to push Abbott on Hostetler. Ultimately, Cummings convinced the White Sox to bring Abbott to Chicago for the workout and that’s where Jim Thome, the club’s special assistant to the general manager took notice.

“He was hitting balls so far Jim was standing there and (asked) ‘Who is this kid?’ ” Hostetler said. “I even had to pull out the roster to look.”

Once Thome heard Abbott’s backstory he was further intrigued. Abbott had never spent more than a few months a year playing baseball as swimming is a year-round sport in Washington. Abbott also had never participated in a baseball-specific conditioning program because swimming always got in the way --- not that Robinson minded.

“We knew that he was actually probably getting a better workout by being in the pool,” Robinson said.

And then there’s the sheer raw power Abbott brings. Thome liked how Abbott put on a show, hitting a number of balls out to left-center field at Guaranteed Rate Field. Abbott is one of several power bats the White Sox added through the draft along with first-rounder Jake Burger and second-rounder Gavin Sheets.

“The bat does speak,” Thome said. “It’s exciting to think where a kid like this has come from. He doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear.

“It’s exciting to see what he could potentially be.

“It’ll be fun to see how this translates.”

The White Sox plan to be patient with their project. Hostetler said Abbott could spend as much as two seasons at rookie ball in order to create a steady foundation.

“It’s going to be a long process for Sam,” Hostetler said. “He wasn’t on the circuit. He wasn’t an Area Codes guy.”

Patience and concentration on baseball alone is all Robinson thinks his player needs. Abbott has also worked out in front of Nomar Garciaparra this year and the ex-All-Star shortstop had “good things to say.” Robinson loves Abbott’s approach at the plate because he knows his strike zone well and what pitches he does damage on. Abbott knows how to let the ball travel and the ball jumps off his bat. And Robinson thinks Abbott’s mindset is perfect for baseball because he knows how to hit the reset button and start over the next day.

All it took was someone else seeing it, a process that began with Cummings and picked up with Thome’s observations.

“We knew he could play at the next level just with his swing,” Robinson said. “Honestly it was a matter of if he wanted to.

“I overheard the conversation he had with Jim Thome and I thought, ‘Wow, this is really going to take off.’”

“Eighth round, that was something special.”

It sounds like Matt Davidson won't be the next Shohei Ohtani after all

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USA TODAY

It sounds like Matt Davidson won't be the next Shohei Ohtani after all

Matt Davidson was totally serious when he talked about taking on a bigger pitching role. The White Sox, on the other hand, might not be as ready to throw one of their big bats on the mound on a regular basis.

Davidson made three relief appearances last season, helping to save the bullpen on a trio of occasions. In addition to giving up zero runs in those three innings, he got one heck of a highlight out of the experience, striking out Giancarlo Stanton in a game against the New York Yankees.

Davidson was incredibly enthusiastic about the whole thing, talking about how he grew up wanting to be a big league pitcher and how he’d love to be used in more high-leverage situations.

But general manager Rick Hahn said last week at the GM Meetings in Southern California that Davidson likely won’t be an important piece of the White Sox bullpen in 2019.

“He’s excited by the potential to add additional value to his club,” Hahn said. “I think he knows, still, his bread is buttered with the offense he provides. We’ve had conversations with Matty, we’ve had conversations with the agent about what potentially he could do in the future. And who knows, maybe someday that comes to fruition. But right now, the focus is on his offense.”

Asked if Davidson would log some innings during spring training, Hahn said:

“I don’t anticipate that right now.”

Position players pitching became somewhat of a popular practice across the game during the 2018 campaign, with managers hoping to save their regular bullpen arms in games with lopsided scores. And that’s what Rick Renteria did when he inserted Davidson into three separate games. But most of the other position players who got to pitch didn’t talk dreamily about wanting to go into full-time double duty.

With Shohei Ohtani grabbing headlines as a two-way player with the Los Angeles Angels, though, there was a concrete example of someone doing exactly that in the major leagues. And so began the speculation that Davidson maybe could do some more regular work as a reliever, the go-to guy for saving the ‘pen, so to speak, or even an option in higher-leverage situations.

But it seems like the White Sox don’t want to go down that road right now.

Davidson has enough to worry about on the offensive side of things. While he made huge strides in getting on base last season, increasing his walk total from 19 to 52 and his on-base percentage from .260 to .319, he batted just .228, struck out 165 times and saw a dip in his power numbers, hitting six fewer home runs than he did the year before and watching his slugging percentage fall to a career-low .419.

It's not to say that Davidson's pitching days are done. The strategy of pitching position players in an effort to save taxed bullpens doesn't seem to be going anywhere, so Davidson could still see action in the same type of capacity he did in 2018. But it's likely the White Sox will lean on guys who make their money as relievers when it comes to those high-leverage situations.

White Sox remain undecided on whether Yoan Moncada will move to third base in 2019

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USA TODAY

White Sox remain undecided on whether Yoan Moncada will move to third base in 2019

The White Sox still haven’t made up their minds about where Yoan Moncada will play in 2019.

Not even two years removed from being the top-ranked prospect in baseball, Moncada might be heading for a position switch following his first full season in the majors, from second base to third base. But general manager Rick Hahn said last week at the GM Meetings in Southern California that the team hasn’t made the decision to do that quite yet, saying that if it’s coming, it’ll happen closer to spring training, which makes sense considering the White Sox aren’t sure what their roster will look like until after offseason moves are made.

“We have not (made a determination on that yet),” Hahn said. “We’ve talked to the player, we’ve talked to scouts, had a lot of good conversations about it. Fundamentally we like versatility and flexibility in all our players. So in that specific example, Moncada’s ability to play third and second, that makes him more valuable to us. Should we eventually make a switch full time, that would be a decision we’d make closer to spring training and announce closer to spring training after the offseason plays out with how we’re going to line up.”

While it might be easy for some fans to see that as a negative following what was undoubtedly a disappointing campaign — in addition to his 217 strikeouts at the plate, his 21 errors were the third most in baseball — Moncada switching positions is likely more because of what the White Sox have coming up through the farm system. The White Sox spent the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft on middle infielder Nick Madrigal, who has a reputation as a defensive whiz up the middle. With the White Sox touting Madrigal as “the best all-around player in college baseball” after the draft and with Madrigal playing at three different levels this year in his brief time as a pro, it’s not difficult to see the possibility of him shooting through the minor leagues and arriving on the South Side in a relatively short time.

Because of that, the White Sox might be inclined to make room. And moving Moncada to third could help solve another question, as the White Sox have little in the way of long-term options at the hot corner. Jake Burger’s pair of Achilles tears earlier this year made his future a mystery. And while White Sox fans enjoy speculating about options from outside the organization like Josh Donaldson (a free agent this offseason) and Nolan Arenado (a free agent next offseason), it would make plenty of sense for the White Sox to spend at least a year seeing if Moncada can be a homegrown solution there.

It all makes up the puzzle that is this decision for the White Sox this offseason.

“Individually, you want to put the player in the best position to succeed for the long term. Flexibility, versatility of a roster factors into that, as well, to try to give (manager Rick Renteria) the best weapons at his disposal at any given game,” Hahn said. “And then you have to factor in the alternatives that you have and what’s going to put us in the best long-term position to win.

“If we wind up with having too many premium middle-infield prospects or big league performers, that’s a good problem to have.”