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.”

MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

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USA TODAY

MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

If Major League Baseball gets its way, there could be seismic changes coming to the minor leagues.

According to a report from Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, the league has proposed a host of sweeping changes to the minor leagues, including the elimination of 42 affiliated teams.

The proposal is merely the beginning of what are expected to be lengthy negotiations over a new version of what’s called the “Professional Baseball Agreement,” basically the contract that keeps the major and minor leagues connected and minor league teams stocked with players employed by major league clubs. The existing edition expires at the end of the 2020 season, and so a new one will need to be hashed out.

Major League Baseball is looking for control over how the minor leagues are organized, with an eye on improving facilities and clustering affiliates and leagues from a geographic standpoint to cut down on travel costs. There’s also expected to be an increase in salaries for minor league players, which has long been a talking point thanks to the increasing number of descriptions of how financially difficult life can be for those trying to reach the majors.

To accomplish those goals, Major League Baseball is proposing drastic solutions.

The one that will grab the most attention is the elimination of more than a quarter of the existing affiliated teams in the minor leagues, removing affiliated minor league teams from more than three dozen cities across the United States and getting rid of more than 1,000 jobs for minor league players. Simply, the entire short-season rookie ball (excluding squads that play at team-owned facilities in Arizona and Florida) would be eliminated, leaving only four levels of affiliated teams: Low Class A, High Class A, Double-A and Triple-A.

If you’re wondering what would happen to those 42 teams, the proposal is for them to form something called a “Dream League,” which would essentially serve the same purpose as an independent league, allowing players without jobs to keep playing and try to get a job with a major league team.

Additionally, Major League Baseball is proposing radical restructuring of existing leagues in order to cluster teams closer together. That could include changing the level of certain teams, such as making a Class A team a Triple-A team based on the quality of facilities and what makes the most geographic sense. Leagues could also gain or lose a large number of teams, with the Triple-A International League growing to 20 teams and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League shrinking to just 10 teams. One Class A league was described as being reduced to just six teams, while the rest of its current teams would be put into a brand-new league.

As for how the White Sox and their affiliates would be affected, team-specific information was not included in the report. One read of the details of this proposal could see something such as the White Sox affiliates being relocated to Midwestern cities. Another, however, could see the White Sox affiliates mostly staying how they currently are, given those teams are all geographically close to one another, with all but one located in North Carolina.

Buried in all of this is another big change, a proposed move of the draft from June to August, giving players a couple more months to show off for major league teams, and a reduction in the number of rounds from the current 40 to somewhere between 20 and 25. That, and the elimination of short-season rookie ball, would likely prevent draftees from playing minor league baseball in the same year they’re drafted.

It’s all something to keep an eye on, for sure, as many fans across the country who closely follow minor league teams in their hometowns could experience a dramatic shakeup.

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State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re wrapping things up with the manager and the coaching staff.

What happened in 2019

While it’s easy to cruise through the statistical production of players and determine just how well they performed in 2019, that’s a little more difficult when it comes to manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff.

In the end, managers and coaches are evaluated on win-loss record — or at least how close they came to meeting the expectations in that department. While the White Sox are a gruesome 83 games under .500 in Renteria’s three years at the helm, that’s not really falling outside the expectations he had when he took over a rebuilding club. So it’s pretty hard to argue that because the White Sox lost 89 games in 2019, Renteria did a poor job.

Truly, his performance as a manager can’t be determined until he’s managing a team with expectations of winning. Renteria more than anyone has been the one setting such expectations for 2020, spending much of the waning weeks of the 2019 campaign voicing his opinion that all this losing stops next season.

“I’m expecting that this is it,” Renteria said. “We’re trying to win. We talk about it, we’re going through it. I know there’s still some refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you, we’re coming in, we’re finishing this season, we’re talking about coming into next season ready to battle. Period. Exclamation point. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Renteria and his staff did plenty in 2019 to continue developing the team’s young players into the core of the future. But the skipper's most memorable on-field moment came in September, when even after he stopped making mound visits because of shoulder surgery, he went out to the mound and had an animated conversation with Reynaldo Lopez. Lopez made a habit of following up stellar performances with ugly ones, lacking consistency in a fashion that made even the optimistic Renteria throw up his hands at times. Renteria utilized that frustration on the mound in Detroit in an attempt to get some points across to the pitcher.


When it comes to Renteria’s staff, certainly they deserve some credit for some of the breakout seasons on the roster. Hitting coach Todd Steverson did offseason work with both Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson ahead of 2019 campaigns that saw them transform into the best all-around hitter on the team and the big league batting champ, respectively. Pitching coach Don Cooper helped oversee Lucas Giolito’s transformation into an All Star. Infield coach Joe McEwing worked with Moncada, who made a smooth transition from second base to third base.

But if the coaches earn some of the credit for the things that went right, they must also be mentioned alongside the things that went wrong. Steverson coached an offense that ranked near the bottom of the game in most categories. Cooper coached a starting rotation that finished the season with a 5.30 ERA. McEwing coached Anderson, who committed a major league high 26 errors.

None of that is to say those guys are wholly responsible for those negative outcomes. Just as the players have to be the ones to turn in the good results, they’re the ones who have to turn in the poor ones, as well. Steverson, however, along with assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks, will not be back for the 2020 season.

What will happen this offseason

The White Sox have already made their coaching moves this offseason, parting ways with Steverson and Sparks and replacing Steverson with Frank Menechino, who after several seasons on the Miami Marlins staff took over as the hitting coach at Triple-A Charlotte in 2019.

Menechino impressed the White Sox with his work there, spent September with the big league club and was quickly promoted once the season was over. At Charlotte, he worked with top-ranked prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, who both had fantastic seasons playing at three different minor league levels and figure to be everyday players for most of the 2020 season.

The change, in the end, seemed to be more about how the White Sox felt about what Menechino could bring to the table than a reaction to the offensive production from a team that didn’t have expectations of doing much more than it did during another rebuilding season.

General manager Rick Hahn announced that the rest of the staff will be back in 2020.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

There will be a change in the expectations game come 2020. That should be mostly because of the breakout 2019 seasons from so many young players, the pending arrival of Robert and Madrigal and the offseason additions anticipated to be made by Hahn’s front office. But if nothing else, the expectations, when it comes to Renteria, will be different because he’s already said they will be.

“I'm not going to make any bones about it, it's time to turn the page,” he said just last week, “it's time to get us to another level of performance. That goes across the board, it goes with all aspects of our game.”

And so judging him and his staff can reach another level, too, because it will no longer solely be about hard-to-define development but the cold, hard wins and losses. Plenty of fans have taken to Twitter and complained about Renteria during this losing stretch, suggesting he’s not the one to manage this team into a winning era, but those were conclusions that cannot be drawn considering the quality of the rosters he’s managed in his three years on the South Side. How can you judge a manager’s ability to contend when he doesn’t have the tools to do so?

That’s about to change, so there will finally be some actual evidence to back up either side of that argument.

It’s clear where the White Sox stand in that discussion. They’ve been praising the job Renteria has done for three years now, and they’ve expressed nothing but confidence that he’ll be the guy to get it done.

“When Ricky was put in that role, it wasn't with the idea that he was just going to be the right guy for the first stage, the stage that is coming toward an end here, or is at an end here,” Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “Obviously, the history and teaching and communicating and holding guys accountable is very important now. But even at the time we hired him, we felt he had the ability to not only set the right winning culture but to put guys in the best position to win.

“His ability to communicate with all 25 or 26 guys on a daily basis, to know where they're at, to know what they're capable of doing and putting them in the best position, makes us fairly confident that once that roster is deep enough and strong enough that he's going to be able to maximize the win potential with that roster when the time comes.”

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