Out of necessity, the White Sox in the past often expedited a prospect's development plan to get him to the big leagues to fill a vacancy. Carlos Rodon, Carson Fulmer and Tim Anderson are the most recent examples of young players whose paths were sped up in order to potentially play a big role for a contending club.
But now that they're enduring their first rebuild in nearly 20 years, the White Sox say they plan to change the way they operate. With no immediate designs to contend for the postseason, general manager Rick Hahn's focus on the long-term health of the organization will extend to player development, where the White Sox intend to take more time with minor leaguers. While the team's current crop of top prospects — three accrued service time in 2016 — could easily reach the majors next season, the White Sox say there's no rush. They've decided to embrace their position and will essentially slam on the brakes for the betterment of their young players.
"No guy is going to get to Chicago until we feel they’re ready to have success at the big-league level, that they’re ready for that finishing element of their development that happens at the big-league level," Hahn said last week at the Winter Meetings. "No one’s going to be promoted any time in the foreseeable future simply because there’s a need at their position."
Zack Collins offered many pluses when the White Sox selected him with the No. 10 pick in the 2016 amateur draft. Not only could he potentially be the team's catcher of the future, but Collins' plate approach is so advanced he could have found himself in the majors as a designated hitter by as early as mid-2017 if all went well.
Given 2017 was expected to be the third year of their contention window, Collins potentially gave the White Sox another left-handed hitting option.
But now that they're focused on the future and only the future, Hahn said the White Sox will take their time and try to develop Collins' catching skills. He's likely to start 2017 at Single-A Winston-Salem.
"If he was a bat-only player he would come more quickly because the bat is more mature, more close to big league ready than the receiving," Hahn said last month. "However, we think he has a very good chance to be an everyday catcher with a premium bat and we're going to take the time to bring along the defense at the rate it requires."
The same goes for infielder Yoan Moncada, who after a meteoric rise through the minors had 20 big league plate appearances in 2016. Acquired from Boston in the Chris Sale trade, the White Sox want Moncada, 21, to work on his defense and plate approach. He could start next season at Double-A Birmingham.
While Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez both pitched for Washington last season, last week Hahn said both are likely to begin 2017 in the rotation at Triple-A Charlotte. Same goes for Fulmer, who was in the majors last July, only 13 months after he was drafted. After he struggled in a relief role in the big leagues, Fulmer rebounded with three great starts for Charlotte to end the 2016 season. While Fulmer is close enough to ready for the big leagues, the White Sox may prefer for him to further develop in the minors and force the issue.
The past two seasons the club promoted Rodon and Anderson with the idea that they would take their final development steps in the majors. Each was needed to fill a critical void for a team hopeful it could reach the playoffs. Both have made tremendous strides and proven to be very capable big leaguers. Both also at times exhibited signs they could have used more development in the minors.
But now that they're rebuilding for the first time since 1997 that same rush isn't as likely to occur in the short term. It's the advantage of the White Sox knowing where they're headed and embracing the plan.
"Perhaps the last couple of years, we’ve walked out of these meetings and addressed a number of holes at the big-league level and you get that excitement about wanting to see it all come together," Hahn said. "Your time horizon was much shorter. You were only a few months away from putting it together and seeing it on the field. This is going to be a lot longer than a few months. ...
"It’s going to be about putting them in the best position for their long-term development.