White Sox

White Sox plan to give prospects more time to develop

White Sox plan to give prospects more time to develop

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."

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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.

James Shields wraps impressive 2018 campaign, but is it last he'll pitch in White Sox uniform?

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USA TODAY

James Shields wraps impressive 2018 campaign, but is it last he'll pitch in White Sox uniform?

James Shields is unlikely to go down as one of White Sox fans’ most beloved pitchers.

It was always going to be hard to erase the memories of his first two seasons on the South Side, which saw him post a 5.99 ERA and give up 58 home runs.

But Shields, a 36-year-old veteran who doesn’t figures to have much of a place in this rebuilding franchise’s long-term plans, made a heck of an impact and did a heck of a job during this losing season, one that could end up being felt when the team does transition to contention mode.

Shields capped his 2018 season with another six innings Tuesday night. It didn’t end up his 20th quality start of the season, with him giving up four runs, but he reached the 200-inning mark for the 10th time in his 13-year major league career, as good an example as any of how reliable and how steady a veteran presence he’s been this season.

As of this writing, baseball’s 200-inning club in 2018 looked like this: Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Aaron Nola, Zack Greinke, Dallas Keuchel and Shields.

“Going into this season, I was really taking pride in being able to get to that 200 mark again,” Shields said. “It’s my 10th time I’ve done it in my career, so that was kind of looming over my head a little bit, and to be able to get that, it’s just all the hard work I’ve put in this year and I’m really really proud of that.”

The other numbers might not scream “overwhelming success” of a season, even if it was by far his best year in a White Sox uniform. Shields finished with a 4.54 ERA and 154 strikeouts. The 34 home runs he gave up are the second most in baseball. His 78 walks put him in the top five in the game in that category.

But Shields’ impact has been as much about what he’s done off the mound as what he’s done on it. He’s served as a mentor to this team of young players, one that keeps getting younger with every highly touted prospect that gets his call to the big leagues. He’s been a particularly strong influence on Lucas Giolito, with the two set up next to each other in the clubhouse all season — that is until Michael Kopech arrived and Shields requested Kopech slide in between him and Giolito, again for mentoring purposes.

That’s a valuable thing on a team that figures to stay young as this rebuilding process moves along toward planned contention.

“I think more than anything, when you see how he’s continued to pitch and work through all of the things he’s done over the course of his career, I think he’s been a big factor by example,” manager Rick Renteria said prior to Tuesday’s game. “He goes out there and shows you how to get through innings, grind through some rough outings and continue to eat up outs. I think these guys are seeing it. He’s been someone that’s shown them why he’s been around for so many years.

“I think these guys have taken on some of his personality, some of his traits. Hopefully it’s something they can cling to and continue to help each other with. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have someone that’s something like that. He’s done everything he could to help with both between the lines and being in the clubhouse.”

“I’ve done it my whole career,” Shields said of that leadership, mentorship role. “Ever since I was in Tampa, I’ve prided myself in being a leader in this clubhouse and just helping the guys out and being a good teammate. Hopefully these guys take all of the advice and the experience that I’ve had over the years and take it to heart.”

Shields’ 2018 season is over, but is his time on the South Side?

He is expected to hit the free-agent market this winter, though given how impressive he was as a reliable arm and as a team leader in 2018, perhaps the White Sox opt to bring him back. Not only do they have a recent track record of making similar additions — see Hector Santiago and Miguel Gonzalez this past offseason — but they have a need in the starting rotation, two holes to fill in Shields’ spot and that of Kopech, who will miss the 2019 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

It’s an option, if it’s something Shields and the White Sox both want to do. Certainly he’s given them reason to consider it with what he did this season.

“We’ll see where life takes me after this season’s over,” Shields said. “I’ve loved my time here, the guys are great, the coaching staff’s a great coaching staff, and the training staff, I can’t say enough about what they’ve done for me over the last three years. And just the organization itself has been an amazing organization to be a part of. So we’ll see where it goes this offseason.”

Keep it simple: How Daniel Palka has emerged as the clutch king of Chicago

Keep it simple: How Daniel Palka has emerged as the clutch king of Chicago

Daniel Palka’s been asked a lot about his approach in clutch situations, mostly because he keeps coming through in them.

Palka flexed his walk-off muscles again Tuesday night, driving in the tying and winning runs with a base hit off Cleveland Indians strikeout machine Carlos Carrasco in the bottom of the ninth and giving the White Sox an exciting win in their penultimate home game of the 2018 season.

It was just the latest in an increasingly unbelievable series of clutch hits from the guy White Sox fans have fallen in love with during this rebuilding season. He now has 10 hits, two doubles, six homers and 13 RBIs in the ninth inning this season. Heck, it wasn’t even the first time he’s walked off these Indians this season.

You might think that explaining how to come through with a game-winning hit against a major league pitcher is easier than actually doing it. But that’s the thing: Palka’s making it look easy specifically because he’s trying to keep it easy.

“I just try to keep it as simple as possible,” Palka said, a reasonable follow up to what he said after a big home run earlier this season. “What were you trying to do in that situation?” was the question lobbed his way. He hit the answer to that one out of the park, too: “I was trying to hit a home run.”

Palka’s big moments continue to fuel the conversation surrounding his place in the long-term plans of an organization with its eyes squarely set on the future. He long ago took the title of Surprise of the Year, considering he wasn’t on the Opening Day roster and yet will almost certainly finish as the team leader in home runs. He’s five ahead of his closest competition, the injured Jose Abreu, with a team-best 27 dingers and five games to play. Tim Anderson and Matt Davidson would need seven apiece over the next five contests to catch Palka.

Whether Palka’s place on those planned contenders of the future is as an everyday designated hitter or an everyday outfielder or a platoon guy or simply a left-handed power bat off the bench, he’s looking more and more like the totally unexpected success story of this rebuilding effort. Of course, there’s still a long time to go — and plenty of prospects still to develop and reach the major leagues — before any final assessments on lineups of the future can be made.

Still, it figures Rick Hahn’s front office could find a spot for a guy with such a flair for the dramatic and a knack for big hits in big moments.

And for someone who makes all that so easy.

“I think the outcome is just based on him keeping it simple,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He really doesn’t complicate it. He really does focus on the baseball and tries to get something he can handle and tries to hit it hard. It’s kind of that simple. You can’t control what happens once the ball leaves your bat, but you can control how simple you approach the at-bat. And he does that.”

White Sox fans know how they feel about Palka’s heroics. How does Palka feel about them?

“Yeah, it’s cool.”

See? Simple.

“I don’t really know what else to say about it besides I like that moment and I’m happy to be in that moment. That’s it.”