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.

As Luis Robert keeps blasting balls into space, the White Sox team of the future is near

As Luis Robert keeps blasting balls into space, the White Sox team of the future is near

We're all just going to have to assume this was a home run.

The video evidence is sketchy, considering Luis Robert hit a ball so hard, so high, so far that cameras were unable to capture it leaving the park.

Robert's feat of strength Monday night is just the latest to get everyone all revved up over his inevitable major league future. The revving will perhaps have to wait through the winter, though. If the way the White Sox handled Eloy Jimenez (and his accompanying service-time questions) last year is any indication, the team might opt to finish the 2019 campaign without Robert making his big league debut. And while there are indeed good arguments to be made about the experience that Robert would get in a month or more at the major league level in 2019, there's a pretty convincing argument to be made involving the White Sox being able to employ this elite baseball player for as long as possible.

There will be plenty of folks upset if the White Sox do with Robert what they did with Jimenez, but go ahead and watch that highlight again, think about 2020 and feel better. Because if anything, it shows that the White Sox team of the future is as close to a reality as it's ever been.

That's not to say that 2020 will most definitely be the year the rebuilt White Sox start their reign of terror atop the American League or that a dynastic vice-like grip on the sport is a lock once Robert reaches the bigs. But the contention window we've been discussing for three years now could start to open as soon as next season. And while this year will feature another frustrating finish without a playoff appearance and without a winning record, the pieces are mostly in place to bring to life those roster projections every South Side baseball fan has been scribbling since Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were traded away after the 2016 season.

Catcher

James McCann has been a heck of a find by Rick Hahn's front office. His transformation from non-tendered Detroit Tiger into an All Star threw the future of the position into question, in a good way, providing an alternative to wait-and-see prospects, however highly thought of they might be.

McCann slumped hard to start the second half, contributing to the White Sox post-break blues. But he's been fantastic once more in August, heading into Monday's game with a .377/.431/.623 slash line to go along with a pair of grand slams in the last week.

And that's just at the plate. Behind it, McCann has earned rave reviews for the ceaseless work he does with the team's pitching staff, getting a never-ending stream of compliments from fellow All Star Lucas Giolito. Under team control for 2020, bringing him back is a no-brainer for Hahn.

First base

Jose Abreu is aging, but that hasn't stopped him from driving in runs. Like McCann, he slumped hard out of the All-Star break, and it remains true that he's heading for career lows in on-base percentage and walks. But he's also on pace for career bests in home runs and RBIs, a pace aided by a titanic blast to center field Monday night at Target Field. That three-run drive helped the White Sox take down the Minnesota Twins and showed how dangerous Abreu still is in the box, as if his two-homer night last week against the Los Angeles Angels didn't do that job.

Of course, it's his off-field contributions that might be the most valuable to this young White Sox team. With Abreu as the mentor for Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Robert, the White Sox could combine the talent with Abreu's unmatched work ethic, getting a fleet of mini Abreus. That certainly sounds worth a new contract for the soon-to-be free agent, and all signs have pointed to him being back with the team all season long.

Second base

Robert's teammate down in Charlotte is doing his own job raking. Nick Madrigal, last summer's first-round draft pick, would be the one getting fans all worked up if wasn't for Robert's nightly superhuman exploits. Like Robert, Madrigal is playing at his third level of the season. Unlike Robert, Triple-A isn't going quite as swimmingly as Double-A. With Birmingham, Madrigal was unreal, batting .341 with a .400 on-base percentage. He's cooled off a bit with Charlotte, the owner of a .290 average and a .367 on-base percentage through Monday night's contest.

But he's still north of .300 and .360, respectively, on the season as a whole, and that goes along with what the organization projects could be Gold Glove caliber defense at second. It makes for another thrilling prospect that folks can't wait to see at the major league level, and Madrigal's time figures to come not too deep into the 2020 season.

Shortstop

Tim Anderson's breakout year continues. Like McCann, Anderson's bat has also been electric in August, with a .411/.434/.548 slash line on the month coming into Monday night, when his streak of five straight multi-hit games was snapped. If not for a month-long injury absence, Anderson would be chasing a batting title.

And, importantly, while his walk numbers still leave plenty to be desired, a guy who started the season with a .286 career on-base percentage is reaching base at a .352 clip this season.

There were plenty of questions surrounding Anderson's ability to truly be the team's dependable shortstop of the future. And while there are still things like the lack of walks and a large number of errors in the field, he's answered those questions resoundingly.

Third base

Moncada has been the White Sox best player in 2019. He's nearing a return from a hamstring strain that's kept him on the injured list for the entirety of August, but he's still the owner of a .301/.358/.535 slash line, sky-high improvements in every category after a disappointing first full year in the majors in 2018, one that saw him strike out 217 times.

Moncada's already got 20 home runs and 59 RBIs in 97 games, he's played very good defense after being moved to third base in spring training, and he was talked up by anyone with a recorder in front of their face as an All-Star snub of sorts back in June and July.

He's looking like the All-Star type player he was billed as when the White Sox acquired the No. 1 prospect in baseball just a year after being decried as a bust by quick-to-react tweeters.

Outfield

There's Robert, obviously, who should make his major league debut no later than a few weeks into the 2019 season, though the team has announced no plans yet. Robert's looking like the five-tool force of nature he's been hyped as since his signing as an international free agent out of Cuba. He's just 22 years old and has turned the minor leagues into his own personal playground, hitting mammoth home runs and making jaw-dropping plays in the field. It sure seems like this La Pantera character is going to be OK.

So, too, do repeated positive signs flash from Jimenez, the previous prospect to tear up the minors and send everyone into a daily Twitter frenzy. Jimenez is undoubtedly going through the to-be-expected growing pains and learning moments of a player in his first full major league season, but he's also blasted eye-popping homers to dead center that have repeatedly disturbed the batter's eye foliage at Guaranteed Rate Field. He hit two homers during the weekend series in Anaheim.

No, he's not setting the world on fire, as some expected, but he's showing what's possible. And if Moncada could turn a disappointing 2018 season into what's he's doing in 2019, why can't Jimenez make a similar jump?

Designated hitter

The White Sox might be able to again use McCann's emergence to their advantage and put Zack Collins in the DH spot on a fairly regular basis. Collins has been on fire since briefly appearing in the major leagues and getting some offensive critiques from the folks at the big league level. He's got a .375/.470/.698 slash line since returning to Charlotte that would seem to make any lingering questions about his defense behind the plate somewhat irrelevant when that kind of bat can just be put at DH.

Perhaps, should Abreu make his expected return, even a first base/designated hitter timeshare that was supposed to materialize with Yonder Alonso could be implemented with Abreu and Collins instead,

Starting rotation

Giolito was an All Star this year, completely transforming from the pitcher with the highest ERA among qualified starters in 2018 to the ace of the White Sox staff.

Reynaldo Lopez had a miserable first half but has been a completely different pitcher, as promised, since the All-Star break, with a 2.91 second-half ERA, even after the five runs he gave up last Thursday.

Dylan Cease has struggled since his promotion to the majors, but the rave reviews about his stuff and his composure and the way he dominated the minor leagues last season provide the White Sox with plenty of confidence that a turnaround is possible. Giolito's dramatic turnaround adds credence to that idea, too.

And then there's Michael Kopech, the pitcher who's been discussed as the one who could be the best of the group. He'll be back from Tommy John surgery sometime next season, completely healthy by spring training but perhaps requiring a little time in the minors to start the year. We'll see.

Anyway, that's four young hurlers who will demand rotation spots in 2020, and that's without even accounting for the starting pitching Hahn has on his offseason shopping list.

Bullpen

The White Sox have discovered a potentially potent late-inning combination in Alex Colome and Aaron Bummer, who the team opted not to trade at this year's deadline. Colome's growing track record as a dominant closer — he's saved 120 games in the last four seasons, including 24 this year with the White Sox — and Bummer's emergence as a setup man extraordinaire with a 1.80 ERA on the season figure to cross late-inning bullpen help off the list of upgrades Hahn needs to make this offseason and potentially off the wish list for next year's deadline, too.

— — —

So despite any social-media griping, that's almost the entire lineup fans have been dreaming of for years either at the major league level or right on the doorstep by the time 2020 begins. Though fans, rightfully, have been frustrated during seasons' worth of losing at the major league level during this rebuilding project, Hahn's suggestion that the White Sox, because of the trades and signings that injected an incredible amount of talent into the organization, could be ahead of schedule in their rebuild could prove true. At the very least, the White Sox should have many of the pieces to put their contention puzzle together in the 2020 season.

There are perfectly valid reasons to be skeptical that will be the case. But go dust off that "team of the future" lineup projection you put together a while back. It looks a lot like the White Sox projected 2020 lineup, doesn't it? And I haven't even mentioned Dane Dunning or Carlos Rodon or a potential free-agent or trade acquisition to take up the mysterious spot in right field.

Another frustrating season without a playoff appearance and without a winning record will close itself out over the next month and a half. But the rebuild train remains on the tracks. It remains on schedule, too.

Don't believe me? Go find Robert's home-run ball. You might need a spacesuit.

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If all goes well, Yoan Moncada could be back with White Sox this week

If all goes well, Yoan Moncada could be back with White Sox this week

Yoan Moncada's return to the White Sox could come as soon as Thursday.

The White Sox third baseman has been on the injured list for the entire month of August while recovering from a hamstring strain, but he could be back in the everyday lineup soon, according to manager Rick Renteria, who provided an update to reporters Monday in Minnesota.

Heading into Monday, Moncada has played three games on his current rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte, only one of which at third base. He went 4-for-12 in those three games, with a home run, two RBIs, a run scored and a pair of strikeouts.

Moncada's return to the lineup for the start of this weekend's four-game set with the Texas Rangers would be a big lift for the White Sox offense. He's been the team's best hitter this season, with a .301/.358/.535 slash line to go along with 20 home runs and 59 RBIs in 97 games.

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