White Sox prospects received the kind of adoration normally reserved for longtime fan favorites over the weekend at SoxFest.
With five of six top-100 MLBPipeline.com prospects in attendance at the Chicago Hilton, White Sox supporters showered the team's most highly-touted minor leaguers with heavy doses of praise. Excited by the franchise's youth movement, a group that included Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Carson Fulmer and Zack Collins, among others, was inundated by media requests, autograph seekers and fans hoping to snap a selfie.
While Kopech didn't expect the lavish attention, it shouldn't come as a surprise given the response of the fanbase since the club took its first steps toward a massive rebuild with the December trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.
"These guys are coming up to me and telling me and Giolito when we were walking around together 'You guys are the future,' " Kopech said. "It's like, I haven't pitched an inning in Double-A yet. That's incredible to have fans that are that dedicated all the way through the system.
"To be expected to be a part of this is extremely motivating."
Fans aren't the only ones excited.
While members of the front office were on hand to see Moncada and Collins at a hitters minicamp earlier in the month in Arizona, the weekend's event offered everyone an opportunity to get a glimpse at several newly acquired pitchers. White Sox player development director Chris Getz was impressed by the lineup of arms who participated in a bullpen session at the University of Illinois-Chicago, a group that also included Zack Burdi, the No. 26 overall pick of the 2016 draft.
"Just to see the guys line up and it was one after the next getting on the bump and throwing their bullpen session," Getz said. "You've seen stuff like this before, but not this many guys and obviously they're newly acquired. And to think we're going to have these guys in our system, we're going to grow them and hopefully break them into the big leagues around the same time. And then for the future here, to have those guys part of our rotation, they're all frontline type starters. They're ones and twos. The tools grade out very well and most of these guys, the Giolitos and Kopechs, are physically imposing. Just when they stand on the mound there's going to be an intimidation factor there and then all of a sudden they're throwing their 70-to-80 graded-out fastballs and their sliders and curveballs and changeups. There's a reason why they're the top prospects in baseball."
The latest rankings from MLBPipeline.com suggest the White Sox possess six of the top 100 minor leaguers. Moncada is ranked No. 2 overall, Giolito is 12th, Kopech is 16th, Reynaldo Lopez is No. 46, Fulmer came in at 71 and Collins rounds out the group at 81.
Eager for the new team's new direction after they felt it was mired in mediocrity for too long, fans were supportive of players, prospects, staffers and coaches in seminars throughout the three-day event. The White Sox only hope to add to their young core with more trades in the future.
As he noted on Friday, general manager Rick Hahn said the White Sox are likely closer to the beginning of the rebuild than the end. Hahn promises there will be difficult times ahead as the team is patient in not only developing its prospects, but also in dealing away its remaining assets. But for now, fans were caught up in the team's new wave of potential stars.
"There's certainly a level of excitement, not just at the ballpark within the front office, but with some White Sox fans who have taken the time to either stop me on the street or leave voice mails at two in the morning," Hahn said. "There's an added level of excitement right now and anticipation."
Kopech felt that excitement throughout the weekend. First it was being recognized on the street shortly after he arrived on Thursday. Later he received a big round of applause during the team's opening ceremony. And it only continued on from there.
"It's kind of overwhelming," Kopech said. "I came in and I expected the fans to not pay too much attention to me and it's almost like I'm one of the main focuses here. The fans are unbelievable. Wherever you go, they are right there on your tail asking you questions. They are dedicated, very dedicated.
"It's what has been fun about all of this."