White Sox

White Sox put top prospects on display at SoxFest

White Sox put top prospects on display at SoxFest

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."

[RELATED: Yoan Moncada very fond of Chicago after first trip]

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."

Contenders? Maybe not quite yet, but the White Sox are steaming toward that status

Contenders? Maybe not quite yet, but the White Sox are steaming toward that status

Last week, James McCann called the White Sox contenders.

For the catcher in the midst of an All-Star season, a guy who’s taken his career to a new level in just a few months with the team, he had reason to be optimistic.

The White Sox were in the middle of an extended period of feel-goodery. This wasn’t even 24 hours after Eloy Jimenez hit that game-winning home run in his first game against the team that traded him, an exclamation point on the franchise’s recent rebuilding progress, which has been on display all season long in the forms of Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, McCann and now Jimenez.

The positive signs have been impossible to miss, stabilizing the notion that the White Sox future is incredibly bright. And inside the clubhouse, the players are seeing their preseason talk get backed up, in certain ways. During spring training, they argued the focus should be placed on the present as much as the future. And after two seasons of little more than waiting for the future, there is definitely reason to pay attention to the present.

“The thing for me is you look around here and guys are still competing,” McCann said from inside the visitors’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field, “despite losing a (Carlos) Rodon, despite not having (Michael) Kopech this year, despite the injuries to Nate Jones, guys like that who were supposed to be big-time contributors. And it's kind of been that next-man-up mentality.

“So I'd say at this point in the season, this team is a contender. Who knows what's going to happen down the road. But you have guys in Triple-A that are coming up. You've got a guy like (Zack) Collins here to contribute. We're one, two pieces away from making a big-time statement in this division.”

Surely, Collins was ready to contribute. The day McCann made those comments, Collins drew a walk in his first major league plate appearance. Two nights later in Texas, he smacked a three-run homer for his first big league hit. It was more positive news for the rebuild, a guy who’s a big part of Rick Hahn’s long-term plans immediately announcing his presence.

The White Sox lost that game, though. Since Jimenez’s game-winning heroics and McCann’s “contender” comments, the White Sox have dropped three of their four games.

One series loss in Arlington, Texas, in June is not going to be the determining factor of whether the White Sox can compete for a playoff spot this season. But for all the whispers of postseason potential, the White Sox are just 8-10 this month. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an improvement on what fans watched over the last two seasons. The White Sox current 36-39 record is vastly preferable to the 195 losses the team suffered during the 2017 and 2018 campaigns.

But that’s what seems to be brewing as the grand conclusion from this season at this moment: The White Sox are better, but they’re not there yet.

They woke up Monday — ahead of a series in Boston that will start with another Giolito start and end with another matchup against former mate Chris Sale — five games out of the second wild-card spot in the American League. That technically counts as being “in it,” though losing a series to the Texas Rangers over the weekend ought to provide some evidence that the White Sox are still mid-climb.

Rebuilding progress does not equal an immediate windfall of victories. As White Sox fans well know from the last two-plus seasons, processes like these take time. Sometimes they take a lot of time. Ask the first-place Houston Astros, who have been atop baseball’s mountain for several years now, but only after enduring 416 losses from 2011 to 2014. Another 100-loss season doesn’t seem to be a danger for these White Sox, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be in a pennant race, either.

That shouldn’t come as a disappointment, though. It should come as just the opposite, in fact. These White Sox are undoubtedly different — undoubtedly better — than the couple of White Sox teams that came before them. Don’t just look at the win-loss totals or take my word for it, ask someone who knows.

“One of the things that I notice is the constant fight,” said McCann, who spent the first five years of his big league career playing against the White Sox with the division-rival Detroit Tigers. “There were days playing against the Sox last year where — I don't want to say they didn't have fight — but we'd take a lead on them and say, ‘OK, we feel comfortable.’

“Now, I look at the scoreboard and we might be down 7-1 and I feel comfortable that we're going to make a comeback. So an outsider watching the team and now being an insider, a part of the team, it's a culture of complete buy-in. No one guy's more important than the other, and guys truly want their locker-mate to succeed. It's been a lot of fun to be a part of.

“Playing against them, I get to have conversations with guys. Not that I get to know people, but I get to see where they come from and how they view different things, just in a few conversations that we get to have. So I knew the talent that was here, it was just a matter of guys putting it all together. You're starting to see that.

“By no means is it a finished product, but in all reality, there's no team that's a finished product until they win Game 7 of the World Series. That's when you're a finished product.”

And things should only continue to progress as this season moves along. Dylan Cease is expected to join Collins as a much heralded prospect up from Triple-A Charlotte before summer’s end. Luis Robert continues to scorch minor league pitching at such a rate, that seeing him on the South Side before the end of the season isn’t a ridiculous thought, even if the more realistic route might be for the White Sox to wait until 2020 to give Robert his first taste of the majors. And of course, Giolito and Anderson and Moncada and Jimenez figure to keep developing in their own right and getting better as time moves along.

By the time 2020 rolls around, it looks like the puzzle could be complete enough to elevate the White Sox to true contender status. Giolito, Anderson, Moncada, Jimenez, McCann, Collins, Cease, Robert, Kopech, Rodon. Maybe Nick Madrigal will arrive, maybe Jose Abreu will return, maybe Alex Colome will be too important a 2020 asset for Hahn to sell high on in 2019.

McCann should keep on feeling optimistic, and White Sox fans should, too. That bright future isn’t as far off as the word “future” might have made it seem over the past couple years. Even if it’s not here quite yet.

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After homering for his first MLB hit, Zack Collins was 'in shock'

After homering for his first MLB hit, Zack Collins was 'in shock'

The young players that figure to feature heavily in the future of the White Sox have had quite a week.

It started with Lucas Giolito being the first pitcher in the majors to reach 10 wins, then Eloy Jimenez blasted a big go-ahead home run in the ninth inning in his first crosstown game against the Cubs. Now, Zack Collins has added his own blast of optimism to the White Sox young core.

The 24-year-old made his first major league start on Friday in Texas and delivered a three-run home run in his first at-bat. It was his second MLB plate appearance after he drew a pinch-hit walk Wednesday in Wrigley.

After the White Sox beat the Rangers 5-4 in 10 innings, Collins talked to Jason Benetti and Steve Stone on the NBC Sports Chicago broadcast.

“Honestly I was just in shock,” Collins said. “I was running around the bases. It seemed like it lasted like three seconds and I felt myself sprinting around second so I had to slow it down and enjoy the moment, but it was an awesome time.”

Collins finished 1-for-5 with three strikeouts, but that is Collins’ game. He’s going to strikeout a lot and his batting average probably won’t be pretty. He has a career .234 batting average in the minors (.250 in Triple-A Charlotte this year), but he coupled that with a .378 on-base percentage and big power.

In his five trips to the plate on Friday, Collins saw 22 pitches. He’s going to work the count and sometimes he’s going to run into home runs.

“It was smooth,” Collins said. “I just kind of put the ball in play and the ball flew. I really don’t know. It was kind of a blur to me. It was obviously a big moment for me.”

Collins was called up Tuesday morning ahead of the first game against the Cubs. He didn’t play that game, but the pinch-hit walk on Wednesday helped take out some of the nerves.

“On Wednesday night I stepped up, I had a little bit of jitters, had a little bit of butterflies and stuff, but I think that was the point of getting in there on Wednesday and getting all that out,” Collins said. “It felt good tonight.”

Collins still hasn’t played catcher since he got called up. He was the DH in Friday’s lineup. That didn’t stop his dad from being excited about his first start.

“I was pumped,” Collins said of when he saw he was in the lineup. “I immediately texted my dad and told him I was in there. He told me good luck, play hard, do your thing. Obviously it started off well and we got a big win tonight so it was fun.”

As of the postgame interview, Collins didn’t yet have his home run ball. However, it sounded like he was able to make a deal with a fan for it.

“Somebody said they did get the ball,” Collins said. “I think I have to make a little trade with somebody.”

 

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