White Sox

Let me tell you something!

Let me tell you something!

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Now that weve entered the supposed sports void, things should slow down, right? The best thing the NFL has done for us is to have moved the Pro Bowl to the week before the Super Bowl. Nothing adds to the depression of no more NFL than having to watch that garbage. Now at least we have big game closure. But besides enjoying this winter without winter weather, my sports sickness has not missed a beat. Most of that is due to the early demise of the Eagles and Bears seasons. Since I was able to emotionally check-out several months ago, it was only a matter of time until I dove into something else. Helping matters is the fact that due to the varied clientele at the bar Im always getting asked questions. Just when I think Im out.

The number one discussion at the bar is about the Peyton Manning saga. He hijacked the Super Bowl and doesnt appear to be going anywhere soon. Literally. My answer as to what will happen and where he will end up is always the same. Im no doctor, Im a bartender, so the medical side is beyond me, but when I hear neck surgery (3-times!!) and degenerative nerve damage, dont know about you, but I see HUGE red flags. DUH! So why does everyone think he will come back? What, if any, physical progress has he shown to warrant such optimism? I for one dont think it will be for the 2012 season. Not to mention hell be 36 coming off of three surgeries. Who wants to invest in that? Hes got a ton of dough and can make even more on TV. Besides which, there arent 330 pound behemoths trying to rip his head off on the tube. If he still thinks he canwants to come back, the best bet will be for 2013. But much like his 1st Super Bowl win brother in arms, Brett Favre, we will have to deal with updates until that happens. Ugh. At least, for now, Im still in the fascination stage, although Im sure thats not far from wearing off. For all of our sakes, I just hope he doesnt fill his down time serial texting, like you know who.

Here in Chicago, in the bars, the favorite sport is bemoaning what we have versus bemoaning what were going to have.

As far as what we have, its the Bulls and Blackhawks. The Bulls conversation centers on the madman at the helm and a talent deficiency against their nemesis in the east. The Hawks are another story altogether.

A lot of people are questioning the fact that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau likes to ride the whip. Like in Luol Dengs first game back from his wrist injury, when he played 41 minutes. And especially in monitoring Derrick Roses minutes while dealing with injuries, substandard competition and, of course, their hellish, David Stern induced, 3 out of 4 nights, schedule. To some, Thibs appears reckless. But I remember, when asking the Tribs ample-headed beat reporter, K.C. Johnson, about this very thing on CTL before the season started, his response was, Hes not an idiot! And I agree. He is successful for a reason. His team plays well, for him, for a reason. I like the leave it on the floor mentality. The most common complaint Ive always heard about the NBA is that they dont play hard. Now theres a team that does that every night, and still people complain. Again, (Thank you, Stacey King!) if you play it safe, not to get hurt, you always get hurt. And if you decide only to turn it on for certain games, youre not going to end up playing for as you think you should. ATTITUDE!

For Blackhawks Nation, its a different story. The one constant since their Cup is their inconsistency. Game-to-game or shift-to-shift, who can figure them out? They taketh, then they giveth right back, and then some. The thing about the 2009-10 season was their mastery of controlling the puck. They dictated the tempo and lived in the offensive zone whether they had the puck or not. They were suffocating. I can speak from experience. This team, while talented on offense, seems very indifferent in their own end. The easy target right now, no pun intended, are the goalies. I get that to a point, theyve given up a few softies, but when a guy scores 8 points on you and no one gets knocked down? That wasnt 99 out there. That was a mediocre player on a mediocre team, who they made look like The Next One. Watch a Rangers or Bruins game right now. Defensively they are light years ahead of the Hawks, as a team. Their forwards come back all of the time, they allow no room. Then go check out their goalie stats. Theyre easy to find since all 4 are right near the top of every meaningful stat list. Coincidence? My thought is the play of Brian Campbell is missed more than anyone would like to admit. For at the very least, he could get the puck out! Dont look now, but the schedule for the last 28 games is over-the-top difficult, only 2 of the games remaining are not against a team that would be in the playoffs or is just a point out. And those 2 games are on the road against Columbus, one of which is next week to end this current nine-game trip, which at this time has yet to produce a win. Yikes! Lets hope that game isnt to salvage the only win of the trip, especially since the prize for returning home is an 11:30am nationally televised game against the Blues. Its time to stop making excuses.

Now as far as what we have to look forward to, it could be the good, the bad and the ugly. I said could be! That since during the offseason we can wax poetic about what could be, in spite of the overwhelming reality of the ending of the Bears, Sox and Cubs seasons.

For once, Im actually bullish on the Bears prospects. If there is a sense of urgency towards this year, there is. Defensively, the core is not getting any younger, so make the moves to win now. That being said, this defense has always proved to be able to consistently keep the team in games. The difference has always been the offense. I never understood the trade for a franchise QB and make him do things that he doesnt do as well as others. I know that much was made of his in-game phone message for Mike Martz and that Jay should comport himself better. Whatever! Im stunned it took him a year and a half. Well thats all over now, with the promotion of Mike Tice and, finally, the addition of Jeremy Bates as an offensive assistant, Jay is now in charge. Hes also going to be working directly with two guys who know what he does best, and maybe more important, theyre two guys who Cutler trusts will put him in good spots and not leave him out to dry in repeated 7-step drops with a suspect line. Get used to the 3-step drop and the moving pocket! One of the things I took from the Super Bowl - I mean besides all of the chowder-head anguish!! was how similar I think Jay and Eli Manning are, right down to the facial expressions and body language that everyone seems to have a problem with. They both have big-time arms and are willing to show them off. They both are relentless. And in the pocket, while neither would be confused with Mike Vick, have an ability to move around to extend plays, sometimes to the consternation of fans and coaches with their creativity. What I like about that is that they dont quit and will do anything to make a play. I think Elis results speak for themselves. Can Cutler do the same? For a start, having some wide receivers would help. Earl Bennett is nice, as a 3, he cant be a number 1 guy. Someone like Vincent Jackson could be, and he should be available in a couple of weeks. The draft might be a nice place to look also. But the key here is not to bring in more waste of talents like Roy Williams and try to sell him as a number 1. Two receivers better than Bennett are the key. End of story. I cant wait to see what happens and like I said Im optimistic. What?!

And any February blog would not be complete without a pitchers and catchers reporting reference. When Im asked about the 2 teams in town, the thing Im most excited about is that they are about to start up. The thought of spring training just makes me smile. In fact, Opening Day for Major League Baseball is less than 50 days away. 50! Soon enough well be able to lament about the fates of the north and south siders, but for now, like any other fan, its exciting to think about what might be. Hope abounds! For the Cubs, I think Anthony Rizzo is going to be a fan favorite, I just hopes he lives up to his price. And although the era of a fan-favorite lefty has ended, is another one beginning on the Southside with Chris Sale? Reality will soon be upon us, but for now its time to dream the dream, imagine what could be, and, to be nice. What?! Im not sure, but I think this mild winter is making me soft! Dream the dream? Here? It will be back to normal here soon enough, outside and in.

Jace Fry, who still hasn't allowed a hit, is penciling his name into the White Sox bullpen of the future

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USA TODAY

Jace Fry, who still hasn't allowed a hit, is penciling his name into the White Sox bullpen of the future

The White Sox best reliever through the first 42 games of this rebuilding season? Undoubtedly, it’s been Jace Fry.

With Rick Renteria’s bullpen hardly the most reliable relief corps the game has ever seen, Fry has been a revelation, starting his 2018 campaign with 7.1 scoreless innings over six appearances.

And now things are getting a bit more dramatic for the 24-year-old lefty, a guy who’s been through a pair of Tommy John surgeries. He pitched some high-leverage ball in Saturday night’s 5-3 win, sitting down all four hitters he faced in the eighth and ninth innings while protecting a two-run lead.

“I was ready the whole game, just waiting for my name to be called,” Fry said. “But it was awesome getting in there in the eighth inning, even getting the first guy in the ninth inning. After I got him I was kind of hoping he’d let me keep going.”

Renteria uses his bullpen in a non-traditional manner, one that perhaps he thinks is a way of the future or one that’s a result of his lack of dominant options out there. Whichever it is, he doesn’t really have a closer but rather a host of guys he uses in those high-leverage situations, whenever they might come during the late stages of a game. Joakim Soria, Nate Jones and Bruce Rondon have all been used to get big outs late in games, and Rondon threw a scoreless seventh Saturday, with Jones getting the game’s final two outs for the save.

But it could be argued that most difficult outs were recorded by Fry, who put away the visiting Texas Rangers’ fourth, fifth and sixth hitters before getting the seventh hitter to strike out to start off the ninth.

Renteria steered away from dubbing Fry one of his new high-leverage guys after the game, but why wouldn’t Fry be in that mix? All he’s done since joining the big league squad earlier this month is get outs. He’s got 10 strikeouts, hasn’t allowed a hit and has just two walks as the lone blemishes on an otherwise perfect season line.

“It just happens to be that it was the eighth inning and the ninth that he pitched,” Renteria said. “I think he’s looking very comfortable in those. It happens to be the eighth and ninth we needed him. He’s been very, very effective. He’s been commanding the strike zone very well, confidently approaching his hitters. He’s got pretty good stuff.

“He’s able to command the zone. Along with that nice breaking ball he’s got to lefties and righties, it’s pretty effective. But he’s continuing to show you he’s capable of coming in and getting some pretty good hitters.”

Fry has been a rarity this season in that he’s appeared to be a candidate for a long-term spot in the White Sox bullpen. Jones would perhaps be the only other guy coming close to qualifying for that, mostly because of his team-friendly contract that keeps him under control a few more years, but he’s had some rough moments, even with his ERA dropping to 3.50 on Saturday.

Fry, though, is young and is dealing at the moment. He even got a shoutout as a potential long-term piece from general manager Rick Hahn earlier this week.

“Take Jace Fry, someone we haven’t mentioned when we’ve had this conversation the last couple of weeks,” Hahn said Thursday, discussing the positives he’s seen during this developmental season. “He’s shown up here and shown that he’s made some progress in his last stint in the minors and now, at age 24, seems like he’s ready to take that next step, and pencil his name in as part of what we’re building here going forward.”

There’s a lot of season left, and no one’s expecting Fry to keep batters hitless and opposing teams scoreless from now through the end of September. But this is a nice development for the rebuilding White Sox at the moment, a guy who’s giving them at least one name to put into that bullpen of the future.

How long can he keep this thing going? As long as he keeps getting ahead of hitters.

“Having the success is awesome, but I realize it’s the plan, the plan of attack,” Fry said. “I’m going out and throwing Strike 1 and getting ahead. Actually doing it, seeing it and having the process work definitely creates more confidence. Once you go back to the blueprint of baseball, Strike 1 is everything.”

Carson Fulmer's demotion and the current state of the White Sox rotation provide several rebuilding reminders

Carson Fulmer's demotion and the current state of the White Sox rotation provide several rebuilding reminders

Carson Fulmer getting sent to Triple-A following Friday’s game might be, to this point, the biggest development this season on the South Side.

Fulmer doesn’t carry the same expectations as higher-rated prospects like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen or Dane Dunning, but this is a top-10 draft pick who the White Sox still believe can play a significant role in their bright future. And he’s struggling. Badly. Once his ERA jumped up past 8.00 thanks to his third straight brief and run-filled outing, the White Sox made the decision to send him to Charlotte.

It leaves the White Sox rotation looking like this: James Shields, a struggling Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Hector Santiago and either Chris Volstad or the recently summoned Dylan Covey.

Four of those guys (Shields, Santiago, Volstad and Covey) don’t figure to play a role in the team’s long-term future, and Giolito is dealing with his own significant struggles, leading the American League in walks heading into his Saturday-night start. Lopez has been the rotation’s bright spot, but even he watched his ERA climb more than a full point after allowing six runs in two innings his last time out.

It’s not a great state for the rotation to be in if you, like the White Sox, have your sights set on the long-term future of this team, though it probably won’t look like that for too much longer. Still, it provides a few valuable reminders about not only this rebuilding effort but rebuilds in general.

This season is about development, and this is what development looks like

For better or worse, this is what development looks like. The White Sox own baseball’s worst record, and general manager Rick Hahn has been among the large number of White Sox fans to voice their disappointment over play that has been sloppy at times.

Fulmer’s struggles fall into the same category and serve as a reminder that growing pains like this are going to happen. We’ve seen it with Fulmer. We’ve seen it with Giolito. We’ve seen it with Lopez. Heck, we’ve seen it with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson, too.

But more than wins and losses, this is what this season is about. Hahn calls it “the hardest part of the rebuild” because it features guys getting lit up and games being lost. The hope is that Fulmer can figure things out in the minors and that Giolito won’t require a similar demotion to right his ship. And if everything turns out all right, then this will be an easily forgotten chapter in both of those players’ development.

In the moment, though, it’s another reminder that rebuilds take time and that the waiting game provides minimal fun.

Each player’s development has a different trajectory

Just because Fulmer is getting bumped down to Triple-A doesn’t mean he can’t still turn into a successful major league pitcher. Player development and rebuilds aren’t linear, as rebuilders like to say. And to expect every prospect to travel in a straight line from potential to big league stardom doesn't make much sense.

“We reiterate, ‘It’s not the end of your career,’” Renteria said Saturday. “This is simply a reboot, a reset. Ultimately, I think after the initial shock for any player, they settle down and they understand exactly what’s going on when you look at it logically and look in the mirror. I think it’s easy to logically look at it and say, ‘I need to work on x, y and z.’

“This is a good kid with a really positive attitude and a lot of confidence. I think he’ll look in the mirror and go, ‘You know what, I got things I can work on, I’ll settle in and get over this initial bump and get to work.’ Those are the guys that end up giving themselves a chance to return sooner rather than later and have success.”

Not all prospects pan out

The other side of that coin is the reminder that not every single one of the White Sox wealth of prospects will pan out. Hahn & Co. have prepared for that and built up an incredible amount of prospect depth, but when someone doesn't live up to expectations, it will be painful.

This isn’t to suggest that Fulmer, specifically, won’t pan out, but it’s to point out that not everyone will. That’s a crowded-looking rotation of the future with Kopech, Hansen, Dunning, Fulmer, Giolito, Lopez, Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease all competing for those eventual five spots. Rather than the White Sox having to make tough decisions about who will be left out, certainly a possibility, the developments of those pitchers might make those decisions for them.

Renteria is confident that Fulmer will be back in the big leagues, and there’s little reason to think that this is the end of Fulmer’s opportunity. But not every top-10 pick reaches All-Star status.

The future is on the way

The current starting rotation might have fans asking why the heck it looks like it does. But a month or two from now it will look drastically different.

Rodon makes his first rehab start Saturday at Class A Kannapolis as he battles back from shoulder surgery last fall, and he shouldn’t be too far away from providing a serious jolt to the starting staff. Not to mention, he’s a guy who as good a chance as anyone as grabbing one of those front-end spots, and with him in the rotation, things will look a tad more futuristic.

Same goes for Kopech, whose promotion figures to be coming at some point this summer. Given the hype and the expectations there, his arrival will obviously be a really big deal.

But regardless of the results either Rodon and Kopech put up in their first tastes of major league action in 2018, they’ll make the rotation into something that way more closely resembles the rotation of the future. There’ll be plenty of development left for the Hansens and the Ceases and the Dunnings in the minors. But a rotation featuring Rodon, Kopech, Giolito and Lopez looks a lot different than one featuring Shields, Santiago, Covey and Volstad.

Patience. It’s not much fun. But it’s necessary to build a contender.