It’s overzealous to imagine that any rebuild will produce a superstar as good as Mike Trout.
Baseball’s best player did his thing this weekend on the South Side, most notably with a five-hit, five-RBI, two-homer game Saturday night.
But while the White Sox rebuilding effort likely won’t yield one player that does everything Trout does and as well, there are players either already playing in the majors or still developing in the minor leagues that have superstar potential and superstar expectations. Other successful rebuilds have produced multiple superstars: The Cubs have Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez, while the Houston Astros have Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. Those top-billed players are of course surrounded by plenty of others who make those teams championship caliber.
The White Sox are trying to accomplish the same kind of thing.
We’ve seen that the mere presence of a once-in-a-lifetime player like Trout does not a perennial contender make. The Los Angeles Angels have played in a grand total of three playoff games and won none of them during Trout’s career, now in its seventh season. But what if the White Sox are able to stick one of the game’s best hitters in their lineup every day?
“Anybody would be happy to have the type of talent,” manager Rick Renteria said before Sunday’s game. “I’m sure that someday soon we’ll be able to do something like that and be very happy that we’re in that position.”
The most obvious candidate to achieve superstardom is Eloy Jimenez, baseball’s No. 3 prospect and the top-ranked prospect in the White Sox loaded farm system. Jimenez already has monster expectations after turning in a .337/.384/.577 slash line to go along with 22 home runs and 75 RBIs in his first full season in the organization. The fan base seemed to welcome each homer and extra-base hit this summer with calls for his promotion to the big leagues.
Fans — and most likely the White Sox front office, too — have been dreaming about slotting Jimenez into the middle of the batting order ever since he was acquired in the Crosstown swap with the Cubs last summer, and he figures to make his way to the majors relatively soon. The kind of power bat he swings could make for the kind of home-run show Trout put on Saturday night.
While fans have perhaps decreased their expectations for Yoan Moncada during his strikeout-heavy 2018 campaign, the White Sox second baseman is not far removed from top-prospect status and superstar potential. The team still believes he can achieve it, and the frequent flashes of brilliance coupled with Moncada’s still-young age of 23 make it look anything but impossible.
Trout has led baseball in on-base percentage in two of the last three seasons, owning the American League’s highest mark in that third one. He entered Sunday’s series finale with a staggering .465 on-base percentage in 2018. Well, that’s the attribute the White Sox point to when talking about Moncada, who had a .377 OBP with Triple-A Charlotte last season and a combined .407 OBP in the Boston Red Sox system in 2016. This season, despite a .223 batting average and a major league leading 193 strikeouts, he still boasts an on-base percentage above .300, thanks in part to a team-high 58 walks.
Now those numbers are hardly Trout-esque, but they do highlight what the White Sox believe is the best part of Moncada’s game, a part that could power him to eventual superstardom, even if he hasn’t exactly blown the doors off his first full season in the majors.
“This kid’s got a world of hitting ability, blessed with fantastic tools, power,” general manager Rick Hahn said last week. “The plate discipline’s one of the things that’s tough to teach, and he already comes with that. So the things that we do have to teach in order to decrease those strikeouts a little bit down the road, that’s a workable project.”
Heading back to the minors, there is another position player who could one day be a White Sox superstar: Luis Robert. Just 21, the Cuban-import center fielder still has only played 50 minor league baseball games in the United States. Thumb injuries limited his first full season in the White Sox organization, and he finished the year without a home run. But he’s been talked about as a player with many tools, with rave reviews about his speed, his glove and his bat.
The power, too, is expected to return, simply a side effect of the thumb injuries.
“I do think one thing to keep in mind about Luis is as we see all the time with thumb or wrist or hand injuries, that it does take a little time for the power to come back, and I think we’ve seen that,” Hahn said. “He’s swinging the bat well, we’ve seen that plus hit tool. The power hasn’t quite been there yet this year, but with two DL stints for a hand and for a thumb injury, that’s not a shock. I look forward to seeing where he’s at next spring.”
Is Robert heading for big league superstardom? It’s way too early to tell at this point, considering he’s played just 32 games at Class A Winston-Salem and is still so young and so inexperienced. But he’s ranked as the organization’s No. 3 prospect and as the No. 25 prospect in the game, and if the batting practice shows he put on during spring training are any indication, the guy can do some special things with the bat.
It goes to show how insanely good Trout is that discussions of each of these young White Sox reaching superstar status revolve around one or a few of the skills that Trout displays on a daily basis. Jimenez, Moncada and Robert reaching their potential and becoming among the game’s best hitters could still place them nowhere near Trout. That’s hardly a knock against them.
The White Sox, of course, would prefer to have multiple stars, if not super, on their roster if it means competing for championships on an annual basis, as opposed to the Angels’ situation, steaming toward another postseason-less campaign while Trout is once again in the conversation to win the AL MVP. And of course there’s the possibility of the White Sox producing one or more pitching superstars. Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease all have their own batches of star-level expectations and could lead a star-studded rotation.
Having a Trout might be out of the question for the White Sox — and 28 other teams around the game, for that matter — but they could be developing their own superstar right now to lead the team from rebuilding mode to contention mode. And once contention mode arrives, having a bona fide, one-of-the-best-in-the-game superstar in the thick of that lineup could mean the difference between contending for a championship and winning one.