Frank Menechino

State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

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The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re wrapping things up with the manager and the coaching staff.

What happened in 2019

While it’s easy to cruise through the statistical production of players and determine just how well they performed in 2019, that’s a little more difficult when it comes to manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff.

In the end, managers and coaches are evaluated on win-loss record — or at least how close they came to meeting the expectations in that department. While the White Sox are a gruesome 83 games under .500 in Renteria’s three years at the helm, that’s not really falling outside the expectations he had when he took over a rebuilding club. So it’s pretty hard to argue that because the White Sox lost 89 games in 2019, Renteria did a poor job.

Truly, his performance as a manager can’t be determined until he’s managing a team with expectations of winning. Renteria more than anyone has been the one setting such expectations for 2020, spending much of the waning weeks of the 2019 campaign voicing his opinion that all this losing stops next season.

“I’m expecting that this is it,” Renteria said. “We’re trying to win. We talk about it, we’re going through it. I know there’s still some refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you, we’re coming in, we’re finishing this season, we’re talking about coming into next season ready to battle. Period. Exclamation point. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Renteria and his staff did plenty in 2019 to continue developing the team’s young players into the core of the future. But the skipper's most memorable on-field moment came in September, when even after he stopped making mound visits because of shoulder surgery, he went out to the mound and had an animated conversation with Reynaldo Lopez. Lopez made a habit of following up stellar performances with ugly ones, lacking consistency in a fashion that made even the optimistic Renteria throw up his hands at times. Renteria utilized that frustration on the mound in Detroit in an attempt to get some points across to the pitcher.

When it comes to Renteria’s staff, certainly they deserve some credit for some of the breakout seasons on the roster. Hitting coach Todd Steverson did offseason work with both Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson ahead of 2019 campaigns that saw them transform into the best all-around hitter on the team and the big league batting champ, respectively. Pitching coach Don Cooper helped oversee Lucas Giolito’s transformation into an All Star. Infield coach Joe McEwing worked with Moncada, who made a smooth transition from second base to third base.

But if the coaches earn some of the credit for the things that went right, they must also be mentioned alongside the things that went wrong. Steverson coached an offense that ranked near the bottom of the game in most categories. Cooper coached a starting rotation that finished the season with a 5.30 ERA. McEwing coached Anderson, who committed a major league high 26 errors.

None of that is to say those guys are wholly responsible for those negative outcomes. Just as the players have to be the ones to turn in the good results, they’re the ones who have to turn in the poor ones, as well. Steverson, however, along with assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks, will not be back for the 2020 season.

What will happen this offseason

The White Sox have already made their coaching moves this offseason, parting ways with Steverson and Sparks and replacing Steverson with Frank Menechino, who after several seasons on the Miami Marlins staff took over as the hitting coach at Triple-A Charlotte in 2019.

Menechino impressed the White Sox with his work there, spent September with the big league club and was quickly promoted once the season was over. At Charlotte, he worked with top-ranked prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, who both had fantastic seasons playing at three different minor league levels and figure to be everyday players for most of the 2020 season.

The change, in the end, seemed to be more about how the White Sox felt about what Menechino could bring to the table than a reaction to the offensive production from a team that didn’t have expectations of doing much more than it did during another rebuilding season.

General manager Rick Hahn announced that the rest of the staff will be back in 2020.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

There will be a change in the expectations game come 2020. That should be mostly because of the breakout 2019 seasons from so many young players, the pending arrival of Robert and Madrigal and the offseason additions anticipated to be made by Hahn’s front office. But if nothing else, the expectations, when it comes to Renteria, will be different because he’s already said they will be.

“I'm not going to make any bones about it, it's time to turn the page,” he said just last week, “it's time to get us to another level of performance. That goes across the board, it goes with all aspects of our game.”

And so judging him and his staff can reach another level, too, because it will no longer solely be about hard-to-define development but the cold, hard wins and losses. Plenty of fans have taken to Twitter and complained about Renteria during this losing stretch, suggesting he’s not the one to manage this team into a winning era, but those were conclusions that cannot be drawn considering the quality of the rosters he’s managed in his three years on the South Side. How can you judge a manager’s ability to contend when he doesn’t have the tools to do so?

That’s about to change, so there will finally be some actual evidence to back up either side of that argument.

It’s clear where the White Sox stand in that discussion. They’ve been praising the job Renteria has done for three years now, and they’ve expressed nothing but confidence that he’ll be the guy to get it done.

“When Ricky was put in that role, it wasn't with the idea that he was just going to be the right guy for the first stage, the stage that is coming toward an end here, or is at an end here,” Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “Obviously, the history and teaching and communicating and holding guys accountable is very important now. But even at the time we hired him, we felt he had the ability to not only set the right winning culture but to put guys in the best position to win.

“His ability to communicate with all 25 or 26 guys on a daily basis, to know where they're at, to know what they're capable of doing and putting them in the best position, makes us fairly confident that once that roster is deep enough and strong enough that he's going to be able to maximize the win potential with that roster when the time comes.”

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White Sox hoping new hitting coach Frank Menechino is another element of transition to contention

White Sox hoping new hitting coach Frank Menechino is another element of transition to contention

Rick Renteria doubled down on his declaration that it’s time for these White Sox to make the move to winning baseball.

Well, he’s said it so much at this point it’s less of a double down and more of an octuple down.

“I'm not going to make any bones about it, it's time to turn the page,” he said Thursday, “it's time to get us to another level of performance. That goes across the board, it goes with all aspects of our game.”

This is expected to be a busy offseason for the White Sox, and Rick Hahn’s lengthy to-do list means he’ll be addressing plenty of those aspects. But the first one addressed was the hitting coach, Frank Menechino announced Thursday as the replacement for Todd Steverson.

Menechino gets a promotion from the same job with Triple-A Charlotte, his role for the past season after the White Sox hired him last winter following five years in the majors with the Miami Marlins. From Hahn and Renteria on Thursday came plenty of compliments of Menechino’s ability as a communicator, as a teacher.

“He's got a very sound message about his approach to hitting and teaching hitting. He's an effective communicator in getting that message across to players,” Hahn said. “And he has a number of different tools in his box about how to get that message across and different ways to teach and effectively get guys to buy in to what he's preaching from an offensive standpoint. He's a very skilled, diverse teacher and that's going to serve us well over the coming years.”

While Steverson took a ton of heat from fans upset with the White Sox place at the bottom of the offensive ranks, the quality of the players on the roster will likely produce the seismic change there, not the removal of one hitting coach for another. The White Sox saw plenty of positive strides in that department in 2019, with Tim Anderson winning a batting title, Jose Abreu winning an RBI crown, Yoan Moncada blossoming into the team’s best all-around hitter and Eloy Jimenez blasting 31 home runs in his rookie season. Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal — who both worked with Menechino in Charlotte — had spectacular seasons in the minor leagues and are on the doorstep of the majors.

None of that, however, could keep the White Sox out of the basement in many of the most important offensive categories, runs scored chief among them. And so Menechino is tasked with continuing to develop the team’s core players into stars of the future as well as getting the team to hit better. Those things go hand in hand, obviously, and Hahn himself will share in that responsibility this winter when it comes to improving the roster.

As for Menechino, he’s got his own strategy for coaching up Anderson, Moncada, Jimenez and the like.

“You get to know them, you get to see what makes them tick, you get to learn them, see how they think, what improvements they want to make,” he said. “I’m a firm believer (that) it takes three years in the big leagues, roughly 1,500 at-bats, to figure out who you are as a big league hitter.

“Once these guys have the experience, ups and downs, all the different stuff, little adjustments here, little adjustments there, once you figure out who they are and what they want to do, that’s when you figure out what they will become. Once they have the belief in who they are and what they can become, now it’s my job to be their eyes to keep them where they want to be.

“And when I see things going bad, I have to have the relationship where I can approach them and say, ‘Hey you’re not doing this right, you’re falling back to this.’ So it’s getting to know them, getting to see where they’re at, where they think they’re at and want to improve on.

“You can have a relationship with a guy where you can go in there and get the best out of him. That’s kind of my plan with guys that have successful years. I ask questions. ‘Where do you want to be? Where do you see yourself? Who do you see yourself as?’ This is where you come together.”

It all rolls into the White Sox making the moves they believe necessary to take the next step, to make the jump from rebuilding mode to contending mode. How?

“Hopefully what it does, maybe it expands the underlying value of things we need to do in terms of getting on base more, and that simply means that guys are going to be more apt to be aggressive with their pitches, staying in their lanes, trying to do a little bit in terms of being more disciplined. I think it keeps the line moving, it allows guys to continue to improve upon their approaches,” Renteria said. “I think the way he connects to guys, as we've seen with a lot of the things we've talked about, seems to be a place that we need to go to. And that, coupled with, hopefully, some additions, will continue to improve us overall, give us an opportunity to be on the other side of winning and losing.”

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White Sox move quickly to name Frank Menechino new hitting coach

White Sox move quickly to name Frank Menechino new hitting coach

The White Sox did not wait long to name a new hitting coach.

A week after announcing that hitting coach Todd Steverson and assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks would not return for the 2020 season, the team named Frank Menechino as Steverson's replacement Thursday.

The White Sox hired Menechino, who they drafted way back in 1993, as the hitting coach at Triple-A Charlotte last winter, and after one season working alongside highly rated prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, among others, Menechino is now the guy at the major league level.

Charlotte led the International League in runs scored, ranked second in on-base percentage and slugging percentage and ranked third in home runs during the 2019 season. Robert and Madrigal were the obvious standouts. Robert, the top-rated prospect in the organization, slashed .297/.341/.634 with 16 home runs and 39 RBIs in his 47 games with the Knights. Madrigal, who like Robert played at three different levels, hit .331/.398/.424, striking out just five times in his 29 games with Charlotte. Menechino also coached Zack Collins, who had a phenomenal offensive season at Triple-A, finishing with a .282/.403/.548 line, 19 homers and 74 RBIs in his 88 games there.

After Charlotte's season ended, Menechino was with the big league team in the final month of the campaign. This isn't his first go-round as a major league hitting coach. He served in that role for the Miami Marlins in 2017 and 2018.

Menechino takes over a White Sox offense that featured several breakout performances in 2019 but still ranked near the bottom of the league in key statistical categories. Tim Anderson won a batting title with a .335 average, Jose Abreu won the American League RBI crown with 123 runs drive in, Yoan Moncada blossomed into the team's best all-around hitter, and Eloy Jimenez hit 31 home runs as a rookie. But the White Sox still struggled to score runs. Among AL teams, only the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals scored fewer runs. The Tigers, Royals and Baltimore Orioles were the only AL teams with a lower OPS than the White Sox. The Tigers, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners were the only AL teams who struck out more than the White Sox. The team ranked 25th in the major leagues in home runs and dead last in the bigs in walks.

"On the one hand, you expect talented players to perform well on the big league level. On the other hand, you can't take things for granted and guys need instruction and adjustments and occasionally some good luck to help get them to fulfill their potential," general manager Rick Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last week, asked about the disparity between some of the individual accomplishments and the team's combined hitting numbers. "Overall, we've struggled in a few categories that we want to get better in, and we know we have to get better in. But when you look at some of the individual top performers, you have to be pleased with their progress and feel really good about where TA and Yoan are right now and where Eloy is, even."

Improving the rest of the lineup will still remain Hahn's job, for the time being, as he looks to add both a new right fielder and designated hitter after those two positions scuffled mightily for the White Sox in 2019. But Menechino will be tasked with the continuing offensive development of Moncada, Anderson, Jimenez, Robert and Madrigal, as well as getting the entire lineup up to snuff.

That might sound like a lot on the plate, but if the White Sox are serious about transitioning into contention mode, that's the job description.

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