Joe McEwing

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 bench coach Joe McEwing's name brought up as Mets look for new manager

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USA TODAY

White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing's name brought up as Mets look for new manager

When the White Sox announced they parted ways with hitting coach Todd Steverson earlier this week, they added that the rest of the coaching staff will return in 2020.

But what if someone leaves to be the manager of the New York Mets?

Let's not go that far quite yet. But in the wake of Mickey Callaway's firing Thursday, one reporter brought up White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing as a name to keep an eye on as the Mets conduct their search for a new skipper.

McEwing has been with the White Sox for 12 years. He was the hitting coach at Triple-A Charlotte in 2008, the manager at Class A Winston Salem in 2009 and 2010 and the manager at Charlotte in 2011. He joined Robin Ventura's big league staff in 2012, working as the third-base coach for five seasons. He's been Rick Renteria's bench coach for three seasons.

White Sox fans got used to seeing quite a lot of McEwing, who managed a series and made mound visits for pitching changes and the like in the wake of Renteria's shoulder surgery this season. McEwing also serves as the White Sox infield coach, a role in which he's worked closely with Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada as they've continued to develop at the major league level.

McEwing spent more time with the Mets than any other team during his nine-year big league career, playing in Queens from 2000 to 2004. He was part of the Mets team that won the NL pennant in 2000.

With a couple big names on the managerial market, specifically former Cubs skipper Joe Maddon and former New York Yankees field boss Joe Girardi, the Mets might be looking to make a more sizable splash. But as that tweet mentioned, McEwing has come close to helming the Mets before. Something to keep an eye on.

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Is Tim Anderson silencing the doubters? 'He wants to prove that he is a shortstop and he's one of the best in the game'

Is Tim Anderson silencing the doubters? 'He wants to prove that he is a shortstop and he's one of the best in the game'

In the top of the 12th inning, he hit a go-ahead home run. In the bottom of the 12th inning, he made a spectacular play to end the game.

It was just one night in Kansas City at the tail end of a losing season. But Tim Anderson’s process of silencing the doubters might have hit a new high-water mark Wednesday.

Anderson has long been considered a key piece of the White Sox rebuilding project, and the team seems to have his name etched in as their shortstop of the future. But that hasn’t stopped a great many fans from projecting otherwise. They’ve guessed his future might be in the outfield after he led the majors with a whopping 28 errors last season. They’ve guessed his future might not be as bright as it’s been suggested after he finished last season with a .276 on-base percentage and 162 strikeouts.

This season, however, has looked quite different. He hasn’t exactly pulled a 180 from a statistical perspective. He's slashing just .248/.290/.420 and ranking near the top of the league with 17 fielding errors with 16 games left on the schedule. Those are obvious improvements from last year — during which Anderson spent much of the season battling the effects of the death of his best friend — even if they aren’t dramatic ones. But the main difference has been in Anderson’s play of late, particularly defensively, where he’s making plays (and impressive ones, at that) at a much greater rate than before and making fewer of the mistakes that defined the outlook many had on his future.

“I’d say (there’s been a growth) within the last two to three months,” said White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing, who works with Anderson every day. “He’s gone through a stage where he understands and he’s accountable for the mistakes he was making on the field. And now he’s able to sit back and learn from them and adjust, and he’s just running with it now.

“I believe he’s playing free. There’s not a weight on his shoulders. He wants to prove everybody wrong. (People say,) ‘He’s not a shortstop.’ He wants to prove that he is a shortstop and he’s one of the best in the game.”

General manager Rick Hahn has said multiple times that the young players on the White Sox major league roster aren’t finished products just because they’re on the major league roster. Anderson, along with the likes of Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and others, are still developing, still becoming the players they are projected to become when the franchise shifts from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

What we’re seeing now from Anderson could be another benchmark in his development. A guy who’s worked extremely hard in his three seasons in the big leagues could finally be seeing that work catching up.

“I kind of feel like the work finally caught up. I’m figuring out the glove and learning the position, figuring out how to play the position. It’s working, man,” Anderson said. “A lot of credit to Joe, he works with me every day and we get out there. It’s been good. Just honored and blessed to be in the position I’m in.”

There’s an obvious difference in the way Anderson is playing defensively right now, and it’s been pointed out by everyone in the organization. Pitchers have lauded how great he’s playing behind them, and in the midst of this losing campaign described by Hahn as “the toughest part of the rebuild,” both the general manager and manager Rick Renteria have pointed to Anderson’s defensive improvement as one of the big positives to come out of this campaign.

How has it happened? Again, work. The daily grind of the developmental process isn’t something that jumps out at any observer when a team plays every single day. But Anderson’s defensive development over the course of this season is perhaps as good an example as any of what the team’s big league staff is doing and how important their work is in crafting the planned perennial contenders of the White Sox future.

“I kind of challenged him and said, ‘I’m extremely proud of the progress you’ve made, let’s not stop, let’s not stop here, let’s take it to another level,’” McEwing said. “‘You say you want to be the best. What does that entail, as far as work-wise, maturity-wise, leadership-wise?’ I challenge him every day to be that leader, take over the infield, make sure everybody’s in the right spot, communicate constantly with each other. And he’s taken it to that level.

“I think he’s starting to understand his body more on the baseball field as far as what he can and cannot do. Before, it was almost, he was afraid to make that mistake. Now he’s just playing to where he’s not worried about making that mistake because he’s playing free.

“As far as understanding his body, he’s throwing from so many different angles now without fear. He’s confident in each throw, he’s confident where his feet are, he’s coming to get hops, he’s seeing hops better now to where (it’s either), ‘I’m going to get eaten up by that’ or ‘I’m going to go get it.’ I think he’s just understanding a lot more of who he is, and I could not be happier or prouder of him. He’s putting in the work every single day.”

There will surely still be plenty of questions heading into the 2019 season. Anderson will finish with new career bests in home runs, doubles, RBIs (he ranks second on the team in that category), stolen bases and walks, but he could finish with a career-low batting average and his second consecutive sub-.300 on-base percentage. He has more walks this season than in his first two seasons combined, but he also ranks in the top 25 in the majors in strikeouts.

But everyone you talk to in the White Sox organization sees improvement, and even from the outside it’s not difficult to notice, especially defensively. So when Hahn says that these young players aren’t finished products, he can point to Anderson as an example of the growth that can occur at the major league level.

And that ought to make fans far more bullish on Anderson's future — and the future of this entire rebuilding effort.

“Last year was a tough season overall, off the field. This year, it’s been great,” Anderson said. “I feel like I’ve been playing with that same energy all season and nothing changes. But I’m getting better.

“When I step over those lines, I feel like I’m the best player on the field, and that’s how I go about it. Nobody can beat me. I want to compete and be dominant every day, try to just go out and play hard and see what happens.

“Hopefully we can bring a championship to the South Side. We’ve got the pieces and got the players and got the guys down in the farm system. It’s going to be fun.”