GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not every player who’s going to contribute to the next White Sox world championship is on the list of the organization’s top prospects. Not every player who’s going to contribute to the next White Sox world championship will be in the clubhouse for that champagne celebration.
Some of them are here now, in the days leading up to the transition from rebuilding to contending, helping to develop the players who will get their hands on that trophy.
Ivan Nova figures to be one of those guys. He was acquired this winter in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates and has just one year left on his current contract. While Nova could surprise and turn in the kind of season that generates plenty of interest next winter, the White Sox rotation of the future is a crowded one full of exciting young arms: Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Reynadlo Lopez, Dane Dunning.
And so one of Nova’s main tasks this season is to be the veteran presence those guys need to develop into championship-caliber starting pitchers.
“I'm looking forward to watching him throw, talking to him,” Giolito said Thursday at Camelback Ranch. “He's a strike-thrower, he fills up the zone. That's what we need to do as a starting staff, so it's amazing we have a guy like that come in, fill up the zone.
“I'm looking forward to picking his brain, see how he attacks hitters and learn some more stuff from him.”
Giolito was one of the players most receptive to the player who filled this role last season, James Shields. Shields was the final player acquired during the “prebuild” days, but he had plenty of value once the White Sox transitioned to a full rebuild and acted as a mentor type to starting pitchers like Giolito.
This year, Nova’s that guy.
“Just like Shields last year, having a guiding force,” Giolito said. “And not just him, we picked up a few guys. I’m just in the beginning stages of meeting them, getting to know them. But, yeah, just having a few guys like that who can guide us in the right direction. Young guys, we’re kind of all over the place sometimes. So guys that can keep us grounded and keep us locked in and kind of show us the way about being a professional, being a big leaguer.”
“Really similar (to what Shields did last year),” manager Rick Renteria said Thursday. “Eat up some innings. Give us quality starts. Keep us in ballgames and allow us to hopefully get some back-end-of-the-bullpen situations. … A very well spoken young man. A professional. He gets after it, has a looseness to him, has been around the block on several organizations. He brings in experience and the ability to communicate with everybody across the board.”
So that’s what the White Sox are expecting from Nova. How does he feel about all that?
He joined the organization with a reputation as a great clubhouse presence and a mentor type to young pitchers in Pittsburgh. Clint Hurdle, the Pirates’ manager, raved about Nova after the trade during the Winter Meetings, calling him “a good pitcher and a good man” and “the definition of a pro.”
It seems Nova is ready to carry that over to the South Side.
“You can’t be shy. You’ve got to be yourself,” Nova said Thursday. “I’m probably new for a lot of these guys, but there are other guys I’ve seen in the past from playing against each other. So it’s not difficult.
“If I’ve got to approach somebody, I’ll do it my way. I’m not a type of guy that’s going to step up in front of everybody and say something. I don’t like to get involved in anyone’s personal space. But if I’ve got to say something to someone, I’m going to grab them aside and do it that way.”
While many White Sox fans will associate Shields with the trade of Fernando Tatis Jr. (now the No. 2 prospect in baseball) and the 92 home runs he gave up in two and a half seasons on the South Side, he was quite good in 2018, one of just 13 pitchers to log 200 innings.
If the White Sox can get that kind of on-field performance and the same type of off-field value that Shields provided out of Nova in 2019, they would figure to be happy with that.
Short-term contract. Long-term benefit.