Omar Vizquel

Yolmer Sanchez wants to win a Gold Glove, just like his role model Omar Vizquel

Yolmer Sanchez wants to win a Gold Glove, just like his role model Omar Vizquel

Yolmer Sanchez is a Gold Glove finalist. Expect him to be rather pleased if he’s named the American League’s winner at second base next month.

Our Chuck Garfien asked Sanchez last month what it would mean to win a Gold Glove. His response said it all.

“Everything,” he said.

You don’t need to get too far inside Sanchez’s head to know he takes pride in his sensational defensive ability. It’s evident every time he makes a slick play — at any position. He did it as the White Sox everyday third baseman in 2018. He did it as the White Sox everyday second baseman in 2019.

But there’s also a White Sox connection to his drive to be among the best defensive players in the game.

“I grew up watching Omar Vizquel,” Sanchez told Garfien. “He’s one of my role models. I always wanted to win at least one Gold Glove because I want to follow his example because he’s from Venezuela.

“I’ve believed in my defense since Day 1. That’s why I use Rawlings, because in the future I want to win a Gold Glove.”

That future might be coming real soon. Sanchez could be the favorite to win the award after he led AL second baseman with 11 Defensive Runs Saved. Only Kolten Wong of the St. Louis Cardinals, a finalist in the National League, had a higher number among the game’s second basemen.

Sanchez, should he win, would be the first White Sox position player to win a Gold Glove since his former manager, Robin Ventura, who won five of them at third base between 1991 and 1998. He’d be the first White Sox second baseman to win a Gold Glove since Nellie Fox in 1960.

He's got some work to do to match Vizquel, of course, who won 11 of them during his days as a player. Vizquel is currently a member of the White Sox organization, the manager at Double-A Birmingham.

Of course, Sanchez’s future is one of the areas in which the White Sox have a decision to make this offseason. In part because of that stellar glove work, Sanchez is projected to receive a raise through the arbitration process. The price tag for a guy who figures to slide into a bench role once highly rated prospect Nick Madrigal reaches the big leagues next season might be too high to keep him on the White Sox roster.

But even if that decision ends up with Sanchez looking for a new job, the White Sox still think quite highly of Sanchez as a clubhouse personality and, obviously, as a defensive player.

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Behind every rave review of Luis Robert is an example of his continuing education

Behind every rave review of Luis Robert is an example of his continuing education

You've heard it from Rick Hahn plenty of times: The White Sox young players are not finished products.

When impatience pops up on social media, when calls for the White Sox to make moves that will produce an instant winner, this is an important thing to remember. The rebuild is ongoing, not steps from the finish line just waiting for a superstar free agent to push things into the next phase.

And there might be no better reminder of that fact than Luis Robert. He's the No. 4 prospect in the organization and is constantly earning rave reviews from every corner of the baseball world for his five-tool potential. He's a reason, all by himself, to be excited about the team's future, and it's because of that that some fans wonder why he can't get to the South Side sooner.

But with every tantalizing scouting report about Robert — about his speed, about his defense, about his bat — comes another example that his education is far from complete.

Look no further than the recent news involving Robert out in Arizona, where for the third time in the past year or so, the center fielder is sidelined with a thumb injury. It's not supposed to be serious — like the one that delayed his 2018 debut until June — and it's not supposed to be long before he's back in the White Sox lineup, but it's also not the first time he's injured his thumb while sliding into a base. And it's as good an example as any that there's more development and more teaching to be done when it comes to the 21-year-old, who's only played in 50 minor league games in the United States.

It figures that sliding will be part of that teaching plan after this latest thumb issue. But that's not all.

Robert is fast. Really fast. You might remember this highlight from Arizona Fall League, when he used that speed and his general aggressiveness on the base paths to score from second base on a sacrifice fly.

But speed and using that speed wisely are two different things, so says Omar Vizquel. He was Robert's manager for a time last season at Class A Winston-Salem and is the new manager at Double-A Birmingham, where Robert will almost certainly spend some time in 2019, even if he doesn't start the campaign there.

"One thing is speed, and one thing is to know when to use it in situations. And one of the things with Luis is trying to teach him situations where he can take advantage of his speed," Vizquel said last month in Glendale, Arizona. "We don’t want him to go when a guy is pretty fast to the plate and is probably going to have a fastball. So he’s got to realize and learn those kinds of situations. We talk a lot about that. I know he can do it, I know he’s got some unbelievable speed, but if we can make him learn that aspect of the game, it’s going to be even better for him.

"He’s in the learning process right now with that. It’s amazing the raw tools that he has, even though that he hasn’t played this game for too long. And probably the language is also a barrier. It helped him out a lot that he is around guys that speak Spanish, also. He can continue, through the learning process, to improve."

It's happening in the field, too, where Robert's skill and aggressiveness means he's got range for days. But it's also led to something the White Sox see as a teaching opportunity. Take this seemingly awesome description of what Robert can do in the outfield.

"He’s an animal out there," Zack Collins said. "Ricky (Renteria) said that yesterday, he plays center field, left and right at the same time."

Sounds like Robert's got some ultimate range out there, which is true. But it was a different kind of comment from the skipper, who explained his thinking.

"The point to that conversation had to do with making sure you do what you’re capable of doing but still use the other facet of communicating with the corner positions," Renteria said. "There’s a way to approach fly balls in those general areas because you do have other defenders out there. And it’s something that will come with experience and time. We’re happy that we’ve got a guy that can cover the distance that he does.

"He’s ready to go. As experience and time starts to come into play, he’ll understand how to harness that aggressiveness in a very efficient way. And that’s part of the process. We’re really happy that, at least, that already is built in him, it’s just for us now to hone it in a little bit and I think he’ll do fine."

See? Robert might be generating "oohs" and "ahs" with the stuff he can do on the diamond. But that doesn't mean he's major league ready.

And the White Sox aren't expecting him to be at this point. They're expecting their player-development staff to help turn Robert into a major leaguer. That's what Vizquel, Renteria and others will be tasked with as Robert's career continues.

"He’s a shy guy," Vizquel said. "You have to know how to get to him because sometimes he feels bad that maybe he struck out or something like that. So you have to be slow with him, you have to know the time to talk to him about things. He’s been very receptive of information, and he realizes that he has still a lot to learn. We’re trying to help him with the language barrier and all that stuff. ... But he was great, he was pretty good on that last year."

Once Robert's raw talent can be turned into a more finished product, then the White Sox can reap the benefits as part of their planned perennial contender.

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Nick Madrigal is off to minor league camp, but how quickly could he reach the majors for good?

Nick Madrigal is off to minor league camp, but how quickly could he reach the majors for good?

When will (enter name of White Sox prospect) reach the major leagues? That’s been the question du jour during the South Side rebuilding project.

First it was Yoan Moncada. Then Michael Kopech. Now, for another month anyway, Eloy Jimenez. The same question will apply to Dylan Cease as 2019 goes on. But it’s asked in regards to each and every one of the White Sox highly ranked prospects, an unsurprising reality because fans — whether big supporters of Rick Hahn’s ongoing rebuilding effort or getting a little tired of waiting for it to produce a big league winner — want to see these young talents at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The latest? Nick Madrigal. After being selected with the No. 4 pick in last summer’s draft, he’s the newest headliner added to this collection of prospects.

But his ascension to the majors might be a little different from the rest. The White Sox described him as “the best all-around player in college baseball” when they drafted him. Then, after winning the College World Series with the Oregon State Beavers, he played at three different levels in his short time as a member of the White Sox organization, and he was pretty impressive, too, batting .303 with a .353 on-base percentage and striking out just five times in 173 plate appearances.

Madrigal was sent out of big league camp Tuesday, one of the first five cuts of the spring for the White Sox. It should be no indication of anything, really, other than the very obvious plan for Madrigal to begin the 2019 season as a minor leaguer. Whether he starts where he left off last season, Class A Winston-Salem, or joins that team’s former manager, Omar Vizquel, at Double-A Birmingham, it would not be at all surprising to see Madrigal spend the entire 2019 campaign in the minor leagues.

But, remember, this is “the best all-around player in college baseball” we’re talking about here. That designation would figure to make him more advanced than the typical prospect. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s expected to fly through the farm system, but maybe he could.

“I think I’m just going to play my game. They drafted me for a reason. I think if I play my game, then everything will kind of take care of itself,” Madrigal said last month in Glendale, Arizona. “It just depends on what the organization’s plan is. I’m not going to worry about any of that, I’m just going to go out there and try to play as hard as I can. I think everything kind of happens for a reason, and I’m just going to focus on my game.”

It’s that game, though, that could be what moves Madrigal quickly through the ranks. He hits for a high average, gets on base, doesn’t strike out and plays what’s been billed as Gold Glove caliber defense. The White Sox could use all those qualities at the big league level now, even if Madrigal as an individual player isn’t ready for that quite yet.

“I’m probably going to see Nick, yeah,” Vizquel said last month. “I don’t know at what point of the season. Obviously, he’s one of the biggest prospects we got. It was a pleasure working with the guy. There’s a lot of knowledge there, for as young as he is. Likes to ask a lot of questions. You can see that he wants to learn every day. The kind of player that you want to have with you all the time.

“His defense is awesome. He’s got quick hands, with good range. His arm is pretty good. And he knows where to be in different situations, so you don’t really have to be on top of his game. He knows what he has to do. He comes in and gets his work in. Great. Just love the guy, everything he does in the field.”

Madrigal said the White Sox drafted him for a reason, and that reason is that all those skills could align with the rest of the future stars of this rebuilding effort: the power of Jimenez, the five tools of Luis Robert, the flame-throwing speed of Kopech and the ace potential of Dylan Cease.

“There’s a lot of talent at every single level in this organization,” Madrigal said. “The few levels I was at last year, you could see how much talent from the bottom levels to the middle levels. There’s a ton of talent throughout the organization. It’s definitely exciting to have. Usually organizations have just one stacked team, but I think every level I was at, you could see how much potential (exists). And once it comes together it’s going to be pretty exciting.”

It does seem like the White Sox are already preparing for Madrigal’s arrival, in a way. They moved Yoan Moncada, the team’s starting second baseman in 2018, from second to third base this spring. Now, that’s a move that was made for multiple reasons, and the fact that it might be Madrigal’s eventual spot is not necessarily chief among them. Manager Rick Renteria said multiple times during the early weeks of spring training that moving Moncada to third could improve his focus, and by extension his overall play, both defensively and offensively.

But while Hahn said that moving Moncada was about Moncada more than it was about anyone else, there’s no arguing that there are now no impediments to Madrigal taking over as the White Sox second baseman when the time comes. Forget the awkward situation that was speculated about when Madrigal was drafted, one involving the White Sox having three players (Madrigal, Moncada and Tim Anderson) for two middle-infield spots. Now, the space has been cleared, even if that wasn’t the team’s main goal in making the move.

“Right now, let’s make it about what’s best for the players that are currently here,” Hahn said last month when asked about Madrigal’s potential impact on Moncada’s position switch. “Obviously, at the minor league level, we’ll do what’s best for Nick’s development. And somehow if it all wound up — and we said this at the time of the draft — if we have too many guys at premium positions capable of playing championship-caliber ball, it’s a good problem to have and we’ll deal with it when we get there.

“But moving Moncy to third is about getting the most production out of him going forward. We certainly believe very strongly in Madrigal’s future and what he’s going to potentially bring to a championship club at second base. But we try to put these guys in the best position to succeed today, and then ultimately if someone comes up and pushes them to a different position, we’ll deal with that at that time.”

So will Madrigal force someone out of a job before the 2019 season is over? With the way the White Sox have treated their prospects during this process, it doesn’t seem terribly likely. They’ve been patient with Moncada and Kopech and Jimenez, and they’re expected to continue to be patient with Cease and Robert and Madrigal.

But as Hahn has a habit of saying, the good ones can force a team’s hand. If Madrigal is as good as the rave reviews he received this spring, maybe his rise through the ranks will be a rapid one.

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