Rick Hahn

Is it time to start talking about Dylan Covey's place in the long-term future of the White Sox rebuild?

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USA TODAY

Is it time to start talking about Dylan Covey's place in the long-term future of the White Sox rebuild?

Rebuilds are sure to have their surprises. Maybe one of the big surprises of the White Sox rebuild is happening right in front of our eyes.

Dylan Covey is dominating opposing lineups, including a couple playoff-bound ones in the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians. He’s out-dueling some of the American League’s finest arms in Chris Sale and Trevor Bauer. He’s got a 2.29 ERA.

That’s about as big a surprise as you’re going to see on the South Side this season.

Seriously, this is a guy who had an objectively terrible 2017 season, finishing with a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings of work. He gave up 20 homers and walked 34 hitters. He went 0-7. And because of those numbers, he figured to be a total non-factor when it came to the White Sox long-term plans.

With a wealth of highly ranked pitching prospects like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease and a trio of young big league arms in Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, why would that crowded competition have any room for someone like Covey, whose first taste of the majors was a disaster?

Well, that’s why this has been so surprising.

“I’m just super comfortable,” he said Wednesday night after pitching seven innings of two-run ball against the visiting Indians. “With my mechanics, with my pitches. I’m throwing off-speeds for strikes, I’m throwing my curveball for strikes. It’s just all about comfort for me right now.”

A Rule 5 pick, Covey never pitched beyond Double-A before getting thrown into the major league deep end last season. That rapid acceleration in his timeline, forced by rule, was not helpful. While there were surely things he learned pitching at the big league level, it didn’t appear to be the level his development required him to pitch at in 2017.

So he finally went to Triple-A at the outset of this season, and it helped a great deal.

“I think it was really big because I came off of last year having a pretty tough year and I was able to work some things out down there and get to where I am now,” Covey said. “I just feel really good, confident and comfortable.”

One offseason and seven starts at Triple-A produced this? It’s been a dramatic transformation, not just in how he’s pitching but in the results he’s getting.

“Just strikes,” manager Rick Renteria said when asked what the difference has been for Covey. “He’s allowing the action that he creates in his pitches to work, and they’re more effective in the zone. So even if he’s trying to hit a spot and that ball dives, it’s got action. It allows (opposing hitters) to try to put their eye on it and try to put a swing on it and sometimes it gets a miss, sometimes it gets a ground ball, sometimes it’s anything that we need in order to get an out.

“Strikes create outs. Getting guys to swing the bat and trusting his stuff, he’s thrown a lot more strikes it seems like. They’re offering at a lot more pitches. His breaking ball, he’s throwing it closer to the plate now, more manageable. He’s able to mix and go to both sides of the plate a little bit. Some of them he hits or will miss off or run the other way. His action, his natural action, is what’s allowing him to continue to have the success he’s having.”

Covey’s got just six starts under his belt this season for the major league team, and things can certainly change as opposing teams do their homework. But this has been an unbelievable development for a White Sox starting staff that struggled so much through the first couple months of the campaign. Covey’s emergence, improved performance from James Shields, a consistently good season from Reynaldo Lopez and the return of Carlos Rodon have made for a pretty good-looking rotation at the moment.

The continued calls for Michael Kopech now have a counter argument: Where would you put him?

If this continues from Covey, where does he fit in this rebuilding effort? He’s 26 years old and is under team control through the 2022 season. A handful of good starts in a rebuilding season won’t make Covey a long-term fixture. And certainly that fleet of aforementioned youngsters will have plenty to say once they’re all major league ready. But that could be a while, so why shouldn’t Covey try to take advantage of the opportunity he has right now?

Rebuilds are full of surprises. And the ultimate determination of who is and who isn’t part of this team’s long-term future is performance.

“You’ve heard me say probably too many times that the baseball gods can be cruel,” general manager Rick Hahn said earlier this week. “Not everyone’s going to hit their potential. Some guys are going to get hurt, unexpected things are going to happen. There actually is a positive corollary to that in that some people are going to surprise us.

“We’re a team that is obviously in transition that is providing opportunities for a lot of young players. Regardless of their pedigree or how we acquired the player, whether it’s off waivers or through the Rule 5 or a major trade involving a former star, we have no biases as far as who winds up being the 25 guys that help us win a championship. So if one of these guys is seizing this opportunity and wants to etch his name in stone, so to speak, going forward, that’s fantastic.”

Fantastic. That’s what Covey has been for the White Sox so far this season.

Yoan Moncada has a lot of strikeouts, and the White Sox think baseball's umpires might be partially to blame

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USA TODAY

Yoan Moncada has a lot of strikeouts, and the White Sox think baseball's umpires might be partially to blame

Yoan Moncada has done a lot of things this season — see Tuesday night’s leadoff home run — that signal his status of an expected centerpiece of the White Sox lineup of the future.

But he’s also striking out a lot.

It’s part of the growing pains during this developmental season on the South Side. But after two more strikeouts in Tuesday’s game, Moncada is on pace to strike out 243 times this year, which would be the most in a single season in major league history — by 20.

What’s the deal?

Well, Moncada’s offensive game hasn’t been where anyone has wanted it to be since his return from the disabled list on May 15. Even with Tuesday night’s long ball, he’s slashing just .202/.246/.368 in his last 28 games, and 41 of his 90 strikeouts have come during that stretch.

But Moncada’s manager doesn’t think all of those strikeouts are the 23-year-old’s fault. Rick Renteria is putting some of the blame on baseball’s umpires.

“He’s got as good an eye as anybody in the game of baseball,” Renteria said after Monday’s game, in which Moncada added three more strikeouts (two were looking) to his total. “And sometimes he gets some pitches called on him that should not be called — flat out, straight up.

“It’s a tough job that (umpires) have to do every single day, calling balls and strikes. But this poor kid, honestly, I think he gets the short end of the stick a lot of times, undeservedly. But that’s just the way it is. You’ve got to continue to understand what the zone is for particular guys behind the plate, do the best that you can without getting outside of your hitting zones and, depending on the situation, knowing how to handle those types of strike zones.

“He goes up there with a very good eye. We just want him to start getting his timing back so he can start making more contact and take advantage of the bat speed that he has.”

And Renteria’s not alone. General manager Rick Hahn made some similar comments before Monday’s game.

“It’s funny because one of my good buddies in Major League Baseball deals with the umpires, so I don’t want to go too far down this path, but Moncada had some tough ABs over the course of this (recent) road trip in terms of balls and strikes,” Hahn said. “The challenge for him, the developmental element for him just this week is making sure he remains true to his approach as opposed to overreacting to some perhaps bad Strike 3 calls over the course of the last week.”

Certainly a lot of Moncada’s strikeouts have come looking: He’s got 29 strikeouts looking compared to 61 strikeouts swinging. Going off what Renteria said, Moncada has earned a bit of a reputation among White Sox fans and observers for his selectivity at the plate, and while a selective batter waits for the perfect pitch, some backwards Ks might be a byproduct of that approach.

But this could also, in part, be a young player learning the intricacies of the game at the big league level. And that youth might be playing a factor, too. As Moncada gets more experience, it could serve him well in this department. Think about a veteran player or a superstar in basketball getting more calls than a rookie.

“I think as you gain more experience, as people see him and understand that this guy’s got a pretty good eye,” Renteria said. “Historically, you’ve got a lot of hitters or pitchers over time — I remember pitchers getting one, two, three, four baseballs off (the plate). (Tom) Glavine, (Greg) Maddux, they get all. You’ll get hitters who take a pitch, they call it a ball, and you go, ‘ooh.’ All those guys earning, over time, their respect and the understanding of what is a ball and a strike from both sides, on the hill and at the plate.

“A ball’s a ball and a strike’s a strike. But the reality is you’re going to get some, you’re not going to get some.”

Moncada isn’t too worried about placing blame on umpires, saying he just needs to keep working at improving on a daily basis. Moncada’s had success and a lot of it at points this season. Before he hit the DL in early May, he owned a .359 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage over .500. It makes you believe he’s certainly capable of turning things around.

“The only thing that I can add is that I have to keep working,” Moncada said through a translator Tuesday. “Keep working and sooner or later the results are going to be there.

“Right now I think I will have to make some adjustments because I’m getting too many calls that, for me, are not strikes. They are calling those pitches strikes, and I will have to make some adjustments in order to take advantage of the situation or put the ball in play.”

Moncada’s development is one of the biggest stories on this major league roster this season. There’s no doubt he’s in a down stretch and that the strikeouts are piling up. But it’s the positive signs, like Tuesday’s home run, that remind you why this guy is such a big part of this rebuilding process.

“Everything is part of the process,” he said. “I’ve been working hard, and I’m going step by step. I have plenty of confidence in my approach. I’m pretty sure and pretty confident that things are going to turn out and going to be in my favor now.”

There'd be no better White Sox representative at All-Star Game than Jose Abreu, who 'would like to stay here forever'

There'd be no better White Sox representative at All-Star Game than Jose Abreu, who 'would like to stay here forever'

The White Sox are all about the future, all about youth, at this point in their rebuilding effort.

But there’s no better template for what the organization is trying to build than the 31-year-old who could be the team’s lone representative at the All-Star Game next month.

Jose Abreu was revealed as the leading vote-getter among American League first basemen Tuesday, a surprising feat considering his place on a team 20 games under .500 and on a team that doesn’t play in New York or Boston.

Abreu’s statistics certainly make him deserving, as he’s once again been the model of consistency with a .290/.350/.512 slash line that stands high above his competition at the position. But to understand how shocking it is that he’s leading the vote, know this: He’s the first White Sox player to lead his position at any point during balloting since 1996.

“It will be excellent because we play this game for the fans,” Abreu said through a translator Tuesday when asked what it would mean to be voted an American League starter. “To have the honor to represent them and they know what I’m doing, that is really big. If that happens, I would be really happy.”

“We’re pretty excited about that,” manager Rick Renteria said. “All of us, the coaching staff, are very excited. I’m sure the players are, as well. He’s worked really hard and has had some very good seasons. He’ll continue to have another nice season this year. It would be nice to see him there, get the chance to for the whole world to see who Jose Abreu is.”

Abreu has been extremely consistent ever since arriving from Cuba before the 2014 season, last year becoming the third player ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in each of his first four major league seasons. But he’s been to just one All-Star Game, during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2014.

“Those are the experiences you never forget,” he said about his All-Star trip in 2014. “You work for it, and at that time it was recognition for all my work, and for the journey to come to the U.S. and the majors.

“One of the best moments was when I met Derek Jeter, he was in his retirement year and it was a very special moment for me. Just being there, being around great players and having the opportunity to share the field and locker room with them was very special.”

The production speaks for itself, and it’s been enough to make Abreu worthy of an All-Star appearance at pretty much any point throughout his career. But to the White Sox, he’s so much more than a slash line and a collection of home runs and RBIs. He’s a model for what they want all their young players to be, an example of work ethic and how to go about one’s business. He earns rave reviews from every corner of the White Sox clubhouse, and it’s not difficult to see why the team would be especially excited to see Abreu earn this All-Star nod.

It’s also not at all surprising to see why they would want Abreu to stick around throughout this rebuilding process and be a key contributor on the next contending team. Of course, that would necessitate the White Sox inking Abreu to a contract extension, as he’s only under team control through the 2019 season. But that decision doesn’t seem like a difficult one.

“We’ve made no secret about our affection for Jose, and it’s not just based upon the contribution between the white lines, it’s based on what he does in that clubhouse,” general manager Rick Hahn said Monday. “I don’t think there’s a finer representative for what it means to be a White Sock or what we hope for our players to be on and off the field and what Jose Abreu provides us.

“Again, we don’t have to make any decisions on how he fits for the long term for a little while now. He’s under control through the end of next season. If at that point, before that point, if we haven’t come to terms on an extension we certainly will have time then to revisit that.”

For any other team in any other rebuild with any other veteran player, a season like Abreu’s and a potential trip to the All-Star Game might make him an obvious midseason trade candidate. But read Hahn’s words again. Does it sound like Abreu is a guy the White Sox want to deal away? No, it doesn’t. And it sounds like Abreu doesn’t want that, either.

“Right now I am with this organization. I am glad and really grateful for everything this organization has done for me. I would like to stay here forever,” Abreu said, “but right now I am just taking advantage of every moment, every game that I spend with this team. Hopefully I can stay here my whole career.”