White Sox

Aaron Rowand heaps praise on special group of White Sox outfield prospects

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USA TODAY

Aaron Rowand heaps praise on special group of White Sox outfield prospects

They're coming.

We don't know when, but we do know this: They're coming.

They are a special group of White Sox minor league outfielders who are making their way to the big leagues. It's a train of prospects from Charlotte to Kannapolis chugging down the tracks dreaming about a one-way ticket to Chicago.

As the White Sox minor league outfield instructor, Aaron Rowand is a conductor on this train, doing whatever he can to make sure all of them reach the ultimate destination.

Unfortunately, there are only three starting spots in the White Sox major league outfield. That's a problem for another day.

In the meantime, Rowand's job is to get them ready for the bright lights of the big leagues. He's been up close and personal with all of these players, a group that includes seven of the White Sox top 14 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.

It's a dam that at some point might burst.

We might see select games, various video clips and statistics in a box score. What does Rowand see?

"As far as outfielders go, I challenge you to find another organization with as much talent in the outfield in their minor league system," Rowand said on the White Sox Talk Podcast.

In a 35-minute interview with myself and Ryan McGuffey, Rowand went in depth about many of the White Sox top outfielders, giving us keen insight into who they are as players and competitors. White Sox fans, you're going to like what you hear. But first, some of the highlights.

On Eloy Jimenez: "I asked him point blank, 'You're already a great hitter and I know you want to be better, but do you think you can elevate your outfield game?' And he said, 'I want to be a great outfielder.'

"And I said, 'That's what I wanted to hear.' He's got the talent level and the mental makeup and the maturity in his approach to be a superstar. He's got that in him. I'm not going to label him as anything or compare him to anybody because he still has to go and do it, but the talent level and the maturity of his at-bats and his makeup mentally is off the charts."

On Luis Robert: "I don't think people even know where his ceiling is yet. He has off-the-chart tools in every aspect: throwing, hitting, defense, hitting for power, speed. When people talk about a five-tool player, he's the epitome of that. He's another one like Eloy. They were really good for each other playing together this spring. They hung out together, talked a lot together. He's got that chip on that shoulder, that drive. He comes to work everyday and takes it seriously. He takes learning English very seriously. He comes out every day trying to prove that he's the best one out on that field. When he's healthy, it's pretty impressive to see what he can do."

On Steele Walker: "I think Chicago is going to fall in love with him when he gets there. His intensity on the field is second to none compared to anybody else that you would try to compare him with. He kind of has that flair to him.

"All of his teammates love him, all the instructors love him. I'm lucky enough to get to work with him every day. He's always got a smile on his face. He's out there to work, but he knows how to have a good time when the time is right. He brings a lot of laughter and excitement to all the drills and all the games that he's a part of."

On Luis Gonzalez: "He's come a long way (defensively). He communicates more out there. He runs the outfield defense from center field a lot better. He's in tune with the game more. He's reading swings and bat angles. His routes have gotten a ton better. He puts his head down and goes. Defensively, he's one of the top guys that we have in the organization, and that doesn't even speak to his offense. He's got something working right now. He's down here at Instructional League. Every time he goes to the plate, you feel like he's going to hit a rocket somewhere. He's an even-keeled kind of guy. He doesn't ride the emotional wave of making an 0-for or getting too high when he gets two hits one day. He's very level-headed and another guy who's very consistent."

Rowand also spoke about Blake Rutherford, Luis Basabe, Micker Adolfo, Alex Call and many others. We asked him what outfielder other than Jimenez could make it to the majors in 2019. Rowand's answer might surprise you.

Listen to the podcast here:

Jose Abreu's stance on Manny Machado: 'It would be very good for us to have him, but if we don't have him, then we will be good, too'

Jose Abreu's stance on Manny Machado: 'It would be very good for us to have him, but if we don't have him, then we will be good, too'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Abreu would love to retire a runner at first base on a throw from Manny Machado next season.

But he’s not going to be dejected if instead Machado is the runner being retired.

The slugger’s stance on the still-undecided free-agent superstar is pretty much the same as the rest of his teammates and his team in general: Machado would be an awesome addition for the White Sox, but the franchise’s fates don’t rest on the decision.

White Sox fans can get on board with at least the first half of that, and they’ll be happy to know that Abreu was part of the team’s meeting with Machado back in December.

“It was an outstanding conversation,” Abreu said through a team translator Monday at Camelback Ranch. “Ricky (Renteria) and I talked to him. We talked to him about the organization, our plan, what we want to accomplish here. And he got it. He understood that.

“Right now it’s just see and wait what his decision’s going to be. We talked with him, and he was open, we were open to all his questions. We answered them. I think it was a very, very good conversation.”

The mere fact that Abreu was there as a player representative speaks volumes about how highly the White Sox think of him, which is nothing new. It might also speak to their impending decision on whether to sign Abreu to an extension. Would the organization want Abreu pitching Machado on joining the rebuilding effort if he wasn’t going to be a part of it past 2019? Just a thought.

It’s the other half of Abreu’s position on the 26-year-old superstar, though, that hungry fans might not be quite as excited about. But it’s what Rick Hahn and other members of the organization have been saying all along. The team’s future does not hinge on Machado deciding to play on the South Side. There’s still a bevy of young players acquired during this rebuilding process that are planned to form the core of a perennial championship contender.

Machado heading somewhere else won’t magically lower the ceilings for Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, Dane Dunning or Nick Madrigal.

Abreu knows that. He’s watching those guys on a daily basis during spring training and acting as a mentor for the ones who have already made it to the major leagues.

“We would like to have him,” Abreu said of Machado. “We would like to have him, definitely. He’s a very good ballplayer. But if we don’t get him, I think we’re going to be OK, too, because we have guys with talent that can play and that help this team to win games, too. It would be very good for us to have him, but if we don’t have him, then we will be good, too.”

Again, that might be a tougher sell for White Sox fans clamoring to get Machado in black pinstripes, especially if 2019 is another mostly developmental campaign with a less-than-pleasing win-loss record. But the future is undoubtedly bright whether Machado comes or not, with a stream of highly touted minor league talent making its way through the system and more opportunities for adding “premium talent” from outside the organization down the road.

Abreu’s hoping Machado comes. But he’s hoping to be here regardless, again reiterating his desire to be with the White Sox forever. He knows what’s coming and told Machado about it. And so he’s just waiting, like everyone, for Machado to finally make up his mind.

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White Sox newcomer Jon Jay is honoring Michael Jordan with his new jersey number

White Sox newcomer Jon Jay is honoring Michael Jordan with his new jersey number

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s been 25 years since Michael Jordan famously wore No. 45 during his attempt to become a Major League Baseball player with the White Sox.

Now, a quarter century later, Jordan’s No. 45 is making a comeback — thanks to new White Sox outfielder Jon Jay.

Jay — who was born March 15, 1985, during Jordan’s rookie year with the Bulls — has been a die-hard Jordan fan his whole life. Soon after signing with the White Sox this offseason, he decided to honor his basketball hero by wearing Jordan’s old baseball number with his new team.

“Every year, I always have different numbers bouncing around from different teams. I kind of pay tribute to someone in my family. I’ve worn numbers for people who have passed away in my life before. This year coming to the South Side I said, 'Let’s see if someone is wearing 45,' and it was available so it’s cool,” Jay said.

Growing up in Miami, Jay fondly remembers the day he saw Jordan play in person when the Bulls came to town to play the Heat.

“I remember, I was 8 years old. I think it was ‘93,” Jay said. “That was pretty cool.”

Jay isn’t the first White Sox player to wear No. 45 since Jordan did it in 1994. Carlos Lee wore it from 1999 to 2004. Bobby Jenks had it from 2005 to 2010. There’s also been Dave Righetti (1995), Jeff Abbott (1997 and 1998), Derek Holland (2017), Gregory Infante (2018) and four others.

But none of them wore No. 45 for His Airness like Jay, who has always admired how Jordan changed careers in his prime at the age of 31.

“Hearing the story later on, it’s truly remarkable that somebody could stop in the middle of being the best and play baseball for a bit and then go back to being the best,”  Jay said about Jordan, who after playing for the Double-A Birmingham Barons went on to win three more NBA titles with the Bulls. “I’ve always admired his work ethic and all those little things you hear about how intense he was in practice and just the competitor he was, and that’s something I always try to instill in myself.”

Jordan, who celebrated his 56th birthday Sunday, struggled in his one season in the minor leagues. He slashed .202/.289/.266 with three home runs, 51 RBIs and 30 steals in 436 at-bats.

If it wasn’t for being the greatest basketball player on the planet, Jay believes that Jordan would have made it to the majors.

“People don’t realize how hard it is to hit a baseball. You can sit there and you watch and you think, 'I can do that,' but it’s a lot tougher than that it looks,” Jay said. “You see Michael hadn’t played baseball in forever, and he did it. I truly believe that if he would have been playing baseball his whole life and continued it in college, he’s that good of an athlete, he definitely could have been in the show.”

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