White Sox

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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Eloy Jimenez not in Triple-A lineup: Is he rejoining the White Sox on Monday?

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USA TODAY

Eloy Jimenez not in Triple-A lineup: Is he rejoining the White Sox on Monday?

Is Eloy Jimenez’s rehab assignment over?

The rookie outfielder wasn’t in the lineup for Triple-A Charlotte on Sunday, a potential indication that Jimenez could be on his way back to rejoining the White Sox for next week’s series against the Houston Astros in the Lone Star State.

Manager Rick Renteria wouldn’t provide a more concrete update on Jimenez than “he’ll be back soon” when asked about the rookie ahead of Sunday’s game on the South Side. But a day earlier, he echoed the team’s hope that Jimenez would be back for the upcoming road trip.

Jimenez has been on the injured list since he sprained his ankle leaping for a home-run ball in an April 26 game against the Detroit Tigers. Add in the three games he missed prior to that contest while spending time on the bereavement list, and Jimenez has taken just one major league at-bat since April 21.

It’s a lot of missed time, and it adds not only to the work he’ll have to do upon return but conjures questions about what kind of effect roughly a month of missed time during his first season in the majors will have on his continued development.

“He's been down, what is it a month right now? It's not a huge step backwards,” Renteria said Sunday. “The reality is it's going to be about how quickly he gets back re-acclimated to all the work he's been doing previous to going down and then continuing to adjust.

“It's the games that are going to give him the experience and the things he needs to do in order to improve in different aspects, whether it's hitting or on the bases or in the outfield. It's the game action that will continue to be the test to see if the work that's being done is actually bearing fruit.”

Jimenez has not gotten off to the red-hot start some expected. The No. 3 prospect in baseball is has a .241/.294/.380 slash line and three homers in his first 21 games as a big leaguer. In five games on the rehab assignment in Charlotte, he slashed .318/.318/.500 with a homer, a double and five strikeouts.

Certainly, though, most fans and observers are confident Jimenez will be fine from an offensive standpoint. It’s the defense that troubles them, and the play on which Jimenez was injured is an example of why. Renteria said there will be plenty of continuing work on that defense as time moves forward, also indicating that Jimenez could see some time as a DH, if only to ease him back from his injury layoff.

“There could be some DH spots, but most of it right now, in terms of his playing time, I've got to manage it because he's been down such a long time,” Renteria said. “Even though he's gone down on the rehab assignment, he's been working, it's not like playing every single day. ... We want to make sure he's come through it well, and obviously if he's joining us, he's come through it well. But just throwing him out there every single day would be, probably, a little premature.

“He's got a lot of work to do. (Outfield coach Daryl Boston is) going to be pushing him in his outfield work. He's going to continue to everything that he has to on the bases, in the box. Everything that you do requires fitness and health, and in order for him to continue to improve he's got to be able to give the effort that's necessary to improve certain skill sets.”

Will we see Jimenez back in the lineup Monday in Houston? We’re still awaiting the official word. But if this is the end of Jimenez’s injury layoff, that’s great news for the White Sox and White Sox fans.

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White Sox still mum about Monday's starter as another option enters the picture

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USA TODAY

White Sox still mum about Monday's starter as another option enters the picture

Who’s going to start for the White Sox on Monday? They’re not saying just yet.

We know it won’t be Manny Banuelos, who’s on the injured list for what the team hopes is a brief stay. But someone has to take his turn in the rotation. Who?

“We're still talking about that as we speak right now,” was all manager Rick Renteria would offer up prior to Sunday’s series-finale against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Requiring a spot starter isn’t generally of so much interest, but given the fragile state of the White Sox starting staff and the dearth of major league ready starting-pitching depth in the organization, the pure mystery of this has become one worth following.

And considering how Banuelos has performed to this point — he’s got a 9.15 ERA in five starts — fans are looking for any other option that might be able to take his place on a more permanent basis. Given the White Sox liked Banuelos enough to trade for him over the offseason, they’re likely not ready to give up on him quite yet. But Banuelos has been through a ton of injuries prior to his current shoulder strain, and the ongoing negative results aren’t combining to make for a promising mix at the moment.

So what are the most likely options for Monday?

A simple bullpen day could be the most realistic option, especially if Banuelos is only going to miss one start, as he communicated was a possibility earlier in the week. That’s not the ideal way to kick off a four-game series against the Houston Astros, the best team in the American League. And of course it depends on how Renteria needs to deploy his bullpen Sunday. If Reynaldo Lopez can eat up a good chunk of innings after Lucas Giolito pitched all five innings in Saturday’s rain-shortened affair, then the bullpen — which is carrying an extra man with Banuelos on the IL — will be well rested and ready to soak up nine innings Monday night.

Then there are the two new faces down in Charlotte. Ross Detwiler pitched well Tuesday night (10 strikeouts in six one-run innings) and might find his way into the big league rotation at some point. Detwiler, who the White Sox recently plucked out of independent ball, hasn’t made a major league start since 2016. But he was on the hill for Charlotte on Sunday, so scratch him off the list of possibilities for Monday's game in Houston.

The White Sox added Odrisamer Despaigne to the organization Sunday. He’s a five-year major league veteran who was pitching for the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple-A affiliate until a little while ago. He made eight starts there this season and had a 3.92 ERA, with his most recent outing coming May 10.

Those two options seem less of the permanent variety, so maybe a spot start could be in the cards.

What’s pretty certain is that White Sox fans won’t get their wish to see Dylan Cease promoted to make his major league debut Monday night in Houston. Cease is pitching well at Charlotte, but as general manager Rick Hahn has said numerous times, when Cease makes his debut will have nothing to do with a need at the big league level and everything to do with when the White Sox feel he’s ready. The emphasis is on having Cease log innings at Triple-A and get experience pitching at that level. Described as being on a track similar to the one Michael Kopech was on last season, Cease is more likely to debut in July or August than May or June.

This isn’t a list of fantastic options, obviously, and that’s the point. The rest of the Charlotte rotation has been roughed up for huge ERAs or is currently injured, too. The guys at Double-A have a little more future promise and might be allowed to develop further, just like the White Sox are doing with Cease.

It might just be one spot start, but it’s another step in the ongoing saga involving the team’s starting-pitching depth, or lack thereof.

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