The White Sox bullpen of the future has been assembled rather quickly.
Summertime trades shipping veteran arms out of town and the annual expansion of rosters that happens this time of year has rapidly changed the look of the relief corps. It’s gotten younger, and there’s a heck of a lot more potential for these guys to form the group that Rick Renteria will call on when the White Sox eventually transition from rebuilding mode to contention mode.
Seven pitchers under the age of 26 now reside out in the White Sox bullpen, with the majority called up in recent weeks: Aaron Bummer, Ryan Burr, Caleb Frare, Jace Fry, Ian Hamilton, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira. Most of those guys put up really good numbers in the minors this season, and as they get their opportunities here in the final month of the 2018 campaign, they conjure the idea of the White Sox potentially constructing a homegrown relief corps for the next roster that will compete for a championship.
“We have brought up some young men which we’re looking at now who show good arm, good command of the zone. We’re going to continue to find out more about them,” Renteria said Tuesday. “Hopefully we are able to put a lot together from within our own system, from the young men that we have and they’re growing into those roles, trusting that they have the stuff to do what they need to do in order to close out the back end of a ballgame.
“I think that the organization as a whole, Rick (Hahn) and the whole front office, has done a great job of the acquisitions and the drafting, so now we’re starting to see some of these kids and they’re pretty exciting to watch.”
The numbers from the minor leagues have been eye-popping for some of these newcomers. Hamilton had a 1.74 ERA with Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Burr had a 2.45 ERA with those two teams. Bummer had a 2.64 ERA at Charlotte. Frare, acquired in a July trade with the New York Yankees, had a 0.78 ERA between the two organizations. Ruiz, called up Tuesday, had a 3.07 ERA with Class A Winston-Salem and Birmingham. And Fry, who’s been in the majors for most of the season, has a 2.38 ERA since the beginning of August.
Zack Burdi, who many fans and observers are predicting could be the team’s closer of the future, remains on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery and therefore hasn’t reached the South Side yet. But the arrival of all these other relievers could signal the assemblage of much of the bullpen of the future.
It ought to have rebuild-loving White Sox fans feeling very good.
“It is something incredible,” Ruiz said through a team translator Tuesday. “I’ve been playing with all of them in the minors, in Double-A, and I know the talent that they have. I think they’re going to have a really good challenge and really good competition between us just to try to see who can do a better job. It’s going to be something good for us to see who has the best stuff, in a good way. We all have very good stuff and we’re all very talented.”
Competition has been a theme for this group. Burr has used the phrase “competition breeds success” a few times since getting called up, and it’s intriguing to think about what competition among these guys will yield.
Much like the starting staff has talked about the friendly competition going on there, competition in the ‘pen could help Renteria and his staff define roles for the 2019 campaign. For a team that’s operated without a closer since Joakim Soria was traded away before the July 31 deadline, finding some set roles at the end of games could be very beneficial. And competition between all these young arms is what could do just that.
“I'm hoping, amongst all the men we have here, if there is a defined role as a closer that we ultimately maybe have it come from within our system,” Renteria said. “We’ve been debuting a lot of guys in that role this year, I think we’ve had nine guys close out games for us this year. I think we’re in that stage now where we have an opportunity to see these guys work, see them work under different circumstances and see how they respond, see how they react.
“And hopefully amongst the group we find those leverage situation pitchers for us working from the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. That’s what we’re trying to find out.
“When you have depth in the organization and there’s competition for roles in your position, you don’t have time to let down. There’s an edge that you have to develop in order to be able to compete. It’s nice for us as an organization to be having the competition that they’re having amongst each other, to show each other what they’re capable of doing. That’s really an important piece.
“That sense of urgency beyond just being here and competing against another club and trying to win a ballgame on a daily basis, but knowing that, ‘Hey man, if I don’t perform there’s a chance somebody else is going to be able to do what I need to do.’ That’s a pretty important piece of the puzzle.”
Speaking of puzzles, Renteria will have an interesting one to solve on a daily basis as all these young pitchers simultaneously audition for important roles in next season’s relief corps. Fortunately he’s got a lot of pieces to choose from, pieces that will be trying to one-up the guys around them. And if Burr’s maxim proves correct and competition does indeed breed success, then the White Sox bullpen of the future could wind up a strength of the team of the future.