White Sox

Here's what the White Sox say Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal have to work on

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LAURA WOLFF/CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS

Here's what the White Sox say Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal have to work on

When Rick Hahn or another member of the White Sox brass says that your favorite prospect still has some stuff to work on before they can be all that they can be, they’re not lying.

That’s seemingly been a difficult concept to grasp for at least some Twitter-using White Sox fans, those who have taken their fury over a lack of a September promotion for Luis Robert to social media in recent weeks. Frustration is a perfectly understandable emotion for those who are watching this team lose more often than not and see a way to change that in promoting one or more of the highest rated prospects in the game. And it’s not at all unreasonable to suggest that these players would benefit from making the discussed improvements at the major league level.

But this isn’t the “should the White Sox have called up Robert or not” discussion. We’ve had that one.

This is simply pointing out that guys like Robert and Nick Madrigal, two minor leaguers many White Sox fans believe should have made their big league debuts months ago, aren’t finished products, that there are still things to work on. That’s the case for the young players already at the major league level, too, as Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito illustrated last season and Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease are illustrating this year.

It’s easy — and I’m guilty of it, too — to just look at a box score or a season stat line and say a guy’s ready for the next step. But those box scores don’t contain everything the White Sox player development department needs to know about where a player is and whether he’s accomplished everything they’re looking for him to accomplish.

Let’s talk about Robert first. Or rather, let’s let White Sox farm director Chris Getz talk about Robert first.

Robert was unbelievable in the minor leagues, finishing the 2019 season with a .328/.376/.624 slash line to go along with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 108 runs scored, 31 doubles, 11 triples and 36 stolen bases in 122 games with Class A Winston-Salem, Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. But as spectacular as those offensive numbers were, they alone do not translate to Robert mastering every aspect of the game. At least not yet.

“Luis had a tremendous year. Playing at three levels, and he didn't slow down. With every challenge we gave him, he seemed to perform even better,” Getz said Tuesday. “There's some wow in the numbers, but you dive in a little bit deeper, there's some things he does still need to refine.

“He's such an aggressive athlete, which works in his favor, but when it comes to making decisions at the plate, he's going to have to refine that a bit. Because we know when you get up here that pitchers are going to attack you a little bit different and see if you'll chase pitches out of the zone or swing at pitches that you prefer not to.

“He's a young player who can square up a lot of different types of pitches and drive it a long way, so I certainly get the excitement when he walks to the box. But it's about putting together a professional at-bat, which we feel like he's getting closer to.”

None of that is likely to sway anyone’s opinion over what the White Sox should have done with Robert. It’s not supposed to. But it doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Just remember back to last year, when Hahn said similar things about Jimenez, who had his own dominant season swinging a bat in the minor leagues. When he said there were still things Jimenez needed to work on, specifically mentioning improving on defense, plenty of fans rolled their eyes and screamed “excuses!” Then Jimenez started his major league career at the beginning of the 2019 season, and it was clear he needed to keep working on his defense. Hahn clearly wasn’t making that up.

And so when the White Sox talk about the things Robert still needs to work on, they’re not lying. They’re not making things up. There are things that Robert needs to work on, and there likely still will be once he’s a major leaguer.

“On the defensive side, he's getting more and more comfortable communicating with the outfielders out there,” Getz said. “He's an aggressive player out there that can cover a lot of ground, but it comes with making good reads, which is improving, and making good decisions and throws to certain bases, hitting cutoff men, which is all part of being a well-rounded baseball player.

“Conditioning-wise, he's gifted, in the sense that he rolls out of bed, he's a good-looking athlete prepared to go out there and compete. Now, playing a major league season is a different animal, in terms of nutrition and the type of training that works toward his game. We're going to educate him as much as we can to prepare him to compete, not only for a regular season but also for a playoff run.”

Madrigal? Same thing. He lit up the minor leagues in his own way, ending the campaign with a .311 batting average, a .377 on-base percentage and a jaw-dropping 16 strikeouts. But Hahn so often says that when the White Sox promote their players, they don’t want them to simply survive but to thrive. And there are things even a guy who only struck out 16 times in 120 games can improve.

“He's got elite batted-ball skills. We knew that going in. He's been able to continue to do that,” Getz said about the 2018 first-round pick. “It's really about continuing and being consistent with the approach. There are times where pitchers are going to challenge you a certain way. You don't want to take the bait.

“He goes up there, because he can hit so many different types of pitches, sometimes he can get overly aggressive. He knows what his bread and butter is, and he needs to stick to that and be disciplined. He's starting to understand that himself. He's positioned himself pretty well to come up here and be successful right out of the gate.”

Now, in light of how the White Sox handled Jimenez last season and how teams around the game are handling highly rated prospects, it’s impossible to ignore the service-time issues here. They once again apply to Robert and even Madrigal, just like they applied to Jimenez at the end of the 2018 season. The White Sox have not said and will not say that service time is a factor in these decisions unless they want to incur the wrath of the players’ union.

But the argument of gaining an extra year of team control is just better than the one involving a few weeks of big league experience, and so the team’s decisions should have come as no surprise. Is that fair to these players? No. But it’s also, for now, playing within the rules, and so it wouldn’t be surprising to hear a flood of descriptions of Robert and Madrigal’s readiness a few weeks into April next year.

That doesn’t mean, however, that what the White Sox said this month about these elite prospects still needing to work on their games is not true. Robert and Madrigal’s developments will continue once they’re promoted, and these items might remain on the to-do list. Or the White Sox might wait to see improvements in these areas before calling them up to the majors.

Either way, neither Robert nor Madrigal is a finished product. And Getz told you why.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Everything we learned from Rick Hahn at the G.M. Meetings

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Everything we learned from Rick Hahn at the G.M. Meetings

Chuck Garfien speaks with Vinnie Duber who is covering the G.M. Meetings in Arizona where Rick Hahn spoke with the media for the first time in the offseason.

Why Vinnie's big takeaway is "don't take anything off the table" this offseason for the White Sox (1:45), Hahn talks about signing premium free agents and the Machado experience (6:00), weighing defense vs. hitting for who they get to play right field (9:10), would they move Yoan Moncada from third base if they signed a certain free agent?(11:45), where are things with Jose Abreu (21:00) and more.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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No move is off the table for White Sox this offseason

No move is off the table for White Sox this offseason

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — What exactly will the White Sox do this offseason? If you have access to some truth serum, you’ve got a decent shot at finding out.

Despite the seemingly public nature of the White Sox pursuit of Manny Machado last winter, Rick Hahn doesn’t really talk about specific targets. So there was no word from the general manager Tuesday on whether there actually exist attempts to lure Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg or your heretofore unnamed favorite free agent to the South Side.

But there was one big takeaway from Hahn’s roughly 45-minute session with reporters at the GM meetings: No move is off the table for the White Sox this winter.

We’ve long analyzed whether Player X fits better than Player Y, whether the White Sox are looking for a long-term piece or should be targeting short-term pieces, whether it makes any sense to pursue a player who plays a position the White Sox already have spoken for, et cetera, et cetera.

Well forget about all those disclaimers. There seems to be no door Hahn’s front office is going to close in the name of improving this team.

Just go down the list of potential additions the White Sox could make this winter, and you’ll see what I mean.

Short-term additions are on the table

Are the White Sox, who have long touted the importance of long-term fits, still shying away from shorter-term additions? No. Long-term additions are better, but … 

“We're getting closer to the point where it makes more sense to have one- or two-year fixes in place. Ideally, we want to find a way to add to the core, guys that are going to be here for a long time and continue to grow with what we've already accumulated. In reality, that's a little easier said than done, so some of the improvements may come on a shorter-term basis.

“Yeah, we've gotten to that point where it does make some sense to add a couple of those types.”

Older veterans who haven’t always seemed like the best fit for a young, rebuilding team? Now that the White Sox are nearing their transition from rebuilding to contending, those guys become realistic options. On the table.

A trade for a player with one year of control (like Mookie Betts) is on the table

Would the White Sox trade for a player with just one season of club control remaining on his contract? Yes. Guys with more control are better, but … 

“You want guys who are going to fit for the long-term,” Hahn said. “We want to add a guy who's got a three-, four-, five-, six-year window of control, where he's going to continue to improve and he's going to grow with this young core. Those guys aren't so easy to acquire.

“Short of that, we're going to look for guys who can certainly make you better in the short-term but ideally have a little back-end control. If those don't exist, if we don't come across the right fit, then we'd be open to a one-year improvement knowing that with where we've put ourselves economically, we might have the ability to retain that player when they hit free agency.”

Interesting, considering the Boston Red Sox might be dealing away Mookie Betts in their quest to get under the luxury tax. Betts seems set on heading to free agency after next season, meaning whichever team acquires him would only be doing so for one year. But the White Sox could use a player of that caliber in their lineup and a player of that caliber in right field. Sounds like they wouldn’t exactly lack confidence in their ability to make his stay last more than just one year, either. On the table.

A right fielder who plays suboptimal defense (like Nicholas Castellanos) is on the table

Speaking of right field, just how important the White Sox add a right fielder who can play some defense? Very. But … 

“It’s a legitimate consideration. We don't want to send somebody out there and it's going to, you know, tax our center fielder too much or tax the pitchers too much by not making plays,” Hahn said. “So it's a legitimate consideration.

“I pause half a step because we have discussed some pretty good offensive contributors who might not quite be up to snuff to what you want defensively that conceivably at some point in the offseason we wind up saying, ‘They're the best option, so let's move on it.’ So I don't want to just say it's the end all be all.”

Interesting, considering that the top outfielder on the free-agent market fits the description of someone who swings a difference-making bat but might not be “up to snuff” defensively. Castellanos’ offense is not a question, and while his defense is probably not as bad as his reputation would lead you to believe, the reputation exists for a reason. Putting him in the same outfield with work-in-progress Eloy Jimenez would be less than ideal. But putting their bats in the same lineup might be too much to pass up. On the table.

A professional DH (like Edwin Encarnacion) is on the table

When adding a designated hitter, do the White Sox want someone who has plenty of DH-ing experience and could DH on an everyday basis? No. But … 

“We're not eager to get locked in with someone positionally who can only DH,” Hahn said. “I think having a guy who can fill that role but also go out and play a defensive position would be a net greater benefit. We're talking about generic, hypothetical players.

“If you're talking about a guy Nelson Cruz, yeah, you're OK with that guy just being a DH. If you're talking about lower caliber guy than that, then maybe you want them to add some defensive value, as well, to move them around the diamond and get other guys off their feet from time to time.”

Ideally, the White Sox would like some versatility. It’d be nice to have a Cruz-esque thumper at DH, too. One of those exists on the free-agent market in Edwin Encarnacion. On the table.

A player who plays position the White Sox already have (like Anthony Rendon) is on the table

And what about Rendon? He’s the top position player on the free-agent market. He also plays third base, the same position Yoan Moncada does. Moncada had himself a terrific year playing third for the White Sox. Would they change his position for a second straight season? They don’t want to. But … 

“In terms of moving Yoan, that's not a goal. We're not looking to move him,” Hahn said. “We think he's a really, really good third baseman and will be that for a long time.

“When we have players with flexibility and athleticism, you at least consider different permutations. We wouldn't be doing our job if there was a way for us to get better that we just ruled out because we have set at a certain spot.”

Interesting. Rendon seems like the type of player you rearrange your defense for. He’s one of the best hitters in the game and would accomplish the White Sox goal of adding a premium talent to their rebuilding project. Moncada’s versatility could play a big role in that. On the table.

Top-of-the-rotation pitchers (like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg) are on the table

What kind of starting pitchers are the White Sox looking for this winter? Top-of-the-rotation guys or middle-of-the-rotation guys?

“We have room for improvement in both spots,” Hahn said. “We'll continue the trade and free-agent market for all different types of starters, and any ones that we feel are going to make us better both short- and potentially long-term, we'll be in on.”

That’s extraordinarily all-encompassing, but instead of viewing it as the White Sox not saying much, view it as there being many different possibilities. Cole and Strasburg fit the mold of top-of-the-rotation arms, as do fellow free agents Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel. Zack Wheeler and Jake Odorizzi might be more of the middle-of-the-rotation types. All of them and more are on the table.

———

That’s a breakneck assessment of the situations, but the takeaway remains: No move appears to be off the table for the White Sox in this stage of the offseason, and that ought to have folks looking for big splashes at every turn pretty excited.

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