At this point, it seems like we’re receiving news of another significant injury to one of the White Sox highly touted prospects every couple of days.
Half of the organization’s top 12 prospects are currently injured: No. 1 prospect Eloy Jimenez on the disabled list with a strained adductor muscle, No. 3 prospect Luis Robert expected to miss several more weeks with sprained thumb, No. 6 prospect Dane Dunning expected to miss several more weeks with an elbow sprain, No. 9 prospect Jake Burger out for the remainder of the season and perhaps beyond after suffering a pair of Achilles tears, No. 10 prospect Micker Adolfo out for the next eight to 10 months after having Tommy John surgery and No. 12 prospect Zack Burdi still recovering from his own Tommy John surgery and yet to throw a pitch in 2018.
That’s a lot of injuries.
It’s bad news, obviously, for a team that has invested so much in its minor league system, a team that’s been able to get its fans to buy in to the idea of waiting for all these guys to develop and turn a rebuilding organization into a contending one on the South Side.
But is this the rebuild-altering kind of bad news? Do all these injuries throw Rick Hahn’s rebuilding effort off course? Do they, at the very least, change when this team is expecting to be competitive?
The short answer to all those questions, per Hahn, is no.
“No, it doesn’t,” Hahn said Tuesday, asked if all these injuries will alter the team’s planned contention window. “It’s been precisely that, a window. So it’s not like a start date that we need it to be: on this specific time on this specific date we need to be ready to win. It’s more, during this time frame we expect to be in a position to contend annually.
“Obviously on certain players who haven’t been able to give us full seasons, the jury might still be out going into next offseason on exactly how and when they matriculate to being contributing big leaguers on a championship club. But in general, the breadth and the depth of the prospects and the ceilings of the prospects still keeps us on relatively the same time frame that we put out there.
“Until these guys get to Chicago, though, and are performing in Chicago and we’ve augmented them properly through free agency or trades, it’s impossible to say they’re going to start winning on this date. There’s still work that needs to be done.”
It’s become more apparent as this season has gone on that the White Sox might still have a couple years to go in this process before they are contending for championships of any kind. The big league team is 31 games under .500 as of this writing. Young players like Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada have gone through dramatic struggles in their first full tastes of the majors. And even some of the minor leaguers who were generating the most excitement when the season began have failed to find the kind of consistency that would shoot them through the system and to the South Side.
And, too, injuries have stolen away valuable developmental time for a lot of these players.
Even though the team is fully expecting Burger to develop into the player they thought he’d be when they used their first-round pick on him last summer, Burger being robbed of his first full professional season started a conversation outside the walls of Guaranteed Rate Field about the future at third base.
Much fanfare accompanied Robert’s signing last summer. But prior to this season, he’d still yet to play a game of minor league baseball in the United States. Then he missed months at the start of this season, and he’s in the middle of another shelving that could also, perhaps, last multiple months. Missing that time could take away an important year of the development the White Sox thought he’d have by the time next season begins.
Hahn is correct, though, in saying that there is no set date for when this team expects to be finished rebuilding. That always has depended on the development of the players in the minor leagues, regardless of their injuries, and it will still depend on that moving forward. With it looking like the team is still a couple of years away, the players have the blessing of time to get over these injuries and continue their development.
In other words, injuries to guys in the lower levels of the minor leagues are not what have knocked the White Sox out of contention for the 2019 American League Central title.
And the White Sox have also installed a sort of safety net for injuries like these with all the talent they’ve added to the system over the last couple years. It’s certainly not good that the injuries are happening to the highest-ranked players in the organization. But think of how many players who play the same positions as the guys who are hurt are having big years. Jimenez and Robert and Adolfo are on the shelf, but Blake Rutherford and Luis Gonzalez and Joel Booker are tearing things up. Dunning is injured, but Dylan Cease is having a tremendous season.
Depth has come into play. And though it might not be quite as necessary once these players are big league ready, it shows that the White Sox are prepared — or trying to be prepared, anyway — for when the inevitable happens and baseball players have to miss time.
“It’s been a tough year from a health standpoint,” Hahn said. “At the same time we know a couple things. If you have a great number of prospects, a great number of young players that people are interested in, the odds of some of them or multiple of them getting hurt are higher. Just the nature of the business.
“At the same time, I think it reinforces some of the tenants or mantra you’ve heard us repeat from the start of this entire rebuild going back the last 18 months. We need to build depth, we need to build enough redundancy within our own system, so when things like this happen, we have alternatives. We don’t want any player to get hurt, but we want to put ourselves in a position to have enough premium talent on hand that we can fill whatever voids are created by these setbacks.”
It’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned about these injuries, considering the amount of focus that’s on these young players and the impact they’re expected to have on the future of this franchise. Missing developmental time now could have its effects a year or two or three from now.
But there’s no rush to get these players, even the healthy ones, to the major leagues. Time is on the White Sox side. Even if luck hasn’t been this year.