White Sox

How does the recent spate of injuries to top prospects affect the White Sox rebuild?

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USA TODAY

How does the recent spate of injuries to top prospects affect the White Sox rebuild?

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.

Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

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USA TODAY

Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

Gerrit Cole is rightfully at the top of many White Sox fans' free-agent wish list. But might those hopes already need adjusting?

Cole looks to be on track to land the richest pitching contract in baseball history when he hits free agency after the Houston Astros' playoff run is over. The White Sox are shopping for starting pitching, and what team wouldn't love to top their rotation with the guy who might be awarded the AL Cy Young?

But whether or not you're part of the Twitter-using faction of White Sox fans that believe the team would never spend such money to land a pitcher the caliber of Cole, it might not matter.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale spoke to a couple of Cole's fellow Astros, and they told him they think Cole will end up playing in California. The South Side, at least in the Astros' clubhouse, it seems, is not a betting favorite.

"It will be west of Nevada," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "We know he wants to be a West Coast guy. He’s a California guy, so he probably wants to be close to home. I know he mentioned Oakland a couple of times because of how he’s pitched there in the past. ... But that probably won’t happen. They’d have to clear the whole roster to afford him."

"I got the Angels," pitcher Wade Miley said, "and paying him at least $250 million."

Well then.

Certainly the Los Angeles Angels are not a new suggestion in the "where will Cole sign" discussion. Cole went to high school a 10-minute drive from Angel Stadium and pitched his college ball at UCLA. The Oakland Athletics? That's a new one.

Anyway, a lot of White Sox fans are probably out there thinking "here we go again" as we begin poring over every bit of minutiae in this winter's free-agent market, just like we did last offseason, when Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were both out there for the signing — and both White Sox targets. That months-long reading of the tea leaves, of course, was all kicked off when MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported the White Sox interest during the GM Meetings in November.

So far, there's nothing out there connecting the White Sox to Cole besides pure speculation, that and the fact that Rick Hahn has said his front office will be in the market for starting pitching. Cole, being a starting pitcher, fits the minimum requirement as a potential target.

In fact, in listing a boatload of teams that might make a run at Cole this winter, Nightengale left the White Sox out. He mentioned four of the five California-based teams: the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants and every White Sox fan's favorite, the San Diego Padres, who landed Machado back in February. He also mentioned the Astros, the New York Yankees (who Cole will pitch against in game 3 of the ALCS on Tuesday), the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals and the Texas Rangers.

No White Sox.

There are plenty of other variables in this sweepstakes than just geography, and chief among them figures to be money. The White Sox have plenty of financial flexibility gained as a goal of the ongoing rebuilding process, but Hahn said that's not the most attractive element when it comes to free agents signing up to play on the South Side.

"The biggest advantage we have is the talent base we've accumulated so far and the excitement to come and be part of that," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. "We do have some economic flexibility. That was part of the plan from the start. But I think if you're looking at advantages, a lot of teams have money. A lot of teams don't offer the ability to play with some of the players that are joining us here already and joining in the coming years and the opportunity to win a championship in a city like Chicago."

Whether that appeals to Cole or whether the White Sox will set their sights elsewhere remains to be seen. Certainly his fellow Astros' predictions aren't the be all, end all. Remember last winter when it was a foregone conclusion Machado would be a Yankee because he was a fan of that team growing up? Didn't work out that way. (It's here that I'll mention a pretty cool nugget in Nightengale's piece about Cole sitting in the front row cheering on the Yankees during the 2001 World Series. Is he destined to wear pinstripes because of it? No.)

For the White Sox, they certainly should chase Cole, who would count as the biggest free-agent splash in team history and do a heck of a lot to vault the team out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. But Hahn is hoping that whichever players he lands this winter can do that, along with the team's talented young core, and there are plenty of starting-pitching options out there not named Gerrit Cole: Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and maybe even Stephen Strasburg. It's an impressive list of possibilities, one that remains impressive for the White Sox even if they fail to meet any imaginary Golden State requirement from Cole.

Even as Cole readies to face off against the Yankees in the ALCS, attempting to go 19-0 since he lost to the White Sox on May 22, his role as the star of the hot stove season is already beginning.

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MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

MLB'ers think Lucas Giolito was one of the comeback-iest players in baseball this year

It isn't "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, but it is "an" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

The MLB Players Association announced Monday that White Sox hurler Lucas Giolito is a finalist for its "Players Choice" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award, voted on by the game's players. He was joined by outfielders Hunter Pence of the Texas Rangers and Jorge Soler of the Kansas City Royals. On the NL side, the three finalists were Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

The whole "voted on by your peers" element is pretty cool, as certainly they know how different the 2019 version of Giolito was from the one they saw a year earlier. James McCann, who played against Giolito as a Detroit Tiger in 2018 and then caught him as the White Sox backstop in 2019, constantly talked about how transformed Giolito was from one year to the next.

A totally different pitcher.

That's precisely what Giolito seemed like to us non-player types, too, after he went from the worst statistics of any qualified pitcher in 2018 to an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff in 2019.

Giolito gave up more earned runs than any pitcher in the game in 2018, also leading the AL in walks during a season he finished with a 6.13 ERA. Then he went to work in the offseason, making mechanical changes and overhauling his mental approach to the game. It resulted in the kind of breakout season the prognosticators foresaw when they ranked him the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball once upon a time.

In 2019, Giolito posted a 3.41 ERA, went to the All-Star Game, struck out a whopping 228 batters — that particular feat accomplished by only two other pitchers in White Sox history — and will likely place somewhere in the AL Cy Young vote.

His season was highlighted by a pair of complete-game shutouts against two of the best teams in baseball, the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins. Both shutouts came against 100-win teams on their own turf.

Presumably some Astros and Twins threw a few votes Giolito's way.

Giolito's status when it comes to "the" AL Comeback Player of the Year Award will be revealed next month, after the World Series is over. But for now, this is a pretty cool feather in the cap for him, another example of how far he's come.

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