White Sox

Jose Abreu might be starting to pull out of his slump, an example to White Sox young players

Jose Abreu might be starting to pull out of his slump, an example to White Sox young players

Perhaps things are starting to turn around for Jose Abreu.

It seems somewhat counterintuitive that the American League’s starting first baseman in next week’s All-Star Game is having his worst season as a big leaguer. But that’s been the case for Abreu, who after four remarkably productive and consistent seasons with the White Sox entered Friday’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals with an OPS nearly .140 points below his career average. That’s mostly due to an extended slump in which he slashed .174/.218/.292 between May 27 and Wednesday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

But maybe Abreu’s pulling out of his tailspin. He collected a pair of hits in Friday night’s win, including a well-struck home run to lead off the bottom of the sixth. That was his first extra-base knock since a triple on July 1 and his first homer since June 27.

Heck, a single two innings prior was enough to spark jokes from the home dugout, with Abreu’s teammates joking that he should get the team to retrieve the ball as a commemoration of his first hit in what’s seemed like forever.

Wiseguys, eh?

Abreu, always happy to joke around, appreciated the humor. And it’s what the White Sox appreciate about him that might be finally bringing him out of a month and a half of poor results: his work ethic.

Abreu’s commitment to his craft is a repeated talking point for manager Rick Renteria, general manager Rick Hahn and Abreu’s teammates. It’s what they respect most about a guy who put himself in some pretty elite company during his first four years in the major leagues. It’s what makes him a role model to the younger players so critical to this rebuilding effort who have already reached and who have yet reach the South Side.

Abreu’s efforts during this slump and the work he’s done to try to pull himself out of it: another example of what the young White Sox can learn from this veteran leader.

“I’m trying to tell them, to let them know what you need to do when you’re passing through a tough moment,” Abreu said through a team translator after Friday’s game. “Just have confidence in yourself, belief in yourself, belief in the stuff that you are doing and the stuff that brought you here. I think that’s the way.

“That’s the key for you to overcome difficulties and tough moments, have belief in yourself, have confidence in your approach, confidence in your routine, your work. That’s the way to overcome the difficulties, especially at this level.”

None of the current major league White Sox have escaped lengthy stretches of struggles in this developmental season. That includes big pieces of the rebuild like Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson. If they need some pointers on how to get back on track, looking to Abreu for help seems an obvious move, and the guys admit they get advice from Abreu on a regular basis.

Questions about hypothetical deadline and offseason trades will likely follow Abreu to Washington, D.C., next week. After all, if the rebuilding White Sox have a player good enough to start the All-Star Game, why wouldn’t they be interested in moving him for some young pieces?

Well, this kind of thing is why. Abreu is such an example to the young players who will soon make up the vast majority of this roster that the White Sox place a different value on him than other teams might. They see him as an important part of the developmental process for these prospects and young major leaguers. And he’s a good enough player to earn a start in the All-Star Game, which helps the argument that Abreu should be a part of the next White Sox contender.

That’s all to be determined, of course, but Abreu, with his work and his mentorship, is showing his value on a daily basis. And if this is him pulling out of his slump, then that value gets even greater.

Another dominant effort from Corey Kluber shows rebuilding White Sox will have to solve Indians pitching to become future kings of AL Central

0924-corey-kluber.jpg
USA TODAY

Another dominant effort from Corey Kluber shows rebuilding White Sox will have to solve Indians pitching to become future kings of AL Central

The best part of the White Sox final six games of the 2018 season? They won’t have to face Corey Kluber again.

Kluber’s dominance over the South Siders continued Monday night, the White Sox offense silenced against a Cleveland Indians pitching staff that could enter October as the American League’s most fearsome. Four Indians starters have hit the 200-strikeout mark this season, the first time a single staff has ever had that happen in baseball history. And a bullpen that’s underachieved statistically after a big-spending offseason still has Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to worry about.

Kluber added to his own big strikeout total with 11 against the White Sox. In four starts against the White Sox this season, Kluber racked up 39 strikeouts and allowed just three earned runs in 28 innings of work. He’s got 184 strikeouts against them in his career, more than any other opponent.

“Kluber did the same thing he’s continued to do,” White Sox skipper Rick Renteria said. “He attacks the strike zone, stays below the zone, ball fades out, works both sides of the plate, runs balls in, catches you locks you up, mixes his pitches well. He got us quite a few times and he just did what he does.

“He’s a Cy Young type pitcher. I think with guys like that, when you have certain opportunities — and you don’t get very many — you’ve got to be able to get at least one point across.”

This is no surprise, of course, one of the league’s top arms — a two-time Cy Young winner, including last year — having so much success against a lineup that’s missed the playoffs every season he’s been in the major leagues. But it shows how tricky it will be for the rebuilding White Sox to ascend to the top of the division. Not only do all the young hitters on the rise through the farm system need to figure out how to succeed at the big league level, they need to do it against some of the game’s best pitchers.

Kluber is under team control for another three seasons, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer for another two and Mike Clevinger for a whopping five seasons. The White Sox likely aren’t tailoring their rebuilding effort to the current kings of the Central. But they’ll one day need to overtake the Indians to get to the level they want to reach, and this collection of pitchers isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

This season alone, Indians pitchers have turned in eight double-digit strikeout performances against the White Sox.

Of course, the fearsome foursome of Cleveland pitchers should also give the White Sox plenty of hope. There’s a crowded list of names angling for spot in the rotation of the future on the South Side, which speaks to the pitching depth Rick Hahn has amassed in the farm system. Perhaps the likes of Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning can form a similarly talented group down the road.

Cleveland's captured three straight division titles. If the White Sox can form their own dazzling rotation, they'd be in position to attempt the same kind of feat.

But until that day comes, the Indians’ stellar starting staff will serve as a constant reminder of who the White Sox will need to pass on their planned journey to the top of the division and perennial contention.

The AL Central goes through Cleveland — for now, and perhaps for a while.

Something of the future: Nick Madrigal has a bright future with White Sox, no matter what position he plays

Something of the future: Nick Madrigal has a bright future with White Sox, no matter what position he plays

There’s a good deal of time before the White Sox need to decide where Nick Madrigal fits in the puzzle that is the team’s lineup of the future.

The good news is that he’s a piece that can fit into several different spots.

Part of the allure of Madrigal’s first-round selection in this summer’s draft was that he was a talented defender capable of playing a number of positions on the infield. And though he almost exclusively played second base during his first season as a pro, he’s still capable of playing elsewhere on the infield.

Heck, he’s even got experience catching. Kind of.

“I’ve worked on different positions throughout my life in the infield,” Madrigal said, meeting with reporters Monday at Guaranteed Rate Field. “When my dad hit me ground balls, I made sure to take them from both sides of the bag, just to make sure I had that in my back pocket. I’ve played a lot of shortstop my whole life.

“When I was really young I caught, so I feel like I’ve played almost every position on the field and I feel comfortable doing that.”

Madrigal made sure to point out that the last time he played catcher he was 11 years old, so don’t expect to see him bring those skills to the majors when he eventually arrives on the South Side. But his versatility means there’s a variety of permutations that Rick Renteria could employ when the time comes.

Selecting a middle infielder — and one with three years of collegiate experience, at that — was a bit of a curious decision when the White Sox made the pick back in June. It’s not because anyone didn’t like the skill set that Madrigal brings; he was considered the best all-around player in college baseball and is already the organization’s No. 4 prospect in MLB Pipeline’s rankings. But two members of the White Sox young core are currently playing middle infield in the major leagues. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada figure to be pretty well entrenched in their positions, with the team talking about them both as if they’ll be around for a very long time after things shift from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

Will there be room for all three of those guys on the diamond, should they all live up to expectations? The White Sox certainly would qualify that as a good problem to have. But Madrigal’s versatility could help solve it before it starts. To their credit, both Anderson and Moncada have also commented this season about a willingness to play other positions.

Like with many of the other highly touted prospects in the White Sox loaded farm system, Madrigal already has sky-high expectations from the rebuild-loving fan base. He played at three different levels of minor league baseball in his short time since joining the organization, and after a successful collegiate career that included a College World Series win this summer, there’s an expectation that he could fly through the system.

Whether or not that ends up happening, the expectations likely won’t decrease any time soon: In 43 minor league games, Madrigal slashed .308/.353/.348 with a jaw-droppingly low five strikeouts in 173 plate appearances.

“Throughout my life I’ve always had expectations,” Madrigal said. “I know there’s always going to be people talking and social media and all that stuff. I’m really just focused on now and, while I’m in the instructional league, trying to get better, trying help the people around me. Those things don’t bother me, but I know they’re going to be there my whole life. But I’m not worried about it at all.

“I’ve won at every level I’ve been at so far, going back to Little League, high school and college. That’s something I want to continue doing. And it seems like this organization is the perfect fit for me.”

So how quickly could Madrigal force the issue and reach the big leagues? His bat will likely determine the answer to that question, and we’ll see what the results are next season. He’s not concerned about it, however. He seems to share the confidence of many of his fellow White Sox prospects. He definitely shares the knowledge that the decision on when he reaches the bigs is not his to make.

Whether at second base, shortstop or third base — or catcher (not really) — Madrigal has a bright future ahead, another reason for fans to be so excited about this team’s future. How long will this particular waiting game last? You’ll just have to, well, wait.

“It’s kind of out of my control at this point,” he said. “Whatever the organization needs me to do. I can definitely see this being a home for me sometime soon.”