White Sox

Jose Abreu sees importance in season's final month: 'The 2020 season, it starts in September'


Jose Abreu sees importance in season's final month: 'The 2020 season, it starts in September'

The White Sox are heading toward another sub-.500 finish, another October sitting at home and watching the postseason on TV.

But they're hoping this is the last time they'll have to do that for a while.

The myriad positives that have popped up throughout the 2019 campaign — Lucas Giolito's transformation into an All Star, Yoan Moncada's emergence as the team's best hitter, Tim Anderson's breakout season at the plate, Reynaldo Lopez's second-half surge, the big league presence of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, the incredible success of Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal in the minor leagues — all point to 2020 being a season in which the White Sox could be capable of making their transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode.

Whether that will actually be the case depends on what the team is able to accomplish in the offseason, as well as how to-this-point unproven youngsters with sky-high expectations like Jimenez, Cease, Robert, Madrigal and Michael Kopech perform next year.

But as for what this team can do before all that, look to the season's final month.

"The 2020 season, it starts in September," Jose Abreu said Sunday through team interpreter Billy Russo.

On one hand, that's not at all an unexpected rallying cry from Abreu, the team's leader who's said time and time again this season how excited he is for next season, to see the future of this franchise come into its own and begin to start playing meaningful games.

On the other hand, no announcement has come on whether Abreu will even be a part of the 2020 edition of the White Sox. Of course, there's tons of evidence to suggest that he will, most recently his telling the Sun-Times of a supposed guarantee he's received from team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf that he'll never wear another team's uniform. Even before that, though, Abreu's constant praise of the organization and its constant praise of him made a new contract seem like a foregone conclusion.

For many fans and outside observers, 2020 started much longer ago, as far back as the trades that shipped Chris Sale and Adam Eaton out of town and returned prospect-loaded packages that jump-started the rebuild after the 2016 season. But the guys in the White Sox clubhouse have been focused on winning games in the meantime, even if they haven't been successful the majority of the time. Still, along with all the positive signs for the future listed above, the win-loss record will end up showing a dramatic improvement when the 2019 campaign ends, a significant jump from the 95-loss and 100-loss seasons that came in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

But now the players are acknowledging a drive toward 2020, too. For Abreu, that means bringing even more of the team's young talent into the fold.

"Just to keep pushing, keep doing our best, keep trying to improve and do better every day," Abreu said through Russo. "Hoping that the young guys in the organization are going to be up. Whoever they are, just to teach them and guide them, and hopefully with their talent they can help us, too.

"The 2020 season, it starts in September. Because that's when the guys that don't have experience, the new guys, need to start learning how it is to play at this level. I think that we all are on the same page there. That's what we are trying to accomplish, just to do our best and keep pushing."

It's not too much a stretch to speculate that he might have been talking about Robert — as he might have been when he told reporters after the All-Star break that "we need to deal with what we have here until the organization gives us a chance to bring the people up that can help us here" — but whether he'll get his wish to add another young player to his wing of the clubhouse before the end of this season is still unknown. The White Sox made it clear during the last homestand that they've yet to make the final decisions on September call-ups, waiting until Triple-A Charlotte, in the midst of a playoff race, concludes its season.

Will Robert be one of them?

Abreu, intentionally or not, made the case for why Robert should get his first taste of the majors in September, talking about learning how to play at the major league level. It's not outrageous to suggest that even a few weeks of big league experience could help Robert heading into a 2020 season in which he's expected to be an important part of a potential contender.

But the same service-time issues that accompanied Jimenez through the final stages of the 2018 season exist for Robert as 2019 comes to a close. We know how the White Sox handled Jimenez last year, and they could go the same route with Robert, who general manager Rick Hahn has said has already blown away the team's expectations this season. The White Sox would never talk about service time as a factor in their decision with any player. But the argument for gaining an extra year of team control with a player like Robert is a strong one.

Whether Robert comes up or not, though, there will be other young players that arrive once Charlotte's season ends, at least one, most likely, who is expected to be a member of the team's core moving forward. Abreu can still welcome in Zack Collins, who after a mostly unsuccessful but very beneficial stint in the majors earlier this season has been on fire at Triple-A. A September call-up for Collins does figure to be of importance, to test out the offensive adjustments that have led to so much success in the minors against major league pitching moving into next season, during which he could be an important piece of the puzzle at as many as three different positions.

While we've been discussing 2020 for years now, the guys in the clubhouse, especially the ones like Abreu, so focused on the day-to-day workload, now have their sights on next year, too. And with good reason. The ingredients exist for the transition to contention mode to take place.

But it will take more than just ingredients, and Abreu knows it. It's why he wants to start cooking right now.

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MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams


MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

If Major League Baseball gets its way, there could be seismic changes coming to the minor leagues.

According to a report from Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, the league has proposed a host of sweeping changes to the minor leagues, including the elimination of 42 affiliated teams.

The proposal is merely the beginning of what are expected to be lengthy negotiations over a new version of what’s called the “Professional Baseball Agreement,” basically the contract that keeps the major and minor leagues connected and minor league teams stocked with players employed by major league clubs. The existing edition expires at the end of the 2020 season, and so a new one will need to be hashed out.

Major League Baseball is looking for control over how the minor leagues are organized, with an eye on improving facilities and clustering affiliates and leagues from a geographic standpoint to cut down on travel costs. There’s also expected to be an increase in salaries for minor league players, which has long been a talking point thanks to the increasing number of descriptions of how financially difficult life can be for those trying to reach the majors.

To accomplish those goals, Major League Baseball is proposing drastic solutions.

The one that will grab the most attention is the elimination of more than a quarter of the existing affiliated teams in the minor leagues, removing affiliated minor league teams from more than three dozen cities across the United States and getting rid of more than 1,000 jobs for minor league players. Simply, the entire short-season rookie ball (excluding squads that play at team-owned facilities in Arizona and Florida) would be eliminated, leaving only four levels of affiliated teams: Low Class A, High Class A, Double-A and Triple-A.

If you’re wondering what would happen to those 42 teams, the proposal is for them to form something called a “Dream League,” which would essentially serve the same purpose as an independent league, allowing players without jobs to keep playing and try to get a job with a major league team.

Additionally, Major League Baseball is proposing radical restructuring of existing leagues in order to cluster teams closer together. That could include changing the level of certain teams, such as making a Class A team a Triple-A team based on the quality of facilities and what makes the most geographic sense. Leagues could also gain or lose a large number of teams, with the Triple-A International League growing to 20 teams and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League shrinking to just 10 teams. One Class A league was described as being reduced to just six teams, while the rest of its current teams would be put into a brand-new league.

As for how the White Sox and their affiliates would be affected, team-specific information was not included in the report. One read of the details of this proposal could see something such as the White Sox affiliates being relocated to Midwestern cities. Another, however, could see the White Sox affiliates mostly staying how they currently are, given those teams are all geographically close to one another, with all but one located in North Carolina.

Buried in all of this is another big change, a proposed move of the draft from June to August, giving players a couple more months to show off for major league teams, and a reduction in the number of rounds from the current 40 to somewhere between 20 and 25. That, and the elimination of short-season rookie ball, would likely prevent draftees from playing minor league baseball in the same year they’re drafted.

It’s all something to keep an eye on, for sure, as many fans across the country who closely follow minor league teams in their hometowns could experience a dramatic shakeup.

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State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

State of the White Sox: Manager and coaching staff

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The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re wrapping things up with the manager and the coaching staff.

What happened in 2019

While it’s easy to cruise through the statistical production of players and determine just how well they performed in 2019, that’s a little more difficult when it comes to manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff.

In the end, managers and coaches are evaluated on win-loss record — or at least how close they came to meeting the expectations in that department. While the White Sox are a gruesome 83 games under .500 in Renteria’s three years at the helm, that’s not really falling outside the expectations he had when he took over a rebuilding club. So it’s pretty hard to argue that because the White Sox lost 89 games in 2019, Renteria did a poor job.

Truly, his performance as a manager can’t be determined until he’s managing a team with expectations of winning. Renteria more than anyone has been the one setting such expectations for 2020, spending much of the waning weeks of the 2019 campaign voicing his opinion that all this losing stops next season.

“I’m expecting that this is it,” Renteria said. “We’re trying to win. We talk about it, we’re going through it. I know there’s still some refining to do, but I’ll be honest with you, we’re coming in, we’re finishing this season, we’re talking about coming into next season ready to battle. Period. Exclamation point. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Renteria and his staff did plenty in 2019 to continue developing the team’s young players into the core of the future. But the skipper's most memorable on-field moment came in September, when even after he stopped making mound visits because of shoulder surgery, he went out to the mound and had an animated conversation with Reynaldo Lopez. Lopez made a habit of following up stellar performances with ugly ones, lacking consistency in a fashion that made even the optimistic Renteria throw up his hands at times. Renteria utilized that frustration on the mound in Detroit in an attempt to get some points across to the pitcher.

When it comes to Renteria’s staff, certainly they deserve some credit for some of the breakout seasons on the roster. Hitting coach Todd Steverson did offseason work with both Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson ahead of 2019 campaigns that saw them transform into the best all-around hitter on the team and the big league batting champ, respectively. Pitching coach Don Cooper helped oversee Lucas Giolito’s transformation into an All Star. Infield coach Joe McEwing worked with Moncada, who made a smooth transition from second base to third base.

But if the coaches earn some of the credit for the things that went right, they must also be mentioned alongside the things that went wrong. Steverson coached an offense that ranked near the bottom of the game in most categories. Cooper coached a starting rotation that finished the season with a 5.30 ERA. McEwing coached Anderson, who committed a major league high 26 errors.

None of that is to say those guys are wholly responsible for those negative outcomes. Just as the players have to be the ones to turn in the good results, they’re the ones who have to turn in the poor ones, as well. Steverson, however, along with assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks, will not be back for the 2020 season.

What will happen this offseason

The White Sox have already made their coaching moves this offseason, parting ways with Steverson and Sparks and replacing Steverson with Frank Menechino, who after several seasons on the Miami Marlins staff took over as the hitting coach at Triple-A Charlotte in 2019.

Menechino impressed the White Sox with his work there, spent September with the big league club and was quickly promoted once the season was over. At Charlotte, he worked with top-ranked prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, who both had fantastic seasons playing at three different minor league levels and figure to be everyday players for most of the 2020 season.

The change, in the end, seemed to be more about how the White Sox felt about what Menechino could bring to the table than a reaction to the offensive production from a team that didn’t have expectations of doing much more than it did during another rebuilding season.

General manager Rick Hahn announced that the rest of the staff will be back in 2020.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

There will be a change in the expectations game come 2020. That should be mostly because of the breakout 2019 seasons from so many young players, the pending arrival of Robert and Madrigal and the offseason additions anticipated to be made by Hahn’s front office. But if nothing else, the expectations, when it comes to Renteria, will be different because he’s already said they will be.

“I'm not going to make any bones about it, it's time to turn the page,” he said just last week, “it's time to get us to another level of performance. That goes across the board, it goes with all aspects of our game.”

And so judging him and his staff can reach another level, too, because it will no longer solely be about hard-to-define development but the cold, hard wins and losses. Plenty of fans have taken to Twitter and complained about Renteria during this losing stretch, suggesting he’s not the one to manage this team into a winning era, but those were conclusions that cannot be drawn considering the quality of the rosters he’s managed in his three years on the South Side. How can you judge a manager’s ability to contend when he doesn’t have the tools to do so?

That’s about to change, so there will finally be some actual evidence to back up either side of that argument.

It’s clear where the White Sox stand in that discussion. They’ve been praising the job Renteria has done for three years now, and they’ve expressed nothing but confidence that he’ll be the guy to get it done.

“When Ricky was put in that role, it wasn't with the idea that he was just going to be the right guy for the first stage, the stage that is coming toward an end here, or is at an end here,” Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “Obviously, the history and teaching and communicating and holding guys accountable is very important now. But even at the time we hired him, we felt he had the ability to not only set the right winning culture but to put guys in the best position to win.

“His ability to communicate with all 25 or 26 guys on a daily basis, to know where they're at, to know what they're capable of doing and putting them in the best position, makes us fairly confident that once that roster is deep enough and strong enough that he's going to be able to maximize the win potential with that roster when the time comes.”

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