White Sox

When They Were Prospects: Alex Fernandez

When They Were Prospects: Alex Fernandez

With such a strong focus on current White Sox prospects, we thought it’d be fun to take a look back at statistics and scouting reports of other South Side stars on their journey to the MLB. 

The White Sox run of first round draft picks from 1987-90 is one of the best four-year stretches in the history of the MLB Draft.

Jack McDowell (1987), Robin Ventura (1988), Frank Thomas (1989) and Alex Fernandez (1990). Hard to do better than that.

While Fernandez is the only one of the quartet never to receive All-Star honors, make no mistake about it, the White Sox 4th overall selection in the 1990 Draft was a solid choice.

[When They Were Prospects: Jose Abreu]

He was 1987 Gatorade Florida State Player of the Year at Monsignor Edward Pace High School. 

He transferred from the University of Miami to Miami-Dade South Community College in order to be draft eligible sooner, and ended up the 1990 Golden Spikes Award winner (awarded to the best amateur baseball player in the country). He was the first to win the award at a junior college; a feat unmatched until Bryce Harper did it 20 years later.

After the draft, Fernandez tuned up with eight minor league starts, putting up a sparkling 1.81 ERA (in 49.2 IP) including a 17-strikeout performance in A-ball. He was ready to go.

The hefty right-hander was the first player from the 1990 MLB Draft to reach the Majors -- he and Frank Thomas both made their MLB Debuts for the Sox in Game 1 of an Aug. 2, 1990 doubleheader in Milwaukee.

Fernandez pitched for the Southsiders through his age 26 season (1996), compiling a 3.78 ERA and 951 strikeouts in 1,346.2 innings during that time. It's a workload that only four pitchers since have been able to match through their age 26 season. 

Most innings through age 26 season (1990-present):

1620.1 - Felix Hernandez

1406.1 - CC Sabathia

1397.2 - Madison Bumgarner

1378.1 - Clayton Kershaw

1346.1 - Alex Fernandez

From 1991 through 1996 (with the exception of the 1994 strike-shortened season), Fernandez put up at least 180 innings every year. In 1995 and 1996, the Miami native started the White Sox season opener. He reached a career-high of 200 strikeouts in 1996 as he was ready to test free agency.

Fernandez signed a 5-year, $35M contract to pitch for his hometown beginning in 1997. He pitched well in his debut season with the Marlins, posting a 3.59 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 220.2 frames. A badly torn rotator cuff was diagnosed after a rough start in Atlanta in the NLCS. He was only 28 years old, but his shoulder would never be quite right again.

Where will White Sox turn for pitching? Are they destined to lean on internal options?

Where will White Sox turn for pitching? Are they destined to lean on internal options?

SAN DIEGO — Pitching. The White Sox need it. And their No. 1 target is now a Philadelphia Phillie.

“What's next?” doesn’t quite do the mystery justice.

Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu have all been thrown around as possibilities, mostly because they’re in the same free-agency tier that Zack Wheeler was in. You remember Wheeler, the guy who turned down a superior financial offer from the White Sox to please his family and pitch for the Phillies. Seeking help elsewhere in that same tier makes sense, but it’s possible the White Sox might not be quite as enamored with their backup plans as they were with their primary target.

That’s obviously the case, by definition, but perhaps the gap is bigger than Hahn suggests when he says the White Sox will “move on to the next one.” Not all free agents are created equal.

“That's part of the reason we moved so quickly on Yasmani (Grandal) is we felt he brought a very unique set of tools to the situation, and we wanted to make sure we locked that in. And we found a guy that aligned, not just economically with what he wanted, it was a good fit and something we were able to get done quickly,” Hahn said, pointing to an example of the White Sox acquiring their No. 1 choice. “In other segments of the market, there is some greater fall off, as well. In some, it's not so much of a fall off.

“The guys are the primary targets for a reason, but certainly, there's more than one way to skin a cat and we'll find a different way to get it done.”

The different way could involve none of those free-agent names. While reports have tied the White Sox to Bumgarner and Keuchel to various degrees, they were reported to be after Jordan Lyles, who recently signed with the Texas Rangers. Hahn said his front office was focused more on trades than free-agent signings in its conversations Monday in San Diego.

Trades, though, could be difficult, as the White Sox seem hellbent on hanging on to their top-rated prospects, a completely understandable stance considering the promise they show as impact players. Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Michael Kopech figure to take over as top-of-the-depth-chart guys in 2020. Andrew Vaughn, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert might not be far behind.

What’s certain is those players won’t be going anywhere in exchange for a one-year fix. That’s more relevant to conversations involving Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor or Kris Bryant than ones involving a pitcher. But it’s important to remember that any trade talk probably starts midway down the list of White Sox prospects, a difficult way to land a truly impact player.

“There’s been, obviously, the pains and suffering that comes along with the early stages of a rebuild. We endured all that so we would be able to be in a position of building something that was going to be able to win on an annual basis, that was going to have some success for an extended period of time,” Hahn said. “Right now, we are in a bit of an interesting spot.

“Fundamentally, as a fan that has dealt with the hardships over the last three years, you want that benefit, that promised-land side of things to come more quickly. At the same time, we have to keep in mind why we started this and that was to build something sustainable. You don’t want to do anything short-sighted that’s just going to, trade wise, give us a quick bump next year but compromise the extended window we foresee coming when this all comes together.

“You need to be cognizant of that temptation to try to accelerate things. We want to get this to where it needs to be as quickly as possible. We don’t want to do that at the expense of shortening the window or making the window more difficult when it does open, whether that’s in the next few months or it takes a little longer.”

OK. So trading for impact fixes in the rotation appears unrealistic. The buzz surrounding the White Sox and free-agent signings diminished significantly as time went on during the first day of the Winter Meetings, and the possibility exists that the backup plans to Wheeler won't be quite as easy to pull the trigger on.

So what do the White Sox do?

It’s almost impossible to envision a parade of ineffective arms the likes of which we saw in 2019, when Ervin Santana and Manny Banuelos and Dylan Covey and Odrisamer Despaigne and Ross Detwiler manned a rotation that was exposed for its lack of big league ready depth. But should the White Sox come up empty on top-of-the-rotation free-agent fixes like they did with Wheeler, it’s not quite as difficult to envision stopgaps of some sort that set up what could still be a deeper pitching staff come 2020. Hahn raved about the potential for homegrown depth in the near future.

“There's still multiple options out there,” Hahn said when asked how the pitching market looks post-Wheeler. “We're going to continue to explore them both via trade and free agency.

“It's funny we talk about 2020, obviously, because that's the most important year we we can currently put our fingers on. We do think that, as we sit here, a year from now we have a chance to have a fair amount of depth on the pitching side. It doesn't mean we don't want to augment it, not only to get better in 2020, but to hedge that bet on the depth a little bit going forward and to create even more options for us going forward.

“But I do look forward to a year from right now and we're sitting up in that suite looking at our board. And I think the viable options in the big leagues are going to be even deeper than they are now.”

That’s true, mostly because Kopech and Dylan Cease should have full major league seasons under their belts and Dunning, Lambert and Carlos Rodon should all be back from Tommy John surgery.

So what does all that have to do with signing Bumgarner right now? If the White Sox are so gaga over the potential of their internal pitching depth a year from now, are they pleased enough to forego a potential impact addition this winter — one they’re not nearly as thrilled about making as compared to how they felt about Wheeler?

A pitching staff built primarily on internal options would not at all be a bad thing, but such an outcome relies on all those young arms hitting the way Lucas Giolito did in 2019. That's extremely difficult. The three models for turning a rebuild into a world championship, the Cubs, Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals, have had almost no luck doing that. The biggest names in those championship runs, from a pitching standpoint, were Jon Lester, Justin Verlander and Jonny Cueto. The Royals are now rebuilding. The Cubs have struggled to find any homegrown pitching since Theo Epstein's regime took over. It's really hard to do.

These are questions with few answers, really. Hahn doesn’t talk about specific free agents, meaning everything is a philosophical discussion rather than a “this is what we’re doing” one. Are the White Sox opposed to adding a top-of-the-rotation pitcher? Absolutely not, they’d love to. Are they going after Keuchel to do it? That’s not quite as open for discussion.

And that’s a fine policy for perfectly understandable reasons, it just leaves so much a mystery. Mystery is all we have regarding the potential additions that could follow Grandal this offseason. The White Sox need pitching, and they’ll get it. But are they jazzed about the remaining options to the point it will top any of the internal options on the depth chart? Stay tuned.

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All quiet on the White Sox front: South Siders showing 'no urgency' to make moves at Winter Meetings

All quiet on the White Sox front: South Siders showing 'no urgency' to make moves at Winter Meetings

SAN DIEGO — This is not what White Sox fans wanted to hear during what was supposed to be an aggressive offseason.

“There’s simply no urgency to get anything done here.”

That was general manager Rick Hahn speaking on the first night of the Winter Meetings here in Southern California. It’s true what Hahn says, that the White Sox can accomplish their business just as well next week as they can this week, providing the players they want remain available.

But in an all too apt example of how quickly things can change at the Winter Meetings, the question surrounding the White Sox went from “How big a splash will they make this week?” to “Will they do anything at all this week?”

For a team seemingly so intent on getting business done, on spending to accomplish its goal of acquiring premium talent from outside the organization — like they did last month in signing Yasmani Grandal — the buzz (or lack thereof) in San Diego was that the White Sox weren’t much involved on the bigger names on the free-agent market.

Forget the biggest names. Stephen Strasburg returned to the Washington Nationals on Monday. Gerrit Cole seems destined for a bidding war of epic proportions between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels. Anthony Rendon hasn’t been tied to the White Sox much at all this winter. But word that they were in the mix for Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna and Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel subsided as the hours went on Monday.

MLB.com’s Jon Morosi started the day by predicting that Keuchel would land on the South Side, by saying there was a pretty good chance the White Sox could end up with either Castellanos or Ozuna. Hahn ended the day by saying this:

“Certainly we would love to get stuff done here. We’ve been known to get stuff done at the Winter Meetings. We’ve also had some quiet Winter Meetings along the way. But there’s simply no urgency to get anything done here.

“We’d love to knock off everything on our list while we are all together here, but that’s no different than how we were approaching our business last week or the week before or the week before Thanksgiving when we signed Yasmani.

“We will remain engaged in conversations. In terms of predicting whether something happens, it’s really sort of impossible to say until we get right on that goal line, which we are not at just yet.”

As mentioned, things can change quickly. Hahn brought up past instances of him meeting with reporters with nothing to report, only for multiple moves to happen in the hours that followed. Considering the sheer volume of needs Hahn has pledged to address — two starting pitchers and a right fielder being the most noteworthy — the White Sox would figure to be exploring enough possibilities that something could come along and change his tone at any second.

But a front office that teased a busier-than-usual offseason sounded unsure about getting anything done this week.

“I’m not trying to hide the ball when I say I can’t predict what’s going to happen over the next few days,” Hahn said. “But I do know no matter what happens over the next few days, we like the position we're in going forward. We like the progress that's been made at the big league level over the last few months of the last season. We like the progress made on a number of fronts with the prospects. And we like the addition of Yasmani Grandal, and obviously having Jose (Abreu) back.

“We know we still have work to do. Ideally we get a good portion of that done here over the next few days, but if we don't, that's fine. We've proven in the past we can acquire a guy next Tuesday just as easily as we can this Tuesday.”

Of course, the White Sox tried to acquire a guy last Tuesday, and Zack Wheeler’s decision to spurn their superior financial offer to pitch for the family comfort of the Philadelphia Phillies was a prominent topic Monday night with the general manager. He’s clearly not feeling much better about this outcome than he did about Manny Machado turning the White Sox down in favor of the San Diego Padres back in February.

This time around was different, though, with the White Sox controlling everything they could control, making the richest offer on the table — and still ending up at the same place.

“A bit of it's Monday-morning quarterbacking, and it doesn't matter if you don't get the guy,” Hahn said. “So I'm not going to go too deep into how fine of an effort or how great of an offer or any of that stuff. You either get the guy or you don't. When you don't, you move on to the next one.”

Trying to figure out who that “next one” is has proven difficult, with seemingly every free-agent starting pitcher not named Cole or Strasburg thrown out as a possibility. The White Sox were reportedly going after Jordan Lyles, who signed a free-agent deal with the Texas Rangers. They’ve been linked to Bumgarner and Keuchel in various fashions. Hahn said the team’s work Monday was more focused on trades than free agency.

It’s evident Wheeler was the primary target. As for the backup plan, you have to wonder how big a gap there was between the White Sox desire for Wheeler and their desire to, as Hahn said, move on to the next one.

“That's part of the reason we moved so quickly on Yasmani is we felt he brought a very unique set of tools to the situation, and we wanted to make sure we locked that in. And we found a guy that aligned, not just economically with what he wanted, it was a good fit and something we were able to get done quickly,” Hahn said, pointing to an example of the White Sox acquiring their No. 1 choice. “In other segments of the market, there is some greater fall off, as well. In some, it's not so much of a fall off.

“The guys are the primary targets for a reason, but certainly, there's more than one way to skin a cat and we'll find a different way to get it done.”

As for when? Good question. The Winter Meetings are certainly not the be all, end all, and Hahn has talked in the past about winning the offseason only for that “W” not to translate to the standings come summer. It was in this very city five years ago when the White Sox made those post-dinner moves to acquire David Robertson and Jeff Samardzija. Things did not play out quite as victoriously once they started playing the games.

But Hahn also talks about the White Sox deserving to play with the big boys, about the White Sox being an attractive destination, about the White Sox moving into the next phase of their rebuilding project. If all that is true — and the team’s desire to spend big is as big as it seems after their (successful) run at Grandal and (unsuccessful) run at Wheeler — then something is going to have to happen eventually.

Right?

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