White Sox

When they were prospects: Harold Baines

When they were prospects: Harold Baines

“He’s got good speed, and he’s a natural hitter. I saw him play in Little League, and he impressed me even then. I’ve been watching him for six years.”

This is what White Sox owner Bill Veeck said in June 1977 after drafting Harold Baines first overall in the MLB draft. Consider the fact that Baines was 18 years old at the time. He had been watching him for six years? Do the math. 

The White Sox haven’t picked first overall since. And they definitely got it right with Harold Baines. 

After a solid 1979 campaign at Iowa (AAA) hitting .298/.342/.528 with 22 HR in 125 games, Baines made the opening day roster in 1980. It took him a little while to get going, but Harold didn’t shy away from top competition. Three of his first eight career home runs were off Hall of Fame pitchers (Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry & Fergie Jenkins). 

He broke the 20 HR & 100 RBI threshold for the first time in 1982. He led the American League in Slugging in 1984. At the age of 30, the White Sox retired his number (shortly following a 1989 trade to the Rangers). 

The quiet lefty finished his career with 488 doubles, 384 home runs & 2,866 hits. If it hadn’t been for a pair of work stoppages in 1981 and 1994, he could have easily finished with 500 doubles, 400 home runs & 3,000 hits, which could very well have punched a ticket to Cooperstown.

He returned to Chicago after his playing career, earning a World Series ring as Bench Coach in 2005.

His jersey No. 3 is displayed at Guaranteed Rate Field, and his statue stands on the concourse in the outfield. Is he an all-time White Sox great?

Evidently!

The 10 most important White Sox in 2019: No. 8 Jose Abreu

The 10 most important White Sox in 2019: No. 8 Jose Abreu

During his first four years in a White Sox uniform, Jose Abreu was Mr. Reliable.

He could very well still be that as he enters what could end up his final year on the South Side, but thanks to an uncharacteristic and unusual 2018 campaign, he needs to show he's still the same guy he's always been.

Abreu. Albert Pujols. Joe DiMaggio. Following the 2017 season, those were the only three players in baseball history to start their careers with four straight seasons of at least 25 home runs and at least 100 RBIs. Abreu was in elite company. But he failed to reach those numbers in 2018, in part because of an extended slump that lasted a month and a half, during which he slashed just .180/.230/.308. Very un-Abreu-like. Though he bounced back to the point where he might have reached his usual statistical levels, the White Sox first baseman also had a couple of freak injuries at the end of the season that limited him to just six games after Aug. 20. Without those stays on the disabled list, he might have made it five straight seasons.

But it's still impossible to enter the 2019 campaign and feel anything but good about what Abreu can and should do for the White Sox. His production has been so consistent during his time in the major leagues, and even in last season's "down year," he was elected the American League's starting first baseman and won the second Silver Slugger of his career.

Changes have come for Abreu, who will be splitting his time between first base and designated hitter (even if he's not a huge fan of that latter position) thanks to the acquisition of Yonder Alonso, who will be platooning with Abreu at those two spots. Abreu seeing more time as a DH, the White Sox argue, will keep him off his feet and keep him in the lineup more often. It could also do a good job of extending his career as he's set to hit free agency at the conclusion of his age-32 season.

But that's the thing, Abreu might not even get to free agency, which would be as good an example as any of how highly the White Sox think of him and how important he is to the present and future of this franchise. Considering the glowing reviews Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and everyone else give Abreu on a regular basis, and the role he plays as a leader and mentor for the team's young players who will one day be the stars of a planned perennial contender, all signs point to Abreu receiving an extension and sticking with the White Sox as the team makes its transition from rebuilding to contention mode.

Abreu's off-the-field attributes — he's entering a second full season of sitting next to Yoan Moncada in the home clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field — might be enough to earn him a spot in the team's future over the next several seasons. But if he can prove he's still capable of producing at the same levels he was before the fluky 2018 season, than that makes an extension all the more attractive to the White Sox. Not to mention it's all the rage with players set to hit the free-agent market after this season; Nolan Arenado, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, Aaron Hicks and Miles Mikolas have already signed extensions this offseason that preempted their impending free agency. Could Abreu be next?

Regardless of his contract status, an Abreu in a very different lineup — one with Jon Jay at the top, Alonso batting behind Abreu and Eloy Jimenez even further down the line — should find plenty of opportunities to get back to the level of production he was at in his first four major league campaigns. And if he can do that, the White Sox will be in a better spot in the standings. If he keeps doing what he's always done off the field, the White Sox will be in a better spot for the long haul.

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The 10 most important White Sox in 2019: No. 9 Daniel Palka

The 10 most important White Sox in 2019: No. 9 Daniel Palka

Daniel Palka came out of nowhere in 2018 and inserted himself into the conversation about the White Sox long-term future. In 2019, he’ll have work to do to stay in it.

Palka led the team with 27 home runs last season, a franchise record for a rookie lefty, in addition to earning fan-favorite status among South Side baseball supporters. But he knows as much as anyone that he’s got more to do to be an everyday player in the big leagues.

He batted just .240 with an on-base percentage under .300 in 2018, and his numbers against left-handed pitchers were poor enough that he had just 83 plate appearances versus southpaws. His defense made it seem like he was best suited to be a designated hitter, though to his credit he worked very hard to change that, and that was the focus of his offseason.

And so being able to play the outfield on a regular if not daily basis will be the thing that determines whether or not Palka can stay in that conversation about what this team looks like when the contention window opens. The White Sox greatly limited the number of opportunities Palka will have to swing the bat as a DH this season when they acquired Yonder Alonso in an offseason trade with the Cleveland Indians. Alonso and Jose Abreu are set to platoon at first base and designated hitter, pretty much speaking for all the at-bats at those two positions. And so Palka's lone road to playing time lies in the outfield.

However, the outfield is also going to be one of the more competitive spots on the roster in 2019. Eloy Jimenez is expected to be the team's everyday left fielder, and veteran Jon jay, another offseason acquisition, isn't going anywhere, though he might not be an everyday player or play exclusively one position. That leaves just a couple spots for additional outfielders. Palka, Adam Engel and Leury Garcia are all expected to be on the Opening Day roster, but one might get squeezed out come April 17, the earliest date the White Sox would need a fifth starting pitcher. We'll see how that roster crunch plays itself out.

For Palka, though, the formula for sticking around is simple: the glove. Palka's power bat is an attractive attribute that neither Engel nor Garcia can claim. If Palka's offseason work on his defense pays off, his bat will likely keep him around.

And it's a valuable thing to have, that power. The White Sox came one Avisail Garcia homer away from having five players in the 20-homer club, but Palka was the team leader and five ahead of Abreu, the second-place finisher in that department with 22 long balls. Keeping that power in the lineup — and adding that of Jimenez and Alonso — would make for a drastically different, in a good way, White Sox offense.

In the long term, that left-handed power would be extremely valuable coming off the bench in a pivotal moment. Palka proved himself clutch in 2018. If he can improve the other elements of his game, Palka could go from future situational power bat to everyday player.

So that's what is on the line for him in 2019. It's an important year for him to establish himself as a part of those long-term plans. He worked his way into the conversation, out of nowhere, last year. This year, it's about claiming a spot in that lineup of the future.

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