White Sox

Why

Why

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Its the one of the Five Ws that Im having a hard time getting past. In this desensitized world we live in, it sometimes takes a lot to get all of our collective attentions but the events of last Friday were over-the-top. I was behind the bar when I saw the first headline on TV. Worst fear is what comes immediately to mind.

Needless to say, I was a little distracted for the rest of my shift. As more detailed information came out, I could not think of anything else. Unfortunately for me, the end of my shift meant that it was time to go on Chicago Tribune Live. Upon walking into the Comcast SportsNet studios, there was a palpable tension. In the wake of the events, talking sports on TV seemed a little insignificant, to say the least. It was agreed that we would acknowledge the tragic events, but then we would respectively move on. As sometimes happens on live television, it didnt exactly go as scripted. In fact, there was no script.

Being someone who is still a TV novice, I often take in everything going on around me like a tourist. One of those is reading the teleprompter that host David Kaplan is reading off of to see how much he adheres to it or how he summarizes what is in front of him. On this occasion there was no script, since the teleprompter went down. No worries, pro that he is, Kap just started talking, expressing his feelings in a thoughtful, heartfelt way without as much as a half-second delay. That was impressive. Especially since as it went around the panel for us to weigh in and it came to my turn, I thought I was going to lose it. Its weird sometimes when emotion will hit you and when Kap turned to me for my chance to speak it was hitting me in a giant wave. As soon as I started thinking about my kids, I couldnt stop thinking about the little ones from Sandy Hook Elementary School and the horrors they had faced and how now, their parents must deal with it.

As the father of a 1st grader, and two others that are not that far removed, I kept thinking about my kids school. Life offers a lot of cool circumstances. One is being around your young children and their friends. There is not an easier environment to get a smile than when you go to visit your child in their 1st grade classroom. It is a very special place. What the hope is that it is as safe as home. I remember the very first time my now teenager went to school. The bus that picked her up was the most intimidating machine ever made. How would they take care of her? What would they do if she was upset? What would she do without her parents? From my subsequent visits, I realized that it was a perfect place for any of my kids to be, or anyone elses for that matter. It is the start of what hopefully is a wonderful journey. And it is full of all of the wonder and innocence that you would expect.

For 26 families of those who inhabited Sandy Hook, either students or those who worked there, that innocence was shattered.

I cant describe how sick that makes me feel.

So, as much as I love and look forward to being on CTL it was a hard place to be. Quite honestly, who cares?

I could not wait to get home and hug my kids. And yell at my teenager to clean her room. I needed something normal to deal with something beyond comprehension.

The sense of loss was profound, bordering on overwhelming.

Judging from the immediate reactions, everyone feels this way. Im sure as we move on things are going to be politicized, arent they always? But if this doesnt wake people up to some of the problems we face as a society, what is going to?

That line of thought can get me going, but this is neither the time nor place.

What this is a time for is an appreciation of what we have and our responsibilities to those around us. At some point isnt this what lifes all about?

One of the interesting benefits of being a parent is that it enables your heart to open up to other children and families in a way you never imagined. When I look at my kids friends, or when families come into the restaurant, it usually brings a smile, mostly one of happiness, or if things go awry, one of commiseration. Been there, done that. The feeling comes from the fact that they remind me of how lucky I am. And that is never more so than now.

As is usually the case when Im down, something will happen to me at work to help change my outlook.

Sunday night was as dreadful as you would expect. Thats always the case after a Bears home loss and the masses come in afterward, especially more so when victorious Packer fans are sprinkled in. Cant they just go home? I know they have a sense of wonderment with our newfangled indoor plumbing, but enough is enough!

Anyway, for some reason, all concerned seemed a little more engaged in the experience than usual.

Whatever. Its the holiday season I guess. I usually dont bother easy, but this was beginning to become a chore. I couldnt wait to get done and go back home to see my sleeping angels.

For most of the night I had three guys in Bears jerseys, two younger, one older, sitting in front of me watching the Sunday night football game. They werent shy about their consumption, but were harmless and having a good time. After a couple of hours in, the guy about my age shared with me that the two others were his sons. Thats pretty cool I thought and said. He had brought his sons up in Chicago but they had all subsequently moved to different parts of the country. They got together once a year for a Bears home game minus any female influence. They were all flying out Monday afternoon, but for now I felt as though we were watching a game in one of their living rooms, and I was now in on it, a willing audience for all the little things that they were goofing on each other for. Thats what guys do, especially when youre related.

I just thought this was the neatest thing.

An important thing.

It reminded me of sports trips I have taken with my father and someday want to take with my kids. Memories that last a lifetime, and now I was part of theirs. In my emotional state I kept telling them how cool what they were doing was. I could tell by dads smile he knew exactly what I meant.

For many families in Connecticut that simple joy is no longer possible.

Jace Fry, who still hasn't allowed a hit, is penciling his name into the White Sox bullpen of the future

0516_jace_fry.jpg
USA TODAY

Jace Fry, who still hasn't allowed a hit, is penciling his name into the White Sox bullpen of the future

The White Sox best reliever through the first 42 games of this rebuilding season? Undoubtedly, it’s been Jace Fry.

With Rick Renteria’s bullpen hardly the most reliable relief corps the game has ever seen, Fry has been a revelation, starting his 2018 campaign with 7.1 scoreless innings over six appearances.

And now things are getting a bit more dramatic for the 24-year-old lefty, a guy who’s been through a pair of Tommy John surgeries. He pitched some high-leverage ball in Saturday night’s 5-3 win, sitting down all four hitters he faced in the eighth and ninth innings while protecting a two-run lead.

“I was ready the whole game, just waiting for my name to be called,” Fry said. “But it was awesome getting in there in the eighth inning, even getting the first guy in the ninth inning. After I got him I was kind of hoping he’d let me keep going.”

Renteria uses his bullpen in a non-traditional manner, one that perhaps he thinks is a way of the future or one that’s a result of his lack of dominant options out there. Whichever it is, he doesn’t really have a closer but rather a host of guys he uses in those high-leverage situations, whenever they might come during the late stages of a game. Joakim Soria, Nate Jones and Bruce Rondon have all been used to get big outs late in games, and Rondon threw a scoreless seventh Saturday, with Jones getting the game’s final two outs for the save.

But it could be argued that most difficult outs were recorded by Fry, who put away the visiting Texas Rangers’ fourth, fifth and sixth hitters before getting the seventh hitter to strike out to start off the ninth.

Renteria steered away from dubbing Fry one of his new high-leverage guys after the game, but why wouldn’t Fry be in that mix? All he’s done since joining the big league squad earlier this month is get outs. He’s got 10 strikeouts, hasn’t allowed a hit and has just two walks as the lone blemishes on an otherwise perfect season line.

“It just happens to be that it was the eighth inning and the ninth that he pitched,” Renteria said. “I think he’s looking very comfortable in those. It happens to be the eighth and ninth we needed him. He’s been very, very effective. He’s been commanding the strike zone very well, confidently approaching his hitters. He’s got pretty good stuff.

“He’s able to command the zone. Along with that nice breaking ball he’s got to lefties and righties, it’s pretty effective. But he’s continuing to show you he’s capable of coming in and getting some pretty good hitters.”

Fry has been a rarity this season in that he’s appeared to be a candidate for a long-term spot in the White Sox bullpen. Jones would perhaps be the only other guy coming close to qualifying for that, mostly because of his team-friendly contract that keeps him under control a few more years, but he’s had some rough moments, even with his ERA dropping to 3.50 on Saturday.

Fry, though, is young and is dealing at the moment. He even got a shoutout as a potential long-term piece from general manager Rick Hahn earlier this week.

“Take Jace Fry, someone we haven’t mentioned when we’ve had this conversation the last couple of weeks,” Hahn said Thursday, discussing the positives he’s seen during this developmental season. “He’s shown up here and shown that he’s made some progress in his last stint in the minors and now, at age 24, seems like he’s ready to take that next step, and pencil his name in as part of what we’re building here going forward.”

There’s a lot of season left, and no one’s expecting Fry to keep batters hitless and opposing teams scoreless from now through the end of September. But this is a nice development for the rebuilding White Sox at the moment, a guy who’s giving them at least one name to put into that bullpen of the future.

How long can he keep this thing going? As long as he keeps getting ahead of hitters.

“Having the success is awesome, but I realize it’s the plan, the plan of attack,” Fry said. “I’m going out and throwing Strike 1 and getting ahead. Actually doing it, seeing it and having the process work definitely creates more confidence. Once you go back to the blueprint of baseball, Strike 1 is everything.”

Carson Fulmer's demotion and the current state of the White Sox rotation provide several rebuilding reminders

Carson Fulmer's demotion and the current state of the White Sox rotation provide several rebuilding reminders

Carson Fulmer getting sent to Triple-A following Friday’s game might be, to this point, the biggest development this season on the South Side.

Fulmer doesn’t carry the same expectations as higher-rated prospects like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen or Dane Dunning, but this is a top-10 draft pick who the White Sox still believe can play a significant role in their bright future. And he’s struggling. Badly. Once his ERA jumped up past 8.00 thanks to his third straight brief and run-filled outing, the White Sox made the decision to send him to Charlotte.

It leaves the White Sox rotation looking like this: James Shields, a struggling Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Hector Santiago and either Chris Volstad or the recently summoned Dylan Covey.

Four of those guys (Shields, Santiago, Volstad and Covey) don’t figure to play a role in the team’s long-term future, and Giolito is dealing with his own significant struggles, leading the American League in walks heading into his Saturday-night start. Lopez has been the rotation’s bright spot, but even he watched his ERA climb more than a full point after allowing six runs in two innings his last time out.

It’s not a great state for the rotation to be in if you, like the White Sox, have your sights set on the long-term future of this team, though it probably won’t look like that for too much longer. Still, it provides a few valuable reminders about not only this rebuilding effort but rebuilds in general.

This season is about development, and this is what development looks like

For better or worse, this is what development looks like. The White Sox own baseball’s worst record, and general manager Rick Hahn has been among the large number of White Sox fans to voice their disappointment over play that has been sloppy at times.

Fulmer’s struggles fall into the same category and serve as a reminder that growing pains like this are going to happen. We’ve seen it with Fulmer. We’ve seen it with Giolito. We’ve seen it with Lopez. Heck, we’ve seen it with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson, too.

But more than wins and losses, this is what this season is about. Hahn calls it “the hardest part of the rebuild” because it features guys getting lit up and games being lost. The hope is that Fulmer can figure things out in the minors and that Giolito won’t require a similar demotion to right his ship. And if everything turns out all right, then this will be an easily forgotten chapter in both of those players’ development.

In the moment, though, it’s another reminder that rebuilds take time and that the waiting game provides minimal fun.

Each player’s development has a different trajectory

Just because Fulmer is getting bumped down to Triple-A doesn’t mean he can’t still turn into a successful major league pitcher. Player development and rebuilds aren’t linear, as rebuilders like to say. And to expect every prospect to travel in a straight line from potential to big league stardom doesn't make much sense.

“We reiterate, ‘It’s not the end of your career,’” Renteria said Saturday. “This is simply a reboot, a reset. Ultimately, I think after the initial shock for any player, they settle down and they understand exactly what’s going on when you look at it logically and look in the mirror. I think it’s easy to logically look at it and say, ‘I need to work on x, y and z.’

“This is a good kid with a really positive attitude and a lot of confidence. I think he’ll look in the mirror and go, ‘You know what, I got things I can work on, I’ll settle in and get over this initial bump and get to work.’ Those are the guys that end up giving themselves a chance to return sooner rather than later and have success.”

Not all prospects pan out

The other side of that coin is the reminder that not every single one of the White Sox wealth of prospects will pan out. Hahn & Co. have prepared for that and built up an incredible amount of prospect depth, but when someone doesn't live up to expectations, it will be painful.

This isn’t to suggest that Fulmer, specifically, won’t pan out, but it’s to point out that not everyone will. That’s a crowded-looking rotation of the future with Kopech, Hansen, Dunning, Fulmer, Giolito, Lopez, Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease all competing for those eventual five spots. Rather than the White Sox having to make tough decisions about who will be left out, certainly a possibility, the developments of those pitchers might make those decisions for them.

Renteria is confident that Fulmer will be back in the big leagues, and there’s little reason to think that this is the end of Fulmer’s opportunity. But not every top-10 pick reaches All-Star status.

The future is on the way

The current starting rotation might have fans asking why the heck it looks like it does. But a month or two from now it will look drastically different.

Rodon makes his first rehab start Saturday at Class A Kannapolis as he battles back from shoulder surgery last fall, and he shouldn’t be too far away from providing a serious jolt to the starting staff. Not to mention, he’s a guy who as good a chance as anyone as grabbing one of those front-end spots, and with him in the rotation, things will look a tad more futuristic.

Same goes for Kopech, whose promotion figures to be coming at some point this summer. Given the hype and the expectations there, his arrival will obviously be a really big deal.

But regardless of the results either Rodon and Kopech put up in their first tastes of major league action in 2018, they’ll make the rotation into something that way more closely resembles the rotation of the future. There’ll be plenty of development left for the Hansens and the Ceases and the Dunnings in the minors. But a rotation featuring Rodon, Kopech, Giolito and Lopez looks a lot different than one featuring Shields, Santiago, Covey and Volstad.

Patience. It’s not much fun. But it’s necessary to build a contender.