White Sox hoping the lean years will pay off similar to cross-town rival Cubs

CHICAGO — Sometimes, Chicago White Sox executive VP Kenny Williams has to do the reminding.

Other times, it’s White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.

Those two, along with owner Jerry Reinsdorf, decided before the 2017 season that they would rebuild. They’re now in year three, and there have been some painful times for the South Siders, owners of a 175-255 record the last three seasons.

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The losses can lead to some frustration, but those men make sure to tell one another that they can’t deviate from their course.

“We’ve had to exercise a tremendous amount of patience,” William told Yahoo Sports. “It’s been a few years of losses. That’s tough. That’s tough for competitive people like we are. We made the decision together, and one of the things I try to preach around here is we all have to stick together. This is the course we charted. Only by pulling from the same rope can we ultimately get to where we want to get to.”

The White Sox are one of a handful of teams currently rebuilding, and they seemingly are in that middle stage where they’re not yet contenders, but they’re not bottom feeders. They could be ready to contend for a playoff berth as early as next season, but it may take another two years before they truly will be a threat for the AL Central crown.

The teardown began after four straight seasons featuring between 63-78 wins, and the White Sox turned Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Tommy Kahnle, Todd Frazier and David Robertson into 14 prospects in eight months.

Sale netted them Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease arrived in exchange for Jose Quintana. Adam Eaton went to Washington for Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning and Reynaldo Lopez. The Yankees sent Blake Rutherford for Frazier, Kahnle, and Robertson.

Those trades resulted in the White Sox building what MLB.com ranked the fourth-best farm system entering the year.

“We’re in a good spot. We got a lot of young guys playing pretty good,” White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson said. “We’re just missing a few pieces, obviously we got some pieces down in the minor leagues that are going to be coming up soon and joining us.”

Accumulating talent is only half the battle since it’s far from a given that all heralded prospects will become quality major leaguers, and some take longer than others to develop.

The White Sox are pleased with the growth they are seeing from their youngsters with Moncada and Giolito particularly showing how development is not always linear.

Yoan Moncada has turned around his young career with an excellent 2019 season. (Getty Images)
Yoan Moncada has turned around his young career with an excellent 2019 season. (Getty Images)

Moncada, 24, struck out an MLB-high 217 times last year while hitting just .235 with a .714 OPS, which led to some grumbles about just how talented he may or not be. Williams said the White Sox were never as concerned about Moncada as those outside the organization.

Giolito, once one of the game’s elite pitching prospects, posted a 6.13 ERA, the highest among qualified pitchers. He hardly resembled a future ace.

One year later, the narrative has flipped.

Moncada, who just landed this week on the IL with a hamstring strain, is hitting .301 with 21 homers and a .893 OPS. Giolito made the All-Star team and owns a 3.39 ERA spanning 21 starts. They look the part of franchise cornerstones the White Sox can build around.  

Jimenez has also rebounded after a slow start to his career. The outfielder noted that how he’s learning to adjust to pitchers he's never faced, and how different stadiums play. 

“Those guys that are really special, they make huge jumps and strides quickly. We have to be prepared because once that comes, we have to be ready to strike,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “Hopefully the next couple months for our guys are continued months of growth and experience, and we got to use that to our benefit to transition to the coming season. … We’re moving in the right direction, albeit we’ve had some health issues along the way.”

That’s not to say it’s all roses for the White Sox.

After a 4-0 loss clinched a sweep at the hands of the New York Mets on Thursday, the White Sox are just 4-16 since the break and are averaging 2.75 runs in that span. 

Even with Moncada and Jimenez providing solid to strong seasons, Chicago’s offense has scored the third-fewest fewest runs in MLB, ahead of only the Miami Marlins and Detroit Tigers.

Some of the young starters are taking some lumps this year as well.

Lopez has taken a step back this year, owning a 5.43 ERA after posting a 3.91 ERA last year.

Thursday’s starter, Cease, is getting his first taste of the majors and owns a 6.11 ERA. He pitched well Thursday, allowing four runs in a career-best seven innings.

Shoddy defense by the White Sox on a pop up into left in the sixth inning led to a three-run frame that left Cease with a line not indicative of how he pitched. He fanned six and walked two.  

Certainly, no judgment should be made of five starts, but the White Sox are allowing him to learn and gain valuable experience.

“Dylan Cease is one we’re starting to see,” Renteria said. “These are going to be a couple months now that are important for his adjustment.”

Among the touted prospects the White Sox obtained, Rutherford, once a consensus top-100 prospect, has taken a step back. 

The former first-round pick is now hitting just .251 with a .650 OPS in his first season in Double-A and has fallen out of the top 100.

Injuries have also slowed several players’ developments.

Kopech, MLB.com’s No. 18 prospect, has undergone Tommy John surgery, along with Dunning, which has delayed their timetables. Kopech would have been a part of this year’s rotation.

Former first-rounder Carlos Rodon also underwent Tommy John.

However, the beauty of having so many talented prospects is it allows a team to be prepared to deal with injuries to hyped prospects, along with underwhelming production. 

Outfield prospect Luis Robert hasn't reached the majors yet but has a 1.042 OPS this season in the minors. (AP)
Outfield prospect Luis Robert hasn't reached the majors yet but has a 1.042 OPS this season in the minors. (AP)

The White Sox top prospect is outfielder Luis Robert, an international free agent signee, who Jimenez said is the best prospect he’s ever seen. He’s ranked fifth overall by MLB.com.

He has yet to reach the majors but owned a 1.042 OPS spanning three levels entering Thursday. 

“[Injuries have] changed a lot. [Kopech and Dunning] were supposed to be part of this mix right now taking their lumps and experiencing their growth period right now along with Eloy and Moncada,” Williams said. “That’s OK, they’ll be in the next group. They’re getting healthy, healthy and stronger in some sense. 

"They’ll be back next year.”

Williams noted that most rebuilds realistically need about five seasons, and that’s if everything breaks right. 

Sometimes, teams can try to accelerate the process, like when the White Sox pursued elite free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but those two passed on signing with Chicago. 

The White Sox are hoping these lean years will pay off with perennial contention in the same way the cross-town rival Cubs' decision to build for the future resulted in a championship. 

“Someday, we’re gonna be one of the best teams in the majors. We’ve got a lot of talent,” Jimenez said. “We just need to figure it out. When we figure it out, we’re going to be good.”

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