White Sox rely on family culture as rebuild reaches next phase
But as the White Sox enter what GM Rick Hahn called «phase two» of the rebuild and another wave of heralded prospects prepares to debut in 2018, Abreu’s approach with his teammates is a crucial piece of the culture that has helped the rebuild succeed through the first phase. And this culture is especially important when so much of the young talent has come via trade from other organizations. These young players need a pap to teach them the tradition and family culture of south side Chicago baseball.
«I try to help them as much as I can, just to teach them the things that they need to learn,» Abreu told Sporting News. «Be an example for them, teach them respect, and teach them how to do things on and off the field. I think that’s the most important thing for me, as my role right now with this team.»
The first baseman has a .301 average and 124 home runs in his first four seasons in the majors, so his attitude about where he brings the most value to his team might be surprising. But it’s a microcosm of the culture being built in Chicago’s clubhouse, and this culture of camaraderie is important as the White Sox prepare to navigate the challenges of bringing up more of their cadre of blue chip players.
«We have definitely moved on to a different and perhaps more difficult stage of this whole process. We’re thrilled in the amount of progress we’ve made in the last year, in the talent and even the camaraderie that these players have shown,» Hahn said. «It does get you excited, and at the same time, we know we’re only one year into this process. We’re deeper into the phase where player development is going to be at the forefront, and we’re going to have to be patient and allow these players the time and latitude to develop and inevitably fail and recover from that failure.»
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If the first phase was selling off nearly every tradeable piece and hoarding many of the best prospects in baseball, Hahn and company have done that with mastery. Having assembled a top five farm system in baseball that has already graduated guys such as Yoan Moncada and Carson Fulmer, they have many others prepared to make that final jump. One of these is Michael Kopech, the Texan who has already fried radar guns in the minors with his triple digit speed.
Now having spent a full year in the White Sox organization after being traded from Boston last winter, Kopech has the kind of team first attitude about the upcoming season that is common in Chicago.
«I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team, whether that’s going to be to pitch in Triple A and leave me out of the big leagues altogether, or if it’s going to be to go to the big leagues and take the ball every fifth day,» Kopech told Sporting News. «My focus first and foremost is for the White Sox to use me in a beneficial way, and whatever way that is for them is going to work for me.»
Coming from a 2014 first round draft pick who was a key piece in a trade for Chris Sale, a bigger ego would be expected but that’s not the case with Kopech. This is the White Sox culture that has been instilled in all players. Patience is invaluable both at the macro and micro levels.
Though he came from the Red Sox, an organization rich with history and tradition in its own right, Kopech said learning what it means to wear the White Sox uniform has made the strongest impression on him. After a 2017 season with a 2.88 ERA and 30 percent strikeout rate in Double and Triple A, his patience is likely to be rewarded soon. And Kopech isn’t alone among those poised to hit Guaranteed Rate Field in 2018.
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Outfielder Eloy Jimenez, commonly considered the top prospect in Chicago’s system and one of the best in all of baseball, spent just a few weeks at Double A at the close of the 2017 season where he hit .353 in 18 games but his sights are set on making his major league debut this year.
«I can tell you, I’m going to work hard, and I’m just going to keep playing hard. My goal is to finish in the majors,» Jimenez told Sporting News. «If I’m a star, I know I’m going to finish in the majors.»
Asked when Jimenez might get his first crack at the majors, Hahn acknowledges that, despite being 21 and having made only 73 plate appearances above High A, he could very well force his way into the White Sox outfield this summer.
«The good ones have a way of changing your timeline,» Hahn said. «And it’s not going to shock me if at some point over the summer if Eloy forces our hand, and we’re going to have to wind up being a little more aggressive.»
Jimenez came to the White Sox in the trade that sent Jose Quintana to the Cubs, a deal that Hahn said most outside of the two organizations never thought possible. Once a prized piece of the Cubs farm system, Jimenez felt embraced by his new organization almost immediately.
«I feel like they know me already, and that’s the feeling you want when you get traded,» Jimenez said.
He transitioned beautifully too, swapping High A uniforms in a series between Myrtle Beach, his old club, and Winston Salem, his new one. In his first game in the White Sox organization, Jimenez hit a two run single to push across what would prove to be the winning runs against his old team. He went on to hit .345 with eight home runs in 29 games for Winston Salem before being promoted to Double A on Aug. 15.
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Along with Jimenez, the White Sox got pitcher Dylan Cease in return for Quintana, and though Cease’s arrival to the majors will probably come later, he has felt swept up in the excitement of a promising rebuild.
«It’s hard not be excited when there’s so much opportunity and so much talent,» Cease told SN.
Cease was a sixth round pick in the Cubs» 2014 draft, and he saw firsthand the culmination of an organizational rebuild when the Cubs won the World Series. With the White Sox, he sees something similar in their future.
«It’s really cool to be able to say, «Hey, I was a part of that»,» Cease said, both reflecting on his brief tenure in the Cubs organization and looking ahead to what the White Sox hope is to come. «There’s a ton of talent here. I could see it happening.»
A 2018 call up is less likely for Cease, who pitched all of last season at Single A. But he has a blazing fastball and healthy strikeout rate to rival Kopech’s, so he is not far away.
Juggling so much young talent and managing the task of continuing their development as they get the call to the majors requires just the right person, and Abreu was clear about his feelings on White Sox manager Rick Renteria.
«His energy is radiant,» Abreu said. «He has filled us with the confidence to go out and play the game the way the way it is supposed to be played.»
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Hahn, too, speaks glowingly about his manager, and when Renteria talks about what he has valued in the rebuild, it is easy to see why.