CHICAGO – The White Sox go to spring training with a long line of promising prospects and a belief that better days are coming.
The question is: How soon?
For now, there sure is plenty of optimism for a team with five straight losing seasons. A big reason is the young players on the roster and in the pipeline.
“There’s an excitement that you should have because it’s real,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I’m excited, he’s excited, everybody’s excited. We just have to have patience and make sure that we do it the right way so that when they get there they really give you the best that they can give you.”
The Sox finished fourth in the AL Central at 67-95 last season. Only three teams had a worse record.
But there’s been mounting optimism ever since the White Sox went all-in on rebuilding after the 2016 season. The big trades sending former ace Chris Sale to Boston and outfielder Adam Eaton to Washington at the winter meetings that year kicked the process into gear. Those deals brought back second baseman Yoan Moncada and hard-throwing pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopech.
The Sox continued to load up, adding two prized outfielders to the system during the season. The White Sox signed Cuban Luis Robert in May and acquired Eloy Jimenez in the trade that sent pitcher Jose Quintana to the Cubs.
Here are some things to know as spring training opens, starting with the first workout for pitchers and catchers on Wednesday:
New look: The Sox signed catcher Welington Castillo and brought back pitcher Miguel Gonzalez after trading him late last season. In other words: This has been a slow offseason.
In that sense, they are not alone. For all the talk about possibly acquiring Manny Machado or trading slugger Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia, it was largely a quiet offseason in Chicago.
Castillo should help the young pitchers and add some pop to the lineup. He hit .282 with 20 homers and 53 RBIs in 96 games with Baltimore last season while throwing out 24 of 49 would-be base stealers for a major league-leading 49 percent success rate.
Gonzalez was 8-13 with a 4.62 ERA in 27 starts for the Sox and Texas Rangers.
Rookies to watch: Giolito, Moncada and Lopez all showed at least some promise at the major league level last season.
Giolito was particularly good, with a 2.38 ERA in seven starts after being called up from Triple-A, and Moncada batted .276 with five homers over his final 24 games.
Eyes also will be on Kopech and Jimenez. They figure to start the season in the minors, though general manager Rick Hahn did not rule out calling them up.
They’re set: The Sox can boast one of the league’s top sluggers in Abreu and another star in Garcia, assuming last year’s breakout was a sign of things to come.
But it’s hard to say what this team’s strengths and weaknesses are with so much hinging on the development of the young players.
Giolito, Carson Fulmer and Lopez give the White Sox reason for optimism in the rotation. Moncada and shortstop Tim Anderson – coming off a trying season in which he dealt with the shooting death of a close friend – could form a strong tandem in the middle of the infield.
They’re not: Third base is a bit of a question mark for now, though Yolmer Sanchez figures to get a look and 2017 first-round draft pick Jake Burger is in the system. The Sox could also use some outfield help, and their bullpen was hit hard by injuries and trades last year.
On deck: White Sox fans know just how big the payoff can be for a rebuild done well. All they have to do is look at the other team in town.
For now, they’ll be keeping their eyes on the young players – at the major league level and in the minors.