Legends On Deck

White Sox Haul of Prospects Lead a Team Reboot

The Chicago White Sox front office responded to a disappointing 2016 campaign by making a number of roster moves in the off-season to stock up on young talent. Through trades and releases, the team pivoted from the veteran-heavy “win now” roster of last Spring to the full-on rebuilding program now underway. New additions, including ranked prospects Michael Kopech, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez, join promising young players like Carson Fulmer, Tim Anderson, and  Avisail Garcia. The newcomers, though acquired at a cost in veteran talent, should immediately energize the ChiSox minor league system – and within a few short years might unleash a Major League superstar or two.

As late as last June, the White Sox were trading away young players for “Big Game” James Shields. The hope was that Shields and his post-season experience, together with ace Chris Sale, free agent acquisition Mat Latos; veteran reliever Zach Duke; journeyman backstop Dioner Navarro; long-time Phillies mainstay Jimmy Rollins; and the likes of Justin Morneau, J.B. Shuck, and John Danks would gird the team for a post-season appearance.

Post-season was not to be. Club Executive Vice-President Kenny Williams and General Manager Rick Hahn began a slow housecleaning during the season by releasing the underperforming Rollins and Latos. At trade deadline, the Sox peddled the lefty Duke to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for center fielder Charlie Tilson, a 2011 Redbirds second-round draft pick. Catcher Navarro cleared waivers and went to the contending Toronto Blue Jays for lefty Colton Turner in August.  Upon finishing the 2016 campaign 78-84, fourth place in the American League Central, the Sox front office let most of its veterans eligible for free agency walk.  Shields and power-hitting Todd Frazier remain, and the front office re-hired Austin Jackson after the speedy outfielder filed, but Williams and Hahn saved considerable payroll letting the others go. The front office was hinting at, but not yet committing to, a youth movement.

The crystal ball remained cloudy until the 2016 Winter Meetings (December 6-7, 2016), when Williams traded two of the team’s marquee players: Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. Sale, sharing “Face of the Franchise” duties with “The Toddfather” (Frazier), had pitched extraordinarily well but carried a multi-million contract and, possibly, some baggage from clubhouse run-ins with the front office.

This week the team released infielder Brett Lawrie, the latest departing veteran. To paraphrase the team’s long-time voice in the broadcast booth “Hawk” Ken Harrelson, “They gone.”

A combination of sour player-management relations, payroll concerns, and disappointing performance on the field led to the shift toward new faces.

The return on Sale from Boston is impressive: Hard-throwing Kopech, the much-heralded Moncada, plus outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe, and pitcher Victor Diaz. Shipping Eaton to Washington garnered additional power arms in López and Giolito, with University of Florida pitching product Dane Dunning sweetening the deal.

Michael Kopech & Reynaldo Lopez, Spring Training, 2017.

Kopech, a top 100 prospect according to both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus last pre-season, lights up the radar gun. Pitching mostly for Salem at the class high-A level last season, the 20 year-old, six-foot-three, 205-pound right-hander fanned batters at a rate of 13 strikeouts per nine innings. His pitching stats have shown improvement from year to year since his professional debut in 2014, an encouraging sign.

Moncada, a consensus top ten prospect, made a quiet Major League bow for the Boston Red Sox (4-for-19 with 12 Ks in eight games) during the 2016 September roster expansion. After the BoSox won the sweepstakes to sign the former star for the Elefantes de Cienfuegos in the Serie Nacional de Béisbol (Cuba), Moncada showed the potential in class A and AA ball to be a top-of-the-lineup standout, getting on base at near a .400 clip and swiping bags like he had an invitation (94 steals in 109 attempts over 2015-16).

López, a 23 year-old right-hander, made his Major League debut last season, logging 44 innings with the Washington Nationals and posting a 4.91 ERA in 11 appearances as a reliever and spot starter. Already he shows maturity, telling an MLB reporter Scott Merkin after a rocky Spring debut: “We are not desperate to show people what we can do, because we know what we can do. We just try to do what we are supposed to do.” Whether the phrase is Lopez’ own or a message crafted for him by the front office, these are words to live by if you are a prospect invited to Spring Training.


Lucas Giolito, Spring Training, 2017.

Opposing batters will know when Giolito is on the bump; at six foot six and 255 pounds, the right-hander is a big boy. The Nationals drafted him out of a Los Angeles High School in the first round of the 2012 Amateur Draft. He made his MLB debut in late 2016 with the Nationals, making four starts. Major League batters welcomed “Gio” to The Show with a bang, tagging the 22 year-old with seven home runs in just 21 innings.

White Sox fans need not worry; Giolito played at four baseball levels in 2016. He, like Kopech, Lopez, and 2015  number eight draft pick Fulmer, is young and the coaching staff should smooth out the rough edges.

So meet the new White Sox. Their new skipper is Rick Renteria, replacing Robin Ventura. Cellular Field has been rechristened Guaranteed Rate Field after its new sponsor; and there are a lot of youthful faces in Spring Training. If the several new kids have not yet been hardened by the grind, in time the reinvigorated Sox will give the formidable Cleveland Indians and friends a run for their money.

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