As Sox continue to struggle, Double-A Barons going strong under manager Santos

June 20th, 2024

CHICAGO -- The goal for Sergio Santos, as the manager of Chicago’s Double-A affiliate in Birmingham, is developing oftentimes premium talent to help at the big league level.

But in the process of that development, while delivering the organizational message set at the top, there’s nothing wrong with winning. The White Sox are not winning in 2024, as they fell 5-3 to the Astros during Thursday afternoon’s series finale at Guaranteed Rate Field in a game where the South Siders held a two-run lead through six.

Thursday’s setback dropped the White Sox to a season-worst 36 games under .500 at 20-56, lowering their mark to 4-18-2 in series competition with an 0-9-1 record over their last 10 sets. The Double-A Barons, on the flip side, hold a 1 1/2-game lead over Tennessee as they look to lock down the Southern League North’s first-half title.

“That’s the exciting part right. We’re up 1 1/2 games with four to play and they’re gaining so much experience that will help them later in their careers,” said Santos during a Zoom prior to Thursday’s on-field action. “It’s been fun, it’s a great group of guys. I’m blessed with the staff I have, and they make it easy for me to manage.

“They take care of their departments and bounce things off each other. We’ve done a really good job creating an environment where these guys are excited to go to the field every day. I harp on them all the time, it’s a process. We get results oriented but they’ve bought into trusting the process. We’ve had a good year so far.”

Hitting coach Nicky Delmonico, pitching coach John Ely and bench coach Angel Rosario comprise Santos’ staff at Birmingham. It’s a staff filled with younger mentors who aren’t that far removed from playing professional baseball themselves. It’s a prospect-rich team, with Noah Schultz, the No. 2 Sox prospect per MLB Pipeline, leading the way with a 1.72 ERA, 21 strikeouts and no walks over four starts and 15 2/3 innings.

Their pitching staff leads all Minor League teams with a 2.82 ERA, while the rotation has posted a combined 2.78 ERA. Factor in the winning, and the total mission has been accomplished to date.

“There is value,” Santos said of winning. “Player development is always going to be No. 1 but if you do player development in the right way wins will be a byproduct. Everything matters and that will help them in the big leagues because they’ve been there, done that.

“I told these guys, you shouldn’t do anything different than you did in Game 1 because we should play hard every inning, every moment. It’s stuff they learn, runners in scoring position less than two outs, at times we struggle a bit and at times we figure it out.”

Development is a large part of the Major League White Sox mantra, as they embark on their latest rebuild and try to find significant future pieces in the present. Despite the underwhelming record, they are still trying to win.

“Our goal is always to win games,” said center fielder , through interpreter Billy Russo, after doubling and driving in a run Thursday. “Every day, we come here preparing to win games. Even though the record doesn’t reflect that or even though the fans or the media doesn’t think that way … that’s how we approach every game.

“You always try to compete no matter who you are playing against. You always try to compete and try to win games. At the end of the day, the best team is the one that’s going to win.”

Present focus on the best of the White Sox falls upon Class-A Kannapolis where the Cannon Ballers clinched the Carolina League South’s first-half crown. The Barons already have sent third baseman Bryan Ramos, right-handed starter Drew Thorpe and outfielder Duke Ellis to the ‘24 White Sox and should soon join that division title list, with the hopes of it serving as a precursor of bigger things to come.

“We tell them, ‘Yes, it’s great if we clinch and win games in Birmingham,’ but more importantly, I’m looking to next year and the year after that when they’re in the hunt for the AL Central,” Santos said. “They will have been there and done that.

“There is an importance to winning because you learn how to win and put teams away. That will help them later in their career.”