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White Sox optimistic, ready for next step in '19

@scottmerkin
March 25, 2019

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- A few days before Spring Training ended, manager Rick Renteria asked his White Sox charges during their daily morning meeting at Camelback Ranch if they were ready for the 2019 season. The collective response was exactly what Renteria wanted to hear. “I’m not going to use the

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- A few days before Spring Training ended, manager Rick Renteria asked his White Sox charges during their daily morning meeting at Camelback Ranch if they were ready for the 2019 season.

The collective response was exactly what Renteria wanted to hear.

“I’m not going to use the expletives they were using, but they are ready to go,” said a smiling Renteria. “We are all ready to get out of Spring Training, and let us start playing the games and show them what we are capable of doing.

“We will have ups and downs. But I’m hoping for a positive season for us in Chicago."

In the third year of the White Sox rebuild, contention is a word thrown around confidently by the players. Contention still might be one year away, but being competitive in 2019, setting up what the club hopes is a sustained run of success, certainly seems more plausible.

“As we sit here now and I look at the stretch that lays ahead of us -- hopefully in the not too distant future, but certainly coming in the future -- we are all very optimistic and excited for what the future holds,” general manager Rick Hahn said.

“We had a tough year last year, but out of all those lows, there are so many lessons to be learned,” said reliever Nate Jones, the longest-tenured player on the roster. “That’s what we are finding and using in Spring Training.”

What's the goal?

Much as they did in 2018, the White Sox will continue identifying key players and prospects as the rebuild goes forward. They expect a jump from last year’s 62-100 mark with some of their veteran additions and the development of such top prospects as Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada and Dylan Cease.

What's the plan?

The White Sox do not believe in rushing a prospect before his time. They want players to stay and flourish once they arrive, not just get there fast. Moncada, now at third base, and right-handers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez already have reached the big leagues to go with more established young standouts, such as shortstop Tim Anderson and left-hander Carlos Rodon. Look for catcher Zack Collins and possibly even second baseman Nick Madrigal to reach the Majors in ’19.

What could go wrong

Chicago ventured into the market for premium free agents, making a strong push for third baseman Manny Machado, but came up empty. That miss didn’t exactly set back the rebuild, but it was a chance to add a 26-year-old All-Star to the young mix. Injuries to right-handers Michael Kopech, Dane Dunning and Zack Burdi, along with injuries sustained by infielder Jake Burger and outfielders Micker Adolfo, Luis Alexander Basabe and Luis Robert, have slowed some developmental paths, but it’s better for the organization that these injuries come now than when it reaches the planned window of contention.

Hahn has stated many times that development is not linear, so even a 2018 season in which Moncada struck out 217 times doesn’t make the team doubt his potential. Building front-line standouts, not to mention depth, from within is essential for a team not frequently seen in the high end of free agency.

Who might surprise?

Jimenez has “star” written all over him. With his new six-year, $43 million deal in place, including two option years potentially taking the value to $75 million over eight years, the left fielder will get his American League Rookie of the Year Award candidacy moving from the season’s outset. Madrigal was selected fourth overall in the 2018 MLB Draft and he has just 98 at-bats for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem, but the advanced skillset he brought from Oregon State could put him at second base in the Majors later this season. If Luis Robert, ranked as the team’s No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline, can stay healthy, he could be a part of the big league equation by 2020.

The AL Central features two teams -- the Tigers and Royals -- that are not as far along in their respective rebuilds as the White Sox. Strengthening the bullpen with the additions of Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera, not to mention bolstering the rotation with Ivan Nova and Ervin Santana, and the lineup and clubhouse with such new players as first baseman/designated hitter Yonder Alonso, outfielder Jon Jay and catcher James McCann, will help the White Sox in ’19.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.