After signing a slew of highly sought after free agents to add to a system already teeming with young, controlled players and some big league-ready, blue-chip prospects, the White Sox three-year rebuilding process under general manager Rick Hahn looks like it could soon pay off.
This offseason alone, the South Siders aggressively signed free agents such as Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnación, Kelvin Herrera and Steve Cishek, veterans who should help bolster a promising long-term nucleus of White Sox youngsters.
The White Sox locked up two young stars to long-term contracts even before they reached the Major Leagues, inking Eloy Jiménez to a guaranteed six-year, $43 million pact (with two club options) before the 2019 season, and then securing No. 3 overall prospect Luis Robert’s future this offseason with a six-year, $50 million contract (with two club options). On top of that, the South Siders also extended Yoán Moncada, a 4.8 WAR player in 2019, with a five-year, $70 million deal (one club option) in early March.
Now add in some of the team’s other cost-controlled young stars -- Tim Anderson, Dylan Cease, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López -- as well as high-end prospects like Michael Kopech, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn, and it’s easy to understand why White Sox club officials are as excited as ever about the upcoming season.
“We definitely feel like this is a long time coming,” White Sox farm director Chris Getz said. “A couple years ago, Rick Hahn and the rest of the front office decided that this was the best direction for the White Sox to make the moves we did and acquire some of the players we have. We’ve acquired a lot of players in various ways -- certainly through trades, players we drafted and were able to develop, some international signings -- but we knew it would take time and wouldn’t be easy.
“We’ve had this setback, which I certainly think help with the perspective of life versus baseball,” Getz continued, “and making sure all of our players are healthy and OK and their families are doing OK as well. That’s our focus right now. But rewind, about a month ago, we were feeling pretty excited about our season. When that time comes back, we can kind of focus on the baseball season.”
But even with all the deserved hype and excitement surrounding the White Sox potential resurgence in 2020, Getz and the rest of the organization understand that expectations must be tempered to an extent with such a young group of players, many of whom will be experiencing the Major Leagues for the first time.
“These guys are young and still getting acclimated to the Major Leagues,” noted Getz. “The level of experience they’ve acquired is going to help them, but we know that there will be some bumps and bruises along the way that will only strengthen them for the long run.”
For a player who was only a few months into his college season as a California junior a year ago, Andrew Vaughn sure looked like he belonged while in big league camp this spring. A Golden Spikes Award winner as a sophomore in 2018, Vaughn batted .374/.495/.688 with 50 homers in his Bears career. He was taken by the White Sox with the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s Draft and hit his way up to Class A Advanced Winston-Salem in his pro debut.
A non-roster invitee to Major League Spring Training ahead of his first full pro season, the 21-year-old first baseman responded to the challenge by batting .304/.448/.522 with one home run, two doubles and five RBIs over parts of 13 games, during which he accrued more walks (5) than strikeouts (4).
“Andrew has a very advanced approach, which we knew when we drafted him; but the more time we’ve spent around him, seeing him operate on a day-to-day basis in a Major League environment -- he’s just very impressive,” said Getz about the White Sox No. 2 prospect (MLB No. 16).
Getz offered similar praise for Madrigal, the club’s No. 4 prospect (No. 40 overall), and Robert, noting that they were part of a much larger group of young players who consistently turned heads during camp.
“It was one of those springs where we were just looking around and thinking, ‘hey, this guy looks good, and so does that guy!’, just kind of going down the list that way with everyone we had,” he noted. "There really was a long list of impressive performances during Spring Training, but, more so, it was a sign to us that these guys are ready to step up and do some special things.”
Prospect to watch in 2021
Texas high schooler Matt Thompson became the earliest prep hurler taken by the White Sox in the past five years when they selected him in the second round last June. Signed for $2.1 million, he already can reach 96 mph with his fastball, with more velocity to come, and shows feel for spinning a future plus curveball.
“Matt has been working his butt off -- and that goes from when we got him last summer, through the summer into instructional league, and he’s certainly put in his work during the offseason and coming the spring in really good shape,” Getz said about Thompson, who is No. 7 on the White Sox Top 30 Prospects list.
“He’s a physically gifted athlete, with strength that shows in his power stuff, so we’re working on repeating and smoothing out his delivery, refining his secondary pitches and some normal maintenance things along the way. He’s a competitor with composure, and the work he put in was starting to show itself. We look forward to a productive 2020 season as we enter his first full season.”
Something to prove
The White Sox remain high on the future of No. 14 prospect Blake Rutherford, a former first-round Yankees pick (2016) whom the White Sox acquired in a four-player package that sent Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson to New York in July 2017. But in the two full seasons since Rutherford joined the organization, the 22-year-old outfielder has slugged just .383 and hit exactly seven homers in both years. He still has a smooth left-handed stroke and can hit to all fields, but his power has yet to come along as once hoped, mitigated by his penchant for making weak ground-ball contact.
“You watch this guy hit and he has natural hitting ability,” noted Getz. “He hits the ball hard and produces some of the best exit velocities in our organization, but the launch-angle averages are on the lower end. When you start with a guy who's left-handed, hits the ball like he does, makes contact against lefties and righties -- we think we have a good chance of really capturing his potential.”
From the White Sox perspective, Rutherford -- who batted .265/.319/.365 with strikeout and walk rates of 24.6 and 7.7 percent, respectively, last year over a full season at Double-A Birmingham -- may be only a few adjustments away from taking the next step toward reaching his potential.
“Making better decisions at the plate and isolating a plan and approach to drive the ball consistently through the middle of the field with power is a big one,” said Getz.
Once that is in place, Getz believes the next step will be improving the positioning of Rutherford’s body as a means of creating a swing path with more loft.
“It’s in there,” said Getz about Rutherford’s power potential. “He flashes it at times; but, right now, it’s a matter of having him do it on a consistent basis. He’s been steady for us, but we think there’s an extra gear in there.”