Renteria in similar position as '14 in Windy City
White Sox manager was with Cubs during time of rebuild
CHICAGO -- Four years later, after some angst and a lot of hard work, White Sox manager Rick Renteria is looking forward to finally being able to pick up where he left off in his last job.
"Interesting way of putting it, but that could be,'' Renteria said before SoxFest opened on Friday. "I think we're certainly moving along in a positive direction. I'm hoping it's able to occur sooner rather than later.''
Renteria is managing a White Sox club that suddenly has a lot in common with the Cubs team he had for the blink of an eye in 2014, during a season that set the stage for a championship run under Joe Maddon.
Hired by general manager Theo Epstein in the third season of his rebuild, Renteria was with the Cubs when they opened Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz. He went there that year, when Anthony Rizzo was a 24-year-old coming off his first full season and when Kristopher Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr. and Kyle Hendricks still dreamed of getting to Wrigley Field.
Renteria heads into his second season as the White Sox manager (third in the organization) looking to build a contender around the likes of Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito, among many others in a highly intriguing cast of prospects.
It's "Deja vu all over again," as Yogi Berra once said.
"That is an accurate statement; the similarity is there,'' Renteria said about being back where he was with the Cubs. "We are an organization that has evolved into having a tremendous amount of depth. A lot of them are outfielders, and we have some infielders, some young pitching arms down in the system. We're going to have a few of the guys in camp. I do believe in totality, the depth of players we have in the Minor League system now is pretty similar [to the Cubs' young core].''
There were seven Cubs listed as Top 100 prospects in the spring of 2014: Bryant, Baez, Almora, C.J. Edwards, Jorge Soler, Pierce Johnson and Arismendy Alcantara.
Heading into the upcoming shuffle of rankings, the White Sox had six players in the MLB Pipeline Top 100: Jimenez (No. 5), Kopech (10), Robert (23), Blake Rutherford (40), Dylan Cease (58) and Alec Hansen. That list doesn't include Moncada, Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who graduated to the Major Leagues last season, or 2017 first-round pick Jake Burger and '16 first-rounder Zack Collins, who slipped out of the Top 100 but still ranks as the ninth-best catching prospect in the Majors.
For all of these highly touted prospects, it's the next step that matters the most.
"The ability to get some of the other guys in the system up to [the Majors] could be the question,'' Renteria said. "We really don't want to put the cart before the horse in those guys' development. We're going to continue to be patient.''
Hendricks, the Ivy Leaguer who is following the Greg Maddux path to success, was viewed more as a possible back-of-the-rotation arm than an ace in 2014. The Cubs have never had a collection of power arms like the ones that the White Sox are taking to camp this year.
In fairness, few other teams have either.
Kopech, Cease and Hansen are the headliners following behind Giolito, Lopez, Carlos Rodon (coming off left shoulder surgery) and Carson Fulmer. There's a long list of others commanding attention, including Dane Dunning, A.J. Puckett, Ian Clarkin, Aaron Bummer, Connor Walsh and Spencer Adams. Zack Burdi, another triple-digit arm, could return late in the season after Tommy John surgery.
"We do [have a lot of intriguing arms], we certainly do,'' Renteria said. "The key is their development. For example, in Kopech's situation, we want to make sure his changeup is developed to the extent it can offset his [100 mph-plus] velocity. He's commanding his breaking ball, but we need that changeup to get a little better. We'll see how he looks in camp. Pitchers have a way of developing quite fast. Sometimes their feel can show up and all of a sudden they're dominant.''
Renteria, who had previously worked as a coach for Bud Black's Padres, was still getting to know the Cubs' players when they went to camp in 2014. Renteria is much more grounded with the White Sox, as he worked as Robin Ventura's bench coach before taking over as manager last season.
Renteria will be reuniting with an old friend when he gets to Arizona. Welington Castillo, who was the Cubs' regular catcher in 2014, is the White Sox primary offseason acquisition.
The burden of poor pitch-framing analytics has sent Castillo shuffling from the Cubs to the Mariners, D-backs and Orioles the last three seasons, even though he's been very productive as a hitter during that time (.261, 53 home runs, .767 OPS in 1,200 plate appearances). But like White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who signed Castillo to a two-year contract with a third-year option, Renteria believes he can trust the 30-year-old catcher to bring veteran leadership to Chicago's stable of young pitchers.
"I think that his experience has served [Castillo] well,'' Renteria said. "The catching metrics that have determined what a catcher's value is have seemed to shift. He's been receiving very, very well. I think he's going to be able to communicate with the pitchers very well. Time in the big leagues, in general, puts you with a foot forward in being able to manage the game. I thought he prepared very, very well when we were on the North Side. He put those plans into practice.''
When Renteria managed the Cubs, he lived near Michigan Avenue, in the heart of the city. He migrated to the West Loop, a little closer to the South Side, when he returned to Chicago after spending 2015 at home in San Diego, time in which he was paid by the Cubs.
Renteria's firing reflected only on Maddon's sudden availability, not on any dissatisfaction with his managerial skills. To the contrary, Epstein and Jed Hoyer have consistently praised Renteria for helping Rizzo and Starlin Castro regain their footing while assisting in the development of Hendricks, Baez and Soler, among others.
Renteria is in the second season of a three-year deal with the White Sox, and this time around, he should get a chance to finish what he's started.
"The reality is, I'm very thankful for the opportunity that was extended to me [by the Cubs],'' Renteria said. "It expanded the ability for others to see me. I truly believe we end up landing where we're supposed to be. Right now, this is where I'm supposed to be.''