CHICAGO – As he watched the young players take their rips at the team’s recent hitters’ camp, manager Rick Renteria could see the potential and the promise for the White Sox.
“You went to every field, and every player you saw at some point, they did something and you’d go, ‘Man,’ ” he said.
With a line of prospects either on the major league roster or in the pipeline, better days appear to be in store for a team with five straight losing years.
The Sox loaded up on young players and put themselves in position to make a jump within the next few years. It’s all added up to a heavy dose of optimism for a franchise with only one playoff appearance since the 2005 championship season.
Only three teams had a worse record last season than the Sox, who lost 95 games. But the positive vibe surrounding the team has been mounting ever since the Sox went all-in on rebuilding last winter.
The returns so far are encouraging.
“They’re real,” Renteria said. “They’re really good baseball players, are continuing to develop with a high skill set. ... I cannot contain myself. That’s why you see me smiling, because they’re coming.”
Sox fans tired of watching their team try to stay afloat by bringing in veterans finally got what they wanted when the front office dove deep into rebuilding mode at the 2016 winter meetings. The Sox traded former ace Chris Sale to Boston and outfielder Adam Eaton to Washington in separate deals that brought back second baseman Yoan Moncada and hard-throwing pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopech.
The Sox continued to load up during the season, signing Cuban outfielder Luis Robert in May. In July, they got another top prospect when they traded pitcher Jose Quintana to the Cubs for infielder Eloy Jimenez.
“It’s great to read all the hype and to see it with your own eyes,” general manager Rick Hahn said Saturday at SoxFest, the team’s annual fan convention. “For me, what gets me most excited is the culture change Ricky and his staff have put in with this club. And you saw it last year with the way the team played, the way it fought for 27 outs, the way that every man was into the game from start to finish doing everything in their power to pull out a victory on any given night. ... That’s a cultural change that’s going to endure.”
But the talent has to be there. The prospects have to develop. So far, the signs are encouraging.
Hall of Famer Frank Thomas likes what he sees.
“Some of these guys are gonna be incredibly special,” he said. “I see a couple guys that are gonna average 20 home runs. I see guys that can amass amazing strikeouts. I see a team chemistry there. ... There’s so much talent on this team. I’m impressed.”
Former pitcher Jose Contreras, a key member of the 2005 team, envisions big things, too.
“I can see a team that probably in two years is gonna be really good and is gonna be able to do great things,” he said through an interpreter.
Moncada, Giolito and Lopez all played in the majors last season. Moncada showed his potential down the stretch, hitting .276 with five homers over his final 24 games, and Giolito posted a 2.38 ERA in seven starts after being called up from Triple-A.
Kopech dominated at Double-A and Triple-A, posting a 2.88 ERA. He and Jimenez figure to start the season in the minors, though Hahn didn’t rule out calling them up.
He insisted the Sox won’t rush their prospects, nor will they bring them up as a stopgap to fill a hole on the roster.
Hahn said it would “in theory” be “perfectly acceptable” for Jimenez to spend the entire season at Double-A. The same goes for Kopech at Triple-A.
“That said, the good ones have a way of sort of forcing your hand, changing your timeline,” Hahn said. “We’re not putting any cap on what they’re gonna do this year. But we do have a sense of what’s a reasonable development year for each of them.”
Kopech said he looks forward to playing with Moncada as a member of the Sox. The two came from Boston in the Sale trade.
“We’d had an opportunity to play with each other, and hopefully we’ll have a better opportunity at the big league level soon,” Kopech said.