White Sox Opening Day: Now is the time to stake claim for rebuild

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Designated hitter Matt Davidson, left fielder Nicky Delmonico and center fielder Adam Engel — to name only three 20-something White Sox in the Opening Day lineup — may not have their names etched in bold face on the organization’s rebuild big board, but now is their time to stake a claim, general manager Rick Hahn said.

“Nicky Delmonico not being on anyone’s radar screen a year ago and then he’s in the Opening Day lineup,” Hahn said Thursday, “with the opportunity over the next couple months to show ‘Hey, I’m an important piece to what you guys are building going forward.’ ”

These aren’t the high-profile, trending names in the Sox rebuild – those belong to hot prospects such as Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Michael Kopech — but there are others in the same boat and more who could be pushing next season as well, Hahn said.

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“That’s part of the optimism and excitement that surrounds Opening Day,” Hahn said.

Davidson put some excitement into opening day, become the fourth player in major league history to hit three homers in the first day of the season. As a DH, and a high strikeout, low on-base percentage guy, he has to hit a lot of homers to be included.

Davidson, who crushed all three homers, isn’t satisfied with simply “getting big,” as hitters say. His focus all spring was on making more contact, cutting down the strikeouts and drawing more walks. That’s why he cited a walk Thursday as a big deal.

“A lot of us don’t have a huge track record in the major leagues,’’ Davidson said, “so the confidence is going to be a big thing and actually seeing the results in front of our eyes is going to be huge for us and our development.’’

Engel got pushed by Ryan Cordell during spring training, and a number of non-roster invitees pushed almost everyone in the Sox bullpen. After having a big spring following a good defense, bad offense rookie season, he opened the season with a double and single his first two times up.

The competition can’t hurt the level of play for all involved. Engel knows Robert, viewed as the center fielder of the future, is coming up in the system. Right fielder Avisail Garcia knows Jimenez is knocking at the door.

“Competition is healthy,” Hahn said. “We saw it from a few different places this spring training in terms of guys looking around and seeing where this organization is headed and ramping up their own game. At the very least, making it clear that they’re not going to go quietly. They’re going to do everything in their power to make themselves be penciled into that three-year board and have their name as part of what’s coming here as well.”

Hahn knows there are no sure things, even with the top talents like Jimenez, Robert and Kopech. There are injuries and failure, which is why quantity, as much as quality, is key in gathering prospects.

There are also pleasant, sometimes unexpected surprises, which can work their way into the plan or be used to return value in trades.

In year two of the Sox rebuild, Hahn talked Thursday knowing the 2018 won-lost record wasn’t going to matter as much to the rebuild as player development at both the major- and minor-league levels.

That will change, hopefully before too long.

“We feel very good about where things sit today,” he said. “There’s a great deal of optimism, not just about the 2018 team but about the future.”

Rodon moving right along

Left-hander Carlos Rodon is feeling fine and looking so good in Arizona  that the White Sox moved up his throwing schedule “based on how he was feeling,” general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday. Rodon is on track to return to the starting rotation in late May.

Rodon’s last bullpen session was 30-35 pitches, with sliders included.

“There’s this moment you see with guys who are coming off of injury where it’s almost like a weight is lifted off them,’’ Hahn said, “where they have convinced themselves they’re no longer hurt, they’re over the issue and they’re just building up back to baseball.’’

That’s where Rodon has been for a while, and it is possible the time away will have a benefit as well. Throwing only fastballs and changeups in his first several sidelines has been good for the changeup, pitching coach Don Cooper said.

“A lot of good things can come through injuries, believe it or not,” Cooper said.

As to who gets squeezed out of the rotation when Rodon returns, Hahn said that will likely take care of itself. If there is no easy answer, that “would be a good problem to have,’’ he said.

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