GLENDALE, Ariz. — One of Rick Renteria’s first aims when he took over as White Sox manager was to build team unity, going so far as to bring established, big-money major-leaguers together with prospects.
He seemed to pull that off at his first spring training in 2017.
In Year 2, Renteria went a step further in team bonding, adding emphasis on players, young and veterans alike, to keep each other in line.
It appears that is taking shape, too.
“On our team, with every player, we don’t have to wait for the coaching staff to tell us something,’’ infielder Yolmer Sanchez said. “If we see something wrong, we tell people because we care about the team. If you make a mistake, that’s what he wants. Your teammates have to say something.’’
It could be anything from not running out a ground ball — which Renteria himself patrols with benchings for lack of hustle — or a tactical error like missing a cutoff man or not being in the right place or at the right base in the field. It could be any number of things.
Players began speaking up with more regularity as the 2018 season went on, Renteria said, not the easiest thing to do on a young team working its way toward 100 losses.
“The beauty of it now,’’ Renteria said, “is that I can have players deal with players, which is what we’ve been trying to get to. Ultimately, they’re going to be able to police themselves.’’
As bench coach Joe McEwing pointed out, self-policing has gone on in clubhouses forever. But it usually goes down with an unwritten chain of command starting with a star at the top. Ask players who the Sox’ alpha dog is, and no one offers an instant answer.
‘‘There may be many,’’ McEwing said. “It may be done on the side. It may be done in front of people. But I see more conversations; I see a difference. You see it on the field, in the clubhouse, in the dugout.’’
Last year, righty James Shields was a respected voice because of his experience and career accomplishments. Shields didn’t mince words, but he’s gone, a free agent at 37. His replacement in the starting rotation, 32-year-old righty Ivan Nova, says he won’t be bashful about speaking up, but it might take awhile as he gets acclimated to a new team.
As Sanchez said, players have to know when to say when.
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“You have to find the right time to say something,’’ he said. “This game is tough. You get frustrated if you go 0-for-4, so you have to see the situation, and maybe with each one you react differently.
“There was more of that last year. And I think this year, we are going to be better in that way because we have [new] experienced guys like [Yonder] Alonso and Jon Jay [and Nova and Kelvin Herrera]. I’ve been talking to Alonso, and he’s good on that. These guys are coming from winning teams, World Series, playoffs, so that is going to help us as a young group.
“It’s more to keep the team together. Having everybody’s back. We have to do it for the benefit of the team.’’
Watchdogs are everywhere. Second-year outfielder Daniel Palka said Adam Engel, far from elite status as a player, shared things he needed to be aware of as a new Sox player. But Palka says he will badly miss Shields.
“Shields was the master at it,’’ Palka said. “The best thing about him was he’d tell you the truth. He’s not going to try to make you feel good, which he shouldn’t. The best coaches I’ve been around are brutally honest. You can respect that.’’
The best teams, Renteria and McEwing say, need players who are honest with each other.
“We’ve been preaching it for them to take ownership of their area,’’ McEwing said. “We talk about it all the time. We’ve definitely seen them growing and doing it themselves.’’