Rebuilding White Sox sell out fan convention
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It’s hard to lose 95 games in a season and, after making marginal upgrades to the roster, enter the next season with enthusiastic fan support.
But when the White Sox open the doors Friday to SoxFest at the Hilton Chicago, fans embracing their rebuild will stream in — the Sox say all three days of the event are sold out for the first time since the World Series reunion in 2015 — eager to gather autographs and selfies and to hear from the prospects who’ll be front and center at the festivities.
More than a few fans might be dreaming of a sneaky rise to competitiveness in 2018, much like the Twins surprised last season. But with left-hander Carlos Rodon not being counted on to be ready, veteran right-hander James Shields is in the mix to be the Sox’ Opening Day starter March 29 in Kansas City, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Still, this SoxFest is about what might lie ahead, if all goes according to plan.
‘‘It’s a time to be optimistic about the future of the Chicago White Sox,’’ manager Rick Renteria said.
So while the lineup of attending all-time greats includes the incomparable Bo Jackson and Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk, Frank Thomas and Tim Raines, it’s Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez and prospects Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen — to name a few — who’ll generate the buzz.
‘‘Just trying not to get stage fright,’’ Kopech, poised and confident beyond his 21 years, said during an appearance Thursday at the Ronald McDonald House.
Hats off to the Sox, who haven’t made the postseason since 2008, for captivating their audience.
It’s one that feeds off prospect rankings such as Baseball America’s latest, which features five Sox on the top-100 list: Jimenez (No. 4),
Kopech (No. 11), Hansen (No. 57), Luis Robert (No. 58) and Dane Dunning (No. 82). If the Padres hadn’t pried Fernando Tatis Jr. (No. 9) away from them in a trade for Shields in 2016, the Sox would have tied the Yankees, Brewers and Rays for second with six in the top 100 (the Padres have six with Tatis). The Braves lead the way with eight.
The Tatis trade is a tough one to swallow, but the silver lining is that it finally halted a pattern of failed patchwork deals. The Sox since have grabbed the rebuild bull by the horns and were mildly surprised at the way their fans jumped on board.
And in their continuing effort to promote the upcoming season, the Sox put Giolito, 2017 first-round draft pick Jake Burger, Hansen and Dylan Cease on the phones at the annual ‘‘call the season-ticket holders’’ office party Thursday at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Most fans, as well as general manager Rick Hahn, say they will be patient through the process. While they wait, Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia will supplement the roster with some star power, and the upbeat Renteria will get his troops to play hard for 27 outs and stress execution to win as many games as they possibly can.
To shield Renteria from taking too many lumps, Hahn bolstered the roster by signing free-agent catcher Welington Castillo and trading for closer candidate Joakim Soria and left-handed reliever Luis Avilan this winter.
At the very least, Renteria has a fighting chance to compete coming out of a spring training that promises plenty of intrigue, with the second wave of young talent — Jimenez, Kopech, Robert, Hansen, etc. — showcasing its stuff.
There are no guarantees, but the arrow is pointing up.
Sox fans will take it.
Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.