White Sox’ culture change ‘something that can last’
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A year ago, Rick Renteria attacked his first season as the White Sox’ manager in such a way that some of his coaches wondered aloud during spring training whether he could keep up the pace.
Renteria, 56, was touching 100 mph on the get-after-it gun, with long hours and high energy to implement a far-reaching plan for a new culture. His goal was to unify the organization by making the prospects in the major- and minor-league camps feel connected and engaged. He emphasized maximum effort, hustle and crisp execution and balanced his demands with a fun work environment players warmed up to.
Players bought in, and general manager Rick Hahn is sold on the environment Renteria and his coaches have established and what it means as the Sox’ rebuilding plan enters Year 2.
‘‘That’s the kind of thing that can last,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘You saw it in the way the team played last year, fighting for 27 outs, the way every man was into the game from start to finish. We might be outmanned on a given night, but the way they prepare, attack a game, fight the whole game, that is a cultural change that is going to endure. It’s more important than the record.’’
The Sox went 67-95 last season, and the early metrics systems for forecasting player performance, such as PECOTA, predict them to finish 73-89 this season.
As deflating as that might be for those dreaming of a Sox surprise in 2018, it’s a more-than-reasonable expectation. But as long as the young talent — one prospect list features eight top-100 players in the Sox’ system — develops at the minor-league levels while the big-leaguers play a sound, try-hard brand of baseball under Renteria, fan approval ratings are expected to remain high.
Renteria embarks on his second season — pitchers and catchers have their first formal workout Wednesday — relenting to suggestions that he scale back his hours to more reasonable and healthy levels.
Much of his time this spring will be spent eyeballing prized outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, as well as right-handers Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning and third baseman Jake Burger, and answering questions about timelines for the much-anticipated promotions of Jimenez and Kopech to the majors.
There are many more prospects to watch, but Renteria has other items on his plate, including sorting out the center-field position and preparing second baseman Yoan Moncada, right-handers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer and outfielder Nicky Delmonico for their first full seasons in the majors.
The young talent in camp will keep Sox decision-makers, media and fans engaged from the start.
Wednesday: First pitchers and catchers workout.
Feb. 19: First full-squad workout.
Feb. 23: Cactus League opener vs. Dodgers.
March 29: Opening Day at Royals.
April 5: Home opener vs. Tigers.
New faces in camp
Catcher Welington Castillo (free agent), closer candidate Joakim Soria (trade), left-hander reliever Luis Avilan (trade) and 100-mph right-handed reliever Thyago Vieira (trade). Non-roster invitees looking to impress and win a spot in bullpen include left-handers Xavier Cedeno and T.J. House and right-handers Bruce Rondon, Jeanmar Gomez and Rob Scahill.
Young faces in camp
Outfielder Eloy Jimenez, outfielder Luis Robert, right-hander Michael Kopech, right-hander Alec Hansen, right-hander Dane Dunning, third baseman Jake Burger, right-hander Dylan Cease, outfielder Blake Rutherford and catcher Zack Collins, among others, won’t make the Opening Day roster but will get plenty of attention in the big-league clubhouse and in Cactus League games.
The Sox boast five to eight prospects in the top 100, depending on the list you’re looking at. Baseball Prospectus showed the most love:
Rank Prospect How acquired
- Eloy Jimenez, OF, Quintana trade
- Michael Kopech, RHP, Sale trade
- Alec Hansen, RHP, second round of 2016 draft
- Dylan Cease, RHP, Quintana trade
- Luis Robert, OF, international free agent
- Jake Burger, 3B, first round of 2017 draft
- Dane Dunning, RHP, Eaton trade
- Blake Rutherford, OF, Frazier/Robertson/Kahnle trade
Jobs to win
If New Trier graduate Charlie Tilson is healthy — and that’s a big if, considering his past — he’s in the mix for the center-field job with good-field/poor-hit Adam Engel (.166) and outfielder-infielder Leury Garcia. Matt Davidson tops the depth chart at designated hitter, pending a bargain free-agent addition. Kevan Smith and Omar Narvaez split catching duties last season, but there’s probably room for only one as a backup to Castillo. Narvaez’s left-handed bat might give him the edge.
Change is the word on the Sox’ TV and radio sides, with Jason Benetti ascending to full-time TV play-by-play duty. Ken ‘‘Hawk’’ Harrelson, who was working road games only, will call Sunday home games, the home opener April 5 against the Tigers and three Cubs games in September. In one of his games, Harrelson will be paired with Sox ambassador A.J. Pierzynski.
On the radio side, the Sox are closing in on finding a new home, three weeks after Cumulus Media announced plans to cancel its long-term contract on WLS-AM (890). The Sox have been negotiating with WGN-AM (720) for the rights.
Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.