By Kathleen McAuliffe
The new guys typically do not attract as many cheers as the veterans.
But when they were introduced before fans at the White Sox Fest on Fri. Jan 27, the team’s MLB.com top-30 prospects elicited thunderous applause that rivaled Jose Quintana and Todd Frazier. So, too, did General Manager Rich Hahn, the architect of the rebuild that has re-energized the long-suffering Sox fanbase.
The trade of Adam Sale and Chris Eaton, following the team’s 78-84 finish last fall, signaled the start of a much-needed reset, fans said. It is a welcome change from the organization’s “win-now mentality,” which in recent years produced very little winning: the White Sox have placed fourth or fifth in their division every year since 2012.
“It’s to see the team going in a direction instead of nowhere,” said Sean Barrett. “I’d rather be bad than be .500.”
Fans still miss their team’s marquee players. But in Sale and Eaton’s replacements, including two of MLB.com’s top-ten prospects, they see a promising future. There’s right-handed pitchers Michael Kopech, ranked 16th, and Lucas Giolito, 12th.
Topping it off is Yuan Moncada, MLB.com’s No. 2 prospect. “That’s the main piece, that guy hits from all sides of the plate. He’s going to be a staple, a stud,” said Pancho Ferreira.
“It’s hard to think that any of them will be as good as Chris Sale, but you want Moncada, he’s probably a future All Star,” George Zaikos said. “And I think with the Eaton trade, you’ve got guys who are going to, in the future, bring at least comparable value.”
But their impact won’t be immediate, Hahn said during his press conference. The young players will require more time to refine their game in the minors, he said. As they wait for the newcomers to develop, Sox fans should brace themselves for a bad season or two.
“The focus of our scouting department and player development people is building something that’s sustainable,” Hahn said. “In the short term, we’ll have to pay the price and take some losses. Last year we were under .500 and we had Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, so it’s tough to sit up here with a straight face and say we’re going to contend.”
If the prospects pan out, the ends may justify the means. But some fans worry that the new additions, most without MLB experience, will underperform to their potential. Though highly rated, their inexperience renders them riskier than proven professionals.
“I’ve heard great things about the guys we’ve got, but they’re really, really young. So you’re talking 21, 22-year-olds. It’s hard to know what to expect,” Dan Patterman said.
Hahn’s ability to develop young talent also remains to be seen.
“Other than Tim Anderson, they obviously did a really nice job with him, they don’t have any established young players that have come through the system yet,” George Zaikos said.
And losing never feels good, even if it’s directed toward a more meaningful endgame.
“It’s frustrating because you know if the team’s not doing well, there’s going to be some trades,” Sandy Peterson said. “So you don’t know if guys are thinking about that instead of going out and playing for the team that they’ve got on their chest.”
But she, and most other Sox fans, have committed to the long game. After nearly nine years since the team’s last playoff appearance, Sox fans seem to consider short-term misery a worthy sacrifice for the promise of success. In the last two seasons, the Royals and Cubs have capped their rebuilds with World Series championships, prompting similar hopes among Sox fans.
“Look how it worked out for Kansas City and the Cubs,” Ferreira said. “I mean Kansas City was the first team to do it. And [the Cubs] turned it around in two years. They thought they were four, five years down the road.”
Sox fans may not consider the World Series a realistic goal for 2017. But for some, the infusion of elite talent has rekindled their dreams that someday, the Sox might recapture the glory from their 2005 World Series title.
“Back in 2005 nobody thought the Sox were going to make the World Series. It’s all about who gets hot at the right time,” Peterson said.
Photo at top: Sox fans gathered at Sox Fest on Jan. 27 in Downtown Chicago. (Kathleen McAuliffe/MEDILL)