By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Standing at the edge of a cramped basement ballroom, a smile went across Carson Fulmer’s face. He surveyed the crowd and imagined the White Sox’s future.
In sight was Lucas Giolito, viewed as the top pitching prospect in the game, and flame-throwing prospect Michael Kopech. Off to Fulmer’s left stood Yoan Moncada, the top overall prospect in the game.
There was 2016 first-round picks Zack Collins, the catcher from Miami, and Zack Burdi, the pitcher out of Lousiville. Excitement is warranted for a potentially promising future. The White Sox’s 2015 top pick and another touted pitching prospect, Fulmer is eager for this rebuild to become a reality, for the future to be now.
“It’s special,” Fulmer said, still wearing that grin. “I can’t wait to get started and be around these guys more.”
First comes putting faces to names and accolades. That basement room at the Chicago Hilton on Friday was filled with youth. SoxFest is different this January. While the attendance was lower than its normal mark, the excitement is real.
The White Sox are still working through an offseason of change, with general manager Rick Hahn stating he’s still waiting on the right packages for further moves. Left-hander Jose Quintana and third baseman Todd Frazier were both in attendance and each fully aware that they could be part of another team’s spring training. The 30-year-old Frazier stood out in a room full of prospects.
More could be on the way for the White Sox. Quintana could demand near the same return as left-hander Chris Sale, a deal that brought Moncada and Kopech. That similar framework brought Chicago back Giolito, right-hander Reynaldo Lopez and more for outfielder Adam Eaton.
For years, the White Sox have resisted a rebuild in fears that it will keep away their fans. In reality, the frustrations of patch-working a lineup each season kept fans from the ballpark. The White Sox continuously were fighting for each season. Now, they’re building for a future.
“It’s a good opportunity for the White Sox as a team, because we’re going to have a chance to be good for a long time,” Kopech said. “I’m excited for that. The coaching staff’s excited about that. I know the players are. So it’s been pretty cool.”
Added Giolito: “I’m excited that we’re all going to be able to develop together and put a good team together here in Chicago.”
Kopech is still adjusting to turning the street corner and being recognized as the prospect who hit 110 miles per hour with a crow hop. It’s a part of his arm training, which isn’t a regularity. When on the mound, he can hit triple digits.
When news came of the blockbuster deal sending Sale to the Red Sox, Kopech was impressed by the White Sox’s return. In comes Moncada, a prized infielder prospect with superstar potential. Then came the Eaton deal with Washington a week later, bringing in Giolito, Lopez and more.
The White Sox are following a mold with which the Cubs recently won a World Series, selling off veteran assets to teams in win-now mode and building with young talent.
“Without looking too far into the future — hopefully it’s sooner rather than later — I think we have a chance to do something very similar to that,” Kopech said of the Cubs’ success. “We have a lot of talent here together, and a lot of experience at the big league level already. Once we combine those two things, I think we have a chance to be great.”
Added Collins: “A lot of teams are trying to go that way. Obviously, it worked for the Cubs this year. Hopefully it’ll work for us, and in a couple years we can get a championship here.”
A potential ace for the White Sox down the road, Giolito arrived in Chicago on Wednesday for the first time in his life. He visited the newly named Guaranteed Rate Field and got a feel for his future with this organization.
But Friday’s festivities at SoxFest put in perspective what Giolito is now a part of. He got to meet new teammates and look ahead to the future.
“I mean, the talent is amazing,” Giolito said. “Just look at all these guys. We’re all here, we’re all ready to work and ready to put it all together.”
The White Sox will likely struggle in 2017 — even Hahn admitted that much. That’s OK, because they finally are looking past this year. Finally, this organization is prioritizing its future.
Instead, the White Sox can look ahead and envision a rotation of Carlos Rodon, the 2014 first-round pick, along with Fulmer, Giolito, Kopech and Burdi, or a lineup with Moncada and Collins joining slugger Jose Abreu and young shortstop Tim Anderson.
“Our organization wants to win,” Fulmer said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to go in that direction.”
Some sheepish fans will hesitate to buy in, and that’s their right. After all, these are all young prospects who have great work ahead to turn potential into reality. But many will be fixated on each Moncada at-bat in Double-A Birmingham or every Kopech fastball to hit the hundreds.
The White Sox have several years of development ahead of them. Friday at SoxFest unveiled how they certainly have a firm foundation set.
This young core of promising talent could bring the White Sox great reward.
“They have the same goals as every single one of us,” said Fulmer, “and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get back to that World Series championship.”