By Bruce Levine–
GLENDALE, Ariz. (CBS) — Over the course of the past six weeks, you could see White Sox players begin to connect under the guidance of first-year manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff.
Taking over after Robin Ventura spent five seasons in charge, Renteria will have some daunting challenges over the next several seasons as the organization has embarked on a rebuild. Renteria has had a long career in player development, which was a big reason why the White Sox believed he was a quality fit for the job.
One of Renteria’s biggest goals has been to become fully entrenched as the team’s clubhouse voice.
“We have accomplished a lot,” Renteria said. “I think our approach to playing the game has improved. We have taken on the mindset that we want to play better situation baseball. On offense, we want to hustle, give a good effort and put some pressure on the defense.”
After a season of miscommunication and hard feelings in the clubhouse, the White Sox brass decided to revamp the roster and their dugout leadership. Ventura made it easy on the team by telling the front office he wouldn’t return for a sixth year in the dugout. That led to Renteria’s promotion after he spent the 2016 season as the team’s bench coach.
The move also made general manager Rick Hahn’s words prophetic after Renteria was hired as the team’s bench coach in November 2015.
“We will more than likely have Rick for only one season,” Hahn said back then. “He will be managing somewhere next year at this time.”
Hahn was right, of course. The White Sox quickly found out Renteria was a tireless worker, and his loyalty to Ventura and the staff was evident. Renteria had been unceremoniously fired by the Cubs in November 2014 so they could make room for Joe Maddon, and he always was polite and professional when discussing that tough experience. Renteria was always careful not to let that attention and storyline become a distraction.
Now the uncertainty that exists surrounds the White Sox veterans who could get traded at any point during the season. Despite that, Renteria has his team ready to go.
“The players are all coming together in their desire to play team baseball,” Renteria said. “Everybody has been going about it in a very positive way. We are looking for a solid approach, which in turn should give us a chance of possibly winning some ball games.”
Predicting the White Sox’s record this season could be a real crapshoot. Much will depend on if ace left-hander Jose Quintana is traded early or late in the season.
The upbeat Renteria and his crew will be challenged in an American League Central that features the a reigning pennant winner in the Indians and two veteran-laden teams in the Tigers and Royals that know how to win.
Still, Renteria has a message for White Sox fans.
“They should be excited,” he said. “We are coming out of spring training playing pretty well. We have used a mix of all of our players. I believe the future is bright for the Chicago White Sox. We are looking forward to some fun times this summer. We will have our bumps and bruises along the way. I promise you that they will see a club that gives a tremendous effort.”
White Sox players have raved about the communication with the coaching staff this spring.
“He has changed the attitude for sure,” said reliever Nate Jones, the longest-tenured White Sox player. “He has done a great job of getting the younger and older guys involved together. He makes sure we do everything with great detail and the right way. That is the way he wants it.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.