By Tim Baffoe–
(670 The Score) The general vibe of the Chicago White Sox organization and its fans in a word: optimism.
It’s certainly deserved, as there has been little to hang a black and white cap on since 2005 on the South Side. Several years of being kinda almost maybe viable with some good-on-paper offseason moves only to underachieve in most disappointing fashion was the hallmark before general manager Rick Hahn was given the plunger on the dynamite. Now the optimism isn’t the kind where everyone hopes the sexy free-agent name pushes the team over the hump. Instead, it’s panoramic view of a bigger timeline starting to bear fruit.
“We have a great deal of excitement heading into this season, but we also know objectively where we’re at in this thing,” Hahn said at the start of the annual SoxFest on Friday. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the last year-plus (and) we feel we’re much closer … to being able to field a team that can contend for championships on an annual basis. But we also know there’s a fair amount of work ahead of us.”
That’s Hahn saying diplomatically as possible that the White Sox aren’t “there” yet. He understands 2018 most likely won’t involve too much winning at Guaranteed Rate Field. But the “there” is there in the not-too-distant future. Much of it is actually here already.
The White Sox have five of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects and seven of the top 100 prospects on MLB Pipeline’s list, a farm system that’s considered one of the best in the game and has the third-most “prospect points” of all teams. But that doesn’t count players like Yoan Moncada, Carson Fulmer, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, who have already broken the big league roster. Then there are names like Jake Burger, profiled last week by The Athletic’s James Fegan, who have lofty ceilings that could keep the White Sox at the top of the farm rankings even after call-ups start happening. This is a team that has its idea of a future nucleus already fairly well established, and that inspires a lot more positivity in fans than the “Is there enough to win the AL Central this year?” of old.
“The fan support has been stunning,” Hahn said. “It has been overwhelming in terms of the amount of enthusiasm and energy they’ve shown. This weekend is sold out (and) virtually every fan that interacts with me directly … has expressed their support. As an organization, we very much appreciate (that).”
You get that buy-in when you make it obvious what the direction of the team is, and Hahn has done that. Add in an upbeat manager in Ricky Renteria for whom his players respect and play hard, and fans are willing to give you time to do the rebuild correctly.
The easy comparison is what happened on the North Side eventually producing a 2016 World Series championship, but we can’t fault the geographical convenience coinciding with the parallel journeys. Add in the irony of the Cubs trading stud prospect Eloy Jimenez to the White Sox for Jose Quintana — destroying the “Chicago teams won’t deal with each other” myth — and White Sox fans have a convenient visual for what their favorite team is hopefully about to become.
Right now, White Sox fans get to experience that joy of the budding prospects just before everything gels. In exchange for a subpar winning percentage, 2018 gets to be the trickle of young players already with the big club continuing to establish themselves while also getting the fun of periodic “holidays” whenever a new top prospect gets a call-up. “Happy Yoan Moncada Day” was a joy last year. “Happy Eloy Jimenez Day” — should it happen in 2018 (please, Rick Hahn) — and the rest will make up for the rest of the average baseball days of the young White Sox continuing to figure themselves out while the ancient 34-year-old Miguel Gonzalez goes seven strong in a 4-3 loss.
And it’s a likable group of guys to boot. Perhaps nobody on the team embodies pure uncomplicated fun of a kids’ game like Yolmer Sanchez, whose success following a name change prompted a kid at SoxFest to ask Tim Anderson and Matt Davidson if they, too, would consider a name change to “Yolmer.” And there’s keeping tabs on Luis Robert’s workouts on Instagram.
And Moncada hair updates.
But besides the refreshing silliness and kitsch of young players enjoying themselves before they can learn to be jaded veterans, the White Sox’s pieces of the future have buy-in to all of this just like the fans.
“The young guys have taken a great deal of pride in this,” Hahn said. “You hear them talk about themselves as a group. They say things like ‘We’re building something special’ or ‘We’re going to be really good’ or ‘We want to win multiple championships.’ It’s not necessarily about their individual performance. It’s about how, together, we’re going to grow and win together in Chicago.”
How can you not be optimistic about all that?
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for 670TheScore.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.