By Chris Emma–
(670 The Score) The spotlight awaited and the runway beckoned as the White Sox of the future emerged one by one. There was a palpable buzz at SoxFest last Friday as fans reached their hands out toward their potential stars of tomorrow passing by.
As promising youngsters like Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez stepped up to the elevated platform, general manager Rick Hahn couldn’t hold back his smile.
Hahn certainly drew a rousing ovation as he, too, walked down the aisle. This SoxFest was different than any in recent years, as the excitement was placed in a clear vision with the goal of sustained championship contention. Unlike last year’s SoxFest when the rebuild was in its infancy, Hahn could yield the spotlight to these players on the rise.
The first year of the dramatic White Sox overhaul featured Hahn explaining his vision time and again while working the phone to strengthen the foundation. This season, the focus is on the prospects and their development after flashes of their potential.
They’re all invested in this together.
“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.”
This 2018 season will be crucial in evaluating which prospects fit where in the White Sox’s future, according to Hahn, who reminds often that many prospects don’t pan out. The White Sox will get a better feel for the development track of players like Jimenez, Luis Robert and Blake Rutherford and see whether Jake Burger is best suited at third base or first base. They’ll assess whether Gavin Sheets can be a lineup threat and watch as Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning try to establish themselves as starters.
How Moncada, Giolito, Lopez and Carson Fulmer develop during their first full seasons in the big leagues will be critical as well. Hahn has taken the horse to the water. Now they must drink.
Of course, this season is also beneficial because a class of coveted free agents will be available next offseason, and Hahn expects to have the money to make a splash if needed. Could Manny Machado join that White Sox core?
Hahn was having no part in answering questions about Machado or other high-profile players set to become available after this season.
“You got to wait for there to be a need,” Hahn said of free-agent spending. “Look, it would be marvelous if every need was answered internally. That would be great. That would be a wonderful development and also probably an unprecedented one.
“You can look around the field and see incredible options at every position. A year from now, as these guys advance, we’re going to know a lot more — from a performance standpoint, from a health standpoint, from a makeup standpoint — which one of these guys is really going to be counted upon to potentially fill that void and where potentially in the organization do we have some holes that need to be addressed either through free agency or by trading something from a prospect-depth standpoint for an area of need. So, we’ll know a lot more in a year.”
Part of what makes Hahn so beloved by White Sox fans is he’s relatable as they come. He’s the smartest guy in most rooms but doesn’t make sure you know it. Hahn has also brought a refreshing transparency to the organization amid a major undertaking in progress. In turn, he has earned the trust of the White Sox fan base, one that has embraced him every move along the way.
Hahn still draws a crowd as he walks through the Hilton Chicago hallways during a SoxFest or as he moves through the concourse of Guaranteed Rate Field on a game day. There are plenty of T-shirts with his likeness owned by White Sox fans giving him a hero’s welcome. What Hahn wants is to see jerseys with Moncada, Kopech, Giolito and Robert on the back. Those could come soon enough.
Hahn has accomplished the first and most important goal of the rebuild, swapping off veteran assets for talented prospects to bring the White Sox one of baseball’s best farm systems. They’re now a healthy organization seemingly ready for something special ahead thanks to Hahn.
The spotlight is set for the White Sox of the future.