“It’s nice, in a year where we’re likely going to wind up with the worst record in the American League and a top three pick, that there’s this level of enthusiasm,” White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn said during a one-on-one interview with WLS on Wednesday.
Despite being knee-deep in a rebuild, the mood was light and hopeful, and the messages Hahn conveyed were steadfast and reassuring.
Just a year ago, White Sox fans weren’t sure there was much of a future to look forward to. But in less than a year’s time, under Hahn’s direction, this team has become one of the most promising teams of the next few years.
“We knew something had to change. We knew we had to commit fully to one direction,” Hahn said. Hahn admitted to shuffling somewhere around 50 players through the South Side this season, from the departure of Todd Frazier to the welcoming of baseball’s top prospect, Yoan Moncada, who exactly a year ago was having his cup of coffee in a Boston uniform.
“This is the most exciting 60-win team I’ve ever watched,” an enthusiastic fan said to Hahn. Hahn has orchestrated this team’s rebuilding efforts flawlessly, and lucky for Sox fans, every player that’s arrived so far has been right on target. But rebuilds take time and most importantly—patience.
“Whatever happens over the next 12 months or so, that process is going to require a lot of patience. We’re going to have to allow these players the time to develop, [there are] many guys we still have in this pipeline, far lower than Moncada, Giolito and Lopez who we’ve already brought up, and it’s going to require a similar stretch of patience. People are going to want to see Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez, but we’re going to have to exhibit that same level of patience here over the next 12-18 months so that we can make sure they have similar such success as these first three.”
Hahn praised many of the new young members of this team and their success at the big league level, but that hasn’t all been chalked up to luck. For Hahn, it’s making sure that players “check all the boxes” before they make their arrival in a Sox uniform. Hahn says he heard all the clamoring for Moncada’s arrival. But the second baseman simply wasn’t ready yet.
“With Moncada, specifically, it was his right-handed swing and the exchange on the double play arm slot issue,” Hahn said of the ‘delayed’ arrival. “Not the end of the world, certainly things he could have come up to Chicago and survived, but we wanted to take the time and frankly knowing what kind of season we were going to have at the big league level, we had the luxury of taking the time to make sure they check every box we have for them in the minor leagues.”
Some might be thinking, what type of skills could a few extra days even merit, though? That’s where the patience—and the trust in Hahn—come into play. Hahn and the rest of the Sox organization see a lot of things that folks who aren’t on the forefront of a player’s development can’t.
“Moncada did struggle a little bit with breaking balls [in the big leagues], and he still struggles a little bit with breaking balls,” Hahn said. “But now it’s the kind of breaking balls that he couldn’t see in Charlotte.”
Hahn preached another interesting point — failure is important.
“There is an element of player development that involves failure,” Hahn said. Hahn reflected on the career of former White Sox top prospect Gordon Beckham, who was an extremely buzzworthy prospect, but spent years simply treading water in the majors.
We also, unfortunately, remember Gordon Beckham’s struggles that came at the big league level, because for the first time in his career he actually failed,” Hahn said.
“Adjusting on the fly to the big leagues is the hardest thing to do. [Beckahm] really wasn’t equip to ever having dealt with failure, having pulled himself out of it and the ability to show he knew how to survive.”
Learning to deal with failure while still having success is still a realistic outcome. But sometimes, such as with the case with Beckham, it just doesn’t work out.
“We have to build up a critical mass of prospects and we will continue to add to that,” Hahn said. Because inevitably, the baseball gods are going to take a couple of them from us.”
But while everyone is so focused on the future, some of the pieces that were supposed to be a part of the White Sox’s bright future a few years ago still remain—one of them being the 30-year old Jose Abreu.
“We have to make the assessment all things considered, from the strong numbers to the impact he has on Moncada. In terms of our window, ‘Is that the best use of our resources?’ A mid-thirties right-handed first basemen who may be on the decline, or that stalwart in the middle of the lineup who is a great team leader.”
Even if it’s a few seasons late, outfielder Avisail Garcia has hit his stride in 2017, presenting another interesting question about the 26-year old’s future.
“We have to make an assessment,” Hahn said of Garcia. “Does it make sense to commit whatever amount of money keeps Avi Garcia off free agency, or do we explore perhaps moving him in exchange for continuing this accumulation of prospects.”
Hahn embarked upon a journey last offseason to do what every GM wants to do. He’s built a team from the ground up, made them compelling to follow during a 60-win season, and has given a weary fanbase something to truly be hopeful for—all in under a year.