The theme of the weekend at Sox Fest 2018 was slightly different than it has been the last few seasons—stay patient and trust the process. Instead of hype over plug-and-play types acquired in a string of deals that have “won the offseason” in the past, the mantra here is about building from the ground up for a strong foundation for the future.
Patience can be hard to preach to a fanbase that’s been hungry for a championship; an ideal that’s fallen through the cracks year after year leading to a jaded and disheartened fanbase. But, in this instance, the journey could be as rewarding as the destination itself.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the last year-plus,” White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn said to the media Friday afternoon at SoxFest. “We feel we’re much closer than we were when we started this process 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,” Hahn continued. In a way, that is almost a refreshing sentiment to hear, simply because of it’s candor.
“I think when we preach patience at this point, to an extent we’re saying it to ourselves,” Hahn said of the team’s rebuilding efforts. “There’s going to be a temptation. All of you that are going to be in Glendale for the first few weeks of Spring Training are going to see players that are going to get you excited, and people are going to want to see them at the big league level, just like a year ago when they wanted to see Moncada start at the big league level, and Giolito and Lopez. But we have to be patient with their development.”
Much of the core the White Sox are moving forward with are extremely young and, as Hahn said, the pure excitement that’s left behind by small triumphs often leads to a strong dose of temptation. Temptation for call ups, for promotions and to make 2018 “the year.” That stems not just from what is seen in the results put forward at Spring Training or in the minor leagues or even the flashes of success the White Sox saw last year, but from the players themselves — who tend to be an enthusiastic and vocal bunch.
“I like when I read quotes from player X saying ‘I feel like I’m ready for the big leagues’, that’s awesome,” Hahn said. “I want that, I want guys regardless of where they are to be enthused and competitive and hungry and almost have a little chip on their shoulder like, ‘I’ll show you I’m ready.’ From our standpoint, whether it was a year ago with Moncada or Giolito or Lopez, you try to articulate the specific reasons why they’re not necessarily in the big leagues, what you’re looking for from them, where they need to show improvement and give them an expectation of generally how you think that’s going to unfold.”
Sometimes we lose sight of what it was like to be in the mindset of someone as young and driven as the faces of this groups are. Tunnel vision can become a powerful driver when paired with motivation and keeping these players on a steady path to sustained major league success is vital not only to the future of this organization, but in each player’s individual careers.
“I think although they might at times be slightly disappointed,” Hahn said. “You know, why wasn’t I the one who got the call up on this day or why didn’t I break with the club, they get it,
“They see enough of it around them and now they can look at examples with Giolito, Lopez and Moncada and see okay we spoke the truth to them and gave them their opportunity when the time was right and mine will come. Again, it’s an odd balance because there is this wonderful level of excitement and people are really diligently following our minor leagues and they’re tracking our guys performance and buying into it, getting excited for it. At the same time we need to be realistic. Michael Kopech is 21 years-old and has thrown fifteen innings at Triple-A. Does he have the ability to contend for Cy Young awards in the future? Absolutely. Is that going to start in 2018? Probably not, given what he’s done.”
That’s high praise for someone who has the small track record Hahn noted, but isn’t an extremely unrealistic expectation of a young hurler such as Kopech. The foundation is being properly built here, which leads to a clearer and more reliable vision of the future. Each of these players has their own “it” factor. These players are not accompanied by blind hopes for success or leaps of faith. They’re accompanied by patience in development and a strong set of tools that simply need to be properly honed. That’s a very different vision for this club than fans saw just a few phases ago.
“There have been past offseasons where we have been excited, we’ve ‘won the winter’ a few times, so to speak,” Hahn said. “We had authentic enthusiasm as we went to camp, that this was a team that had the ability to contend. I think we knew that certain things from a health standpoint or from a performance risk standpoint had to go out way for it to work, which makes you uneasy, where as with this even though we are by no means where we want to be yet, you can see the necessary depth coming together, that will be able to withstand whatever cruelties lay ahead when it’s time to win.”
For a team that is not slated to be taking home a division title and may even find Wild Card hopes a bit of a pipedream in 2018, a sold out SoxFest filled with fans praising Hahn for giving them hope again seems to lend itself to the idea that this team is on the road to something quite big, and that the fun can certainly start even before the celebrating does. All it takes is a little patience.