While virtually nobody on the south side will be clamoring for, or betting on, a World Series championship in 2017; there are still many reasons to pay attention to the Sox this season. The fanbase finally got the total rebuild that we’ve been asking for. All of a sudden there is a sense of long-term hope, and a plan to believe in. Even with this bleak outlook for 2017, I managed to find 10 things that fans should watch out for during this long and grueling (probably losing) season.
1. Spring Training
This one is a no-brainer. There is always a new sense of enthusiasm every spring when baseball season returns following the long winter offseason. For Sox fans, this spring will be an opportunity to start tracking the development of newly acquired prospects. It’s a chance to see the roster and to begin to get a vision of what the team might look like for the months/years to come.
2. Rick Renteria’s first season as manager
The reign of Robin Ventura finally ended (awkwardly) at the end of last season. Now former bench coach Rick Renteria steps in to assume the role of managing the White Sox rebuild. Renteria has a tall order in front of him, but it isn’t something he’s not familiar with. He managed the Cubs to a 73-89 record in 2014, one year before the young, rebuilt Cubs finally started to soar. At the end of that improvement season in 2014 Renteria was let go, and the Cubs hired Joe Maddon. The rest is history. I’m interested to see if Renteria has a chip on his shoulder to prove that he can manage through a long rebuild this time around. He seems to be a genuinely likeable guy with a flair and passion that resonates with this fanbase. Hopefully it can resonate with the players as well.
3. Tim Anderson’s progression
Last season the White Sox called up their top prospect on June 10th. Since that time Tim Anderson has cemented himself as a cornerstone on the White Sox roster, and fans are eager to watch his development and progression in 2017. The shortstop appeared in 99 games last year, hitting nine home runs and getting 116 hits in 410 at-bats with 30 RBIs. His fielding was stellar as well, and he’s already become a fan favorite before even playing one full year. Anderson will be switching from No. 12 to No. 7 going forward. TA7’s continued development will be vital to future White Sox success.
4. Yoan Moncada’s MLB debut
Moncada was the bluechip piece acquired from Boston in the Chris Sale trade. He’s the White Sox No. 1 prospect, and arguably the top prospect in all of baseball. The Cuba native appeared in eight games with Boston in 2016, with four hits and one RBI. Moncada is a freak of a physical specimen who looks like he should be chiseled out of marble. He will likely start 2017 in AAA. FutureSox projects him to get the call up to the majors sometime in May. While he already looks MLB ready, I hope the Sox don’t rush him (or any prospect for that matter) up to the bigs before they are absolutely ready. Take your time.
5. Moncada’s first home run in a White Sox uniform
With that being said, once Moncada is called up I will be eagerly awaiting his first big league home run. It just might be the biggest highlight of a potentially boring season. Hopefully we can see a lot of them in spring training, the minors and, of course, once he gets called up.
6. Don Cooper working with the new, young pitchers
In the Sale and Eaton trades, the Sox got a bunch of pitching freaks in return. Sox pitching coach Don Cooper (whose record and reputation already speaks for itself) will have the chance to work his wonders on some really raw pitching talent. Coop will be tasked with getting Lucas Giolito’s development back on track after the Nationals tried to tweak his mechanics. No. 3 prospect Michael Kopech is also a freak when it comes to velocity. He’s consistently thrown fastballs around 100 MPH with two sharp off-speed pitches as well. Add to that, Top 10 pitching prospects like Reynaldo Lopez, Carson Fulmer, Alec Hansen, Zack Burdi, and Dane Dunning, Coop will have a lot of talent to begin molding in 2017.
It’s no secret that the White Sox struggle with attendance. One of the biggest drawbacks to a long rebuild from a management point of view was the potential to see drastically poor attendance figures. I’m actually interested to see how many people show up to “The Rate” this year. Sure, the team on the field might be poor, but there will be some exciting young guys to watch grow. Most fans will probably be spending their time at home following the prospects in the minors (even the Cubs saw attendance dips during their rebuild). But the rebuild generated a buzz through the fanbase, and maybe that will translate to more people showing up (maybe it won’t). I’ve always held to the statement that when the Sox are winning that stadium will be full and loud.
8. Crosstown Classic
The last time a team from Chicago won the World Series the following year’s crosstown series saw a few fireworks. Not fireworks from the U.S. Cellular scoreboard, I mean an actual all out brawl. The Sox have always played second fiddle to the Cubs in this town, and it’s going to get even worse since the Cubs won the World Series and are primed to contend for more. With the Sox in a rebuild of their own, I’m interested to see if anything flares up when the rivals meet this summer. Possibly a statement, in some form or another, from the White Sox that we aren’t going to be pushed around and ignored. Who knows…
9. Trade Deadline
The White Sox still have plenty of pieces that they could deal, either now or during the regular season. After the quick Sale and Eaton trade (fleecing), fans were ready for the team to rattle off more trades. But that hasn’t happened yet. Pitching ace Jose Quintana has been centered around a few deals this offseason, but the Sox haven’t found anyone to match their large asking price. It seems unlikely that they would move Jose Abreu, as he will now be an important piece to aid Yoan Moncada’s cultural adjustment to the big leagues. I’d guess that guys like David Robertson and Todd Frazier could be moved at some point. I’m of the “bold” belief that the Sox are not done dealing. There is still a ton of prospect return out there that the Sox could get for some of these guys, and you know many teams will come calling as the deadline approaches.
10. Seth Beer’s sophomore season at Clemson
Clemson outfield Seth Beer had a monster freshman season in college baseball, and has moved himself into the conversation to be the No. 1 prospect available in the 2018 MLB draft. In his freshman year, Beer had a .369 average, .700 slugging percentage, 75 hits, 70 RBIs, and 18 home runs. This is a guy whose development this year will intrigue many baseball fans across the country. The White Sox position in the standings this season will obviously determine their spot in the 2018 draft, and many people have their eyes on the Clemson slugger. There are already hashtags like #TankForBeer #BeerMe #CheersForBeer on Twitter as White Sox fans hope a poor performance this year could be rewarded with a prime draft spot. Of course those draft picks don’t mean squat if the front office doesn’t nail them (A conversation for a later time). But keep an eye on this kid.