White Sox announce 20 invites to spring training

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White Sox announce 20 invites to spring training

By James Fegan
CSNChicago.com contributor

The Chicago White Sox announced Thursday the invitation of 20 players to their spring training camp in Glendale, Arizona. The group is a combination of 13 prospects from the teams farm system and seven non-roster invitees signed to minor league contracts.

Outfielder Trayce Thompson and Infielder Carlos Sanchez are the most heralded prospects among those invited, rated second and third respectively in the White Sox organization according to Baseball America.

Thompson, 21, finished the 2012 season in Triple-A Charlotte after hitting 25 home runs across stops in Single-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. Sanchez is a year younger still, but is considered to have an outside chance at a major league roster spot. This year will also see Keenyn Walker, an outfielder who was selected with the White Sox first pick of the 2011 draft, make his first appearance at big league camp.

2011 second-round pick Erik Johnson, a right-handed starter who just completed his first year as a professional, is the highest-rated pitching prospect going to Glendale. Joining him will be Scott Snodgress, a left-hander out of Stanford who led the White Sox farm system in strikeouts, and right-hander Jake Petricka. Daniel Moskos, a left-hander who was selected fourth overall in the 2007 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, was also invited.

Rounding out the group of prospects are a pair of catchers in Michael Blanke and Kevan Smith, first basemen Andy Wilkins, and infielders Tyler Saladino, Seth Loman, and Marcus Simien. Saladino was featured on several top 10 lists for prospects in the White Sox organization coming into 2012, before enduring a rough season where he recorded a .668 OPS.

The announcement of non-roster invitees for the 2013 White Sox camp marks the return to the organization of right-handed reliever Jeff Gray, and outfielder Stefan Gartrell.

Gray pitched 13.1 innings for the White Sox in 2011 before being put on waivers and claimed by the Seattle Mariners. He spent all of 2012 working out of the bullpen for the rival Minnesota Twins, recording a 5.71 ERA over 52 innings. Gray was originally signed as a Free Agent by the White Sox in December.

Gartrell is returning to the organization that drafted him in the 31st round in 2006. He spent six seasons in the White Sox farm system before being traded to the Atlanta Braves shortly after the start of the 2011 season. Gartrell has hit 20 or more home runs in four straight seasons, almost all of which were spent in Triple-A.

Left-handed reliever David Purcey, who last saw major league action with the Detroit Tigers in 2011, right-handed pitcher Ramon Troncoso, catcher Bryan Anderson, and infielders Josh Bell and Steve Tolleson were all given non-roster invitations to camp as well.

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

Bobby Howry wasn't aware of the fact he was part of one of the more infamous transactions in White Sox history until a few years after it happened. 

In 1997, with the White Sox only 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians, general manager Ron Schueler pulled the trigger on a massive trade that left many around Chicago — including some in the White Sox clubhouse — scratching their heads. Heading to the San Francisco Giants was the team's best starting pitcher (left-hander Wilson Alvarez), a reliable rotation piece (Doug Drabek) and a closer coming off a 1996 All-Star appearance (Roberto Hernandez). In return, the White Sox acquired six minor leaguers: right-handers Howry, Lorenzo Barcelo, Keith Foulke, left-hander Ken Vining, shortstop Mike Caruso and outfielder Brian Manning. Only Foulke had major league experience, and it wasn't exactly good (an 8.26 ERA in 44 2/3 innings). 

Howry was largely oblivious to the shocking nature of the trade that brought him from the Giants to White Sox until, before the 1999 season, he was featured in a commercial that referenced the "White Flag trade."

"I don't even know if I knew it was called that before then," Howry recalled last weekend at the Sheraton Grand Chicago at Cubs Convention. 

The trade was a stark signal that youth would be emphasized on 35th and Shields. Both Alvarez and Hernandez were set to become free agents after the 1997 season, and the 40-year-old Darwin wasn't a long-term piece, either. With youngsters like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee rising through the farm system, the move was made with an eye on the future and maximizing the return on players who weren't going to be long-term pieces. 

Sound familiar? 

It's hardly a perfect comparison, but when the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in December for four minor leaguers — headlined by top-100 prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech — it was the first rebuilding blockbuster trade the organization had made since the 1997 White Flag deal. Shortly after trading their staff ace at the 2016 Winter Meetings, the White Sox shipped Adam Eaton — their best position player — to the Washington Nationals for a package of prospects featuring two more highly-regarded youngsters in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. 

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And there still could be more moves on the horizon, too, for Rick Hahn's White Sox (Jose Quintana has been the subject of persistent rumors since the Winter Meetings). But for those looking for an optimistic outlook of the White Sox rebuilding plans, it's worth noting that the club's last youth movement, to an extent, was successful.

Only Howry (3.74 ERA over 294 games) and Foulke (2.87 ERA, 100 saves over 346 games) became significant long-term pieces for the White Sox from those six players brought over in 1997. And it wasn't like Schueler dealt away any of the franchise's cornerstones — like Frank Thomas, Albert Belle and Robin Ventura — but with future starters in Lee, Ordonez and Chris Singleton on their way the White Sox were able to go young. A swap of promising youthful players (Mike Cameron for Paul Konerko) proved to be successful a year and a half later. 

And with a couple of shrewd moves — namely, dealing Jamie Navarro and John Snyder to the Milwaukee Brewers for Cal Eldred and Jose Valentin — the "Kids Can Play" White Sox stormed to an American League Central title in 2000. 

"It was great," Howry said of developing with so many young players in the late 1999's and 2000. "You come in and you feel a lot more comfortable when you got a lot of young guys and you're all coming up together and building together. It's not like you're walking into a primarily veteran clubhouse where you're kind of having to duck and hide all the time. We had a great group of guys and we built together over a couple of years, and putting that together was a lot of fun."

What sparked things in 2000, Howry said, was that ferocious brawl with the Detroit Tigers on April 22 in which 11 players were ejected (the fight left Foulke needing five stitches and former Tigers catcher/first baseman Robert Fick doused in beer). 

"About the time we had that fight with Detroit, that big brawl, all of a sudden after then we just seemed to kind of come together and everything started to click and it took off," Howry said. 

The White Sox went 80-81 in 1998 and slipped to 75-86 in 1999, but their 95-67 record in 2000 was the best in the league — though it only amounted to a three-game sweep at the hands of the wild-card winning Seattle Mariners. 

Still, the White Flag trade had a happy ending two and a half years later. While with the White Sox, Howry didn't feel pressure to perform under the circumstances with which he arrived, which probably helped those young players grow together into eventual division champions. 

"I was 23 years old," Howry said. "At 23 years old, I didn't really — I was just like, okay, I'm still playing, I got a place to play. I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into three veteran guys for six minor leaguers." 

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox 2016 first round pick Zack Collins joins the podcast to talk about his future with the White Sox, when he hopes to make the big leagues and the doubters who question whether he can be a major league catcher.   He discusses comparisons with Kyle Schwarber, his impressions of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, why his dad took him to a Linkin Park concert when he was 6 years old and much more.