Chicago White Sox

Justin Morneau takes batting practice but won't rush rehab process

Justin Morneau takes batting practice but won't rush rehab process

Justin Morneau took 25 swings during batting practice on Saturday and bounced back well enough to hit in the cage Sunday morning, clearing another hurdle as the 35-year-old eyes his White Sox debut sometime after the All-Star break in July. 

Saturday was the first day Morneau took batting practice since undergoing elbow surgery in the offseason. The 2006 American League MVP said he doesn’t have a hard timetable on when he’ll go out on a minor league rehab assignment but plans to keep taking batting practice and travel with the White Sox to Houston next weekend and make a determination from there. 

“We have a plan that we want to make sure to not come back too soon and don't come back at less than what's going to be useful,” Morneau said. “You push it as much as you can, but you have to be smart about it, too, and realize that coming back too soon and not being completely healthy is going to hurt in the long run. It's a fine line of figuring out the best way to do it. But so far it's been good.”

Morneau has 13 seasons of major league experience but admitted he was nervous stepping in for batting practice on Saturday. He quickly felt better after taking a few swings and didn’t experience anything unexpected during or after his first batting practice session. 

“It's different facing 65 than it is facing 95, too, so that'll be a test and then getting in the game and swinging and missing and all that kind of stuff,” Morneau said. “It’s a little more controlled when you know what's coming and you know every pitch is the same. But it's reacted well so far.”

Morneau traveled with the White Sox to Cleveland and Boston last week and has maintained a presence in the team’s clubhouse since signing a one-year, $1 million deal on June 9. The longtime Minnesota Twins first baseman was in the dugout when the White Sox blasted seven home runs on Saturday and had memories flash back of his time playing here as an opponent (in 64 games at U.S. Cellular Field, he hit 15 home runs with an .836 OPS). 

“I saw that and went, 'There's a reason I remember I like hitting here,’” Morneau said.

Why Yoan Moncada's slow start with White Sox could soon be a thing of the past

Why Yoan Moncada's slow start with White Sox could soon be a thing of the past

Yoan Moncada wrapped up his first Crosstown Series — in front of the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere he’ll experience in, likely, a while — with an 0-4 showing in the White Sox 6-3 loss to the Cubs on Thursday. 

The 22-year-old had mixed results facing the defending World Series champions, striking out four times in five at-bats on Monday and hitting his first career home run off Jake Arrieta on Wednesday. His final numbers for these four Crosstown games: 17 plate appearances, two hits, two walks, two runs, eight strikeouts and one hit by pitch. 

Moncada is off to a slow start in his second stint in the majors, but he’s drawing plenty of walks (12.5 percent) and probably has been victimized by some bad luck (a .118 batting average on balls in play which, to say the least, is exceedingly low). 

Manager Rick Renteria, though, likes Moncada’s even-keeled demeanor and his ability to handle the ups and downs of the day-to-day grind of the regular season. 

“What he’s going to be able to do is minimize how much he gets wrapped up in frustration, as opposed to taking the at-bat, the last at-bat, going through pitch by pitch and trying to figure out what it was he wrapped in his approach,” Renteria said. “Younger players usually get very, very frustrated and lose that moment to gain some knowledge. Failure is not in and of itself a bad thing. It’s actually something that can produce a lot of positives. The thing is to try to get them to understand as quickly as possible so they can take those moments and gain information. 

“That’s why his even-keeled approach and even-keeled attitude (will help). He’s got fire. It’s not that he doesn’t care. That’s where people — for a lot of players who are calm or even-keeled, they have fire, they have desire, but they know how to compartmentalize and separate those things and try to gain something from every moment, positive or negative.”

Moncada already took that clear-eyed approach to self-evaluation in the minor leagues, and said that hasn’t changed now that he’s at baseball’s highest level. 

“I’m just keeping the same routine that I was using in the minors,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “And the whole year, I’m just keeping with the things that have been giving me results.”

There’s not much of a common thread between Moncada’s brief call-up with the Boston Red Sox last September and his first few games with the White Sox. Moncada was overmatched in his 2016 debut, striking out 12 times in 20 plate appearances and only drawing one walk. He had four hits, though, so his way-too-small-sample-size BABIP was .571. 

Moncada looks like a different player this year, carrying over his strong Triple-A walk rate (13.6 percent) to his nascent tenure with the White Sox. Eventually, the hits are likely to start falling as long as he doesn’t get out of the approach that got him here — and made him baseball’s biggest prospect in the process. 

“He’s been doing all the work that he has to do to adjust to this level,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through an interpreter. “He’s been doing his same routine from Triple-A and I think that’s something good because you have to stick with the things that are giving you good results.” 

Anthony Rizzo: More than talent needed for successful rebuild

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo: More than talent needed for successful rebuild

Nearly eight months into their rebuild, the White Sox have accrued an eye-popping amount of young talent. The franchise continues to receive kudos even in trading a pair of relievers this week to add depth to what might be the best farm system in baseball.

But having the best farm system -- the White Sox have eight of MLBPipeline.com’s top 100 prospects -- won’t mean much until it’s realized.

Well versed on the subject having experienced it on his own, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo acknowledged before Thursday’s 6-3 win over the White Sox just how uncertain the rebuilding process can be. In Rizzo’s eyes, it wasn’t just talent that got the Cubs over the hump, it was timing, too.

“It happened fast, but it could have went the other way, too,” Rizzo said. “We’re lucky with how everything turned out. Plus, a lot of hard work has gone into it.”

[MORE: Aaron Bummer on what it's like to get called up to the majors]

Similar to Yoan Moncada’s arrival last week, Rizzo was the first [hyped prospect to be promoted] after Theo Epstein’s plan went into place. Acquired the previous winter from San Diego, Rizzo reached the majors midway through the 2012 season with the Cubs only a few months into their rebuild. The three-time All-Star didn’t know it at the time, but he was the first new face the Cubs would introduce to their audience. While Rizzo often [was aware of skepticism of Epstein’s plan], he said he never felt the same pressure from fans. Rizzo also said he can understand why not all the Cubs faithful were on board.

“I think I was naïve and happy to be back in the big leagues,” Rizzo said. “You’ve just got to focus on playing baseball and not worry about everything else that you can’t control.

“I didn’t feel (pressure) at all. I know people were calling for the upper front office’s jobs. But they had a plan and they had a vision and they preached it the entire time.”

“As a fan I can understand why you get upset because you want to win. As a fan of football or whatever sport, if my team doesn’t win, I get mad. But obviously they knew what they were doing.”

So far the White Sox fan base has been mostly supportive of Rick Hahn’s efforts and embraced the idea of building through the farm system. But not everyone is on board with a 25-man roster teardown that appears to have the club hurtling toward its first 100-loss season since 1970.

This week’s Crosstown series is a reminder there are tough times ahead for the White Sox.

The Cubs lost a combined 197 games in 2012 and 2013 and 89 games in 2014. The second half of the 2017 season could be extremely difficult for a White Sox club that has traded Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings all since December.

Rizzo thinks the way the Cubs handled those difficulties played into their success in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s life,” Rizzo said. “There are tough times in anything. There are going to be good times and bad times so it’s all about how you approach it and how you handle it.

“We always knew the potential we had, it was just a matter of going out and doing it. Ball’s bouncing your way, calls going your way and staying together.”