One thing is certain: 2012 Sox will be different

655796.png

One thing is certain: 2012 Sox will be different

By Jim Owczarski
CSNChicago.com

Robin Ventura probably didnt set out to change the minds of Chicago White Sox fans during the three-day SoxFest at the Palmer House Hilton this weekend, but judging by the buzz in and around the various ball rooms and salons from Friday to Sunday, the new manager has affected some.

Though he did seem worn down as did Adam Dunn - by continuous questions about the failings of 2011, Ventura was mainly upbeat and funny, disarming fans with a quick wit and ability to get laughs at the expense of his coaches and general manager.

Is he laid back? Maybe. Compared to his former teammate and predecessor Ozzie Guillen? For sure.

As Ventura said Sunday in his final seminar of the weekend, hes different. And this team will be different, despite many familiar faces. Fans began to buy in, for the most part, even if they werent quite pushing up the expectation level to that of past seasons following the 2005 World Series championship.

Im excited, second baseman Gordon Beckham said. If they dont want to be excited, thats fine. Im excited and I know the rest of the guys are excited to get going. Were excited to have Robin here and a couple new coaches. Theres a lot to look forward for this year and for us. It really is.

General manager Kenny Williams was coolly received at the very start of the convention but left his last public appearance with cheers and thanks for 2005. Though he did say during the weekend that the Sox are tapped out financially, he afforded that the modified rebuilding process he oversaw this offseason may open some doors later.

We did a little bit of (re-tooling) to protect our future and we did some things to protect our present, Williams said. Hopefully its enough to remain competitive and hopefully if we have need in the middle of the season at some point maybe we can go and address it then.

But, Dunn felt like Sox fans will see a couple of important players this year that they didnt see in 2011.

We made two pretty good moves, I think, this offseason," he said. "That was hopefully getting me and Alex Rios back. Thats the way Im looking at it. We pretty much have the same team. We lost a couple of key players. We have guys capable of stepping in and filling that role and do a little better. Thats what were expecting.

One of outside elements putting a damper on fans initially was the news leading into SoxFest that defending American League Central champion Detroit Tigers signed All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder. But, as was his M.O. over the weekend, Ventura wanted to keep the focus on his team.

Were worrying about what we do, he said. The (players) know the Tigers won last year and now you add Prince, they know its out there. It doesnt guarantee anything. They know first-hand what can happen when youre the one thats supposed to be 20 games better than somebody else and all of a sudden youre not. Theyve lived it and theyve seen it. They know it can turn around also.

A turnaround is what many are hoping for, players and fans alike.

That started this weekend, but begins in earnest when pitchers and catchers report to Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 22 and with spring games beginning March 5.

How Rick Renteria has tried to help White Sox players combat travel fatigue

How Rick Renteria has tried to help White Sox players combat travel fatigue

They’re finally at home and Rick Renteria has implored White Sox players to relax a little.

Take a nap. Go see a movie. Run some errands.

Basically, the White Sox manager has ordered his players to do anything but arrive early to Guaranteed Rate Field the past two games. For the third time already on the 10-game homestand, White Sox players were instructed to check into the clubhouse later than normal. Renteria is attempting to help his players catch up after a trying schedule that began with 44 road dates in the team’s first 71 games.

Though it won’t be a routine practice, Renteria is aware his players have to be feeling some of the effects of a schedule that has had them mostly away from Chicago before this week and wanted to correct it.

[VIVID SEATS: Get your White Sox tickets here]

“We have been traveling a lot,” Renteria said. “The reality is the body's fatigued, you're getting up early, you're packing every three days. I just thought (Tuesday) would be an appropriate time to give them a little breath. And then after the victory last night, going in they were talking a little bit about maybe doing it again today. Honestly, they're the ones that are playing the game. It's not something I'll probably do every single day, that would be impossible. We still have to get our work in. But I thought it kind of fit the moment and we allowed them to do it again (Wednesday).”

Though he’s unaccustomed to the practice, Todd Frazier doesn’t mind it. White Sox players have been allowed to arrive at the park on consecutive days at 5 p.m. for the 7:10 p.m. starts.

Even so, many players were already in the building by the time media access to the clubhouse began at 4:30 p.m. Frazier said players simply have to be a little more efficient in preparing for the game.

“It’s good,” Frazier said. “You get to spend more time with the family. If you can get a nap in there, that helps too. Getting to the ballpark, you feel like you have more time than you really have, but you work in the cage, get warmed up and away you go. It’s like high school. You get to the field an hour before the game, get a quick stretch, talked to the guys about what did you do last night, how’s what’s her name doing, hang around and then we go to work.”

White Sox catcher Kevan Smith has a ball after drawing first career walk

White Sox catcher Kevan Smith has a ball after drawing first career walk

Rookie Kevan Smith wanted his first career walk in the worst possible way on Tuesday night.

The White Sox catcher was so intent upon ending a lengthy walk drought to start his career that he determined to lean in against one of the hardest throwers in the league.

Ahead 3-0 in the count with one out in the ninth inning against New York Yankees reliever Dellin Betances, Smith inched closer to the plate. The four-pitch walk Smith drew in career plate appearance No. 130 not only ended the second longest walk-less streak to start a career since 1990, it also jumpstarted a game-winning White Sox rally. Smith was afforded plenty of time to enjoy the moment, too, as manager Rick Renteria immediately pulled him for a pinch runner.

“Oh yeah (I knew),” Smith said. “One hundred percent. I got way on the plate and was like, ‘You’re either going to hit me or walk me’ because I’m not letting this one slide. I’ve been to a few 3-0 counts, but finally got the first one out of the way. Everybody was laughing at me.

“It was a celebratory thing. I got to come off the field on my first one.”

Smith’s moment was worthy of a celebration.

Whereas Tim Anderson’s base on balls-free stretch to start his career got a ton of notoriety in 2016, Smith’s received almost none despite the fact that he soared past Anderson. A highly touted rookie known for his aggressive approach at the plate, people kept close tabs on Anderson’s stretch when he went 85 plate appearances without a walk to start his career. But Smith eclipsed that mark with a strikeout in his lone trip to the plate on June 9. It wasn’t until 44 plate appearances later that Smith could walk the walk.

Since 1990, only Jeff Francouer had gone longer among all major leaguers when he didn’t draw a free pass until his 131 plate appearance in 2005. Smith tied the Yankees’ Oscar Azocar (who walked in his 130th trip in 1990) when he ended the seventh inning with a strikeout against New York starting pitcher Luis Severino.

Other notable White Sox players with lengthy walk-less streaks to start their careers include: Jeff Abbott (84, 1997-98), Dayan Viciedo (83, 2010) and Josh Phegley (83, 2013).

“Dang,” Anderson said with a smile. “Nobody made a big deal about his though.”

[VIVID SEATS: Get your White Sox tickets here]

Similar to Anderson, Smith has always been fairly aggressive at the plate. His career walk-rate in the minor leagues is 8.7 percent (195 in 2,229 plate appearances). But that aggression hasn’t prevented Smith from finding offensive success during his third stint in the majors. After going 5-for-42 to start his career, Smith has heated up, hitting .313/.322/.422 with six doubles, one home run and eight RBIs in his last 87 plate appearances.

“The more at-bats he gets up here it's natural to start getting a little more comfortable,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He's certainly showing that he's able to do a few things at the plate. He's handling at-bats more a little more calmly.”

The calmer demeanor has helped Smith stick to an approach in which he has confidence. In seven minor league seasons, Smith carried a .285/.361/.449 slash line. He believes staying with what works will be the key to whether or not he can continue to perform.

“I think what makes guys successful up here is they stick to their approach,” Smith said. “I always use (Joe) Mauer as an example. He stays so true to his approach and looks for what he wants to hit that it’s almost frustrating as a catcher and a pitcher. But there’s a reason he’s been around for so long and I’m envious of what he does in the box. I’m just going to keep trying to get as comfortable as I can and strive for that approach each game and each at-bat.”