Chicago White Sox

Ventura highway about to open

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Ventura highway about to open

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Everyones gotta start somewhere.

Thats how Chris Sale explained the debut of his new manager Robin Ventura, who arrived at Camelback Ranch on Wednesday about to embark on quite the unexpected journey, hired to manage the White Sox despite not managing or even coaching in any sport at any level.

Truth be told, Ventura actually does have some coaching experience on his resume.
He once coached his daughters basketball team in California. Oh, and there was the time he led a ragtag group of aging amateurs at the White Sox fantasy baseball camp at this exact same facility two years ago.

How bad were they?

We stunk, Ventura said.

But when Kenny Williams shocked everybody by hiring the former White Sox third baseman to replace Ozzie Guillen this off-season, Williams didnt care that Ventura had coached as many professional games as just about everybody reading this sentence.

Why?

Because Ventura is not like everybody.

Its the reason he had a 58-game hitting streak for Oklahoma State in 1987. It had never happened in Division I baseball before. It hasnt happened since.

Its why he charged the mound in 1993 against 46-year-old and future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who proceeded to pound Ventura with several noogies to the head.
Probably not a smart move, but it shows the quiet, inner rage that can boil in his stomach. He might not show it, but its there. Expect to see it.

And its also why at the end of his playing career with the Dodgers, Venturas teammates gave him a nickname that foreshadowed his baseball future.

What was it?

Ploach.

Short for player-coach.

But while Ventura held that title quietly behind the scenes with no one watching, its a much different situation now. Hes now been thrust to the front of the stage with Chicagos blinding media spotlight directed right at him.

Few can effectively handle it. Ventura, like Ozzie Guillen before him, learned to play the game while living in it.

Not having Guillen around for the first time since 2003 will be an adjustment. Walking into the Sox clubhouse on Wednesday, something didnt seem right. I couldnt figure it out. Then I realized there wasnt a single profanity-laced tirade by a certain Venezuelan manager.

The silence was deafening.

Certainly from that standpoint, Ventura walks into this situation with some pretty large shoes to fill. Hes also taking over for the only manager alive who won a World Series title in Chicago.

I dont look at it necessarily as Im replacing him, Ventura said. I can only look at it as Im just happy to be in this position with the White Sox.

In a season that will feature many firsts, Wednesday was Venturas first spring training
press conference. The first-time manager gave us a glimpse at how he will act in his new job, and what he will expect from his players.

I do have things I believe in as far as the way they play, Ventura said.

Which will have to be a 180-degree shift from last year when the Sox struggled out of the gate and finished a disappointing 79-83. Ventura can help steer the season in the right direction, but he wont be the only person with his hands on the wheel.

Hopefully guys can play better. Thats obviously something from last year," Ventura said. "Thats just the situation were in, and nobody is going to let them up from that until you have an extended period of playing well and guys playing well. Thats just the facts. Thats just the way it is. We have a long way to go to kind of prove that wrong.

Ventura cant swing the bat for Adam Dunn, Alex Rios or Gordon Beckham. Thats not his job. But helping them get to the right place mentally to succeed? That is. Ventura knows it all begins here at spring training.

I think theres always a tone you open up with, the Sox manager said. I dont think you can force it on them. Your leadership and your club is going to kind of set that tone. Its about being prepared to win games, and thats really the focus of how were going to do things, and do it right. And thats it. Its pretty simple.

With the Dodgers he might have been the unofficial player-coach. But will he be a players coach?

Asked about running the club like a dictatorship, Ventura quipped, Absolutely. My way or the highway.

Tomorrow the journey begins.

Joining Hall-of-Fame company the latest feat for Jose Abreu, White Sox model of consistency

Joining Hall-of-Fame company the latest feat for Jose Abreu, White Sox model of consistency

Just how valuable is Jose Abreu to the White Sox?

Well, whenever you join Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio as the only baseball players ever to do something, you must be pretty darn valuable.

Abreu joined that elite company Saturday night, driving in both runs in the White Sox forgettable 8-2 loss to the visiting Kansas City Royals. Those RBIs brought his total to 100 on the season, making him the third major leaguer ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in his first four seasons.

“Every year after a season I meet with my family and we review my season and my stats. Last year when we had the meeting, I told them next year I’m gonna hit 30 homers, I’m gonna drive in at least 100 and I did it,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I was able to do it and that’s something that made me feel proud of myself and proud of my family, too, because they have been the ones who have been supported me through my whole career."

Abreu’s known as an extremely hard worker, a template to follow for many if not all of the youngsters coming up as the future stars of the White Sox rebuild. And so it makes this moment all the sweeter for him and those around him.

“It is especially important not just for me but for my family and my team,” Abreu said. “I think that this is a reward for the effort and all the work you put in for preparation for your season. It’s special when you get this kind of result and consistency in your stats. But the most important thing is it’s a reward for my family. And this organization, maybe we are not in the position we want to be right now as a team, but I know that better times are to come.”

“He works extremely hard,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think everybody was feeling it for him tonight. He’s been pushing. He fouled a ball off of his left shin the other day, and you see him kind of gimping around there. … He’s not one to do anything to deter from continuing to help the team win first and foremost, but along the way he’s able to collect some individual merit points, so to speak. And put himself in a very special class.”

The big question surrounding Abreu isn’t whether he’s worthy of being the leader the young White Sox of the future need to turn rebuilding mode into contending mode a few years down the line. The question is whether he’ll still be around by then. His final year of arbitration is 2019, meaning if the White Sox are looking at 2020 as the year of true contention, it will take a new contract to keep Abreu in town.

A few things factor into that, of course. No. 1, Abreu could continue this consistently terrific pace and be lured away by another team willing to spend more to acquire his services. No. 2, though, is his age. He’ll be 33 years old when the 2020 season starts, and while that’s not old by most standards, it means he’ll demand a big contract — and likely a lengthy one — as he reaches the latter part of his prime. It’s not to suggest Abreu will dramatically slow down in terms of production, but it will most definitely be under consideration as the White Sox look to keep their window of contention open as long as possible.

For what it’s worth, Abreu is constantly thanking the White Sox organization for the opportunity to do what he’s done over the past four seasons, and he’s said how much he wants to keep playing for this franchise.

What is of no question, however, is Abreu’s worth as a top-of-the-line offensive player. His totals with a week’s worth of games left in the 2017 season: 31 homers, 100 RBIs and a .305/.356/.551 slash line. All those percentages would be his highest since his outstanding rookie season in 2014.

And his worth as a leader, as a guy who could be a rallying point for all these young players, that’s pretty darn valuable, too.

“I haven’t (tonight) made light of what I believe he’s becoming as part of this organization and what he is as far as what he does for the team,” Renteria said. “You got a couple of young men in there that are growing up and becoming a part of what I believe are leaders within that clubhouse. And he’s one of them. He’s certainly deserves it. He’s earned it. He’s worked for it. He’s been in this organization since the inception of his major league career. He’s someone that we all are happy is a part of us.”

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

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USA TODAY

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

It’s been more than two weeks since Carlos Rodon was shut down for the season, one day after he was scratched from a start with shoulder inflammation.

And while we know Rodon won’t pitch again in 2017 — a season with just a little more than a week remaining for the rebuilding White Sox — the team still doesn’t know, or still isn’t ready to say, exactly what’s wrong with the former first-round draft pick.

“We’re just trying to get it right,” Rodon said before Saturday night’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals. “Still trying to figure everything out and take everything we can and put it all together to get the most information and do what’s best for me and for this team.”

That kind of non-update might raise some red flags in the minds of White Sox fans, curious as to what is the latest ailment for a pitcher who missed three months this season while recovering from biceps bursitis.

Rodon was slated to get reevaluated shortly after that early September injury. He was, but no news came of it, at least not yet.

“Pretty similar to what our doc said,” Rodon said of that follow-up evaluation. “Like I said, we’re trying to still gather all the information and figure out what we’re going to do from there.”

Rodon ended his third season in the bigs with a 4.15 ERA in 69.1 innings of work. And while the White Sox still believe he’ll be a huge part of their starting staff moving forward, it’s plenty acceptable to wonder what kind of effects this season of injuries will have on Rodon as the franchise’s rebuild chugs along.

“He continues to be a big part of what we believe is the future of the organization,” manager Rick Renteria said after explaining several times that the team is still trying to figure out what’s wrong with Rodon. “Unfortunately, this year he's been down quite a bit. So assuming he comes back in a good situation and is healthy and is capable of going out and performing, he fits into one of the five guys that are going to be out there for us next season.”

For his part, Rodon is 100-percent confident he’ll be good to go for next year’s campaign.

“I just know that I’ll be ready for next season,” Rodon said. “The goal is to be ready for next year and be healthy through all of next season.”

That, though, will be the million-dollar question as the White Sox starting rotation of the future begins to take shape. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are already penciled in for 2018, and Michael Kopech’s 2017 campaign in the minors was so sensational, he could potentially pitch himself into that starting five, too. With younger names like Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning also doing work in the minors, someone’s going to be the odd man out.

Rodon still has the confidence of his organization. But will he have the health to make that confidence pay off?