KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s been one year since Rick Hahn uttered those three magic words to signal that the White Sox would soon begin a massive rebuild: mired in mediocrity.
Disappointed by another season of middling play despite a roster led with top talent but short on depth, the general manager suggested the White Sox needed a new direction last July 21.
At the time, Hahn only noted that the White Sox were no longer interested in acquiring short-term pieces and they would re-evaluate their future. Ten days later, the front office began a thorough overhaul that has since seen the completion of four franchise-altering deals for young, controllable, top-flight talent by trading reliever Zach Duke to the St. Louis Cardinals for Charlie Tilson. The White Sox sped their rebuild up incrementally in December and have since traded away Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Tommy Kahnle, Todd Frazier and David Robertson. The series of moves has made it easily apparent where the White Sox are headed.
“It just make it official that it’s a rebuild,” infielder Tyler Saladino said. “You know you’re not in between or what are we going to do? It establishes what’s going on here for everybody.”
The White Sox received a boatload of criticism when the nonwaiver trade deadline passed last Aug. 1 and only Duke had been traded.
One report indicated that the White Sox asked for a “king’s ransom” for Sale, who remained with the club even after his second volatile outburst of the season produced boxes full of slashed throwback jerseys and a five-game suspension for insubordination and destruction of team property. A grade-based ESPN article assigned Hahn an ‘F’ for the failure to begin the rebuild before the deadline. Two weeks later, a reported schism in the front office between Hahn and Kenny Williams over the club’s direction prompted chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to call CSN’s David Kaplan to inform him that his decision makers were “in lockstep” and the team’s decision would be easy to detect soon enough.
And just like that it was.
The White Sox switched managers in October, hiring development-oriented Rick Renteria only a day after Robin Ventura walked away. A month later, Hahn spelled it out again at the GM meetings that the White Sox intended to get younger.
And then the exodus began. First went Sale. Then Eaton. There was a brief interlude as the club signed Cuban free agent Luis Robert for $52 million in May. But the exits have since continued with the trades of Quintana, Frazier, Kahnle and Robertson.
“The fact that they've been able to do as much as they have in this short period of time is kind of impressive,” Renteria said. “We're sad to see a lot of the guys (go) that were here with us because they were good White Sox. But everybody knows the direction we're going in and we still go out there and play to try to get a ballgame every single day, so that's part of the process.”
First baseman Jose Abreu said he understands the process and has bought into what Hahn and Co. are selling. Abreu looks at the organization as a whole and believes the White Sox, who now possess 10 of the top 68 prospects in baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com, are in better shape than they were a year ago. So even if the team is headed for an ugly final two months, Abreu believes it’ll be worth it.
“We all know that in this process you are going to rough moments and you’re going to feel sometimes like things aren’t going the way they are supposed to go, especially with the trades,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “But if you see now we are a much better organization, especially with all of the young talent we are getting. That’s part of the process too. You are pointing up to the future. All of those positions are for the future, and we are looking for good things to come.”
As Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League have partnered, the USL has become a more viable league for player development.
Each year the USL showcases some of the young talent in its league with the USL 20 Under 20 series posted to the league’s website, rankings the top 20 USL players who are 20 years old or younger. It’s the closest thing to MLS prospect rankings you’ll see.
This year, Fire homegrown midfielder Collin Fernandez made the list at No. 18. Fernandez has been playing on loan with the Tulsa Roughnecks this season and is getting positive reviews for his play.
The scouting report on his 20 Under 20 bio, which came via TopDrawerSoccer.com, called this a breakthrough season for Fernandez:
Deployed in a deeper midfield role instead of an attacking midfield spot, Fernandez has been able to adjust to the USL and let his passing ability shine. Fernandez is in the top five for Tulsa’s passes and passing percentage, as the move deeper in the lineup allows him to get on the ball and help his side transition from attack to defense. While he’s more of a slight build, the experience this season has shown that he can stamp his authority against bigger, older players.
Fernandez, 20, struggled to get playing time in his first two years of professional soccer. In 2015 and 2016 he made just three combined appearances that totaled 14 minutes. Fernandez was on loan with Saint Louis FC, another USL team, for much of 2016, but injuries and time with Peru’s under-20 national team prevented him from being available to St. Louis on a consistent basis.
This year, Fernandez has made 13 starts and another appearance off the bench for 1,134 minutes played. He has a goal and a pair of assists.
“What’s been good about Tulsa is they saw and (coach) David Vaudreuil saw Collin in a way that we didn’t so he’s played more as an eight, which is something that we hadn’t considered, and he’s done well,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said in May. “So it’s made us rethink how we look at Collin, so that’s been good.”
Another player the Fire had on loan in Tulsa was Joey Calistri. Calistri was recalled to the Fire this week and had good things to say about Fernandez’s play.
“He’s been playing really well,” Calistri said. “He’s been playing holding mid for us and he did a great job. He’s up and down. He can cover a lot of ground. He’s like a little pitbull out there. He’s a good player. He’s good in the middle, a lot of energy out there and he definitely helped Tulsa do very well.”
Fernandez had an impressive assist in a game on July 13: