White Sox hope dive into water polo pool pans out

White Sox hope dive into water polo pool pans out

The White Sox went so far outside of the box with draft pick Sam Abbott that they wound up in the pool.

Whereas 34 of the team’s 40 picks were spent on college players with proven track records, the White Sox bought a lottery ticket with a potentially huge payoff when they selected the three-time Washington high school water polo MVP in the eighth round of last week’s draft. The White Sox know they possess a work in progress in Abbott, who officially signed with the club on Monday and reported to the team’s facility in Glendale, Ariz. But scouts and club officials feel if Abbott can ever tap into the potential he put on display in a workout earlier this month that gambling on the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder would be worth the risk.

“This is one of the most unique stories we’ve ever drafted,” amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. “This is going to take some time, there’s going to be some patience. But this is one of those high-risk, high-rewards where if this hits, it’s a story good enough for a movie.”

Though the White Sox think it could take Abbott time to develop into a bonafide power hitter, it’s no surprise to Abbott’s high school baseball coach that he quickly chose baseball over water polo. Curtis High School (Tacoma, Wash.) coach Bryan Robinson said other area coaches wondered about what Abbott might do after the White Sox selected him with the 237th pick in the draft, a pick with a $161,600 slot value. Abbott had committed to play water polo at Long Beach State on a partial scholarship. He’d helped Curtis High win consecutive state titles. And he’d had success immediately after setting foot in the pool as a freshman.

But Robinson suspected that Abbott would sign immediately with the White Sox, who had flown him to Chicago for a June 4 workout at Guaranteed Rate Field. Even though he was a stud in the pool, Robinson knew Abbott loved baseball as much as the other sports.

“His freshman year he was the Washington state player of the year in water polo,” Robinson said. “He had a ton of success in the pool. But at the same time was playing baseball in the spring and summer ball. Swimming and water polo were just kind of taking the driver’s seat in terms of him getting noticed a little bit.”

“I didn’t even question (if he’d sign). The White Sox made a really big commitment. That’s something you don’t turn your back on.”

[MORE: What Carlos Rodon still needs to accomplish before he returns to White Sox] 

The White Sox initially noticed Abbott when area scout Robbie Cummings went to see an opposing school’s pitcher. Cummings immediately liked Abbott’s frame and his power potential and began to push Abbott on Hostetler. Ultimately, Cummings convinced the White Sox to bring Abbott to Chicago for the workout and that’s where Jim Thome, the club’s special assistant to the general manager took notice.

“He was hitting balls so far Jim was standing there and (asked) ‘Who is this kid?’ ” Hostetler said. “I even had to pull out the roster to look.”

Once Thome heard Abbott’s backstory he was further intrigued. Abbott had never spent more than a few months a year playing baseball as swimming is a year-round sport in Washington. Abbott also had never participated in a baseball-specific conditioning program because swimming always got in the way --- not that Robinson minded.

“We knew that he was actually probably getting a better workout by being in the pool,” Robinson said.

And then there’s the sheer raw power Abbott brings. Thome liked how Abbott put on a show, hitting a number of balls out to left-center field at Guaranteed Rate Field. Abbott is one of several power bats the White Sox added through the draft along with first-rounder Jake Burger and second-rounder Gavin Sheets.

“The bat does speak,” Thome said. “It’s exciting to think where a kid like this has come from. He doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear.

“It’s exciting to see what he could potentially be.

“It’ll be fun to see how this translates.”

The White Sox plan to be patient with their project. Hostetler said Abbott could spend as much as two seasons at rookie ball in order to create a steady foundation.

“It’s going to be a long process for Sam,” Hostetler said. “He wasn’t on the circuit. He wasn’t an Area Codes guy.”

Patience and concentration on baseball alone is all Robinson thinks his player needs. Abbott has also worked out in front of Nomar Garciaparra this year and the ex-All-Star shortstop had “good things to say.” Robinson loves Abbott’s approach at the plate because he knows his strike zone well and what pitches he does damage on. Abbott knows how to let the ball travel and the ball jumps off his bat. And Robinson thinks Abbott’s mindset is perfect for baseball because he knows how to hit the reset button and start over the next day.

All it took was someone else seeing it, a process that began with Cummings and picked up with Thome’s observations.

“We knew he could play at the next level just with his swing,” Robinson said. “Honestly it was a matter of if he wanted to.

“I overheard the conversation he had with Jim Thome and I thought, ‘Wow, this is really going to take off.’”

“Eighth round, that was something special.”

Why White Sox roster should keep Rick Hahn busy through trade deadline

Why White Sox roster should keep Rick Hahn busy through trade deadline

The draft is done, the trade deadline is on approach and the vultures are surely about to start circling the White Sox.

Whereas certain teams are still unsure about what direction they’ll head this season before the Aug. 1 nonwaiver trade deadline, the White Sox are not. They made it crystal clear to the baseball world that they would entertain selling anything that isn’t nailed down when they traded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton last December. So with this week’s amateur draft finally over, general manager Rick Hahn suspects an influx of phone calls will arrive shortly for his team and any others considered to be sellers.  

“Over the next few weeks you're going to see more trade activity,” Hahn said on Tuesday. “Certainly, it's been fairly quiet here leading up to the draft. I expect it to be fairly rampant here over the next several weeks, throughout the game, not necessarily just here. We're certainly looking forward to continuing to engage with clubs and see where that leads.”

Hahn will likely have to keep his phone charger handy given the White Sox have a roster full of interesting pieces. While they’re less likely to pull off a Sale or Eaton-esque blockbuster with their best chip (Jose Quintana) underperforming, the White Sox still have enough assets for Hahn to stay busy.

Key among the White Sox most attractive pieces are closer David Robertson setup man Tommy Kahnle. Robertson has struck out 12.7 batters per nine innings this season and with 40 percent of the schedule complete, he’s owed $20.2 million, including $13 million in 2018. Arbitration eligible for the first time after this season, Kahnle has been even better than Robertson. He has struck out 44 and walked six in 25 1/3 innings.

After enduring injuries for the past three seasons, free-agent-to-be Derek Holland has postseason experience and looks to be healthy again. While his FIP is 5.37, Holland has increased his strikeout rate to 19 percent and offers good depth to a team in need of rotation help.

Third baseman Todd Frazier’s bat has heated up in June, which could make the future free agent an interesting option for teams in need at the hot corner. Headed into Thursday, Frazier’s wRC+ for June was 157, 60 points above his season mark. Same as Robertson, Frazier is also owed $7.2 million.

Also a free agent after 2017, Melky Cabrera has shown improvement in June. However, opposing teams may find the $9 million Cabrera is owed prohibitive.

Pitcher Miguel Gonzalez has had a rough run in his last seven starts but could provide depth to a team in contention if he gets back on track. Veteran reliever Anthony Swarzak, a free agent like Gonzalez, has performed well in high-leverage spots and is averaging and has struck out 29 in 30 innings.

Now that he’s figured it out at the plate, Leury Garcia could be a valuable utility man, capable of playing anywhere in the outfield, shortstop and second base. A career .460 OPS before this season, Garcia, who has three years of team control left after 2017, has an .810 OPS this season, including six home runs. Yolmer Sanchez, who has a .760 OPS and can play multiple positions, also could be made available to open up a spot for the arrival of top prospect Yoan Moncada.

While Jose Abreu has proven to be dangerous again at the plate, the Cuban may hold more value to the White Sox than they’d fetch given he could potentially mentor his countrymen, Moncada and Luis Robert.

Were they to deal Quintana, who is 2-8 with a 5.30 ERA, the White Sox might have to sell low, which it’s doubtful they would, given he potentially has three years left on his current deal.

Even though they might not have as high of a chance of pulling off another blockbuster, Hahn should stay busy through the Aug. 1 deadline.

“Every team is looking to improve themselves,” Hahn said. 

Tyler Saladino makes White Sox rain delay not suck

Tyler Saladino makes White Sox rain delay not suck

Rick Hahn isn't the only one in the White Sox organization who knows how to capitalize on a trade opportunity. 

During a long rain delay on Tuesday, Tyler Saladino proved he could negotiate with the best. The infielder, who's known for his killer mustache and infectious personality, was entertaining the crowd when he pulled off one of the great heists in Sox history. 

Autographed batting gloves for a Sox Park churro? C'mon, man. Sally will be satisfied for days and all he had to do was write a few words. 

His note to the fan is an all-time classic, though. Now Dylan will be reminded of the time he gave away a precious gem for the rest of his life. 

That wasn't the only case of "Sally being Sally" on Tuesday. In the same rain delay, Saladino signed his John Hancock on the forehead of one fan. 

Go for the game, stay for Tyler Saladino's hilarious antics.