Ask anyone from the White Sox milling around downtown Chicago this weekend for SoxFest, and you'll hear a common refrain: Robin Ventura is the perfect man for the job. That's why the organization was confident enough to give him a multi-year contract extension despite a disappointing 99-loss 2013 season.
The impetus behind that confidence is Ventura's ability to work with young players, specifically the talented core general manager Rick Hahn began to assemble with last year's midseason deal to bring in outfielder Avisail Garcia. The White Sox also added first baseman Jose Abreu, third baseman Matt Davidson and outfielder Adam Eaton to that group this offseason, while catcher Josh Phegley and infielders Marcus Semien and Leury Garcia debuted for the team last summer. There's a growing group of talent in the minor leagues, too.
General manager Rick Hahn pointed to three of Ventura's traits that play well for a younger club: His credibility, his ability to communicate and his knowledge of the White Sox organization.
Ventura starred at Oklahoma State, was a first-round draft pick and played 16 years in the majors. But he struggled to begin his career — infamously going 0-for-39 during a 16-game stretch his rookie year in 1990 -- and can identify with the learning curve just about every young player experiences.
The even-keeled Ventura works well with young players, too, by not getting too high or too low on a game-by-game basis. He nearly managed the White Sox to the playoffs in 2012 before scraping the 100-loss mark a year ago.
"Throughout each of those extremes, Robin’s leadership was unwavering," Hahn said. “His communication, his ability to teach at the big league level, his enthusiasm, his baseball intellect — all the things we were looking for in a manager were the same at our highest highs and our lowest lows. And that level of stability is what we want from a leader in the dugout.”
Matt Lindstrom, who's played for six clubs in seven major league seasons, similarly lauded that stability.
"If we lose a tough game he's not going to have a team meeting the next day," Lindstrom said. "He's going to show up with the same attitude he had the day before and let's go play and let's beat these guys. It's going to help the young guys a lot."
As for knowing what it takes to play for the White Sox, that's a trait that manifests itself in a consistent message from Chicago to Birmingham to Great Falls. Setting expectations so a player knows what's coming at each rung of the organizational ladder carries a greater importance for a team developing that young core.
"It's not just the 25 guys in Chicago," Hahn said. "That's where his focus is on a day-to-day basis, but in spring training, the offseason, instructional league, when we're working on a manual of instruction — he's involved setting that organizational tone top to bottom. And it's really key to the success of our development to have the guys in Chicago preaching the same message the guys are hearing in rookie ball."
The White Sox aren't writing off 2014 — especially, as Hahn said, not with a pitching staff topped by Chris Sale and Jose Quintana — but realize developing its young core is what'll determine success, both from a record and big-picture standpoint. That's why Ventura, who would've been a lame-duck manager in 2014, received added job security with the multi-year extension.
And that trust isn't a given for a team going through a youth movement. Just look across town.
"X's and O's-wise, there's a lot of guys who know that stuff — he certainly does — but with anything, especially a younger team like we have now, he just doesn't miss something," first baseman Paul Konerko said. "How to treat guys — he's stern with them, he can get his point across, but for a team of this makeup it's a good fit. I'm glad he wanted to stay."