Victories like Thursday night's are enjoyable for White Sox players young and old.
- A 26-year-old rookie plucked from independent ball holding one of baseball's best offenses to two runs over seven innings on the road.
- A 28-year-old waiver claim in his first season as a starter contributing four hits from the leadoff spot, including a homer.
- A 23-year-old international signing connecting for the game-winning three-run homer in the ninth inning.
- A 23-year-old second-round draft pick, pitching for the fifth time over seven games, recording the save.
The contributions of Dylan Axelrod, Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo and Addison Reed coordinated well with the promotion of Leyson Septimo. With the hard-throwing lefty arriving from Charlotte to replace Will Ohman, the Sox now have six rookie pitchers.
That's a lot of young blood flowing around, and nobody seems to mind.
"Having these young guys around has re-energized me and given me a different perspective of what it was like as a young guy learning and seeing all these things for the first time," Pierzynski said.
"It's kind of like, in some ways, a very instructional setting. It's fun," Cooper said. "It's an awful lot of fun seeing them go out there when they do well and succeed. It's not totally frustrating to me when they don't."
And if Septimo's sentiments are representative of his peer group's, it's a fine arrangement for the newer arrivals, too:
Septimo’s spring experience also helps because he’s familiar with teammates. Upon his arrival, Septimo, 26, was greeted by every member of the bullpen and several other teammates.
"I feel good and comfortable because I met all these guys in spring training," Septimo said. "And they treated me well, so I didn’t have any problems with anyone. So coming back up here is rekindling that from spring training."
Regardless of where the Sox finish in the division, they may have already struck one important victory -- implementing a scalable roster that can accommodate players young and old.
On Wednesday, I wrote about the Ohman DFA as the latest example of the White Sox holding unproductive players accountable. But there has to be a counterweight to the cold, hard business side of running a team, because otherwise it's a terrifying place to work. You can see the flip side shine through on days like Thursday.
In previous years, the White Sox weren't so welcoming to younger players. Guys like Brian Anderson and Brandon McCarthy had a difficult time assimilating, and at the same time, they were ripped for sticking together. Veterans took umbrage against Chris Getz for having the gall to suggest young players provided a different kind of energy.
It seemed to come to a head last year, when Ozzie Guillen found ways to demean players at Triple-A in order to take the heat off veterans who didn't get the job done. That led to roster gridlock and an entire season avoiding anything resembling a tough decision.
I don't want to overstate Robin Ventura's impact, because it's only been 76 games and we're short on specifics regarding the moving parts of his administration. However, I think it's safe to say it makes a world of difference when two factors are in play:
- The manager is willing to give young players an honest shot without prejudice.
- The manager and general manager aren't afraid to talk to each other.
The second one is key. In a change from previous seasons, the White Sox manager is allowing young players to show up and make a case. This is where it helps to have a manager of few words. Ozzie Guillen was very concerned about the pre-press, but Ventura neither adds nor subtracts to the hype. Basically, he expresses a token amount of public confidence and patience, remains ambiguous about their role, and leaves it up to the player to set the bar, and the manager to adjust accordingly.
While this system is more favorable to young players, it doesn't seem to affect the veterans any. Sure, guys like Ohman and Kosuke Fukudome might scratch their heads by the turn of events, but they don't have a leg to stand on. Adam Dunn and Alex Rios have found the strength to rebound from catastrophic seasons under a regime of greater accountability. Or, look at Pierzynski, who defended his playing time from an up-and-coming challenger with strong performances.
And from the outside, Kenny Williams feels free to acquire established strong personalities like Orlando Hudson and Kevin Youkilis without worry. Hell, Youkilis is already running the stereo to rave reviews. These developments strongly suggest what we'd thought all along -- the so-called "complexities" of last season were poor excuses for pettiness that shouldn't have existed in a professional organization.
Granted, it will get more difficult for Ventura. The expectations entering this season were minimal, and the depth-chart decisions have been pretty obvious. He hasn't yet waded knee-deep into the politics of playing time, and that will test his crisis-control abilities (which have been shaky). But those conflicts are usually short-term, and can be waited out. What the new adminstration accomplished thus far has greater implications for future success or failure.
The above quotes -- especially Septimo's -- are indicative of significant progress in an area that had fundamentally stunted the Sox. Maybe in previous years, a guy like Jose Quintana could come up from Double-A and replace the Opening Day starter with 43 incredible innings. It's possible, but it's a lot harder without a support system for young players. The same can be said for winning, and everybody seems to realize that now.
And thanks to fickleflan for pointing this out, because this is something that kids do.