SoxFest kicks off today, and there’s going to be some awkwardness. Jose Quintana and Todd Frazier probably wouldn’t be there if you tried applying the White Sox’ plans to other offseasons, but they’ll be front and center in the Hilton Chicago this weekend, signing autographs and pretending to be a fixture despite all the signs pointing otherwise.
But it’s not like 2016 SoxFest was a delightful, unified weekend romp. At best, the there wasn’t much of a vibe.
This is accurate. Atmosphere is like a deflated balloon. https://t.co/iNug8kbhQh— larry southsidesox (@SouthSidelarry) January 30, 2016
At worst, fans booed.
White Sox RF Avisail Garcia got greeted by some boos at SoxFest. Never heard a player get booed at a fan convention.— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) January 29, 2016
Perhaps the mood would have been elevated had Austin Jackson signed in late January instead of early March, as it would’ve spared Garcia the wrath of fans who didn’t want to see him starting for a team with designs on contending. There was a reason Jackson signed a one-year deal in March, though, much like there’s a reason he signed a minor-league deal with the Indians this time around. Also, Garcia played way too much regardless. All in all, the atmosphere at SoxFest turned out to be a pretty accurate barometer for the White Sox’ season, even if nobody could have predicted the specific embarrassments along the way.
This year’s mixed signals won’t be optimal. Rick Hahn pushed down on the blasting box, but the explosion only demolished half the building, and now they have to act as though they’re comfortable with incorporating the standing half into the new design until they can finish the job.
Last year’s SoxFest inadvertently set a low bar to clear, fortunately, and the shiny new prospects should boost the mood over it. The White Sox deployed them liberally on Thursday in advance of SoxFest, sending Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito (along with Tim Anderson) on a visit to Lurie Children’s Hospital, and having Michael Kopech and Zack Burdi call season ticket-holders.
It’s funny parenthesizing Anderson’s name as though he’s some established veteran, but he may as well get used to it, since Frazier and Brett Lawrie hit free agency for th first time after the season. He’s ready to share what he’s learned with Moncada, even if this TA is more like a college TA who has read a couple chapters ahead of the rest of the class.
Jose Abreu is also around for guidance.
It’s more a matter of when than if for Moncada when it comes to reaching the White Sox’ 25-man roster, although he’ll have some work to do once he gets there. He told reporters that he’d feel confident breaking camp with Chicago, even though that seems quite unlikely since the White Sox wouldn’t benefit either developmentally or financially.
Keith Law offered the counterpoint, suggesting that Moncada could make use of a whole year in Triple-A to counteract the Red Sox’ overexuberance last year. Law finished revealing his top 100 prospects on Friday, and three White Sox cracked the top 20, but perhaps not in the order you imagined.
- No. 7: Kopech (the delivery is sound enough to polish his pitches further)
- No. 13: Giolito (the Nationals messed with his mechanics unnecessarily)
- No. 17: Moncada (struggles to turn around inside stuff with authority, which would lower his ceiling)
It’s not particularly reassuring to see Moncada’s stock tumble, at least in the eyes of one evaluator, but Law is quite bullish on the pitchers. I’m sure we’ll see those rankings reversed on other lists, although I’d rank Kopech 20-30 spots higher based on this quote alone.
"There's not too many negatives to having a great arm," Kopech said. "Not to pat myself on the back, but I have a pretty good arm. One of those things is learning how to throw strikes, so that's my main focus right now. I have the velocity behind that, so that's good."
But it’s all a reminder why a rebuilding requires a couple lines of prospects. Some guys will underachieve, some guys will exceed expectations, and with enough of a sample, it should all come out in the wash. Jon Singleton was once a top-30 prospect and a key part of the Astros’ plans. He busted, and Houston lived to tell the tale. That’s why it’s ultimately better for the Sox if they’re able to get a deep return on their most tradeable veterans, even if everybody has to pretend otherwise for a weekend.