THE DAILY REFORMER NEWS
General manager Rick Hahn likes the balance the Chicago White Sox have from an offensive standpoint.
And he believes the Sox have improved defensively and that they’ll be a “headier” ballclub.
He sees having second baseman Elvis Andrus in the clubhouse as beneficial. And while he knows all too well about the injury factor, Hahn likes the flexibility the roster provides, with depth options, if a setback occurs.
“Overall, I like that this group believes what we are capable of accomplishing and wants to prove to the rest of the baseball world that we’re capable of being the team we should be,” Hahn said.
Hahn discussed the upcoming season with the Tribune on Saturday at Camelback Ranch. The conversation took place as the Sox were still finalizing their roster.
Hahn recalled a recent conversation in regards to the optimism every major-league club feels this time of year.
“This year seems different to me,” he said. “This year seems different just from the level of energy, the level of focus and the commitment. Just eager to get going to show that last year was an aberration, that wasn’t who we are and we’re going to be back on track to the team we saw in ‘20 and ‘21 and regain our place among the teams that are contending for championships.
“We know we have something to prove that we belong there, (and) look forward to get going on that.”
The Sox made the playoffs in 2020, falling to the Oakland Athletics in a wild-card series. They won the American League Central in 2021, their first division title since 2008, before losing to the Houston Astros in a divisional series.
The Sox were the popular pick to win the division again last season, but injuries and inconsistencies led to an 81-81 season.
The offseason included hiring Pedro Grifol as the manager in November and signing pitcher Mike Clevinger and left fielder Andrew Benintendi. Andrus, who joined the Sox last August, returned on a one-year deal early in spring camp and will move from shortstop to second.
“We wanted to bring in a guy like Benintendi who should help improve the outfield defense as well as balance out the lineup,” Hahn said. “Elvis is basically a guy with shortstop skills at second base, especially under the new rules we thought was important to improving the athleticism of the club as well as improve our defense.
“There were areas we wanted to address, but fundamentally, even though you’d be a little hard pressed to pick out the guys who achieved at the levels we expected last year, there’s still understandable levels of belief in the capabilities of a healthy Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, a full season of Tim Anderson. Yasmani (Grandal) being a year removed of putting up a .939 OPS as a catcher on a division winner.”
Hahn added: “There’s reason to believe in this group and we weren’t going to simply make changes for the sake of making changes.
“It’s betting on the talent that’s in there, the manager and the coaching staff put in the best position to succeed and hopeful that some of the alterations we made will improve our luck from a health standpoint.”
Hahn said Grifol ran a “great camp.”
“Pedro and his staff have been everything we could have hoped for and more in terms of the attention to detail, the communication, the organization of our days,” he said. “Now, ultimately we’re all going to get judged obviously on how the performance is during the regular season, but in terms of level of preparation and being able to control what you can control over these first six weeks in spring training, everything has just gone extremely well.”
First baseman Andrew Vaughn said Grifol has “got us all pulling together. That’s the biggest thing. We’re all pulling from the same rope.”
“I think it’s important within the clubhouse, that level of trust and communication that Pedro and his coaches have brought helps foster that environment,” Hahn said.
The Sox had an extended look at their depth with some regulars away for the World Baseball Classic. Eight Sox players participated in the event, which Hahn said, “there were a lot of positives to come out of that.” Reliever José Ruiz was among those that stood out, including striking out Mike Trout while pitching for Venezuela.
“That’s something that not only is a great accomplishment for him, but is a learning experience he can take with him into the season in terms of that level of intensity and what he’s capable of doing on a big stage against one of the greatest players of our generation,” Hahn said.
Additionally, there was Moncada being named to the All-Tournament team playing for Cuba. And for Team USA, Hahn said, “Lance (Lynn) was great on the big stage. TA, I heard a lot from the folks from Team USA about how important he was in that clubhouse and I said, ‘Yeah, I know. We see it for seven months.’”
Back at Sox camp, one of the most talked about players has been outfield prospect Oscar Colás, who is has been vying for a roster spot.
“He’s shown he belongs in the big leagues and he’s capable of doing in the big leagues when the time comes,” Hahn said. “But there’s been opportunities to teach him about positioning on some fly balls, about jumps he’s had on tagging up on certain plays. On his pitch selection, which was really good at the start of camp, faded a little bit and has now improved again.
“Overall, a lot of people may see the ability and performance and be like, ‘That’s a good camp.’ And they’re right, but it’s also been a good camp because our guys have been able to pull him aside from time to time and fine tune the edges of his game, which is going to serve him well.”
On the pitching front, Grifol said the Sox plan in late-game situations will be “leveraging it out” in the absence of Liam Hendriks, who announced in January he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hendriks has been around at camp, including playing catch.
“He’s obviously in real good spirits and we’ll know more in the coming days and weeks about a potential timeline,” Hahn said of Hendriks. “It’s just good to see him be in the clubhouse, spending time with the guys.”
“We all know the challenges that Liam has had in front of him off the field so it’s nice to see him avail himself of the normalcy that his routine provides.”
The rotation is set, with American League Cy Young runner-up Dylan Cease getting the start for Thursday’s opener. Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech are also back, with Clevinger joining.
Houston is the beginning of a tough April for the Sox that also includes playing the Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and two series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I think we’re all embracing the idea of being challenged right when the bell rings,” Hahn said of the schedule, “right with those first four days against the defending champs and then again over the next several weeks of April.”
Those opportunities begin this week.
As reported by Boston Herald
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Author: Amnon Jakony | The Daily Reformer News
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