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Mediocre Minors

Back on May 17, a post on the White Sox website claimed, "White Sox Creating Winning Culture In Minors."

But the question is, "Can you create a winning culture by losing?"

Rebuilding teams like the White Sox lose ballgames by the boatload at the major league level while the young talent in the minor leagues percolates as it is prepared, cajoled and nurtured for future stardom.

A bevy of media personnel made a trip last month to Indianapolis (where the Charlotte Knights were playing) to see firsthand how the young players were doing. All reports were glowing. The treasure trove obtained from the trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton received high marks as did other high draft choices and bright-eyed young players.

With all those prospects toiling in the Sox system, surely they are learning how to play and win together.

Well, not so fast. As of Sunday, for instance, the Knights were 27-35, good for third place in the four-team south division of the International League. The Birmingham Barons, the Sox Double-A ballclub in the Southern League have a 22-40 record, which is dead last in their division. The advanced Single-A team, the Winston-Salem Dash, fell to 20-43 on Sunday, good for last place in its division of the Carolina League. The news from Kannapolis, the other Single-A team, is somewhat better; the Intimidators are 33-27, which is third best in their seven-team division.

Even at 26-35 after dropping a 4-2 decision in Cleveland on Sunday to complete a poorly-played road trip at 2-7, the Sox still have a better record than three of their minor league teams. Is this the meaning of creating a winning culture?

In addition, the poster boy of prospects, Charlotte second baseman Yoan Moncada, has struggled since the media hype of last month. After being disabled for 10 days with a sore thumb, Moncada has just nine hits in 59 at-bats for a .153 mark since his return. His average has dropped to .278 from .331.

In all fairness, the recent sample size is small. Moncada has been compared to a young Robinson Cano, who in all likelihood will enter the Hall of Fame when the time arrives. Interestingly, Cano's batting average of .278 in six minor league seasons was far from the .306 he owns as a major leaguer. After getting off to a fast start at Triple-A Columbus in 2005, the Yankees promoted Cano, who wound up hitting .297. The next season he hit .342 and made the All-Star team. We can always hope.

Hawk Harrelson said last Wednesday during a 3-1 loss in Tampa Bay that today's amateur draft isn't as crucial as recent years since the Sox farm system already is loaded with highly-rated prospects. That's nonsense. With the 11th pick, the Sox obviously have an opportunity to sign one of the very best amateur players in the nation. Last year's top draft choice, catcher Zach Collins, is hitting .219 at Winston-Salem, although his slash is a respectable .219/378/.820 with nine home runs and 28 RBI.

Former No. 1 Courtney Hawkins (2012) started the season at Birmingham, where he hit .135 before being demoted to Kannapolis. The Sox can ill-afford a poor draft despite being rated by SB Nation as fourth in farm system depth and upside. Drafting a kid at least as talented as Collins is necessary for this struggling franchise. Another Courtney Hawkins would qualify as a genuine failure despite Harrelson's assessment.

Leaving the minor league system for a moment, Rick Renteria's big league club not only has been losing - nine losses in the last 11 games - but the manner in which they get beat would embarrass even a high school team. Pop-ups drop between infielders and outfielders. Sacrifice bunts are turned into double plays by the opposition. Even though the Sox beat Cleveland 5-3 last Saturday, five guys were thrown out on the bases, attempting to steal, score, or stretch a hit. Cut -off men are missed, and outfielders (especially center fielder Leury Garcia) throw to the wrong bases.

Those are primarily mental errors, but we have physical ones as well. Shortstop Tim Anderson's 15 errors are tops in all of baseball, and Avi Garcia's seven miscues in right field are tied for the major league lead for outfielders.

There was no shame last Friday when former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber beat the Sox 7-3. However, on Wednesday in Tampa Bay they couldn't do a thing with the Rays' Jacob Faria, who was making his major league debut. Faria pitched into the seventh inning, yielding a mere three hits as he got the 3-1 decision over the Sox. Ten days earlier the Tigers' Buck Farmer earned his first major league win with a 4-3 decision in which he limited the Sox to three hits in seven-plus innings, blanking our athletes while striking out 11. Apparently it doesn't matter whom the White Sox face because any pitcher is capable of beating them.

Possibly this is too harsh. After all, this is rebuilding time. You look for things like veterans who can be traded for prospects, although we've been somewhat let down in that department as well. Third baseman Todd Frazier, in the final year of a two-year contract, got off to a horrible start, but at least he has awakened and might be able to help a contender once August rolls around. In his last eight games, Frazier has 13 hits in 29 at-bats to raise his average to .222, or about what he hit last season. Todd also clubbed three homers in those games and drove in eight runs.

Melky Cabrera probably won't be attractive to any ballclub six weeks from now, and Jose Quintana, whose record fell to 2-8 with a 5.30 ERA Sunday in the loss to Cleveland, has created more raised eyebrows than text messages to GM Rick Hahn this season.

The best trade possibility would be closer David Robertson, who has no great value for the Sox since save situations are few and far between. For most of his seven seasons with the Yankees, Robertson was a set-up man for Mariano Rivera. Robertson is enjoying fine success so far this year. He's has 10 saves in 11 chances with a splendid WHIP of 0.86. Opponents are hitting just .146 against him.

The way pitchers are dropping this season with a variety of injuries, Robertson could help a ballclub in either an eighth- or ninth-inning role. The best opportunity for the Sox to gather more young prospects would be to couple Robertson with Quintana, Derek Holland, Miguel Gonzalez or Mike Pelfry, who remain healthy despite their mediocre records.

Chances are we won't see Moncada or any of the other future White Sock on the South Side until rosters expand in September. While Moncada is hitting .278 in Charlotte, current second baseman Yolmer Sanchez is hitting .302 and making most of the plays in the field. Too bad Moncada doesn't play the outfield, where the big team needs a lot of help.

In the meantime, maybe the minor leaguers can turn things around and create that winning culture that seems so important to the Sox organization. Losing isn't helpful regardless of the level.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Oct 22, 2021