Where Michael Kopech, Nick Madrigal stand out as the White Sox reflect on the Opening Day roster

No one used the word “playoffs” repeatedly on Thursday. Perhaps the point is that they no longer have to.

The White Sox spent all spring training talking about their postseason expectations. Three months later, they were supposed to show whether or not those expectations were justified. Instead, they haven’t played a 2020 season inning yet, and the most recent regular-season baseball they played ended an 89-loss season.

But while it’s been an undoubtedly deflated stretch for White Sox fans, they were poised for their team to finally jump into the ranks of baseball contenders only to see the season postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, a layoff. Baseball Shelter’s Three Months Didn’t lower expectations a bit on the south side.

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“I am still extremely optimistic,” said manager Rick Renteria. “We went in with the same mindset, to build on what we were building when we were cut in the spring. And I remain optimistic about how positively we can move forward. ”

Both Renteria and fellow White Sox Brain Trust member Rick Hahn were obviously excited about the idea of ​​finally bringing this team into a regular-season game.

Much was done, and rightfully so, from an active offseason that saw Hahn equip Renteria with veteran additions like Dallas Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnacion. Face of the franchise José Abreu returned with a new contract. A long-term contract paved the way for super prospect Luis Robert to reach the major leagues, with Nick Madrigal not far behind. Michael Kopech’s one-year absence while recovering from Tommy John surgery was in the rearview mirror. And then there was that young nucleus of Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, Lucas Giolito and Tim Anderson that had everyone as giddy as the 2019 campaign came to an end.

None of that went anywhere. All of this still applies. So it’s no wonder that the spirits remain high at the corner of 35th and Shields.

Of course, this will be a season like no other. No team, including the carefully constructed White Sox, was built during a two-month sprint to a postseason that may or may not materialize, depending on the next curved ball released by the coronavirus and the United States’ response to the pandemic.

But in the midst of the mile-long list of unknowns, baseball is running toward a 2020 season, and the White Sox appear to be in the same place they were in March: about to jump into containment mode.

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Sure, the Minnesota Twins added Josh Donaldson, but will his pitching team match thunder in his lineup? The Cleveland Indians might have the best rotation in baseball, but will that make up for their collection of heavyweight bats? The White Sox, of course, face many of their own questions (and more shocking ones, by the way), but their balance, if things go well, could overshadow their AL Central competition.

“It goes back to the old saying that you’re going to win 20, you’re going to lose 20. It’s what you do with the other 20 that makes the difference,” Hahn joked. “In all seriousness, we are obviously a young club. We have a multi-player club with high ceilings, and that means we probably have a lot of variation in terms of what we are able to do over the course of the season. On the plus side, (yeah) the guys quickly come out the door and reach their potential early, we could do extremely well in a 60 game sprint.

“If things are balanced across the level of talent and some guys reach that limit and some don’t make it, we feel like we’re pretty well balanced in terms of our ability to compete in a two-month period.”

What has changed about the White Sox is a change for the better. Kopech and other young arms that recovered from Tommy John’s surgery recovered. And what was supposed to be a group of mid-season reinforcements, including Carlos Rodon, among others, could provide full-season depth.

“At the beginning of the season, our pitch depth was a potential problem with Rodon returning from injury and Kopech had not pitched in a year and a half or so, not to mention some of the young players like (Dane) Dunning, ( Jimmy) Lambert, (Jonathan) Stiever, they were building their way back, “Hahn explained.” Now that we have a 60 game season and all those players are, knock on wood, unrestricted at this point from the point of view of health, suddenly you look at this team and you see that we are in a decent position from the point of view of launch depth. “

In the end, the White Sox haven’t changed their hopes and dreams for the 2020 season because they were built for so much more than the 2020 season. Long-term thinking that has been a trademark on the South Side during Hahn’s rebuilding project He’s gone nowhere, and because of that, the White Sox were created well beyond this year, built with the kind of young talent a perennial contender is expected to produce in the years to come.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t take advantage of all that talent this season and take that long-awaited leap in baseball’s upper class of competitors in the months to come.

“We have been building to the point where we are,” said Renteria. “This shortened season could boost it, speed it up.”