General manager Rick Hahn likes the balance of the Chicago White Sox offensively.
And he believes the Sox have improved defensively and will be a “more intoxicating” ball club.
He considers second baseman Elvis Andrus in the clubhouse to be beneficial. And while he knows the injury factor all too well, Hahn likes the flexibility the roster offers, with depth options, in the event of a setback.
“Overall, I love that this group believes in what we’re capable of 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 regarding the optimism felt by every major league club at this time of year.
“This year feels different to me,” he said. “This year feels different only in energy level, focus level and commitment. Just can’t wait to start showing that last year was an aberration, it wasn’t who we are and we’re going to get back to the game. team we saw in 20 and 21 and regain our place among the teams competing for championships.
“We know we have something to prove that we belong there, (and) can’t wait to continue on that.”
The Sox made the playoffs in 2020, falling to the Oakland Athletics in a wildcard series. They won American League Central in 2021, their top division title since 2008, before losing to the Houston Astros in a divisional series.
The Sox were the popular choice to win the division again last season, but injuries and inconsistencies led to an 81-81 season.
The offseason included the hiring of Pedro Grifol as manager in November and the signing of pitcher Mike Clevinger and left fielder Andrew Benintendi. Andrus, who joined the Sox last August, returned to a one-year contract at the start of 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 the lineup,” Hahn said. “Elvis is basically a guy with shortstop skills at second base, especially under the new rules that we thought were important to improve the athleticism of the club as well as improve our defense.
“There were areas that we wanted to address, but fundamentally, even though you would have a bit of a hard time picking the guys who reached the levels we expected last year, there are still understandable levels of belief in the abilities of a healthy Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, a full season of Tim Anderson Yasmani (Grandal) being one year away from putting up a .939 OPS as a receiver on a winner of division.
Hahn added: “There are reasons to believe in this group and we weren’t just going to make changes to make 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 hopefully some of the changes we’ve made will improve our luck from a health perspective. “
Hahn said Grifol ran a “big camp”.
“Pedro and his team were everything we could hope for and more in terms of attention to detail, communication, organization of our days,” he said. “Now ultimately we’re all going to be judged obviously on performance during the regular season, but in terms of the level of preparedness and being able to control what you can control in those first six weeks of spring training. , everything has just gone very well.
First baseman Andrew Vaughn said Grifol “brought us all together. This is the most important thing. We are 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 took a long look at their depth with a few regulars on the outside for the World Baseball Classic. Eight Sox players participated in the event, which, according to Hahn, “there were a lot of positives to take from it.” Reliever José Ruiz was among those who stood out, including taking out Mike Trout while pitching for Venezuela.
“It’s something that’s not only a great accomplishment for him, but it’s a learning experience that 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, Moncada was named to the All-Tournament team playing for Cuba. And for Team USA, Hahn said, “Lance (Lynn) was terrific on the big stage. TA, I heard a lot of people from the American team talk about how important he was in this clubhouse and I said, ‘Yeah, I know. We see him for seven months.
Back at Sox camp, one of the most talked about players is outfield prospect Oscar Colás, who is battling for a spot in the roster.
“He’s shown that he belongs in the big leagues and is capable of making it to the big leagues when the time comes,” Hahn said. “But there were opportunities to teach him how to position himself on certain fly balls, about the jumps he had when scoring on certain plays. On his field selection, which was really good at the start of the camp, has faded a bit and has now improved again.
“Overall, a lot of people can see the ability and the performance and say, ‘This is a good camp.’ And they’re right, but it’s also been a good camp because our guys have been able to put him on the sidelines from time to time and refine the contours of his game, which will serve him well.
On the pitching front, Grifol said the Sox’s plan in late game situations “will take advantage” in the absence of Liam Hendriks, who announced in January that he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. . Hendriks was present at camp, including playing catch.
“He’s obviously in very good spirits and we’ll know more in the days and weeks to come about a potential schedule,” Hahn said of Hendriks. “It’s just good to see him in the clubhouse, hanging out with the guys.”
“We all know the challenges Liam has had in front of him off the pitch, so it’s nice to see him enjoying the normalcy his routine provides.”
The rotation is set, with American League Cy Young runner-up Dylan Cease teeing off for Thursday’s opener. Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech are also back, along with Clevinger.
Houston is the start of a tough April for the Sox that also includes games against the Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and two series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I think we all accept the idea of being challenged just as the bell rings,” Hahn said of the schedule, “just with those first four days against the defending champions and then again at the the next few weeks of April.”
These opportunities begin this week.