“Hope” is a hot button word in sports these days. Cubs fans “hoped” their way to a 2016 World Series win while Baltimore Orioles fans “hope” their front office has a plan to bring the team back from one of the worst seasons in major league history. But no matter what you’re hoping for in sports, it’s a fairly empty word until you finally actually see what you’ve been hoping for.
For most of the 2018 campaign on 35th & Shields, “hope” has felt as empty as ever. Fans know about the prospects in the minors. They know what they “hope” those players turn into. But they remember how they “hoped” Gordon Beckham would be the face of the franchise. So while the prospects provided something to hope for in the future, it still did not give Sox fans something they had not had in a long time. A reason to stand up and cheer. But finally, the winds of change have begun to swirl on the South Side as many fans hopes begin to turn into reality.
The most recent, and most obvious reason to hope for Sox fans was the recent call up of heralded pitching prospect Michael Kopech. Kopech’s debut was rained out after only two innings, but it could be felt in the park that fans were finally witnessing “hope” turn into something tangible. Kopech followed up his electric home debut with six quality innings against the Detroit Tigers, yet another reason for fans to stand up and cheer in a season that has been lacking those moments.
But before Kopech made his way to the majors, one former top prospect began to fulfill hopes of his own. Carlos Rodon, a former third overall pick, who has battled control issues and injury issues for almost all of his brief career has begun to play the role of major league ace.
Since returning from the disabled list in early June, the North Carolina State product has consistently strung together quality starts against the likes of the Houston Astros (6 IP, 6Ks, 2ER) and the Cleveland Indians (8 IP, 5 Ks, 0 ER). In all, Rodon has pitched his way to a career low 2.71 ERA through 86 innings. Should Rodon continue to display his refined control, and continue to string together consecutive starts, he could be turning into the ace the Sox had hoped for when drafting him third overall in 2014.
Perhaps the most surprising recent development pertaining to the future rotation has come from another former top pitching prospect. This time, in the form of Lucas Giolito. Giolito’s season appeared to have totally gotten away from him after a July start against the Cincinnati Reds where the tall righty allowed seven earned runs in only five innings. Calls for a send down were as loud as ever and it appeared Giolito may be headed the same direction as Carson Fulmer, who has been in Triple-A since May. But following his nightmarish start, Giolito has failed to record a quality start only twice in his nine subsequent starts following the Cincinnati game. His August ERA sits at 4.35 and fans have begun to take note of the pitchers improved command, as well as his suddenly repeatable mechanics and a seemingly renewed confidence. Giolito is finally looking like the pitcher the team hoped they had acquired.
The possible combination of Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodon, a rejuvenated Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease coming down the pipeline, has truly began to give fans something tangible in exchange for their long days where they fueled by nothing but empty hope. But the exciting idea of the future rotation is not all that Sox fans have recently been given to hope for. No, there are reasons coming from the position players as well. Perhaps none more surprising than Adam Engel.
The much maligned Adam Engel has begun to turn his heads with play over the last month. His value as a defensive outfielder was never in question, but his bat is what’s beginning to make fans think they have found a diamond in the rough. Over his last 30 games, the Gold Glove candidate has batted his way to an impressive .286 average, including a .332 average over his last 15 games. His recent offensive outburst mixed with his elite skill in center field has fans hoping that the player they long ago deemed unwatchable may be turning into a viable option in center field until one of the elite prospects is ready. Diamonds in the rough are an essential part of any rebuild, and Rick Hahn’s grand project will be no different in that regard. Much like Carlos Rodon, Adam Engel may be turning into a player fans will be proud of and the player they hoped he’d become all along.
While Engel continues to surprise and provide some hope, there is one former top prospect that has begun to fulfill some hope about the type of player he might one day become. Tim Anderson, who has been overshadowed by the likes of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, has slowly evolved into a force for the Sox in the middle infield. Anderson has been a threat on the base paths all year due to his elite athleticism, but of late it appears he may have harnessed that athleticism to turn himself into the above average shortstop fans had hoped for. After committing a team-high 28 errors last year, Anderson has knocked that number down to 15, and as of late has been routinely flashing the leather and making highlight plays.
His glove isn’t the only thing that seems to be finally truly coming around. Anderson appears to be finally becoming a viable bat in the lineup. His average is creeping up towards .250, but more importantly for a player with his speed is his on base percentage, which sits at .293. To be an effective player, Anderson would likely need to reach base at a 30% clip, so he’s nearly there in that category. While he’ll likely never the be the All-Star many had envisioned, a solid contributor that the team actually drafted and developed themselves is something many fans have hoped for for a very long time.
Yes, the fruition of the rebuild is still down the road. But for a team that has had so little to work with for so long, the recent flashes of life from the 2018 White Sox is enough to sustain fans who has been living off nothing but empty, empty hope. Whether all the players mentioned above actually turn into the players fans hope for is to be seen, but as the calendar prepares to flip to September, hope begins to feel real on the South Side again.
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