GLENDALE, Ariz. – Even though the White Sox are relatively early in their rebuilding project, the enthusiasm is very high – even by spring training standards of optimism.
Much of that has to do with their man in the dugout.
Second-year manager Rick Renteria’s attributes – his energy, work ethic and ability to communicate – appear to be a perfect fit for the personalities and talent in the Sox system.
“He asks a level of commitment out of them that’s similar to what he’s providing,” general manager Rick Hahn said.
At 55, Renteria has built a reputation around baseball as an encouraging, positive coach and manager. He played five seasons in the big leagues but was a regular in only one – with the expansion 1993 Florida Marlins, batting .255 with two home runs.
The Sox have assembled an impressive group of young players. Some, such as infielder Yoan Moncada and pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, have major league experience and are being counted on full-time this season. Others – such as outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert and pitcher Michael Kopech – are due soon.
These “young men,” as Renteria frequently refers to them, come from different organizations and backgrounds. Yet to a man the players say that Renteria is able to connect with them.
Lopez, a pitcher from the Dominican Republic, moved into the rotation late last season.
“I think we’re lucky to have a manager who can speak English and Spanish. He can deliver his message direct to you,” Lopez said. “He’s always trying to motivate you, give you advice to help you to get better, to make you feel comfortable.”
Renteria uses team-building exercises and one-on-one meetings to help players deal with the expectations and the patience needed to reach the top.
“I think as we meet every single day we try to continue to encourage them and keep them excited about what they’re capable of doing,” Renteria said. “We’re still continuing to talk about working hard, staying focused on all the things we need to do in order to become the best performers in terms of understanding the game, and trust the skill set that they have.
“You’re not always going to have positive results, but you can always have good approaches and quality opportunities to help your club. I think that will keep them grounded.”
Although Renteria’s approach normally is serious, particularly one-on-one, the team will have some fun in group activities.
“He started it last year in spring training, bringing everyone together to do things outside of the field, like little skits we did, little acts we did, it kind of brought us together,” left fielder Nicky Delmonico said.
Renteria arrived on the South Side in 2016 as the bench coach after being let go by the Cubs after one year when Joe Maddon became available.
The Sox won 67 games last year. And talking to the players, they’re hoping he’s here to stay.
“I love Rick,” said Kopech, a hard-throwing right-hander acquired from Boston in the Chris Sale trade who likely will reach the majors this season. “He’s going to be a positive influence no matter what. He’s been very helpful. It’s fun for all of us right now.”
“He’s unbelievable,” infielder Yolmer Sanchez said. “His energy. He talks with everybody. He lets you play. He understands you. We feel good with him. He’s going to be in sync with everybody.”
As for the short term, Hahn as the GM necessarily takes the longer view, but also understands that Renteria’s style can help lay the groundwork for success down the road.
“A lot of [enthusiasm] is coming out of the clubhouse, and that’s the mentality that Ricky and the staff have helped create. They fight every game, they fight 27 outs to win each and every night,” Hahn said.
“We want that mentality not just in the early stages of a rebuild but ultimately when we’re in the position to contend for championships.”