There’s no formal timeline to the White Sox’s rebuilding process, but some markers present themselves along the way.
One of those is the type of arms in the bullpen churn.
The Sox have used 35 relievers the last two seasons, thanks in part to a series of midseason trades involving established pitchers David Robertson, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle and Joakim Soria, among others. They imported a minivan load of inexpensive veterans last last July including Danny Farquhar, Chris Volstad and Al Alburquerque. This time they are using the end of the season to give auditions to potential members of future bullpens.
Left-hander Jace Fry, who has been around since early May, has been joined by fellow lefties Aaron Bummer and Caleb Frare and right-handers Thyago Vieira, Ryan Burr, Ian Hamilton and Jose Ruiz. All are 25 or younger and this season have thrown fastballs in the mid-90s, with Vieira, Hamilton and Ruiz flirting with triple digits.
“The young guys are throwing 95-plus and have good breaking balls,” the 25-year-old Fry said. “It just comes down to an execution game. How many times can you execute the pitch you need to?”
The Sox are likely to add some veterans arm in the offseason, although they may hold on to 30-year-olds Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Santiago. Nate Jones, 32, who has battled injuries since he joined the Sox in 2012, has a team option to return.
Fry points out the value of having experienced relievers alongside the promising young hurlers.
“They benefit highly from talking with [Jeanmar] Gomez and Hector [Santiago] because they’re throwing the ball well right now,” Fry said. “Especially Gomez. The last few outings, he’s been really sharp. You sit down and talk to a veteran like that about the ups and downs of the game and how to get hitters out, [you] can really learn from that.”
Fry, a third-round pick in 2014 from Oregon State, is an outlier in this group. The others were either drafted in the 11th round or lower (Hamilton and Bummer), claimed on waivers (Ruiz, from the Padres) or acquired in trades for international signing money (Vieira from the Mariners, Burr from the Diamondbacks and Frare from the Yankees).
They appreciate the chance they’re getting to showcase their skills. They also know they must seize this moment, because many more talented arms are coming in the Sox farm system.
“Everybody wants to get on this train and kind of put their stamp on it, per se,” Burr said after being promoted from Triple-A Charlotte. “There’s so much talent, that’s the crazy part. … I know everybody down there is just scrapping to try to get a chance.”
Inconsistency in almost always part of the process. The Sox saw that Sunday, when the Angels struck quickly against Hamilton and Frare after Reynaldo Lopez threw six shutout innings and exited with a scoreless tie. Then there was the 12-3 loss to the Angels on Saturday, when Fry and Vieira combined to allow six runs in the ninth.
Vieira couldn’t find catcher Kevan Smith’s mitt, throwing three wild pitches. He would have had a fourth, but one fastball to the screen caromed all the way back to Smith, who tagged the Angels’ Taylor Ward sliding into home plate.
Renteria cited a mechanical breakdown for Vieira but says he’ll keep using him as he tries to build toward 2019.
“We are trying to find windows to continue to allow him an opportunity to work,” Renteria said. “He’s had some good days and bad days. [He’s] still a work in progress.”
That’s true for the entire bullpen, of course. But when you have young relievers with arms like these you have building blocks, not place-holders. That’s a sign of progress.