Chicago White Sox forecast: One more season of growing pains
When he returned on a one-year contract earlier this month, veteran starter Miguel Gonzalez welcomed the chance to be a de facto pitching coach for all of the Chicago White Sox's young arms.
But as the Sox enter the second full season of a rebuild, Gonzalez set a high competitive bar.
"I'm excited for this season," he said. "Who knows? We can surprise some people."
Gonzalez is no different from any professional athlete. Winning is always the top priority and expectations are always going to be elevated to the championship level.
As Gonzalez said, who knows?
Maybe the 2018 White Sox follow the path of the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers, who surprised everyone with an 86-76 record after going 73-89 in 2016.
Maybe they follow the path of the 2017 Minnesota Twins, who were 85-77 after a 59-103 showing in 2016.
Anything's possible, but realistically the Sox's main priority this season remains getting top prospects to the major leagues.
Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez arrived last year, and Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Zack Collins and Alec Hansen are positioned to join the White Sox at various points this season.
That still leaves Luis Robert, Jake Burger, Dylan Cease, Blake Rutherford, Dane Dunning and Micker Adolfo in the next wave, and when all of that young talent is in place, that's when the Sox should be viewed as legitimate contenders.
Rebuilding is a process -- a lengthy process -- but general manager Rick Hahn has already done most of the hard work, shedding the major-league roster of one veteran after another while stocking a once barren farm system with premium young players.
"There's definitely a level of excitement for what this team is going to look like over the course of this summer," Hahn said. "Objectively, we know where we're at in this process and that we still have a ways to go. There certainly was a level of excitement when the season ended last year with the way (manager) Ricky (Renteria) and his coaches had these guys playing, and some of our young players were acclimating themselves to the big-league level.
"We expect that to continue over the course of these summer months, both in terms of how this team goes about their business on a night by night basis, as well as the continued addition of further young players over the course of the summer. There's definitely a heightened level of excitement as we get a little bit closer to getting going."
SoxFest is always an indicator the season is getting close, and the annual winter fan gathering returns on Friday and runs through Sunday at Hilton Chicago.
Moncada, Giolito, Lopez, Jimenez, Kopech, Collins and Hansen are among the White Sox's stable of young players scheduled to attend.
"It's pretty exciting," Renteria said. "I think we all look forward to it. I think that the fans have certain expectations. They should. They have the right to. They have the right to ask any question, they have the right to have expectations of us.
"I know that we do. We have expectations of ourselves. It's just nice to get out there and see them because I know they're a tremendously supportive group of people that love the game of baseball, they love the South Side, they love the Sox.
"We just want to make sure that we give them a little bit of insight as to where we think we are and hopefully give them some encouragement and get them excited about what's happening with the White Sox organization."