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White Sox’ Cooper says it won’t be easy right away, but future’s bright

Updated: February 28, 2014 6:30AM



SoxFest was a chance for fans to rinse the soot and grime left over from the crash-and-burn season that was 2013.

It was an opportunity to see $68 million free agent Jose Abreu in person and to jump onboard with a vision general manager Rick Hahn spelled out for the future. It came and went for fans who showed they’re not quite over last season — they grumbled about everything from Adam Dunn to weaknesses at catcher to Alexei Ramirez’s attention span to manager Robin Ventura’s lack of fire the day after Hahn rewarded Ventura with a contract extension. Some expressed legitimate concerns about whom their closer will be after Addison Reed was traded for third-base prospect Matt Davidson.

The gripes didn’t dominate the weekend, but they were heard. And taken in stride by a management team and players who understand.

“You have a season like that, it’s tough on everybody,” Dunn said. “As tough as everyone thinks it is on them, we lived it every single day. Not to say they didn’t, [but] this is what we do [for a living].’’

Hahn could’ve reminded fans that the 63-99 season, even though it was the franchise’s worst since 1970, was only the second time since 1990 — a span of 23 years — that the Sox finished worse than in third place. It was only the eighth time they were worse than second. That’s pretty good, especially with a World Series title sprinkled in there in 2005.

By all accounts, the Sox’ arrow seems to be pointing up even though the list of contenders in the American League Central in 2014 will start with Detroit and end somewhere around Kansas City and Cleveland.

They have a lot of ground to make up.

“We have a tough row to hoe,’’ said Don Cooper, who’s preparing for his 12th season as Sox pitching coach. “We have a lot of young players. What Rick has done has made us look much better for the future. As far as the immediate future, I think it’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us.’’

Cooper knows the Sox could improve significantly and still be a 77-85 team. He also sees how lower expectations from outside the clubhouse can be advantageous. And he claims there are genuine reasons for optimism. With spring training less than three weeks away, now is the time for that.

“Hey, the moves Rick has made, we’re younger, we’re faster, we’re looking better for the future right now,’’ Cooper said. “And now we will get a chance to see all these guys play. I’m really excited to see [right fielder] Avisail Garcia [play a full season]. Man, he looks good. And he’s a big son of a gun.’’

When Hahn traded his No. 2 starter, Jake Peavy, to get Garcia before the trade deadline last season, Cooper asked, what’s not to like?

“He can run, too,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘You get a guy with speed and power? Those are hard to find. So it’s exciting. I see the shape that Ramirez is in. I see Abreu, and he’s a big son of a gun. He looks pretty good. I saw a couple of swings. Then I met [new hitting coach] Todd Steverson [from the disciplined Oakland Athletics organization]. There are many things in my mind, and I’m not just drumming them up to be optimistic about.’’

Add max-effort center fielder Adam Eaton and top-100 prospect Davidson to go with Chris Sale still leading what should be a pretty good pitching staff that is guided by one of baseball’s top pitching coaches in Cooper, and the Sox had themselves a nice little presentation on which to sell the 2014 season at U.S. Cellular Field.

After 2013, anything is worth buying into.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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