Joey Ricotta | February 28th, 2020
What a difference a year makes. Just over a year ago, White Sox fans were feeling let down and disappointed after management failed to land star free agent Manny Machado. Now, many view that as a blessing in disguise. The Sox had a ton of money to shelve out this offseason and have an influx of young talented players ready to take the next step. Do they have enough to make a serious run this season?
I wish I could say the 2019 season didn’t go as planned for the White Sox. However, they weren’t planning to contend just yet. They finished the 2019 season in third place of the AL Central with a 72-89 record, one win shy of the 73-89 marker that I predicted in the preseason. Had it not been for a rainout that they didn’t make up, they might’ve reached that marker. Nonetheless, there’s a different buzz this time of year on the South Side of Chicago. Let’s take a look at how the Sox line up and what to expect from them this season.
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Despite James McCann having a breakout type of season last year, and particularly, the first half of the season, Grandal has to be viewed as a big upgrade behind the plate. The 31-year-old agreed to a four-year $73 million deal this offseason. Grandal is one of the best pitch-framers in the game and will definitely help with the young group of pitchers the Sox have, as well as add a significant impact with the bat, being one of the top hitting catchers in the game. Not to mention, he’s a switch hitter and won’t need many days off other than the normal every fifth day or so that catchers get to rest their legs and stay fresh throughout the long season.
Zack Collins got a taste of the Bigs last year but isn’t guaranteed a roster spot. He could be used at DH, 1B, and to help spell Grandal behind the plate at times, to help him stay in the lineup as a DH. McCann will likely catch the majority of Giolito’s outings. The two of them built a good rapport last season and the Sox staff doesn’t want to throw a wrench into the terrific progression path he’s on.
Abreu was brought back on a three-year $50 million deal. He should provide his usual 30 HR and 100-plus RBI. Moncada and Anderson had real breakout seasons in 2019 and look to continue upon that. Anderson’s MLB-leading batting average might come down a bit (.399 BABIP and .294 xBA, compared to a .335 BA), but he looks to have cleared his head from past struggles and should continue hitting at a good rate. Although Moncada continued to strikeout, he cut down on the Ks quite a bit and really made a conscious effort to swing earlier in the count. He also made a smooth transition over to third base and had the best overall fWAR on the Sox with 5.7. Rumors are swirling about possible contract extension talks with Moncada, although nothing is official yet.
As of now, it looks like the second base job belongs to Garcia, but that could change as the season moves along. Garcia is solid in the field, 62nd percentile in OAA (Outs Above Average). Last year, he received the most playing time of his career and made the most of it, hitting a career high .279, while stealing 15 bags. Danny Mendick is a fringe player that I expect to make the roster because of his versatility. The Sox will be able to move him around the infield off the bench. In a small sample last season, Mendick hit .308 in 39 ABs.
In his rookie campaign, Jimenez started out a little slow and then went down with an injury. He returned to mash the baseball and finish the season strong, with a .446 xwOBA in his final 100 PAs, compared to a .324 xwOBA over his previous 100 PAs. He also bopped 31 homers in only 122 games played. With one season under his belt, look for Eloy to take more steps forward this year.
Robert, who we will touch on later, will finally get his number called at the big league level, as the Sox struck a six-year $50 million extension, including two team options, locking up another one of their young promising stars to a team-friendly deal. A couple of other offseason moves were trading with the Texas Rangers for Mazara, who hits right-handed pitchers pretty well (.288 BA, 13 HRs) and signing free agent Encarnacion to a one-year deal worth $12 million, which includes a club option for 2021.
Get ready to see the parrot trot around the bases. Since 2012, E5 has hit no fewer than 32 home runs each season. As much as Sox Twitter has pined for the services of Yasiel Puig, Adam Engel is an affordable and very good defensive replacement. His bat has been putrid, but he has a place on a roster like this, especially later in games to spell guys like Jimenez, who are untrustworthy with the glove. If Mazara doesn’t improve against left-handed pitching, Engel and Garcia will see more action, starting in the outfield when a lefty is on the mound.
The starting staff has a lot of potential. After looking like a bust, Giolito broke onto the scene last year, earning his first all-star appearance and going 14-9 with a 3.41 ERA, 1.064 WHIP, and 228 Ks. He’ll look to continue and should be the unquestioned ace of the staff. Keuchel and Gonzalez were under-the-radar offseason signings that will presumably stabilize the rotation. If things go according to plan, Gonzalez will wind up in the bullpen before the season ends, he’s in the rotation while some of the young pitchers are still grooming and getting healthy.
Cease had his struggles last year (5.79 ERA, 1.548 WHIP), but finished the year strong. In the final month of the season, Cease went 21 innings with a 3.00 ERA and 28 Ks. Lopez is someone who has pitched well in spurts, but awful in others. The hope is he can put it together over the course of a full season. If he’s decent and not pushed out the door by the upcoming talent, Lopez will throw 180-plus innings to round out the rotation.
Colome figures to be the best option to close games and the job will be his to start. He tailed off a little in the second half of the year, but still posted a very good 2.80 ERA and converted 30 of 33 save opportunities. If he struggles at all, Bummer is the most likely to get the first crack at saves. Coming off a breakout season, where Bummer posted a 2.13 ERA, the Sox recently extended him to a five-year $16 million deal. The Sox also struck a one-year deal with Cishek, including a club option for 2021. Bummer, Cishek, Marshall, and Cordero are very solid late-inning options leading up to Colome. All four of them sported ERAs below three last season.
Carlos Rodon is an interesting lefty to ponder about, and I really could put him in the “Players to Watch For” section of this article. But, being that he’s already an established MLB pitcher, he goes in here. Rodon was shut down early last season and underwent Tommy John surgery. He will be back at some point this season, and while he most certainly would like to be in the starting rotation, the way the team is structured compared to where he will be needed most, a spot in the bullpen is most logical. Fry, who should be on the roster, has been a lefty specialist and with the new three-batter minimum rule, the Sox will need someone who has the ability to go multiple innings and can get batters out from both sides of the plate.
Rounding out the bullpen should be Carson Fulmer. Ian Hamilton, Zack Burdi, and Tyler Johnson all could potentially be called up at some point and there’s still an outside chance one of them makes opening day roster. However, Fulmer is out of Minor League options. The former first-round draft pick has had his fair share of opportunities, but the Sox have nothing to lose by giving him one more, especially as the last man handling mop-up duty.
Players to Watch For
Luis Robert – As we touched on earlier, Robert will be in the lineup on opening day after the extension. Robert is the number one ranked prospect in the Sox’s system and MLB Pipeline’s third-ranked prospect overall. He’s an above-average fielder, extremely powerful hitter, and has very nice wheels. The guy went bonkers this past season at three different levels of the Minors. In 122 games spread out across High-A ball, Double-A, and Triple-A, Robert hit .328 with 32 bombs and 36 stolen bases, becoming the youngest 30-30 Minor Leaguer since 1999. Isn’t it nice when you can add a five-tool caliber homegrown player to an already stacked roster? We’ll see how quickly he picks up on Big League pitching, but the sky is the limit for Robert.
Nick Madrigal – The line drive machine has ripped it up in the Minors so far. He possesses elite bat-to-ball skills that have helped push him through the system faster than you can blink. The power is not there yet, and there are serious questions if it will ever be, but the contact will certainly play. To put his bat-to-ball abilities into perspective, the active leader in ABs per strikeout is Andrelton Simmons with a career 10.37 ABs per strikeout. Last year, Hanser Alberto led the Majors with 10.48 ABs per strikeout. In 628 Minor League ABs, Madrigal’s 21 total strikeouts equate to just under 30 ABs per strikeout (29.90), which would put him 25th on the all-time leaderboard. That’s the definition of insane.
There’s no telling if the pace he’s on will translate or continue at the MLB level, but it’s hard to imagine him struggling to make contact. Madrigal is fighting to win the second base opening day job, but I’m guessing the Sox will manipulate the service time with this one and call him up not long after. Expect to see him in late April or early May.
Michael Kopech – Kopech is likely headed to Triple-A or an extended Spring Training to begin the season. The 20th ranked prospect in all of baseball comes equipped with an electric heater that runs 95-99 MPH regularly and also features a nasty power slider. Tommy John cost Kopech the entire 2019 season after his MLB debut in 2018 and suffered the injury shortly after. Kopech is the one guy that draws the most intrigue. Coming off the injury, it’s tough to gauge exactly where he’s at in his overall development, but has been cranking it up and throwing hard, showing that he’s recovering nicely. Regained control, feel for his pitches, and endurance are some things he’ll need to show coaches before rejoining the Major League club. I expect him to be there, although no timetable has been announced.
Yermin Mercedes – The 27-year-old backstop isn’t a top prospect by any means, but he’s attempting to force his way onto the roster. Mercedes has spent a lot of time in the Minor Leagues but has wielded a solid stick at every stop along the way. Oozing with confidence, he insists he will make it to the South Side very soon and it’s actually a possibility. What he lacks defensively, he makes up for with the bat and he could be used as a DH or at another infield corner spot. As long as he plays adequate enough defense, they’ll make room for him at some point, whether it be because of an injury or bad performance at the Big League level.
Since his professional debut in 2011, Mercedes has never had a wRC+ lower than 107, along with never having a K% higher than 19.1% at any level. Last year, he slashed .317/.387/.581 (.968 OPS) with 23 homers in 334 Double-A and Triple-A ABs. To begin the year, I expect Mercedes to start at Triple-A Charlotte, given that he’s currently the fourth man on the totem pole.
88-74 2nd Place in the AL Central, Wild Card Birth
Originally, when we recorded the ‘Too Much Pod Tar White Sox Preview’ podcast episode, I predicted the White Sox would finish with an 86-76 record and a Wild Card birth. That was until I realized that many wins don’t normally equal a Wild Card birth. Even at 88 wins, it’ll be hard to achieve, but to maintain at least one of my predictions and hold true to it, I increased the Sox win total by two games. I don’t think to give them two more wins is out of the question.
The Sox have the hitting and overall makeup to make a real run this season. They will need Giolito to continue to pitch like an ace, and Jimenez to pick up where left off to end the season last year. Keuchel helps the rotation, but they will need one more pitcher to step up. If Cease, Lopez, or Kopech pitch to their potential, this team could takeoff. Given the additions they’ve made, outside and inside of the organization, the Sox could push the Minnesota Twins for the AL Central division crown as well.
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