Welcome to Part 1 of 2 of the Soup of the Week 2018 Chicago Baseball Preview!
Over the next two days we’ll be taking a look at the season ahead for both the White Sox and Cubs. Clearly the teams enter this year with entirely different expectations, but there’s certainly plenty to analyze on both sides of town. I (Alex) am handling the duties for the White Sox, while Logan Springgate will have the Cubs preview tomorrow.
This season will be Year 1 of the Rick Hahn Rebuild, with last year setting the stage as every veteran asset with value except for Jose Abreu (and Avi Garcia if you consider him a veteran) was sold off for minor league prospects, headlined by the trades of Chris Sale and Jose Quintana that brought the likes of Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, and Eloy Jimenez into the White Sox farm system. This will be a season of young players seeking to prove themselves. It’s hard to say for certain what the future of this team looks like, but there’s certainly a lot of potential and hopefully this year we’ll see that potential turn into performance. So, with White Sox baseball only a week away, it’s time to take a look at the offseason, what’s changed, what the lineup is going to look like, and to make some almost certainly wrong predictions about the year ahead:
Offseason: Who’s Gone, Who’s New
C Welington Castillo, Free Agent signed from Baltimore Orioles
Catcher was a major need for the White Sox, as the team neither had an MLB quality starter there nor an MLB-ready prospect. The most promising catching prospect the Sox have, Zach Collins, is still at least a couple years away from the big leagues. Castillo, beyond just being a solid upgrade behind the plate, is a decent hitter (.282 average/.323 on-base %/.490 slugging % slash line last season) and can provide another veteran presence on a team that will be one of the youngest in baseball this season. We’ll have to wait and see whether Castillo is a long-term solution at catcher (his contract is only for two seasons), but I think this will be a solid signing.
RHP Joakim Soria and LHP Luis Avilan, acquired via trade from Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers
So the Sox bullpen was really mediocre last year, ranking 18th in ERA. It seems that when teams are trying to build for the future, the bullpen is often treated as an afterthought and the last piece teams address right before they try to win a championship. We’ve even seen teams try to win without a bullpen and solely rely on starters (hey Mets, how’s that working out?). Instead, I’m glad to see Rick Hahn being proactive here. Both have career ERAs under 3 and will be expected to be big contributors out of the bullpen this season. Perhaps the best thing about the trade for these guys is all the Sox gave up was minor league infielder Jake Peter. Thank you Kansas City and Los Angeles.
P Miguel Gonzalez, Free Agent signed from Texas Rangers
He’s back! After a run of solid starts for the White Sox last season, it was obvious that Gonzalez wasn’t going to stick around; he was going to be a rental somewhere. That somewhere was Texas, where things didn’t go all that well. He posted a 6.45 ERA for the Rangers in the five games he started, which given his 3.95 career ERA was not what they would have been hoping for. Hopefully Gonzalez can rekindle his White Sox form from last season and help fortify the starting rotation while the Sox wait for Carlos Rodon to be healthy and pitchers like Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer continue to develop.
OF Willy Garcia: I guess we just had too many Garcias.
OF Alen Hanson: Baseball Reference tells me Hanson appeared in 69 games for the Sox last season, which I don’t remember at all. He’s currently at spring training with the Giants.
RHP Jach Putnam, RHP Jake Petricka, RHP Mike Pelfrey: These guys are casualties of revamping the bullpen.
SP Derek Holland: Given that he posted a WAR of -1.5 and and ERA of 6.20 last year it’s not a surprise the Sox cut him loose, especially with the young pitching talent on the team.
Most of the infield is pretty set in stone to begin the season:
C: Welington Castillo was signed to be the starting catcher, period.
1B: Jose Abreu will be at first again. He’s the de-facto leader of the team who will hope he doesn’t have to carry so much of the load offensively again this year.
2B: Yoan Moncada begins this season knowing that the second base job is his. He will be given every opportunity to succeed (or not) this season as the former #1 prospect in all of baseball seeks to prove himself at the major league level.
SS: Tim Anderson will be at shortstop again because, well, he’s really the only option. His OBP last season was only .276, which has to be better. Moreover, making 28 errors isn’t going to cut it. Either Anderson has to improve this season or he will be replaced in the rebuild.
3B: Third base is really the only infield position that’s a question mark, where Yolmer Sanchez and Matt Davidson are both candidates. I think Sanchez will get the nod, as he’s had a great spring. Thus, Davidson will start the season as the team’s DH. Sanchez was also both a better hitter (for average and getting on base, not power) and fielder than Davidson last year so there’s no reason he shouldn’t get the spot at third. Davidson has been smashing the ball this spring (.358/.433/.679) and every Sox fan will be hoping he can carry that into the regular season. It was a topic of discussion all-offseson that the Sox were shopping for a DH, but maybe they don’t need one.
Tyler Saladino will be the default backup infielder for Moncada, Anderson, Sanchez and Davidson. This shows just how thin the White Sox are in the infield. Despite this lack of depth, if Saladino can’t hit above .200 this season when he gets to play he’ll find himself out of a job next year. He has been been great this spring though, so we’ll see.
Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith will become the backup catchers with the Castillo addition, and to be honest the less we see them play the better. Given that he had the better year last season I’d guess Narvaez is the #2 guy.
Matt Skole will certainly start the season in Charlotte and has been a career minor-leaguer. However, he was Minor League Player of the Year for the Nationals in 2012 and won a minor league Gold Glove in 2016. While it is only spring, Skole is slashing .333/.425/.576 so has shown some serious potential. Maybe we’ll see him at the big league level at some time this season.
RF: Avi Garcia is coming off a season where he hit .330 and will be the White Sox starting right fielder as long as he’s on the team (unless he moved to DH at some point later in his career). He’s finally starting to show the Miguel Cabrera-esque potential that was hyped up when the Sox first traded for him.
CF: To be honest, Adam Engel was offensively terrible in his 97 games last season with a .166 batting average and .235 on-base percentage. His defense, however, was phenomenal with a fielding percentage above 99% in addition to making plays like these (the last 2 in particular). He’s got tremendous speed and range in center field and it’s a tremendous asset to have someone like Engel on defense. The good news so far this spring (and yes, it’s only spring) is that he’s been phenomenal at the plate as well, slashing .364/.429/.682. If he can post solid offensive numbers at the start of this season he may be able to hold down the center field spot for the foreseeable future.
LF: Without a doubt the breakout player for the White Sox last year was Nicky Delmonico as he made the jump from minor-league stalwart to MLB regular. His offensive numbers from last year don’t jump off the page but an OPS of .856 and 23 RBIs in 43 games are nothing to sneeze at. If he at least keeps that up he’s a shoo-in to start in left field, and also benefits from minimal competition at that position.
Leury Garcia will be to the outfield what Tyler Saladino is to the infield: everybody’s backup. He’ll get plenty of opportunities to play this season, a solid utility guy who can play the infield as well.
Ryan Cordell will be a player to watch this season, though he’ll likely be starting the season in Charlotte. He’s a center fielder and has been probably the biggest surprise of Spring Training with his .333/.435/.538 slash line. It would make sense that the White Sox want Cordell to play as much as possible, and with Engel the established starter in center it would make sense for Cordell to begin the year as the starting center fielder in AAA. If he continues to have a hot bat, he’ll get his opportunity at the big league level before too long.
Eloy Jimenez will with all likelihood spend the entire season in the minors. I think it can certainly be expected for him to progress from AA to AAA by the end of the season and, who knows, maybe he’ll get a September call-up. However, I think the notion that he’s going to rocket up the ranks and be starting in left field by July is a bit much.
If I was making the lineup (this is not what it’s going to look like):
CF: Adam Engel
2B: Yoan Moncada
1B: Jose Abreu
RF: Avisail Garcia
DH: Matt Davidson
C: Welington Castillo
LF: Nicky Delmonico
3B: Yolmer Sanchez
SS: Tim Anderson
Last season, the White Sox five most common starting pitchers were (in order) Derek Holland, Miguel Gonzalez, Mike Pelfrey, James Shields and Jose Quintana. The most common bullpen pitchers were David Robertson, Gregory Infante, Chris Beck (who???) and Juan Minaya. Suffice to say things will look a little different this season.
The White Sox had an absurd 13 different pitchers start a game for them last season. Now, it’s hard to be confident that number will be lower this season but the options are certainly better. There are more or less six guys who will be expected to contribute as regular members of the rotation this year:
James Shields, Miguel Gonzalez, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carson Fulmer, and Carlos Rodon.
With James Shields, you know what you’re getting. Occasionally he’s brilliant, but most of the time watching him pitch is infuriating as he gives out home runs like the Price is Right gives out cars.
I talked about Gonzalez earlier in the post, who’s more or less trying out this year for a permanent spot on the team.
Lucas Giolito is having a phenomenal spring. He’s made four appearances, pitching 17 innings and posting a 2.04 ERA. He pitched well in his brief stint with the White Sox at the end of last season as well, with a 2.38 ERA in seven starts. A lot could be asked of Giolito this season, but he looks to be up to the challenge. I think he could be the ace of this staff by season’s end.
Reynaldo Lopez was called up to the White Sox last August after a string of phenomenal starts for Charlotte. He struggled a bit in his second run in the majors (he made 11 appearances for the Nationals in 2016) but improved toward the end of the year, winning his last three decisions. This will be the year he’s expected to take a big step forward in his development.
What to do with Carson Fulmer…..He looked ok pitching for the Sox last season, making five starts and two appearances out of the bullpen with a 3.86 ERA. At the time of writing he’s coming off his best outing of the spring, pitching four innings without allowing a hit. The problem is his ERA this spring is still 11.81 and he’s averaging 11 walks per nine innings. It looks as if he’ll start the season as the fifth starter in the rotation. I still think his long-term future is in the bullpen; whether he ends up there sooner or later will depend on early season performance.
If only Carlos Rodon could stay healthy. Injury kept him to only 12 appearances in 2017. He started last year on the DL with bursitis in his left shoulder. However, after coming back in June he was right back on the DL in September with the same issue and had shoulder surgery this offseason to hopefully fix the injury permanently. While he is throwing again, he is not expected to be ready to pitch for the Sox until June. He’s shown tremendous potential when healthy, and I think success this year would simply be getting from June to September without going on the DL.
On the prospect front, the most talk as far as starting pitchers go is of course around Michael Kopech, who will be starting the year with the Charlotte Knights. He struggled this spring, posting an ERA over 11 in just seven innings of work. If he does well in Charlotte, the time for his White Sox debut will be dependent on the state of the rotation. At worst, I think a start or two in September (unless the Sox are in playoff contention) is a reasonable expectation.
As I said, the bullpen has been revamped. It’s hard to say exactly who will be there but there are a few guarantees. New guys Soria and Avilan will be regulars, as will Nate Jones, Gregory Infante, Juan Minaya and Danny Farquhar. Aaron Bummer and Hector Santiago are the most likely to fill things out, but I’m confident in saying that this will be another season where we’ll see a whole cast of characters coming out the bullpen at one point or another.
Soria and Jones will be set-up and closer, one way or the other, and either way I feel good about those two. The rest of the bunch, we’ll see.
The main objective of this season is to see who of the young guys is for real and who isn’t. Lots of guys will be given the opportunity to prove they belong at the major league level. This season will also tell us a lot about if this rebuild truly has the potential to win a championship within a few years.
My timeline for the rebuild looks like this:
2018: Finish above .500
2019: Wild Card
2020: Win the division
2021: Win at least one playoff series
2022: Make (and ideally win) the World Series
I think .500 this year is definitely achievable. I don’t want to guarantee it’ll happen, but I think it can. That would leave us second or third in the division most likely, depending on how the Twins do (who have been all over the place; 83 wins in ‘15, 59 in ‘16, 85 in ‘17 ?????). Also, the Twins made the Wild Card Game last year at just six games above .500 so who knows, maybe the Sox will be ahead of my schedule by the end of this year.
White Sox MVP This Season: Jose Abreu. I think he continues mashing baseballs and puts up a .300/30 HR/100 RBI season. The hope is that the rest of the team has shown promise so we don’t have to trade him.
White Sox Breakout Player: Lucas Giolito. I firmly believe Giolito will be a stud this season, and I have him edging out Moncada who to me has been too erratic to have a lot of confidence in yet.
I am historically terrible at predicting things but hey, it’s fun so here it goes.
East: Red Sox
The JD Martinez Signing is a great boost for a team that did everything but hit home runs last season.
The rest of the division is lousy, the Indians should have this in the bag by August.
The defending World Series champions are back with basically the exact same team, this seems like a given.
Wild Cards: Yankees and Twins
It’s entirely possible the best two records in baseball will be in the AL East this year. The Red Sox or Yankees have to end up as a Wild Card and I think the Red Sox have the edge in the division, mostly due to pitching.
The rest of the American League isn’t particularly inspiring. I predict the Shohei Ohtani experiment fails spectacularly and another great season by Mike Trout is wasted.
AL Champion: Boston Red Sox
We will be treated to another classic Red Sox vs Yankees ALCS (thank God for reseeding based on division in the playoffs so the best two teams can’t play each other in the second round *cough* NHL *COUGH*). While the Yankees may set the record for runs scored this season, pitching wins in October and they just don’t have it.
AL MVP: Mookie Betts.
He’ll be the best player on baseball’s best team, which always helps. Adding JD Martinez to the lineup should mean better pitches for everyone else. Mike Trout will have another stellar year but the Angels will be mediocre and nobody will really care. There’s also what I call the “LeBron James Effect” which is when you’re so consistently phenomenal that it’s harder to gain recognition and awards like MVP instead go to players who are both great and exceed expectations.
The rest of this division is a complete joke. Donated wins from the Marlins, Braves, and Mets when Syndergaard isn’t pitching will be more than enough for an easy division title.
This may be the only three-horse race for a division in the MLB this season, but the Cubs just have too much talent. If Yu Darvish stays healthy that rotation could be terrifying.
Duh? The Giants got better, but they aren’t that good. Then there’s the Rockies, DBacks, and Padres…right. 20 more wins for Clayton Kershaw.
Wild Cards: Brewers and Giants.
The Brewers had an inexplicably good run last season before them running out of gas coincided with the Cubs remembering how to play baseball. Additions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich get them to the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Giants’ aging stars, both new and old, get them in just ahead of the Cardinals and they can dream of one more run.
NL Champion: Washington Nationals
Yes, they’re finally going to do it. It is most likely Bryce Harper’s last season in DC and he’s going to help deliver them an NL Pennant. They finally won’t choke for a change and will benefit from the Cubs or Dodgers coming out of a grueling NLDS while they easily sweep away whoever wins the Wild Card Game.
NL MVP: Bryce Harper
Harper’s farewell to DC season will be capped off with him winning the MVP, pouring more and more salt into the wound that will be opened up when he signs the most valuable contract in the history of sports in Chicago, Boston or New York next season.
WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS
Boston Red Sox
A team from DC winning a championship? Everyone knows that’s not allowed to happen. The Red Sox will turn out to be the real deal, JD Martinez will prove to be the deal of the offseason, David Price won’t (totally) suck, and we’ll all have to endure the insufferability of Boston winning more stuff.
Please don’t waste Chris Sale. Please don’t waste Chris Sale. Please don’t waste Chris Sale.
Thanks for reading, be sure to check out the Cubs preview tomorrow (which will be linked here once posted), and GO SOX!
Here’s to baseball and forgetting about the Blackhawks and Bulls seasons.