Opening Day is Monday, yet the White Sox' Opening Day roster isn't quite set. There's still one bullpen position that's assumed to go to Kyle Drabek, but Eric Surkamp still hasn't lost "lurker" status as of this morning.
Aside from that one spot, we have a pretty good idea of where everybody stands at the start of the 2015 season.
So we may as well rank them.
"Essential" is a nebulous word, but this is a nebulous concept, so it's perfect. My interpretation of that label combines the following factors:
- Amount/importance of expected production
- Replaceability (or lack thereof)
- Chance of measurable impact (for prospects)
In this case, the Sox might have a 1 WAR third baseman and a 1 WAR second baseman, but they don't have much reinforcement for the former, and a few options for the latter. Therefore, the 1 WAR third baseman is more "essential" to their success.
You'll get the idea as it goes along. And if you don't, it's just another thing to argue about.
No. 40: Maikel Cleto
The White Sox outrighted him to Charlotte, but we know from his past that he can't be dismissed on account of his 40-man roster status, or lack thereof. It's hard to count out his arm, especially when there isn't a high level of confidence in his peers at Charlotte. The Sox just signed Matt Lindstrom to a minor-league deal, after all. (This spot could go to relievers who outperformed Cleto during the spring like Arcenio Leon or Jairo Asencio. We just know Cleto better.)
No. 39: Kevan Smith
No. 38: Rob Brantly
Smith may have the inside track on the third catcher job, but he's making his Triple-A debut in his age 27 season. He has more momentum than Brantly, but Brantly's younger and has 98 MLB games to his credit. Either way, it's not a great situation if they're called upon early. Adrian Nieto looks like he'll get a whole year of development time, so he's just off the list
No. 37: Daniel Webb
He only pitched 21 games at Charlotte before joining the Sox, so taking a step back isn't a death knell for his career, even though his control keeps going in the wrong direction.
No. 36: Scott Carroll
Whether we're talking about Carroll in particular, or whether Carroll is an avatar for a AAAA starter to be named later, the story is the same: Steal a game or two, but anything beyond that is asking for trouble, and not his fault.
No. 35: Erik Johnson
I was prepared to rank him higher when he opened the spring with some encouraging words, but a side muscle issue limited him to just 2⅓ innings during Cactus League play. We still don't know whether last year's velocity loss was just a weird phase, but we do know that he still has the tendency to get sidetracked by nagging variety of injuries. That's hard to count on.
No. 34: Chris Beck
He pitched very well during Cactus League play (9 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K), with Dan Hayes pointing to an improved slider. This could be a classic case of spring training inflation, but the Sox' 2012 second-round pick has been effective during his steady climb up the farm system, even if lacking a dominant edge. He might be called upon to make some starts in 2015, or maybe committing to a better fastball-slider combo makes him a legit bullpen option. Either one would be very useful.
No. 33: Kyle Drabek
He's not officially on the 25-man roster, but nobody has hinted otherwise. It seems like the Sox claimed him from Toronto for a reason, and he stands as good a chance as any non-lock reliever of hanging around. It's just the circumstances of his acquisition give this a "live audition" feel more than anything else for the time being.
No. 32: Tyler Saladino
He'd be higher based on his performance at Triple-A in 2014, and his broad set of skills. This just isn't the best year to be a utility infielder candidate, what with Gordon Beckham, Carlos Sanchez and Emilio Bonifacio ahead of him. Saladino is the best shortstop of that bunch, but it's not a good sign if the Sox need a lot of that from him in 2015.
No. 31: Matt Albers
He's a sturdy mid-leverage guy when he's on his game. However, missing an entire year with a shoulder issue makes him less than a sure bet. He's on a $1.5 million deal after making the club, which isn't enough of an obligation to keep him in Chicago alone.
No. 30: Trayce Thompson
Thompson hasn't had the kind of complete season that makes people believe in him, but at the moment, he's the only outfielder in the high minors who wouldn't look completely out of place on the 25-man roster. He'll be making his Charlotte debut after turning 24 last month, so a step back would hurt.
No. 29: Nate Jones
He's starting the season on the 60-day disabled list, so he's not going to be an option over the first couple of months as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. But the Sox sure could have used him last year, and they sure could use him this year, even if it's in June.
No. 28: Matt Davidson
He just turned 24, so he deserves a mulligan at Charlotte after hitting .199 there last year. The situation allows for one -- Conor Gillaspie is still the clear-cut starter, and so the Sox need some reinforcement at the position. But if it's not Davidson, maybe it's Saladino.
No. 27: Frank Montas
The pitching staff's No. 1 wild card. Maybe he makes a few starts for the 2015 White Sox. Maybe he's the new Bobby Jenks. Maybe he's still a year or two away from contributing. Maybe his enormous frame causes him other physical problems. When you can hit 100 as a starter and have a fair idea of where it goes, anything's possible.
No. 26: Gordon Beckham
He should rank lower in terms of necessity, as he's redundant with Saladino, and Sanchez to a lesser extent. But he'll likely be given a fair amount of responsibility as a defensive replacement and/or platoon partner for Gillaspie, and past history says the Sox will give him a lot of rope if he starts slow, so, here we are.
No. 25: Dan Jennings
It's difficult to get a feel of how he'll handle specialist situations, but he hasn't done anything to hurt confidence at the start of his Sox career. Carlos Rodon could make him less important if he breaks into the bullpen.
No. 24: J.B. Shuck
This is his age 28 season, and he hasn't put together a 1 WAR MLB season yet. That suggests that he's interchangeable, but aside from Thompson, there really aren't many players to change him with.
No. 23: Carlos Sanchez
It's gotta suck to hit .425 with a .489 OBP during a spring training competition and never get serious buzz for the starting job, but that's Sanchez's situation right now. He's starting the season on the Opening Day roster, but if the current order holds through the first week, he'll be back in Charlotte when Chris Sale comes back. He could be called upon early if Micah Johnson falters or gets hurt, but he could also be smothered for months.
No. 22: Javy Guerra
No. 21: Jake Petricka
This was my ranking before Jake Petricka started the season on the DL, and I guess it'll remain this way until we find out if the forearm strain is more serious than initially imagined. But both are righties who are expected to remain in the bullpen for the entirety of the season.