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The most essential 2017 White Sox: Nos. 40-21

Some players are now important for different reasons

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Texas Rangers Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

In the first two years of ranking the 40 most essential White Sox in the upcoming season, we were looking at players who played the biggest roles in trying to get the White Sox into contention. In both seasons, the Sox got adequate to excellent production from their superstars, but the second tier eroded and caused those beautiful beacons on the hill to join them in the mudslide.

With a rebuilding franchise, the list takes on a different meaning. I used three criteria in past years:

  1. Amount/importance of expected production
  2. Potential alternatives (or lack thereof)
  3. Chance of measurable impact (for prospects)

With wins and losses being a secondary concern for the immediate future, though, you can whittle the definition of “essential” down to a simpler question:

Whose efforts are most crucial to the rebuild?

Young players like the recently extended Tim Anderson will be trying to establish themselves as cornerstones, while the optimal Jose Quintana season probably wraps up with him wearing a different uniform. Both are vitally important to the cause, but in vastly different ways.

Given the variety of goals, ranking the players in such a fashion might be more arbitrary than usual. Then again, the precise order has never really mattered. The exercise is more a way of sorting through expectations and seeing which players are shouldering the biggest burden due to a lack of depth, and that still serves a purpose.

I’m only counting on players who stand a reasonable chance of getting playing time at the major league level. Zack Collins is on the other side of the drawn line — it’s not out of the question that his bat could overwhelm Birmingham and Charlotte by the second half, but he’ll need reps behind the plate, and it’ll likely be counterproductive to call him up in September.

Perhaps he and the Sox will surprise, and that’ll be my mistake. Until that happens, I’m leaving players like him out for players ahead of him in the “bats to evaluate” line. For instance:

Last men off: Danny Hayes/Nicky Delmonico

The White Sox will probably have at-bats for any left who doesn’t appear challenged by Triple-A pitching. Hayes has the better recent track record and plate discipline, while Delmonico has defensive “flexbility,” in the sense that he’s held various gloves and stood in different spots on the field.

(Update: Dicky Hamonico was originally No. 40, but that’s because I lost Yolmer Sanchez while shuffling the order.)

No. 40: Tyler Danish

The Sox might need a seventh starter before the prospects can safely be called up, or they might need a long-relief type to relieve those prospects. Either way, if you’re a pitcher with options on the 40-man roster, opportunities are there. (This might have been Juan Minaya had he not suffered an abdominal injury.)

No. 39: Rymer Liriano

He’s no longer on the 40-man roster, but the idea remains the same for him — if he can somehow stay healthy enough to rediscover his form before he broke his face, playing time should be made available. It’s probably better for everybody that he played poorly enough during the spring to allow the Sox to outright him to Charlotte.

No. 38: Jake Peter

I was surprised that he received only six plate appearances this spring, considering he hits left-handed, plays multiple positions and is only 23 (albeit for just four more days). Others got priority due to roster status, but I could see him being too productive in Charlotte to ignore.

No. 37: Adam Engel

He probably would have been off the list if Charlie Tilson were healthy, but now he’s a Jacob May injury from potentially being the next man up.

No. 36: Brian Clark

If the Sox ever decide to carry a second lefty in the bullpen, he could be the first one called. He pitched in more outings than any reliever except Zack Burdi during the spring, and with Giovanni Soto outrighted to Charlotte, the Sox would have to go off the roster to find their LOOGY. If you like Cory Luebke or Matt Purke more, feel free to swap in their names.

No. 35: Dylan Covey

There could be a revolving door for low-leverage righties. Covey has the advantage of being a Rule 5 type, but he kinda strikes me like a poor man’s Dylan Axelrod, and Axelrod had but a ha’penny to his name.

No. 34: Kevan Smith
No. 33: Roberto Pena

Geovany Soto stayed healthy the last time he was a White Sox — it’s been his only fully healthy season of his last three — but it wouldn’t take much to press one of their Triple-A catchers into action. The Sox have more familiarity with Smith, and Smith knows more of the pitchers, should an injury happen soon enough for those elements to make a difference. If the Sox don’t need a replacement within the first month, Pena might be more intriguing to the Sox, as might Alfredo Gonzalez in Double-A.

No. 32: Latham’s Tommy Kahnle
No. 31: Anthony Swarzak

Kahnle finished last year year with a flourish, but can’t pass as a long reliever/spot starter as well as Swarzak can. Swarzak has a flimsier recent track record, but he’s flipped his pitch frequencies while throwing harder than before, so he might have staying power he’d lacked before.

No. 30: Michael Ynoa

You could lump him in with the previous group, but he stands out for 1) being out-of-options, and 2) being difficult for MLB hitters to square up last year. He’s also all the Sox have to show the return in the Jeff Samardzija trade (although Shoeless_Joe pointed out that the comp pick made Zack Burdi possible, so it won’t die with Ynoa).

No. 29: Yolmer Sanchez

It was easy to forget when he was on the roster last year, and while the circumstances are favorable for more regular reps this year, that could all change if and when Yoan Moncada comes to down.

No. 28: Matt Davidson
No. 27: Cody Asche

They’re sharing DH duties, and yet their track records are so thin that both of them could be out of jobs by the end of the month. I give Asche the slight edge for being left-handed and lacking the history of hitting rock bottom. He’s below replacement level just the same, but in a way that0’s a little easier to stomach.

No. 26: Leury Garcia

He and Asche are the reserve outfielders until Charlie Tilson comes back, and Garcia is the only one who represents a clear upgrade over the corner guys. He also offers the best bench speed and has pitched in a couple games, so I don’t see him getting back to Charlotte.

No. 25: Charlie Tilson

This might be optimistic considering Tilson isn’t expected to be back until late May, but if he can somehow return to the same status he reached last season, the Sox will want to see what he can do.

No. 24: Geovany Soto

I’m of the opinion that Omar Narvaez will find ways to be exceed expectations, but he could still use a veteran caddy so he doesn’t get overexposed/overwhelmed.

No. 23: Zach Putnam

He’s great as a seventh-inning guy when he’s healthy, but he’s gone from 55 to 49 to 27 innings over his three years with the White Sox. You have to account for at least one stint on the disabled list.

No. 22: Dan Jennings

He’s the only lefty in the bullpen and he had a 2.08 ERA last season, but he allowed a league-high 21 inherited runners to score (42 percent). Putnam can take the stress off him when healthy.

No. 21: James Shields

Last year told everybody to expect the worst, but with Carlos Rodon injured and two other starters no stranger to missed starts, the Sox could really use even a superficially productive Shields for as long as he can hang in there.