The first year of the rebuild is officially behind us, and with the calendar turned to 2018, we’re closer to a new season starting than the old one ending.
While rebuilding baseball is better than no baseball, I don’t think many White Sox fans harbor any illusions about the team’s ability to compete for a playoff spot this year. The entertainment value, once again, will come from watching the present give way to the future. Of course, now we’re at a stage where some of that transition is happening in the major leagues. The first wave of prospects has graduated, so there’s already more intrigue at the top level than last year.
Of course, this is still an elite farm system, so keeping up with the minor league affiliates will be one of the most interesting parts of the season. But here are just seven of the many reasons to watch White Sox Baseball in 2018. We’ll definitely be discussing all of these topics more as the year goes on, but here’s a preview, if you will, of what lies ahead.
1. Spring Training Outfield Battles
There’s still some uncertainty as to who will be the starting center fielder. Leury Garcia certainly seemed to earn a longer look before injuries sapped his hits and ended his season. But now, Charlie Tilson is looking to make a comeback. The man with one major league game to his name finally managed to make it back on the field for 40 plate appearances in the Arizona Fall League. The White Sox also love Adam Engel’s defense in center, even if there’s no bat to speak of.
Of course, two of those guys could get starting opportunities with the DH spot available and Nicky Delmonico still out of position in left. We should see the outfield depth chart shake out in Spring Training, barring any signings before then.
Eloy Jimenez still has some development to go, but watching him play with the big league club for the first time in Glendale should be a ton of fun too.
2. A Full Season of Yoan Moncada
The golden boy of the White Sox rebuild has arrived in the majors for good. We expect Moncada to have a fairly high floor given his track record, but where his ceiling lies is the big question. That question is of a great deal of importance; if he manages to keep up a 115-120 wRC+, as he did after his first couple weeks, that’s a solidly above-average player. An improvement on defense, making a bit more contact, or tapping into his immense power, could boost his value further and make the team a lot more interesting.
3. Watching for Breakouts
This phase of the rebuilding process is all about watching the formation of the next core and finding out who’s going to contribute how much. There are plenty of young players who have the potential to surprise—Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez will try to cement themselves in the rotation, and Yolmer Sanchez, Leury Garcia, and Nicky Delmonico will try to carve out roles on the next competitive club. Finding a few unexpected wins here and there will go a long way toward making a winning team easier to picture.
4. Getting Tim Anderson Back on Track
The White Sox shortstop is admittedly still a very raw player. Off-field issues may have kept Anderson from making another step last year, so his true talent level is still up in the air. 2018 will be his chance to return to the continual improvement he showed from draft day to 2016. Given that he’s one of the only players the Sox have invested in long-term, he’ll be one of the faces of the franchise, so there will be a lot of focus on his third-year performance.
5. The Arrival of Michael Kopech
While Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Alec Hansen and company will be spending most or all of the season in the minors, Kopech looks like the player closest to the cusp. He might be the best pitching prospect in baseball after setting the Southern League on fire and making a strong AAA debut. Kopech will start the season in Charlotte, but if the control he showed in the second half carries over, we could see a starting pitcher throwing 100 mph on the South Side very soon.
6. Trade Deadline Developments
Talk continues to surround Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia as the two remaining players who could conceivably be traded off the team. If either or both remain with the White Sox into the season, they will surely be the subject of more chatter come July. Garcia is a particularly interesting case, as his performance in the first half could either confirm that he’s turned a corner or prove that last year was a fluke, and his trade value will adjust accordingly.
Perhaps there will be a reclamation project or Anthony Swarzak-style reliever flip that could bring back a little bit more by the deadline, but Abreu and Garcia are the two big outstanding questions, and the rest of the heavy lifting is already done.
7. The 2018 Winter Meetings
The hullabaloo surrounding the White Sox’s reported interest in Manny Machado in part demonstrates the need for something that fans can hold onto this winter. It also foreshadows what will hopefully be a much more interesting offseason next time around. Machado will be one of the top free agents at a position of need, and Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Dallas Keuchel, and plenty of others will be hitting the market too.
If things break right for the White Sox in 2018, there could be a chance to start ramping up for 2019 via trades and free agency. Until then, we’ve got a full year to wait and see, so sit back, relax, and strap it down.