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What happens if the White Sox don’t win big in free agency this year?

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A sneak peek into what the Sox could look like in 2021, without any glossy acquisitions

Minor League Baseball: Southern League-All Star Game
Bizarro World: Eloy Jiménez should be the star of the pennant-contending White Sox in 2021.
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I put together my White Sox best-case scenario for this offseason.

Alas, nothing has yet transpired on those fronts, which has got me thinking: If nothing big happens via free agency or trade this offseason, what could this team look like heading into 2021?

(Why 2021, you ask? Well, if the White Sox were able to land everyone I mentioned in my dream scenario, they would likely be competitive for a wild card in 2019 and have a strong chance for a division title in 2020. However, in an unfortunate world where we don’t land any prime free agents, we’d be looking at primarily young guys and prospects—many of whom won’t get into any major league action until late 2019 at the earliest. Considering most young players struggle at the outset, the Sox could encounter significant growing pains in 2020. Thus, 2021 seems to be the earliest year of White Sox dominance.)

Below are the guys I envision on the White Sox Opening Day roster in 2021.

Catcher

Zack Collins: Collins is currently the eighth-ranked prospect in the White Sox organization, and for good reason. He has a terrific blend of power and patience, albeit with a low batting average and plentiful strikeouts. In 2021, he could easily play some combination of catcher/first base/designated hitter. I have him penciled in as a the left-handed catcher in a platoon, but let’s face it, his defense (i.e. framing, keeping balls in front of him) still needs significant work. Because the Sox don’t have significant catching depth in its system (unless the White Sox draft Adley Rutschman next year), Collins should be receiving significant catching time by 2020.

Seby Zavala: Zavala is currently the 22nd-ranked White Sox prospect. His ceiling isn’t as high as Collins’, but his floor is higher because of his better defensive ability and better contact skills. For 2021, he’s my right-handed platoon catcher, but he could actually assume full catching duties if Collins shifts to either first base or DH.

Other catching options for 2021 could include Carlos Perez, Yermin Mercedes (and in a best-case scenario, Adley Rutshman or Shea Langeliers).

First Base

Eloy Jimenez: I know what you’re thinking: Jiménez is our star left fielder and top-ranked prospect, but is he really that bad defensively? I’ve yet to see Jiménez play in the field, but my gut tells me that he’s actually adequate there. However, with the multitude of more athletic outfielders in the White Sox system and lack of depth at first base, it may make sense to shift Jiménez to first in order to allow for more athleticism elsewhere. It certainly won’t hurt that Jiménez has plenty of bat to play at first.

Other options at first base for 2021 could include Collins (C), Zavala (C), Jose Abreu, and Gavin Sheets (if he starts hitting homers).

Second Base

Nick Madrigal: Madrigal is currently the White Sox’s fifth-ranked prospect, and should play the keystone position for many years to come. He could contend for both a batting title and a Gold Glove for years to come, while stealing 20-30 bases a year. This, of course, would mean Yoán Moncada moves elsewhere — probably to the hot corner. Madrigal’s biggest drawbacks are a fairly weak throwing arm (somewhat mitigated by his playing second base) and lack of power.

Other options at second for 2021 could include Moncada, Laz Rivera, and Jose Rondon.

Shortstop

Tim Anderson: Anderson would be one of the most expensive players on this roster, as his salary will rise to $7.25 million in 2021. Despite his struggles in 2018, Anderson was still a 20-20 guy capable of reaching 30-30. He walked more last year than his previous two years combined; with continued development in regards to on-base skills and defense, Anderson has all the makings of a future All-Star. He’s still best suited as a ninth-place hitter, where he can be a second leadoff hitter without the pressure of maintaining a high OBA.

Other options at shortstop could include Rondon and Rivera.

Third Base

Yoan Moncada: Moncada’s listed at third base for two reasons: the ascension of Madrigal at second base, and the dire need for someone to provide offense at third. Moncada has tremendous skills, and if he can cut down his strikeouts to just one per game, he could easily be a .270/.360/.450 hitter, with minimum potential as a 20-20 guy. There’s still a lot to like in Moncada’s game, and he’ll only be 26 when the 2021 season begins.

Other options at third base could include Jake Burger and Rondon.

Left Field

Blake Rutherford: Rutherford is currently the seventh-ranked White Sox prospect, and his results were solid if unexceptional in 2018: He hit .293 with 25 doubles, nine triples, seven homers and 78 RBIs while fanning just 90 times in 487 plate appearances and swiping 15 bases. It’s imperative that Rutherford continues to build off those power numbers, as the strength of competition he’ll face to win a position in the majors is only going to intensify. However, keep in mind Rutherford still has plenty of power projection, and has a sweet left-handed swing. Plus, he’ll still be just 23 when the 2021 season begins.

Other options at left field could include Jimenez (1B), Luis Gonzalez, and Luis Basabe.

Center Field

Luis Robert: Robert has an amazing wealth of talent, but it simply hasn’t been on full display due to a variety of nagging injuries. At the time of his signing in 2017, he was compared to former Astro great Cesar Cedeño due to his combination of speed, power and arm. Robert is not afraid to take the free pass, but still needs to get acclimated to the speed of the game. Positive signs were evident in the Arizona Fall League, and if Robert can maintain his health and consistency, should be able to rocket his way to starting Sox center fielder by 2021. If healthy, Robert could easily post 20 homers/50 stolen base numbers annually.

Other options at center field could include Gonzalez, Basabe, and Steele Walker.

Right Field

Micker Adolfo: Adolfo has a cannon arm, and his hitting now is moving him up the White Sox prospect rankings (currently at 11th, per MLB Pipeline). Like Robert, Adolfo’s biggest concern is being able to stay healthy. Despite some pain in his arm last year, he still managed to slash .282/.369/.464 while improving his walk and strikeout rates. Adolfo’s combination of power and arm reminds me a lot of former Boston Red Sox great Dwight Evans — if he can produce just half the numbers that Evans produced, the White Sox would be ecstatic.

Other options at right field include Basabe, Gonzalez, and Rutherford.

Designated Hitter

Jose Abreu: Abreu will be 34 when the 2021 season begins, but he should still be capable of a .275 average with 25-plus homers. This is, of course, if the White Sox decide to extend him. The Sox will have other options eligible if they do not decide to go this route.

Other options at DH include Collins, Daniel Palka, Burger, and Amado Nuñez, among many others.

Starting Rotation

Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning: This rotation is oozing with high-end stuff — the question is will these guys be healthy to harness the results expected of them? Lopez and Rodon were clearly the best two Sox starters in 2018, Kopech showed flashes prior to his injury, Cease was the 2018 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and Dunning enjoyed another banner year in the Sox system. Even if a couple of these guys falter, the Sox should still have plenty of guys ready to come to the rescue when needed — including Lucas Giolito.

Other options at starting pitcher include Giolito, Alec Hansen, Jimmy Lambert, Kodi Medeiros, Blake Battenfield, Bernardo Flores, Konnor Pilkington, Jordan Guerrero, Spencer Adams, Lincoln Henzman, Kade McClure, and Jonathan Stiever.

Bullpen

Tyler Johnson, Ian Hamilton, Zach Burdi, Jace Fry, Caleb Frare, Jose Ruiz, Ryan Burr, Kodi Medeiros: Relief pitching is arguably the strongest position currently in the White Sox system. Most of these guys have power stuff, with terrific secondary pitches. It’s hard to say right now who the would be among this group in 2021, but I wouldn’t bet against Johnson (14 SV, 1.40 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 58 IP, 35 H, 16 BB and 89 K with Winston-Salem in 2019). There are so many relief options that I didn’t even mention Thyago Vieira, Aaron Bummer, Zach Thompson, Carson Fulmer, Jose Nin, Nick Johnson, Bennett Sousa, Andrew Perez, or Ian Clarkin.


Summary

The following would be my projected 2021 lineup, along with reserves:

Nick Madrigal—2B
Yoan Moncada—3B
Eloy Jimenez—1B
Jose Abreu—DH
Luis Robert—CF
Zack Collins—C
Micker Adolfo—RF
Blake Rutherford—LF
Tim Anderson—SS

The offensive reserves would include Seby Zavala, Laz Rivera, and either Luis Gonzalez or Luis Alexander Basabe.

Even without upgrades via free agency and/or trades, this White Sox team looks quite formidable — provided, of course, that everyone is healthy and performing to their lofty expectations. I wouldn’t be opposed to this lineup, although I still prefer my original dream scenario of landing the top free agents of this year’s free agent class. After all, prospects are often hit or miss; with established free agents (Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Yasmani Grandal), it’s much easier to project them going forward. Also, snagging a few choice free agent names would speed up the rebuild and make the team a much more enjoyable (and successful) one to watch for the next couple of campaigns.