We’re just more than seven weeks away from Opening Day, and there are still multiple question marks for the White Sox that will need answers during spring training:
- Although three starters return from last year’s underwhelming rotation, with a fourth acquired via trade, several hurlers will be competing for that fifth spot. Who wins out?
- With many teams going with eight-man bullpens nowadays, do the White Sox buck the trend and go with seven, in order to add an extra outfielder for platooning situations and/or defensive replacements?
- Who gets traded or demoted if Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper join the club via free agency?
I’ll do similar full roster projections for the minor league squads as well, but everything starts at the major league level. So, here goes nothing!
Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon, Iván Nova and Lucas Giolito all are apparent locks for the rotation. But several candidates exist for the fifth spot, including Manny Banuelos, Dylan Covey, and Jordan Stephens. While others may have an extremely remote chance with an especially strong spring (Donn Roach, Spencer Adams, Jordan Guerrero, Bernardo Flores), it’s more likely that one of the previously mentioned three will win the spot.
The White Sox seem especially high on Bañuelos, who did quite well in the Pacific Coast League last year with the Dodgers organization and was a phenom in the Yankees system several years ago. Covey certainly excelled at times last year, and has the most MLB experience of the three; however, a 6.10 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over the past two years doesn’t really inspire excitement among the masses. Stephens, despite a solid season in Birmingham, got hit around a bit last year in Charlotte and ultimately may be better suited for a bullpen role due to his size and injury history.
Right now, it’s Bañuelos’s job to lose, barring any late acquisitions for starting pitchers. If Bañuelos wins the job, Lopez could well be the Opening Day starter, in order to avoid southpaws starting back-to-back games when the rotation flips, or Giolito slips to the No. 5 spot; if a righty like Covey or Stephens wins the fifth spot, Rodon likely will be the Opening Day starter.
Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon, Iván Nova, Lucas Giolito, Manny Bañuelos
With four open dates in the first two weeks of the season, the White Sox may simply decide to go with a seven-man bullpen in order to supply a Band-Aid approach to its pre-Eloy outfield. If so, who will be the likeliest relief choices?
Certainly the four locks to the bullpen would be Alex Colome, Kelvin Herrera, Nate Jones and Jace Fry. Juan Minaya, with a solid second-half run last year, is a near-lock for the bullpen as well. That leaves three southpaws (Caleb Frare, Aaron Bummer, and Colton Turner) and several righties (Ian Hamilton, Jose Ruiz, Aaron Burr, Dylan Covey, Thyago Vieira, Randall Delgado, Evan Marshall, Jordan Stephens, and Donn Roach) duking it out for the final two spots. For the southpaws, I’d choose Frare over Bummer; for the righties, I’d choose Ian Hamilton. I like what those two did in AA and AAA ball last year, and both held their own last September with the Sox.
Eventually, when the schedule returns to the regular day-to-day grind, the White Sox will likely need another reliever — especially with concerns about the rotation (especially the back half). Covey would be ideally suited in the long relief/swingman role when that occurs, which would be around the time Eloy will be defensively able to play one of the corners.
Alex Colomé, Kelvin Herrera, Nate Jones, Jace Fry, Juan Minaya, Ian Hamilton, Caleb Frare
Welington Castillo and James McCann appear to be locks to begin the 2019 season. This year may be the last in Chicago for both players, as Castillo faces a club option for $8 million in 2020 and McCann is with the team on a one-year deal. Assuming the Sox will be out of the pennant race by the trade deadline, either catcher could be traded or released in order to make room for Seby Zavala and Zack Collins. For now, however, those two prospects likely won’t be serious competitors for this year’s Opening Day roster.
Welington Castillo, James McCann
Jose Abreu is entering his free agent season, and looks to rebound from a difficult, injury-riddled 2018. Abreu will find his time split more frequently this year between DH and first, thanks to the acquisition of fellow Cuban Yonder Alonso. Alonso is a better defender, and will likely play first base when both are in the lineup at the same time. However, since Alonso may sit against tougher southpaws, Abreu would still get plenty of opportunities to play first base.
Jose Abreu, Yonder Alonso
Yoan Moncada is clearly the second baseman on Opening Day, and will look to improve upon an at-times shaky season offensively and defensively. He is still 23, and has the skills to be an above-average player defensively while being a 20-20 force offensively. If Nick Madrigal meets or exceeds expectations in the minors and the Sox fail to acquire Machado, Moncada may be groomed later in the season to play the hot corner. That’s not going to happen right off the bat, however.
Tim Anderson is still a work in progress, although he alleviated some concerns last year with improved defense and by accepting walks more frequently. However, concerns still exist for the 25-year-old, despite him being a 20-20 hitter last year. Anderson’s OBP was a mere .281 despite his improved walk rate, and he really needs to be a .280+ hitter in order to become the offensive force he’s expected to be. While he’s gifted enough to play center field, his future as of now is still that of a shortstop.
If the White Sox don’t sign Machado, the reserve middle infielder would be Jose Rondon, who provided more than 20 homers last year between Charlotte and Chicago. Rondon could also fill a role of right-handed DH platoon as well.
If the Sox do sign Machado, however, the White Sox would be forced to either trade Yolmer Sanchez or place Rondon on waivers, with the hopes that nobody claims him. If waiving Rondón, the best time to do that would be around the time of last cuts, when most teams have their Opening Day rosters already decided upon.
Tim Anderson, Jose Rondon
Yolmer Sanchez was one of the best defensive players at the hot corner last season. However, with a slash line of .242/.306/.372, his offense was relatively lacking. If Machado signs with the Sox, Sánchez likely will revert to a super-utility status. If Machado doesn’t sign, however, he’ll spend the majority of time at third base — perhaps switching infield spots with Moncada at times after the All-Star break.
Aside from Eloy Jimenez, who will begin this year in Charlotte due to um, defensive concerns, the White Sox outfield is pretty much awash in mediocrity. Adam Engel was a Gold Glove finalist but was difficult to watch hit, Leury Garcia could play all three outfield positions (plus middle infield) credibly but had trouble staying on the field, and Daniel Palka hit the ball a country mile but had trouble making contact while being defensively-challenged.
Nicky Delmonico suffered through injuries last year which limited his offensive production, and although his defense was a bit better than Palka’s it wasn’t anywhere close to average. Jon Jay’s range is now better suited for one of the outfield corners, but he doesn’t really have the bat to profile at either. Finally, recent acquisition Brandon Guyer struggled badly last year, with a .206/.300/.371 slash line while posting a below-average defensive bWAR.
This list doesn’t even include Ryan Cordell and Charlie Tilson, who made uninspiring MLB debuts last year. That leaves eight players, excluding Eloy, for outfield consideration for the Opening Day roster. The first two to eliminate would be Cordell and Tilson, who are far better suited to begin with Charlotte (barring a sensational spring training). That brings us to six: Delmonico, Engel, Garcia, Guyer, Jay, and Palka.
First of all, Palka’s the only true power hitter of the bunch, so he’s my starting right fielder. If the White Sox are ahead late in games, take him out for a defensive replacement. I’d do a center field platoon with García and Engel: García hit lefties far better than Engel last year while the results are similar against righties, and with similar results against righties I’m going with the better defender in Engel. In left field pre-Eloy arrives, I’m going with a platoon with Jay and Guyer.
This leaves Delmonico out, which could upset some fans. However, the Sox could look at trading him, or better yet, stash him in Charlotte since he has an option left. Eventually when Eloy gets the call, one of the remaining players would have to go — perhaps two, if the Sox decide to shift to an eight-man bullpen at the same time. If that happens, even more decisions would obviously remain. Perhaps an outfield of Jimenez, Garcia/Engel and Palka, with Jay as the fourth? Aside from Delmonico, options also exist for Engel and Palka.
Adam Engel, Leury Garcia, Brandon Guyer, Jon Jay, Daniel Palka
As the roster presently stands (sans Harper or Machado, and before Eloy’s promotion), this is how my lineup would look against righties:
Yoan Moncada (2B)
Yolmer Sanchez (3B)
Jose Abreu (DH)
Yonder Alonso (1B)
Daniel Palka (RF)
Welington Castillo (C)
Tim Anderson (SS)
Jon Jay (LF)
Adam Engel (CF)
Tim Anderson (SS)
Yolmer Sanchez (3B)
Jose Abreu (1B)
Welington Castillo (C)
Jose Rondon (DH)
Daniel Palka (RF)
Leury Garcia (CF)
Yoan Moncada (2B)
Brandon Guyer (LF)
Both lineups are rather bleak. When looking at them, it becomes painfully obvious that the White Sox could use someone like Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado, and of course Eloy, to make them look a heck of a lot better.