Last season was unlike any in baseball history: A shortened 60-game schedule, universal DH, and the creation of the illustrious alternate site teams.
For the White Sox, their home was in Schaumburg, at Wintrust Field. Since the minor leagues were cancelled last season, the alternate site was the only action the non-MLBers had until they were called up.
For 2021, the same concept is back at Schaumburg again, but there is a little twist:
The alternate training site for the White Sox will be in Schaumburg. There's a 13-game schedule set up for games against the Cubs and Brewers alternate site squads.— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) March 26, 2021
One of those games, also per Scott Merkin, will be at Guaranteed Rate during an off-day for the Sox. The other locations haven’t been officially announced, but I can do some quick math and guess that there will be four games each at the Cubs alternate site in South Bend, Ind., and at the alt-Brewers in Appleton, Wis. Travel will be light, as intended, for these barnstorming games in April.
Since the alternate site will function basically as a quasi Triple-A team, players must be optioned to that team or go through waivers if they are out of options, which is why players like Reynaldo López and Luis González were officially optioned when they were sent to Schaumburg.
The following pitchers are the best of the alt-Sox and most likely to be called up: Reynaldo López, Zack Burdi, Jonathan Stiever, and Tyler Johnson.
Out of these players, only Johnson has not appeared in an MLB game. Back in 2019, the last season there were minor league baseball games, Johnson was coming back from an injury and was mostly working back to game action levels. Before the injury, he was a great late-inning option from 2017-18 at various levels ,with 16 saves. Johnson got into four games this spring, with an 18.90 ERA.
Johnson should be in contention for the Charlotte closer job with another guy, Zack Burdi. We all know his story, big arm and then a big injury. He did get some time in the majors last season, and did not look good (an ERA of more than 11.00) — the same as his time this spring.
Jonathan Stiever recorded his first career strikeout and retired the last nine batters he faced in his major-league debut. pic.twitter.com/SdS423io7L— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) September 14, 2020
Stiever got a cup of coffee during the 2020 season, with varying levels of success. Stiever pitched 6 1⁄3 innings and got knocked around during that small sample, with a 1.74 WHIP. He did get some time this spring but not much, just another five innings, and did look better, for what it is worth. Out of these guys already optioned, he probably is the best, and is ranked as the eighth-best Sox prospect according to MLB.com. Before 2020, Stiever was coming off of a dominant second half of the season with the Dash, as he ended with a 2.15 ERA and a WHIP just under 1.000.
Normally, a bad 2020 would be something fans could overlook, but 2020 was just the continuation of López’s regression. His time on the South Side is definitely not over, as he probably will be the first starting pitcher called up if there is an injury, but the writing is on the wall. He had a 6.49 ERA last season and yes, it is spring, but in 11 innings, López did not look better. This is a Sox team with a lot of pitchers who have not participated in full MLB seasons, so the odds are good that López will be back in Chicago.
The following hitters are the most likely to see time on the South Side: Luis González, Blake Rutherford, Seby Zavala, Gavin Sheets, and Danny Mendick. And after another stadium injured Eloy Jiménez, the outfield depth names become a lot more interesting.
González was at the alternate site last season and appeared in half a handful of MLB games in 2020. He is rated as the 15th-best prospect for the Sox by MLB and seems to have the inside track to be the first promotion.
Rutherford is rated 12th by MLB, but he has also fallen since the time he was a Top 100 prospect in all of baseball. Compared to others, González got a lot of time during spring and still did not grab the fourth outfield job — likewise with Rutherford, but Blake had limited at-bats.
So the Sox had to sign Billy Hamilton, and moved Andrew Vaughn to left. González only had a .339 OPS this spring, and Rutherford still has not shown much power, but both have the advantage of being lefty hitters who play all outfield positions. There is a huge range of outcomes this season for both outfielders, as they could be starters in left or waived before the end of the season.
Sheets should be included in the outfield discussion now that the Sox are moving players to outfield spots to patch holes in their outfield depth. Per Scott Merkin, Sheets lost “15 pounds” and had been working to get into the outfield since before the 2020 season. For the older Sox fans, his dad, Larry Sheets, was an outfielder, most notably for the Baltimore Orioles so G. Sheets has a lot of people around to help him learn. He was drafted as a power-profile first baseman, but the power just never really came. What’s nice is that Sheets walks around 10% of his plate appearances and still has a knack for getting hits, at least in the minors. In 2019 at Double-A, Sheets slashed .267/.345/.414 with 16 homers but did not show the contact, power, or batter’s eye this spring. He is officially listed as a first baseman.
Out of any of these hitters, Zavala has the best chance to appear in games. If Yasmani Grandal or Zack Collins go on the injured list, Zavala will be up to take the backup catcher spot. In fact, he will probably be the taxi-squad catcher. Zavala did not play last season, but he did get in a handful of games in 2019, recording only one hit. He does have 130 games at Charlotte from 2018-19, but he didn’t hit well enough to be one of the three catchers on the Opening Day roster — in his Triple-A career, Zavala boasts a .714 OPS, which is not that impressive knowing Triple-A was using the super-smash MLB balls. Zavala’s advantage over his competition is that he’s the best choice of defensive catcher to back Grandal.
With the signing of Jake Lamb, Mendick did not make the team. The infielder has 49 MLB games under his belt, with an 87 OPS+. He showed to be a better than expected fielder last season and, was even nominated for a Gold Glove, deserved or not. But his offense just did not come around. Mendick walked more than 10% of the time in the minors, but major league pitching is something else, and those numbers dropped while the strikeouts rose. If Tim Anderson, Nick Madrigal, or Lamb miss time, Mendick should be the guy up.
The other guys
Reylo should be the first pitcher up, unless one of the lefties get injured, in which case the roster construction could get a little wonky. Zavala is the third defensive catcher on the depth chart while González looks to be the fifth outfielder, and Danny Mendick was the middle infielder who saw time in Chicago last season.
Nik Turley lost his hold on a 40-man spot and was not claimed, so he is safely on the alternate roster. He has a career 5.31 FIP with control issues in his 39 1⁄3 MLB innings but has pretty good zip on the fastball. Kodi Medeiros could see action on the South Side, especially if there is another extended injury to a left-handed pitcher before Jace Fry comes back. Mederios had a fine spring, but he only threw five scoreless innings. He could also work as a long man, because his background has been mostly as a starter. Turley and Mederios are the only lefties on this roster.
Tayron Guerrero just hit 104 MPH.— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) August 14, 2018
It's *clears throat* lit. ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/UgOfSkRJrD
Unless quite a few injuries happen quickly, odds are these guys will not make it to the majors, but we might as well throw out their names because they should be part of the core group at the alternate site.
Tayron Guerrero, who averages about 99 mph on his fastball, and a familiar name, Ryan Burr, got looks this spring and have MLB experience, along with Alex McRae and Mike Wright, both of whom can start.
On the hitting side, it is a bit more dreary. The Sox also have a just-in-case guy in Mikie Mahtook of Detroit Tigers fame, to go along with Luis González and Rutherford in the outfield.
The best of the bunch of the other infielders, or at least the most experienced, is Tim Beckham. Beckham has been an average hitter (98 OPS+) but a poor fielder. Marco Hernandez and Matt Reynolds have had a bigger cup of coffee in the majors than most, but were non-roster invitees for a reason.
The top-line depth, especially on the pitching side, seems like it can last. But now you know all the names that could step in if need be. And here is the official, full list of Schaumburg players as of April 4.
Last season, it seemed like the Sox needed two rosters’ worth of pitchers to get through the year. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.
On Monday, a day after this analysis published, the White Sox issued an official release, which included the pleasant surprise of outfielder Nick Williams being on the alt site roster. Here’s what the White Sox had to say, including some details on games played:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, April 5, 2021
WHITE SOX ANNOUNCE 2021 ALTERNATE TRAINING SITE PLAYER ROSTER AND GAME SCHEDULE
CHICAGO –The Chicago White Sox today announced their 2021 alternate training site game schedule and initial player roster.
The White Sox will play host to the Chicago Cubs alternate team for five games (April 13, 19, 24, 28 and 30). Four of the five scheduled games will take place at Wintrust Field in Schaumburg, Ill., the site of the 2021 White Sox alternate training facility and home of the Schaumburg Boomers. The April 19 contest will be played at Guaranteed Rate Field. All games are scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. CT except for a noon first pitch on April 30.
The Sox will travel to the Cubs alternate site in South Bend, Ind. for games on April 15, 17, 21 and 26. Games in South Bend are scheduled for 1:00 p.m. CT except for the April 15 game which will be determined at a later date. Fans will be allowed to attend the April 17 contest. The remaining three games in South Bend will be closed to the public.
The feasibility of safely allowing fans at select games in Schaumburg currently is under consideration, and details will be announced at a future date. The White Sox vs. Cubs alternate squad game at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 19 will not be open to the public.
The Sox alternate site team includes 14 pitchers, two catchers, six infielders and four outfielders. A breakdown of the White Sox alternate site roster:
RHP (12): Zack Burdi, Ryan Burr, Will Carter, Danny Dopico, Tayron Guerrero, Tyler Johnson, Reynaldo López, Kade McClure, Alex McRae, Connor Sadzeck, Jonathan Stiever and Mike Wright
LHP (2): Kodi Medeiros and Nik Turley
C (2): Carlos Pérez and Seby Zavala
INF (6): Tim Beckham, Marco Hernández, Danny Mendick, Zach Remillard, Matt Reynolds and Gavin Sheets
OF (4): Luis González, Mikie Mahtook, Blake Rutherford and Nick Williams