2017 White Sox Season Preview

Last year’s White Sox had all of the talent to contend for a play-off place.  As the season drew on, though, inconsistent performances and clubhouse turmoil cost manager Robin Ventura his job and saw Rick Hahn undertake a major re-evaluation of the team’s future.  Now, this year’s team not will not only have a new manager in Rick Renteria, but a new ace and a new lead-off hitter, as Hahn flipped Chris Sale and Adam Eaton to the Red Sox and Nationals, respectively, for prospects.  With all the new talent coming up the youth pipeline, there’s a lot to be excited about for the future of the team.  However, the future might look a little bit different.  Here’s my preview of the upcoming 2017 season for the White Sox:

 

Outfield:

LF- Melky Cabrera

CF- Charlie Tilson

RF- Avisail Garcia

On a team that could soon be full of youngsters, the current corner outfielders for the Sox are among the most veteran members of the team.  Cabrera is the oldest player on the team, and Garcia is one of their longest-tenured players.  In addition to being among the team’s older players, they have consistently been amongst the most frustrating—Cabrera has consistently hit for a decent average in Chicago, but his power numbers and play in the field have always left something to be desired, and injuries, combined with an inconsistent work ethic, have doomed Garcia to a fate of being a bit-part player instead of the guy with the potential to jack 30 bombs a season.  With both of them only one year away from free agency, I’m sure that they’ll perform well, but it’ll certainly be too little, too late from many fans’ perspectives.

The revolving door at the team’s center field position will continue this year, with the Wilmette native Tilson, who was acquired for Zach Duke in a trade with the Cardinals this past July, figuring to be the main man.  Tilson was once rated as one of the top ten prospects in the deep St. Louis system, and has consistently demonstrated great skills on the field and on the bases.  However, he struggled at the plate after reaching the higher levels of the minors and has had a couple of injury issues since joining the tram.  He’ll need to improve his skills at the plate to have a chance of cementing down a spot that’s been filled with uncertainty since Aaron Rowand manned the positon back in 2005.

 

Infield:

3B- Todd Frazier

SS- Tim Anderson

2B- Tyler Saladino

1B- Jose Abreu

C- Omar Navarez

DH- Cody Asche

The players that started last year at the corners—Frazier and Abreu—remain in place from last year’s team, but everything other position has a drastically different person in place.  The former Cincinnati Red had a decent first year in Chicago, becoming a fan favorite while hitting lots of home runs and striking out a bunch; he figures to perform roughly the same this year.  Abreu, meanwhile, has seemingly slowed down a little bit since his phenomenal rookie year.  Major league pitchers have begun targeting his weaknesses, and as the focal point of an offense that doesn’t have a lot of pop, he figures to see less good pitches than he has in previous years.  He’ll have to make some adjustments to stay among the upper echelon of power-hitting first basemen in the league.

Up the middle, the Pale Hose have two youngsters that may not be very good with the bat, but are excellent athletes and should both be key contributors on any future teams.  The more highly touted of the pair, Anderson, has long been slated to be a solid pro.  He showed his skills on the base paths and started to utilize his speed and power towards the end of last season, showing why he was considered the team’s top prospect last year, and figures to continue his solid play into this year.  Saladino, meanwhile, has come out of seemingly nowhere to be a fairly productive role player for the Sox.  He’ll eventually have his place taken by Yoan Moncada, but is an adequate placeholder, and a good future reserve, for the team.

The other two projected starters here, Navarez and Asche, don’t jump off the page at you; that’s probably because there’s not a whole lot about their games that really stand out.  Navarez will get playing time by virtue of his good pitch-framing skills, but hasn’t demonstrated much ability to hit major league pitching, while a guy who has 33 career home runs is slated to start at a position that is largely known for gaudy power numbers.

 

Bench:

C- Kevan Smith

2B- Yolmer Sanchez

OF- Jacob May

I recognize that Smith is probably a guarantee to start the season in Charlotte, especially because of his weaknesses at the plate.  He’s a good defender, though, and his familiarity with the pitching staff holdovers, as well as with manager Rick Renteria, should, in my opinion, earn him a roster spot for Opening Day.

Sanchez, formerly known as Carlos, is another guy that isn’t all that great at the bat, but whose defense should earn him a spot on the team.  He won’t see much playing time, since the guys in front of him figure to play a part of the team’s future, but will be a valuable reserve, and left-handed bat, to have around.

I didn’t expect May, a former third round draft pick in 2013 that hasn’t exactly excelled in the minors, to play a role on this year’s team.  But in a year in which there are lots of available roster spots and where we should expect the unexpected, the versatile outfielder has had a great spring and has essentially played himself onto the roster.  He could see a lot of time, too, especially with Tilson’s foot issues and Garcia’s frustrating inconsistencies.

 

Rotation:

Jose Quintana- LHP

Carlos Rodon- LHP

James Shields- RHP

Miguel Gonzalez- RHP

Derek Holland- LHP

Now that former ace Chris Sale is in Boston, it’s Jose Quintana’s show now.  There’s still a pretty decent chance that the lefty gets shipped somewhere this year, whether it be before the season starts or towards the trade deadline, but assuming he’s on the team to start the year, he’ll finally get a chance at being “the man” in a big-league rotation.  Behind him, Rodon is probably the only guy that showed any real type of consistency last year; he’s got some control issues to work out, but still has one of the most underrated fastballs in the game and is a good compliment to Q at the top.

The other three guys in the rotation are… shaky, to say the least.  James Shields was acquired mid-season last year in hopes that he would recover the form that made him elite in Tampa Bay and Kansas City; he ended up being worse after the trade than before it, and that’s saying something.  Miguel Gonzalez was picked up after being released by the Orioles last year and was incredibly inconsistent.  Derek Holland is coming off of major shoulder surgery.  All of these guys have the potential to be as good as #2 pitchers, but the issues that they’ve had—control problems, injury issues, and lots and lots of homers allowed—won’t go away fast; I expect them to have a pretty tough year.

 

Bullpen:

Zach Burdi- RHP

Zach Putnam- RHP

Michael Ynoa- RHP

Cory Luebke- LHP

Dan Jennings- LHP

Nate Jones- RHP

Jake Petricka- RHP

David Robertson- RHP (closer)

The Sox bullpen is going to see a lot of action this year, especially if Quintana is traded away.  That much is incredibly clear.  Outside of Nate Jones, Dan Jennings, and David Robertson, though, there aren’t many guys to be overly confident about.  There’s a couple of guys punching above their weight (Putnam and Ynoa), a couple guys trying to rebuild their careers after some injury issues (Luebke and Petricka), and a youngster (Burdi).  They have some good potential, but if you’re looking for a big area of concern on this team, both in the present and the future, this is it.

I’m also a little bit concerned that Burdi, who was drafted last year after throwing some impressive innings as a starter/closer hybrid at Louisville but profiles more as a closer in the pros, is a good fit for this roster at the moment—Jones and Robertson have the back end of the ‘pen locked down—but if Robertson, who was heavily involved in trade rumors this off-season, gets moved, it’ll have been a good choice to choose the local kid for the major league roster as opposed to some of the more highly-touted starters that the team recently acquired (more on them later).  For now, I don’t think he’s a great fit, and hope that if he does make the roster that it isn’t a detriment to his career.

 

Possible Call-Ups:

3B- Matt Davidson

IF- Yoan Moncada

OF- Peter Bourjos

That Davidson is currently in consideration for a roster spot this season is a testament to the hard work that he’s put in over the last 3 years in Charlotte.  He batted .268 last season, which wasn’t brilliant, but he flashed some of the power and fielding ability that inspired the Sox to trade for him in exchange for Addison Reed.  If Cody Asche or Carlos Sanchez struggle at all, expect to see Davidson get an extensive shot in the big leagues this season.

Moncada is well-known to be the team’s top prospect, but since he has the most big-league experience of all the team’s up-and-comers, I’m putting him here so we can talk about all of the incredible youngsters coming up in the team’s system.  Moncada is a freak athlete that is already exceptional in the field, and once he figures out some holes in his swing, he has the potential to grow into a player very similar to what Astros star Carlos Correa is now.  He’ll see the bigs at some time this year, and he’ll make an immediate impact.

Bourjos, who came up with the Angels, is not a fantastic hitter, but he’s shown enough competence at the plate, and enough excellence in the field, to stick around in the majors for a while.  His bat will (theoretically) keep him behind a couple other players, but with Tilson’s injury history and Jacob May’s rawness, Bourjos could see some time—he might even start the season with the Sox if Tilson starts the season on the DL.

 

Top Prospects:

Reynaldo Lopez- RHP

Michael Kopech- RHP

Lucas Giolito- RHP

C- Zack Collins

Carson Fulmer- RHP

Lopez certainly looks the most polished out of any of the prospects that the Sox acquired after trading away Sale and Eaton.  In fact, were Lopez not sent down to AAA the other day, I’d have thought he’d stayed with the big club, in a role similar to the one that Sale had when he was initially called up.  He’ll get some time to polish his stuff for a little while, and I bet that he’ll be called up within a couple months; he doesn’t have the ceiling as some of his fellow youngsters, but he’s sure to be a consistent fixture before we know it.

Kopech is one of the freakiest pitchers at any level—his fastball has touched 103 in-game, and he has the potential to eclipse 105 one day if he keeps up his unorthodox workout routines.  He struggled with his control and attitude when in Boston’s system, so he’ll start in either A or AA, but if he lessens his focus on speed and puts a little more effort into locating his pitches, he’s got the chance of being a bigger, stronger version of Justin Verlander.

Giolito was the biggest name that the Sox got in the deal for Adam Eaton.  Out of anyone, the former high school draft pick has the best stuff—mid 90’s heat, a big breaking curve, and a sneaky good changeup—but has gotten hammered in his limited big league action, as his effectiveness fluctuates like a roller coaster.  Personally, I see him turning into more of a Jon Adkins than a Stephen Strasburg, but if he can fulfill his potential, he’ll be a frontline starter for many years to come.

Collins is one of two homegrown prospects that profiles as one of the 100 best in baseball.  His college career actually very closely mirrors Kyle Schwarber’s- both were bigger, solid-hitting catchers that many viewed to be reaches as draft picks, but ended up raking in rookie ball.  The former Miami man hit a bit of a wall in Single A, so he might take a bit longer than Schwarber to develop, but he certainly has the potential to reach the Cubs star’s level.

Fulmer has been overshadowed by Collins and the profiles of the bigger-named prospects the team has acquired in trades, but we can’t ignore the former Vanderbilt star’s ability.  He struggled in his limited time in the majors last year, and he certainly needs some adjustments in the minor leagues, but there’s a reason Rick Hahn made him a first round draft pick.  I don’t expect him to see any time in Chicago this year, but if he does, it’ll be because he’s flashing the ability that makes him a potential future ace.

 

Possible Surprises:

C- Geovany Soto

UT- Leury Garcia

SP- Chris Volstad

Catcher is probably the weakest position of the current major league roster, and Soto has a fantastic opportunity to eke another year or two in the big leagues.  His bat has really fallen off a cliff these past couple seasons, but he’s always been pretty solid against lefties, and his veteran experience could be valuable to a team that’s sure to be filled with young faces.

Leury Garcia doesn’t fit the traditional profile of a utility player—he’s a little on the small side but he is capable of playing in both the infield and the outfield, and showed that he is a very capable backup while filling in for Adam Eaton when he was injured back in 2013.  His best spot now is probably in the infield, though, and I think he’ll see the big club if either Sanchez, Saladino, or even Asche (Frazier moves to DH) struggle to get going.

On the pitching side of things, Volstad is another veteran that has a chance to make a difference for the Sox this season.  The 6’8” starter last pitched for an MLB team back in 2015, but in a league that greatly values hurlers that have one exceptional pitch, Volstad’s sinker has always been a good out pitch.  It has the potential to boost him into spot starter role if the team’s young guns struggle, or if they’re searching for an innings-eater at the back of the rotation.

 

Season Prediction:

Projected Order

SS    Anderson

2B   Saladino

1B   Abreu

3B   Frazier

LF    Cabrera

DH   Asche

RF    Garcia

C     Navarez

CF   Tilson

I recognize that I’ve been fairly negative in my outlook for many aspects of this year’s team for the Sox, and rightly so—they’ve got some pretty glaring weaknesses, and they don’t really have much of a chance to contend for the play-offs, much less make them.  Assuming that Frazier and Abreu stick around for the season, they’ll have a somewhat competent offense, and if Quintana stays, then they might even have a chance of being better than the Twins this year.  The way this rebuild is going, though, I can’t see Rick Hahn keeping Q around for the whole year.  The Sox offense will end up around league average, but after the team’s ace is traded, their pitching staff will merely be adequate, and in a league where the talent level is rapidly growing, that won’t be good enough.  They won’t be too terrible, though; that adequate offense will allow them to top the Twins and stay out of the cellar in the AL Central.  That doesn’t mean that they won’t end up as one of the worst five teams in baseball, because they certainly will be; but they’ve got some pieces of a future core that will surely lift the Sox back into the national spotlight real soon.

Please note that rosters have not yet been finalized, and that the 25-man roster, and the other sections listed, are just predictions.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: 2017 MLB Season Preview | Kevin J. Gaffney

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