Chicago White Sox 2018 season preview: Moving on to Phase 2 of the rebuild
The White Sox have several exciting young players on the MLB roster with more in the minors
For a little while there, the 2017 Chicago White Sox were a feel-good story. They committed to a rebuild last offseason by trading away Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, yet there they were on May 4, owners of a respectable 15-12 record. Who doesn't love a good underdog story?
Things went downhill after that. The ChiSox went 55-80 the rest of the way and finished with the fourth worst record in baseball. Along the way they traded Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Melky Cabrera, Miguel Gonzalez, Anthony Swarzak, and Dan Jennings for prospects. Give GM Rick Hahn credit. He is taking no half-measures with this rebuild.
Following the trade, the White Sox let several highly-regarded prospects get their feet wet at the MLB level, most notably second baseman Yoan Moncada (part of the Sale trade) and righty Lucas Giolito (part of the Eaton trade). Others like righties Reynaldo Lopez (Eaton trade) and Carson Fulmer (2015 first-round pick) also got some big-league time late last year.
The White Sox are moving on to Phase 2 of their rebuild now, which means incorporating all those top prospects into the big league roster. Baseball America says Chicago has the fourth best farm system in the game, and that's with Moncada and Giolito (and Lopez) losing their rookie eligibility in 2017 and no longer qualifying as prospects.
Chances are the White Sox won't be very good in 2018 -- for what it's worth, both FanGraphs and PECOTA project them as a 90-something loss team this year -- but they have an awful lot of exciting young talent on the roster, plus more prospects on the way. Let's preview their upcoming 2018 season.
- 2017 record: 67-95 (minus-114 run differential)
- 2018 depth chart: Click here.
- 2018 schedule: Click here.
Are Abreu and Garcia really sticking around?
Over the winter the White Sox reportedly received trade interest in first baseman Jose Abreu and right fielder Avisail Garcia, but they held on to both, partly because the team values their leadership and wants them around to guide the young players. Abreu in particular has been praised for mentoring the club's younger big leaguers.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Abreu hit .304/.354/.552 (140 OPS+) with 43 doubles and 33 home runs last season while Garcia put up a .330/.380/.506 (137 OPS+) batting line with 18 home runs. These are two high-quality players and they're both under team control through the 2019 season, so there's no urgency to move them. The ChiSox can keep them, let them rake and mentor the kids, and gauge the trade market the next two years.
There is something to be said for respectability. The White Sox are rebuilding are it behooves them to win as few games as possible given the draft and international free agency rewards, but there's also an obligation to fans and paying customers to at least try to field a competitive team. Abreu and Garcia could be moved at any moment. For now, they'll stick around and help the ChiSox avoid being a total pushover, and also provide leadership in a young clubhouse.
Who else could be traded for prospects?
Abreu and Garcia are the obvious candidates here. Aside from them, Hahn again figures to cash in any serviceable relievers as trade chips, similar to last season with Robertson, Kahnle, and Swarzak. Pitching coach Don Cooper has turned around many careers -- Kahnle and Swarzak are two great examples -- so if he gets, say, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan and Danny Farquhar on track, expect them to be moved. Ditto ace setup man Nate Jones once he returns from elbow surgery.
Gonzalez re-signed with the White Sox over the winter, and since it's a one-year contract, he's likely to again be dangled at the deadline. Rental starters are always in demand. James Shields will be an interesting case. He's no longer the pitcher he was in his prime, but the San Diego Padres are paying $11 million of his $22 million salary this season, the final season on his contract. If he's effective, which is a big if -- Shields had a 5.23 ERA (82 ERA+) in 117 innings last year -- he could have a trade market at midseason.
The wild card: Carlos Rodon. He is coming back from offseason shoulder surgery and isn't expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, and he's been just OK the last two years (4.07 ERA and 101 ERA+). His trade value isn't sky-high at the moment. That said, Rondon is still only 25 and he's under team control through 2021. If he shows he's healthy this year, he figures to generate trade buzz. Of course, if Rodon is healthy, the ChiSox will probably want to keep him as part of their rebuild.
Can Anderson get back on track?
In 2016, shortstop and 2013 first-round pick Tim Anderson had an impressive MLB debut, hitting .283/.306/.432 (100 OPS+) with nine home runs and +2.8 WAR in 99 games. The ChiSox were so impressed they signed Anderson to a six-year contract worth $25 million last spring. It's the largest contract ever given to a player with less than one full year of service time.
Year 1 of the contract did not go well. Anderson authored a .257/.276/.402 (80 OPS+) batting line with 17 home runs and +0.9 WAR in 146 games last season. The good news? Anderson is still only 24, and he was much better in the second half than the first last year. Check it out:
Anderson doesn't project to be a high on-base hitter -- he drew only 64 walks in nearly 1,500 minor-league plate appearances -- but he has good bat-to-ball skills, sneaky power, and the type of high-end athleticism that should allow him to be a very good defensive shortstop. Even if posts a .310 or so on-base percentage, Anderson does enough other things well to be a +3 WAR player (or better) going forward.
One of the team's goals this season will be getting Anderson back on track, and back to where he was in 2016. He's not the first young player to struggle in his first full MLB season and he won't be the last. Now that he has a year of MLB experience under his belt, Anderson could be ready to take off in 2018.
Which top prospects will debut in 2018?
Even with Moncada and Giolito in the big leagues, the White Sox still have several high-end prospects who could reach MLB this year. Chief among them is outfielder Eloy Jimenez, the centerpiece in the Quintana trade. The 21-year-old hit .312/.379/.568 with 19 home runs last season and reached Double-A. Jimenez is likely to begin the year back to Double-A, but going from Double-A to Triple-A to MLB in 2018 is not out of the question.
Here's what MLB.com has to say about Jimenez, who they ranked as the fourth-best prospect in baseball prior to spring training:
His massive raw pop, generated with impressive bat speed and leverage from the right side of the plate, earns him comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton. He recognizes pitches well, makes savvy adjustments, doesn't try to do too much and is making progress with his plate discipline ... Though Jimenez may not offer much beyond his bat, he still can become a superstar.
Right-hander Michael Kopech, the second piece in the Sale trade, is the third-best pitching prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com. The 21-year-old is the hardest thrower in the minors -- Kopech has reportedly hit 105 mph in the past -- and last season he posted a 2.88 ERA with a 172/65 K/BB in 134 1/3 minor-league innings, mostly at Double-A. Kopech did make three starts at Triple-A and will begin 2018 at the level. The chances of him debuting this summer are quite high. Others like righties Alec Hansen, Thyago Vieira, and Connor Walsh could be 2018 factors as well.
Third baseman Jake Burger is one top prospect who definitely will not make his MLB debut in 2018. . It's a tough break for the 11th overall pick in the 2017 draft, who had a chance to hit his way to the big leagues in a hurry a la Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto.
Your rebuild is going well when you have prospects like Jimenez and Kopech knocking on the door. When you have Jimenez and Kopech knocking on the door and Moncada and Giolito at the big-league level, well then you're in a really great shape.
For a rebuilding club, the White Sox don't have many positions up for grabs this spring. Left field and maybe the DH spot. That's pretty much it. Here is manager Rick Renteria's projected lineup:
- CF Charlie Tilson
- 2B Yoan Moncada
- 1B Jose Abreu
- RF Avisail Garcia
- C Welington Castillo
- DH Nicky Delmonico
- SS Tim Anderson
- 3B Yolmer Sanchez
- LF Leury Garcia
Bench: C Omar Narvaez, IF Tyler Saladino, 3B Matt Davidson, OF Willy Garcia
Davidson will factor into the third base and DH situations, and Willy Garcia could challenge Tilson and Leury Garcia for playing time as well.. I imagine the same thing will happen a few times this year.
The ChiSox have a nice mix of veteran trade chips and promising youngsters headlining their starting five. Here is the projected rotation:
- RHP James Shields
- RHP Miguel Gonzalez
- RHP Lucas Giolito
- RHP Reynaldo Lopez
- RHP Carson Fulmer
Rodon will presumably rejoin the rotation once he completes his rehab from shoulder surgery. That may not happen until June, however.
As always, the bullpen is the land of opportunity for a rebuilding team. If you can get outs, the White Sox will give you a chance. Here is Renteria's projected relief crew:
Jones is working his way back from surgery to re-position a nerve in his elbow, and he may not be ready for Opening Day. If not, it opens the door for a someone like Vieira, Rob Scahill, Aaron Bummer, or Jace Fry to break camp with the team.
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