Chicago White Sox 2019 season preview: The rebuild continues after Manny Machado and Bryce Harper bids fall short

The fourth longest active postseason drought in baseball is now a decade old. The Chicago White Sox missed the postseason for the 10th consecutive year in 2019, and their 100 losses were their most since 1970. It was only the fourth 100-loss season in franchise history, and the White Sox have been around forever.

"It's been a lot of ups, a lot of downs. Probably more downs than ups. Obviously, we have a long way to go," manager Rick Renteria said to Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun Times last September. "The numbers are what they are. I have to reflect on how we got to that point, the things we need to do to correct it and move on."

The White Sox made some headlines this past offseason with their pursuits of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, but they fell short on both, and again go into 2019 as a clear rebuilder. They have some talent, no doubt, the goal now is to figuring out how to get that talent to take a step toward contention.

Probable lineup

  1. RF Jon Jay
  2. 3B Yoan Moncada
  3. DH Jose Abreu
  4. 1B Yonder Alonso
  5. C Welington Castillo
  6. LF Daniel Palka
  7. SS Tim Anderson
  8. 2B Yolmer Sanchez
  9. CF Adam Engel

Bench: C James McCann, UTIL Leury Garcia, OF Brandon Guyer

The White Sox made the decision to flip Moncada and Sanchez on the infield over the winter. Moncada has been the team's regular second baseman the last year and a half. Now he's moving back to third, a position he has played in the past. Jay and Alonso were two veteran additions that, depending on who you believe, were intended to lure Machado to the south side because they're close friends. If true, it didn't work. Jay and Alonso are still two solid veterans who will help the ChiSox be respectable.

Probable rotation

  1. LHP Carlos Rodon
  2. RHP Reynaldo Lopez
  3. RHP Ivan Nova
  4. RHP Ervin Santana
  5. RHP Lucas Giolito

Clearly, losing top prospect Michael Kopech to Tommy John surgery late last year was devastating. This season was supposed to be his coming out party. Instead, he'll spend the year rehabbing. What a bummer. Nova and Santana, like Jay and Alonso, are solid veteran pickups who will help the White Sox be something more than a pushover this season. 

Probable bullpen

Closer: RHP Kelvin Herrera
Setup: RHP Alex Colome, RHP Nate Jones
Middle: LHP Caleb Frare, LHP Jace Fry, RHP Ian Hamilton, RHP Juan Minaya
Long: LHP Manny Banuelos

The White Sox spent some capital (prospects and money) to add Colome and Herrera, who will give them a good chance to lock down late-inning leads. Also, both should be nice midseason trade chips, assuming Herrera returns to form following last year's foot injury. Contending teams are always looking for bullpen help. Frare is someone to watch. He struck out 77 batters in 57 1/3 minor-league innings last year and had nine strikeouts in seven big-league innings. He might only be a left-on-left specialist, but he could be a very good one.

When will we see Eloy?

MLB: Chicago White Sox-Media Day
White Sox fans and MLB fans everywhere await the arrival of Eloy Jimenez. USATSI

This is the question on everyone's mind. Eloy Jimenez is on the very short list of the top prospects in baseball and, if service time manipulation was not a thing, he likely would've made his MLB debut last season. Jimenez hit .337/.384/.577 with 28 doubles and 22 home runs in 108 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year, and he did that as a 21-year-old. Golly.

MLB.com current ranks Jimenez as the third best prospect in baseball. Here is a snippet of their scouting report:

Jimenez has some of the best raw power in baseball, which he generates with electric bat speed plus the strength and leverage in his 6-foot-4 frame. His pop has elicited comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton, but he's a better hitter than Stanton. He excels at recognizing pitches and making adjustments, allowing him to repeatedly barrel the ball with high exit velocities to all fields.

I know this much: Jimenez will be called up no earlier than Friday, April 12. Jimenez and every other prospect with zero MLB service time has to spend at least 15 days in the minors this year to push their free agency back from the 2024-25 offseason to the 2025-26 offseason. April 12 is the 16th day of the season. That is the absolute earliest he will arrive.

Because the White Sox are unlikely to contend this year -- SportsLine projects them to win 67 games in 2019 -- it is possible they will keep Jimenez in Triple-A long enough to ensure he will not be Super Two eligible, meaning he'd go through arbitration four times instead of the usual three, and thus cost the team more money. There is no set Super Two date each year, though keeping a player down until July usually does the trick. That would be a real shame.

It could be as early as April 12 or it could be as late as after the All-Star break. At some point though, the White Sox will call up Jimenez this season. It's all but guaranteed.

Is this the year Moncada breaks out?

Important reminder: Moncada is only 23. He'll turn 24 in May. Also, last season was his first full MLB season. I know many baseball fans out there are getting Moncada fatigue, but he's very young and very talented, and giving up on him at this age is silly. Jean Segura hit .246/.289/.326 in his age 24 season. Trevor Story hit .239/.308/.457 and led the league in strikeouts in his age 24 season. Eugenio Suarez? He hit .248/.317/.411 in his age 24 season.

Moncada authored a .235/.315/.400 batting line with 17 home runs and an MLB-leading 217 strikeouts last season, and he was very inconsistent. There were a lot of peaks and valleys throughout the year, and it's not a coincidence he was at his best when he was making contact:

yoan-moncada-ops-and-k.png
Yoan Moncada had a very up and down 2018 season. FanGraphs

The underlying numbers are promising. Moncada posted well-above-average exit velocity (90.6 mph) and hard-hit (44.1 percent) rates, so while he did strike out a ton, his crushed the ball when he connected. You can't fake hitting the ball hard. You can fake hitting .300 for a few weeks, but you can't fake hitting the ball with authority, and Moncada can do that.

After the White Sox decided to move Moncada back to third base, manager Rick Renteria admitted the team is hopeful the position change will help his offense. From Scot Gregor of the Daily Herald:

"We're hoping, honestly, that some of the focus that he's got to take into re-acclimating himself to playing third base will be also part of expanding his offensive capabilities," Renteria said. "And, by the way, if you look at -- and I know this is going to sound crazy -- if you look at the metrics of his hitting, there was a lot of good things in his offensive game last year. 

"I know we focus on the strikeouts and things of that nature, but there were a lot of good things that went on with his ability to have a good eye. On balls in play, his batting average was off the charts. So there are a lot of things that will continue to improve with him." 

A position change leading to an offensive breakout would not be unprecedented. I remain convinced Josh Donaldson broke out a few years ago (partly) because the Athletics moved him from catcher to third base, meaning he had less defensive responsibility and could work more on his offensive game. Moving to a new or more familiar position could definitely help with preparation.

Development is not linear and sometimes it takes players -- even the most talented players in the game -- some time to find their way at the big-league level. Moncada is more or less the centerpiece of Chicago's rebuild. He's a switch-hitter with star-caliber tools who plays a difficult infield position. The White Sox hope he is their Francisco Lindor or Carlos Correa. It hasn't happened yet but that doesn't mean it won't ever happen. Now that he has a full MLB season under his belt, that experience plus the position change could help Moncada have that breakout season in 2019.

Rodon and Giolito rebounds are imperative

MLB: Chicago White Sox-Workouts
The White Sox need Lucas Giolito to live up to his potential as a top of the rotation starter. USATSI

Rodon and Giolito struggled for different reasons in 2018. Rodon had offseason shoulder surgery, and while his 4.18 ERA in 120 2/3 innings isn't terrible, his strikeout rate dipped from 9.9 K/9 in 2017 (and 9.2 K/9 from 2015-17) to 6.7 K/9 in 2018. That is a red flag. No doubt. It wasn't long ago that Rodon was part of the three-headed lefty rotation monster with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. He's the last lefty standing now but hit a bump in the road in 2019.

Giolito stayed healthy and made 32 starts last year, which is impressive in this day and age, but he also led the league in earned runs (118) and walks (90) in 173 1/3 innings. He seemed to try everything throughout the season. More sinkers, fewer four-seam fastballs, more changeups, fewer changeups, the works. The headliner in the Adam Eaton trade has not only yet to establish himself at the MLB level, but he's gone backwards. Still, Giolito is only 24. There's no sense in giving up on him.

The White Sox's rebuild hasn't advanced yet partly because Rodon and Giolito (and Moncada and Anderson) are still struggling to put it all together. In Rodon's and Giolito's case, their importance to the rebuild can't be overstated, especially now that Kopech will miss the year. They are the young arms they ChiSox want to built around, and while both have shown flashes of greatness, the White Sox need both to right ship this year and help the franchise move forward.

The AL Central is terrible. Could the White Sox sneak up on everyone?

Maybe! Probably not, but maybe. The Indians remain the clear-cut favorite in the AL Central in my opinion, though they didn't do a whole lot to get better over the winter. The best thing you can say about Cleveland's offseason is that they didn't trade Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. Their vaunted rotation remains intact.

The Twins had a nice little winter thanks to some shrewd low-cost pickups, but the Tigers and Royals are rebuilding, meaning the White Sox have that much less competition to worry about. For the White Sox to sneak up on everyone and compete for a division title, some combination of the following needs to happen:

  • The Twins and especially the Indians deal with injuries and/or unexpected poor performance.
  • Eloy Jimenez arrives and pulls a Juan Soto/Ronald Acuna, meaning become an instant star.
  • Things click for Moncada and he becomes a switch-hitting version of Matt Chapman.
  • Anderson begins to put it together and becomes a two-way impact player.
  • Rodon and Giolito straighten things out and become above-average starters.
  • One-year rentals like Jay, Alonso, Nova, and Santana provide strong seasons.

That's a lot that has to go the White Sox's way, which is why contention is unlikely, but it's not impossible either. The Athletics went from 75 wins in 2017 to 97 wins in 2018. The Cubs went from 73 wins in 2014 to 97 wins in 2015. When you're loaded with talented young players, it can come together quick. The White Sox have the makings of an excellent core in Jimenez, Moncada, Anderson, Kopech, Giolito, and others. Maybe 2019 isn't their year. At least now we can see where this is all heading.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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