Remember all the talk about Rick Hahn having no clue what he is doing? Needless to say, everyone has eaten crow on that one.
The White Sox’s farm system is one of, if not the best in the league now, boasting Eloy Jimenez (#4 prospect in baseball), Michael Kopech (#10), Luis Robert (#28), and Alec Hansen (#54).
That being said, the White Sox are on pace to do better this year than many expect.
While he didn’t blow the roof off in big league audition last season, the Sox expect Yoan Moncada to break out, and for good reason. The game’s top prospect at the time of call-up last season, Moncada got on base at a .338 clip while maintaining an above average wRC+.
Yoan Moncada is a BEAST pic.twitter.com/ffx9B4ejdv
— Sox On 35th (@SoxOn35th) September 23, 2017
Moncada has unheralded power for a second baseman and given that home runs aren’t likely to suddenly be at a premium next season, Moncada looks to be a potentially huge threat at the plate once again next season.
While there wasn’t an offseason addition, the Sox’ pitching rotation also looks to be ready to jump to the next level this year. Both Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, who were acquired in the Adam Eaton trade last offseason, are in the cards to be potential Cy Young candidates for the Sox down the road.
Giolito was great in his stint in the bigs last season, posting a better ERA- than even Clayton Kershaw last season. However, that being said, his xFIP- did creep above the 100 mark, so the ERA- is likely more of an anomaly than anything. However, that being said, if Giolito can learn to command his curveball more than he was able to last season, he is on pace to be a stud pitcher in this league very soon.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) September 3, 2017
That being said, he lowered his curveball rate last season in order to try and develop a slider. While pitching coach Don Cooper hasn’t publicly stated reasoning for the development of Giolito’s slider, he has said that fastball control will be Giolito’s main concern this upcoming season. Giolito’s velocity dropped under Cooper last season, which could have been the first step of that process. That being said, he is the safest bet out of anyone in the White Sox’ current rotation.
Reynaldo Lopez was a lot rockier last season. Lopez finished the season with a 5.75 xFIP, well worse than league average. Lopez has great stuff, including a 70-grade fastball, but wasn’t able to put it all together last season in Chicago. Much like Giolito, Lopez didn’t throw that fastball as much as one would expect, only throwing it at a 61% clip.
However, neither Lopez nor Giolito will likely get a chance to throw it more this season. That isn’t Don Cooper’s MO. Lopez may settle in as a #2 starter for the Sox this year, but as guys like Kopech come along, he may be on the outside looking in unless he has made some huge changes this offseason.
Their main problems are beyond those two in their starting rotation, and especially their bullpen. Hahn’s worst move in Chicago came when he dealt Fernando Tatis Jr., now the 8th best prospect in baseball, for James Shields. While he is listed atop the depth chart at the time of publication, that won’t cut it.
As for their bullpen, it’s all kinds of horrible. They added Joakim Soria in a three-team trade over the offseason, but he is looking to be their closer. While Soria isn’t exactly horrible, he is in no way, shape, or form supposed to be the best player in any team’s bullpen.
They also added flamethrower Thyago Vieira from the Seattle Mariners, but he struggled at AAA last season, and it’s unsure if he can be relied upon. If Don Cooper can fix him up and make him reliable at the major league level, this bullpen looks like a coherant unit, but don’t bet on it.
As for the lineup, two names stand out: Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia.
I honestly thought both would be gone by now, especially considering the hauls that Hahn got for Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, and Jose Quintana. However, they will start 2018 on the South Side of Chicago and are a huge part of the reason this team will have a relative amount of success this season.
Garcia had a monstrous breakout season last year, slashing .330/.380/.506, which was good for a 137 wRC+. This was Garcia’s first ever year significantly above average at the plate, and only his second ever with a positive WAR. Because of this, he is inevitably due for some regression.
However, it is the extent of that regression that could be the difference between 3-4 wins this year for the South Siders. Steamer currently has Avi projected to hit .282, but interestingly also has him raising his home run total from 18 to 19. With the league inevitably pushing for juiced balls again this year, a home run increase seems like a relatively safe bet.
If Garcia can stay above 120 wRC+, as opposed to the 112 that Steamer seems to be running with, he will again be an all-star.
Steamer also seems to be really skeptical of first baseman Jose Abreu, projecting him with a below-average 98 wRC+. This would be Abreu’s worst showing in his career, and I personally highly doubt he gets down that low. Again, he may regress, but Abreu has been relatively consistent throughout his career, and a drop that significant is highly unlikely.
Another name to keep an eye out for is Nicky Delmonico. The rookie was responsible for 1.0 WAR last season, despite only playing in 43 games. Extrapolate that to a full season, and Delmonico would be responsible for 3.7 WAR. If Delmonico comes even close to replicating what he did last year over a full season, he will for sure be a weapon for the Sox this upcoming season.
It is also worth noting that, as the rebuild progresses, more top prospects may make their major league debuts this upcoming season. Both Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech have been in spring training with the team, and are both listed as 2018 arrivals, and both have the star power to make instant impacts in the MLB.
Kopech has been clocked at 105 MPH during an actual minor league game and has even hit 110 MPH when given a running start.
There’s a possibility that, when it is all set and done, Kopech is the best player Hahn acquired during his rebuild. If he can consistently locate that fastball, as well as one offspeed pitch, he could essentially become the starting version of Aroldis Chapman. Not bad for a guy who was the #2 piece in the Chris Sale deal.
As for Eloy Jimenez, the kid can mash. He’s a true designated hitter, but Jimenez is up there as one of the best hitting prospects that Theo Epstein acquired during his time with the Cubs. The centerpiece of the Jose Quintana trade, Jimenez has power to burn.
Cubs stud prospect, Eloy Jimenez, knocks out a stadium light with this laser (2nd pitch) 💥pic.twitter.com/8KG5HxOiQg
— Dugout Nation (@DugoutNation) June 20, 2017
Remember this video? Yes, Jimenez smashed that lightpole deep past the wall in left-center.
While Jimenez is a stud, if he comes up, one of him or Delmonico will have to play in the field, something neither is good at. However, I don’t see that being a problem for Rick Renteria, especially if both produce at the plate.
Like every hitter in the AL Central, the White Sox benefit from the rest of the division is insanely weak. No longer do the Sox have to face Justin Verlander twice a year, which, in theory, should help their bats succeed. Believe it or not, the White Sox are the third best team in their division. The Royals and Tigers are that bad.
The only thing with that, however, is the fact that the White Sox are not a playoff team. At least not talent-wise. They are going to put up more wins than expected next year, but that isn’t exactly a fault of their own.
This year may not be their year, but they are definitely on the right track, and they have the right guy at the helm managing the club.
Record Prediction: 79-83
(Photo credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)