Something is brewing on the South Side of Chicago, and the sleeping giant that is the White Sox’ dedicated fan base is set to be awakened in a short time. However, while it appears that a black and white revolution in Chicago is on the horizon, the White Sox do not seem fit to contend just yet.
After a slew of shrewd acquisitions this offseason, the Sox’ lineup looks dangerous and powerful. The group is headlined by Yoán Moncada, whose breakout 2019 campaign earned him a lucrative $70 million extension.
Moncada was a prize of the 2016 blockbuster that sent Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox; the left-handed ace had spent his entire seven-year career to that point with Chicago. At the time, Moncada was regarded as one of the top prospects in the sport, but his initial inconsistencies with the White Sox led many to prematurely deem him a “bust”.
That all changed in 2019, as he was worth 5.7 fWAR, which ranked sixth among all qualified third basemen. He mashed 25 homers and recorded a 141 wRC+, along with his excellent baserunning and defense at the hot corner. Moncada fits exceptionally well into the modern leadoff role, which has been popularized by power-hitters like George Springer, Ronald Acuña Jr., and potentially Kris Bryant.
As it has for much of the recent past, the Sox’ offense will also be anchored by José Abreu. The first-baseman re-signed with Chicago after hitting free agency this offseason, and is coming off a 2019 effort in which he blasted 33 homers and led the American League with 123 RBI. While age may take a toll on Abreu’s production, he is still likely to be a significant contributor for this offense, as the club’s rebuilt young position player core begins to blossom around him.
The Sox added Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnación in free agency to serve the same purpose, as each are experienced and accomplished veterans who will fortify the club’s offense.
Grandal has been one of the premier offensive catchers in the league for the last several years; his 28 homers led all catchers in 2019, and his 5.2 fWAR was the second-highest of any backstop. Grandal is also known for his pitch framing, which makes him the ideal catcher for the young arms of this White Sox pitching staff.
Encarnación will not add much in the name of defense, but his bat should play well in the middle of the Sox’ lineup. While his best days are probably behind him, Edwin was still able to compile 34 homers during his time with the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees last season. Encarnación has gone deep 414 times in his career, and has homered at least 30 times in every season since 2012; he will look to continue this streak on the South Side.
The leadoff spot of the White Sox Opening Day lineup could plausibly be occupied by Luis Robert, the organization’s top prospect. Robert is a tremendously athletic and talented centerfielder whose bat seems Major League ready at age 22, as his career minor league OPS is .932 across 200 contests. The Sox signed Robert to a six-year, $50 million extension this off-season, voiding any service time issue and clearing the way for him to reach the club’s Major League roster at the start of the season.
Tim Anderson and Eloy Jiménez, each of whom have solid bats but questionable on-base ability, will also be regulars in the White Sox’ 2020 lineup. Anderson was fantastic last season, slashing .335/.357/.508, but his unsustainably high .399 batting average on balls in play and frighteningly low 2.9% walk rate suggest that regression is coming for the young shortstop. Jiménez showcased immense power in his rookie campaign, as he homered 31 times in 2019. Like Anderson, however, his on-base skills must improve, as he walked at just a 6.0% clip in his first season – while striking out 26.6% of the time.
The White Sox’ offense will undoubtedly clobber an abundance of homers, but their ceiling will be determined by whether or not the group can maintain plate discipline as a whole. Chicago’s 6.3% walk rate in 2019 was the lowest of any team in baseball; the Sox must reverse this trend if they are to even dream of contending for a playoff spot. The noted patience of the aforementioned Grandal and Encarnación will certainly aid this effort.
Breakout star Lucas Giolito is the ace of a starting staff that is fascinating in terms of upside. Giolito, once a top prospect, took time to develop but delivered in a huge way in 2019. The righty was worth 5.1 fWAR, and struck out 11.62 batters per-nine-innings. He struggled with control early in his career, but last season was able to pinpoint his entire arsenal, which includes an electric fastball and darting changeup. Giolito has become a pitch-tunneling artist – which is a practice that deceives hitters and makes it impossible to differentiate between each pitch type.The pair of Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech will also vie for rotation spots, as both are young starters that ooze potential. Cease (along with Eloy Jiménez) was acquired in a 2017 deal with the crosstown Cubs that sent pitcher José Quintana to the North Side, which looks more and more like a heist for the Sox with every passing day. Cease debuted last season, but was erratic (4.32 walks-per-nine) and inconsistent in the 14 games he started. However, his raw stuff, should he learn to control it, is elite – and serves as evidence that Cease could one day become a true ace. Kopech, who is just as young and just as talented as Cease, has been compared to Noah Syndergaard, and was able to pitch briefly in 2018 before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The other big fish that the White Sox reeled in this winter was starter Dallas Keuchel, who should stabilize an unproven rotation. Keuchel has fallen off since he won the 2015 AL Cy Young Award with the Houston Astros, but is still a decent starting option. Nonetheless, his 4.72 FIP last season with the Atlanta Braves, which was much higher than his 3.75 ERA, should be worrisome for the Sox after they handed the lefty a three-year, $55.5 million deal.
Reynaldo López and Gio González will also compete for rotation spots on the 2020 White Sox.
The Sox’ bullpen – like many across baseball – is hard to predict. Alex Colomé was an effective closer in 2019, but there is some reason to suspect that he may struggle in future seasons, as his 4.08 FIP starkly contrasted with his 2.80 ERA in ‘19. Aaron Bummer, who the Sox also signed to an extension this offseason, features a powerful sinker from the left side. Kelvin Herrera will hope to recapture his past dominance, and newcomer Steve Cishek will shore up the middle innings.
In analyzing the White Sox as an organization, it looks as though they are on the cusp of a sustained run of success – but do not start printing playoff tickets just yet.
Projected Divisional Finish (AL Central):
Projected Opening Day Lineup and Rotation (Fangraphs 2020 fWAR Projections for each player in parentheses):
Luis Robert CF (2.5)
Yoán Moncada 3B (3.9)
José Abreu 1B (1.4)
Yasmani Grandal C (5.1)
Edwin Encarnación DH (1.4)
Eloy Jiménez LF (2.2)
Tim Anderson SS (1.9)
Nomar Mazara RF (0.9)
Leury García 2B (1.0)
Lucas Giolito (5.2)
Dallas Keuchel (2.4)
Dylan Cease (2.1)
Gio González (1.8)
Reynaldo López (2.2)