The Chicago White Sox look to be at the end of their long rebuild after an active offseason. They finished last season in third place in the American League central with just 72 wins but 2020 looks to be much more positive for the White Sox. Here’s a preview of their 2020 campaign…
The White Sox drastically improved their lineup with the additions of Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion and Nomar Mazara. The signings of Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez and Steve Cishek have also added some experience to their young pitching staff.
As well as the big names added via free-agency and trade, the White Sox also gave Jose Abreu a three year $50 million contract. Abreu was a free agent and the White Sox extended a qualifying offer. The agreed deal means that they have Abreu locked down for longer with a lower AAV. Whilst the security of having one of their most reliable hitters under contract for longer seems like a positive now, it may cause issues in the future as it prevents flexibility with hitting prospects that will be debuting in the majors over the next few seasons.
Perhaps the most significant deal of the offseason was the long-term extension given to Luis Robert. Robert is currently ranked the third best prospect in baseball and with his extension worth a potential $88 million, he could potentially be in Chicago for the next eight seasons.
Young hitters finally arriving
Robert will certainly be on the opening day roster and will likely have one of the outfield spots locked down for the entire season. While he may not perform at an all-star level straight away, the expectations are high and he has the talent to become one of the best hitters in the league for the next decade.
Nick Madrigal is also expected to make his debut this year and will likely become the White Sox’s long term second baseman when he does. He only played 29 games at triple-A last season but if he continues hitting like he did for most of last season, we may well see him in the first half of the season.
Madrigal and Robert are expected to be the two most exciting position players making their debuts this season but they will not be the first elite hitting prospects to debut over the last couple of seasons. Yoan Moncada is still only 24 and last season was only his second season as an everyday player. Last season was also a breakout for Moncada (.915 OPS) and it seems that he has turned a corner after a disappointing start.
Moncada’s track record shows how elite prospects can take time to find their feet but the talent level remains. However, some prospects show how talented they are straight away. Another example of an elite White Sox hitting prospect is Eloy Jimenez. His rookie year was last season and like Robert was tied down to a long extension. Jimenez had a solid rookie year (.828 OPS) but there is a good chance that his numbers improve given how highly rated he was as a hitter before his debut.
If Madrigal and Robert can follow Jimenez’s path and hit the ground running, the White Sox may well have one of the best lineups in baseball in a years time. However, even if they struggle in 2020 the White Sox will be in a strong position to continue improving for a few more years.
Pitching performances will define White Sox’s season
With the additions to the Sox’s are almost certain to have an above average offense in 2020, with a chance to be one of the best in the league, especially after their offseason additions. The pitching staff however has a much lower floor.
The additions of Keuchel and Gonzalez give them some more reliable innings and you would expect both to be around league average. Lucas Giolito will also be expected to be a key part of the rotation after his breakout season in 2019. Beyond these three there is a very talented group of young pitchers that are yet to prove themselves in the majors.
The White Sox have had a degree of bad luck with their pitching prospects. Many of them have suffered injuries that have affected their development and 2020 will show whether these former top prospects can bounce back. Michael Kopech is perhaps the most important from this group in terms of how high the ceiling of this White Sox team can be.
Kopech was one of the top few pitching prospects in baseball before he was injured late in the 2018 season. After Tommy John surgery Kopech missed the entirety of 2019. Before his injury Kopech had a fastball that could hit triple digits and the early signs from spring training are that he still has elite velocity. There is hope that Kopech can pick up from where he left off. If he can get anywhere near his potential this year it could transform the White Sox from wildcard contenders to division favourites.
Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease both had relatively unsuccessful runs in the rotation before their seasons were cut short by injury. However, like Kopech, they both have elite stuff and it showed in the majors with K/9 rates of 11.9 and 10 respectively. Cease will be ready to go from the opening day of the regular season and 2020 will be an important season for his long term development. Rodon however will not be back until the second half after needing Tommy John surgery last season.
On top of Kopech, Cease and Rodon, Carson Fulmer and Reynaldo Lopez are also talented young pitchers that could have breakout seasons. Lopez has much more major league experience than the others with limited success, therefore his expectations are lowered but Fulmer has only had relatively short stints in the majors and as a former top 50 prospect (according to MLB pipeline) he is clearly talented.
With a wealth of young pitching talent, the White Sox have been waiting for a dominant rotation to come through. 2020 will need to be a big step towards this goal if the long rebuild can be deemed a success. On the other hand breakout seasons from a number of their young pitchers could make them World Series contenders. Ultimately, the White Sox’ success will come down to how well Rick Renteria manages his young pitchers and whether they can turn their raw talent into consistent results at the major league level.