Opening Day approaches, and so my list of the most essential White Sox for 2018 unfolds.
This list is an attempt to determine which players’ seasons are most vital to calling this season a success. It could be because the player is really good (Jose Abreu), a key to the rebuild (Alec Hansen), or hopefully a combination of both (Yoan Moncada).
Putting it another way: It’d be incredible in any respect if a White Sox starter finished top-five in Cy Young voting, but it’d be a lot more meaningful if it were Lucas Giolito instead of Miguel Gonzalez.
The idea of “essential” is merely a loose construct that allows me to summarize expectations for everybody. The specific order might be problematic. For instance, I had Nicky Delmonico as the last man out on last year’s list, and now he’s somewhere on the other half of this list. I had Latham’s Tommy Kahnle (No. 32) and Anthony Swarzak (No. 31) trailing Michael Ynoa (No. 30).
Does it now look silly to have all of them behind Cody Asche? Boy howdy. But they all could have been DFA’d or traded for cash considerations at some point in 2017, and that wouldn’t have been unusual, either. I feel this format documents instances of pleasant surprise well enough to continue making an ass of myself.
As always, this list is limited to players who seem likely to appear in a White Sox game over the course of the 2018 season. Somebody like Luis Robert is on the other side of that line. He’s going to spend the first couple weeks of the season rehabbing his thumb injury according to Chris Getz, after which he’ll head back to Arizona to ramp up baseball activity. If all goes well, that puts him back in Winston-Salem at some point in May. Even the most bullish Robert fans wouldn’t predict him conquering three levels over three or four months.
Likewise, I don’t see somebody like Zack Collins getting into the mix at the end of the year, because it’s not a great bet that he’ll separate himself from Seby Zavala. A more reasonable example of that line is …
- Honorable mention: Zack Burdi
Burdi had Tommy John surgery in July, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think he could be in good enough shape for a September call-up. The bigger obstacle could be a lack of 40-man roster spots, especially since the Downers Grove South product could simply use the Arizona Fall League for further rust removal.
Instead, we’ll start with:
- No. 41: Jose Rondon
There isn’t a whole lot of competition among middle infielders in the upper minors, especially when it comes to guys on the 40-man roster.
All these four relievers have a fair amount of MLB experience. Scahill is the only one who can’t point to an injury as the reason why he only came to the White Sox on a minor-league contract.
- No. 36: Daniel Palka
Charlotte’s roster has its share of sluggerly corner guys — Casey Gillaspie and Matt Skole are two more — but Palka stands alone as the only one with a significant amount of outfield experience, even if he may not be that great at it.
- No. 35: Spencer Adams
He’s thrown 315 innings over the last two seasons, with two-thirds of them coming at Birmingham. He showed flashes of excellence last season, and he already throws strikes with all his pitches, so I could see him making the jump into spot-start territory while more highly touted pitchers take their time.
- No. 34: Kevan Smith
If you can set aside Welington Castillo’s recent spate of testicular trauma, neither he nor Omar Narvaez have notable injury histories. That said, all it takes is another misplaced foul tip for Smith to be in the mix.
Fry got burned in September, a premature audition prompted by the White Sox’ lack of left-handed depth. With multiple southpaws below and above him on this list, Fry will get more time to develop what could be an effective fastball-curveball mix. The same can be said for Vieira from the right side, except he has a huge fastball and a second pitch to be named later.
- No. 31: Tyler Saladino
After hitting .178/.254/.229 last season, Saladino is the most vulnerable position player on the 25-man roster. That said, pessimism works in his favor initially, because if he finds playing time difficult to attain, nobody will argue that it’s hurting his development the way it would for somebody like Ryan Cordell. For the time being, he adds a layer of depth around the entire infield.
- No. 30: Charlie Tilson
Center field is still tenuous enough that the White Sox could easily use what Tilson was supposed to offer when he came over from St. Louis in the Zach Duke trade. I’d set expectations low, but I’d also give it more than a month before confirming expectations.
“Right-handed reliever in his early 30s” was a way to describe Swarzak last year. Farquhar’s approach is based on precision, so Infante has more upside, as evidenced by his finishing 2017 with just 10 baserunners over his last 21 innings. Shoulder soreness delayed the start to his Cactus League, which keeps me from moving him up a few spots.
- No. 27: Omar Narvaez
Narvaez’s plate discipline is impressive, but it’s also somewhat maddening, because imagine the player he’d be if he could do anything else — hit for power, throw, block, receive — at a reliably average level.
The bullpen’s infusion of ballast. Avilan will try to give the Sox the true situational lefty they’ve lacked, while Soria aims to reestablish his high-leverage credentials. He may not be a full-time closer, but proving effective in the ninth would spare Nate Jones some of the burden as he returns to full-time action. Both could be traded if strong enough.
- No. 24: Juan Minaya
Back in 2014, Jake Petricka ended up leading the White Sox in saves with 14. He might not have been true high-leverage material, but the experience seemed to benefit him, at least until his body gave out. maybe the same can be said for Minaya, who went 9-for-10 in saves last season, even if he seldom had a clean inning. He’s only 27 and he’s one of the best swing-and-miss types in the bullpen, so one can see how he could elevate his game a little.
- No. 23: Aaron Bummer
While Avilan is under team control for only two more years, the 24-year-old Bummer has a full six seasons ahead of him. The White Sox seem to hold him in high regard, as 19th-round picks usually throw more than 88 innings in the minors. He stands a chance at giving the Sox some long-term stability in this role.
- No. 22: Hector Santiago
Conversely, Santiago is a lefty whom the White Sox want to avoid hemming into a role. He would have been the conventional choice for fifth starter, but Rick Renteria wants to use Santiago’s malleability as a potential multiple-inning bridge guy between a right-handed rotation and the bullpen’s back end.
Given that Santiago received only a minor-league contract from the White Sox after his first foray into free agency as a starter, a willingness to handle whatever’s thrown at him could increase his marketability next winter.
- No. 21: Matt Davidson
He could be this year’s Cody Asche or Jerry Sands, the corner bat by default that won’t be around for long. That said, he struggled with a wrist problem over the last two months of 2017, and he came back in the spring cutting his strikeout rate by 10 percent. If the closure in the gap between walks and strikeouts carries into the regular season, he has 30-homer power for six figures. That means less than it used to, but it doesn’t cost the Sox anything to wring all the usefulness out of Davidson.