The most essential 2018 White Sox: Nos. 20-1

These guys are in charge of making sure the second year of the rebuild feels like progress

Happy Opening Day. After a late addition of Matt Davidson to the first half of the list — he’s No. 21, pushing Jose Rondon out of the top 40 — we’ll now resume with the original plan of detailing the 20 most essential White Sox of 2018.

(If you missed the first part, there I offer a general sense of what “essential” is all about.)

Basically, the hope is that the one of these two guys can hack it in center field well enough to handle a fair chunk of starts over the next year or two, and then the Sox will go from there. Both players had the kind of springs you’d like to see considering their question marks — contact for Engel, health for Cordell — but they have to carry some of that into the season to avoid labels like “AAAA” or “fifth outfielder.”

Here we have two veterans who are working on one-year contracts, and whose primary purpose is to consume innings and create a healthier workplace for the other young pitchers, be it through mentoring or sparing relievers by going six-plus innings at a time. I wouldn’t count much for trade value in either case. Some people may have forgotten the player the White Sox got from the Rangers for a month of Gonzalez (Ti’Quan Forbes).

This might be an awkward season for Fulmer, because he still looks like a pitcher who will struggle to repeat his delivery week to week, and maybe even inning to inning. This year may be spent coming to grips with a move to the bullpen.

Here we have, at the very least, two capable switch-hitting utility guys. What makes them compelling is that both players spent sizable chunks of 2017 producing in an everyday role (Garcia in center, Sanchez at third base). They might have timed their hot streaks to tease, but it’s in the Sox’ interests to find out, because the rest of the league could be interested as well.

Chris Getz said Hansen is starting to throw again after missing most of the spring with forearm tightness, which means Hansen could spend April in Arizona to get a full sort of spring training. He had elbow problems at Oklahoma, so the Sox might have to exercise caution managing his forearm issues here. The good news is that he’s ahead of the curve developmentally — if he picked up where he left off in 2017, it’d be hard to keep him off the roster in September, which is remarkable considering his control issues with the Sooners. Basically, time is on everybody’s side if the Sox need to slow-track him.

Castillo upgrades the White Sox’ catching situation in several facets — power, throwing, blocking, and maybe even framing if last year’s improvements in the metrics prove more than a mirage. Young pitchers would appreciate the enhanced presence behind the plate if Castillo can deliver on last year’s reports, and the White Sox front office would finally see a veteran acquisition pan out for once.

Multiple surgeries have drastically limited Jones’ availability in three of the last four seasons, and it’s not like he’s a bet to get healthier as he advances into his 30s. That said, he’s a great reliever on an attractive contract when fully functional. A strong first half could start another major unloading of relievers, and Jones is the only one with the kind of Tommy Kahnle upside.

It’s easy to write off Rodon, and the White Sox probably should mentally account for him underwhelming over his next four seasons under team control given the injury events of the last year. He’s not expected to return until June, which is the far end of the timetable given for his recovery from shoulder surgery. That said, it’s not yet out of the question that Rodon can deliver on most of his original stock, and even a No. 3 starter would give a rebuilding White Sox rotation the depth it needs to succeed earlier than later.

Given that he was 41st on this list last year, one shouldn’t saddle Delmonico with unrealistic expectations after what still qualifies as a surprise (.262/.373/.482 for the White Sox over 166 plate appearances). His track record says he’s not a great bet to do that again, and he’s not likely to supplement lackluster offense with scintillating defense.

That said, the well-built teams find ways to generate surprises from within (see the St. Louis Cardinals and their numerous random outfield success stories). While Delmonico may not be the guy that comes out of nowhere, the Sox will need the occasional Delmonico story to stick and provide average-or-better value to make this whole “sustainable winning” thing work. So, why not Delmonico?

Garcia finally found a way to succeed with his unusual hitting profile, parlaying his aggressive approach and opposite-field power into a .330/.380/.506 line. If the lack of loud trade rumors is any indication, the league might think there are ways of preventing him from replicating that success.

It would behoove some teams (especially those with rangy first basemen) to defend the-right-handed Garcia differently. He hit 84 percent of his ground balls and short line drives to the left of second base, up from 76 percent in 2016. By our evaluation methods, this makes him worthy of shifting much more often than he was last season. Doing so may take Garcia’s numbers down a peg.

Our 2018 projection has him slipping to a .278 batting average and .763 OPS.

This, and not random variance, might be what takes a bite out of Garcia’s .392 BABIP. Maybe he can top 20 homers for the first time in his career and offset some of those losses, but other teams may want to see it for themselves before giving the Sox a difference-making offer. That said, if Garcia can even come close to repeating his 2017, he’s probably the best trade asset the Sox have …

… because I don’t see Abreu going anywhere, at least until Yoan Moncada loses the training wheels. Rick Hahn hasn’t sounded especially anxious to sign Abreu to an extension, although maybe that’s because the current market for first basemen only yielded a one-year contract for a guy coming off a 38-homer season. I think Abreu has more value than Logan Morrison, but not so much that the Sox need to jump the market two years early.

For the time being, continue enjoying Abreu as a White Sox mainstay.

Between the brief back injury and the same curveball issues that plagued his former Washington teammate and Adam Eaton trade partner, I don’t think we’ve seen the best from Lopez. I wouldn’t take the curve’s resurgence as a given, and he’ll need that more reliable breaking ball to offset his fastball’s tendency to lose steam in the middle innings, but a long rebuilding season should give him ample opportunity to address that issue.

Even if you set aside the personal tragedy that wrecked his 2017 — and you shouldn’t; this is just an exercise — there was a real possibility that he’d have to spend the year confronting the dangers of his extreme aggression. The hope is that his September showing (.327/.345/.469, 9-for-9 on the basepaths, fewer misplays) is closer to the future. If he hits .280 and makes better use of his speed, he’s a valuable part of this rebuild on a contract Hahn can easily accommodate into the far future. If he has another season around replacement level, the whole left side of the infield looks murky.

On multiple occasions over the last few months, Hahn has overcorrected in an attempt to downplay the hype from everybody’s two favorite prospects. Here he is doing it to Bruce Levine:

“Look, if at the end of this year Jimenez has spent his entire season at Double-A and performed well or Kopech has done the same and hit all of their organizational goals, those are perfect tracks to have dominant big league careers. Certainly, if that occurs for either one of those players, we will not look back and be disappointed. You have heard me say maybe too often that the good players have a way of forcing the issue and getting to the big leagues faster. It is conceivable that they may force the issue on us. Timelines can change. If both spend the entire 2018 in the minor leagues, that is still a very solid path for them to be on.”

I get what Hahn is trying to do here. For the players, he wants to give them a little breathing room in case they look human out of the gate, because intense start-to-start focus at the minor-league level can be unfair. For the front office, he’s trying to ground expectations in case it becomes difficult to argue waiting for the Super Two deadline. But if Jimenez ends the year in Double-A and Kopech doesn’t look worthy of a September call-up, that’d register as a disappointment, because it’s a negative movement in their trajectory.

It’d be more correct to say it’s not the end of the world, or that “development isn’t linear,” to use another Hahn trope. Regardless, I’d expect Kopech and Jimenez to have a couple of cool moments in the majors this season, setting themselves up to take their six-month lumps in 2019.

If you want to get where Hahn is coming from, Giolito was subjected to that harsh spotlight in Charlotte, and he wasn’t allowed to voice uncertainty about his progress without causing a panic. A year later, he has MLB success under his belt, and he’s taken the White Sox’ “stay tall” directive a step further by lowering his arm slot, which might give him more command over his breaking ball. Giolito says it wasn’t a conscious decision. It just felt right, because things are feeling right for him.

“Did I go and say, ‘Oh I’m going to move my arm slot this amount on inches?’ No. I think I’ve kind of naturally gotten there. I feel like I’m doing a much better job of staying upright and strong with my upper body and my front side and that’s leading to…[we discuss how this physical demonstration is going to be conveyed on transcription]…instead of tilting [his torso to the left, prompting his right arm to move with it] and now my arm is higher, I’m upright and strong here, my front side is strong, so it’s staying in this [three-quarters] slot. It feels natural. It feels good to me. It might have something to do with the ball coming out a little better and the curveball working better. It just feels super comfortable.”

If Giolito’s spring carries into the season — regaining ticks of velocity, recovering the breaking ball, honing the slider and changeup — there’s a sturdy starting pitcher who just needs to show he can hold up over a full season’s grind.

Moncada’s weaknesses — chiefly his swing-and-miss tendency and weaker right-handed swing — may tether his offense to “average” in 2018 despite moments of greatness. He’ll probably have some ugly weeks that makes one wonder if the wheels have flown off of his approach. He’s just so absurdly talented in other regards that, all in all, he’ll still be the most exciting player this rebuild has to offer after the next 162 games.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Jason.Wade17

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loch

That scouting report on Avi put a wet blanket on my probably irrational high hopes for him. 

polishwith

Happy opening day everyone! May all of our expectations be exceeded.

Anohito

Happy opening day all!

Thanks for the complete rundown of all these players. Really informative and Avi’s in particular. Guess we’ll see what happens here.

ForsterFTOG

Tim Anderson looks like a supremely talented athlete who’s playing his offseason sport. Dunston-esque.

yinkadoubledare

He didn’t start playing baseball until his junior year of high school. I’d imagine most pros had as many years of playing baseball by junior year of high school as Timmy does now.

ForsterFTOG

Common knowledge but thanks. Not a natural player and I don’t think he will ever be more than average.

lil jimmy

If he is ever to be more than average, this is the year he has to show it.

Greg Nix

People are too down on him. With his profile, not that much has to go right for him to be a 2-3 win player. The probability is way higher than it was for Avi’s breakout last year, for example.

mikeyb

The pitching depth within the organization is really going to be fun to watch this year. There are guys at all levels that I could envision making an impact on this team during contending years.
I do wonder if Rodon continues to struggle to stay healthy, will the White Sox consider moving him to the pen? He could be absolutely dominant in shorter stints there. I still have hope for him as a starter, but I’m interested to see how many more injuries he can sustain before a shift might start to happen.

PauliePaulie

If his shoulder acts-up again a move to the ‘Pen won’t help. It’s repetitive movement caused. Gotta hope the debridement worked and there’s no fraying of the tendon.

mikeyb

I guess I was thinking that a move to the pen would require less repetitive movement (i.e. many many fewer pitches than if he were starting). But yeah, another injury probably isn’t a good sign regardless.

PauliePaulie

Speaking of the potential recurrence of shoulder issues only, a move to the ‘Pen may slightly prolong the time between flare-ups but, it wouldn’t solve it in the long run.

PauliePaulie

Really happy for Lucas. He was put through the meat grinder in Wash, and it continued after the trade. Speaks volumes (about him as well as the Sox) that he’s happy, comfortable and seemingly on the upswing. Opening day!

winningugly

HAPPY OPENING DAY! And the game postponements begin. Detroit, Cincy. Baseball should be opened in the West and South, fer Chrissakes.

Josh Nelson

Happy Opening Day!

After the game, Jim and I will be streaming Sox Machine Live! at mixlr.com/soxmachine. If you miss the stream, all episodes will be loaded into the podcast feed.

Red_Hair_White_Sox

I hope Engel is higher on this list next year. If he even becomes league average with the stick he could be an under the radar stud a la Kiermaier

mikeyb

If he becomes league average offensively, Ricky should be considered for Sainthood, because we’re talking about a true miracle. To go from worst offensive player in the league (by a significant margin) to league average would be a hell of a development.

Trooper Galactus

If Engel posts a 100 OPS+ he will be a 6-WAR player.

Patrick Nolan

LET’S GOOOOOOO!!!!!

Turbo happy it’s finally here. Full disclosure — spring training is one of my least favorite periods in the baseball calendar (little matters, and typically the only important news is bad). Ready for this team to give me a season just as fun-filled as the last, with MOAR WINS!!!!!

Lurker Laura

Whoop, whoop, Opening Day! Two of the finer words in the English language.

GrinnellSteve

When paired together, there are no finer words.

Lurker Laura

“Pay day” is pretty good. “Ice cream” is way up there. Some others that are NSFW.

GrinnellSteve

Does anyone know: Other than those derailed by injury, how many consensus Top 5 prospects have failed to become stars, particularly position players? Top 5 draft picks are a crap shoot, but what about guys who have performed well enough as pros to merit the hype and be regarded as top 5 prospects. How many of them still get beaten down by the upper levels and never realize their full promise?

Wondering as it relates to Moncada and Jimenez.

PauliePaulie

Scott McKinney says 55% of players ranked 1-10 will produce better than 2fWAR. Royals review put out a study on March 22nd saying 40% of players ranked 1-10 will outperform the AVG. fWAR produced for that group. Position players have a 5% better chance of success than pitchers. Sorry I can’t provide links right now.

GrinnellSteve

Thanks. This is helpful.

Josh Nelson

35Shields

Hot take: one of the Sox two best hitters would be good bets for pick to click

Josh Nelson

Transaction news:

Greg Nix

Never ceases to amaze me how a professional writer can be such a terrible speller. I’d hate to be his copy editor.

Lurker Laura

I would argue to flip the Cordell/Engel and Shields/Gonzalez positions on the “Essentials” list. Who’s going to fill CF for the next few years until Luis Robert (hopefully) arrives is far more essential than whether or not Shields and/or Gonzalez pitch well enough to get a minor prospect at the deadline.

Minor quibble. It’s a fascinating list.

35Shields

The Sox have quite a few guys this year who all fall into the category of “you probably won’t be useful…but maybe”. How would you rank Sanchez, Delmonico, Leury, Engel and Davidson in terms of how likely they are to be useful this season?

I think I’d go with:
Delmonico
Sanchez
Engel
Leury
Davidson

Ceverettsdinosaurs

I think you have to put guys with high floors due to defense at the top of the list. Something like:
Sanchez
Leury (defense plus versatility)
Delmonico
Engel (high floor because of defense but track record suggests his offense will drag him down)
Davidson

35Shields

Is there anything to suggest that defense is a more stable skill than offense (because if anything I’d probably guess it’s the other way around)?

Patrick Nolan

Defense is definitely a more stable skill than offense; the fickle-ness of defensive metrics is what makes it look like it’s not.

35Shields

But if the best measurements that we have for defense don’t show that it’s more stable, how do we conclude that it is?

Patrick Nolan

Because there’s far less luck, no game theory involved, and far fewer adjustments.

Offense will fluctuate naturally due to luck on balls in play. Pitchers continue to get evolving scouting reports on you and keep testing your weaknesses. You’re stuck guessing a pitch or location against a league full of different batteries which evolve and turn themselves over faster than you can develop a skill at reading them. Finally, you have to adjust to pitchers testing your weakness, which means that going up there with the same approach over and over again (which would theoretically lead to more consistent results), won’t work; you have to keep adapting, and that introduces variance.

With fielding, you don’t have any of those elements. Some guys have naturally better coordination, are naturally quicker, and naturally more athletic. Those raw skills translate more easily into on-field effectiveness on defense because no one is trying to out-think you, punish your weakness, whatever. Defenders need to cope with different surfaces and different atmospheric conditions, but we’re not talking about drastic changes from one year to the next in those departments.

PauliePaulie

Saladino, Sanchez, Leury. Then the rest.

Patrick Nolan

The cabooses. They are holy. Holy cabooses! It’s a real lineup ya’ll! A real one!

Josh Nelson

I owe you a beer.

Patrick Nolan

Damn straight

asinwreck

Modelo is the appropriate option on this day.

northsiderepresent

Sexy

Greg Nix

Like this lineup, but very much looking forward to the one with Kopech and Jimenez instead of Shields and Davidson…

asinwreck

“The Royals begin the season against former pitcher James Shields and the White Sox” – aptly-worded report from a Kansas City-oriented story on opening day.

Anohito

Actually laughed out loud and am resisting falling onto the floor now.

Patrick Nolan

subtle, but great.

ChunkySlugger72

Happy Opening Day everyone !!!

2018 White Sox Predictions: Top 5

1. Lucas Giolito has a great 1st full rookie a season and makes the All-Star team as a reserve or injury replacement.

2. Yoan Moncada has a nice 1st full year and is just a start of whats to come. (272.Avg 22 HR 67 RBI 23 SB)

3. Avisail Garcia builds off of last year and trades some contact for power (290ish.Avg 25 HR 87 RBI)

4. Matt Davidson will be this Season’s Avisail Garcia, having a solid breakout,cuts strikeout rate from last season.(250ish.Avg 31 HR 75 RBI)

5. Adam Engel’s bat becomes league average and continues with the glove, Nicky Delmonico’s bat picks off from last season and glove is at least average.

Bonus- Kopech gets called up in July and Jimenez a September call – up.

Maybe I’m a little over optimistic or maybe because I’m pumped for the return of baseball ,but I feel like we are going to make a solid leap this season.

(Record: 75 – 87)

Let’s Play Ball !!!

GrinnellSteve

Too much dour for my taste.