Defensive experiments one way for White Sox to make use of a lost season

Yoán Moncada is still held out of White Sox training camp for undisclosed reasons, but the seriousness of his absence depends on your state of mind. Scott Merkin ran two perspectives on Moncada’s delayed arrival in adjacent paragraphs, and each carries a different intonation, at least in text.

“We are missing him,” said White Sox designated hitter Edwin Encarnación through interpreter Billy Russo of Moncada. “He’s our third baseman and a valuable piece of our team. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing him very soon.”

“Obviously, Moncada will be back soon,” Giolito said. “He’s a huge part of this team. He’s not going anywhere. I’m not too worried about it. This is a weird time for everybody. There’s going to be some bumps in the road, and we’ll get past them.”

Moncada’s absence reveals something the White Sox would rather not have you know — the depth on the left side of the infield is precarious at best. Behind Moncada and Tim Anderson, the White Sox can throw out some combination of Leury García, Danny Mendick and Cheslor Cuthbert, and two of those three players have already shown that they shouldn’t be counted upon to start.

(That assumes Cuthbert arrives OK from Nicaragua. At least he’s not coming from the Dominican Republic, as Major League Baseball didn’t test players before flying them in, to suboptimal results.)

The good news is that the White Sox are taking the opportunity created by Moncada’s absence to try players who could possibly make the position work.

Here’s Andrew Vaughn:

And here’s Yermín Mercedes:

Both players are unlikely to be exemplars of defense, but it’s nice to see the White Sox thinking about it. Vaughn expressed comfort with trying third base at Cal, and he worked out for teams at the hot corner, but Nick Hostetler said the White Sox didn’t take any positional flexibility into account when they drafted him. That was probably a prudent approach on draft day, but the depth chart at first base has only grown more congested since, what with José Abreu re-signing, Mercedes emerging and the Yasmani Grandal signing limiting Zack Collins‘ catching forecast.

Granted, the White Sox shouldn’t let any of those players get in the way of Vaughn’s ascent, but it’d also be nice to see them be a little more open-minded about positional flexibility as a way to help them solve their own problems. Giving Vaughn and Mercedes reps during Moncada’s absence is an encouraging start.

I’d be inclined to see how much Mercedes could get away with it in particular, given that he’s the guy who needs swings at the MLB level this year to market-test his wares. One of the lessons from the 1995 season is that a disjointed preseason can lead to shoddy defense at the start. Improvements in positioning diminish the power of a comparison from 25 years ago, but I’d expect the glovework around the league to be a little more ragged than usual, which makes it either the worst time to start a catcher with limited experience at third (defense wins championships!) or the best time (everybody’s terrible, who cares!).

Mercedes’ reps shouldn’t come at the expense of Moncada, obviously. If and when Moncada returns, the aim should to let the best players get in as many of the 60 games as possible. But in a world where the pandemic disrupts the White Sox’s depth chart while not derailing the season, Mercedes getting time at third is one of the best ways to put a dent into the following year’s roster issues, even if the aesthetic difference plays out like one of those “cat vs. dog challenge” videos.

Sticking in this same world where a cascade of injuries and/or players asking out puts the White Sox in a major hole, here are some other way to mess with the 44-man player pool to make the most of a season that no longer counts:

Nick Madrigal, playing short: Madrigal was supposed to be a decent option at short for Oregon State who got moved to the other side of second by a better defender. The White Sox entertained the possibility of testing him at shortstop verbally, but 146 of his 147 appearances have come at second base. Arm strength is the biggest reason it wouldn’t work long-term, but he gets rid of the ball quickly enough to get by as a stopgap measure.

Danny Mendick, playing outfield: The White Sox started giving Mendick time in left field last year, as he stood there for nine games (eight starts) with Charlotte. Expanding this profile would make his profile more compelling, whether for the White Sox or another team, especially if Mercedes shows an aptitude for third.

Zack Collins, catching: James McCann is a free agent after the season and will probably want to get out from under Grandal, so the interests of the player (as many PAs as possible) and the team (PAs for guys who will be here) could diverge. I’m also intrigued about whether social distancing measures will lead to MLB turning to robot umps, which would make Collins’ poor receiving far less of a problem.

Luis Basabe, just playing: Barring a change to the system due to COVID-19 complications, Basabe’s in the second of three option years. Despite the advanced status in that regard, he’s still largely a mystery man, because he’s only been healthy for one of his three years in the White Sox system, which was also the one year where he was excellent. If he’s 100 percent while playing at the alternative training site, it makes some sense to throw him in the deep end in order to better understand how much of the remaining work is refinement, rather than physical ability.

Carson Fulmer, just pitching: Fulmer is out of options, so he may open the season in the White Sox bullpen by default. He could be easy enough to hide on a 30-man roster, but he might be squeezed out if he doesn’t distinguish himself by the time they’re cutting it to 26. If the season goes belly-up in a hurry, it’s probably worth it to pitch him as much as possible, just to exhaust as much second-guessing or remorse as possible if they have to expose him to waivers after the season.

Dane Dunning, starting pitching: Assuming he regains all his previous arm strength from Tommy John surgery, I don’t see much downside in giving him late-season starts over veteran stopgaps like Ross Detwiler or Gio Gonzalez, even if he’s not a great bet to succeed. If playing through a pandemic is as disjointed and alien as it seems, a poor first impression shouldn’t be taken nearly as personally.

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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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Josh Nelson

I keep forgetting Dane Dunning is healthy to pitch.

Greg Nix

Carlos Rodon in an Andrew Miller role is another one I’d like to see.


I agree 100%. He could be really nasty in that role.

As Cirensica

Here I thought our future Andrew Miller / Wade Davis / Josh Hader kind of long reliever ace would be Alec Hansen


Could James McCann be trade bait for a passable third baseman? In a short season, Grandal arguably would need fewer days off, and Collins and Mercedes can catch occasionally. Of course, the short season also reduces the value McCann would have to other teams.


Isn’t trading someone in this environment kind of cruel?


The Giants are in the market for a catcher with Posey opting out. Perhaps McCann, Collins or Zavala could be dealt there.

As Cirensica

I honestly can’t see any meaningful trades happening this year

Right Size Wrong Shape

If they’re willing to consider Abreu, Vaughn and Mercedes over there, it might be worth it to give McCann a look at third, too.


Sox said they had two unnamed players test positive, Moncada is missing for “undisclosed reasons,” and the Ricks and other players refuse to talk about why he’s gone. You can kinda put two and two together, there.

Assuming he’s missing because he has covid, it’s very likely he’ll at least be able to rejoin the team before the season starts and they won’t need another 3B except for maybe a week or two while he ramps up. But also, like, damn hope he’s ok cause there’s a small chance he’s not.

As Cirensica

And the other undisclosed player is probably Kopech

“Michael will be a big part of this going forward,” White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito said of Kopech. “Obviously, he has something he has to take care of. That’s for him to deal with. That’s his private life.


I’m not sure that is a wise career move for him. Two full years without playing seems like it won’t be that easy to come back from.