The most essential 2020 White Sox: Nos. 30-1

Eloy Jiménez. (Carl Skanberg)

While the White Sox released their Opening Day roster in between the first half of the most essential 2020 White Sox list and this installment, none of the decisions caused any significant changes to the order.

That news is only important to me, so let’s proceed.

He wasn’t as electric in summer camp as he performed in spring training. If he couldn’t make the 30-man roster’s bench as the lone source of right-handed thump, it’s harder to see an inroad for the cult favorite to make even stricter cuts unless disaster strikes. Disaster could very much strike.

No player has a wider gap between the amount of MLB games he’s likely to play (zero) with the kind of impact if he did appear (medium-leverage work or better), so the back of the top half feels like a compromise for the White Sox’s first-round pick.

He passed the first test by making the 30-man roster as the third catcher and a left-handed bench bat, and I think he’s got one at least one more round of cuts in him. His plate coverage looked fine both in spring and summer, for what that’s worth.

Herrera made 57 appearances in 2019, and he finished the last 36 of them with an ERA over 6.00, so I don’t think the White Sox are counting on him to climb the pile of right-handed relievers. They’re paying him $8.5 million, so theoretically they might be inclined to pitch him. But if he makes 21 appearances, his 2021 option will vest pending a physical. I don’t think the Sox will want him to do too much damage.

This is the right field arrangement for the first week of the season, and it’s lopsided in terms of certainty. The White Sox know they’re going to get speed and defense from Engel, and perhaps an ability to hit lefties OK. Delmonico hit right-handed pitching three years ago, and it seems like the Sox have been chasing an extremely likeable ghost ever since. He’s healthy now, but I’m not sure where that leads. I know what it means when Engel doesn’t hit, and I know what it means when Delmonico doesn’t hit. The latter is worse.

From Shop Talk: How I learned to stop worrying and love Adam Engel

It’s tough to project the next bullpen ascension, but Heuer seems as well-equipped as anybody, what with his high-90s sinker-slider combo. He pitched like he had nothing to lose during the spring, and it paid off with an Opening Day roster spot just two years after being selected in the sixth round.

González would have been the fifth starter in April, but with Carlos Rodón available and effective enough in late July, González is relegated to the bullpen, where he pitched some with Milwaukee the year before. He and Rodón basically just need to have one healthy left arm between them to serve their joint purpose.

A White Sox bullpen doesn’t need both González and Ross Detwiler for long relief. The White Sox probably want one of them for second-lefty duties in case Fry maintains his excessively casual relationship with the strike zone.

If all goes well, Yasmani Grandal will make him more or less unnecessary, which is a little cruel after McCann did the Sox a favor and posted an All-Star season out of nowhere in 2019. That said, he’s the best insurance anywhere on the depth chart, and that kind of depth could be tested this season.

One of Rick Renteria’s early tasks is going to be understanding which righty he trusts the most before Alex Colomé. Or maybe he’s just going to have to determine which kind of pitcher the opposing lineup doesn’t want to face, given that they all come at the plate in different ways. Cordero is my favorite to keep it going.

He’s getting the starting assignment at second out of the gate, and he’s the best everyday outfield insurance remaining. He’s going to be serving one purpose or another over the course of the season, and getting more at-bats than is probably advisable.

The fifth spot is his to lose. I’m still skeptical about his fastball staying in the yard, especially now that it’s all warm weather from here on out, but he’s got González for backup.

We’ve seen what happens when García starts too often, which is why it’d be a big help for Madrigal to stake his claim at second base if and when the White Sox will let him. I think he’ll be a plus defender there sooner than later, so I’m comfortable batting him at the bottom of the order and letting the better bats at the top take advantage of his speed whenever he gets on base. I’m also curious how his borderline-insane competitive streak manifests itself during his dues-paying period.

The White Sox have a couple other beefy bats for DH work if Encarnación’s decline continues to eat away at his strikeout-to-walk ratio while further inflating his pop-up rate, but it’d be nice to have the 30-homer version of Encarnación for head-to-head battle with the Twins. Or 12-homer production? What are we calling it this year?

The addition of Dallas Keuchel took the stress off López, but Michael Kopech’s decision to remove himself from the proceedings forces López to give the Sox something, even if it’s an unremarkable brand of fourth-starter flair. Splitting the difference between his 2018 season (3.91 ERA) and 2019 season (5.38 ERA) would be dandy.

Starting the season on the injured list for undisclosed reasons takes some of the enthusiasm out of Mazara’s breakout potential, which risks depriving the Sox of one of their easiest ways to improve. An average power-corner season from Mazara would easily clear his projections, and outpace the mess that soiled Roger Bossard’s right field in 2019.

The White Sox won just 72 games despite an extraordinary job preserving late-inning leads (60-1 when leading after eight), so while they can be expected to regress in this department, they can’t allow gravity to get carried away. Bummer’s ahead of Colomé because his season is more crucial to future bullpen construction, while Colomé is a free agent after the season.

Cease has showed two different ways of attacking hitters during the preseasons. He’s claimed best-ever fastball command in one start, and best-ever curveball usage in another. He probably hasn’t suddenly mastered the craft of pitching, but having two ways to attack hitters makes his sophomore season a little easier to solve.

Abreu has more power threats behind him than ever before, which makes his individual production less crucial to the success of the offense as a whole. That said, he’s just getting started on a generous three-year, $50 million extension, so it’d be nice if he could shore up his issues with right-handed pitching to avoid lopsided production that the Sox can’t bear to relegate to platoon status.

One should afford Robert plenty of time to get acclimated to the league given his aggressive nature at the plate. One can see him becoming the next Juan Soto or Ronald Acuña Jr., except with plus defense in center field. One wants that very, very badly.

The BABIP is going to come down, but there was real improvement underneath — more contact, harder contact, few pop-ups. He doesn’t have to win the batting title to help offensively, and he can offset any regression in luck with more stable defense. If he wants to continue surprising, go for it.

Keuchel has resembled his Cy Young form during the preseasons, and being paired with a catcher that knows how to manipulate the bottom of the strike zone looks like a very good idea. His ability to keep the ball in the park could be especially useful during an all-summer season.

It took about half a season for the preternatural hitting ability that wrecked the high minors to show its effectiveness in the majors. He hit .288/.327/.552 over the second half of his 2019 workload, and his defensive improved from one car pile-up to an ordinary brand of below-average during that time as well. The Sox need both to be a trend.

Giolito’s penchant for minor injuries — hamstring, lat and chest muscle strains over the last year — seems like the only thing that can get in the way of cementing himself as one of the American League’s top starters.

The delayed start to his training camp makes it difficult to demand that he resume his star-level production from Opening Day forward, but the Sox are going to need that guy eventually, because there isn’t anybody else behind him at third base. We got a good look at that while he was gone. He just needed help, and Keuchel looks like a great complement.

The biggest free agent commitment in White Sox history was signed for everything he offers — switch-hitting power, 100-walk potential and some of the best receiving in the league. The Sox need him to provide all of the above, not just to buoy a BABIP-reliant offense and aid a starting rotation that is only about half-full, but because a big year could encourage the Sox to aggressively address their biggest problems in future offseasons, even if Mookie Betts is now off the table.

(Eloy Jiménez portrait by Carl Skanberg)

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Encouraging words about Collins’ defense?


the most encouraging words that could be spoken about Collins’ defense would be “robot umps”

“Not Yermin Mercedes”