The most essential 2018 White Sox: Nos. 41-21

The annual exploration into which White Sox can do the most to contribute to the cause

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 …

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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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katiesphil

Thanks, Jim. I always enjoy these, and no, previous missed estimates do not harm your reputation or open you to ridicule. These are a great way for us to look at these guys from another perspective. And to be honest, I’d be thrilled in Gonzales wins the CY.

loch

But would you be more thrilled if it were Giolito? 
That’d be great!

katiesphil

Oh, good grief, yes. But still…

Trooper Galactus

Thing is that if MiGo wins the CYA, he won’t be in a White Sox uniform by the end of the season. Which would still be an awesome result depending on how much Someone was able to get for him.

PauliePaulie

The lack of Salad love in your life is concerning.

Trooper Galactus

Especially when he’s had all the seasoning he needs.

MonicaMG

Good analysis

Patrick Nolan

chris beck seems to be absent from this list, which means he’s gotta be in the top 20. that seems pretty aggressive to me, but i’ve been burned for doubting jim before.

Greg Nix

My Top 20 prediction:
20. Chris Beck
19. Keon Barnum
18. Trey Michalczewski
17. Evan Skoug
16. Michael Ynoa
15. Dylan Covey
14. Ryan Burr
13. Amado Nunez
12. Jon Garland
11. Tate Blackman
10. Danny Hayes (1B)
9. Dan Hayes (Twins beat reporter)
8. Joey DeMichele
7. Ed Farmer
6. Cleuluis Rondon
5. Robin Ventura
4. Gordon Beckham
3. Courtney Hawkins
2. Eloy Jimenez
1. Jerry Owens

Ted Mulvey

Disappointed that Dayan Viciedo didn’t make this list.

Patrick Nolan

that’s because it’s a joke list and wasn’t supposed to include guys who Ken thinks are stud players

Ted Mulvey

Spoiler
That’s a solid zing on Ken

Trooper Galactus

Shouldn’t have even bothered crossing it out, really.

asinwreck

#1 is and will always be Team Leader Drake LaRoche.

katiesphil

CLEU! I’ll let him know the good news.

Trooper Galactus

Guy was basically Engel in the infield. I wish he could have hit at least a little bit, because that glove was really, really impressive.

Patrick Nolan

We like to keep our Engels in the Outfield

Trooper Galactus

ISWYDT

PauliePaulie

And Rick Hahn has to go and blow up Jim’s entire list today with the acquisition of Ricardo Pinto. Not cool, Rick.

Anohito

He’s going straight to A though

Which seems kind of interesting for a guy who was actually up in the major’s last year. I would think AAA or AA but A? Maybe someone else knows more about Pinto can explain.

Otter

Yeah, Jim’s list is unreadable now. He should pull the post and start all over.

katiesphil

COOP

Eventually

Trooper Galactus

White Sox acquired right-hander Ricardo Pinto from the Phillies for international bonus pool money. Dunno if they see something in him they can get results out of (24 years old, three seasons of pre-arb remaining) or they just wanted a fungible looking swing starter/reliever alongside Volstad to hold the line between Charlotte and Chicago. Nothing about his minor league track record seems to foreshadow a high upside, but perhaps he’s another Coop project.

Reports on Pinto state his fastball can top out at 98mph but sits more in the 94mph range, apparently without very effective movement. He couples this with an effective if underwhelming mid-80s changeup and a slider that still needs work along with some control issues. Between his lack of an effective slider and poor control, he hasn’t really achieved the kind of strikeout numbers you might expect out of a reliever, though it seems some of the raw materials are there. Might be another guy who gets taught a splitter and makes up in movement what he loses in velocity.

PauliePaulie

Sox have the sixth largest draft bonus pool this year at $10,589,900.

ParisSox

HAPPY OPENING DAY EVERYONE!!!! WAHHHHHOOOOOOOO!!! Let’s do this. Let’s get on the GrinnellSteve bandwagon and suprise the heck out of everyone!!
(I love the Opening Day high.)

winningugly

Love the love. BEST DAMN DAY OF THE YEAR.

davytudope

Spencer Adams looks older then I thought he would