Is there anything better than the crack of a baseball being launched off of the barrel of a wooden bat or the snap of a leather glove on the first day of catch along the outfield foul lines?
Absolutely not, and that’s why the beginning of Spring Training is annually my absolute favorite time of the year. This year is no different, or maybe it is different — but in a good way, right?
I mean, if you’re a Chicago White Sox fan, this lead into Spring Training feels quite different. At this time last year, White Sox fans were in a furious frenzy over the club losing out on perennial all-star Manny Machado after he dashed the White Sox for San Diego, leaving the White Sox with angst, disappointment, and below-replacement level family members as the consolation prize.
This time around, the White Sox refused to be left standing without a chair when the music stopped and added a glut of talent to their already promising young core of stars on the Southside of Chicago.
But before we spend the next 40 days clamoring over Cactus League contests, back-field reports, and long-distance soundbites from Camelback Ranch, let’s take a look at some potential storylines to pay attention to this spring.
What we do know, is that former fourth-overall pick Nick Madrigal will assume the everyday second-baseman role in 2020. What we don’t know is when he will, and who will keep the seat warm until he does.
Unless the club decides to add a Brian Dozier or Brock Holt to the mix during camp, the two logical choices would be long-time super utility-man Leury Garcia or Danny Mendick.
Garcia, 28, has been with the Sox since he was acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Alex Rios trade. He spent the vast majority of the 2019 season as the everyday centerfielder and leadoff hitter.
In 618 plate appearances last season — his largest sample size to date — Garcia slashed .279/.310/.378. The .279 BA played for a 73-win club with holes like a slice of swiss cheese, but no starter on a competitive ballclub should be getting on base at a lowly .310 clip and certainly not so if they’re slugging an even less impressive .378.
Thankfully, the centerfield/leadoff experiment is over, and for my money so should any starting role on this ballclub with the roster constructed as is. Leury will make a swell utility guy and late-inning defensive replacement, but if I was penciling in the lineup card come March 26th, Danny Mendick is my second-baseman until Nick Madrigal makes his way to Chicago.
Actually, if I’m penciling the lineup card in, Nick Madrigal starts at second base on Opening Day and never looks back, but that’s highly unlikely at this point.
Mendick is a perfect placeholder. He’s 26 years old and has a brief cup of coffee at the major-league level under his belt this past season. He’s a great story, a former 22nd-round draft selection that made his way all the way to the big show, and he might even become a solid utility infielder for the White Sox or another team, but that’s it.
In his 39 at-bats in September, Mendick collected 12 hits (2 HR) and flashed some pop that could be interesting enough to keep him in the nine-hole at second base to start the season until Madrigal makes his debut.
Rounding out the ‘Pen
As sure as death and taxes are, is the constant volatility of major-league bullpens, and despite the White Sox essentially having their 2020 variation completely spoken for as of today, a strong Spring Training performance could net someone that might be on the bubble a shot on the Opening Day roster.
Barring injury, you can all but write Alex Colome, Kelvin Herrera, Steve Cishek, Aaron Bummer, Evan Marshall and Jace Fry in stone.
That leaves two spots to fight for, assuming that Michael Kopech begins the season in Charlotte. If Kopech forces his way onto the Opening Day roster, the team will carry six starters and seven relievers, leaving just one opening.
Jimmy Cordero spent a fair amount of time in Chicago in 2019, posting a 2.89 ERA and a sub-one WHIP in 37.1 innings of work while dazzling fans with his oft-exposed biceps.
As of now, I’d bet that Cordero earns the final spot out of camp, but here are a couple more names to consider.
Zack Burdi is finally 100 percent healthy, and considering that before his initial Tommy John surgery he was on the fast-track to the White Sox bullpen, a strong Spring Training could force the club to find a spot for the seemingly forgotten star prospect.
Ian Hamilton broke camp with the Sox in 2019, despite injuring his shoulder in a car wreck during Spring Training, but saw his season come to an unfortunate end when he was struck in the face inside of the dugout with a line-drive, ending his rookie campaign in a disappointing manner to say the least.
If I was a betting man, Cordero starts the season with the ballclub, but Burdi and Hamilton make their way to Chicago at some point this season.
Michael Kopech will — in all likelihood — stay down in Arizona for an extended spring, head to Charlotte for a couple of starts, and then make his way to Chicago sometime in May.
He seems like he’s primed for a bounce-back year in 2020, and according to him, he’s in the best physical and mental shape of his career and looking forward to becoming more of a complete pitcher instead of relying so heavily on blowing his 100-plus MPH fastball by hitters.
Can Kopech dominate his way into an Opening Day roster spot this spring? Only time will tell, but I’d bet against it, just because I believe the organization has five other starting pitchers to break camp with, so why rush him back?
This one has gotten plenty of talk from fans and pundits alike. Hell, even Dylan Cease gave it a whirl at SoxFest, so here’s where I stand.
I want nothing more than Luis Robert to be hitting leadoff from day one. He’s here for eight years, and by all reports, he’s an out of this world talent, so why mess around with him at the bottom of the order?
If he’s the superstar we’re being led to believe he is, even through any sort of “adjustment period,” his feelings shouldn’t be too hurt that he would need to lick his wounds at the bottom of the order. He’s going to be a two-three win player even through his growing pains.
La Pantera at the top, day one, and I’ll die on that hill.
Behind Robert, I have Yoan Moncada. In today’s game — and with a lineup this deep — you hit your best second, and there’s no doubt that right now Yoan Moncada is the best hitter in the lineup.
The middle gets tricky, but it’s quite interchangeable. I would imagine that Jose Abreu will hit where he’s hit almost exclusively under current skipper Ricky Renteria, and as fellow On Tap Sports Network Sox columnist Steve Paradzinski so eloquently highlighted last week, the current lineup might provide enough insulation for Abreu to go back to being in command of the pitches he offers at.
After the top-three of Robert, Moncada, and Abreu, I have the 30-40 home run power of newly acquired designated hitter, Edwin Encarnacion.
Behind Encarnacion I have Eloy Jimenez, Yasmani Grandal, Tim Anderson Nomar Mazara, and Danny Mendick — and eventually Nick Madrigal in the same place — rounding it out for the 2020 Chicago White Sox.
- CF Luis Robert
- 3B Yoan Moncada
- 1B Jose Abreu
- DH Edwin Encarnacion
- LF Eloy Jimenez
- C Yasmani Grandal
- SS Tim Anderson
- RF Nomar Mazara
- 2B Danny Mendick (Nick Madrigal)
Despite it just starting to look and feel like winter in Chicago, Spring — and baseball — is right around the corner. Happy Spring Training, White Sox fans!