Playing Pepper 2017: Chicago White Sox

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Chicago White Sox
78-84, fourth in AL Central
Last year’s Pepper

It was the tale of two sides of a city last year.  While the Cubs were on the north side winning a division and breaking a drought, the White Sox wound up struggling in their division and doing a rebuild during the winter months, trading off Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for a passel of prospects.

We’ve got three quality Chicago bloggers to enlighten us about how this is going to go for the White Sox this year and in the future.  Joshua and Patrick were with us before while Collin is brand-new to this experience.  Give them all a follow and enjoy their thoughts!

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
Joshua Nelson South Side Sox SSS_joshnelson South Side Sox
Collin Whitechurch Baseball Prospectus South Side cowhitchurch The Catbird Speaks
Patrick Flowers The Loop Sports Pat_Flowers7

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

SSS: I think it was a good offseason for the White Sox. The front office finally picked a direction to rebuild and it’s off to a terrific start with the returns for Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. I really wished they had completed deals for Jose Quintana and David Robertson, as both are now at risk of their trade value diminishing due to injury or performance.

BPSS: It’s difficult to call an offseason where the White Sox traded their two best players a success, so the short answer to that question is no. This offseason was the culmination of several years where the front office’s inability to competently build a contender around their core of cheap talent — Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, Carlos Rodon — because of a combination of their position player development issues and unwillingness to spend substantially on the free agent market.

All that said, the fact that the White Sox have finally seemingly picked a lane is, while not necessarily praise-worthy, at least a sigh of relief. The Sox have been in baseball purgatory for a number of years — never good enough to contend but never bottomed out — and if you’re not going to be willing to spend to build a winner, getting a boatload of talented prospects during your teardown is a pretty good start to that process.

TLSThe offseason was excellent for the White Sox, they finally ditched their old stop-gap roster construction mentality and chose a more prudent path of the sustained success of the future. White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn then proceeded to revamp a traditionally thin and neglected farm-system in a matter of two moves in a 48-hour period at the Winter Meeting in December, acquiring six top-100 prospects in exchange for Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.

As far as a move that they didn’t do, that I wish they would have, I would have to say that I’m happy that Rick Hahn held firm on his asking prices for the remaining valuable trade assets such as Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, David Robertson, etc.

C70: The White Sox acquired a lot of young talent during this offseason. Who is most likely to make an impact in 2017 and who do you think will make the most long-term impact?

SSS: We will see Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Zack Burdi (2016 first round pick) with the White Sox at some point in 2017. My expectations for them are low because I’m more interested to see how they handle adjusting to the majors. The results I know will come soon enough, but I don’t think it’s important to see Moncada get crazy hot like Gary Sanchez did for the New York Yankees last summer.

Long term, I think Moncada is going to be a superstar. Giolito and Lopez could be the start of building a superior pitching staff with Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, and Carson Fulmer waiting in the wings. Burdi paired with Nate Jones in 2018 makes for a dynamic one-two punch from the bullpen. They all may struggle in 2017, but I think they can make this team much better as soon as 2018.

BPSS: One of the more interesting things about the players the White Sox acquired in the trades that sent away Adam Eaton and Chris Sale is that almost all of them are at or near MLB ready. Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez have already seen major league playing team, and while the White Sox insist they’re not going to rush their development, you should expect to see all three of them in White Sox uniforms at some point in 2017.

Giolito and Lopez could make an impact in the rotation as soon as they’re promoted, as can 2016 first-round draft pick Zack Burdi in the bullpen, but the long-term impact that’s most worth watching is Moncada. Even though he got a cup of coffee with the Red Sox last September, unless he lights Triple-A on fire in the first couple months of the season, I wouldn’t expect him to come to Chicago until the latter portions of the season. But regardless of when he comes up, he’s the best hitting prospect the White Sox have had in a long time.

TLS: The White Sox did indeed acquire a lot of young talent this winter, but I don’t believe that any of them will make a major impact in 2017. The White Sox are rebuilding, and GM Rick Hahn has made it very clear that all of the top-tier talent that they acquired will be starting their White Sox tenure at the minor-league level in 2017.

The White Sox do however have some existing young talent that may make an impact in 2017, as far as creating hope for the future, or cementing their role with the team moving forward. Tim Anderson has an excellent 2016 rookie campaign, and is exuding a whopping amount of confidence in Glendale at White Sox camp this spring, look for him to continue to improve in 2017, as well as former third-overall draft pick Carlos Rodon, who was lights-out in the second half of the 2016 season, and will be expected to reach his potential in his third season with the White Sox in 2017.

C70: James Shields was pretty awful last year after getting to Chicago, at least to the casual observer. Are there reasons to think he’ll improve this season?

SSS: There isn’t much hope for James Shields to rebound. He has been on the decline for a couple of seasons now and is at serious risk of being cut during the season.

BPSS: It’s tough to find much optimism around these parts. Shields was downright terrible on 2016, as his strikeout rate plummeted and he gave up an absurd 31 home runs in 114.1 innings with the Sox after they acquired him from San Diego.

The numbers don’t give a lot of hope that things will get better. He wasn’t allowing a higher-than-average BAbip, and his velocity was down. But the White Sox don’t have any plans on contending in 2017, and especially if Jose Quintana is traded, he’s going to be given every opportunity to straighten himself out. If there’s any hope to be found for Shields in 2017, it boils down to blind hope.

TLS: From a casual observer’s stand-point, I guess the only direction to go from the bottom is up, right? James Shields was as bad as it gets in 2016, especially with the White Sox, posting an ERA upwards of seven during his time on the south side, and was a guaranteed two home run per outing liability.

I have no expectations for improvement or decline from Shields whatsoever in 2017, but hopefully for the sake of preserving the White Sox bullpen arms, he can figure out how to get beyond the fourth inning on a consistent basis this year.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

SSS: The unheralded player I would recommend keeping an eye on is Miguel Gonzalez. Baltimore, for whatever reason, gave up on him and the White Sox basically got MiGo for nothing. He pitched very well for the Sox in 2016 (135 IP, 3.73 ERA, 95:35 K/BB), and will pitch for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. If Gonzalez can continue his recent success in 2017, he could also be a trade target and help the White Sox add a couple more prospects into the pipeline, while Gonzalez helps a playoff contender.

BPSS: There are two young, intriguing players who will be given every opportunity to succeed in 2017. The first is Charlie Tilson, who Cardinals fans might remember as the young outfielder sent to Chicago for Zach Duke. Tilson has the profile of a fourth outfielder, and has followed up a hamstring tear in his debut with the Sox last summer with being shut down already this spring because of a stress reaction in his foot. Still, Tilson hit at every level in the minors, and if he can stay healthy and his speed plays, he might be one to watch.

The other is catcher Omar Narvaez, who seems to have the starting catcher gig by default after last year’s failed catching experiment with Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila fell flat. Narvaez has absolutely zero power, but a great eye and solid contact skills. If he can hold his own defensively and put the bat on the ball consistently, he has a chance to stick.

Both Tilson and Narvaez are long shots in terms of being above-average major league contributors, but they’re exactly the type of players rebuilding teams like the Sox should be taking a shot on.

TLS: I’m going to say that Charlie Tilson, the former St.Louis Cardinals prospect will have an above expectation in 2017 as the White Sox everyday center-fielder. The Cardinals traded Tilson to the White Sox for Zach Duke last July, and the thought process in Chicago was that Tilson was very undervalued by the Cardinals if they sprung for Zach Duke as a return for the Illinois native.

Tilson was tabbed by White Sox GM Rick Hahn as the presumptive every day center-fielder in 2017, so the kid will have all the opportunity in the world to earn a spot in the White Sox plans for the future.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

SSS: 70-92, 5th place in the American League Central. For a team rebuilding – that’s not a bad thing.

BPSS: One of the crazier things about the White Sox going into this season is that, despite the beginning on a teardown and admission that contention is not the goal this season, it’s not inconceivable that they could finish as high as second in the AL Central. No team outside of Cleveland profiles as much of a contender this season, and there isn’t a whole lot that separates the White Sox from Kansas City, Detroit, or Minnesota on a talent level.

PECOTA currently projects the White Sox to win 75 games and finish fourth, but one thing PECOTA doesn’t factor is future trades, of which we can predict the White Sox will make a few. Assuming they ship off Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, and maybe a few others, I’d say fourth place is a likely finish, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 wins.

TLS: While the White Sox are rebuilding, and the 2017 season is the most premature glimpse into the future on the south side, I believe that a roster with a mix of talented veterans such as Jose Abreu, Jose Quintana, and Todd Frazier, coupled with a crop of youngsters looking to stick with the club or establish their role moving forward such as Charlie Tilson, Tim Anderson, and Tyler Saladino will provide the fans with a pleasantly entertaining season.

The playoffs are out of the question at this point, and who knows how long guys like Quintana will be around, but the youngsters in camp this spring are full of an abundance of hunger and confidence thus far, and that should make the White Sox a whole lot more competitive than some people are expecting them to be. The lack of expectations, and the idea that the team is destined to lose 90-100 games is not only a calming factor to the current youthful core of talent, but it’s a motivator as well.

I’m going with 74-88 in 2017, a fourth place finish in the AL Central behind the Indians, Tigers, and Royals, in that specific order.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite White Sox and why?

SSS: Frank Thomas. My father passed away when I was six years old, and because of that tragedy, I watched a lot of baseball games. This was in 1991, and Thomas was just getting started with the Sox. He was just a beast compared to everyone else and after watching his first home run, I was hooked. Baseball, in many ways, helped me cope and Thomas was a big part of that.

BPSS: It’s difficult to say anyone other than Frank Thomas for this spot. I grew up with Thomas walloping dingers out of Comiskey Park, and I can’t imagine I’ll see the White Sox employ a better hitter in my lifetime. Making it easier to call him my favorite is the fact that he’s always seemed like a genuinely nice guy. While Thomas is my obvious answer, I’ll also throw Mark Buehrle‘s name out there because of the World Series memories, no-hitters, and the fact that, while he wasn’t a Hall of Fame pitcher, he was always a joy to watch.

TLS: Easy, Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt was one of the greatest hitters in the last 50 years of Major League Baseball. Not only was he a two-time MVP, a perennial All-Star, and one of the greatest power hitters of his era, he did it all in the steroid era. Thomas was the prototypical power hitter, he hit home runs, maintained a high OBP, walked a lot, had a tremendous knowledge of the strike zone and did all of this while spending his career overshadowed by cheaters.

Remove the confirmed steroid users of that era, and we would all be talking about Frank Thomas as one of the greatest power hitters in MLB history, without a doubt.

My thanks to these three guys for their thoughts on the White Sox.  I’m pretty sure Cardinal fans are hoping the two teams could hook up for another trade by the end of the year!

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