Baseball bracketology: 2020 White Sox’s Final Four, Cinderellas, Upsets, and Bubble Watch

 


Selection Sunday has now come and gone, with gone being the operative word, as the entire Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments were outright canceled due to the global pandemic known as COVID-19.

Pair that with the fact that Major League Baseball’s Opening Day now has no definitive start date, with the initial two-week being delay usurped by the CDC’s recommendation to not conduct nationwide gatherings of more than 50 people for at least eight weeks. That would make the soonest that Opening Day could theoretically happen May 11.

My “bracket” is a little dubious on that date being a reality, but you never know. With all that said, with everyone self-quarantined, working from home, running to the stores with more raw speed than Adam Engel, and finding themselves with more free time than ever, we all could use a respite and also a way to fill the void.

From where I sit behind my keyboard, there’s no better way to do that than fill the vacuum of both no baseball and no March Madness with one composite article.

This clocks in at just more than 4,500 words, but we all have some free time on our hands and we have an itch for White Sox baseball, March Madness, and sports in general. And if not sports, then even text on a screen about sports. So this is broken into sections. Read it in full, or parse it out, consume it in bits, and wash your hands for 20 seconds with hot water for each hot take in-between sections (especially after the Upset section, as you may need to cleanse). We don’t have sports, but we have the game of words and through that we can have some strange version of White Sox March Madness –– in a real world that currently doesn’t have either.

With that said, I’m going to lay out my picks for the Chicago White Sox’s Final Four –– a core of players that will be the most valuable in 2020 –– who may surprise (Cinderellas) or underperform (Upsets), projected regression that may not happen, (think the annual trendy expert upset pick), and outline which prospects will see the big lights this season (“on the bubble”).


I tried my hand at a similar piece over at another publication back in 2016. Like any bracket, I had my share of red (losses), but also some notable prognostications in the green (wins) as well.

My Final Four consisted of Chris Sale, José Abreu, Todd Frazier and Jose Quintana.

Sale made it to the final weekend, turning in an 3.34 ERA All-Star season and setting career highs in wins (17) and innings pitched (226 ⅔) that may have been driven by his league-leading six complete games. He’d ultimately finish fifth in Cy Young voting and notch MVP votes despite being on a non-playoff team. 

Abreu got bounced after the Sweet 16. He had a decent enough year, but it took a potent second half to bounce back from a fairly dreadful first two months to salvage his season. He failed to hit the 30-home run mark or make the All-Star team but still ripped 100 RBIs for his fourth straight season and finished with a respectable .820 OPS.

Frazier didn’t make it out of the Sweet 16, either. He made a lot of shots –– 40 home runs, to be exact –– but overall did not live up to expectations or his seed line. His final line was .225/.302/.464, with clear shortfalls in average and OBP. He was worth 2.8 fWAR, which fell short of a projected four-win season.

Quintana, my outside Final Four pick, delivered in earnest. He joined Chris Sale at the All-Star game, put together a 3.20 ERA over 200-plus innings, got a 10th place Cy Young vote and had what to date has been the best season of his career.

I also identified two Cinderellas: Adam Eaton and Carlos Rodón.

Eaton surely did not disappoint. He actually edged Sale and led the 2016 White Sox in fWAR with a 5.9 mark. He got on base at a .362 clip, swiped 14 bags, but most importantly flashed an absurd glove after a position shift to right field –– propped up by an arm that could hit triple-digits on release and nail runners like clockwork. He also led the AL in triples and garnered a 19th-place MVP vote at years end.

Rodón didn’t quite have a “breakout” year, but he did have what unfortunately remains the best season of his White Sox career thus far by racketing up 168 innings over 28 starts while posting playable numbers in a 4.04 ERA and 9.2 K/9 in what was really his first big-league season as a full-time starter.

For upsets, I thought Adam LaRoche would be downed by a back injury. It turns out he got “upset” by something entirely different: His 14 year-old son Drake LaRoche not being allowed in the clubhouse. This set off what was quite truly an international firestorm when he retired over the matter, and it oddly sparked a broader discussion about the place of children in the workplace. You can’t make this stuff up, and no my bracket did not have the details –– only that he’d have an early exit.

I had Jacob Turner upsetting John Danks for a rotation spot, predicting that the White Sox would actually eat Danks’ contract midseason in the midst of contention, a bold call considering the conventional Jerry Reinsdorf behavior. I was dead wrong about Turner, who was absolutely atrocious during just two starts and 24 ⅔ innings pitched in a starter/bullpen hybrid role. Turn down the backlight on your screen so as not to burn your eyes when you read about his 6.57 ERA, near 2.000 WHIP, and a 5.8 BB/9 to just 6.6 K/9. Chicago did release and eat the rest of Danks’ $15.75 million salary in May, so this pick was mixed.

My two players on the bubble, Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer, both made it to the majors, so there’s that.

Now that I’ve proven at least a modicum of credibility in my baseball bracketology, here’s a similar exercise for 2020. It is going to be semi-challenging given the uncertainty of baseball this season and how disrupted conditioning and a late and shortened season may impact performance and sample sizes, but here goes.


Final Four

C Yasmani Grandal

This was a move White Sox fans have been waiting for ever since A.J. Pierzynski was forced out of town only to be supplanted by the polarizing Tyler Flowers. Not only was the four-year, $73 million dollar Grandal deal the largest free agent outlay in White Sox history, but the backstop has been an absolute turnstile for essentially the last four seasons. There’s not better way I can demonstrate how much of an upgrade Grandal will be than this:

That 5.2 fWAR made Grandal the second-most valuable catcher in the majors last year and would have also made him the second-most valuable player in Chicago by that same metric. He posted an absurd 17.2% walk rate, per FanGraphs, which helped him achieve a .380 OBP.

Pair that with a career-high 28 home runs and a glove that gets rave reviews from both the pitch-framing eye test and advanced metrics, to say nothing of his ability to be a beacon for a staff, and Grandal looks like he’ll be a linchpin for the White Sox and deliver a massive season. If we weren’t looking at a truncated year, I’d say 25-30 home runs would be in the cards.

Either way, Grandal will provide pop and on-base percentage from both sides of the plate and be the perfect steward for Chicago’s rotation. He’s what we’d call a blue-blood No.1 seed –– a lock –– and your best bet to reach Chicago’s Final Four from a composite value perspective.

LF Eloy Jiménez

Jiménez had his first taste of big-league action from the jump last season after signing a winter extension. He ended up missing some time with a pair of IL stints, one for a right ankle sprain and another one for sustaining a nerve contusion in his arm during an outfield collision.

Through 122 games, Jiménez still managed to break the 30-home run mark with 31 bombs, and some of them were truly tape-measure shots. There was a little swing-and-miss to his game (26.6% K-rate) but he slashed .267/.315/.513 on the whole with a .246 ISO.

Jiménez is like that upstart program that is suddenly elevated with a slew of top recruits but is felled by injuries and exits earlier than expected. Not in 2020. The roster of prolific batting tools will be coming back, so to speak, and with an expectation of health.

Jiménez barely tapped into the value of Guaranteed Rate Field as a hitter’s park last season (.748 home OPS compared to an .892 away) which is an aberration that is unlikely to be in play again. His torrid pace to end the season (.340/.383/.710 slash line with nine home runs in September) could very well be a prelude of what’s to come. Eloy will simply mash in 2020.

SS Tim Anderson 

Anderson had a breakout campaign last season in a full-fledged attempt to #changethegame You could call it akin to mid-major that ends up leaving a lot of red in its wake and rubs teams and their fans the wrong way in its run to the Final Four; but at the same time also exhilarates a whole new brand of play and ends the tourney with much more name recognition. Anderson invented the “Javelin Bat Flip,” after all.

In 2020, he’ll make good on last year’s run and be a favorite to repeat the performance. Anderson got his title game of sorts last season by leading all of baseball with a .335 batting average. That hardware came with 32 doubles and 18 home runs in just 123 games, as the shortstop battled an ankle sprain.

Had he not missed the time, he likely would have produced his second consecutive 20/20 season. Anderson ended up being worth 3.5 fWAR last year despite the injury bug and the fact that he was actually negative on the other side of the game, committing a league leading 26 errors –– many of the throwing variety.

Expect the Chicago shortstop to clean that up this season as defense has been mentioned publicly as a priority for him, and no one on the club has a more tenacious work ethic. People looking for an upset might point to the fact Anderson walked at just a 2.9% clip and posted an unsustainable .399 BABIP.

But Anderson has proven that he’s going to play his game, from the javelin bat flips to his aggressive approach at the plate. Net-net, his game plays up due to plus raw speed, plus plate coverage, and the fact that he hits the ball to all fields with minimal infield fly outs –– all ingredients that will aid in his maintaining at least an above-average BABIP.

Regression there could be offset by someone who hasn’t even turned 27 yet and likely still has more playable power in his game. Once again, if this were a full season, a 25/25 year could have been on the table, with an outside shot at a 30/30 year if he really broke out.

Given Moncada’s in-game speed has not played as much in the way of base stealing, Anderson along with Robert could be Chicago’s best shot at a 30/30 player. The shortened season makes it much more unlikely, but expect Anderson to be a star nonetheless and both cut down the errors and the nets as his visibility as a face of the game becomes even more high-profile.

3B Yoán Moncada

Moncada was like Anderson last season in the sense that he was more of a No. 3-to-4 seed that made his way to the final weekend. Imagine a very talented team that doesn’t see things click as a group until their junior season.

That’s what happened for Moncada last year as he slashed .315/.367/.548 en route to a team-leading 5.7 fWAR, in part thanks to a glove that played up at third base as opposed to the keystone. He cut his strikeout rate from an abysmal 33.4% in 2018 to a very playable 27.5% in 2019.

Moncada smashed 25 home runs, 34 doubles, and five triples despite missing a chunk of time with a hamstring strain. There are some regression worries due to a high BABIP, which will be addressed later, but there’s more ceiling for Moncada in 2020 — and that should be a scary thought for opponents.

He showed a solid walk rate during his pro ball days in the minors and in his 2017 debut (12.6 %) which fell to just 7.2% in 2020. With excellent plate discipline, there’s certainly reason to believe that number reverts a little closer to above-average range or at least the double-digits, which will raise his OBP. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old will likely continue to show even more in-game power, as he can certainly hit moonshots and the long ball should come with more regularity.

Finally, someone with 70-grade speed should quite frankly be swiping more bags. Moncada made just 13 attempts last year despite a 76% success rate. Moncada should be swiping 20 bags with ease in a full season and possibly even in a shortened season.

So tapping into more in-game power, more playable speed, and just natural growth for the White Sox’s most tool-ridden and physical specimen outside of Robert, Moncada will have more than “One Shining Moment” in 2020 and potentially make an MVP bid. He is the odds-on No. 1 seed for 2020.

Cinderellas

SP Reynaldo López

López makes for a very interesting cinderella pick as he could very well “bust” some brackets in 2020, especially brackets that are labeling him a “bust.” Will 2020 truly be the year of “hindsight is 2020” for these fans and pundits alike? Here are a few reasons why the slipper, or rather cleat, may fit for López.

He absolutely has the former prospect pedigree. Coming up with the Nationals, some evaluators painted López as even more of a star than his often more-touted teammate Lucas Giolito. That seemed to prove true as he flashed nastier stuff than a struggling Giolito and ended 2018 –– his first full season as a big league starter –– on a high note.

Rather than López carrying that over into 2019 for a breakout, it was instead Giolito who had a surge, and López ended up being an unmitigated disaster –– “good” for a 5.38 ERA over 33 starts and an unforgiving FIP of 5.04 that wasn’t noticeably better.

López quite frankly was all over the plate, even showing lack of concentration at times. His HR/9 clocked in at 1.71, which is eye-popping bad, while he also walked more than three batters per nine innings. There wasn’t obvious bad luck either, as he had a pretty in-line .316 BABIP against and a 69.2% strand rate.

So what could possibly be the positives? Well the raw stuff is certainly still there. López’s fastball velocity still runs up regularly over 95 mph while his curveball can still look sharp at times. His K/9 was actually a full batter improvement from 2018, settling at 8.27 per nine, and despite his struggles he’s been durable with two consecutive seasons of more than 180 innings pitched and such durability has led to two straight two-WAR seasons as well. So it’s not all entirely bad.

Sometimes these things just take time. Grandal has already been reported to have a positive effect on López, apparently identifying some ways López can leverage his off-speed stuff better; this being one of the paramount reasons Grandal was a good add.

We’ll see if it carries over into the season, but for López the stuff is there and so is the durability. Now it’s all about that elusive control and command, which if realized, could give the White Sox a very solid power righty. If not, maybe he’s a two-pitch pitcher who plays up in the pen. The 2020 season will be a litmus test, but one worth giving for sure.

OF Adam Engel

Engel has been a trendy Cinderella for years. When you get body and tool comps to Mike Trout, that tends to happen. These types of comps are always unfair, but not unusual this time of year when a team is regarded as “the Butler, VCU, or Davidson of year X.”

I don’t think Engel will be a Cinderella in the traditional sense, where he parlays his myriad of tools, build, and athleticism into some huge Elite Eight run as a double-digit seed, but he can be a Cinderella in the sense that he carves out a niche on this roster.

The glove has always been playable — more than playable actually; in fact, plus. He’s the perfect roving outfielder to come in as a late defensive replacement or pinch-runner where his plus speed can play up late in a game during a crucial moment.

It’s not worth getting into the annual narrative of mechanical adjustments and swing changes, but the fact remains that Engel can fill a role in 2020 and be of value. It was a small sample, but Engel hit .313/.360/.482 versus LHP in 2019 and he’s always been better against southpaws in his career. Not as flashy as that line, more like a .679 OPS type, but still –– better.

Given Nomar Mazara will be manning right field, Engel could be a serviceable platoon partner for him and generate additional value defensively and on the basepaths, with some occasional pop here and there.

Once he’s no longer overexposed in a starting role, Engel may go from a liability to a competent utility piece, and that would certainly be a Cinderella story for someone who otherwise would be on the fringe of being out of the game entirely. Maybe 2020, is Adam Engel’s Sweet 16 –– where he was once regarded as an intriguing prospect.

Upsets

Upsets: you love them and you hate them, depending on your bracket and allegiance of course, but they always happen. In this context, upsets are always negative –– well, mostly. You’ll see a few qualifiers. Upset will be ranked as most likely to happen to least likely as described by traditional NCAA Tourney seed vernacular. A 16-over-1 is historically unlikely while a 10-over-7 is a relatively safe bet and really anything 12-over-5 and less isn’t mind-blowing, at least to those who dig into the numbers.

Roster Spot Crunch (10) over Zack Collins (7)

With the signing of Grandal, the White Sox now have not one but two All-Star catchers on their roster when you factor in holdover James McCann. The fact that Abreu is still manning first base, Grandal can also play that corner infield spot, and the additional fact that Edwin Encarnación was signed with the explicit intent of full-time DH duties, the roster composition is not looking kind to Collins, a former Top 10 draft pick back in 2016 who has hit for power and OBP in the minors but whose profile has been dampened by a poor hit tool and subpar defensive outlook as a backstop. The shortened season means even less chance for opportunity, as a limited schedule may not be as taxing for players. Factor in that with the logic of getting Collins regular ABs at Charlotte, and he does not look to get a lot of time under the bright lights in 2020.

Bullpen Role (11) over (6) Carlos Rodón

This would be an upset in the sense that Rodón was not taken with the No. 3 overall pick out of N.C. State back in the 2014 draft to be used as a bullpen piece. He was drafted to be a front-end starter. But Rodón has been a disappointment no matter how you frame it. Save for a 2016 season in which he made 28 starts to compile 165 innings of respectable 4.04 ERA ball with a 9.2 K/9 as a 23 year-old, it’s all been a massive slide from there.

You can blame injuries, underperformance, or a combination of the two, but Rodón has just not gotten it done from the mound. After those 165 innings in 2016, he’s thrown just 224 ⅔ combined in the three years since with a 4.33 ERA, 4.66 FIP, and 4.1 BB/9 over that span.

Now coming off Tommy John Surgery and with a shortened season ahead and a crowded rotation, it makes loads of sense to take Rodón’s fastball and slider, which have looked like a deadly combo in the past, and see how they play in the bullpen.

A lefty coming out of the pen with nasty stuff could be just the trick for Rodón. It would be less taxing on his arm and possibly lead to actual, tangible value. Chicago has just one year of control on the pitcher after 2020; they might as well get something out of him.

As a Scott Boras client, Rodón seems like a change of scenery guy when he hits free agency. Rodón and Boras may be “upset” by this upset, but White Sox fans may be pleasantly surprised. And if he does turn into Chicago’s version of Andrew Miller –– a modern-day, two- or three-inning bullpen slicer with explosive stuff –– then he may have an even better chance at a payday.

Win-Win.

Shortened Season (13) over Luis Robert (4)

Robert is dripping with talent. If well-rounded prospects are tool sheds, then he’s five top-of-the-line toolboxes inside of a tool shed. Robert may be the best player of the whole critical mass when all is said and done.

He has the bat, mammoth power, leopard speed, and platinum glove. But Robert also has zero big league experience and despite video game numbers in Charlotte, the hit tool is still a bit raw. It is quite possible there will be a lag, a period of adjustment.

The 2020 season had a good chance to shake out as a coming-out party for Robert with real Rookie of the Year potential, but a shortened season won’t help in masking early struggles. If those make up a disproportionate portion of the 2020 campaign, then Robert’s road to true stardom may have to wait until 2021.

COVID-19 (15) over Major League Baseball (2)

There’s something that’s been eating at my mind, and that’s the possibility that baseball doesn’t happen at all. With every waking day, the value of social distancing and flattening the curve with COVID-19 rises even more to the forefront. And with it usually comes new CDC recommendations on limiting crowds to smaller numbers and for longer periods.

Speculation is abound and there’s been some lines of thinking that baseball may not start until midsummer and that even if it does, it may have to occur without fans or with limited attendance. The systems to properly screen and re-integrate into society may simply not be in place.

There’s also conjecture that if baseball were to be canceled entirely by the league due to a “national emergency,” the MLBPA may not be able to stave off contracts being invalidated. That’s a win on overhead for the owners.

Sure, there’s boatloads of money on the table to be lost. Out of sight, out of mind is at play, too. But at some point –– especially if a decent chunk of games would have to be played with no fans –– then the ROI, not the revenue, but the actual income over fixed operating costs may be very minimal — or worse, projected to be negative.

If that’s what the tea leaves start to say, then there is at least a chance the owners lobby with Major League Baseball to pull the plug on the 2020 season entirely. This would be an upset for the ages, but it’s not one to write off entirely.

The Trendy Upset That Won’t Happen

BABIP (12) over Yoán Moncada (5)

Every year there is one team that all the pundits pick to shock the world, and the shock is that it doesn’t happen. In recent years, think any South Dakota State team with Mike Daum on it, or a New Mexico St. team that could always crash the boards but instead crashed dreams of bracket perfection instead (Thanks Aggies!)

The trendy upset pick this year in the baseball world is that the league leader in BABIP, Moncada, will see massive regression and that this said underlying number was a key driver of his breakout season.

Moncada had a .406 BABIP last year, up from a .344 BABIP the year prior. That screams regression, until you look at the fact that Moncada also lowered his infield fly ball rate, raised his hard contact rate, and increased his line drive rate. Those are all immediate explanations for why he had a higher BABIP, and again, his baseline in a down year was .344.

Want to dive deeper into the stats? He increased his exit velocity between 2018 and 2019 from 90.6 to 92.8 (seventh in baseball) and his barrel % from 9.6 to 12.2, per Baseball Savant. That barrel % is nearly twice the league average of 6.3.

Moncada also brings other drivers that can make a BABIP more sustainable, like hitting to all fields, possessing raw speed to leg out infield hits, and the fact that he actually is hitting the ball out of the park way more than before. You don’t have to worry too much about your BABIP when your ball isn’t in play as often, and it’s less in play for the good reasons like home runs and walks, not the bad one: strikeouts.

Another interesting note: speaking of those infield hits, Moncada had an 8.9% rate in 2018 and only a 4.6% in 2019, so he may actually leg out more infield hits in 2020, making the sustainability of a higher BABIP all the more buyable.

The bottom line is this –– even if Moncada’s BABIP recedes, his overall ceiling may not. The best is yet to come and over-inflating one statistic that isn’t as alarming as it seems will do a disservice to your baseball bracket. Avoid this trendy upset pick.

On the Bubble

2B Nick Madrigal (IN)

Madrigal was likely going to be here by mid-April at the latest. The high-IQ player who simply does not strike out is an easy at-large bid despite the small stature. Service time considerations and how they will apply to a shortened 2020 are still up in the air, but it won’t matter with Madrigal. The mature rookie with the slick glove will be manning second at some point.

1B Andrew Vaughn (OUT)

Vaughn has impressed mightily in his initial taste of pro ball. He is an extremely polished college bat who may be the best pure hitter in the whole organization. He truly could be a 60 hit/60 power guy which could shake out to a perennial near-.300 average and consistent 30-bomb player. But the shortened season will make a September (November?) call-up unlikely even if Chicago is in contention. He just won’t have enough requisite ABs in the minors to make the jump.

SP Dane Dunning (OUT)

The crowded rotation already put Dunning in a dangerous position on the bubble, and that’s without even referencing that he’ll be coming back from Tommy John surgery. He’ll need more than just a tuneup in the minors before seeing the big leagues. He may find his way in if there are injuries, or the season actually starts in May rather than July, but if not, Dunning will have to wait until 2021 to hear his name called.

SP Michael Kopech (IN)

You could actually say Kopech is in a somewhat similar boat as Dunning given the developing circumstances, but he’s had his time in the minors –– and a short stint in the bigs –– so it’s more about purely rehabbing. While we’ll see less of Kopech in 2020 than we would have without COVID-19, we will see Kopech –– or the lightning power arm I like to call “Zeus” –– in 2020 at some point. If not, it will be a major snub.


I hope this fulfilled the gaping black hole that’s a result of the lack of sports during what is an unprecedented global crisis. From me to you the reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and remember: There are sunnier days ahead. Days where the sun will be beaming down on ballplayers.

Patience is a virtue, and hope is currently our best medicine.

 

Six-run sixth falls short in 12-7 loss

Staying hot: Andrew Vaughn hit an RBI single in today’s loss. His spring batting average sits at .350, while his OPS is 1.080. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


It was a forgettable day for the pitching staff, as they allowed 12 runs (all earned) on 18 hits in a high-scoring, 12-7 loss to the Giants in Scottsdale.

Dallas Keuchel got the start for the White Sox. Though he started strong, things did not end that way for him. After throwing two scoreless innings, Keuchel allowed back-to-back RBI singles by longtime Giants Brandon Belt and Buster Posey. The White Sox got one of those runs back in the top of the fourth on a Nicky Delmonico single to make the score 2-1. But, the Giants came right back in the bottom half, with an RBI ground-rule double by Jaylin Davis and an RBI single by Brandon Crawford. Keuchel’s final line was the following: three and two-thirds innings, four runs (all earned), eight hits, one walk, and three strikeouts. Keuchel’s spring ERA increased to 5.87.

The White Sox’s next pitcher, José Ruiz, fared no better. Ruiz faced four batters, and though he struck out two of them, the other two (Darin Ruf and 2018 second overall pick Joey Bart) hit homers. When Ruiz left the game in the fifth, the White Sox trailed by a score of 6-1.

The offense appeared to be having a rough day until, incredibly, an explosion in the sixth inning put the White Sox in the lead. The first four batters of the inning (top 100 prospect Nick Madrigal, top 10 prospect Luis Robert, Nomar Mazara, and top 25 prospect Andrew Vaughn) all singled.

All of a sudden, it was a 6-3 game, and the White Sox had two runners on with no outs. Delmonico broke the streak by striking out, but James McCann quickly started a new streak, as he tripled (yes, James McCann did that). Zack Collins doubled to tie the game, and Cheslor Cuthbert put the Sox ahead with a single.

Unfortunately, the lead did not last. From that point forward, the White Sox’s bats were quiet, while the Giants were far from finished. A two-out, two-run homer by Zach Green off Alex Colomé put the Giants ahead by a score of 8-7. Green’s home run turned out to be the decisive hit. The score remained 8-7 until the bottom of the eighth, when the Giants put up a big, crooked number against Bernardo Flores to put this one out of reach.

Codi Heuer was a diamond in the rough as far as the pitching was concerned. Heuer pitched a scoreless inning, retiring all three batters he faced and striking out two of them. Heuer has not allowed any earned runs this spring (five innings pitched, 0.600 WHIP).

After this 12-7 loss, the White Sox’s spring record is 8-6, and there will be split squad action tomorrow. The first game will be against the Royals at 3:05 CST, and the second game will be against the Padres at 3:10 CST. Alex McRae is set to start against the Royals, while Reynaldo López is the probable starter against the Padres.

White Sox ride big seventh inning to 5-1 win

In the clutch: Andrew Vaughn’s single turned out to be the decisive hit in today’s victory. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


The White Sox’s bats got off to a slow start, but they finished strong in a 5-1 victory over the Brewers.

The first run of the game scored in the top of the third inning in an unusual way. The White Sox managed to put their first two batters of the inning on base. Luis Robert singled, promptly stole second (what a surprise), and James McCann singled to put runners on the corners. Then, Leury García laid down a bunt that actually worked. García placed it nicely, as he was safe at first, and McCann advanced to third on a throwing error by Brewers catcher Jacob Nottingham. Unfortunately, that was the only run the White Sox scored that inning, despite having a golden opportunity to tack on another run.

In the bottom of the fourth, the Brewers tied it with a solo home run by Keston Hiura. Hiura, a rookie in 2019, slashed .303/.368/.570 with a 139 wRC+ last season. Even though FanGraphs was unimpressed by Hiura’s defense, his bat was enough to boost his value to 2.1 fWAR, even though he only played 84 games. This blast by Hiura was the only run White Sox starter Dylan Cease allowed in his four innings of work. Cease issued no walks, struck out five, and he looked in control against most hitters today. Cease appears ready for a big improvement over his rookie campaign, which did not go as planned.

With the game still tied at one in the seventh, the White Sox had runners on the corners with two outs after singles by García and Danny Mendick. Andrew Vaughn, up to bat in a big spot, came through with a sharp single to give the White Sox a lead that did not relinquish.

After a walk to Zack Collins to load the bases, Luis Gonzalez broke the game open with a two-run double to make it 4-1. In the eighth, Andrew Romine tacked on a run with an RBI triple, which drove in the final run of the game for either side.

As for the White Sox’s bullpen, it got the job done, too. Five relievers played in this game, and all of them (Codi Heuer, Jacob Lindgren, Caleb Frare, Kodi Medeiros, and Vince Arobio) pitched a scoreless inning. Thanks to them, there was no drama in the latter innings.

The White Sox improved to 6-5 this spring. They will face the Rockies at Camelback Ranch tomorrow at 2:05 CST, and Drew Anderson is the White Sox’s probable starter. March 5 is a pretty good day in White Sox history, as that is Paul Konerko’s birthday. It could be an even better day in the future, as that is also Nick Madrigal’s birthday. Hopefully, he will be able to celebrate with another victory.

SSHP Podcast 18: Chuck Garfien

(Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights)


Chuck Garfien joins Clinton Cole to talk White Sox spring training baseball and everyone’s favorite player, Yermín Mercedes. The pair also cover other bright spots of camp so far, including Nicky Delmonico, Andrew Vaughn and Adam Engel — and celebrate the fact that there’s an actual battle for the final active roster spot this season!

 

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Mercedes homers, White Sox rally late to force tie

Power surge: 2019 first round pick Andrew Vaughn hit a double off the wall to raise his way-too-early spring average to .500 and his way-too-early spring OPS to 1.750. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


Offensive highlights were hard to come by this afternoon, as the White Sox tied their Camelback Ranch buddies by a score of 2-2. A decent chunk of the offensive highlights we did see came courtesy of Nicky Delmonico, who went 3-for-3 with two doubles. Unfortunately, nobody was able to drive Delmonico home. Delmonico did not get a fourth plate appearance, as he was pulled for a pinch-runner in the sixth (Jaycob Brugman).

The pitching staff managed to hold the Dodgers off the board for most of the afternoon, as the game remained scoreless until the bottom of the sixth. 26-year-old righty Alex McRae started on the mound for the White Sox, and he threw two innings and set down all six batters he faced. Adalberto Mejía contributed two scoreless innings of his own, and Evan Marshall added a scoreless fifth. Marshall would not have escaped unscathed, however, if not for this excellent defense by Danny Mendick.

The first run for either side crossed the plate when right-hander Ian Hamilton allowed a solo home run to Cody Thomas. Three batters later, Omar Estevez followed with another solo shot off Hamilton. As a result, the Dodgers led by a score of 2-0 after six.

Although Delmonico had nearly half of the White Sox’s hits, the loudest hit was a seventh inning blast by Yermín Mercedes, which cut the deficit in half. Did I mention this thing was crushed? Because, seriously, it was. Have a look. Hopefully, you will enjoy this as much as I did:

 

Whether or not the White Sox will have room for Mercedes on the 26-man roster remains to be seen. However, today was certainly a step in the right direction for him. The next batter, Andrew Vaughn, nearly followed with a solo blast of his own. Instead, Vaughn settled for a double off the top of the wall. Last year’s third overall pick finished 1-for-2.

In his only other plate appearance, Mercedes led off the top of the ninth inning with a single. That turned out to be a big hit, as the lead runner came around to score on a Matt Skole double to tie the game.

In the latter innings, Codi Heuer, Jacob Lindgren, and Will Kincanon all pitched admirably, as each threw a scoreless inning to make the offense’s job easier. As a result, the Skole RBI double was the last time either team scored, as this game ended in a 2-2 tie.

Nick Madrigal was the center of attention for White Sox Twitter this morning. This was because for the second straight season, Keith Law decided not to include him on his Top 100 Prospects list. As a result, I wanted Madrigal to succeed even more than usual today. Though Madrigal did not strike out (of course), he did not reach base, either, finishing 0-for-3. You win this small battle, Keith, but Madrigal will win the war.

With the tie, the White Sox’s record stands at 1-0-1 this spring. Tomorrow will be a split-squad day, as there will be a pair of White Sox games, both at 2:05 CST. One will be a road game at Goodyear Ballpark against Cleveland. Left-hander Bernardo Flores Jr. is set to take the mound for the Sox, while Shane Bieber is Cleveland’s probable starter. In the other matchup, a home game, Drew Anderson will take the mound for the White Sox against Kevin Gausman of the Giants. The latter game will be streaming on whitesox.com.

Camelback Confidential: Beefed-up rookies impress

The Magic Man: Nick Madrigal is getting ready to take over second base in the not-so-distant future. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. as pitchers, catchers, and the position players who have reported early took the field this afternoon for batting practice and fielding work at the complex.

What was otherwise a quiet day was broken up at times by Eloy Jiménez‘s laugh and infectious personality, echoing throughout the back fields. He was excited to be there, as well as the rest of the guys, all who appeared to be having a good time. But when it came time to work, they were all business as well.

Speaking of being all business, Blake Rutherford participated in today’s workout and there were mentions of him hitting the weight room during the offseason. After seeing Rutherford in person today, I can confirm that he definitely looks like he’s packed on a lot of muscle and overall, he looks really good heading into the spring. He took batting practice this afternoon and had some of the best rounds among all participants. Even though it’s just batting practice — which can make anyone look good — Rutherford was consistently driving the ball, and the ball was exploding off his bat all afternoon.

After struggling in Double-A last season, the clock is ticking with Rutherford and he needs to find a way to make himself stand out if he wants to earn a role in Chicago down the line. Perhaps today was the start of that for him. His launch angle was solid during batting practice, and if he can continue to do that there’s potential for Rutherford to have a major increase in power this season when factoring in his added muscle as well.

Joining Rutherford in the unofficial White Sox offseason weight club was Nick Madrigal, who also came to spring training looking more filled out. Madrigal has talked about strength training being a focus of his since he joined the organization, and he backed that up by displaying a more muscular build at Camelback Ranch today. Madrigal didn’t hit this afternoon, but he did go through fielding drills, where he excelled just as you’d expect. Madrigal went through standard drills that involved fielding grounders and either flipping them to second base or throwing to first base. He was getting some reps with regulars like Tim Anderson and José Abreu. With Anderson and Madrigal working on turning double plays together, fans in attendance got a glimpse into the future.

White Sox 2019 first round selection Andrew Vaughn also took the field today to work on defense with the rest of the guys. For the most part, Vaughn had a good day in the field. He scooped up a glove-side chopper on a tough play that drew praise from the members of the coaching staff. Overall, he held his ground during drills, and his throws to second base were almost completely accurate — you can tell that Vaughn played all over the infield while growing up into the game. This marks Vaughn’s first invite to spring training and while he obviously won’t break camp with the team, it will be interesting to see how he handles playing against guys in the majors or close to it.

You can tell that the players who were at Camelback Ranch today are ready to get the season started. In previous years, the vibe was more loose and fun. Don’t get me wrong: There were still glimpses of that same vibe today. However, it seems like these guys are a little more serious this time around, as they get ready to close the book on the rebuild and grow into a winning team.

Hitter’s Camp Day 2: Andrew Vaughn

Getting his legs under him: It’s been a whirlwind year for Vaughn, coolly and calmly taking it all in. (Chicago White Sox)


In a brief but fun interview on Day 2 of Hitter’s Camp in Glendale, White Sox TV caught up with 2019 first round pick Andrew Vaughn to discuss dancing with pitchers, the excited anticipation of his first spring training, highlights of his Team USA experience, and being a “shorter” first baseman.

 

Hitter’s Camp: Day 2, plus Ricky

Moving up together: Frank Menechino tutors ex-Knights pupil Nick Madrigal, who should soon join the hitting coach in Chicago. (Chicago White Sox)


Tuesday was Day 2 of Hitters’ Camp down in Glendale, and the White Sox were kind enough to provide more footage of the proceedings. 

First, a one-on-one with manager Ricky Renteria, who can hardly conceal his excitement over his club turning the corner. Come for the giddiness, stay for the “Gardy.”

 

 

 

 

 

And of course, we have some batting cage footage, including Andrew Vaughn, Nick Madrigal, Frank Menechino, Rick Hahn, Ricky Renteria and Blake Rutherford.

First taste of spring: Batting cages, Camelback Ranch

Meeting of the minds: New hitting coach Frank Menechino and prize free agent Yasmani Grandal offer Triple-A hopeful Blake Rutherford tips in the batting cage in Glendale on Monday. (Chicago White Sox)


With every White Sox fan drooling in anticipation of an exciting summer on the South Side, on Monday the White Sox released some batting cage footage of several earlybirds to spring training. An unofficial head count shows Zack Collins, Danny Mendick, Nick Madrigal, Seby Zavala, Gavin Sheets, Andrew Vaughn, Yasmani Grandal, Blake Rutherford, top brass, manager Ricky Renteria and hitting coach Frank Menechino.

Enjoy your first taste of the signs and sounds of spring:

Deep Dive: Winston-Salem and Kannapolis first basemen

Top notch: Andrew Vaughn is the third-ranked White Sox prospect, and 21st overall, according to MLB Pipeline. (@WSDashBaseball)


“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  5. Free agent options at that position

This article delves into the first basemen who finished the year with Winston-Salem and Kannapolis. While Andrew Vaughn is the obvious headliner, there are several interesting bats here, including Corey Zangari and Tyler Osik.

(age as of April 1, 2020)


Winston-Salem Dash

Andrew Vaughn
6´0´´
214 pounds
B/T: R/R
Age: 21

Vaughn enjoyed a spectacular three-year run with the University of California. As a freshman, all he did was slash .349/.414/.555 with 12 homers, 50 RBIs, 19 walks and 24 strikeouts. The next year saw him have arguably his best production (and a Golden Spikes Award as the NCAA’s best player), as he slashed .402/.531/.819 with 14 doubles, 23 homers, 63 RBIs, 44 walks and just 18 strikeouts in 54 games. While his junior season wasn’t quite up to his sophomore standards, it was still sensational as he slashed .374/.539/.704 in 52 games with 14 doubles, 15 homers, 50 RBIs, 60 walks and 33 strikeouts. Thus, in a total of 160 college games — equating to a full major league season, Vaughn slashed .374/.495/.688 with 35 doubles, one triple, 50 homers, 163 RBIs, 123 walks (16.5%) and 75 strikeouts (10.1%). Amazing stuff! As a result of his hitting prowess, Vaughn was selected with the third overall pick by the White Sox in this year’s MLB draft.

After obliterating the AZL in a three-game stretch to start his pro career, Vaughn finished the season with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. His numbers weren’t overly impressive for the year, but this was by far the longest season of his life and likely suffered through a bit of fatigue. In 205 at-bats with three teams, he combined to slash .278/.384/.449 with 17 doubles, six homers, 36 RBIs, 30 walks (12.2%) and 38 strikeouts (15.5%).

Vaughn currently ranks third among all White Sox prospects, and 21st overall among all prospects per MLB Pipeline. His hitting and power are both graded 60 by MLB, arm and field 50, and running at 40. According to Baseball America, “Vaughn’s advanced feel to hit, power and plate discipline should allow him to become an impact hitter in the middle of a major league lineup, while also allowing him to rise through the minors quickly.” While Vaughn advanced quickly through the system’s lower levels in 2019, expect him to only receive promotions from here on out once he’s proven he’s ready for advancement. Expect him to begin the season in Birmingham, with a likely promotion to Charlotte if all goes well.

Jameson Fisher
6´2´´
200 pounds
B/T: L/R
Other positions played: Left field
Age: 26

During Fisher’s college days with Southeastern Louisiana University, he was considered one of the premier college hitters in the country. The big question was where to play him. He was a catcher during his freshman and sophomore seasons, but he tore his labrum, which cost him the entire 2015 season. Fisher returned in 2016 to play first base and left field, but no matter where he played, his bat was his ultimate card-carrying tool. In that junior season, he slashed .424/.558/.692 in 61 games by producing 16 doubles, two triples, 11 homers, 66 RBIs, 54 walks (19.6%) and 31 strikeouts (11.2%). As a result of his efforts, the White Sox selected him in the fourth round of that year’s MLB draft.

With Great Falls in 2016, Fisher proved every bit the hitter he was expected to be as he slashed .342/.436/.487 in 50 games with 13 doubles, a triple, four homers, 25 RBIs, 27 walks (12.3%) and 43 strikeouts (19.6%). The 2017 season saw Fisher split time with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem with decent but unspectacular numbers: .245/.342/.402 in 124 games with 30 doubles, six triples, 10 homers, 68 RBIs, 58 walks (10.8%) and 114 strikeouts (21.3%). Last year saw him completely overmatched with Birmingham in 97 games as he produced a .216/.321/.321 slash line with 11 doubles, two triples, six homers, 24 RBIs, 44 walks (11.9%) and 113 strikeouts (30.5%).

Fisher was demoted to Winston-Salem for the 2019 season, and although his numbers received a bit of an uptick, they weren’t enough for him to earn a return trip to Birmingham. In 127 games for the Dash this year, he slashed .242/.343/.375 with 30 doubles, two triples, nine homers, 72 walks (13.3%) and 130 strikeouts (23.9%). Although Fisher had a respectable year defensively at first base, his value is with the bat. He will turn 26 during this offseason, and will be eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft. If Fisher returns, it could be simply as organizational depth at either left field or first base.


Kannapolis Intimidators

Tyler Osik
5´10´´
203 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Left field
Age: 23

Osik, son of former Pittsburgh Pirate Keith Osik, took a circuitous route through college. After spending his freshman year with Division II Coker College, Osik spent his sophomore campaign with Chipola Junior College (Fla.). He then transferred to the University of Central Florida for his junior and senior years. Of his two seasons with the Knights, Osik enjoyed his better year during his senior campaign in 2019 as he slashed .325/.410/.542 in 52 games with 14 doubles, 10 homers, 39 RBIs, nine stolen bases, 26 walks (11.1%) and 50 strikeouts (21.3%). As a culmination of his efforts, the White Sox selected him in the 27th round of this year’s MLB draft.

While Osik did reasonably well with the AZL White Sox to start his professional career (.271/.346/.373 with 10 doubles in 31 games), he began hitting for power upon his promotion to Kannapolis on August 3. In 26 games totaling 97 at-bats for the Intimidators, he slashed .278/.352/.557 with 10 doubles, a triple, five homers, 19 RBIs, 10 walks (9.3%) and 30 strikeouts (27.8%). Osik likely will return to Kannapolis to begin the 2020 season, but it’s easy to envision an early promotion to Winston-Salem if he gets off to a great start.

Corey Zangari
6´4´´
240 pounds
B/T: R/R
Age: 22

When playing for Carl Albert H.S. in Midwest City, Oklahoma, Zangari could do it all. As a pitcher, he lit up the radar gun at 95 mph though he had difficulty throwing strikes due to not finding a consistent release point; he also caught, though it was apparent with his size that he’d be better suited as a first baseman. He also hit 19 homers during his senior season, including two in the state’s 5-A semi-final game. The White Sox coveted Zangari’s power-wielding bat and selected him in the sixth round of the 2015 draft, paying a significant over-slot bonus to pry him from his commitment with Oklahoma State University. Zangari later played for the AZL White Sox and Great Falls that year, as he combined to slash .316/.358/.481 in 54 games with 15 doubles, a triple, six homers, 41 RBIs, 14 walks (6.1%) and 52 strikeouts (22.6%).

The 2016 season was difficult for Zangari, as he began with Kannapolis but struggled terribly with a .166/.247/.314 slash line with 20 walks (8.1%) and 106 strikeouts (42.7%) in just 57 games. Though he did right the ship somewhat after a demotion to Great Falls, he finished the year with a combined .209/.287/.367 line in 110 games with 15 homers, 51 RBIs, 41 walks (8.7%) and 176 strikeouts (37.2%). Zangari then underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2017, which forced him to miss that entire season. After missing a part of the 2018 season due to injury, he literally destroyed the Pioneer League in 17 games as he slashed .262/.324/.723 with nine homers, 22 RBIs, six walks (8.1%) and just 16 strikeouts (21.6%). After earning a call-up to Kannapolis after a three-homer game with the Voyagers, Zangari got hit on the wrist on just his second at-bat and had to miss the rest of the season.

Zangari, in part due to missing so much playing time during the past couple years, struggled in his year-long stint with Kannapolis in 2019. In 85 games totaling 290 at-bats with the Intimidators, he slashed just .203/.314/.428 with 18 doubles, one triple, 15 homers, 38 RBIs, 44 walks (12.8%) and 115 strikeouts (33.4%). The power’s still there, but he won’t be able to tap into it fully unless he can can consistently get that strikeout rate below 30%. Zangari was just a tad older than league competition this year, so a promotion to a more favorable hitting park like Winston-Salem’s certainly isn’t out of the question for 2020. Though he will be eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft, it’s unlikely he’ll be selected.