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.

 

State of the White Sox bullpen as the Winter Meetings approach

Tag sale: The White Sox to take on Wade Davis’ salary, they likely can pick up a former elite closer for free. (YouTube)


With the news that Marcell Ozuna could be signing with the White Sox on Monday, it certainly looks as if the team has a chance to compete for a playoff spot in 2020. Adding Ozuna and Yasmani Grandal, along with the possibility of adding a couple of starting pitchers makes adding bullpen help a priority for the Sox this offseason.

While the 2019 edition of a bullpen wasn’t bad for the Sox, they lacked an ability to miss bats on a regular basis. Alex Colomé and Aaron Bummer were the back end options for the Sox in 2019, and while they were good, both of them pitch to contact and don’t pile up Ks. They both could be due for regression in 2020.

The Sox have a couple of other pieces on the roster that could be good options in 2020, such as Jimmy Cordero, Evan Marshall, and bounce-back candidates Kelvin Herrera and Jace Fry, but none of them beyond Herrera have track records as dominant bullpen pieces on a yearly basis in the bigs. Putting too much trust into those pieces without adding some outside help with upside could prove costly for the 2020 team.


Free agents

The free agent bullpeners who had the best years in 2019 look to be a bit redundant given what the Sox currently have in house. Will Harris (9.30K/9), Sergio Romo (8.95K/9), Sam Dyson (7.94K/9), Daniel Hudson (8.75K/9), and Brandon Kintzler (7.58K/9) are good pitchers, but might not be the smartest options for the Sox in free agency, at least as a main option. When the Sox are in late-inning, close-game situations, they need have guys that can get big strikeouts.

The most intriguing and talented option is Dellin Betances. Dellin has a big arm, is still young, and could be the perfect fit for the White Sox. Betances has a career 12.36 K/9, and from 2014-18 was absolutely dominant, posting a 1.40 ERA/1.64 FIP in 2014, 1.50 ERA/2.48 FIP in 2015, 3.08 ERA/1.78 FIP in 2016, 2.87 ERA/3.22 FIP in 2017, and 2.70 ERA/2.47 FIP in 2018. The problem? After dealing with shoulder and lat injuries that cost him most of 2019, Betances came back in September 2019 and promptly tore his Achilles after getting two outs. It was said to be a partial tear, and as far as Achilles injuries go, it shouldn’t be too serious of a recovery. But Jake Burger’s Achilles debacle was tough for the organization to swallow, so it may be hesitant to sign someone coming off of that type of injury. The injury also could present the Sox an opportunity to land an elite reliever at a non-elite price, which might be a chance they’re willing to take.


Minor league options

The White Sox do have some intriguing options in their system as it stands. Zack Burdi was taken after Zack Collins in the 2016 draft because of his huge arm. He elevated quickly through the system, and seemed primed for a chance to pitch in the bigs in 2017, before he tore his UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery. Burdi has had bumps in the road trying to come back from elbow surgery. He had a tough time regaining his big velocity, and tore his right patella tendon in June 2019. While Burdi has some work to do to prove he deserves to be with the big club in 2020, if he’s healthy and regains that big velocity, he has a chance to be a good one.

Tyler Johnson was another relief prospect who was elevating quickly through the system before a knee injury sidelined him for the first few months of 2019. Tyler finished last year with Birmingham, and had pretty good success. He has the ability to miss bats with his big fastball and good slider, and could be a midseason call-up candidate.

Ian Hamilton was another pitcher who was on the rise before injuries really hurt his status. He was dominating in hitter-friendly Charlotte in 2018 before he got a call-up. He didn’t have much initial success with the big club, but looked like 2019 was going to be a chance for him to shine. But freak injuries derailed his 2019, first with a car accident in spring training, then being struck with a line drive in the head after he made it back to action. Before the bad luck, Hamilton was impressing with a big fastball, and a pretty good slider. Maybe 2020 will be a bit kinder.

Zach Thompson is the other reliever who seems to have a chance. The big righthander was dominant in Birmingham to start the 2019 season, but hit a snag when he got to Charlotte. The hitter’s park and juiced baseball really hurt Thompson, as he gave up 14 homers in 75 ⅔ innings. The Sox converted Thompson to relief in 2018, and he dominated from the moment the change was made … until Charlotte. If Thompson proves he can make the adjustment in Charlotte at the beginning of 2019, a trip to Bridgeport could be in the works.


Trades

If the Sox are looking to trade for a relief pitcher, they would be looking at teams that probably aren’t looking to compete in 2020. If they want to find bullpen help, a trade might be the best route.

Elite Options include Josh Hader (2.62 ERA/3.10 FIP, 16.41 K/9), Liam Hendricks (1.63 ERA/1.82 FIP, 13.23 K/9), Brandon Workman 1.88 ERA/2.46 FIP, 13.06 K/9) and Ken Giles (1.87 ERA/2.27 FIP, 14.09 K/9). If the Sox decide to go this route, it will be costly in prospect capital. Of these pitchers, Hader would probably be the most costly because of age and contract status. A trade for Hader would probably cost the Sox their best prospect not named Luis Robert, and thus wouldn’t make sense. The other elites could possibly be obtained for a package centering around a tier-2 prospect like Dane Dunning or Jonathan Stiever. These types of deals would be more realistic at midseason, as the Sox would probably want to confirm that the team is competing before giving up real prospect capital in exchange for a relief pitcher.

Buy-low candidates are the type of guys who would make the most sense in the offseason. They fit the track record of the types of moves that the Sox front office likes to make as well. Andrew Miller (4.45 ERA/5.19 FIP, 11.52 K/9) and Wade Davis (8.65 ERA/5.56 FIP, 8.86 K/9) would be interesting options. Miller has been trending downward for the last couple of years, and has a lot of miles on his arm. Plus the Cardinals are a team with playoff aspirations. I wonder if they would welcome the salary relief, along with an interesting prospect in return like Luis Gonzalez or Blake Rutherford. Wade Davis’ second year with the Rockies was a miserable one, after signing a big contract in 2018. All of his numbers are down, and age could be catching up with him. But 2019 was a weird year: The ball was juiced, Denver is juiced, and there was some time on the IL for Davis as well. Two years ago with the Cubs, Davis was a much different pitcher (2.30 ERA/3.38 FIP, 12.12 K/9). Maybe getting out of the thin air would be just what the doctor ordered for Davis and the Sox. It wouldn’t take much to get Davis if the Sox offered to take on most of the contract.

Starter to reliever options would entail, for example, the Sox deciding to use Michael Kopech as a relief pitcher as he recovers from Tommy John. The Sox have a track record of using young starters in the bullpen before they start full-time, and Kopech could be a big weapon in a late-inning role. Reynoldo López would be another candidate to move to the bullpen. He has a big fastball, but has had trouble developing his secondary pitches. A move to the bullpen might allow López to focus on developing just one plus secondary pitch, as opposed to worrying about developing multiple secondaries. Plus López struggled with his concentration at times in 2019, so maybe one inning per outing would be a better option. Carlos Rodón also could be a bullpen option whenever he’s able to come back from his arm injury; another lefty in the pen is always good, and with Rodón’s injury history, a change in roles could be in the works.

 

Early moves close the book on the rebuild — it’s time to start winning!

It’s a Yaz! So far, White Sox fans are seeing less of the labor and more of the baby this offseason. (YouTube)


At this time last year, the White Sox were embarking on a seemingly endless journey in pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The club had a minimal payroll heading into the 2018 offseason, and seemed like they were in a good position to land one of the big fish. Even though the team wasn’t completely ready to start winning and they still had to work on the development of some of their own key players, Rick Hahn and Co. knew this was an opportunity that they couldn’t pass up.

With Harper and Machado having a smaller market due to their steep price tag, the White Sox were aggressive in their pursuits early as they tried to sell both players on the future of the ballclub, and how they would have a great opportunity to win consistently on the South Side. Unfortunately, we all know how this story ends, as the White Sox came up completely empty. It was yet another offseason where the White Sox were actively engaging with the big free agents, but swung and missed, leaving a lot of fans in doubt about the team’s future.

Sure, the White Sox do have talent in the farm system. However, it’s almost impossible to win on homegrown talent alone. Teams need to be able to supplement what they already have with players from outside of the organization, whether to fill holes, bring over veterans to guide younger players, or make the most of an opportunity to sign/trade for a player who once might’ve looked like a longshot. There are many reasons why free agency and trades are important, and after last offseason’s shutout it started to feel like the White Sox were running out of time to strike and make an impact move.

Fast forward to this offseason, where the White Sox once again found their name in the rumors surrounding almost all of the top free agents available. There was a little more skepticism from fans this time around, and rightfully so, as they didn’t want to get their hopes up again in what could be another failure of an offseason. Hahn acknowledged the frustration, and knew this offseason was important when he addressed the media at the GM Meetings earlier this month:

And he was right. White Sox fans are tired of “having a seat at the table” as Hahn likes to say, and want the front office to start making things happen. Being in the mix for top tier free agents and coming up empty is an exhausting practice, especially for a fan base that is starving for a winning team. At the conclusion of the 2019 season, the team was trending upwards, in large part due to the developments of core players, the arrival of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, and with Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal on the way shortly. In addition to that, the team would be getting Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodón back for the upcoming season as well.

With all the positive developments that came from last season, the White Sox still needed a few dominoes to fall, and had to make something happen this winter in order to start putting out a product that could win consistently. The team still has quite a few holes to fill with starting pitching, left-handed hitting, and right field being the most notable. This free agent class was littered with plenty of names that could fill those gaps and instantly be an upgrade, and it was time for the White Sox to, in Hahn’s parlance, show us the baby.

It didn’t take long for the organization to show they were serious about winning this offseason, as they came out of the gates quickly and inked Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million deal that gave the catcher the largest contract in the history of the franchise.

Grandal checks off a lot of boxes for the White Sox. He’s a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate, gets on base frequently, and is one of the best defensive backstops in the game. This is that type of immediate-impact signing that will benefit the club and pitching staff in many ways. Everything Grandal brings to the table makes him the complete package, and his name was up there as one of the best available free agents. The White Sox were able to get the deal done and outbid the rest of his suitors, which is a result that isn’t common on the South Side.

After a painfully long 2018 offseason, it was beyond refreshing to see the White Sox get a deal of that significance done early in the process. It also goes to show that Hahn and Co. are ready to get down to business this year. Not to mention, having Grandal as a member of the team now makes the White Sox a more attractive destination for other free agents, especially pitchers. He’s a highly-respected catcher throughout baseball, and just about anyone would benefit from working with him full-time. His elite framing ability is going to get the most out of the pitchers he works with, as he’s sure to get them a ton of extra strikes during his time in Chicago.

One free agent pitcher that the White Sox have been linked to this offseason is Zack Wheeler, one of the most prized pitching targets this winter. Members from the Mets media and other Mets outlets started mentioning the White Sox as serious suitors for Wheeler. Danny Abriano of SNY even went as far to say that the White Sox were among the “leading group” of teams bidding for Wheeler’s services. This news dropped just days before the Grandal signing became official, so Hahn was working on signing not just one significant free agent right away, but two.

Hahn could’ve sat around and celebrated the first big signing, but instead immediately went right back to work, focused on making the White Sox a winning team, and making them a winning team now. There hasn’t been much movement on the Wheeler front since those initial tidbits of information dropped, but at least the club has identified what would be another major upgrade — and they wouldn’t have to spend $200 million or more for that upgrade, as they would have last year. Sure, Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg would both be incredible additions, but those two are likely going to be out of price range. It would be wise to allocate the money among multiple players, as opposed to sinking most of it into one arm. Wheeler is in a tier slightly below Cole and Strasburg, but he has the potential to be a very good pitcher for a long time — and at half the price.

In addition to that, the White Sox outrighted Yolmer Sánchez and signed José Abreu to a three-year, $50 million dollar contract. The Abreu deal didn’t make much sense at the time, especially considering the fact that he recently accepted the qualifying offer. However, with the extension, the White Sox will save money this year and it won’t hamper their ability to continue to sign free agents. Not to mention, Abreu has been around some rough teams during his White Sox career and he deserves some security for the next few years. As far as Yolmer goes, that decision was made primarily because he was due to make $6.2 million in arbitration. Even though he’s fresh off of winning a Gold Glove, defense is about the only value he provides to the team, unless you count being a clubhouse guy/Gatorade showers.

The White Sox could’ve easily been OK with paying Yolmer the $6.2 million, because they still aren’t committed to a high payroll as of now, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they did that. However, with Madrigal being ready to take over second base in the not-so-distant future, it didn’t make sense to pay Yolmer to ride the bench. The team also has Danny Mendick, who can contribute much more offensively than Sánchez, and while he’s not a Gold Glove-caliber defender, he is solid defensively and can play multiple positions. Mendick is a perfect fit to hold it down at second base while Madrigal finishes up his development in Triple-A. Barring any surprise trades or signings, I would expect Mendick to take that job for now.

So what happens next? Well, the White Sox are off to a good start this winter, but their work isn’t even close to being done. Grandal was a great signing, but they still need to add more. We know the White Sox are once again in the mix with a lot of free agents, but this time around it feels a little different. They’ve made some noise early, and it finally seems like the front office is ready to shift their focus towards winning and being more competitive. They’ve already shown the willingness to outbid other teams and set the market for certain players, and hopefully they will continue to do that with their other targets.

The AL Central is the worst division in baseball right now. With a few more moves and the arrival of some of the highly-touted prospects, the White Sox could potentially be in the heat of a divisional race for most of next year. At the very least, there should be significant improvement, and the team might be able to squeeze their way into a wild card spot. A lot would have to go right for the White Sox to be fighting for the playoffs in 2020, but for now, at least the team is closing the book on the rebuild and is ready to start winning.

Deep Dive: Carlos Rodón’s past, present and future with the White Sox

Potential greatness: Will Tommy John surgery help change Rodón’s fortunes going forward? (@whitesox)


“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 career of Carlos Rodón through 2018, his 2019 season with the White Sox, and what his future looks like in the White Sox organization.


How did he get here?

Carlos Rodón had an awesome three years for the North Carolina State Wolfpack, as his numbers attest:

2012: 9-0, 1.57 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 17 G, 16 GS 114 2/3 IP, 71 H, 41 BB, 135 K
2013: 10-3, 2.99 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 19 G, 19 GS, 132 IP, 94 H, 45 BB, 184 K
2014: 6-7, 2.01 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 14 G, 14 GS, 98 2/3 IP, 84 H, 31 BB, 117 K

Rodón was considered by many to be the best player available in the 2014 draft, but slipped to the third overall pick due to signability concerns. After brief stops in the AZL and Winston-Salem, he made three starts for the Charlotte Knights before by the end of that season.

After two starts in Charlotte to begin 2015, Rodón was promoted to the White Sox on April 20. In what has turned to be his only season with the White Sox with nary an IL stint, he did reasonably well despite some control issues, as he posted a 3.75 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 26 appearances (23 starts) totaling 139 1/3 innings. In those innings, he relinquished 130 hits (.251 OBA) and 71 walks (11.1%) while fanning 139 (22.9%).

The following year, in which he posted a career-high to date of 165 innings, Rodón compiled a 4.04 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 28 starts as he allowed 176 hits (.273 OBA) and 54 walks (7.6%) while striking out 168 (23.5%). The 2017 and 2018 seasons were both injury-shortened, and in a combined 190 innings for those two years, posted a 4.17 ERA and 1.30 WHIP by ceding 161 hits (.230 OBA) and 86 walks (10.6%) while fanning 166 (20.5%).


With the White Sox in 2019

Rodón’s first four starts this year for the White Sox were rather encouraging, as he had posted a 3-1 record over 22 2/3 innings by posting a respectable 2.78 ERA and 1.19 WHIP by allowing just 16 hits and 11 walks but striking out 29.

However, after two roughed-up starts against the Tigers and Orioles on April 26 and May 1 respectively, something clearly wasn’t right. He was placed afterward on the IL for left elbow inflammation, and ultimately underwent year-ending Tommy John surgery in mid-May.

Overall for his abbreviated season, Rodón finished with a 3-2 record in seven starts totaling 34 2/3 innings, with a 5.19 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. In those outings, he allowed 33 hits (.239 OBA) and 17 walks (10.8%) while striking out 46 (29.1%). What’s especially notable is that lefties hit a mere .077 against his offerings, which indicates how well his slider was working this year prior to his injury. Also notable is that while Rodón’s ERA was high, his FIP was actually a respectable 3.62.

As mentioned above, Rodón’s slider was quite effective this year in albeit limited appearances. With an average speed of 83.8 mph according to Baseball Savant, he threw it 37.2% of the time and with great results, as hitters slashed just .145/.165/.210 with a 42.0% whiff rate. The slider wasn’t Rodón’s only effective offering this year — another off-speed pitch, his changeup, was also quite effective. He used it 10.8% of the time (exclusively against lefties), and with an average velocity of 84.1 mph induced hitters to a paltry .188/.188/.188 slash line with a 48.5% whiff rate. The four-seam 91.4 mph fastball was Rodón’s pitch of choice, but it by far yielded the worst results. This year, hitters slashed .350/.463/.633 against it with a 13.0% whiff rate — Rodón used this pitch 51.6% of the time this year. Finally, Rodón’s highest-velocity pitch, his sinking fastball, was used sparsely (0.3% of the time) despite its average velocity of 95.3 mph; he unleashed it more than 12% of the time in 2018, so it’s unclear whether Rodón’s going to continue having it in his arsenal.

Due to his limited outings and his final two appearances, Rodón posted a bWAR of just 0.1. Considering each bWAR is worth approximately $7.7 million on the free-agent market per FanGraphs, along with his 2019 salary of $4.2 million, Rodón produced a net value of -$3.43 million. Rodón will be eligible for arbitration for each of the next two years.


What does his future have in store?

Turning 27 in December, Rodón should be entering the prime of his career. However, with injuries being an annual issue for him, he’s yet to reach his high potential. It’s hoped that Tommy John surgery can rectify his issues once and for all. He’s not expected to return until the 2020 All-Star break, and unless you count Ross Detwiler and Manny Bañuelos in the mix for next year’s rotation, Rodón will be the team’s only southpaw starter upon his return barring any free agent signings. ZIPS projects Rodón next year to post a 1.4 WAR with a 4.06 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, but those stats seem overly optimistic at this point.

What happens if, upon his return next year, all five pitchers in the rotation are healthy and excelling? The team could either work him into an extended six-man rotation, or better yet, keep him in long relief as he slowly builds his arm back to full strength. Of course, the above situation is an unlikely one, as White Sox fans are seemingly doomed to never witness any kind of perfect-case scenario.

Rodón will be eligible to become a free agent after the 2021 season. Partly due to his health and partly because he’s a Scott Boras client, a contract extension doesn’t seem to be in the cards. In the unlikely case of an over-manned rotation after the 2020 campaign, Rodón could be made available in a trade to fill a position of actual need. Of course, he could be traded at any time; it’s just that the White Sox wouldn’t likely get as much in return as they’d like. In the meantime, it would be great to see Rodón finally reach his potential at some point in a White Sox uniform.

Today in White Sox History: September 30

Fond farewell: Scoreboard welcoming fans to the final game at Comiskey Park in 1990.


1921 — White Sox catcher Ray Schalk tied a major league record with three assists in one inning. It happened in a 3-2 loss to Cleveland at Comiskey Park. Schalk picked off three baserunners!


1949 — White Sox GM Frank Lane started the connection between the franchise and Venezuela when he dealt two minor leaguers and $35,000 to the Brooklyn Dodgers for shortstop Alfonso Carrasquel.

“Chico” would be named to three All-Star teams and would become the first Venezuelan to appear in the midseason classic. He’d be traded before the start of the 1956 season, to Cleveland for Larry Doby, which opened up the position for another Venezuelan, Luis Aparicio.


1956 — In the season-ending game at Kansas City, Sox pitcher Jim Derrington became the youngest person to ever appear in a game wearing a White Sox uniform. Derrington was 16 years old when he started against the A’s. He went six innings, allowing six runs (five earned) in a 7-6 loss. The teenaged lefty (who was a “bonus baby”) didn’t last long in the big leagues. He pitched a total of 21 innings in the majors, and had a career record of 0-2.


1966 — The White Sox defeated the New York Yankees 6-5 in 11 innings, on a single to left by Johnny Romano. It scored Wayne Causey. Why was that important? The loss guaranteed the Yankees a last-place finish, for the first time since 1912.


1971 — When Bill Melton smashed a home run on the last day of the season off the Bill Parsons of the Milwaukee Brewers, he became the first White Sox player to ever win a home run championship. Melton hit three home runs in the final two games to pass Norm Cash and Reggie Jackson for the title. Typically for a White Sox slugger, Melton only hit 33, the lowest total for a champ since 1965.

In an effort to give Melton an additional at-bat or two, manager Chuck Tanner had the power hitter leading off in the Sox final two games.


1980 — For all of his contributions to baseball and to the White Sox organization, owner Bill Veeck was honored with his own night. The ceremonies took place before the White Sox would drop a 5-1 decision to Oakland.


1990 — Eighty years of baseball history ended, as the original Comiskey Park closed with a 2-1 White Sox win over the Seattle Mariners. An emotional and capacity crowd, including politicians, musicians, sports and Hollywood figures, were in attendance.

Among the celebrities in the park were Governor Jim Thompson, Major Richard M. Daley, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Ron Howard, George Wendt, John Candy, Wayne Gretzky, Billy Cunningham and Maureen O’ Hara. The Oak Ridge Boys sang the National Anthem and the rock group Styx sung “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning. Bobby Thigpen got his 57th save in the game. The Sox would close out a miraculous 1990 season with 94 wins.


1997 — After controversies on and off the field (calling for a relief pitcher with no one warming up, a fistfight with umpire Richie Garcia at a steakhouse, a brawl near third base with Brewers manager Phil Garner) manager Terry Bevington was fired. No flowers were sent and no Sox fan (or player) shed any tears.


2000 — White Sox infielder José Valentin became the fourth player in franchise history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game. Valentin connected off Kansas City’s Blake Stein and Scott Mullen, driving in three runs in the 9-1 win. This had only happened six times in franchise history, and Valentin did it three times himself! Also, this feat happened three times against the Kansas City Royals.


2008 — For the first time, the White Sox played an extra game to get into the postseason. They hosted the Twins in the 163rd contest of the year (known as the “Blackout Game”) and won 1-0, clinching the Central Division title. John Danks threw eight shutout innings, Jim Thome belted what turned out to be the game-winning home run and Ken Griffey Jr. threw out Michael Cuddyer at home. The Sox won the division with a record of 89-74.


2016 — White Sox left hander Carlos Rodón tied the franchise and American League record by striking out the first seven Minnesota Twins hitters, in a game at U.S. Cellular Field. The original record was set by White Sox hurler Joe Cowley back in 1986 at Texas. Unlike Cowley, though, Rodón actually won his game, 7-3. Rodón struck out 11 on the night, pitching eight innings.