Analysis

White Sox 2017 Preview: Projected Opening Day Roster and Everything to Watch for this Season

The Chicago White Sox will have a familiar look next month when they open their 2017 campaign, minus a few players, the White Sox Opening Day roster will look relatively the same but surely will have a different feel than in years past.

Spring Training has been fun this time around, filled with curiosity and hope for what the future holds for the talented White Sox farm-system, and a group of youngsters that will lead the club into the next chapter of White Sox baseball. Given the performances that we have seen to this point in Spring Training and Cactus League games, coupled with the idea that the team is looking to give young players the opportunity to showcase what they have to offer, this is what I feel, and hope the Opening Day roster shapes up to be.

After taking a look at what we can expect to see on the field come April, and what we can expect from those players, I’ll give my best whack at a prediction on the 2017 edition of White Sox baseball.

Starting Positional Players

John J Kim – Chicago Tribune

Catcher: Omar Narvaez – Narvaez had a brief cup of coffee with the White Sox late in 2016, with the 25-year-old backstop getting in 101 at-bats, the White Sox liked what they saw enough to keep him in the fold heading into 2017. Narvaez hit .267 with a .350 on-base percentage during his time last season, impressing the White Sox with his ability to hit for average, and maintain an above .300 OBP, highlighting his ability to take pitches and draw walks. Narvaez drew 14 walks compared an equal amount of strikeouts in 2016.

Narvaez has displayed that same patience at the plate to date this spring, posting a .438 batting average to go along with a .471 on-base percentage, recording seven hits and a walk in his 16 at-bats thus far. Narvaez will get the majority of the playing time this season, spelled by veteran catcher Geovany Soto.

First Base: Jose Abreu – Jose Abreu has been a constant in the White Sox lineup for the past three seasons, turning in excellent production most of the time as well. Abreu who hit .293 with 25 home runs and 100 RBI in 2016 will look to avoid a slow start to the season like last year.

Abreu will at some point become a sought after trade piece for a contender looking to add a 30HR/100RBI caliber power bat to their lineup for the stretch run, but the question is, will the White Sox trade Abreu? There has been plenty of mention by the organizations new top-prospect Yoan Moncada in regards to his desire to play with, and learn from Jose Abreu. Moncada would love to have a fellow Cuban native to play with and learn from in the near future when he breaks the major-league roster, but Abreu is one of the White Sox more valuable trade assets at this point.

Only time will tell, but if Abreu has a hot start to the season, Rick Hahn’s phone will be ringing for the services of the slugging first-baseman, and I have to imagine that if the right package was offered, the club would pull the trigger.

Second Base: Tyler Saladino – Tyler Saladino’s role with the club moving forward is as interesting as his increasingly popular mustache nowadays. After having an underwhelming rookie campaign in 2015, when Saladino played mostly third base for the Sox, he posted a very optimistic sophomore campaign in 2016 playing mostly second base for the injured Brett Lawrie.

Saladino entered camp riding a wave of confidence mirrored only by Tim Anderson, and has proven his need for an extended audition as an everyday player, prompting the White Sox to release second-baseman Brett Lawrie in order to get Saladino everyday playing time at second base in 2017. Saladino is absolutely shredding opposing pitchers this spring, hitting .480 over the course of ten games, racking up two doubles, three home runs, eight RBI, five runs scored, and a pair of walks to this point.

Saladino will be the starting second-baseman in 2017, and has the opportunity to play his way into the everyday third base job once Yoan Moncada assumes his eventual role at second base.

Third Base: Todd Frazier – The Toddfather has quickly become one of the biggest fan-favorite’s on the south side of Chicago, with his laid-back personality, his “average guy” aura, and his love for interacting with fans on a personal level. Frazier has also become a leader in the clubhouse, especially since the departure of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, two guys who were thought to be leaders, but clashed with Frazier and the front-office last season.

Frazier hit a whopping 40 home runs while driving in 98 runs, setting the White Sox record for homers by a third-baseman in a single season, but turning in a less than desirable .225 batting average in 2016. In his free-agency season in 2017, Frazier needs to focus on bringing up his batting average for potential suitors this winter, whether that be the White Sox or elsewhere.

While Frazier has been named in trade discussions this winter, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for a low average, high power output third-baseman, and Rick Hahn is not going to deal a steady middle of the order bat with excellent clubhouse presence for anything less than what he is worth, and the worth in this scenario, is what he is worth in Hahn’s eyes. Expect Frazier to stick around in 2017, and possibly beyond if he has it his way.

Shortstop: Tim Anderson – 2016 treated shortstop Tim Anderson very well, the rookie made his major-league debut in June, and proceeded to double in his first big league at-bat against the defending World Series Champions in front of the then U.S. Cellular Field crowd.

Anderson went on to hit .283 over the course of 99 games as the White Sox everyday shortstop, cracking nine dingers and driving in 30 runs while collecting 22 doubles and six triples. Most pleasantly surprising of the 2016 performance for Anderson was his defensive ability at the shortstop position, something that critics held against him as a negative during his time in the minors.

Anderson entered White Sox camp with a boat load of confidence, and it’s showing in his on-field performance thus far, hitting .367 with a home run, a pair of doubles and three RBI. Anderson will look to reduce his strikeout rate this season, and solidify the two-hole in the White Sox order.

Left Field: Melky Cabrera – The Melk Man has logged two of the more consistent offensive performances since being acquired by the White Sox two years ago, and will likely do so in 2017 as well. While Cabrera has been named in trade discussions like most other established Sox players, much like Todd Frazier, it’s unlikely that he garners a good enough return that the White Sox move him, unless they are lucky enough to find a team in need of a corner outfielder/designated hitter.

Stranger things have happened, and someone giving the White Sox a second-tier prospect or two would likely get the job done for Rick Hahn.

Center Field: Peter Bourjos – Bourjos is having an excellent spring thus far, hitting .370 with a pair of doubles and triples to go along with four stolen bases. With Charlie Tilson likely to begin the season on the disabled list, Bourjos will get the first look in center field for the White Sox.

If Bourjos struggles, Leury Garcia and Jacob May should get some sort of split of the time, both Garcia and May are having impressive spring campaigns this year, and the White Sox should look to explore all of the talent in their farm-system this season.

Right Field: Avisail Garcia – “Last Chance for Avi: Part II”… Who knows though, Avisail Garcia has seemingly reached the end of the line in his White Sox tenure unless he shows drastic improvement in 2017. The 26-year-old right-fielder was playing in what we thought was his last chance, last year, when he was relegated to DH duties due to his below-average defensive abilities.

In his “last chance” season, Garcia hit .245 in 120 games, struggling again to live up to all of the hype and comparisons probably unfairly laid upon him when the White Sox acquired him from Detroit in 2013. Thankfully for Garcia, the White Sox decided this winter that a minimal one year deal was the right price to allow Garcia to have another shot on a rebuilding club full of youngsters looking to audition for future roles, and veterans hopefully playing their way into trades in July.

While Garcia is tearing the cover off of the ball in Cactus League play, it’s hard to get excited about Garcia until we see it done consistently during the regular season. Garcia will open the year as the starting right-fielder, and if he struggles mightily for an extended period of time we could see some combination of Jacob May, Adam Engel, and Leury Garcia assume his at-bats.

Designated Hitter: Matt Davidson – The presumptive Opening Day designated hitter entering the start of camp, Matt Davidson is kind of a strange case, in the sense that he is almost in the same position as Avisail Garcia, yet he was never allotted the same opportunities at the major-league level.

Davidson was having his best season in the minor-league’s in 2016, and was called up by the White Sox to get his first real taste of Major League Baseball, before he broke his foot running the bases during his first game at the major-league level with the Sox. So naturally, the White Sox seem to think that they owe Davidson one more shot, now healthy again in 2017. And they do, they do have to do their due diligence with Davidson this season, especially if their allowing the once proclaimed “Little Miggy”, Avisail Garcia to get yet another shot at a future with the club.

That’s the beautiful thing about this season, this premature preview of a bright future, a season of auditions for the future. Davidson will get his opportunity to play everyday to open the season with the White Sox, and if he struggles they could always share his playing time with a handful of other deserving players.

Bench

Source: Stacy Revere/Getty Images North America

Geovany Soto  – Geovany Soto will begin the season as the White Sox second catcher, a veteran, who will spell second year catcher Omar Narvaez. Although this is the likely scenario, and probably the best scenario in terms of allowing Omar Narvaez to get a real look, and extended playing time this season.

Part of me wants to see Kevan Smith make the Opening Day roster with Narvaez, to really highlight the youth audition theme of the 2017 season, and part of me realizes that the only way for Narvaez to get consistent playing time, while keeping Smith fresh and playing consistently, is to start Smith at the Triple-A level, and wait and see how their seasons play out before considering another arrangement.

Leury Garcia – Garcia has been a regular September addition to the White Sox roster since they acquired him in 2013, with Garcia even getting some extended platoon time, playing 74 games in 2014 for the Sox. Over the course of 130 games with the White Sox, Garcia has hit a dismal combined .188 with a slash line of .222/.238/.431 during that span.

Leury like his unrelated namesake Avisail, is entering his age 26 season, and running out of time to prove his worth in the White Sox future plans. That coupled with a promising spring thus far, is enough reason for Garcia to make the Opening Day roster this season. Garcia will begin the season coming off of the bench, likely sharing time in the outfield and spelling the starting infielders until something changes in what could be a very fluid roster this year.

That’s Garcia’s strong suit, his ability to play almost every position on the field, and it will give him the extended audition that he is looking for, even if it’s not in an everyday capacity to begin the year.

Yolmer SanchezYolmer, formerly Carlos, will likely break camp with the team’s opening day roster, despite logging underwhelming seasons with the White Sox in 2015 and 2016. The 25-year-old infielder played in just 53 games for the White Sox in 2016, posting a dismal .208 batting average before being demoted to Triple-A Charlotte for the remainder of the season.

Sanchez has a career batting average of .224 with a slash line of .261/.330/.590 over the course of 201 games with the Sox. Sanchez is out of minor-league options at this point, so he will likely break camp with the club and come off of the bench in what could be his last real look at the major-league level, and if Sanchez can’t correct his lack of ability to get on base consistently it won’t matter much what he brings defensively.

Danny Hayes – Sticking with the theme on the White Sox bench, of guys who need to take the opportunity to prove themselves this season, Danny Hayes could be (and should be) a candidate to see time at the major-league level this season. Hayes is entering his age 26 season, and spent the 2016 season with the Triple-A affiliate, Charlotte Knights.

Hayes hit .250 with a .358/.489/.857 slash line in 2016 with the Knights over the course of 55 games. Hayes hit 10 home runs, 12 doubles, and drove in 42 runs over that span, while drawing 31 walks and striking out only 51 times. Hayes is having an equally impressive spring to date, hitting .409 through 14 games with a .458 on-base percentage to go along with a home run, a pair of doubles, and eight runs driven in.

Hayes could share time with Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson at first base and designated hitter this season, and could end up playing the brunt of the playing time in 2017 if Davidson’s poor spring is any indication of how he will perform once the team breaks camp in a few weeks.

Starting Rotation

John J Kim / Chicago Tribune

Jose Quintana – Jose Quintana is already in mid-season form this spring, looking pristine in his White Sox Cactus League start before the World Baseball Classic, and even more impressive as he dominated the United Stated hitters last week, holding a stacked lineup hit-less through five innings before earning another signature no decision, go figure, he can’t even escape the criminal lack of run support in national competition.

Quintana will begin the season as the anchor of the White Sox rotation, but how long will he last is the question that we can’t wait to have answered, mostly because I’m ready to barf looking at the never-ending mock trade packages. In all likelihood though, one of these wild mock scenario’s will come to fruition between now and July 31, because the White Sox are not holding Quintana beyond the trade deadline, doing so would be a huge setback to the rebuilds time frame.

Derek Holland – After trading Chris Sale to the Red Sox this winter, the White Sox needed another starting pitcher to eat some innings, so they took a flyer on Derek Holland, who has struggled with injuries for the past few seasons, but has shown flashes early in his career of being a solid starting pitcher.

Holland, by all reports out of White Sox camp is healthy again, and if he can remain healthy through the first couple months of the season, the White Sox could flip him for some additional pieces for the farm system, possibly a second-tier prospect or a pair of wild card type prospects in the best case scenario. In the mean time the batman suit wearing pitcher will provide some light fun to keep a young White Sox clubhouse lose this season.

Miguel Gonzalez Miguel Gonzalez was surprisingly good for the White Sox in 2016 after the club took a flyer on the right-hander when the Orioles parted ways with him early in the season. While his 5-8 record was more a testament to how bad the White Sox offense was, than his output last season, Gonzalez posted a respectable 3.73 ERA over the course of 135 innings of work.

Gonzalez, who will turn 33-years-old this season, will likely start the season in the middle of the White Sox rotation with the club expected to hold Carlos Rodon‘s first start until the end of the rotation, and if Gonzalez can perform to the degree that he did last season, and get a little more run support, he could also be moved before the deadline for a return similar to one that a healthy Derek Holland could command.

James Shields – The best way to approach the James Shields expectations in 2017, is probably not to have any expectations at all. That way, if he has a repeat of his 2016 performance there is no disappointment, and if he does anything better than he did in 2016, you can be delightfully surprised.

At 35-years-old, showing multiple seasons of decline in his velocity and command, there’s really no reason to expect anything more out of Shields than what we saw in 2016. Unfortunately for the one time All-Star, the fat lady is singing on his career at this point.

Carlos Rodon – Outside of Quintana and the bazillions of mock trade packages that surround him, no White Sox pitcher, or maybe player for that matter will be examined under a fine magnifying glass this season like Carlos Rodon will be.

The former third overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft is entering his third full season with the White Sox (minus a few games in his rookie season before he was called up on April 21, 2015), Rodon has returned mixed results to this point. The 24-year-old southpaw posted a 9-6 record with a 3.75 ERA over the course of 23 starts in his rookie campaign in 2015. In 2015 Rodon struck out 139 while walking a whopping 71 hitters over the course of 139.1 innings pitched. Obviously the strikeout numbers were solid at an even 9.0 per nine innings, but the walks were through the roof for Rodon.

2016 was a tale of two seasons for Rodon, going 2-7 with a 4.50 ERA while striking out 91 and walking 32 over the course of his first 16 starts. During that span opponents hit .295 against Rodon, and cracked 15 home runs. During his final 12 starts of the season, Rodon went 7-3 with a 3.45 ERA while striking out 77 and walking only 22 hitters over the course of 73 innings pitched, which was just 20 innings shy of the total in his first 16 starts. Rodon held opponents to an opposing batting average of .244 and cut his opposing home run totals in half.

With Quintana potentially gone before the start of the 2018 season, Rodon will be looked at to be the next ace of the White Sox pitching staff in the near future, and if he can build upon his final 12 starts of 2016, he can put himself in a good position to assume that role when the time comes.

Bullpen

Cory Luebke – Luebke has spent an injury plagued career between the San Diego Pares and the Pittsburgh Pirates since making his major-league debut in 2010. Luebke, healthy this spring with the White Sox has been sharp to this point, pitching 6.2 innings over the course of five appearances out of the bullpen, while allowing just one run on five hits, while striking out six. Luebke will likely start the season pitching out of the Sox bullpen in a long-relief/swing role.

Michael Ynoa – Michael Ynoa appeared in 23 games for the White Sox in 2016, and was one of the more reliable arms out of the Sox bullpen. Ynoa was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA while striking out 30 of the batters that he faced over the course of 30 innings of work on the season.

Ynoa has been sharp again this spring, holding hitters to an opposing batting average of just .194, with a sub-one WHIP. Ynoa will get the opportunity this season to get as many innings as possible under his belt as the White Sox look to see if the lanky 24-year-old right-hander can be a building block for the bullpen of the future.

Dan Jennings – Jennings will assume the middle-reliever role that he has called home with the White Sox for the past two seasons in 2017, and if the White Sox do in fact keep Luebke in the bullpen when the team breaks camp, Jennings will have a second left-hander to share some of his workload with. Jennings, most times the Sox only lefty in the bullpen since arriving, appeared in 53 games in 2015, and 64 games in 2017.

Jennings sports a respectable 3.00 ERA over the course if his 117 innings of work with the White Sox over the last two seasons, and has recorded 92 strike outs over that span. Jennings, 30, will look to duplicate his 2016 season, his best of his career, allowing just 14 runs over the course of 60 innings of work, good for a 2.08 ERA.

Zach Putnam – Putnam will look to stay healthy in 2017, as the veteran right-hander was limited to only 25 games for the White Sox in 2016, a large factor in the demise of an early 23-10 start, as the bullpen eventually ran out of gas due to missing key contributors like Putnam and Jake Petricka for extended periods of time.

Putnam allowed only seven runs over the course of 27.1 innings pitched in 2016, while striking out 30 opposing hitters in that same span.

Jake Petricka – Petricka, like Putnam missed significant time in 2016, appearing in only nine games for the White Sox. Petricka was very good before his injury last year, making 145 appearances for the Sox from 2013 to 2015, posting a 3.24 ERA over the course of 144.1 innings of work. Petricka will look to have a return to form campaign in 2017.

Nate Jones – Jones is coming off of a career year for the south siders in 2016, logging 70.2 innings of work after battling injuries for nearly all of the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Jones’ ability to bounce back from two seasons of arm problems was a huge question mark entering the 2016 season, and thankfully the right-handed set-up man looks to be back to normal.

Jones pitched to a 2.29 ERA in his 71 appearances last season, striking out 80 hitters, and walking just 15 during that span. Jones may end up sliding into the ninth inning role this season if the White Sox find a partner for David Robertson, who has been mentioned quite a bit in regards to a solution to the Washington Nationals ninth inning problem.

David Robertson – D-Rob is the White Sox closer for the third season, for how long is a different story. Robertson has been mentioned in talks with the Nationals quite often this winter and spring, and if he is healthy and performing, will be a prime closer candidate for a contender searching for that during the season.

Robertson has saved 71 ballgames for the White Sox during his two seasons on the south side, and posted a 3.44 ERA to go along with 161 strikeouts to only 45 walks. So the numbers are there, and if he can replicate that level in 2017, he likely won’t be around come August 1.

In Closing…

The Chicago White Sox are in the most premature year of the next chapter of baseball, and they have the prospects to turn the tides, the General Manager to right the ship, and the Manager and player development staff to keep the crew in line, so in a nutshell… things are looking up for the south siders.

While the 2017 season won’t be one that will generate success in regards to wins and losses, it will still be an enjoyable one to watch. The idea that the White Sox will run a 162-game long audition to the current group of young talent to have an opportunity to mesh with the next wave of talent in the next couple of seasons, excites me personally.

Getting to watch guys play their hearts out for a “players” Manager, who demands that his players play with pride for their ball club, and their city, while they battle for a chance to be a part of something special, should be plenty entertaining in itself. I see this club finishing with a 72-90 record in 2017, and I’m looking forward to seeing the making of the sequel to the 2000 smash hit, “The Kids Can Play!”.

 

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