Last week we took a look at the potential starting rotation for the White Sox as they entered Spring Training. In this installment of the White Sox Spring Training position preview, we are going to look at the back end of the pitching staff, the bullpen.
The White Sox bullpen is very much a work in progress. Major in-season trades saw major members of the 2017 bullpen move on to other teams. David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak were all moved during the season to other teams as the Sox rebuild continued during the regular season.
Coupled with the in-season trades, were some difficult injuries for White Sox pitchers. Nate Jones, who the Sox were counting on to provide relief in the back end of the bullpen during the season, managed to pitch only 11.2 innings before elbow surgery cost him the rest of the 2017 season. Zach Putnam also lost the majority of his season to elbow surgery. Jake Petricka only managed 25 innings during the season as well.
The trades, coupled with injuries, allowed the Sox to look at some under the radar relief pitchers that could possibly fit with the White Sox in the future. Aaron Bummer, Gregory Infante and Juan Minaya all became very familiar to White Sox fans as they saw significant innings during the season. All three of those pitchers figure to come into spring training ready to compete for spots in the bullpen.
The Sox also have some intriguing options in the minors for bullpen help. Thyago Viera, acquired from Seattle for international spending money, is the most likely prospect to break Spring Training with the team in 2018. Viera features a fastball that draws comparisons to top pitching prospect, Michael Kopech. Viera only has one inning pitched in the majors so far, but his minor-league numbers show potential. Viera’s ERA in the minors last year was an even 4.00 across his stops at both Double-A and Triple-A in the Seattle system. Viera also struggled with control a bit, walking 22 hitters in 46 innings pitched in the minors. Viera comes with an arsenal of pitches that any pitching coach would drool over, Don Cooper is no different. Viera’s Spring Training progress will be closely tracked, but it is likely he breaks camp with the Sox.
The Sox will welcome some new faces from outside the organization this year as well. Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan were acquired in a three-team trade on January 4, and will both be major cogs in the White Sox bullpen this year.
Avilan had a very nice 2017 season, putting up a 2.93 ERA across 46 innings pitched for the Dodgers. Avilan did not pitch for the Dodgers in the playoffs in 2017.
Soria, a former Royal, comes into spring training with his eyes on closing for the White Sox. Soria has at times in his career performed like an elite relief pitcher. Soria is only two years removed from a 2015 season where he put up a 2.53 ERA between Pittsburgh and Detroit. Soria was in his second stint with the Royals when the White Sox acquired him.
With questions about the durability of Nate Jones’ elbow, and the lack of players on the roster with the kind of pitch repertoire that Soria possess, the closer job should be his for the taking. Soria is also a prime candidate for being flipped at the deadline if Don Cooper can get him performing as well as he has in the past.
Here is how the White Sox projects to look breaking spring training in 2018 with their 2017 stats included)
LHP Luis Avilan: 2-3, 2.93, 46 IP
LHP Aaron Bummer 1-3, 4.50, 22 IP
RHP Gregory Infante 2-1, 3.13, 54.2
RHP Nate Jones 1-0, 2.31, 11.2
RHP Juan Minaya 3-2, 4.53, 43.2
RHP Thyago Viera (Only pitched one inning in the majors in 2017)
RHP Joakim Soria (Closer) 4-3, 3.70, 56 IP
While the bullpen as it looks above is not going to carry a championship team, it should be better than what White Sox fans watched much of last year. Assuming the health of Nate Jones, the Sox could have a very nice back end of the bullpen featuring Jones, Avilan, and Soria.
While this is still a rebuilding team, and as such General Manager Rick Hahn will likely be willing to move a few guys in that bullpen, its fair to assume that most of this bullpen should spend most of the season with the White Sox. Also important, will be the development of young arms like Aaron Bummer and Thyago Viera as they attempt to become long-term options in the bullpen.
Towards the end of last year the White Sox bullpen was awful, there is no way around that. This years bullpen looks to be slightly, if not substantially better. This year’s bullpen will be an important showcase for many young pitchers looking to carve out long-term roles. If the Sox are lucky, Zack Burdi will debut in the back-end of 2018, although not something that can be counted on. Even without Burdi, there are plenty of young arms worth watching in 2018, and hopefully into the future.
Next we will take a trip around the outfield and look at who we can expect to see in 2018, stay tuned. Pitchers and catchers report to Glendale, Arizona for the start of Spring Training on February, just 26 days until baseball folks.