The 2018 season will prove to be an interesting year for the Chicago White Sox. The team is in the second full year of a rebuild, with most of its major trade chips traded away. Guys like Nicky Delmonico, Avisail Garcia, Leury Garcia, and Yolmer Sanchez will get extended looks to see just how valuable they can be to a ball club.
Players like Yoan Moncada and Reynaldo Lopez will start their first full year at the major league level, and start building towards a successful future. Its possible top prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech could see some time at the major league level this season as well. The possibilities for the 2018 season are endless, and it should prove to be a fun season. Is it appropriate to hope for a top-5 pick like last year, and root for the team losing like in 2017? Should the team be contending for a Wild Card like the Twins did last year?
Projections like ZIPS from fangraphs have the White Sox as one of the worst teams in the league. Bovada just released the number of wins for the White Sox to be second worst only to the Marlins. However, people like Chuck Garfien expect the White Sox to be contending for a Wild Card or the Division like the Twins and Yankees did last year. So, what can be made of this? Nobody knows exactly how the season is gonna play out. Players can be surprising. This time last year people were hoping for Avisail Garcia to be released. Of course, he went on to make the all-star team and had his best year of his career by far. Players can always surprise, as can teams.
Maybe the White Sox are a top-5 draft pick team in baseball, maybe they make the playoffs. The most reasonable expectation, is right smack dab in the middle. They could very easily finish third in their division. The only thing the Tigers will be competing for is the first overall pick in the 2019 draft. That team is expensive, old, and injury prone. The Royals are likely rebuilding, with Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer leaving the team in free agency, subtracting two stars from a team that had a terrible first two months and played .500 ball for the remainder of the 2017 season doesn’t bode well for them. The Twins likely take a step forward and continue to compete for the Wild Card and possibly the division, as the Indians look to rebound from an early exit in the postseason after reaching the World Series in 2016.
With so many of the top free agents remaining unsigned, it’s hard to tell where in the league the team will end up. If the White Sox are any of the worst five teams in baseball, then the rebuild may not be looking so good. 2018 will be a pivotal year in the careers of Moncada, Lopez and Lucas Giolito. They do not need to set the world on fire necessarily, but they should contribute to the teams success. The White Sox roster does have holes, with no clear-cut center fielder and many unproven players (like Leury Garcia, Yolmer Sanchez, Matt Davidson and Nicky Delmonico) who will likely get significant playing time. The rotation will likely feature Miguel Gonzalez and James Shields, with Carson Fulmer, Lopez and Giolito finishing it out, like at the end of the 2017 season.
With a young rotation it is both possible and likely that there will be some struggles out of the gate for the young pitchers. Fulmer, who has had mixed results with the White Sox as a reliever and as a starter, will continue to be given a chance to start during a year where the goal isn’t necessarily to compete, like it should be in 2019 and beyond. With young players, you never expect all-star caliber play from someone who just came up, even if their “ceiling” is that of a perennial all-star, like what is expected of many of the White Sox’ current prospects. Their development at the major league level will likely take time, unless they can all come out of the gate on fire like Rhys Hoskins did for the Phillies last year.
Players like Avi and Leury Garcia, as well as Yolmer Sanchez had breakout seasons in 2017. Manager Rick Renteria said he expects Leury to be more of a utility man than a center fielder. Leury will split time between the outfield and infield. The team is set up the middle, but he can play either position when Yoan Moncada or Tim Anderson need a rest or are ailing for whatever reason. Avi hopes to keep going after a strong 2017, which included his first all star game nomination. Garcia’s plate discipline was a huge part of his success. If he can sustain that success in 2018, his plate discipline will be a major factor. Look for both of the Garcia’s to have solid seasons, but not quite as good as they were last year.
Matt Davidson once looked to be the third basemen of the future, which has been a revolving door since Joe Crede left. However, he struggled in the minors and though his power numbers are nice, his .220 batting average and .260 OBP last season has the White Sox likely looking for another answer. In a season like 2018, Davidson will be given a chance at third, along with Yolmer Sanchez. This could very well be Davidson’s last taste of Major League Baseball unless he can prove he is more than a poor man’s Adam Dunn. Prospect Jake Burger could be the third-basemen in a few years, or there’s several free agents on the market next year such as Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado.
Yolmer could be a solid utility player on a contending team, and could be used as trade bait if someone is looking for a defensive stud with a decent bat and speed. Yolmer will likely have another solid, but not stellar season. He can serve as the short term solution at third base.
The pitchers should have a solid season. Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito will struggle to go late into games as they regain control and learn to attack hitters at the major league level. This will tax the bullpen early on, another reason it will be tough to see the team competing in 2018. Fulmer is the ultimate question mark on the team. He flashed parts of brilliance during the end of the 2018 season. But he struggled throughout the year and has had mixed results out of the pen and also as a starter. He will get every chance to prove himself as a starter in 2018, and if he can continue to build on his success from the end of last season, he will be a solid contributor in the rotation. Will he be able to stick as a starter long term? He fits in better in the bullpen in the future in my opinion, but the Sox should try and test him for everything he’s worth in 2018.
2018 will likely be a growing pains year for the White Sox. There likely won’t be any major trades, as pitching is what’s coveted at the deadline, at least much more than bats, which are the two top trading chips the White Sox have, in Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia. They have been stockpiling low-risk, high-reward bullpen arms in hopes of finding the next Anthony Swarzak. It is likely that any trades the Sox make will be depleting the bullpen for B or C prospects, like the Dan Jennings for Casey Gillaspie trade last year.
Could they compete? Sure, if prospects come out of spring training on fire and don’t let up. Will they be one of the worst teams? It’s possible, but definitely the worst case scenario. If this happens, the future of the White Sox is no longer as exciting and bright as it once was. Look for Renteria to give young guys longer leashes to try and figure things out and gain confidence. It should be an incredibly fun and entertaining year, with no idea how the team will end up, it will be a team that should show a great promise of what is to come from the Southside.