The White Sox starting rotation is going to have a slightly different look going into Spring Training and the 2019 season. With Michael Kopech out for the year to recover from Tommy John surgery and James Shields no longer being on the team, there were two spots in the rotation that needed to be filled. One of those spots was filled when the team acquired Ivan Nova from the Pirates. The other spot, however, hasn’t officially been filled yet and there’s going to be a few internal guys battling for that last spot. With that being said, let’s take a look at the White Sox starting rotation as we move into the spring season.
Starting pitchers with secured spots
Carlos Rodon will enter Spring Training and the 2019 season as the number one starter in the White Sox rotation. Health has been an issue for Rodon so far, but in 2018, he threw over 100 innings and made 20 starts for the first time since the 2016 season. However, Rodon struggled quite a bit with command and missing bats throughout the 2018 season, which led to him having the second highest walk total of his career and a career-low 6.7 K/9. There were times where he looked brilliant and there were times where he struggled last season. This has kind of been a common theme for him throughout his career. Health and consistency are going to be key for Rodon in 2019. If he can regain his command, stay healthy, and string together some consistency in his outings, then he should look like a top of the rotation starter that the White Sox hoped he would be when they drafted him 3rd overall in 2014 MLB Draft.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: 29 GS, 179.0 IP, 4.68 ERA, 162 K, 77 BB.
Right-hander Reynaldo Lopez looks like he will be the White Sox number two starter entering the 2019 season. Last season was Lopez’ first full season as a starter and like Rodon, he looked great at times and struggled as well. That is something you should expect for a guy who was going through his first full season in the MLB. He ended his 2018 season on a positive note, posting a 1.38 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 14 walks in his last seven starts. During that stretch, he kept his BB/9 under his 3.9 season average and his K/9 was nearly two strikeouts better than his 7.2 season average. Lopez has a filthy arsenal of pitches and it seems like he’s still learning how to command them. Adding someone like Nova to the staff this year can benefit Reynaldo Lopez as he can learn a few things about command from Nova. If Lopez can take the next step and is able to hit his spots more consistently, then he should have a strong performance in 2019 and will continue to build off his fantastic finish from last season.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: 29 GS, 175.0 IP, 5.01 ERA, 152 K, 72 BB.
Another guy that experienced his first full season with the club in 2018 was Lucas Giolito. Unfortunately, Giolito’s season did not go as planned. After having an incredible performance during the 2018 spring season, Giolito looked like a completely different pitcher when the regular season rolled around. It got to the point where fans often questioned whether or not he should spend some time in Charlotte to figure things out. His fastball looked flat, he gave up more fly balls, he lacked control throughout most of the year, and he lost a lot of confidence in himself. He posted an ERA above 4.00 in almost every month of the year and in some of those months, his ERA was above 7.00. In August, however, he started to find himself again. He posted a 3.86 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 12 walks in 37.1 IP. Luckily for Giolito, he can use the 2019 season to get back to his old form and to figure things out. He’s been putting in a lot of extra work this off-season and hopefully that will pay off. It will be interesting to see what happens with Lucas Giolito if he looks anything like the pitcher of the 2018 season. There’s quite a few pitching prospects that are knocking on the door of the MLB and if Giolito in unable to figure things out, there’s the possibility that he could get bounced out of the rotation and will have to take on a different role with the team. If Lucas Giolito wants to continue to be a starting pitcher moving forward, then he will have to put together an impressive 2019 season.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: 24 GS, 136.0 IP, 5.31 ERA, 109 K, 66 BB.
Last but not least is one of the newest members of the White Sox organization in Ivan Nova. The White Sox gave up 20-year-old pitcher, Yordi Rosario to acquire him. Nova will take on the veteran role in the starting rotation and he’s under contract through the 2019 season. Adding Nova to the starting rotation will be a breath of fresh air for White Sox fans as he’s consistently been able to pound the strike zone throughout his career. I fully expect him to continue to be able to do that during his time on the South Side. He will be able to eat a lot of innings for the White Sox, similar to what James Shields did last season. Ivan Nova has pitched 150 innings or more in every season since 2016. He’s a solid veteran to have in a young rotation and he will be able to mentor/teach the young pitchers how to control their arsenal. This will be key for the rotation moving forward as the White Sox are looking to start contending in the next year or two.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: 26 GS, 150.0 IP, 5.00 ERA, 106 K, 37 BB.
Battle for the 5th spot
As of this writing, the final spot in the White Sox rotation has not been filled yet. There’s the possibility that this spot could be filled via free agency, but as of right now, there’s been a couple of internal names thrown into the mix for the 5th spot. Let’s take a look at who will be battling for the final rotation spot during Spring Training:
Manny Banuelos is a guy that Rick Hahn has publicly said will have a chance to earn that 5th spot in the rotation. The now 27-year-old was signed by the Yankees back in 2008 and he participated in the 2009 Futures Game. The left-hander was previously ranked as the 4th overall left-handed pitching prospect and the Yankees top prospect in 2011. Since then, Banuelos has become a journeyman, playing for the Braves, Angels, and Dodgers before the White Sox acquired him in exchange for Justin Yurchak. Banuelos hasn’t been able to stay healthy since his days as a top prospect and once he reached the majors with the Braves in 2015, he struggled and only lasted in the big leagues for six starts. Manny Banuelos has a fastball, slider, change-up, and curve ball combination with his fastball being able to touch the mid-90’s. Banuelos is rumored to be feeling like he’s back to his old form when he was a top prospect. If that’s the case, then the White Sox might have found a diamond in the rough with Manny Banuelos and he should put forth a strong fight in this roster spot battle. Worst case scenario, he can be moved to the bullpen where he’s gotten plenty of experience the last two seasons.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: 10 G, 10.0 IP, 4.11 ERA, 11 K, 5 BB.
Another guy that will be in the mix for the 5th spot in the rotation is Dylan Covey, who White Sox fans should know pretty well by now. There was a point last year where Covey looked like he was going to be a sure thing in the rotation for this season, but then he came back down to earth. It was a blast watching him out-duel Chris Sale in a game that the White Sox ended up winning. Covey induced a lot of ground balls and weak contact during his stretch of impressive starts, but then proceeded to give up more hard hit balls and line drives to end the year. One positive about Dylan Covey is that he’s been able to stay healthy during his time with the White Sox. If the team wants to go with an easier choice for the 5th spot in the rotation, then Dylan Covey will be the guy since he has had a lot of experience as a starter so far.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: 21 GS, 115.0 IP, 4.91 ERA, 87 K, 50 BB.
The last internal member of the White Sox who will have an opportunity to fight for the 5th spot is Jordan Stephens. The 26-year-old right-handed pitching prospect has been around the White Sox organization since 2015 when he was drafted in the 5th round of the MLB Draft. He spent the majority of his 2018 season in Charlotte where he posted a 4.71 ERA with 99 strikeouts and 42 walks in 107.0 IP. Stephens has a low-90’s fastball, cutter, change-up, and curve ball that he uses as his strikeout pitch. Jordan Stephens has not made his MLB debut yet, but it’s getting to the point where the White Sox need to see what they have in him at the major league level, especially considering his age. If Stephens does not win the rotation battle, he’s likely going to head back to Charlotte, but we should see him make his MLB debut at some point during the 2019 season.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: 2 GS, 9.0 IP, 5.42 ERA, 7 K, 4 BB.
So, who will earn the 5th and final spot in the rotation for the 2019 season? If I had to bet on it, I’d say it will be Dylan Covey. The White Sox will take a long look at all of their options available, though. I think Manny Banuelos will give Covey a run for his money and the White Sox seem to really like Banuelos, but in the end, Covey will be the guy. Will he remain in the rotation throughout the entire year? Probably not. Dylan Cease is going to make his MLB debut this year and he will need to join the rotation so he can get some experience before the 2020 season. Even though I think Covey will win the job, I would love to see someone new in the starting rotation this year. As it was previously mentioned, the White Sox already know what they have in Dylan Covey. It might not be a bad idea to see what they have in Manny Banuelos since they had to give up a prospect to acquire his services. Obviously he will have to earn that spot during Spring Training, but let’s hope Banuelos is able to make the most of that opportunity.
Prospects to keep an eye on during Spring Training
Speaking of Dylan Cease, he will be the obvious guy that all White Sox fans should keep an eye on during Spring Training. Cease absolutely dominated Hi-A and Double-A last year, ending his season being named MiLB’s Pitcher of the Year. Between Winston-Salem and Birmingham, Cease posted a 2.40 ERA with 160 strikeouts and 50 walks in 124.0 IP. The innings pitched are a career-high for Cease and it marks the first time he’s thrown for over 100 innings in his career so far. He will exceed that amount this season as the White Sox get him ready to take on a full year in the major leagues in 2020. Dylan Cease won’t break out of Spring Training with the team, but he could end up going right to Charlotte to make his Triple-A debut and I think that’s what will happen with him. Dylan Cease saw a ton of success in Double-A last season and there isn’t anything more for him to prove at that level. If not, expect Cease to make only a handful of starts in Birmingham before he gets promoted to Charlotte relatively early this season.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: 6 GS, 37.0 IP, 4.68 ERA, 37 K, 20 BB.
Kodi Medeiros got the invite to Spring Training for the first time in his young career. The White Sox acquired Medeiros when they sent Joakim Soria to the Brewers. Medeiros was a former first-round pick out of Hawaii and the 22-year-old has not pitched at a level higher than Double-A so far. Spring Training will present him with the toughest competition he’s seen so far in his career as he will have the opportunity to face some regular major league players. Kodi Medeiros is most likely going to head to the bullpen as a lefty specialist eventually, so it will be interesting to see if the White Sox use him as a starter or in the bullpen during Spring Training. Medeiros’ best pitch is easily his slider and it has a ton of life to it. He pairs that slider with a fastball and a change-up that can be a plus pitch at times. Kodi Medeiros will also be heading to Charlotte at some point this season, and we might see him at the major league level when rosters expand in September.
2019 Steamer projections according to Fangraphs: 12 G, 2 GS, 19.0 IP, 4.82 ERA, 17 K, 11 BB.
Left-hander Bernardo Flores is another prospect to keep an eye on as he will be making his Spring Training debut this year. Flores has quietly put together some very impressive seasons since he joined the White Sox in 2016 after being a 7th round selection in the MLB Draft. I say quietly because he’s been overlooked due to the fact that the White Sox have acquired so many talented pitching prospects in recent years. In 2018, Flores spent time at Winston-Salem and Birmingham where he posted a combined 2.65 ERA with 105 strikeouts and 31 walks in 156.0 IP. Flores’ stuff isn’t overwhelming, but he has the ability to pound the strike zone. He has a low-90’s fastball, curve ball, slider, and change-up that make up his arsenal. I would be surprised if he made it to the majors this year, but he should spend the majority of his season in Charlotte as a member of their starting rotation. During Spring Training, Bernardo Flores will be tasked with facing everyday major league players and some major league ready bats that he hasn’t faced yet. It will be a good test for him as he gets ready for the next promotion of his career.
Two prospects that didn’t receive an invite to Spring Training this year are Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning. Hansen injured his forearm last spring and really struggled when he came back from the injury. The White Sox probably felt it was best to give him some extra time off as he gets ready for the 2019 season and tries to turn things around. Dunning suffered an elbow strain that ended his 2018 season early. His recovery from the injury wasn’t a deciding factor as to why he didn’t receive an invite, the White Sox just seem like they are being cautious with him.
What to expect out of this group in 2019
It’s going to be a very interesting 2019 season for White Sox starting pitchers. They will be without Michael Kopech for the entire year, but they will also add Dylan Cease to the mix late into the season. This was a very inconsistent group last season that led all of baseball in walks, finished 23rd in strikeouts, and finished 26th in ERA. If players like Rodon and Lopez are able to take that next step in their careers, then there should definitely be some improvements and this group could end up performing much better than they did a year ago. Adding Ivan Nova will help with the walk numbers quite a bit as he has been a guy that’s always kept those to a minimum throughout his career.
If the White Sox want to be a more competitive team in 2019, they will need a strong performance by the starting rotation from top to bottom. The bullpen is now one of the biggest strengths on the team, so if the starters are able to hand them the lead late in a ballgame, then the White Sox should see quite a few more wins than they did last season. Consistency will be the main indicator on how this group performs in 2019. There were too many times in 2018 where starters would look great for a stretch and then look completely different following that up. If this group can be more consistent as an entire unit, then the White Sox could see a lot of improvement during the 2019 season. Obviously there’s a lot of other factors that play into how the team will perform this year, but having consistent outings from the starting rotation will provide a big boost to the team.
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