We are two weeks into the baseball season, and well fam, things aren’t going well. Our Sox are 3-8, losers of 5 straight in pretty embarrassing fashion if we are being honest. It’s been rough to say the least. This is coming on the heels of an off-season that still has many of us perturbed that we were essentially lied to, but I’m not going to rehash that in this column. Now that there are actual games being played, we have to look at things a little differently.
I’ve been thinking to myself the last few days, “what do we need to see in 2019 to show some signs of progress that this thing is on the right track?” I’m going to just focus on who is currently in Chicago and not down on the farm. Lets face the facts here, there aren’t many players on this team currently that truly matter. There are only a handful of guys that could conceivably be on the next White Sox team that finishes with a winning record (I’m not even going to talk about winning a division at this point).
Since August of 2017, we’ve started to see an infusion of players that were acquired in the initial trades of the rebuild. Yoan Moncada being the first and most significant of these prospects to reach Chicago. Through last season, the results for Moncada have been a mixed bag. He’s been a roughly league average offensive player that has been extremely frustrating with his high K% and defensive lapses at second base. Moncada was seen as the essential building block of this rebuilt structure so it is really imperative that we see improvement in 2019. Yoan has come out of the gates strong thus far. Through 10 games, Moncada is slashing .319/.360/617 with 3 home runs good for a .408 wOBA. That has come back down to earth in the last 4 games as he has had contact issues at the plate. As of now he is striking out at a 26% clip, and I think this is probably where we see Yoan settling in for the most part. Simply put, he’s going to be a player that strikes out and when he goes through funks they’re going to be particularly ugly. The real positive to this point though has been when he is making contact, he is doing damage. He’s not taking 2-0 fastballs right down the middle of the plate like we saw for most of 2018, he’s getting himself into hitters counts and he is mashing. If Moncada keeps this approach consistently throughout the 2019 season, I think it’s reasonable we could see a guy with a .350ish wOBA. If Moncada can finish the season with 25 homers, this would be a significant step forward.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to Moncada’s early season success has been with the glove. Many questioned how he would take to the hot corner, myself included. The early returns have been pretty positive overall. He has shown good lateral movement and his hands have been steady, which is something we couldn’t really say watching him at the keystone since his call-up. There have been some shaky, low throws so he is going to need to get fully comfortable making the throw across the diamond and letting his natural arm strength show. He has already made several nice throws on the run, so it will be important that he doesn’t get lackadaisical at times.
There’s no way to sugar coat it, Giolito was one of the worst pitchers in the league during the 2018 season. For a guy that was once a top rated pitching prospect, Giolito is at a crossroads early in his career. Is he going to position himself as a viable piece in a future Sox rotation, or is he going to flame out and be another busted prospect? In his first start this season, Giolito absolutely dazzled the Kansas City Royals taking a no-hitter into the 7th inning. His stuff was crisp as he was commanding his fastball and complimenting it with a very nice change-up and a curve that showed flashes of being the plus pitch it was touted as being during his prospect days. Giolito was unable to follow it up in his second start against Seattle as his command simply wasn’t there and the red hot Mariners made him pay for his mistakes. Through two starts Giolito has a bit of an uneven stat line with a 5.73 ERA, but his peripherals look good. He’s currently sporting a 3.47 FIP and 3.13 xFIP. Maybe the most encouraging stat is his 9.82 K/9. Since arriving on the South Side, Lucas has never cracked 7 K/9, so if he is able to consistently miss more bats he will give himself a fighting chance. He does have to work to minimize the walks again this season as they hopefully won’t be his undoing as they were for much of 2018. Through these two starts he’s walking hitters to the tune of 4.09 BB/9. That simply isn’t going to cut it.
Additionally, we have seen an uptick in velocity from Giolito to this point. His four seam fastball is averaging 93.2 MPH, which is almost a full tick above where he has sat since being called up by the Sox in August of 2017. If the additional fastball velocity isn’t a mirage, and he is able to maintain consistency with his new short arm mechanics, Giolito may prove capable of living up to some level of his former prospect billing. I think for Giolito to have a season that would be considered a success we should look for something like a FIP right around 4 and 8.5 K/9 with 3 BB/9.
For as encouraged as we can be about Giolito to this point, we cannot say the same about Reynaldo Lopez. The first 3 starts of the season for Lopez have been more vomit inducing than drinking a bottle of ipecac. Through his first 13.1 IP, Lopez stat line looks like this (hide the women and children): 12.15 ERA, 10.08 FIP, 8.12 xFIP. The peripherals are just as bad as he has an identical K/9 to BB/9 at 8.10. I’m not an expert, but I think 8.10 BB/9 is too many to be successful but I’m working to confirm that. Lopez’s average exit velocity has been 94.0 MPH thus far! Every time you look up when hitters aren’t strolling to first base after 4 pitches out of the zone, they are hitting absolute missiles all over the diamond.
More troubling for Lopez is the decline in the velocity thus far. His average four seam fastball is only registering at 93.4 MPH which is down from 94.7 MPH in 2018. Couple the declined velocity with what is an already below average four seam spin rate, and you have a recipe for disaster that we are seeing unfold. Lopez and Coop (he’ll fix him right?) had better figure out something real quick.
I know a lot of people will see this and say that I’m overreacting because he closed the 2018 season strong. Well, he did quite a bit of bum slaying late in 2018 to help his numbers. During his final 11 starts beginning on August 2nd, Lopez put together a solid stat line: 2.70 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 8.78 K/9, 2.70 BB/9. That’s a pretty good line there. Then you look at some of the opponents. During that stretch, ReyLo faced Kansas City twice, Detroit three times, Baltimore and the Angels once a piece. That’s not exactly murders row there. Yes, he did put together solid performances against the Yankees and Cubs too during this time frame, but one has to wonder now was this a mirage? If Lopez can’t get the fastball command under control quickly, and perhaps lower his arm slot to get additional movement he is going to be forced to answer the questions again about his viability as a starter long-term.
I know many people had high hopes for Lopez this season thinking that he turned a corner in the season’s final two months of 2018, but there are still things to be concerned about here. It’s not time to write him off yet, but there needs to be marked improvement soon. A good season for Lopez would look something similar to Giolito’s line mentioned above (I know this is a cop out).
Eloy was in the lineup on Opening Day in Kansas City thanks to agreeing to the multi-year contract that bought out some of his initial free agent years (weird how that makes your defense better). Eloy is having some initial struggles with his first taste of the bigs. He’s slashing: .279/.326/.302 (yuck). I think we all feel confident Eloy’s slugging percentage won’t end the season starting with a 3, so I’m chalking this up to a guy experiencing the best pitching in the world for the first time. I think the expectations for Eloy are very high coming into this season given his position as the #3 prospect in the sport. I’m trying to be a little measured with my expectations however, because I’m a Sox fan and I’m used to being hurt. I think a solid rookie season for Eloy would look something like: .270/.330/.500 with 25 homers. That would instantly make Eloy one of the best players on this team and would represent a nice foundation for what looks like a promising career.
The elder statesman of this group, Anderson comes into the 2019 season at the ripe old age of 25. Through about two and a half seasons in Chicago, Anderson’s profile has been pretty consistent. Low on base skills, 20 homer power, a knack for stealing bases efficiently, and inconsistent defense. Timmy has shown absolute flashes of brilliance with the glove, but all too often those are paired with periods of maddening inconsistency. Through two weeks, Anderson leads the league in hitting at .514 thanks to an obscene .607 BABIP. We know this is going to come back down to Earth with a larger sample size. Timmy has never posted an OBP above .306 and frankly I just think this is what he is as a player. If he can maintain the consistency with the glove that he showed in the second half last season, I think Anderson could surpass his 2.0 fWAR total from a year ago and tack on an additional win. Listen, 3 win shortstops are important pieces to successful teams.
I think it’s reasonable to think Anderson’s 2019 stat line could end up being: .270/.300/.425 with 20 homers. I’m willing to take that line, while it will be maddening at times, if he gives us quality up the middle defense. Add in 30 stolen bases and you have a solid Major League regular.
There you have it. There’s really 4 important guys on this roster currently that I think would be here if the Sox are ever good again. I’m discounting guys like Jose Abreu, Alex Colome, and Kelvin Herrera simply because if they are playing well by July, I don’t expect them to be here anymore. I would expect a contending team to swoop up these guys for a pennant push (wouldn’t it be nice to see one of those again at some point). Guys like Carlos Rodon, Yonder Alonso, and Nate Jones could also be dealt if they show value during the season’s early months. I know I’m personally done with the Carlos Rodon Experience as he simply hasn’t lived up to the billing of a #3 overall draft pick. Alonso is nothing more than a platoon hitter that can provide depth to a quality team instead of having a 4A guy on their bench. The oft injured Jones could be a valuable bullpen piece if his arm is still attached to his body by July because, well, teams are always looking for relievers.
It’s a somewhat bleak picture I’ve painted, I know, but I’m just being realistic. There simply aren’t many guys on this team that truly matter. We will hopefully see additional infusions of prospect talent during the season with the likes of: Dylan Cease, Zack Collins, Seby Zavala, and maybe Luis Basabe if he recovers from his spring training hand injury. Frankly, there are more important pieces in the top 3 levels of the minor leagues than there currently are at the corner of 35th/Shields. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I long for a day when that is no longer the case.
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Feature Photo Credit: Sean Williams/The Loop Sports