Written by: Zach Volland (@NotBrianKenny)
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To the surprise of nobody, the Chicago White Sox have had an abysmal start to their 2018 season. This is year two of their rebuild, and we should expect this type of struggle from the current product being put on the field by the South Siders. Despite the many headaches, Yoan Moncada has shown encouraging signs that his boisterous tools may finally be coming to fruition at the highest level of baseball. The second baseman is currently slashing .263/.359/.509 with 17 R, 6 HR, 15 RBI and 4 SB. The strikeout rate is an unimpressive 37.1%, but it was actually trending in the right direction before Moncada was placed on the 10-day disabled list due to a strained hamstring (he was activated from the the DL on Tuesday). The wRC+ is a healthy 136. The Hard% is an outrageous 51.5%. So what sticks out about the counting stats? It’s certainly simple, but for me, it’s the home run total. Moncada hit a career-high 20 HR between the White Sox and AAA Charlotte last season, so seeing that he’s already accumulated 6 home runs in only 132 PA this season shows that his 60 grade power is becoming increasingly evident on the playing field. What else stands out? His K/BB rate. What I can say immediately is that Moncada recognizes pitches in the strike zone (Swing% in the zone is 62%) and outside the strike zone (Swing% outside of the zone is 20%). The 23 year old will always have some swing-and-miss in his toolbox, but as his physical development begins to finalize and he matures as a major league hitter, I expect the massive K% to finally become tolerable. Moncada truly can be a remarkable player and I absolutely believe that in a year or two, he will be one of the best players in the game. (PS: Yoan Moncada, 2018 All-Star, is not so far-fetched with Robinson Cano ‘unavailable’ for the foreseeable future.)
Another bright spot on the White Sox roster is Reynaldo Lopez. Lopez is 24 years old and has shown glimpses of a player who could be a middle-of-the-rotation starter when Chicago is ready to contend again. As you probably know, many evaluators think Lopez will eventually be relegated to a high-leverage role in the bullpen, but I think Lopez has three MLB pitches that will keep him in the rotation as long as he continues to develop, and as long as the White Sox can afford to be patient with their current MLB assets. Lopez’s current numbers seem to be rather unsustainable (his FIP and xFIP are more than 2.5 points higher than his ERA, and his BABIP-against is a laughable .202). He’s due for some rather large regression, and I might actually consider selling high on Lopez if you’re in a redraft league. But the White Sox could keep Lopez in their rotation all season regardless of the output and it wouldn’t change the outcome of their system. Chicago needs to see what they have in Lopez, so I expect him to remain in the rotation until his potential becomes more clear. I’m bullish on Lopez, and on paper, I think his potential is that of a #3 SP for a solid MLB rotation. He could always be a back-end starter, but I think if the White Sox realize that Lopez will likely never be a mid-rotation arm, he’ll be moved to the bullpen. High-variance players= high risk, high reward.
While Lopez has a shot to remain in the White Sox rotation in the long term, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Carson Fulmer and Lucas Giolito will not. Fulmer has struggled mightily with command so far this season, and there’s certainly a possibility that he’s transitioned into a bullpen role before the conclusion of the 2018 regular season. Giolito has fallen victim to diminished velocity and worsened command, and he’s especially struggled to retire left handed hitters. Chicago will definitely be more patient with Giolito when it comes to a long-term plan, but he may need a demotion to AAA to clear his mind and fix any mechanical issues that are hindering his performance for the White Sox. A reset button, if you will. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that both Giolito and Fulmer someday meet their lofty potential, but for now it seems rather unlikely. Chicago’s return in the 2016 Adam Eaton trade isn’t what we thought it would be at the time, that’s for sure.
Now let’s get to the minor leaguers! Everyone knows about Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech. Both players are ranked well-inside the top 15 on most industry prospect lists, and both possess elite tools that should play well in the big leagues. Kopech is currently refining his arsenal (namely the changeup) in AAA Charlotte, but it’s feasible that he could assume a spot in the White Sox rotation before July. Jimenez is raking for AA Birmingham after missing the start of the season due to a strained pectoral muscle. I think his most likely path is to receive a cup of coffee with the White Sox in September of this regular season before competing for an everyday spot in Spring Training next season. Remember, since the White Sox are nowhere close to competing for a playoff berth this season, they have little motivation to promote their prospects aggressively.
They’re not quite as touted as Jimenez and Kopech, but prospects like Luis Robert, Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Zack Collins, Blake Rutherford, Jake Burger (though currently injured), Luis Alexander Basabe and Micker Adolfo all have potential to see regular (and for some impactful) playing time at the major league level. Rutherford, Basabe and Adolfo especially have increased their stock so far this regular season. The White Sox need Hansen, Cease and Dunning to eventually provide Kopech (and Lopez?) with the rotation support that a big league team needs to remain consistent during a 162 game season. All three right-handers have the ceiling of a sturdy, mid-rotation starting pitcher with flashes of more.
Even deeper, arms like Spencer Adams, Ian Clarkin and Jordan Stephens may someday crack the White Sox rotation. A third round pick last season, outfielder Luis Gonzalez already has 6 HR this season for Low-A Kannapolis (he’s batting .328 too). He’s not as prominent as Zack Collins, but catcher prospect Seby Zavala has 9 HR in AA Birmingham with a .357 OBP. Flamethrowing RP prospect Thyago Vieira has made strides with his command in AAA Charlotte, and there’s a chance he can be a closer at the big league level. Truly, it seems like the White Sox have several prospects who would be more popular in prospect-enthusiast and baseball circles if players like Kopech and Jimenez didn’t hog so much air time. Believe me, that’s a good problem to have.
The White Sox certainly have the pieces on their big league roster and in their farm system to someday contend for AL and World Series championships. There will likely be some trades along the way, but there almost always is when a team transitions from a ‘win later’ mindset to a ‘win now’ state of mind. One thing’s for certain: The rebuild, from its infant stages to the moment GM Rick Hahn hoists the Commissioner’s Trophy above his head, will be fun to watch.
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Featured image courtesy of The Runner Sports