But even with an impressive roster intact, and many pundits picking the White Sox as the American League Central favorite at the very least, general manager Rick Hahn doesn’t quite yet see things that way.
“I don't view us as the favorites, the way Minnesota's owned this division the last few years, as tough as Cleveland has been,” Hahn said. “We've seen Kansas City, how improved they are. And last year we won 90 percent of our games against Detroit, and that's kind of a high bar to expect to repeat. I view us as hunters. I don't think we're the favorites by any stretch.
“We still have to prove it. We absolutely have to prove it. The expectations being high are great. But all that stuff right now is on paper, and we start on Thursday [against the Angels]. Let's stay healthy and let's take care of April first and then move on and hopefully take care of our division over the course of the summer.”
Here’s a look at the Day 1 roster trying to fulfill Hahn’s outlook.
Catcher (3): Yasmani Grandal, Zack Collins, Yermin Mercedes
Grandal has caught seven games and served as the designated hitter for another three, so the switch-hitter is ready to go for the start of the regular season. He twisted his right knee during running drills on Feb. 24, and he has gradually been working his way back.
Jonathan Lucroy was granted his release after the veteran catcher was informed he would not make the roster. Both Collins and Mercedes had impressive camps, with Hahn adding his pre-Spring Training roster had one of these two young players breaking as the No. 2 catcher.
“Once we got here and got to see him on a daily basis basically from the start, we were very pleased from where he was at both defensively and offensively,” Hahn said of Collins. “Certainly it’s good to enter the season swinging the bat well, and with a level of confidence behind that, which will serve him well over the next several weeks.”
Manager Tony La Russa’s pointed to Collins in that backup spot with some time at designated hitter.
First base (1): José Abreu
Abreu enters his eighth season needing two home runs to become the fifth player in White Sox history to reach 200. The 2020 AL Most Valuable Player Award winner will attempt to lead this team to the ultimate postseason prize.
“I feel very blessed with this career, with the opportunity to be here. I’m glad of this country and the people who have welcomed me here because it has been a great journey,” Abreu said through interpreter Billy Russo. “I appreciate and I’m grateful for the White Sox, with [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf], the people who have been around me helping me and guiding me.
“Especially with my mom and my wife. They have been with me throughout this whole journey. They have been giving me their unconditional support. That’s something people can really value.”
Second base (1): Nick Madrigal
Madrigal told MLB.com in January that he planned to be 100 percent by the start of Spring Training and definitely ready to go at the regular season’s outset, even after having his left shoulder surgically repaired to fix a separation in October. He’s ready to build off his .340 average as a rookie, hitting .357 over 10 Cactus League games, while forming a strong up-the-middle combination with shortstop Tim Anderson.
“It's like Joe Torre used to say: You do little things and they add up to big things,” La Russa said. “Nick is a guy who -- especially when he gets the ball to right field -- can advance a guy from first to third, he can handle an at-bat in any situation. What we really want to do is have any one of our hitters understand that there's some times that you have to acknowledge how tough that pitcher is out there and be ready to put the ball in play in some situation or another.”
Shortstop (1): Tim Anderson
With an eight-game hitting streak to finish Spring Training, featuring a .520 average during that time, Anderson looks ready for the regular season. Anderson, who recently told MLB.com that he would like to be with the White Sox for the entirety of his career, will hit first in this potent attack.
“The development that he has had is outstanding,” Abreu said. “He found out an approach that works for him and he has stuck with it.
“He has gotten results from that approach and that's remarkable, especially being a young player like him. But you know what, he's smart, he's always had a plan and he figured out how to execute that plan. He's a player who is a leader on our team.”
Third base (1): Yoán Moncada
Here’s some eye-opening news for White Sox opponents: Moncada said he feels better than he did in 2019, when he put up MVP-caliber numbers, let alone better than 2020, when he was battling the after-effects of COVID-19. The switch-hitter feels good to go hitting from the left side, but he still has some work to do to get ready from the right. He’s clearly not worried.
Left field (1): Leury García
There really is no replacing Eloy Jiménez, who is one of the most productive hitters in the AL but is out after rupturing a left pectoral tendon while trying to snag a Sean Murphy home run during a Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch. Jiménez had surgery on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
“There’s a chance certainly that he beats that traditional time frame for this type of injury in five to six months,” said Hahn, who added the next update in terms of Jiménez’s timeline won’t be for three months. “But quite candidly, no one is going to know that for at least 12 weeks until he’s completed the healing process and the rehabilitation side of this injury.”
Vaughn, who is ranked as the team’s No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline, will see time in left field after playing three games there following Jiménez’s injury.
“There's another option with Leury,” La Russa said. “But Andrew will be in the lineup at one of those spots, DH or left field.”
Center field (1): Luis Robert
If the 2020 season had lasted another two or three months, Robert believes his .233 average and .738 OPS would have continuously jumped up as he started to figure out things during the AL Wild Card Series against Oakland. The 23-year-old won a Gold Glove Award in center field, with his defense being even more on display behind Vaughn, possibly starting in left. Robert has the potential to be a 30-home run, 30-stolen base type of player.
Right field (1): Adam Eaton
One intangible noticeable with Eaton is he hustles on everything he does, even on routine ground balls during a Cactus League game. He already was going to be the everyday right fielder, but with Adam Engel’s unfortunate right hamstring strain sidelining him for 2-to-4 weeks, the White Sox temporarily lose their right-handed hitting complement.
Designated hitter (1): Andrew Vaughn
Collins could join Vaughn at DH, as could Jake Lamb, who was added via a Major League deal on Tuesday with left-handed pitcher Nik Turley designated for assignment.
“I look at the slots, four days [in Anaheim] and three days [in Seattle], and that DH spot will probably go to somebody that needs at-bats,” La Russa said. “I’m also thinking that Zack will be there as well because he's swinging well. But he's not going to be the DH all the time when he doesn't catch.”
Grandal would be the first guy to move to DH, when he’s not catching, to keep his bat in the lineup. The same holds true for Abreu on the rare occasion he’s not a first base.
Utility (2): Jake Lamb, Billy Hamilton
The switch-hitting Hamilton provides a perfect spot-starter, but even more importantly, he can steal a big base late in a close game or serve as a defensive replacement.
Starting pitchers (5): Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodón
Cease closed out Spring Training with 11 strikeouts and no walks over 5 1/3 innings against the Rockies. Rodón fanned 16 over 13 2/3 innings overall, lengthening a rotation already featuring a strong front three of Giolito, Keuchel and Lynn, with Giolito making his second straight Opening Day start. Reynaldo López, Jonathan Stiever and Jimmy Lambert will stay stretched out at the alternate training site or Triple-A Charlotte as starting options, and Michael Kopech eventually could work his way into this spot.
Bullpen (8): Liam Hendriks (closer), Aaron Bummer, Garrett Crochet, Evan Marshall, Michael Kopech, Codi Heuer, Matt Foster, José Ruiz
Kopech will work multiple innings, while Crochet will pitch in the last third of games as a setup man, even though the White Sox envision both as future starters. The addition of both hurlers, as well as Hendriks, who might be the game’s best closer, turns a good bullpen into maybe No. 1 in the Majors. Southpaw Jace Fry is out of action until at least early May after undergoing a microdiscectomy in January, while right-handed pitcher Jimmy Cordero was placed on the 60-day injured list after undergoing successful Tommy John surgery.