As Spring Training begins, the biggest goal on the agenda for the White Sox is winning their first championship since 2005.
“The excitement around here is palpable,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “We're ready to get going.”
“We're a very, very good team, and we expect to win. That's pretty much where we're at,” ace Lucas Giolito said. “For that to happen, we need to be very serious about our work, which we are, and hold each other accountable. We have all the set base levels for that. We just need to continue to put in the work.”
That work began during the offseason but continues this week now that camp has opened, with the White Sox first full-squad workout taking place on Monday. Giolito believes the bonding within the clubhouse becomes just as important as the daily drills.
The White Sox did not bring in Tony La Russa as manager to make an incremental jump. They are in it to win it all.
Given the pandemic, how is Spring Training going to be different this year?
Giolito said a number of protocols are in place, including some of the workouts being in smaller groups.
“A lot more on point with mask wearing and things like that,” Giolito said. “So I don’t think it will affect our work too much. We are still going to be able to get done what we need to get done.
“I’m personally pretty happy this year. I feel like we learned a lot from the 2020 season -- what worked, what didn’t work, as far as protocols are concerned. Between the players' union and MLB, the agreement is pretty rock solid when it comes to player safety, staff safety. There’s going to be a few things that are given a little more importance.”
When is the first Spring Training game?
With the adjusted Cactus League schedule, the White Sox will open at home against the Brewers on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 2:05 p.m. CT. They have five road and five home games prior to an off-day on March 10, although the game on March 8 is at Camelback Ranch with the Dodgers as the home team. The White Sox play 18 straight days after that single break.
How can I watch/listen/follow Spring Training games?
Six games will be televised on NBC Sports Chicago: Feb. 28 vs. Milwaukee, March 2 vs. Texas, March 13 vs. the Angels, March 17 vs. the Dodgers, March 24 vs. the A’s, and March 28 vs. the Diamondbacks. Ten games will be broadcast on ESPN 1000, the team’s new flagship station, with Len Kasper, the team’s new radio voice, joining Darrin Jackson. Those 10 include March 15 against the Cubs. There also will be nine webcasts on whitesox.com, meaning every remaining home game not already being televised.
Who are some prospects to keep an eye on in camp?
Seven of the top 10 and 13 of the top 20 White Sox prospects, per MLB Pipeline, will be in big league camp. Andrew Vaughn (No. 1), Michael Kopech (No. 2), Nick Madrigal (No. 3) and Garrett Crochet (No. 4) will play important parts in the team’s 2021 success, but Gavin Sheets (No. 9), Jake Burger (No. 13) and Jimmy Lambert (No. 14) could also contribute.
Sheets will be playing first base and the outfield, after adding the latter position to his repertoire during the instructional league. Lambert was very impressive during Summer Camp and at the start of last season before suffering a right forearm strain and not pitching after July 28, but he will enter Spring Training healthy. And Burger’s impressive comeback from two left Achilles ruptures will take another major step with his first real game action since 2017.
“He’s on a mission, he really is,” said White Sox assistant general manager/player development Chris Getz of Burger. “He’s worked past the injuries and what comes with being away from playing competitively.”
Who is the White Sox designated hitter?
Vaughn, who is the No. 14 overall prospect in baseball, is the primary reason there was no pure DH added to the White Sox mix during the offseason. The 22-year-old has not played above Class A Advanced and didn’t get a Minor League season last year beyond his work at the alternate training site. But the club has been impressed by his professional plate approach and his overall ability since the day he arrived, with thoughts of promoting him last year. If Vaughn doesn’t break camp with the team, the White Sox could use Zack Collins in that spot while also possibly rotating between Yasmani Grandal, José Abreu and even Eloy Jiménez. But don’t bet against Vaughn.
Any key injury situations to watch?
Left-handed reliever Jace Fry had a microdiscectomy in January, similar to one he underwent in 2012, and will not be ready until somewhere around May 1, per Hahn. Madrigal had his separated left shoulder surgically repaired at the start of the offseason, but he told MLB.com recently that he hopes to be close to 100 percent by the start of Spring Training. Left-handed setup man Aaron Bummer will be a few days behind after missing the start of camp due to the birth of his daughter.
Are there any position battles?
Carlos Rodón, who returned to the White Sox on a one-year, $3 million free-agent deal after being non-tendered, figures to break camp as the team’s fifth starter, but Reynaldo López also could be in the mix. Every position player spot but DH is settled, so the White Sox basically need to keep everyone healthy and decide on the final few spots for their roster.
When is Opening Day and who is the opponent?
The White Sox will open the season on April 1 in Anaheim at 9:05 p.m. CT, and play their first seven games on the West Coast, with four night games against the Angels followed by two night games and a day game in Seattle. Their home opener comes on April 8 against the Royals with a 3:10 p.m. CT first pitch, and it will begin a seven-game homestand against Kansas City and Cleveland.
Who will be the Opening Day starter?
Barring something unexpected, Giolito will become the first White Sox right-hander to make back-to-back Opening Day starts since Jaime Navarro in 1997-98. He would be the team’s first repeat Opening Day starter since Chris Sale in 2013-14.
Is the team planning to sell tickets to regular-season games?
That decision is based more on what the city of Chicago and state of Illinois allows. But the White Sox are ready for whatever plan is put into place.
“Obviously, the Chicago White Sox, we want nothing more than our fans to be in attendance,” Hahn said. “But there is obviously a public health priority that takes precedent over that. We've still got a little bit of time to figure what happens come our return to Chicago. But the sooner we can safely get people back in the stands, the better for everybody.”