Packed White Sox roster has path to October success

April 4th, 2022

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The 2022 White Sox feature possibly the deepest and most talented roster shown by the franchise over the past 17 seasons.

With Craig Kimbrel traded to the Dodgers for AJ Pollock and Garrett Crochet requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery, the White Sox could use one or two more pitchers to reinforce their planned World Series pursuit and put an exclamation point on their roster construction. But that’s a front-office concern as opposed to a worry for manager Tony La Russa and the players preparing to start the regular season Friday in Detroit.

“There's always one more move to make,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said after the team acquired outfielder Pollock from the Dodgers for Kimbrel on Friday. “We are having a lot of conversations, but quite frankly, the focus of Tony and the focus of the players is appropriately on the guys in that room.

“If in the end our Opening Day [28-man roster] comes from that group that's currently here on campus, that works for us. And we're excited to get going."

What needs to go right?
Stay healthy. This mantra holds true for every contender entering into the 2022 campaign following a quicker Spring Training ramp-up, but injuries were especially detrimental to the American League Central champs last season. Yes, key players such as left fielder Eloy Jiménez, center fielder Luis Robert, catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Michael Kopech missed significant periods of the season, while first baseman José Abreu played hurt from virtually start to finish. But injuries such as Jiménez’s ruptured left pectoral tendon took a lot of intense rehab work just to fight his way back by July 26, and Jiménez wasn’t his usual self on the field by September. The White Sox were a 93-win team in ’21, but they became so without having the projected starting lineup together cohesively for extended stretches of time.

Great unknown
Kopech has the pure stuff most aces would dream of, so the right-hander’s overall ability as he moves back into the rotation from his 2021 dual role is not unknown entering '22. But what Kopech can provide on the mound as a starter, especially in the early going in terms of innings and pitch count, is the big question.

Kopech entered camp a little behind other White Sox starters after dealing with COVID-19 at the end of February. He threw two innings during his first Cactus League start and will start the Cactus League finale, with an apparent target of taking the mound for the home opener on April 12. Kopech’s innings total will be monitored all season, so going a little shorter at the outset could be part of the solution. If Kopech is as good as expected, this rotation could be one of the best in baseball.

Team MVP will be...
Luis Robert
. And with all due respect to Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the White Sox center fielder should be a prime candidate for AL Most Valuable Player in 2022 and for years to come. His ’21 season was hampered by a right hip flexor tear, sidelining him from May 3 through Aug. 9. From that point until the end of the season, Robert slashed .350/.389/.622 with 12 home runs, 13 doubles, 35 RBIs and 31 runs scored in 43 games. He's healthy entering ’22 and has been using the whole field offensively during Spring Training, with two of his homers carrying over right-center field at Camelback Ranch. As Jiménez once said, Robert could be the next Trout, and this year might mark the time where his five-tool skill set is on display for a full season.

Team Cy Young will be...
Lucas Giolito
. If things go as planned, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Kopech and even closer Liam Hendriks should all be in consideration for this unofficial honor. But Giolito has been the staff ace for much of the past two seasons and will be the leader at the top of the rotation in 2022 after being named as the Opening Day starter for the third consecutive season. Giolito added 20 pounds of mass by boosting his offseason weightlifting to provide greater strength and stability, and he’s noticed the difference during Spring Training.

Bold prediction
For the first time since 2005, the White Sox will win a playoff series. For the first time since 2005, the White Sox will win the American League. And for the first time since 2005 … OK, let’s stick with American League champs and see what happens from there, but do you remember what happened the last time the White Sox added a notable AJ/A.J. before the start of the season? That White Sox-Toronto AL Championship Series that featured A.J. Pierzynski should be a memorable one.