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Predicting the White Sox Opening Day roster

@scottmerkin
November 5, 2019

CHICAGO -- Picking a 2020 White Sox Opening Day roster at the start of November is somewhat akin to basing a class grade on the first week of a semester. There’s still a great deal of work for the White Sox to do in putting together these 26 players before

CHICAGO -- Picking a 2020 White Sox Opening Day roster at the start of November is somewhat akin to basing a class grade on the first week of a semester.

There’s still a great deal of work for the White Sox to do in putting together these 26 players before their final exam in late March. But even at this point, there’s some apparent roster locks and interesting scenarios to discuss as an offseason gets underway where the White Sox look to be active in pushing the rebuild into a contending stage.

Offseason checklist: White Sox needs & moves

Catcher
Locks: James McCann, Zack Collins
Possibilities: Free agent, Seby Zavala
McCann not only had a breakout season with the bat in 2019, but he also earned rave reviews for his handling of the pitching staff and his pinpoint game preparation. This also is the time for Collins, the team’s top pick in the 2016 Draft, to take a step forward into regular big league plate appearances whether it be behind the plate or through a combination of catcher, first base and designated hitter. But having these two won’t preclude the White Sox from pursuing a high-end free-agent catcher such as switch-hitter Yasmani Grandal.

First base
Locks: None
Possibilities: Free agent (José Abreu), Zack Collins
Abreu has been the mainstay at this spot over the past six seasons, not to mention serving as an elite run producer in the middle of the White Sox order during that same time. Although Abreu became a free agent on Halloween, it would be more of a surprise if he doesn’t return to the White Sox than if he does. Both sides have made clear a desire to keep the clubhouse leader on the South Side.

Second base
Locks: None
Possibilities: Nick Madrigal, Leury García, Yolmer Sánchez, Danny Mendick, free agent/trade
This spot belongs to Madrigal, the team’s top pick and fourth selection overall in the 2018 Draft, although probably not from the season’s outset. The club's No. 4 prospect according to MLB Pipeline is already considered a Gold Glove-caliber defender and has contact skills and speed offensively, making him a potential fit at the top of the order. According to MLB Trade Rumors, García is projected to earn $4 million through arbitration and his value around the diamond makes García a near-automatic tender. The White Sox could also look to a possible free agent such as Mike Moustakas to hold down second until Madrigal arrives, and then move to the designated hitter’s spot. A player such as Brock Holt would fit, with the ability to move around the diamond upon Madrigal’s arrival.

Offseason FAQ: Abreu, FA plans, more

Shortstop
Locks: Tim Anderson
Possibilities: None
Anderson topped the Majors in hitting, raising his average from .240 in 2018 to .335 in '19. He also led the Majors with 26 errors, so there’s of course work to be done. But this spot belongs to the 26-year-old, a point he reinforced numerous times last offseason during the White Sox free-agent pursuit of Manny Machado.

Third base
Locks: Yoán Moncada
Possibilities: Danny Mendick, Leury García
Moncada was the White Sox best all-around hitter from start to finish in 2019 and flourished with the defensive change from second to third. The only way Moncada could be moved off of third, barring an injury, is if the White Sox agreed to terms on a deal with a free agent of elite status such as Anthony Rendon. Let’s label that scenario as possible but very unlikely. The White Sox were moving Moncada to third last year well before Machado decided on the Padres.

Utility
Locks: Leury García
Possibilities: Danny Mendick, Yolmer Sánchez, free agent/trade
Sánchez is a Gold Glove Award winner at second base and the player who keeps the clubhouse loose. But with Sánchez projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $6.2 million through arbitration, the White Sox likely won’t bring him back at that salary. Not after the 27-year-old posted a .321 slugging percentage in 2019. There’s a chance Sánchez could return at a lower number.

Mendick, a 22nd round pick out of the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2015, showed his value during a September callup. He can play all over the infield and even in the outfield, much like García.

Outfield
Locks: Eloy Jiménez
Possibilities: Adam Engel, Luis Robert, Leury García, free agent/trade
Jiménez launched 31 home runs, a power total somewhat expected from the rookie, but more importantly, showed improvement defensively in left field through his diligent daily pregame work. White Sox fans are literally counting the days until Robert, the No. 3 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, moves next to Jiménez in the outfield. Much like Madrigal, that move might not happen on Opening Day. Engel provides at the very least outstanding defense.

This team is too right-handed heavy in the lineup, and right field is a spot where the White Sox could pursue a left-handed addition. That add-on could come via trade or maybe through the free-agent route with a player such as Corey Dickerson as an example. But the White Sox also are committed to good players over specific handedness, so don’t rule out a free agent such as Nicholas Castellanos.

Designated hitter
Locks: None
Possibilities: Free agent/trade, Daniel Palka
No American League team had a lower OPS among designated hitters than the White Sox in 2019. Andrew Vaughn, the team’s top pick in the '19 Draft, will figure in this spot along with first base at some point soon, but probably not this season. It looks like free agent or trade to fill the void, with Edwin Encarnación already out there. Palka, who dealt with a miserable 9-for-84 season in ’19 with dignity and humor, is out of options.

Starting pitchers
Locks: Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo López
Possibilities: Michael Kopech, Dylan Covey, free agent/trade
Even in early November, the call can be made: Giolito will be and should be the team’s Opening Day starter. He will be joined by Cease, who went through the up-and-down learning curve as a rookie in 2019, along with López, who needs to show focus to match his raw stuff to keep his place in the rotation. Kopech should be healthy and ready to go by the start of Spring Training, recovering from Tommy John surgery in September ’18, but it’s not an absolute lock he will break camp as part of the rotation after the long layoff.

With Carlos Rodón not coming back from his own Tommy John surgery until later in 2020, the White Sox will be adding a couple of veteran starters. Gerrit Cole is the dream but doesn’t seem to be the reality.

Relievers
Locks: Alex Colomé, Aaron Bummer, Kelvin Herrera, Jace Fry, Evan Marshall
Possibilities: Free agent, Jimmy Cordero, Ryan Burr, Carson Fulmer, José Ruiz, Thyago Vieira.
Colomé is projected to earn $10.3 million in arbitration, per MLB Trade Rumors, but it’s still likely the White Sox keep him. Bummer is a closer in waiting, while Herrera allowed three runs over his last 15 1/3 innings pitched during a rough debut with the White Sox. Cordero, who impressed with his high octane fastball over his 30 White Sox appearances, Fulmer and Vieira are all out of options. There almost certainly will be another addition via free agency.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.