GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Here is a look at the latest 2021 White Sox Opening Day roster prediction with eight Cactus League games remaining on the schedule after Sunday.
Catcher (3): Yasmani Grandal, Jonathan Lucroy, Zack Collins
Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Grandal appears to be on track to start the season behind the plate for the White Sox. The veteran twisted his right knee during running drills on Feb. 24 and has gradually been working his way back, making three Cactus League starts at designated hitter and two at catcher. Those totals aren’t factoring in "B" game appearances.
Lucroy brings a veteran presence behind the plate with the experience to handle one of baseball’s stronger pitching staffs. He still figures to be the No. 2 catcher behind Grandal.
But what happens with Collins, who has had a tremendous run in Arizona? The team’s top pick from the 2016 MLB Draft recently told MLB.com he belongs on the Opening Day roster and it would be a mistake not to include him. Manager Tony La Russa wouldn’t go as far as to agree, but he has liked what he’s seen from the confident Collins.
“I was really impressed with the way he's taken to the preparation training that we've tried, as far as creating a relationship with pitchers and having an idea going in of how to attack,” La Russa said. “And the next day, when he talks and explains, he's been very articulate, intelligent. There's [only] days to go, and he's been playing with an edge. He's got to keep it.”
If the White Sox don’t break camp with first baseman Andrew Vaughn, the team’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, then Collins makes perfect sense to work in at designated hitter, catcher and as a left-handed bat off the bench. Even if Vaughn breaks camp, Collins could still earn one of the bench spots as the team leaves for Anaheim.
First base (1): José Abreu
After missing the start of Spring Training in compliance with MLB intake protocols due to a positive COVID-19 test, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player Award winner and team leader seems to be hitting his stride at the plate.
“His timing is better on everything,” La Russa said. “We are playing games where we are trying to compete, and he’s had some big situations and he’s right on time. He’s been healthy for a while. I think he’s Opening Day ready.”
Second base (1): Nick Madrigal
Madrigal made his 2021 Cactus League debut on March 6, but he did not play for one week after that. The issue was right thumb soreness, though, with Madrigal’s surgically repaired left shoulder feeling good, per the second baseman. Madrigal told MLB.com in January he planned to be close to 100 percent by the start of Spring Training and ready to go at the regular season’s outset. There’s no reason to believe otherwise at this time.
Shortstop (1): Tim Anderson
Anderson continues having fun, playing with a high level of energy and making bold predictions for this fast-rising team. So it’s pretty much business as usual for not only the face of the White Sox, but one of the most enjoyable players to watch in MLB. Nothing has changed since the last update, aside from Anderson making it clear he would like to be with the White Sox for the entirety of his career.
Third base (1): Yoán Moncada
Moncada was slowed briefly at the start of camp by normal early soreness in his throwing arm, but he has since returned to third base without a hitch. The switch-hitter tested positive for COVID-19 during last year's Summer Camp intake process and was hampered by the aftereffects throughout the 2020 season, but Moncada looks primed for results closer to his impressive effort in '19. He’s running especially well and seems to have a fluidity behind every action he takes.
Left field (1): Eloy Jiménez
Jiménez will hit the baseball and do so with authority: There’s no doubt about that fact. In fact, some pundits believe Jiménez might lead the AL in home runs. But his goal is to be a complete player and not be an individual who La Russa has to replace defensively late in the game. Jiménez’s extra work has produced improvement, including a sliding catch in left Saturday. The White Sox also figure to have Leury García and Billy Hamilton as outfield options if Jiménez moves to designated hitter for a game or two.
Center field (1): Luis Robert
If the 2020 season had lasted another two or three months, Robert believes his .233 batting 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 in center field and has the potential to be a 30-homer, 30-steal player.
Right field (1): Adam Eaton
One intangible noticeable with Eaton is that he hustles on everything he does, even on routine ground balls during a Cactus League game. He was already going to be the everyday right fielder for the White Sox, but with Adam Engel’s right hamstring strain, the team temporarily loses its right-handed-hitting complement. La Russa listed Engel as out for a couple weeks, and hopefully not longer, although the White Sox still could turn to the switch-hitting García.
Designated hitter (1): Andrew Vaughn
Vaughn has been one of the most impressive White Sox performers during Spring Training, and he would seem to need to be part of this team from the outset if Chicago is putting the best group on the field to contend for a World Series championship. Vaughn has been working with Hall of Famer Jim Thome, picking his brain on how to handle the role of designated hitter.
“He says, 'Stay warm. Stay ready. Got to act like it’s a position,'” Vaughn said. “It’s the mindset of learning the new position. You have to look at DH like that. If that does happen, you have to go out there and be ready. You can’t just sit on the bench cold, tight. You have to be loose and ready to go and take it seriously.”
Utility (2): Leury García, Billy Hamilton
Hamilton was added this week on a Minor League deal with an invite to big league camp, and with Engel’s hamstring injury, it appears Hamilton has a good chance to make the team. The switch-hitter provides could be a spot starter, but even more importantly, he can steal a base late in a close game or serve as a defensive replacement. García would be the team’s sole utility infielder, and he can play all over the field, although Danny Mendick holds firmly in the Opening Day mix with the same sort of versatility.
Starting pitchers (5): Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodón
Giolito, Keuchel, Lynn and Cease, in that order, are pretty much rotation locks, although La Russa has talked about three pitchers in the mix for the final two starting spots. Rodón remains the favorite at No. 5. Jonathan Stiever and Jimmy Lambert will stay stretched out at the alternate training site as starting options, and Michael Kopech could eventually work his way into this spot.
Bullpen (8): Liam Hendriks (closer), Aaron Bummer, Garrett Crochet, Evan Marshall, Michael Kopech, Codi Heuer, Matt Foster, Reynaldo López
Hendriks might be the best closer in baseball, even though he’s approaching Spring Training with the mindset of having to earn the job. Kopech will work multiple innings, while Crochet will pitch late in games as a setup man, even though the White Sox envision both as future starters.
Left-hander Jace Fry is out of action until at least early May after undergoing a microdiscectomy in January, while right-hander Jimmy Cordero was placed on the 60-day injured list Sunday after undergoing successful Tommy John surgery. The White Sox claimed left-hander Nik Turley off waivers Sunday, but they seem unlikely to carry more than eight relievers.