GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With Spring Training underway, here’s an early Opening Day roster prediction for the 2021 White Sox, a team with World Series championship aspirations.
Catcher (3): Yasmani Grandal, Jonathan Lucroy, Zack Collins
Grandal and James McCann gave the White Sox quite possibly the best catching tandem in baseball last season, but McCann has moved on, signing with the Mets via free agency. Lucroy spoke of manager Tony La Russa’s inclination toward veteran players as his first offseason connection to the White Sox, so there’s a good chance the non-roster invitee breaks camp as the No. 2 catcher. But Collins should also make the team, as he has the ability to not only work behind the plate but to also fill in at designated hitter.
First base (1): José Abreu
What will be Abreu’s encore after winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award in the seventh season of his stellar career? Abreu probably savored his greatest individual accomplishment for a few weeks, then went back to work shortly thereafter.
The 2020 campaign marked the first in which Abreu was part of a winning team, let alone a postseason team, and the team goals rank above personal accolades for the White Sox leader. Abreu has topped the AL in RBIs in each of the past two seasons, while also leading the AL in hits (76), games played (60), slugging percentage (.617) and total bases (148) in ’20.
Second base (1): Nick Madrigal
Madrigal had offseason surgery to repair a separated left shoulder sustained last season, but he told MLB.com in January that he planned to be close to 100 percent by the start of Spring Training and ready to go by the regular season. General manager Rick Hahn confirmed that outlook when he spoke after pitchers and catchers first reported.
Madrigal has strong bat-to-ball skills and should become an elite defensive player, as he exhibited during his ’20 debut. He has room to grow in terms of his extra-base output, and even his baserunning, but remember: Madrigal has only 29 games and 109 plate appearances on his résumé, to go with a .340 average.
Shortstop (1): Tim Anderson
Any doubters remaining after Anderson won the AL batting title by hitting .335 in 2019 should have been silenced by his stellar performance in ’20, when he hit .322 while tying for the AL lead with 45 runs scored. He has figured out and refined what’s needed to be successful, and he can make those adjustments within at-bats, let alone from game to game.
Anderson is the face of the franchise and one of the more enjoyable players to watch in all of baseball, reinforcing his national presence with authority via three three-hit games in the AL Wild Card Series loss to the A's last postseason.
Third base (1): Yoán Moncada
Moncada tested positive for COVID-19 during the intake process prior to last year's Summer Camp and admitted he never really felt normal until the end of the 60-game regular season. The switch-hitter is a dynamic talent, both at the plate and in the field, as shown during his MVP-caliber performance in ’19.
The White Sox are hoping a fully healthy Moncada, which is how he enters Spring Training, will be much closer to his top-notch form.
Left field (1): Eloy Jiménez
Hahn definitively supported Jiménez as the team’s left fielder, and despite a few missteps defensively in ’20, he has improved.
“We talked as a staff about the improvements he's had in his defense over the last couple of years and that he's not a finished product in that area,” Hahn said. “You've heard this from people who have been around the club the last couple of years to know that he takes a great deal of pride in finishing the game.
“He doesn't like being defensively replaced. It doesn't mean it's not going to happen, but he works hard to avoid that, and we continue to give him every opportunity to show he belongs out there for all nine innings. Not just for his bat, but also to help us defensively.”
Leury García and Adam Engel give La Russa options in left field when Jiménez moves to DH for a game or two.
Center field (1): Luis Robert
Robert was being talked about as an AL MVP candidate at the end of last August, but he finished the season in an 11-for-81 slump, with one home run, seven RBIs and 32 strikeouts during that span. That down stretch doesn’t diminish Robert’s immense talent and actually should help him improve. He’s still a Gold Glove-winning defensive player, even if he’s not hitting for an extended stretch.
Right field (2): Adam Eaton, Adam Engel
Eaton was shipped to the Nationals for Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning and Reynaldo López as one of the main trades to start the White Sox rebuild at the 2016 Winter Meetings. He now returns to try to help Chicago win a championship. Eaton is a stronger career hitter against right-handed pitching, and Engel is stronger against southpaws while having a solid run at the plate in ’20 to go with his stellar defense. But Eaton will be the starter when the season begins.
Designated hitter (1): Andrew Vaughn
Listing TBA as the Opening Day designated hitter might be the better choice at this moment, but Hahn said Vaughn was very much in the mix to make the team.
“One of the most prominent things is had there been a Minor League season last year, I don’t think there would have been any question in anyone’s mind that Andrew Vaughn was prepared to contribute at the big league level over the course of the 2021 season,” Hahn said. “But everyone here who knows Andrew and knows what he’s capable of doing is taking his bid for this club seriously.”
Vaughn has no at-bats above Class A Advanced Winston-Salem in his Minor League career. Yet, he impressed everyone with his polished plate approach and advanced mindset from Spring Training to Summer Camp to his time at the alternate training site in Schaumburg, Ill., last year, giving the White Sox thoughts of calling him up. Collins could see time here if it’s not Vaughn to start the campaign.
Utility (1): Leury García
Aside from catcher, there’s no position on the field García hasn’t handled, or at least tried to handle. His natural position is shortstop, which is an important trait for a primary utility player. With a four-man bench in play, the White Sox could opt to add Danny Mendick into the mix as well. He can play across the diamond and was a Gold Glove finalist at second last season.
Starting pitchers (5): Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodón
Michael Kopech, Garrett Crochet and López aren’t on this list, but they could work into the mix as two- or three-inning openers. The White Sox have a top three (Giolito, Keuchel and Lynn) capable of matching up against the fellow top teams in the AL, and they also have a young talent in Cease, who has earned rave reviews during the first few days of camp.
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 and Crochet are listed here, but they could work in a variety of roles, while southpaw Jace Fry is out of action until early May after undergoing a microdiscectomy in January. It would be surprising if the White Sox carried more than eight relievers.