Member’ when the AL Central was really good a few years ago? Those days are gone as you have a mix of rebuilding teams, fading contenders, pretenders and one solid team at the top. The White Sox, whom I’ll preview today, are the rebuilding team at the bottom of that division. The red headed step child of the Windy City are in for an interesting year as they have a small handful of good players whom to trade and help take a step forward but a step sideways is more likely in 2017.
The White Sox currently have one of the better slugging third basemen in baseball patrolling the field every day. Todd Frazier or the Todd Father as some call him, is set to hit free agency after the 2017 season. Once again, he was a beast at the plate in 2016 as he hit his way to 40 home runs in his first season in the Chicago South Side. In season’s prior Frazier hit 29 and 35 home runs respectively in 2014 and 2015. The power is legit but has come at the expense of his batting average and a slightly elevated strike out rate which now hovers above 24%. Frazier’s low batting average of .225 can be explained by some bad luck as evidenced by his .235 BABIP, but when 48.7% of all balls in play are flyballs, a below average BABIP is going to come along. Out of all those flyballs, almost 20% are infield pop flies, meaning that one in ten at bats results in an easy infield pop fly out. Good Grief! Furthering this problem, Frazier is hitting a career low 15% of line drives compared to his career average of 19.4%. Essentially he has sacrificed hitting efficiency for power.
What also concerns me about the Todd Father is that his hard hit rate fell to its lowest mark since 2012. Frazier’s favourite pitches to mash are down the pipe and low outside. He sells out hard to pull those balls for power and is vulnerable anywhere inside. As Frazier heads into free agency it will be interesting to see if he continues to sell out for power or if he shows a bit more plate discipline and a better rounded hitting approach. I’ll reiterate again that his power is legitimate but Frazier is the definition of an all or nothing hitter. Also important to note is that Frazier’s defense had previously been above average at third base but it declined to slightly below average in 2016. Hopefully that was a blip, but as he ages it is likely to be the new norm. It’s almost a guarantee that Frazier will be traded at some point prior to the trade deadline so hopefully the Sox can get a good prospect haul for him once they throw in the towel on their 2017 season.
At shortstop it looks like Tim Anderson will get full time duty in his second MLB season. The 23 year old was a former first round pick in 2013 and showed his elite defensive prowess last year. He has a lot of work to do to improve offensively as his strike out rate is way too high (27.1%) and walk rate far too low (3%) for a contact hitter. His batting average was very good (.283) because Anderson has some speed and beats out infield hits very well. He also stole 10 bases last year in the bigs but in 2015 at AAA he successfully stole 49 bases. An uptick in that department is coming and he could be fun to watch on the base paths. Anderson never hit for a lot of power in the minors so it was surprising that he hit even 9 home runs in a partial major league season. As his plate approach improves I expect that power level to drop in 2016 and he will eventually level out to be a 12 to 15 home run a season type guy at best. Anderson was a positive WAR producing player in 2016 due to his defense (2.4 WAR) and I’d expect a similar output again in 2017 albeit the home runs will be less.
The White Sox franchise player of the future has arrived in young second baseman, Yoan Moncada. The Red Sox departed with the much hyped Cuban prospect in order to acquire Chris Sale this off-season. Moncada is still 21 and will be thrusted into every day playing since the White Sox recently released Brett Lawrie. Moncada was playing rookie ball at the beginning of 2016 and ended up all the way at the big league level for 8 games with the Red Sox. Through that upward journey he struck out a lot but showed some decent power along the way as he hit 17 total home runs in 112 minor league games. The strike out rate will be problematic though as he was hovering in the 30% range in almost all stops except A ball. He does have a good eye and was taking walks at an elite rate in the minors but now we’re talking about the big leagues.
Moncada’s 8 games with the Red Sox are not enough to draw any conclusions from. I don’t believe he will strike out at a 60% rate and remain powerless, but I also don’t believe he will immediately be an offensive impact player due to his high strike out propensity. Similar to Anderson he should be able to play above average to elite defense and whatever he contributes with the bat will be gravy in 2017. Moncada has a very lucrative and productive MLB career ahead of him but there will be major growing pains in 2017. I expect him to hit something like .236/.325/.384 and hit 14 to 17 home runs with about 15 steals thrown in there. Temper your expectations but the kid will show those flashes of brilliance that have already made him a very rich prospect. (He received a 31 million dollar singing bonus in 2015…woooooooooo!)
At first base there is fellow Cuban, Jose Abreu who will begin his fourth season in the bigs. Abreu came into the league in 2014 after defecting from the Cuban National team. He had an amazing rookie year albeit at the age of 27, as he hit his way to a slash line of .317/.383/.581 with 36 home runs to boot. In 2015 and 2016 pretty much every counting stat he compiled in the rookie year declined due to the hard hit %, and slugging and batting averages being down. We’ve probably seen Abreu’s ceiling and what we saw in that rookie year was a great ceiling. I also think we have seen his floor and that would be what we saw in 2016. Abreu had a poor first half where everything was down across the board. He improved near the end of the season but ultimately struggled mightily against lefties all the way through. These reverse platoon splits are concerning as there’s enough tape for MLB team’s to know how to pitch to the Cuban slugger now. Also he’s popping the ball up more than ever. I think Abreu can make the necessary adjustments to return to his 2015 level of production but his ceiling is likely seen and gone.
In the outfield, Adam Eaton is now gonezo so there’s a list of uninspiring characters to pick up the slack. The Sox will use a combination of Melky Cabrerea in left field, Avisail Garcia in right field and Charlie Tilson in center while Peter Bourjos fills in accordingly off the bench. Outside of Cabrera the track record for success isn’t there with this mix of replacement level and young players.
Garcia oozed potential when he was acquired from the Tigers a few years back but he has failed to reach that potential to date. He hasn’t been trusted and rightfully so, to be a regular fielder and his hitting production has stagnated. He has potential to be a power bat. He strikes out just above league average, walks enough, has decent hard contact numbers but hits too many ground balls.. If he could just get a few of those ground balls to become line drives then the batting average will kick up significantly but we will have to wait and see if those adjustments ever get made. He’s a guy to watch during spring training to see where and how he slots in and if he made any adjustments in the off-season because a breakout potential is there but I need to see signs first to believe it.
Cabrera, is now on the downside of his career. After almost winning a batting title with the Giants in 2012 he was caught for using PED’s and subsequently suspended. After he went to the Blue Jays for two years he hit free agency again and got paid handsomely by the White Sox. Now in the third year and final year of his deal with the White Sox. Cabrera’s defense in left is still very poor but his batting average is still very good and hovers just below .300. He is what he is at this point of his career and at age 32 he is still a table setter with 12 home run pop. As he is in the final year of that free agent contract he signed in 2015, he is another candidate to be traded near the deadline if he remains healthy and productive.
Tilson, is a lead off hitter type who has lots of speed. He won’t hit for power but should be able to drive pitchers nuts on the base paths. He stole 46 bags in 2015 while in AA with the Cardinals that declined to only 15 in AAA. This could have been due to coaching decisions and is not indicative of talent. At the AA and AAA levels his batting average was in the .280 to .290 range so he has true lead off hitter written all over him. Once Tilson and Anderson come into their own they will make an interesting combination of speed for the White Sox. He profiles as an average centre fielder defensively and with little to no competition for playing time he will be given every opportunity to succeed.
At catcher, Geovany Soto returns once again to the Sox after playing a season with the Angels in 2016. He’s still an average defensive catcher at the age of 34, but offensively doesn’t bring a lot to the plate. The White Sox could do worse but need to do better at catcher. 21 year old catching prospect, Zach Collins is still developing his defensive abilities in the minors and is expected to make the team in 2018. We will see if biding their time was the right call for the White Sox as they haven’t had a solid catcher since A. J. Pierzynski departed after the 2012 season.
Lastly, the current DH role is slotted for former Phillies third base/outfielder, Cody Ashe. He is still fairly young (26) but has not shown a lot of development at the plate in his four MLB seasons. He’s your classic Quad A player who is too good for the minors but not good enough to be impactful in the bigs. His career high for home runs is 12 while his batting average career high is .252. Ashe strikes out way too much and doesn’t walk enough for a slugger who lacks power. The Phillies let him go for nothing so that says something right there. This is a placeholder spot until the White Sox can find better options.
With Chris Sale gone to Boston there is a giant hole atop the White Sox rotation. Former number two starter, Jose Quintana, has quietly been a consistent force within the Sox rotation for the past few years. He hasn’t missed a start in four years and has pitched over 200 innings in each of those seasons. He has consistently been striking out batters to the tune of 8 K/9 innings and yielded an ERA in the 3.2 to 3.5 range. His hard hit rate spiked last year to a career high of 32.7% compared to his career average of 28.9% but he also saw the infield fly ball percentage double from career averages as well. His fastball actually improved by 0.7 Mph year over year and was jamming batters a bit more than usual. With Sale gone, Quintana is now the man and that creep can roll! I expect more of the same from the consistent lefty as he enters his age 28 season.
James Shields was acquired from the Padres in the middle of the 2016 season. The Sox got off to an unexpected hot start to that campaign, but eventually began tumbling in the standings. Consequently, they desperately acquired the expensive ghost of James Shields. Shields had signed a lucrative 75 million dollar/4 year deal following the 2014 season. Since then he has been a mess. The Padres traded Shields to the White Sox for pitcher Eric Johnson but will reportedly eat over half of his remaining contract.
With the background aside what’s left for Shields. After posting sub 4.00 ERA’s from 2011 to 2015, 2016 fell off the rails and he finished with an ERA of 5.21, saw the lowest strike out rate and highest walk rate of his entire career. His final stat line in 2015 looked alright but the home runs allowed were up and that continued into 2016 as 17.6% of all fly balls allowed were leaving the park. Year over year since 2014 he has been getting hit harder and is missing fewer bats with his 90 Mph fastball which has decline 2 Mph in the past two seasons. I’d like to think that given his pedigree he could rebound but it’s unlikely we will ever see the James Shields of past Christmas’ ever again. A slight improvement to his ERA and walk rates is realistic but he’s no longer anything more than a slightly below average 35 year old pitcher that has nearly 2300 innings thrown on that right arm.
Is this the year Carlos Rodon becomes the man? The 2014 third overall pick is set to be a full time big leaguer after cups of coffee in the past two seasons. He has the tools to be an impact arm but has yet to piece it all together on a consistent basis. In 2016 he struck out over 9 batters per 9 innings and brought his once high walk rate down to a more palatable 2.95 BB/9. The walk rate must come down further if he is to get through an order three times, but this is a drastic improvement from the 4.59 BB/9 rate he posted in 2015. His 93 to 94 Mph fastball has the potential to be a wicked pitch but he hasn’t quite harnessed the command on it yet while his slider is already a killer weapon. If Rodon can continue to hone in the fastball and bring his change up along he will eventually become the White Sox number one pitcher. 2017 will be a telling year in his development. I expect some bumps along the way but ultimately he will be a solid number three pitcher for the Sox in 2017.
Former long time Baltimore Oriole, Miguel Gonzalez is currently slotted as the team’s number four starter. Gonzalez had his best season of his MLB career in his first season as a White Sox member in 2016. He posted a WAR of 2.7 and had an ERA of 3.73. Gonzo isn’t one to strike a lot of batters (6.44 K/9 career) and is an extreme flyball pitcher. He did a good job keeping the ball in the park as batters only hit 6.8% of those flyballs over the fence where as his 2013-2015 rates ranged from 11.4% to 15%. At 32 years old I don’t think Gonzalez has magically become a better pitcher, he more than likely just got a bit lucky with some balls staying in the yard that previously would have left in Camden. Regression in this area is expected and I’d think at least 10% of all those flyballs will be home runs and regress his ERA closer to 4.50. Nonetheless he will remain a valuable innings eater for the Orioles and could be another trade candidate at the deadline if he manages to somehow maintain his 2016 performance level.
Another reclamation project is expected to compete for the 5th rotation spot in Derek Holland. The former longtime Texas Ranger lefty was pretty good early in his career as he posted a combined WAR of 8.6 from 2011 to 2013. After a freak accident late in the 2013 season where he tore up his knee covering a play at home plate his play drastically fell off. Since that point in time he has managed to only pitch in 38 games over three seasons. Back when he was good he was hucking the heater at 93 to 94 Mph but is only touching 90 Mph now. I could foresee a situation where Holland actually becomes the long man out of the bullpen as he just doesn’t have the strike out fastball anymore and it’s unlikely to come back. However soft tossing lefties seem to always find work and if he manages to stay healthy this year he will hit the free agent market and some dumb team will sign him to a bad contract.
Next in line for the Sox is Lucas Giolito who was acquired in the Adam Eaton trade from the Nationals. Giolito had a handful of starts with the Nats late last season but didn’t impress as he failed to strike out many batters and seemed to walk everyone. He is only 22 years old but some time in AAA is needed so that he can better harness his command. When the fire sale in Chicago begins expect Giolito to get the call up and he has the potential to strike out over a batter per inning when he’s on.
In my last preview about the Nationals I expanded on the fact that White Sox closer, David Robertson, is a prime trade candidate. Whether that occurs prior to the seasons commencement or at the trade deadline is to be seen. Nonetheless, the former Yankee is bound to take his talents elsewhere by mid season barring injury. Robertson has a limited no trade clause and is due another 13 million dollars next year which is pricy for a reliever. Nonetheless someone will line up for his services and the Nationals make so much sense to do so. Over the past three seasons Robertson has saved 34 to 39 games per year but has also blown 7 games in each of the last two seasons. He’s still a good reliever but he isn’t untouchable. He doesn’t blow the ball by batters and instead uses a deadly curveball to get his outs. The baseball world knows he is not truly elite and maybe this is why he was unable to be traded yet. The Sox will wait it out and someone will surely come along to take him away and offer up a decent prospect or two in return.
Next in line to close or at least set up for now is Nate Jones who has an interesting contract that was extended prior to last season. He’s guaranteed a reasonable 7 million dollars in salary over the 2017 and 2018 season but can then be extended annually at the team’s discretion otherwise he gets bought out for 1.2 million. Ultimately if he continues to perform he will be receiving decent but fair money until 2021 but at the discretion of whatever team he is playing for. The White Sox provided former closer Sergio Santos with a similar deal that they eventually jettisoned off to the Blue Jays… and we all know how that worked out… cough… piss fucking poor.
Nate Jones had a better season than Robertson in 2016 and he profiles as a better reliever at this point in time due to a 96 Mph fastball that performs well above average as well as possessing a great slider. His strand rate was a bit high in 2016 so ERA regression is possible but with the fastball and slider he possess, he can get a strike out on command. Jones is the future of the Sox pen and he will get every opportunity to take that and run once Robertson says bye bye.
After Robertson and Jones there isn’t a lot of top end talent in the Sox pen. Dan Jennings had a solid year in 2016 but is a pitch to contact reliever who only has a swinging strike rate of 8.5%. Lining up next is Chis Beck, Anthony Ranaudo, Michael Ynoa and Tommy Kahnle whom are the definition of a replacement level bullpen arms and there’s really not a lot of promise in any of those players who all combined for slightly negative WAR out of the pen in 2016.
It will be a long year in Chicago for the White Sox but the hope is that they can flip assets such as Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera and Miguel Gonzalez for some much needed prospects. Development from the current crop of MLB ready prospects will be the focus as Yoan Moncada, Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolato and Charlie Tilson are set to be a part of the team’s future. In the short term those players will not be overly impactful and the White Sox will come in last place in the Central as well as the American League as they struggle to win only 71 games.
Jose Abreu – Given the limited upside on the White Sox order I’d have to suggest Jose Abreu as being the best bang for your buck pick on this squad. His draft price is decreased from what it was in years past as it’s a certainty his run producing opportunities will be lower then his debut due to a weakened line up. He has the power to hit 30 home runs and will hit his way to .296/.351/.498 slash 100 RBI’s and 78 runs. At first base where the upper middle tier of players have questions marks, I feel comfortable with this floor as a safe pick.
James Shields – I don’t think he will be drafted in most leagues but don’t be the fantasy player to expect a pitching resurgence. Given how weak the Sox are he may only win 6 or 7 games and will likely end up with an ERA of 5.00 and a WHIP of 1.4 with an ever declining strike out rate. Hard pass as he isn’t even worth the speculative waiver add at this point.
Charlie Tilson – There isn’t a lot of sleeper upside on this roster but if Charlie Tilson gets every day playing time atop of the Sox order he could rack up a fair amount of runs akin to what Adam Eaton used to do. If you’re looking to bolster your fantasy rosters’ steal category he has speed to burn and could get over 20 SB. This is a last round pick or guy to simply monitor on the waiver wire. He could end up with a batting average of .275 as well so he’d be a two to three category contributor.