Previewing the AL Central: the Chicago White Sox

Things won’t quite look the same on the south side of Chicago this season as a very young and unproven White Sox club looks to get some valuable big league experience while not considered top contenders in the American League Central Division.

The White Sox (67-95 in 2017) suffered a fifth straight season with a losing record and the fourth straight campaign that the club finished in fourth place in the division. The season’s results were not necessarily unexpected – the club had opted for a fresh start and a rebuild and began the process last offseason with the trade of Chris Sale to Boston and Adam Eaton to Washington. They followed those big moves by unloading another left-handed starter, Jose Quintana, across town to the Cubs, third baseman Todd Frazier and relievers Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson to the New York Yankees, reliever Anthony Swarzak to the Milwaukee Brewers, reliever Dan Jennings to the Tampa Bay Rays, outfielder Melky Cabrera back to the Kansas City Royals, reliever Tyler Clippard to the Houston Astros, and starter Miguel Gonzalez to the Texas Rangers – all in the span of two months midseason.

Now, younger and inexperienced, the White Sox will look to build up their base, getting them exposure and playing time at the Major League level to determine who will be a part of the team when it is ready to contend. Rick Renteria begins his second season at the helm with a big task before him.

Abreu – Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Key additions: Catcher Welington Castillo; Pitchers Luis Avilan, Danny Farquhar, Miguel Gonzalez, Bruce Rondon, Hector Santiago, Joakim Soria, Michael Ynoa.

The White Sox were relatively quiet in the offseason, although there were the curious rumors of their interest in Baltimore’s Manny Machado. One of the club’s biggest moves was in snagging a different former Oriole in Castillo, who inked a two-year, $15 million contract in free agency. It brings the catcher back to the Windy City (after playing for the Cubs from 2010 to 2015). In his lone season with the O’s in 2017, he hit .282 with 20 homers and 53 RBI.

Gonzalez returns to the White Sox rotation after spending the end of last season with the Rangers. He could help buffer the absence of Carlos Rodon, who will miss time recovering from his September shoulder surgery. The veteran Soria will team up in the back end of the Sox’s bullpen, joined by Nate Jones (when he is healthy) and Juan Minaya. Renteria will look to use his relievers interchangeably during “high leverage situations”.

Subtractions: Catcher Geovany Soto; Pitchers Al Alburquerque, Mike Pelfrey, Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam; Outfielders Willy Garcia, Alen Hanson

The biggest loss for the White Sox may have been Putnam. The former Cleveland farmhand had spent the past four years with Chicago and had proved himself to be a reliable reliever, but he missed almost all of 2017 with right elbow inflammation that later led to Tommy John surgery. He was non-tendered before the year ended and is not expected to be fully recovered from his procedure until midseason at the very earliest.

Who to watch: The focal point of the White Sox roster is the infield and specifically up the middle, where two of Chicago’s most recent top prospects will team up as double play partners. Yoan Moncada, a 22-year-old switch-hitting second baseman, was the big piece acquired from Boston in the Sale trade. He appeared in 54 games last season, slashing .231/.338/.412 with eight doubles, two triples, eight homers, and 22 RBI. He is off to a good and healthy start this spring, batting .271 with a .358 OBP with three doubles, three homers, and nine RBI through 19 games.

Moncada – Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

His partner at short, Tim Anderson, showed good pop in his first full year with the club after debuting in 99 games in 2016. The 24-year-old hit .257 with a .276 OBP, 17 homers, and 56 RBI while stealing 15 bases in 16 chances. His second half numbers jumped with a strong September, when he slashed .339/.357/.486 over 26 games.

When talking about the White Sox, one cannot omit Jose Abreu. The slugging first baseman led the club in a majority of offensive statistics again a season ago, hitting 43 doubles, six triples, 33 homers, and driving in 102 runs in 156 games. A fellow Cuban, he has been an important figure for Moncada in the clubhouse, which may have factored in to the White Sox’s hesitation to move him when they had the opportunity.

Avisail Garcia heads the outfield class and is coming off of a career year at the plate. He hit .330 in 136 games with 27 doubles, 18 homers, and 80 RBI.

The pitching staff is young behind James Shields and Gonzalez. Lucas Giolito, part of the trade with the Nationals for Eaton, will serve as the team’s number two starter. He made seven starts last season, posting a 3-3 record with a 2.38 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 45 1/3 innings. The 6’6” 23-year-old was selected in the first round of the 2012 draft. He will pair with another former Nationals prospect, Reynaldo Lopez, who made eight starts last season with an identical record, a 4.72 ERA, and a 1.32 WHIP. Hard-throwing 24-year-old right-hander Carson Fulmer, who has made five starts and ten relief appearances over the last two seasons, will also start the year in the rotation.

White Sox’s 2018 Outlook: There is no guarantee that things will be tough at Guaranteed Rate Field this season, but it is tough to envision a scenario that the unproven Sox prospects are able to pull together and compete with far more talented rosters in Cleveland and Minnesota. There will be growing pains, but it will be a great opportunity for the White Sox brass to see what pieces they can build around for a legitimate run in the near future.

The bigger question for the White Sox may not be how many games the team wins, but how many of these older, familiar, and more expensive players (see Abreu, Garcia, Shields, and Soria) remain Chicago residents come October. The opportunity to add more prospects to a strong farm system while hacking away at salary in a non-competitive season makes too much sense not to do.

Photo: Duane Burleson/Getty Images

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