White Sox fans might have their eyes on the future, but the 2018 season has plenty of intrigue all its own. As Opening Day nears, let's take a look at the 18 most pressing questions for the 2018 edition of the South Side baseball team.
The hot corner has been a hot topic of discussion all offseason long.
While the White Sox wealth of highly touted prospects has allowed fans to pencil in names for just about every position on the field stretching deep into the future, the conversation around the future at third base has been far less certain. There were the Manny Machado trade rumors in December. Then the realization that Nolan Arenado is slated to hit the free-agent market after the 2019 season. Then a surge in optimism surrounding Jake Burger before he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during a Cactus League game. Then the suggestion that they make a play for the still-unsigned Mike Moustakas.
One option seems to be continually left out of the discussion: the one the White Sox currently have.
Barring an unexpected move — one report says the White Sox are staying in contact with Moustakas, another says there's nothing to that reported interest — Yolmer Sanchez will be the White Sox third baseman on Opening Day. And like many of his teammates, he'll be using the 2018 season to prove he belongs in the team's future plans.
Sanchez went from reserve infielder to everyday player last season with a strong 2017 campaign. He slashed .267/.319/.413 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs in 534 plate appearances over 141 games. Those aren't "blow you away" numbers by any stretch, but for a team that finished 18 games under .500, Sanchez was most definitely a bright spot on the major league roster. That's certainly the case when you consider his glove. He's one of the best defenders on the team, and he can do it at multiple positions on the infield. But with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson entrenched as the keystone combo for the foreseeable future, third base is where Sanchez will prove whether or not he's a piece of the long-term puzzle.
He's also just 25 years old, which means that with ongoing development he could work his way into the conversation for a spot in the White Sox future.
Sanchez isn't there yet, though, and the prospect of either Burger or a free-agent acquisition like Arenado taking over for the long term should be more attractive to the White Sox. But just as 2018 will be a developmental season for all those players in the minor leagues, it will be the same for many of the players at the big league level, too. Sanchez is joined by guys like Nicky Delmonico, Carson Fulmer and even Avisail Garcia as guys with something to prove as it pertains to their long-term place on this roster. Even someone like Anderson has questions to answer in 2018.
Sanchez must prove that 2017 was no fluke. In his first 201 career games over his first three big league seasons, he slashed just .224/.261/.330 with only nine homers and 57 RBIs.
But Sanchez is beloved in the White Sox clubhouse, a fun-loving guy who's always coming up with extravagant handshakes and crashing his teammates' interviews with the media. The way he acts off the field definitely matters when it comes to determining his long-term place on the team, something evidenced by how the White Sox talk about Jose Abreu, a 31-year-old with just two more seasons of team control who seems like a lock for a contract extension as much because of his value in the clubhouse as his value on the field. The White Sox likely won't have to worry about shelling out big bucks for Sanchez, but he could fit a similar bill with what he means in the clubhouse and in the dugout.
Will Sanchez be the White Sox third baseman come 2020, when the team is supposed to reach the apex of its rebuild and become a perennial contender? We might not have that answer any time soon. But what Sanchez does in 2018 will go a long way in determining his long-term role.