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 plan did not include Nicky Delmonico, you'd have to imagine.
The White Sox rebuild has seen an incredible infusion of talent into the minor league system, with some of that talent hitting the big leagues last season. And with this collection of highly touted prospects have come the projections, figuring out who goes where on the diamond when the rebuild finally reaches its apex and the White Sox are planned to be a perennial contender. It's easy to plug guys like Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert and Michael Kopech into those spots, and by simply following along with the prospect rankings, it's not at all difficult to map out projected lineups for the foreseeable future.
This time last year, those projections would not have included Delmonico. But they might now.
Delmonico doesn't carry the same top-prospect pedigree as many of his current and future teammates, but he made quite the impression in his handful of big league games at the end of the 2017 campaign, earning himself a fan club and consideration to be a long-term piece for this team. In 2018, Delmonico will join many of his fellow White Sox in trying to prove he belongs.
Delmonico played in 43 major league games last season, posting a .262/.373/.482 slash line with nine homers, 25 runs scored and 23 RBIs. Now that's a small sample size, but it's reason to get a little excited. Extrapolate those numbers out to a full season, and you could be talking about a 30-homer campaign with more than 80 RBIs — and more than 80 walks, an important stat considering some of the team's other young players count reaching base via the walk as a big weakness.
Again, there's no guarantee that those kinds of numbers will come in 2018, but Delmonico figures to be given every opportunity. He'll likely be the everyday left fielder at the season's outset, and his versatility allows him to play elsewhere on the field, too.
Delmonico also has a big personality and big expectations, and he seems to have emerged as a strong clubhouse presence on this young team.
But the White Sox outfield of the future looks to be a crowded one. Jimenez and Robert, two of the top 30 prospects in baseball, would figure to have future spots on lock, even if they're still more than a year away from reaching the majors. Micker Adolfo has high hopes — and was part of the same buzz-worthy batting-practice group as Jimenez and Robert during the early days of spring training — but he's dealing with a potentially significant elbow injury that could delay his arrival on the South Side. Then there's the virtually undiscussed Blake Rutherford, who MLB Pipeline still ranks as one of the game's top 100 prospects.
But as Rick Hahn is frequent to remind, these rebuilding efforts never see everything go exactly according to plan. That could mean in a negative way, such as the injuries to guys like Adolfo and Jake Burger or the fact that it's simply unrealistic to expect each and every one of these prospects to become big league superstars. But it can also mean in a positive way, such as surprises like Delmonico. Just because a guy isn't ranked as one of the game's top prospects doesn't mean he can't still turn into an everyday big leaguer. Delmonico will try to prove that this season, prove that August and September last year were no fluke.
And he won't be alone. 2018 is setting up to be a "prove it" year for guys like Yolmer Sanchez, Carson Fulmer and even guys like Tim Anderson and Avisail Garcia as the wave of prospects comes increasingly closer to the South Side. The guys there now need to show they're just as much a part of this rebuilding effort, too. Just like it's a developmental season in the minors for the prospects, it's a developmental season in the majors, too. And Delmonico is one of the guys hoping to develop into a no-brainer long-term piece.
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