February 19th (the first Spring Training workout for White Sox pitchers and catchers) can't get here soon enough.
While everyone at U.S. Cellular Field wants to wash out the bad taste from the 2015 season, there are some players that have a lot to prove. We know about the veterans that are in need of bounce back seasons, but there are younger players who need to make a statement to the front office in 2016 about their role with the franchise going forward.
[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
Here are three players that have the most to gain (or lose) in 2016 for the White Sox:
Tyler Saladino: Barring any other dramatic roster changes, Saladino will be the only position player in the White Sox Opening Day lineup that came through the team's farm system. Saladino will be faced with the task of replacing Alexei Ramirez, who was extremely durable for the South Siders at shortstop since he took over in 2008, and buying top prospect Tim Anderson more time to develop. Anderson (.312/.350/.459 in Double-A) seems to still be making progress in the minors but isn't quite ready to take the starting job at the big leagues just yet. Saladino showed he needs to be on the field because of his defense (something the White Sox lacked last year). He came back down to earth at the plate (just five hits in his final 40 plate appearances) after coming up hot from the minors. The 2016 season will allow Saladino to show whether he's capable of holding down a starting spot and whether his bat is more like his first 18 games (.260/.313/.397) or last 18 games (.135/.200/.297).
[MORE: Ramirez leaves Chicago, signs contract with San Diego]
Erik Johnson: There's a spot to be had at the end of the White Sox rotation, and it has Johnson's name all over it. The Most Valuable Pitcher of the International League in 2015 was "Mr. Solo Home Run" when he came up to the majors, giving up eight home runs with six of them being one-run bombs. But outside of that, Johnson pitched well in six starts (3-1, 3.34 ERA 1.40 WHIP). While it's not the end of the world, the Sox would surely love to have at least one right-hander in their rotation (LHPs Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon, Jose Quintana and John Danks likely taking the other spots). Johnson, like Saladino, could ease some of the pressure off another Sox top prospect, Carson Fulmer. If Johnson is pitching well, there's less of a rush to bring Fulmer up like the Sox did with Rodon. The 2015 first-round pick could either spend more time developing in the minors or be used in a bullpen role if he truly proves to be ready. Regardless, Johnson has the opportunity to make a big impression if he can lock down a spot in 2016 and going forward.
Avisail Garcia: Piece to build around? Or fourth outfielder? That's what 2016 should (hopefully) decide for Garcia. His first full (and reasonably healthy) season in the majors saw average results both in the field (even with a few home-run robbing catches) and at the plate (.257/.309/.365 13 HR 59 RBI). With the White Sox reportedly in pursuit of other free agent outfielders, it seems as if he could be a candidate to be the team's starting designated hitter and the Sox need all the pop in the middle of the lineup they can get to surround Jose Abreu. But it's clear Garcia needs to live up to his potential at the plate sooner rather than later.