Every team has problems that arise in spring training. For the White Sox, most of their problems seem to be good ones.
For example: How is the guy who threw his first four pitches over 100 miles per hour Tuesday going to fit into the starting rotation? Not a bad problem to have.
Opening Day is (hopefully) 15 days away, and the White Sox still have a few things to sort out. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what is still at stake (beyond the usual bullpen jostling) in the final two weeks of Cactus League play:
How (and when) will Kopech fit into the starting rotation?
Considering Kopech only threw 11 pitches Tuesday in his first start since Tommy John surgery, it’s a virtual lock that he’ll start the season in the minors, ramping up for a calculated return to Chicago. That’s OK. There’s no reason to rush Kopech back to Chicago, especially since he looked so good Tuesday.
The 101 mph fastball was impressive. The snap on his breaking ball was straight up scary.
The White Sox clearly have a plan for Kopech, and that plan includes making sure he is available for important games in September and October.
General manager Rick Hahn did a good job of making sure the White Sox could be competitive early in the season without having to rush Kopech back. Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez, Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease form a solid April rotation, even without Kopech. It certainly beats trying to go through an entire season without a fifth starter, which was essentially the case in 2019.
That said, reinforcements will be needed. Giolito and Gonzalez have already dealt with minor issues this spring, while Lopez and Cease still need to prove they are dependable.
Not many teams have a talent like Kopech slotted sixth right now. What he does in these final two weeks of spring training will give us a better idea of when he’ll be unleashed in Chicago.
Will Yermin Mercedes earn a surprise spot on the Opening Day roster?
Mercedes is talking the talk and walking the walk. You got to love the confidence the catcher shows when he tweets: “See you soon, Chicago.” Especially because he’s backing it up at the plate.
See you soon Chicago 👀🙌🏻 https://t.co/GOeeAtWxY8— yermin mercedes (@ymercedes73) March 9, 2020
Mercedes entered Wednesday with eight hits and four home runs in 21 Cactus League at-bats, which should be putting him in the conversation for the new 26th roster spot.
Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of carrying three catchers, especially if they can all hit. It will be interesting to see if more teams carry three catchers with the 26th roster spot available. In the American League, that third catcher can be used as the designated hitter and not just as a pinch hitter. Of course, for the White Sox, there’s only so many DH at-bats to split up between Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, James McCann and, potentially, Mercedes. Once again, that speaks to the additional depth the White Sox have built in their roster.
And Mercedes isn’t the only catcher making a push for that last roster spot. Former first-round pick Zack Collins came into the spring hoping to be the 26th man, and he’s having a decent spring with six hits and two home runs in 18 at-bats.
But considering the White Sox are hoping to be playing in many tight, competitive games, they’ll want that 26th man to be able to provide clutch at-bats off the bench, which isn’t easy. That’s where Mercedes’ ninth-inning solo home run to tie the Reds on Monday certainly stood out. If he can do that in the regular season, he’d be a valuable piece of the puzzle.
Who will be the Opening Day second baseman?
Dreams of Nick Madrigal joining the White Sox in Chicago on March 26 are fading, not only because he only has six hits in 27 Cactus League at-bats, but also because he took a groundball to the face earlier this week. Fortunately, the ball missed his eye and he didn’t suffer a concussion.
It would be shocking if Madrigal didn’t take over the starting second base job at some point in 2020, but it seems likely that either Leury Garcia or Danny Mendick will man the position in April. The guess here is that it’s Garcia’s spot on Opening Day, both due to seniority and the fact that Rick Renteria has always liked him. Both players provide versatility and are good options off the bench once Madrigal takes over the position for good.
With promising players like Madrigal and Kopech, patience will continue to be needed. The White Sox have preached that throughout the rebuild. Just remember, availability in September and October matters more than March and April.