In 2018, two questions dominated the minds of White Sox fans: When would Michael Kopech be promoted to the major leagues, and when would Eloy Jimenez be promoted to the major leagues?
Those questions lingered into the last 40 days of the season, when Kopech was called up for his big league debut in late August and general manager Rick Hahn announced that Jimenez wouldn’t be coming up at all before the season ran out.
Well, 2019 is now right around the corner, and so there are two more questions surrounding the rebuilding White Sox: When will Jimenez be promoted to the major leagues, and when will Dylan Cease be promoted to the major leagues?
Jimenez is the White Sox No. 1 prospect and one of the top three prospects in baseball. In his first full season in the White Sox organization, he mashed at Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, slashing a combined .337/.384/.557 with 22 home runs and 75 RBIs. Confidence is not an issue, as he’s been talking about his readiness for the majors since he arrived in 2017’s midseason trade with the Cubs.
And speaking of the Cubs, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him receive the same treatment as Kris Bryant, who the North Siders held in the minor leagues to finish out the 2014 season and then promoted in the first few weeks of the 2015 campaign.
Speaking last week at the GM Meetings in Southern California, Hahn said it was possible Jimenez could spend the whole season at the big league level, not ruling out that the organization’s top prospect could be on the Opening Day roster.
“Let's see how he looks when he gets to camp and we'll go from there,” Hahn said. “Nothing has changed since Sept. 1, but let's see what happens come February and March.
“Eloy has been saying since A-ball that he's ready, which is wonderful and exactly where I want him to be. We'd much rather try to rein a guy back than try to prod him forward. Eloy's level of confidence and enthusiasm for being in the big leagues is wonderful. We actually had dinner with him and his family last month in the Dominican. ... I think right now he's in very good spirits. He looks great. He's working out and been working on his nutrition. I know he's planning to come to camp eager to show everybody what he's capable of doing."
The financial realities of baseball might end up making whatever Jimenez shows during spring training moot, but we’ll see.
As for Cease, he was good enough in 2018 to earn MLB Pipeline’s minor league pitcher of the year honor and shot up the White Sox prospect rankings to No. 3 in the farm system. He pitched at both Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham before getting shut down at year’s end, combining to post a 2.40 ERA and strike out 160 guys in 124 innings.
Last year, Hahn talked about Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who made their White Sox debuts late in 2017, as potential templates for Kopech, and things turned out that way with Kopech debuting in late August. Should Kopech be looked at as a potential template for Cease and when we can expect the other big part of the Jose Quintana trade to make his big league debut?
“That's very possible,” Hahn said. “I think the only possible concern or the only thing holding back Dylan Cease right now is the innings base he has under him. Right now his career high in innings was 2018, about 125-ish. So you can't necessarily project him, 'Oh he's going to go throw 180 in the big leagues next year.' So that's really the only sense of caution on him.
“I think it's fair to compare where he is now to where Kopech was a year ago in terms of coming to spring training with the stuff, with everything he's accomplished, with the stuff he has and the ability to compete at the big league level. It's just a matter of going to start that process and what we can expect once we do.”
The 2019 season should be different in that we’ll get an answer on Jimenez early instead of wondering all season long. But 2019 could be a sort of replay when it comes to Cease, who if he continues the kind of performance he turned in last season could be the subject of season-long questions, like Kopech was in 2018.