Gavin Sheets

White Sox Team of the Future: First base

White Sox Team of the Future: First base

What will the next championship-contending White Sox team look like?

That's what we're setting out to determine (or at least make a guess at) this month. Ten members of our White Sox content team here at NBC Sports Chicago put our heads together to try to project what each position on the diamond would look like in one, two, three years. Basically, we posed the question: What will the White Sox starting lineup be the next time they're capable of playing in the World Series?

That question can have a bunch of different answers, too. We didn't limit ourselves to players currently a part of the organization. Think the White Sox are gonna make a big free-agent addition? Vote for that player. Think the White Sox are gonna pull off a huge trade? Vote for that player. We wanted to see some creativity.

Well, you could argue that our pick at first base shows absolutely no creativity or a whole lot of it. Why? Our first baseman of the future is Jose Abreu, the same guy we picked as our designated hitter of the future last week.

How can this be? Well, sometimes things like this happen in this democratic voting process of ours. The big takeaway, though, should be this: Five of our voters picked Abreu as the first baseman of the future, with four others picking him as the DH of the future, meaning nine out of 10 voters believe Abreu, who is entering the final season of his current contract, will end up staying on the South Side for the long haul.

That's significant, in that the White Sox would need to sign Abreu to an extension (or a new contract after he hits the free-agent market) to make that happen. All but one of us believe that will happen, and it's no illogical conclusion given the rave reviews Abreu constantly receives from White Sox brass and his teammates in the home clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field. He's discussed as a model for the younger players arriving from the minor leagues, an example of how to put in work, prepare for games and generally go about things the right way. It's why Yoan Moncada, such a big part of the team's long-term plans, has his locker right next to Abreu's.

Abreu saw a dramatic dip in his statistical production last season, unable to make it a fifth straight with at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. Of course, that was due to an uncharacteristic, prolonged slump in the middle of the season and a pair of freak injuries toward the end of the year. Still, he was elected as the American League's starting first baseman in the All-Star Game and won the second Silver Slugger of his career.

Full health and a more typical go of things should make for a bounce-back campaign in 2019. The White Sox made a move to help that become more likely, acquiring Yonder Alonso in a trade with the Cleveland Indians. Abreu and Alonso are slated to share first base and DH duties in 2019, with Abreu perhaps seeing more time at DH than in past seasons to keep him off his feet. Is Abreu a better fit for first base or DH in the long term? That likely depends on how some of the White Sox prospects develop. But his reduced workload in the field in 2019 should help with either scenario.

Outside of last year, Abreu's production since arriving from Cuba ahead of the 2014 season has been sensational, and he's already established himself as one of the best hitters in White Sox history. Given that consistent on-field production and his much-loved off-the-field contributions, it would be no surprise to see him get a new contract and stick around for the transition from rebuilding to contending on the South Side.

Of course, there are other options for the ever-flexible White Sox, who could conclude that Abreu's long-term prospects — he'll turn 32 later this month — don't align with those of the many young players coming up through the system. They could decide a midseason trade to acquire younger players might be more beneficial to the long-term future.

But with how beloved Abreu is within the organization, it would make sense that keeping him a part of it — something he's expressed a desire for — would be the preferred course of action.

Other vote-getters

Yonder Alonso. The aforementioned Alonso will split time with Abreu at first base and DH during the 2019 season. And while Alonso isn't guaranteed to be with the White Sox past the 2019 season (neither is Abreu, of course), one voter believed the White Sox would like what they see enough to keep him in their plans. Alonso has certainly played a lot of first base, and he's just two years removed from an All-Star season in which he posted an .866 OPS with a career-high 28 home runs. His numbers took a tumble last season in Cleveland. He'll turn 32 shortly after Opening Day. Is he a long-term option? Most likely no, but that doesn't prevent him from hitting his way into those long-term plans.

Zack Collins. Questions about Collins' defense have been present since the White Sox drafted him in the first round in 2016. He's moving his way through the farm system, spending all of the 2018 season at Double-A Birmingham, though he wasn't included among baseball's top-10 catching prospects, per MLB Pipeline's just-released rankings for that position. Last season's .382 on-base percentage was phenomenal, and continuing that kind of production could land him in the majors soon. But the questions about his defense haven't gone anywhere. In fact, while splitting some time with Seby Zavala last season, he played just 74 of his 122 games at catcher, the others at designated hitter. There exists a scenario in which Collins' bat is major league ready but his glove isn't, meaning perhaps first base is the best place for him. Of course, the White Sox have a ton of faith that he'll be a big league backstop.

Gavin Sheets. Sheets was a second-round pick of the White Sox in 2017, and he posted some good numbers in his first full season in the organization. Playing at Class A Winston-Salem last year, he batted .293 with a .368 on-base percentage. Of course, first base is a power position, and Sheets hit only six home runs in his 119 games. But he's still ranked as one of the top 15 prospects in the organization, and it's most definitely in the realm of possibility for Sheets to be the first baseman of the future.

Paul Goldschmidt. If the White Sox miss out on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper this winter, the need for a "finishing piece" to this rebuilding project will still exist, and the team will likely be as aggressive in their pursuit of one during the next round of free agency. One of the biggest names in next winter's free-agent class is Goldschmidt, the new St. Louis Cardinals first baseman who has been one of baseball's best hitters during the first eight seasons of his big league career. He's been an All Star in each of the last six seasons, won three Gold Gloves and twice finished the runner up for NL MVP honors. In other words, he'd be a heck of a "finishing piece" for the White Sox, and one voter thinks he could be the guy manning first base in the future.

Justin Bour. One of our voters likes the idea of Bour arriving on the South Side as a not too flashy but perhaps important addition to a contending roster at some point down the road. He's hit 83 home runs over the last four seasons, mostly with the Miami Marlins, though he played in 29 games with the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Bour has some pop and some good on-base skills, so his bat would perhaps be a welcome addition down the line.

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Sox Drawer Q&A: Machado, next year's closer, sleeper prospect and more

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USA TODAY

Sox Drawer Q&A: Machado, next year's closer, sleeper prospect and more

The White Sox season might be over, but interest in the rebuild and the team's future rages on.

White Sox fans flooded my Twitter feed with questions about what Rick Hahn and company might do this offseason and beyond. I'll get to as many as I can! Look for a new Sox Drawer Q&A on Monday's during the offseason.

Let's do this!‏ 

Q:  I keep dreaming that the White Sox sign Patrick Corbin this offseason. How close to a possibility is that? -- @theGREATdanny94

Q: JA Happ, Gio Gonzalez, Patrick Corbin all seem like good fits to fits to fill out the rotation do you think there is a likelihood of any of them signing on the south side? --  @dbh1127 

CG: Let's first get to Corbin. On paper, he's everything the White Sox would want: a 28-year-old, left-handed starter coming off a career-season. 11-7, 3.15 ERA, 200 innings, 246 strikeouts. Sign me up!

There's just one problem. Corbin is a pitcher. Let me rephrase that. A FREE AGENT STARTING pitcher, arguably the top one available if Clayton Kershaw doesn't opt out of his deal. I'm guessing he's going to command a 5-6 year deal, worth north of $100 million. If you follow White Sox history, Jerry Reinsdorf is adverse to signing free agent pitchers to contracts of that length, and frankly I don't blame him. The last time he agreed to do that, he went out of his comfort zone and signed off on the John Danks 5-year, $65 million contract extension in 2011. We saw what happened there.

Pitchers too often break down, get hurt, lose their stuff, or flat-out stink, and you're left signing a monster check for very little in return. See Kevin Millwood, Jason Schmidt, A.J. Burnett, Denny Neagle, Barry Zito, Mike Hampton and quite possibly Yu Darvish. If there were more successful examples like the Nationals signing of Max Scherzer, I'd be all-in on signing Corbin. I'm guessing the White Sox would be too. Better to save the huge free agent money for hitters. They have a greater track record of staying healthy and living up to the contract. I think a short-term deal with pitchers like Happ, Lynn, Morton, and Buchholz (if he's healthy) might be the way to go.

Q: Keuchel is a ground ball pitcher who doesn’t rely on heat. He therefore should age very well IMO. I personally would be willing to give him a lot of years and if we end up pitching heavy, trade from that strength/front load the deal to make him moveable, thoughts?  -- @colinska4

CG: Hmmmm. Plus, Keuchel has a ring, three Gold Gloves and personal experience with going through a rebuild. Forget what I just said. Sign him! Easy for me to say, but he might be an exception.

Q: Who will be the closer for next year?  -- @sidkid80

CG: To be determined. The White Sox have a lot of young arms in the bullpen, but lack anyone with serious closing experience. Fortunately, the free agent market is loaded with closers/potential closers this offseason: Kimbrel, Allen, Familia, Herrera, Britton, Ottavino, Robertson, Norris, etc. I do expect the White Sox to spend money adding veteran bullpen arms to the mix, and while you can argue that it's not smart economically to sign a long-term deal on a closer for 2019 when the White Sox might not start to contend until 2020. You have to react to the market. The free agent closers available this winter are much better than next, when it's Dellin Betances and a big drop off after that.

Having a veteran closer in the pen to take the pressure off the young guys who are still developing sounds like a good idea to me. And if say, Zack Burdi or Ian Hamilton prove that they can handle the closer job in a year or two, the Sox can potentially trade the closer they sign and get some prospects or a player of need in return.

Q: Who will be the surprise prospect contributor in 2019? I’m not asking about the obvious guys, but who else, maybe outside the top 10, can really have an impact next year. Maybe Zavala? -- @abwdawson

CG: Zavala is a good choice. Same with pitchers Jordan Guerrero and Spencer Adams. There's also a chance we see Zack Collins and Luis Basabe come September. But I want to focus on one prospect out of the top 10 who is flying under the radar a bit and that's Gavin Sheets. He probably won't be ready in 2019, but very quietly slashed .293/.368/.407 with 52 walks and 81 strikeouts in 119 games for Winston-Salem.

At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds he certainly has the body to hit for power, but it has yet to show up in the box score with only six home runs in 2018. Why such low power numbers? Because Sheets says he doesn't want to just be a home run hitter. He wants to be a HITTER, period. He hates striking out. He likes putting the ball in play and is spending his time in the minors learning to develop as a hitter. How about that? The White Sox believe that the power will come eventually. If it does, look out for Sheets.

Q: Chuck, How much does it concern you that the rebuild has no high average or obp guys? Moncada, Anderson etc.  --  @ledzep33

CG: See above with Sheets. There's also Zack Collins, Nick Madrigal, and Eloy Jimenez. I do believe that Moncada will get there in the OBP department. Give him time.

Q: We have seen Giolito and Moncada struggle this past season and up in the majors for the most part while both have shown signs of potential. Can you please explain to fans that they still have development to work on and are not finished products and not write them off yet? --  @chitownhawkeye

CG: Glad you asked. Because Moncada and Giolito represent the first wave of the rebuild, it makes sense that White Sox fans had high expectations for both of them right from the start. I get that. But the reality is, they are still developing as major league players and honestly, if the White Sox weren't in a rebuild, they probably would have spent more time in the minors honing their skills before getting called up. But since they aren't contending yet, the White Sox are able to have them learn/develop at the major league level. The results aren't always pretty in the short run, but the payoffs can be huge in the long run.

How about a couple of comparisons. In 2013, in his first full season in the big leagues, a 23-year-old Anthony Rizzo slashed .233/.323/.419 for a Cubs team that lost 96 games. This year in Moncada's first full season, he slashed .235/.315./.400, also at 23 years old. Very similar numbers. And the White Sox got that production from a second baseman, not a first baseman. Rizzo showed big improvement the following year. I'm hopeful that Moncada can do the same.

In 2014, the Astros called up George Springer for his major league debut. He was a year older than Moncada and Rizzo. He played 78 games and slashed .231/.336/.468. The next year, he was batting .185 in the middle of May and Astros fans were freaking out.

Maybe what he needed was more protection and balance in the lineup. That arrived on June 8 when the Astros called up Carlos Correa. Springer went .304/.373/.464 in the second half. Don't be surprised to see a bump in Moncada's numbers next year because he will have one year of development under his belt, and the addition of Eloy Jimenez somewhere behind him in the order. Imagine a lineup with Moncada batting second, Abreu third, Jimenez fourth. Or Moncada batting first, Abreu second, Jimenez third and Palka fourth? This doesn't include a possible free agent addition to the lineup.

And one more thing on Springer. I asked him at the All-Star Game what it was like to be in a rebuild and what advice he'd give to frustrated White Sox fans. Here's what he said: "You just have to believe. I came up with Altuve and Keuchel and Marwin (Gonzalez), a lot of guys who were here for some tough, tough years, but they knew that if they continued to play and our team continued to develop that a lot could happen. Enjoy the team. This game is hard. They're trying to go out there and win. Hang in there. That's a good team over there. They'll be good."

Q: Why won't the White Sox make a play at Bryce Harper or Manny Machado? -- @HotRodBlago30

CG: Who's to say they won't? I don't see them going after Harper, but Machado is right in the wheelhouse of what they need. They have $10.9 million on the books in 2019 before arbitration. In 2020, that number drops to $4.5 million. In 2023, it's zero. Machado will be 30 years old in 2023. Eloy Jimenez will be 26. If you're going to hitch your wagons to a major free agent in the next five years, Machado should be the guy.

The White Sox reportedly tried to acquire him last off-season, so there definitely seems to be interest there. The question is: will Machado be interested in playing for the White Sox? I can't answer that. Rick Hahn and company will need to be uber-aggressive to try to sign him. And if you think Reinsdorf won't pay top dollar for a hitter, the White Sox signed Albert Belle to the biggest free agent deal ever in 1996. Yes, that was 22 years ago, but with a huge core of cost-controlled players all reaching the bigs in the next few years, you gotta pay somebody the big bucks. That somebody should be Machado.

Q: Over under for how many games I will attend next season. I'll set the bar at 3.5 -- @BillBoreman

CG: The over.

Q: Chuck, what is your favorite food item at the guaranteed rate field? P.S. mine is “the heater” --  @oshfacekillah

CG: Favorite thing I injested last season at the park was the root beer float. Nothing came close. It was 90 degrees. Needed something cold. It was perfect. I demolished it.

Q: What is your favorite non BTR (Born to Run) Springsteen album? p.s. mine is probs The River. --  @rthdmc9

CG: Sorry for the non-White Sox question, but as some of you know, I'm a huge Springsteen fan, so bear with me. It used to be Darkness on the Edge of Town, mainly because I listened to so many bootlegs from this incredible tour in the decade when Bruce wasn't playing with the E Street Band. It helped get me through it. But now, I'm like you and leaning towards The River. There's a greater depth of songs and they mean more to me as I get older.

Q: How will the Sox start getting the fan base back engaged into the MLB product? Is it just as simple as once they start winning all the casual fans will be back? Is there something they can start doing to get people engaged for the rise or will that not happen until they are great? -- @PeteCha56613119

CG: The short and easiest answer is this -- win, and win consistently. They can't just be good for one year and then be bad the year after. They need something that's sustainable. That will bring out the casual fans who filled the ballpark from 2005-2011 when attendance surpassed 2 million every season. Fortunately, so many of these young players in the rebuild like Jimenez, Kopech, Cease, Collins, Dunning, Madrigal, etc. are great guys and quite media savvy. They aren't afraid of the bright lights and attention. They embrace the rebuild and the challenge that lies ahead of them. They want to be great. Surround them with the right group of veterans and I believe special things will happen with the White Sox bringing more and more fans to the ballpark.

Thanks everyone for all your questions! If I didn't get to yours, check again next week!

Daily White Sox prospects update: Mixed bag of an outing for Michael Kopech

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Daily White Sox prospects update: Mixed bag of an outing for Michael Kopech

Here's your daily update on what the White Sox highly touted prospects are doing in the minor leagues.

Triple-A Charlotte

Michael Kopech's outing was a mixed bag, with the White Sox top-ranked pitching prospect allowing only two earned runs but also walking four batters in his five innings of work. He did add eight strikeouts to his impressive season total and has punched out 61 hitters in 45.1 innings. Charlie Tilson had three hits in the 6-3 loss.

Class A Winston-Salem

The Dash split a doubleheader. Gavin Sheets had a huge game with three hits including a homer and a triple in the first contest, a 3-1 win. Luis Alexander Basabe had three hits with a home run in the other game, a 10-4 loss.

Double-A Birmingham

Eloy Jimenez and Zack Collins each had a hit and two walks in a 9-5 loss. The duo combined for three runs scored and an RBI.

Class A Kannapolis

Luis Gonzalez had two hits and Evan Skoug had a double in a 3-2 win.