It’s more than a little difficult to make predictions for the 2020 season when we’re still waiting to hear if there will be a 2020 season.
But with excitement building about the long-term future on the South Side for years now, there has been no shortage of bold predictions.
So why not revisit some of the wilder ones — and see if they'll end up sounding so crazy?
1. Tim Anderson will win a Gold Glove
“I’m not saying I’m going to get it this year, not saying next year,” Anderson said during spring training. “We don’t know when it will be, but I know I will get one.”
Predictions might not get bolder than that — spoiler alert, they will — considering that the White Sox shortstop led baseball in errors last season, charged with 26 of them. In fact, he’s piled up the errors in his four-year major league career, with 88 of them since debuting in 2016.
That’s a lot of errors.
While Anderson electrified fans with what he did at the plate last season, he’s earned their gripes when it comes to his defense, and though he’s probably a lot better than the numbers say — thanks to an ability to make some terrific plays that not a lot of guys can make — everyone knows his defense needs to improve.
But the White Sox have a great deal of confidence that it will. Anderson “knowing” that he’ll end up a Gold Glove winner wasn’t him going off on some unpopular monologue. His general manager has a similar belief.
“Tim Anderson is going to be a Gold Glove contender at some point during his career at shortstop,” Rick Hahn said in January. “I firmly believe that, given his ability to get to balls and make plays that other people are unable to make. Getting more consistent on some of the routine things is still a work in progress. But I think you’re going to see better things out of him.”
And while plenty of fans out there who like to grumble about Anderson’s results in the field will roll their eyes at those comments, remember that it seemed just as unlikely that Anderson would win a batting title last year after hitting just .240 a season earlier.
We’ll have to wait until the White Sox start playing games again to figure out how much progress Anderson made with the glove in one offseason, but one thing’s for sure: People should probably stop suggesting things he can’t do.
2. The White Sox rotation will be among the most dominant in baseball
“I think that in the future we can be one of the most dominant rotations in baseball,” Lucas Giolito said last summer. “You look at the raw stuff we all have, it’s there. It’s just a matter of continuing to build confidence, gain experience and at the end of the day, just going out there and executing.
“I think with more time and experience, we’re just going to continue to get better and better.”
Giolito’s positive projection came in the middle of a 2019 season in which the White Sox biggest problem was their starting rotation. Not him, of course, as the right-hander transformed himself from the starting pitcher with baseball’s worst numbers in 2018 into an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff.
But between injuries and under performance from the parade of ineffective plug-in options, the numbers from the starting pitchers were, overall, not pretty last season. Reynaldo Lopez was woefully inconsistent, the results were not there in Dylan Cease’s first taste of the majors, and Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning spent the year recovering from Tommy John surgery.
But while question marks might abound, the optimism hasn’t gone anywhere when it comes to a rotation that could power the White Sox to perennial contention in the years to come.
Giolito established himself as an ace. Kopech came back in spring training and lit up the radar gun in his first inning of action. Cease’s stuff still gets rave reviews despite those 14 starts’ worth of numbers. Rodon, Dunning and another Tommy John recoverer, Jimmy Lambert, are on the road back. Even Lopez showed flashes of brilliance amid his struggles last year.
They all throw hard. Really hard.
And Hahn went out and inked Cy Young winner and world champion Dallas Keuchel to a deal that keeps him on the South Side for three years, perhaps four. He could play a similar role to the one Jon Lester did on the North Side, providing some veteran reliability and winning cache to a young rotation and a young team looking to jump to the next level.
While plenty of questions remain — some of the team’s biggest heading into the 2020 season involve the starting pitchers — the ingredients for a potentially dominant rotation are there.
White Sox fans have been forecasting a rotation of the future for years. Giolito has been, too. And he’s seeing big things.
3. Eloy Jimenez will hit 500 home runs in his career
“As a baseball player, he can be whatever he wants to be,” Edwin Encarnacion said about Jimenez during spring training. “He has the talent to hit over 500 homers in the major leagues. I know he can do it.”
“I look at him as the Babe Ruth of our generation,” Kopech said a year earlier.
See? I told you there would be more outlandish ones to come.
Jimenez has played one season of Major League Baseball and has 31 home runs to his name. Is Encarnacion forecasting 469 more a little crazy? Yeah, it is. But Jimenez has already done some things that you could classify as a little crazy.
In his first taste of the big leagues last season, Jimenez unquestionably struggled at times. He experienced the growing pains a whole lot of rookies do. But when he got hot, he got red hot, and only injured-list stays stemming from misadventures in left field slowed his momentum.
He showed how quickly he is able to rack up dingers, hitting 10 of them in the final 24 games before the All-Star break, including that game-winner June 18 at Wrigley Field. As part of a smoking September, he hit nine homers in the final 22 games of the season.
Now iron out those adjustment periods and imagine what things could look like during a full season.
Jimenez had eyes popping with his power displays throughout his rookie season, frequently crushing balls to dead center. Aside from the unscriptable moment on the North Side, one that’s lodged in the memory banks is the ball he crushed to the fan deck off Patrick Corbin, the same guy who won Game 7 of the World Series for the Nationals months later.
This prognosticator guessed 36 homers for Jimenez in his rookie year, and without those two trips to the injured list, he probably would have done it. Maybe guessing 500 for the guy isn’t so nuts after all.
4. Luis Robert will be the next Mike Trout
Remember when we talked about Jimenez and doing some things that are a little crazy?
This gem from SoxFest certainly fits that script.
“Some people are going to call me crazy,” he said of the White Sox top-ranked prospect back in January, “but he’s going to be the next Mike Trout.
“He has five tools, and he plays hard like Mike Trout.”
The Robert hype machine has been cranked up to 11 for some time now. Jimenez somehow found a way to get it to 12, which would impress even Nigel Tufnel.
Trout is unquestionably the best baseball player in the world and could be well on his way to becoming the greatest baseball player ever. To compare him to a guy that has yet to play in a major league game? Come on.
Well, Robert is getting that kind of over-the-top praise from the evaluators, who suggest he’ll wind up the best of the White Sox bunch of crazy young talent.
As Jimenez mentioned, Robert boasts a full complement of tools: He can hit, hit for eye-popping power, make incredible defensive plays in the field, run with blazing speed and unleash a hose of an arm from center field. And you don’t have to take my word for it. The dude hit some tape-measure shots in the minors that still have teammates shaking their heads. Playing in the Arizona Fall League, he scored from second base on a sac fly. And his abilities were all the rage at spring training.
“He can do it on the defensive side of the ball and the offensive side,” Nick Madrigal said in February. “He’ll hit a 400-plus-foot home run one day, and then he’ll make a Superman catch in the outfield. It seems like he can do it all. Stealing bases every day. He’s definitely the complete package.
“It just seems like he’s a different player out there, you know? Sometimes when he’s locked in, it seems like he makes the game look pretty easy. One pitch, it looks like he gets fooled, and the next pitch, he’s hitting it out of the ballpark.”
Sounds kind of like someone else, doesn’t it? We’ll see.
5. The White Sox are going to make the playoffs in 2020
Perhaps no one has made a Namath-esque guarantee yet. But an October featuring the White Sox has been the No. 1 discussion topic for months.
Even before everyone descended on Camelback Ranch in February, the expectations were set: Playoffs or bust.
“I would be disappointed if we don’t make the postseason,” Renteria said in January.
“Our goal will 100-percent be making the playoffs and getting as deep as we can,” Giolito said last September. “If we don’t, then I don’t think we’ve come close to what we should be doing.”
There was already an expectation that this young group would take the next step toward opening its contention window when Hahn had arguably the best offseason in baseball, adding impact free agents to his collection of young stars in the making.
Encarnacion and Yasmani Grandal have been to each of the last five postseasons, and Keuchel has been to four of the last five. They expect those streaks to continue.
“I told Rick Hahn this,” Keuchel said during the spring, “I said four out of the last five years I've made the playoffs, and I don't expect any of these three years (during his contract) to be any different.”
Of course, the first step toward making this one come true is the existence of a 2020 season. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into the most anticipated seasons of South Side baseball in years. But should the league and the players’ union find a way to play this year, there will be a chance for the White Sox to snap their playoff drought. And expanded postseason boosting the American League field from five teams to seven teams helps those chances.
No matter how long a shortened 2020 season ends up being, the goals won’t deviate from what they were in February.
“We have a chance to do something crazy,” Anderson said. “That’s what everybody is talking about, right? So why not own up to it and set the bar high, go to the playoffs and win the championship. That’s the goal, right?
“We didn’t come here to work for nothing. We come here to win championships and make it to the playoffs. That’s no secret. Everybody knows we are here to win championships.”