Lucas Giolito

5 predictions from White Sox players that might not end up sounding so crazy

5 predictions from White Sox players that might not end up sounding so crazy

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.

RELATED: How White Sox could handle Nick Madrigal, Andrew Vaughn in shortened season

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.

Right?

RELATED: How White Sox benefit — and don't — from proposed MLB changes for 2020 season

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.”

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How White Sox benefit — and don't — from proposed MLB changes for 2020 season

How White Sox benefit — and don't — from proposed MLB changes for 2020 season

Major League Baseball’s got more proposals than Paris these days.

Most recently, it was a torrent of health-and-safety measures pitched to the players’ union in an attempt to make everyone feel as OK as possible about going back to work in the middle of a pandemic.

But while the health and safety of the players and the many more required to stage a baseball season is paramount, plenty of fans would rather focus their attention how the suggested upheaval of the MLB status quo will affect their teams’ chances of winning, as opposed to thinking about how likely their third baseman is to get the coronavirus.

In addition to all those health-and-safety proposals, there are a bunch of proposed rule changes and alterations to the typical structure of the season that you might have read about last week, and they will have their effect on every team’s chances of reaching the postseason. That includes the White Sox, who have been sitting around waiting to make their planned leap into contention mode for the last two months.

The White Sox were supposed to be a lot better this year. And they spent the entire time they were allowed to congregate en masse at Camelback Ranch talking about their expectations of playing playoff baseball in 2020. While it’s still too soon to guarantee that any team will be playing playoff baseball in 2020, here’s a look at how some of the proposed changes would directly impact the White Sox.

The new schedule

A trip to visit a spurned free-agent target and a hotshot prospect that got away was likely circled on many White Sox fans’ pocket schedules. But there will be no jaunt to San Diego, no opportunity to show Manny Machado what he’s missing, unless the White Sox meet the Padres in the World Series sometime in November.

Instead, the new White Sox regular-season schedule would feature games played exclusively against their AL Central rivals and the five teams from the NL Central. The geographically structured schedule supposedly minimizes travel, though why a flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh is less risky than one from Chicago to Baltimore has yet to be adequately explained.

With the regular season proposed to consist of 82 games for every team, things would look like this for the South Siders: 13 games apiece against the Twins, Indians, Royals and Tigers and six games apiece against the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, Brewers and Pirates.

Why it’s good for the White Sox: No Yankees. No Astros. No Dodgers. No Rays. No A’s. More than a dozen games against the Royals and Tigers, two 100-loss teams from a season ago, and a half dozen games against the hapless Pirates.

The schedule is easier because the league’s best teams, save the Twins, aren’t on it.

RELATED: MLB's sweeping health-and-safety proposals would bring big change to baseball

Why it’s bad for the White Sox: In a normal season, the White Sox would have roughly 11.5 percent of their games against the Twins, a team that won 100 games last year, while attempting to dethrone them for a division crown. Now they need to do that while playing nearly 16 percent of their games against them.

For fans, this is a good thing, with games against their teams’ biggest rivals meaning more than ever before. For pitching staffs that gave up 39 home runs to the Twins last season, it’s less good.

Also, while the NL Central doesn’t have one of baseball’s juggernauts, they seem to have a bunch of teams that could give the White Sox hell on any given day. That division race is wide open, and the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds and Brewers could all win it. There are two objectively better teams in the White Sox division, but until they prove they’re in the class of the Twins and Indians, any “middling” or “above average” team could give them fits. And the NL Central has four of those.

Let’s not forget, too, that the White Sox were under .500 against those 103-loss Royals in 2019.

Fewer games

With two months already lost and the league mandating that the postseason is wrapped up no later than the first week of November, the schedule is getting squished down to 82 games, with a second spring training planned to begin in mid June and Opening Day pitched for the first few days of July.

Why it’s good for the White Sox: While the math alone gives no team an inherent advantage or disadvantage, the White Sox had some outstanding issues that could be resolved in a positive manner with the season beginning in July instead of March. Chiefly, it could end up with the White Sox boasting a much better stocked cupboard of pitching options than the team was expecting to have on the originally scheduled Opening Day.

Michael Kopech figures to be a full-season certainty rather than a midseason addition. And Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning, both on the mend from Tommy John surgery, could be on the roster for the majority of the campaign as opposed to the tail end of it.

Who knows whether any or all of those guys would be thrown into the starting-pitching mix or the bullpen. But the more likely scenario is that the lines between those two groups are going to be at least somewhat blurred this season.

Yes, starting pitchers will theoretically have more in the tank, as they’ll only have to throw half the innings they’re typically expected to. But the effects of those arms getting worked up in spring training, then shut down for nearly three months, then worked back up in a shorter amount of time, then unleashed into regular-season play are completely unknown.

Rather than the typical six- or seven-inning outings from pitchers, the start of a shortened season could see outings last just four or five innings. That puts increased strain on a bullpen. But if the White Sox have two or three more starting pitchers than they thought they were going to have access to, well, why not deploy them for two or three innings at a time to bridge the gap between starters and relievers?

Similarly, Lucas Giolito, Yasmani Grandal and Gio Gonzalez, who were dealing with nagging ailments in spring training, would figure to have those well behind them come July.

Why it’s bad for the White Sox: Luis Robert is supposed to be a prospect like none other, and maybe he does set the world on fire when he finally gets to tee off against major league pitching. But looking at the fates that befell Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Eloy Jimenez before him, maybe it takes him a little while to figure things out. It took Moncada and Giolito full seasons. It took Jimenez five full months. It wouldn’t be unexpected.

With the regular season lasting only three months, growing pains for Robert could impact an entire campaign instead of just half of one.

Additionally, the heretofore unknown effects on those starting pitchers could be negative ones. Just ask Dallas Keuchel, who sat around waiting for the draft-pick cost attached to his free-agent signing to disappear last June before he was able to get a job with the Atlanta Braves. He did fine work for them, posting a 3.75 ERA in 19 starts, but he admitted to being thrown off by starting his season so late.

Now you’ll have entire pitching staffs dealing with those discomforts, all while games mean more and those pitchers are trying to get their teams to the playoffs.

The universal DH

News that the players are likely to accept the owners’ proposal for a universal DH roused plenty of rabble among fans of NL teams. Fans of AL teams shrugged.

The White Sox have used a designated hitter for a long time. Three of them are now in the Hall of Fame. Their fans know the power of an extra slugger in the lineup.

So, too, does Rick Hahn, who went out this offseason and reeled in Edwin Encarnacion to boost what was one of the least productive DH corps imaginable last season. Encarnacion is as consistent a slugging machine as baseball has seen in the last decade, and he was one of Hahn’s many additions that has the team and fans thinking big for 2020.

RELATED: Universal DH expected for MLB in 2020: Why it makes every team better

Why it’s good for the White Sox: Encarnacion never has to sit out.

Sure, he’ll get some days off. But road trips to San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado and the North Side were going to necessitate either him or Jose Abreu being absent from the lineup so the White Sox pitchers could strike out a bunch of times (no offense intended to Lucas Giolito, who had a two-run knock in Atlanta last season).

With a greater percentage of AL teams’ games being played in NL parks — 15 of the 82 for the White Sox, or more than 18 percent — the proposal was made to even the playing field. It’s a rule change that’s been a long time coming, and NL fans should rejoice that they no longer get only eight hitters for the price of nine.

Why it’s bad for the White Sox: It really isn’t, though it makes the five NL teams on their schedule better. While they get to keep Encarnacion in the lineup in NL ballparks, they won’t get to benefit from facing five teams that only send eight real hitters to the plate every game.

The expanded postseason

The postseason is proposed to expand from 10 teams to 14 teams, with two additional wild card teams in each league.

With that will likely come the wacky new format described early this year, one in which two of the three division winners and the top wild card team get to, via draft, choose their first-round opponents from the remaining three wild card teams. That wild card round would feature three best-of-three series played exclusively at the higher-seeded teams’ ballparks before the three winners advance to the LDS round, where the best team in each league will already be waiting.

Why it’s good for the White Sox: Well, this is pretty obvious, isn’t it?

The White Sox chances to make the postseason will dramatically improve considering there will be two more playoff spots. They need to go from being a one of the five best teams in the American League to one of the seven best, which is basically half.

While all five AL playoff teams from last season won 96 or more games — and the Indians narrowly missed joining them with 93 wins — under the new setup, the fourth wild card would have gone to the 84-win Red Sox. Only seven AL teams finished with a better-than-.500 record last season, and under the proposed playoff system, they would have all made the postseason.

In the NL, the Cubs had that league’s eighth-best record and would have been the only team to finish above .500 that missed the postseason.

So what does that say about this expanded October? Finish better than .500, and you’ll probably get into the dance.

Why it’s bad for the White Sox: It isn’t.

There is a danger of postseason berths in this new format becoming rather forgettable. A team could win only 80-something games, technically make the playoffs, be “drafted” by a 100-win team and quickly lose back-to-back road games. Fans of those wild card teams wouldn’t get to see a home playoff game, and October baseball could be over for those clubs before the leaves change.

But for the White Sox, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008, any scenario that involves making the postseason is a welcome one.

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White Sox, Luis Robert in the spotlight for 2020 MLB Futures odds

White Sox, Luis Robert in the spotlight for 2020 MLB Futures odds

The White Sox are starting to turn heads, at least in Las Vegas.

New odds have several White Sox in the spotlight for futures prop bets.

Luis Robert is the odds-on favorite to win A.L. Rookie of the Year at 4/1, but Michael Kopech isn’t far behind at 6/1, placing him in third among A.L. rookies.

Robert slashed .328/.376/.624 across three levels of minor-league ball in 2019, with 32 homers, 92 RBI and 36 SB over only 122 games.

Kopech was one of the most-highly anticipated rookies in the A.L. back in 2018, but Tommy John surgery forced him to miss all of 2019.

Lucas Giolito is also recognized as a value bet for the A.L. Cy Young award at 18/1 odds.

Last season Giolito finally put everything together for an incredible 2019 campaign.

He pitched two shutouts, had a 3.41 ERA to go with a 1.064 WHIP, struck out 228 batters while only walking 57, and limited lefties to a .172 batting average. All that led to a sixth-place finish in Cy Young voting.

Finally, the White Sox have the third-best odds to win the division at 3/1. The Twins lead the way at 7/10.

The bevy of free agent signings, plus upcoming call-ups clearly have made an impression on oddsmakers as the team’s odds to win the division shortened dramatically from 25/1 at the outset of the 2019 season.

The win total over/under for the White Sox is also set at 83.5, a huge improvement from last year’s 72-89 record.

But even though oddsmakers project a major improvement from the Sox whenever baseball returns, it’s not enough for them to say the team is favored to make the postseason. That future is set at +170.

RELATED: For Major League Baseball, there's too much at stake not to play

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