Zack Collins

White Sox Team of the Future: Catcher

White Sox Team of the Future: Catcher

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.

It might end up taking a creative choice to find the long-term catcher of the future on the South Side, but we think the most obvious choice is the most likely one, with Zack Collins as this team's backstop the next time it's in contention mode.

Collins has been facing questions about his defense behind the plate ever since the White Sox drafted him with a top-10 pick in 2016. And those questions make it difficult for lineup prognosticators like us. Perhaps catching at the major league level won't be a problem. Perhaps he ends up moving to first base or swinging the bat as a designated hitter. He's received votes at both of those spots during this process.

Projecting Collins to spend much of the 2019 season at Triple-A Charlotte seems like a safe bet, and another safe bet is that he'll be doing a lot of work on his defense to become as well rounded as possible by the time he finally gets the call to the bigs.

What is far less of a question is what he can do offensively, and having that kind of a bat at a position like catcher is a mighty appealing thought for the White Sox and their fans. Collins posted a tremendous.382 on-base percentage during with Double-A Birmingham during the 2018 season. He hit 15 home runs — and won the Home Run Derby at the Southern League All-Star Game, it should be noted — smacked 24 doubles and drove in 68 runs. But the 101 walks might be more exciting than any of those other numbers.

But, again, his long-term position at the major league level isn't a 100-percent certainty. The White Sox are confident Collins will provide them with the first-round catcher they thought he'd be when they drafted him and aren't talking any kind of position switch at the moment. But while splitting time with another catching prospect, Seby Zavala, for a good chunk of 2018 at Birmingham, Collins ended up playing just 74 of his 122 games at catcher, the rest at DH.

Time will tell with Collins, and just like the White Sox gave ample time to Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez to master as many aspects of their game at the minor league level as they could, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a similar strategy with Collins.

Other vote-getters

Welington Castillo. An interesting choice, one of our voters apparently thinks the future is now — or that Castillo is going to put up big numbers in 2019 and convince the White Sox to pick up his option for the 2020 season. Yes, Castillo is only under team control for a little while longer, and though he's currently the White Sox No. 1 catcher, he's come nowhere close to living up to the expectations the team had for him when he signed last offseason. Last winter, Castillo was coming off a career year both offensively and defensively, but his numbers plummeted in 2018 and he finished with a .259/.304/.406 slash line. Chalk it up to whatever you'd like, but it's likely the 80-game suspension he served for a failed drug test had something to do with it, if only because those three missed months prevented him from getting into rhythm at the plate. What it definitely did was prevent him from doing what he was signed to do: help develop the White Sox young pitching staff. But after the trade that sent Omar Narvaez to the Seattle Mariners, Castillo is once more the no-doubt No. 1 catcher heading into this season, effectively getting a do-over to work with the pitchers and impress enough to warrant a third year on the South Side.

Seby Zavala. Zavala was briefly one of the White Sox breakout prospects in 2018. He started real hot, slashing .271/.358/.472 with 11 homers in 56 games at Double-A Birmingham. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte, where the production was not nearly as prolific. He slashed .242/.266/.357 with two homers in 48 games there. So he'll likely spend much of the 2019 season at Charlotte, with Collins in all likelihood joining him once again. Zavala might not be shooting to the top of the organization's prospect rankings anytime soon, but he did enough last season to make us wonder if the catching tandem of the future has been established with him and Collins. And, in the event the questions about Collins' defense persist and force him to another position, maybe Zavala hits well enough to be the catcher of the future, as one of our voters thinks.

Matt Wieters. The soon-to-be 33-year-old Wieters is currently a free agent, so perhaps this voter thinks the White Sox can get themselves a bargain as the offseason moves into spring training. Wieters is a four-time All Star, his most recent appearance coming in 2016. But there are several red flags that would accompany (or perhaps prevent) a Wieters signing. First, he played in only 76 games last season. Second, despite a .330 on-base percentage, his numbers in that limited time weren't great: a .238 batting average and a .374 slugging percentage with only eight homers. Veteran leadership and good on-base skills have been good qualities for the White Sox to add this winter. Perhaps this voter is seeing a resurgent 2019 for Wieters and a free-agent signing next offseason, when the current roster's two catchers might see their stays on the South Side come to an end.

Francisco Cervelli. Another outside addition, Cervelli is actually going to be 33 sooner than Wieters is. But Cervelli's production in recent seasons could make him a tad more desirable when he hits the free-agent market next offseason. This voter might be seeing other big free-agent additions on the horizon, in which case Cervelli would be a nice complementary piece for a team still looking for an everyday catcher. He slashed .259/.378/.431 with 12 homers as a Pittsburgh Pirate in 2018, and those on-base skills would be quite welcome on the South Side. This addition would mean Collins and Zavala wouldn't have blossomed into big league caliber starting catchers by next offseason, but it would be another veteran on a short-term deal, you'd figure, that could help develop young pitchers and give Collins and Zavala more time, if needed.

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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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White Sox Team of the Future: Designated hitter

White Sox Team of the Future: Designated hitter

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) over the next few weeks. 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.

We're moving on to designated hitter, and while much of the roster of the future is made up of players who haven't even put on a White Sox uniform yet, the winner here is someone who's already become one of the best hitters in team history. Jose Abreu is our designated hitter of the future.

Penciling in Abreu at DH and not first base isn't a knock on his fielding skills, though the White Sox will likely use Abreu more at the DH spot in 2019, platooning him there and at first base with newly acquired Yonder Alonso, in an effort to keep him off his feet a little more and possibly extend his career a bit. That becomes important if the team determines that the soon-to-be-32 Abreu is a part of the long-term future.

That's a determination that still needs to be made, with Abreu now in the final year of his current contract. An extension has long seemed a very real possibility, even if Abreu's age is significantly higher than the majority of the players who figure to make up the long-term core, the Eloy Jimenezes, the Luis Roberts, the Michael Kopechs. If Abreu's production drops off, maybe the White Sox decide to move on. Or maybe developments in the minor leagues will kick the contention window a tad further down the road, making the remainder of Abreu's career a poor alignment with those long-term plans of perennial contention on the South Side.

But the most realistic outcome still seems to be Abreu sticking around. The White Sox love this guy, constantly touting him as a model for their young players. They rave about his work ethic and describe him as someone who goes about his business in exactly the right way. They placed Yoan Moncada, a big part of those future plans, right next to Abreu in the clubhouse, hoping one Cuban could learn a lot from another. Team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf bestowed a special ring on Abreu after he became just the sixth White Sox player ever to hit for the cycle. And Abreu himself always talks about his love of the organization and how he hopes to be a part of it for his entire career.

And while those off-the-field qualities might have the biggest impact on the fleet of highly rated youngsters making their way to the major leagues, the on-the-field production has been just as excellent. Abreu is one of three players in baseball history — the others Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols, two of the best to ever play the game — to start his career with four straight seasons of at least 25 homers and 100 RBIs. He was the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year, he's a two-time All Star, including the AL's starting first baseman in 2018, and a two-time Silver Slugger. He's received MVP votes in three of his five seasons, finishing as high as fourth in 2014.

Last season saw Abreu go on an uncharacteristic, prolonged slump in the middle of the season that dragged his numbers down. And yet thanks to a red-hot stretch, it was possible he could have reached that 25-homer, 100-RBI mark yet again. Two freak injuries snuffed that hope out, twice sending him to the DL in the season's final months.

With full health and more consistency, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see 2018, statistically, end up an aberration. Plus, more rest thanks to increased time at DH could help Abreu in both the short and long terms.

Will he be here when the White Sox are next contending for a championship? It's a possibility, and one that doesn't seem all that unlikely. Abreu likes playing in the field, but he's our designated hitter of the future.

Other vote-getters

Yonder Alonso. The newly acquired Alonso isn't under contract long, with only one guaranteed season on the South Side coming in 2019. There's an option for the 2020 season. Alonso has certainly been productive in the past, the very recent past, for that matter, as he's just two years removed from an All-Star season in 2017, when he had a .365 on-base percentage and slugged .501 with 28 homers. He's a solid pickup for the White Sox who figures to help out Abreu, provide the lineup with some on-base skills it desperately needs and potentially even assist in luring Manny Machado to the South Side. Is he part of the long-term answer? Probably not, soon to be 32 himself without the five seasons of White Sox service that Abreu has. But one voter perhaps envisioned the team's contention window popping open at some point in the near future, meaning Alonso could still be around, in 2020, to be part of a contending group.

Daniel Palka. Palka showed he could be a powerful presence as a designated hitter, hitting 27 home runs as a rookie last season. He's constantly working on improving his outfield defense, though he seems better suited as a DH. That being said, the opportunity to play there seems to have dried up in a hurry with the import of Alonso, who as mentioned will split time at DH and first with Abreu. So where does that leave Palka? Not as a full-time starter, that's for sure, especially now that Jon Jay has been signed to upgrade the outfield. Palka will probably still get his opportunities, and he'll have to take advantage of them to work his way into the long-term conversation at any position. But he's got lefty pop, always a valuable commodity, so there's obviously a chance.

Jake Burger. There were outside questions about whether the White Sox first-round draft pick from 2017 could stick at third base, questions seemingly answered by director of player development Chris Getz at last year's SoxFest: "From what I’ve seen, there’s nothing that says that he can’t play third base." But then came the pair of Achilles tears that Burger experienced during 2018, not only robbing him of valuable developmental time in the minor leagues, but perhaps even more emphatically throwing his ability to stick at third into question. That's not to say, though, that he's done by any stretch, and a guy who swung a big bat at Missouri State could keep swinging it in the minor leagues and find his way to the majors as a valuable part of the lineup of the future. And one voter thinks he'll be doing it as a DH.

Zack Collins. Another first-round pick with questions about where he'll end up defensively is Collins. The White Sox are still plenty confident he can be their long-term catcher, and that's the track he's on in the minor leagues. But he also got a lot of experience as a DH last season when he and fellow catching prospect Seby Zavala were on the same roster at Double-A Birmingham, playing catcher in only 74 of his 122 games. Even though he won the Double-A Home Run Derby, Collins' most impressive achievement in 2018 was a fantastic .382 on-base percentage, something that will definitely be of value, no matter what position he ends up playing. There have been questions about his defense since he was drafted, rightly or wrongly, and so it's no surprise to see one of our voters putting him at DH.

Khris Davis. Here's a creative pick. Already one of the better designated hitters in the game, Davis is set to become a free agent following the 2019 season. He was sensational in 2018, finishing eighth in AL MVP voting after hitting a major league leading 48 home runs and driving in 123 runs for the playoff-making Oakland A's. Should the White Sox keep looking to make big free-agent splashes next winter — perhaps meaning they missed out on Machado and Bryce Harper this offseason — Davis could be an intriguing name in a loaded free-agent class.

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