Zack Collins

Why the White Sox should carry four catchers on the Opening Day roster

Why the White Sox should carry four catchers on the Opening Day roster

Four catchers.

Hear me out.

The White Sox have a week to finalize their 30-man roster for Opening Day, and while the starting lineup, the starting rotation and much of the bullpen is obvious, the expanded number of players to begin this most unusual of campaigns means the reserve position players are a little more of a mystery.

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A quick rundown of locks to be part of that 30-man group: Yasmani Grandal, James McCann, José Abreu, Edwin Encarnación, Leury García, Tim Anderson, Yoán Moncada (assuming he’s ready to go after missing the first two weeks of “Summer Camp”), Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Nomar Mazara, Adam Engel, Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo López, Gio González, Carlos Rodón, Alex Colomé, Aaron Bummer, Steve Cishek, Evan Marshall, Jimmy Cordero, Kelvin Herrera, Jace Fry.

That’s 24 guys, leaving six more spots. Remember, too, that the rosters will shrink as the season goes along, eventually getting down to the original 26 that would have been the number for a full 162-game slate.

Infielder Danny Mendick seems a safe bet to break camp with the team. In the bullpen, even with extra starting depth, there could be multi-inning roles for Ross Detwiler and the out-of-options Carson Fulmer. Of the young bullpen arms being tested out, Ian Hamilton already has a spot on the 40-man roster and could have an advantage, having been in the majors before, however briefly, over Tyler Johnson and Codi Heuer. Nick Madrigal will probably be up eventually, but the most logical result for him could have him missing out on an Opening Day spot.

And so that leaves two remaining spots. One would figure to go to a catcher because teams typically like the luxury of a third catcher to provide relief for their top two backstops, primarily when that third catcher can hit.

Well, the White Sox have two “extra” catchers who can hit in Zack Collins and Yermín Mercedes. And I think they should both get the chance to be a part of Rick Renteria’s bench.

Though Mendick and Nicky Delmonico have both had their moments during spring training and “Summer Camp,” it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to suggest that, aside from those moments when Andrew Vaughn leaves the yard, Collins and Mercedes are the team’s two best offensive players outside of the starting nine (which will eventually include Madrigal in place of García and could be expanded to 10 to include McCann). Collins has launched a pair of home runs, and Mercedes has done a little bit of everything with the bat, showing power and an ability to pick up base hits.

Now, I think I know what you’re thinking: When would these guys play?

A good point, and an especially good one in a 162-game season, which is why it didn’t look likely that Collins would make the 26-man roster in March and why Mercedes even seemed a bit of a longshot, despite his confidence and the show he was putting on in the Cactus League.

The White Sox signed Grandal to be their No. 1 catcher, and with another All Star in the No. 2 spot, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of catching opportunities for anyone not named Grandal or McCann. Perhaps Collins and Mercedes were better off playing every day in Charlotte rather than sitting around without an opportunity to develop their catching ability.

RELATED: Yoán Moncada back from COVID-19 with short window to get ready for Opening Day

But things have obviously changed. Chief among them, there is no minor league season, and the only alternative to these guys being a part of the big league bench is playing intrasquad games against other White Sox minor leaguers in Schaumburg. The 60-game season has also perhaps increased the White Sox chances to reach the postseason — just because of the sheer lack of predictability this mad dash to October brings — and if these bats can help them accomplish that goal, then what reason is there to keep them away?

Just because there might be few catching opportunities for this duo, they have shown an ability to get in at other positions. Collins has played first base during “Summer Camp,” and Mercedes has played third base and left field — and taken hits away from both Robert and Jiménez while doing so — in addition to catching. That versatility is always a plus when trying to get onto the White Sox roster. It’s kept García a piece of the puzzle and has opened a door for Mendick, too.

But let’s be honest, it’s about the sticks. Mercedes is a righty, Collins a lefty. Together, they could provide some late-game pop from both sides of the plate for Renteria. And in this most bizarre season, he might be more likely to use it, as managerial creativity could be on the rise due to the circumstances.

We’ll see how it all plays out. There’s a logistical snag that could dash these dreams. This season, teams will be required to bring three players on road trips to serve as an emergency “taxi squad,” and one of those players must be a catcher. If the White Sox put four catchers on the active roster, that means a fifth catcher, Seby Zavala, would have to accompany the team on every road trip. And that’s a lot of catchers to be lugging around. Maybe that throws a wrench in this whole idea, maybe it doesn’t matter. All five catchers are on the 40-man roster and wouldn’t necessitate clearing any extra space.

And certainly there will be fans out there wondering why, if the idea is to get the organization’s best bats on the bench, I’m not clamoring for Vaughn’s inclusion. The home run he smoked to right field off González during Friday’s intrasquad game makes a compelling case, but he has very little pro experience and thrusting him into the major league spotlight — no matter how good that bat looks at times — seems premature. He could be up for a full-time role as soon as next year, depending on whether the White Sox want Encarnación back for a second season. But even that might be a little bit of a stretch considering how patient the team has been with its top prospects during the rebuilding years.

And so the best source of off-the-bench power in 2020 seems to be Collins and Mercedes, and just think how useful, how clutch it could be in a season where every game carries so much meaning.

Four catchers. I’m serious.


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White Sox roster takeaways: With Kopech, Rodon, starting rotation looks loaded

White Sox roster takeaways: With Kopech, Rodon, starting rotation looks loaded

It’s beginning to feel more like baseball season. Maybe.

At least Monday morning brought a little excitement as the White Sox announced an initial 44-man player pool for the modified “Summer Camp” that will officially begin Friday at Guaranteed Rate Field. Sixteen additional players can be added to the pool of 60 players available to the White Sox this season, but only 30 will make the major league roster that will be used to play regular-season games set to begin on either July 23 or 24.

There will be a lot to sort through over the next few weeks, but here are some initial takeaways from the 44-man pool announced Monday.

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Starting rotation looks loaded

If Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech are able to pitch without limitations, then the White Sox’s starting rotation will be stacked. Had the season started on time, the expectation was that Kopech would already be in Chicago by now, with Rodon potentially in the mix by July or August.

When we last left the White Sox in March, Kopech was fresh off a dazzling spring debut in which he touched 100 miles per hour with ease. He was set to start the season in Triple-A Charlotte for some seasoning, but without minor league games available, you’d think there’s a realistic shot he is on the White Sox Opening Day roster.

“We talked about where Michael was in spring training and about how impressed we were as to how he came out of the gate despite the layoff,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said last week. “Hopefully he’s still in that spot when we all get together in Chicago. He’s certainly someone who could make a real impact for us over the course of 60 games.”

As for Rodon, he was in Arizona continuing to rehab during the hiatus, and it sure sounds like he’s close to returning. His progress over the next few weeks will determine a lot.

So theoretically, by July 23, the White Sox could have Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, Gio Gonzalez, Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech ready to start games. A six-man rotation might make sense to help reduce injury concerns off the hiatus, but even then it could mean moving another starter to the bullpen. Would Lopez be more consistent as a reliever? Would bringing Kopech back slowly as a high-leverage bullpen arm make sense? These are all things to consider.

Top prospects in the mix

Notable on the initial 44-man roster is that second baseman Nick Madrigal, first baseman Andrew Vaughn and pitchers Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert all made it.

Madrigal didn’t appear quite ready for the major league roster in March, and without any games or formal workouts since, that probably hasn’t changed. His situation is also complicated by the lack of a minor league season now. Will intrasquad games amongst the taxi squad help polish the talented second baseman, or is Madrigal better off with the major league team?

“Nicky, we only got to see him for a handful of games up in Glendale but he’s been, for the portion of big league camp we’ve had so far, as advertised and certainly is a consideration for breaking with us and if not immediately then certainly helping us at some point over the course of this summer,” Hahn said.

Madrigal seems like one of the players with the most to gain or lose over the next few weeks. As for Vaughn, there’s a log jam of bats ahead of him, but it makes sense for him to be among the 60 players working out and available the rest of the summer. Dunning and Lambert could certainly be in the mix to pitch in Chicago if needed this season.

RELATED: White Sox 2020 roster prediction: Projecting the 30 players for Opening Day

Catcher situation is one to watch

One quirk with the tweaked roster rules is that there will be a three-man taxi squad that will travel with the team, and one of those three players must be a catcher. Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes were already in the conversation to make the 26-man roster in March, so the addition of this rule and the expanded 30-man roster (that will be reduced to 28 two weeks into the regular season) help their causes.

Yasmani Grandal and James McCann will obviously be the two primary catchers, but the guess here is that Collins and Mercedes both find their way on and off the major league roster at some point this season.

No Garrett Crochet ... yet

With speculation that first-round draft pick Garrett Crochet could potentially help the White Sox this season, it is notable that he is not on the initial 44-man roster. Of course, that could change. There are still 16 spots available and more players will be added.

With so many variables to consider, the White Sox patience with the 60-player pool is not surprising. For one, only players on the 60-man roster can be traded this season, so that is something to consider. Also, teams still don’t know what kind of developmental opportunities will be available to players later this fall. There could be an expanded Arizona Fall League, but that might be in jeopardy if the Phoenix area doesn’t get a better hold on rising COVID-19 cases.

How is a player like Crochet supposed to get ready for the big leagues without games to pitch in? On the other hand, if the fall developmental season doesn’t happen, he could probably use the work on the expanded 60-man roster this summer.

These are all things the White Sox are in the process of figuring out. Like everything else in the world right now, a lot can change every day.


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White Sox send Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes to Triple-A, sparking 26th-man speculation

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USA TODAY

White Sox send Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes to Triple-A, sparking 26th-man speculation

No, there is no baseball to be played for the foreseeable future.

Yes, the White Sox made three roster moves anyway Monday afternoon, sending catchers Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes, as well as relief pitcher Jose Ruiz, to Triple-A Charlotte.

This in advance of an expected freeze on all transactions as baseball remains shut down amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

These are three names of note, however, three players who were at the very least candidates to make the Opening Day roster. It's impossible to read too much into these moves when it comes to how the White Sox roster will look come Opening Day because no one has any idea when Opening Day will actually come.

The commissioner's office announced earlier Monday that it will adhere to the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommended postponing all gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. That means no baseball until mid May, at the earliest, and USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported earlier Monday that several general managers are "bracing" for the delay to the 2020 season to last until July.

So with all that in mind, what does this mean for the White Sox major league roster?

Well, for the time being, these three aren't on it. There was plenty of speculation Mercedes could slug his way to the newly created 26th-man spot with his four home runs this spring. He was extremely optimistic that he would capture that spot, even if it meant his being limited to a pinch-hitter role with Yasmani Grandal and James McCann ahead of him on the depth chart. That limited playing time is what had Collins expressing opposite feelings about his own chances at making the 26-man roster.

The moves made Monday do not definitively reflect the organization's approach to an Opening Day roster that could be months away from needing to be finalized. But it could be a hint that someone who could be used more frequently and at numerous positions on the diamond would be preferable to a third catcher. Maybe Andrew Romine, who played all nine positions in a game last season? Or infielder Cheslor Cuthbert? Or outfielder Nicky Delmonico, who was having himself a nice spring?

They're all candidates, sure. But here's another thing to keep in mind: Nick Madrigal and Michael Kopech might have two roster spots spoken for by the time Opening Day finally rolls around. Neither was expected to be with the big league team out of camp, needing time in the minor leagues to work their way up to the majors. And that might still be the case once baseball is back. But a potentially shortened season that doesn't get started until the middle of summer would line up with when those two were supposed to be playing at the big league level.

So maybe someone who was expected to be a lock out of camp is instead fighting for that 26th spot, someone like Danny Mendick or an extra outfielder like Adam Engel. Maybe there's a pitcher in the bullpen whose job security changes because Kopech could now start the season with the team.

It's all speculation, something we'll get to do plenty of while we wait for baseball's return.

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