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.
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.
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.