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.
White Sox Nation is on pins and needled waiting to see if mega free agent Manny Machado is going to decide to spend the better part of the next decade on the South Side. Well, either our voters are confident he'll slide back over to third base or not confident that he'll end up picking the White Sox because our shortstop of the future is Tim Anderson.
Anderson is one of the few players on the major league roster who are long-term locks, and he's under contract for at least another four seasons, with team options for 2023 and 2024. It's what's made the ongoing pursuit of Machado so interesting because Machado supposedly prefers to play shortstop, where he played last season after spending much of his first six years as a big leaguer at third base. Now, he might end up with more than 200 million reasons to move back to third, where he's won a pair of Gold Gloves. And that could keep Anderson's development as a major league shortstop on track.
It was that defensive development that ended up being one of the brightest spots during 2018's 100-loss season. Anderson went from a whopping 28 errors in 2017 to 20 errors in 2018, and while that latter number is still a big one, Anderson was routinely making highlight-reel plays during the second half of last season. It seemed like he had turned a corner defensively, and one of the guys who helped him improve said the sky was the limit for a player who has consistently — and to this day, amid the Machado pursuit — been mentioned as someone whose future lies elsewhere on the diamond.
“I’d say (there’s been a growth) within the last two to three months,” White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said in mid September. “He’s gone through a stage where he understands and he’s accountable for the mistakes he was making on the field. And now he’s able to sit back and learn from them and adjust, and he’s just running with it now.
“I believe he’s playing free. There’s not a weight on his shoulders. He wants to prove everybody wrong. (People say,) ‘He’s not a shortstop.’ He wants to prove that he is a shortstop and he’s one of the best in the game.”
“I kind of feel like the work finally caught up. I’m figuring out the glove and learning the position, figuring out how to play the position. It’s working, man,” Anderson said. “A lot of credit to Joe, he works with me every day and we get out there. It’s been good. Just honored and blessed to be in the position I’m in.”
Anderson made offensive improvements in 2018, too, hitting a career-high 20 home runs and a career-high 28 doubles. He scored a career-high 77 runs and drove in a career-high 64 runs and stole a career-high 26 bases (one of the top 15 totals in baseball) and walked a career-high 30 times (significant when compared to his previous two season totals of 13). All of those things are good things.
But Anderson slashed just .240/.281/.406. He still struck out 149 times (one of the top 30 totals in baseball). He still committed 20 errors (the fourth-highest total in baseball). And so there's work to do, especially offensively, if he's going to be a reliable part of a championship-caliber lineup.
That said, he will be given every opportunity to prove that over the next few years. The question is whether a Machado signing makes him a something else of the future. For now, however, he's the White Sox — and our — shortstop of the future.
Manny Machado. Unsurprisingly, the free-agent target got a number of votes as the shortstop of the future. There's much debate about which position he would play should he end up picking the White Sox. Ideally, he'd go back to third, where he's a two-time Gold Glover and could solve a question without a concrete answer for the team's long-term future. But Machado made much of his desire to play shortstop last season, perhaps with an eye on increasing his payday this winter. Once that payday is locked in, though, would he be OK with returning to third? That's the question. It wouldn't be illogical to suggest that if you're attempting to lure a player of this caliber to your team, you'd let him play whichever position he wanted. And if that ends up happening, then there's your answer: Machado is the shortstop of the future. It throws Anderson's future into question, but it puts a definitive stamp on the shortstop position.
Nick Madrigal. Madrigal has spent nearly every inning of his time as a White Sox minor leaguer at second base. Of course, he only played in 39 minor league games after being drafted in the first round last summer. He spent a lot of his time at Oregon State, however, as a shortstop, and it's there where the White Sox evaluated him as "the best all-around player in college baseball" and a potential Gold Glove caliber defender. Madrigal played at three different minor league levels last season and could be on the move quickly considering how experienced he already was coming out of college. If the White Sox miss out on Machado, the best defensive option at shortstop in just a couple years' time could be Madrigal. But the White Sox have talked about possibly moving Yoan Moncada from second base to third base, and among the reasons for doing so might be to clear room for Madrigal down the line. Who knows how Madrigal will end up comparing to Anderson — or what other names could be populating the White Sox infield by the time he reaches the major leagues — but Madrigal could be an option for shortstop one day, enough of one for a couple of our voters to pick him.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.