Let’s try this again.
Back on March 11, I addressed three questions the White Sox had to answer before Opening Day. It was 15 days before the scheduled start of the 2020 regular season. It was also the first and last column I wrote for NBC Sports Chicago before COVID-19 shut the sports world down.
It’s now 126 days later and the White Sox will (hopefully) begin their season a week from Friday against the Minnesota Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field.
A lot has changed. Spring Training is now Summer Camp. The minor leagues aren’t operating. There’s a thing unofficially called the Schaumburg Sox.
None of that seemed plausible back in March.
Naturally, some of the questions for the White Sox have changed too. Others haven’t. One thing we know hasn’t changed: the high expectations for this team in 2020. In fact, those expectations may be even higher in the 60-game sprint that will begin on July 24.
Before we get to Opening Day though, there are still three big questions to sort out:
When will Yoan Moncada be available?
Moncada has yet to appear at Guaranteed Rate Field since workouts began and was placed on the 10-day injured list last Friday. Teams aren’t permitted to announce if a player has tested positive for COVID-19, but two unnamed White Sox players have tested positive. Moncada and pitcher Jose Ruiz are the only two players on the injured list.
The good news is that both players who tested positive were asymptomatic, which could bode well for a return. At one point, pitcher Lucas Giolito even said to reporters: “Obviously Moncada will be back soon.” Unfortunately, that was a week ago.
At this point, it seems unlikely Moncada will be ready to go for Opening Day, but the sense is that he shouldn’t miss too much of the season. The determining factor will be how long it takes the third baseman to get into game shape.
"I don't know, to be honest with you," White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino said. "I think 10, 15 at-bats to see where he's at. And then, probably, I'd say 20 at-bats to get him started in the right direction. As far as days, I don't know what he's able to do while he's not here.
"Listen, he's a great athlete, and I think it's going to be sooner rather than later for him. Once he sees his teammates playing, he'll want to get in there. And that might not be such a bad thing. If he's in shape and he's ready to handle the workload, I think he'll get in there pretty quick."
In the meantime, the White Sox have primarily used Cheslor Cuthbert and Danny Mendick at third base with Leury Garcia being an obvious option too when he’s not playing second base. Prospects Yermín Mercedes and Andrew Vaughn have also received work at third base.
Perhaps a bigger consequence of Moncada’s absence is the impact it has on Luis Robert in the batting order. The plan was to have Tim Anderson and Moncada hit 1-2 in the order, but with Moncada out, Robert has either led off or hit second in every intrasquad game the White Sox have played. And he's looked good doing it.
What will the starting rotation look like?
When this column was originally written back in March, one of the three questions was about when Michael Kopech would join the rotation. We now know his services won’t be available at all as Kopech has opted out of the 2020 season. There’s no reason to minimize that blow. He has the most talented arm in the organization and his absence hurts both the White Sox’s playoff chances and his own development. When the team reconvenes for spring training in 2021, it will be two and half years removed from Kopech’s Tommy John surgery, with just one spring training appearance (a very impressive one at that) to account for.
That said, the White Sox do have starting pitching depth and can remain competitive without Kopech. Based on what we’ve seen in intrasquad games, the rotation already looks six-deep and it’s possible it will look like this:
RHP Lucas Giolito
LHP Dallas Keuchel
RHP Dylan Cease
LHP Carlos Rodón
LHP Gio Gonzalez
RHP Reynaldo Lopez
Right-handers Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert could also provide starts and with the amount of pitching that will be carried on the 30-man roster and available on the taxi squad in Schaumburg, “opener” games using the bullpen aren’t completely out of the question.
Will Nick Madrigal be on the Opening Day roster?
The answer to this question in March was that Madrigal was most likely headed to Charlotte, but would certainly be on the White Sox well before July. Well, now it’s July and there are only 60 games in the season. Service time rules still apply and Madrigal is not currently on the 40-man roster, but wins will be at a premium when the season starts and the White Sox could already be without Moncada.
Madrigal has looked good in intrasquad games so far, spraying baseballs all over the field. So maybe the better question is, can the White Sox afford to keep him off the Opening Day roster?
Manager Rick Renteria said he will approach Opening Day like the White Sox are in first place after 102 games played with 60 to go. If that is the case, you’d think he’d want Madrigal in the lineup. Renteria also loves Leury Garcia, who is serviceable at second base, but without Moncada, perhaps the best solution is to have Madrigal at second and Garcia at third.
Sending Madrigal to Charlotte in April for seasoning was defensible. Sending him to Schaumburg in July for intrasquad games is a tougher argument to make.