White Sox

State of the White Sox: Center field

State of the White Sox: Center field

Previous: Left field | Catcher | Shortstop Third base  Second base | First base

The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re moving on to center field.

What happened in 2019

Fans weren’t too pleased that a second straight season of service-time issues kept the White Sox top-rated prospect away from the outfield at Guaranteed Rate Field. In 2018, it was Eloy Jimenez who stayed in the minor leagues. In 2019, it was Luis Robert who didn’t make his big league debut despite a monstrous season in the minors.

Robert is undoubtedly the team’s center fielder of the future, and he showed why this season, earning minor league player of the year honors thanks to an absolutely ridiculous campaign that put his five-tool potential on display. All in all, he slashed .328/.376/.624 with 32 homers, 31 doubles, 11 triples, 92 RBIs, 108 runs scored and 36 stolen bases in 122 games between three different levels.

Robert hit for power, he hit for average, he showed speed on the base paths, he made some jaw-dropping catches in the outfield, and he showed off a strong arm. He can do it all.

“It's pretty incredible to see. Whether it's on the base paths, in the outfield, at the plate, you just see how special a player he is,” fellow top prospect Nick Madrigal said in July. “It seems like one at-bat will go by and he'll look fooled at the plate and the next one he'll be on every single pitch. He makes adjustments on the fly.

“And it's fun hitting behind him, it seems like he's always on base with a chance for him to score every time I'm up. It's been great to play with him.

“At the beginning of the year, playing at (Class A) Winston-Salem, I feel like he definitely boosted the lineup. Even the way he runs the bases, the way he runs (on a ball) in the gap getting triples, he definitely sparks your team. Baseball's kind of contagious, and once he gets on it's easier to hit. The pitcher feels some pressure. It's just great playing beside him.”

And that’s what made the team’s decision to keep Robert in the minors such a bummer to a lot of fans who were demanding to see all that at the big league level all year long. Much like the way they handled Jimenez in 2018, the White Sox did not say and will not say that service time played a role in their decision, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that by delaying Robert’s debut until the middle of April in 2020 the White Sox gain another year of control of a guy expected to be an impact player.

While Robert was blowing minds at the minor league level, the White Sox trotted several fill-ins out to center in the majors. Adam Engel played the most games there and had the best offensive season of his major league career to go along with his typically strong defense. Leury Garcia played nearly as many games there, too, and had a solid start at the plate, carrying a nearly .300 average into the All-Star break. But his numbers took a dip in the second half, exemplified by his .327 first-half on-base percentage dropping to .288 in the second half.

What will happen this offseason

The biggest thing to watch for this offseason — and into spring training, potentially — will be whether the White Sox can work out a similar multi-year deal with Robert to the one they worked out with Jimenez before the 2019 campaign got going. That contract allowed Jimenez to start the season on the big league roster as opposed to waiting around at Triple-A for a few weeks until the White Sox could call him up with that extra year of club control intact.

It’s purely speculative, but there might not be as much incentive for Robert to ink a deal and delay his eventual free agency considering the many millions he received when the White Sox signed him out of Cuba in the first place in 2017. We’ll see how that plays out.

Otherwise, the White Sox have a decision to make with Garcia, who is much more valuable to them than just a backup center fielder. He’s arbitration eligible and will probably get a raise that won’t make him that much cheaper than Yolmer Sanchez, who’s in the same situation. But Garcia can play six different positions and is beloved on the South Side for his versatility.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

Robert, and a lot of him.

It might be Garcia or Engel or someone else patrolling center field for the first handful of games in 2020, but once the White Sox can bring Robert up and earn that extra season of club control, he’ll be on the South Side, wowing as a major leaguer. And doing so, eventually, alongside another highly ranked prospect in Madrigal.

"I don't know when exactly Luis Robert will arrive come 2020 or when Nick Madrigal will arrive in 2020," general manager Rick Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. "I would say based upon their seasons, probably have Luis a tick ahead of Nick in terms of projected arrival time. But we'll see how they show up in camp and how that unfolds. I think we can sit here and say that, similar to Eloy a year ago, that we expect Luis Robert to be playing center field for most if not all of the 2020 season. Nick Madrigal playing second base? Probably most of the 2020 season."

As we saw with Jimenez this season — and Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito before that — it might not be fair to expect Robert to start putting up All-Star numbers the second he gets here. That being said, he’s also been lauded as the player to perhaps end up as the best among the many highly touted youngsters the White Sox have acquired during their rebuilding process. For him to reach the major leagues and instantly be the team’s best player should not shock, even if it also shouldn’t be necessarily expected.

The biggest mystery with Robert might be where he’ll end up in the batting order. Rick Renteria has, in the past, stuck new arrivals down in the order to get them better acclimated to the big league game. But if Robert lives up to the hype and quick, will he be in one of the top two spots to best utilize his speed? Or will he be a run-producer in the middle of the order?

Like so many other players around the diamond — Jimenez, Moncada, Madrigal, Tim Anderson — Robert is expected to be a long-term lock at his position in center field. If everything goes according to plan, the White Sox won’t need another center fielder for a long time.

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.

In order to be contenders, the White Sox must learn how to win in 2020

In order to be contenders, the White Sox must learn how to win in 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. — If the White Sox are going to start winning in 2020, they're going to have to learn how.

Certainly a talented roster will play a large role in that. But the influx of veterans this winter didn't just bring on-field capabilities. In adding Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Gio Gonzalez and Steve Cishek, Rick Hahn's front office injected this team with winners, guys who have been to the playoffs and made sizable impacts on winning clubs.

If anybody can teach the young White Sox how to win, it's these guys.

"Yasmani's been in the postseason each of the last five years, Keuchel four of the last five years and Edwin each of the last five years," Rick Hahn said after the Encarnacion signing became official in early January. "That's obviously a tremendous track record for each of them but also speaks in part to what we're trying to accomplish not just on the field but in terms of taking that next step in our clubhouse and this young core not only growing together but learning how to win and learning what it takes to be successful not only over the course of the summer but well into October, as well."

And that playoff experience is rather extensive:

— Grandal won four consecutive NL West championships with the Dodgers and went to back-to-back World Series in 2017 and 2018 before helping the Brewers reach — and hitting a home run in — the NL wild card game last season.

— Keuchel reached three out of four postseasons with the Astros, including in his Cy Young season of 2015 and the team's now-controversial World Series season of 2017, and won an NL East title with the Braves in 2019.

— Encarnacion played in three of the last five AL Championship Series and won AL Central crowns with the Indians in 2017 and 2018.

— Gonzalez played in four postseasons with the Nationals and made the NLCS with the Brewers in 2018.

— Cishek pitched with the Cubs team that played in the NL wild card game in 2018.

Considering even the White Sox team leader, Jose Abreu, has never finished a major league season above .500, all this new playoff experience adds something that was sorely missing.

"You've got to have the talent, and we have the talent on this team," Encarnacion said. "This team makes me remember the team that we had in 2015 with the Blue Jays. A lot of young talents, a few veteran guys and we put everything together and this team is going to be right.

"The team has to be together. If you're going to win, we've got to be together like a team. Pick up your teammates. That's why you have to stay together. If your teammate does something wrong, you're going to feel it and you're going to want to do something to help them out. That's all about it.

"This team makes me remember what we had in Toronto. ... This team has the talent to compete in the division and win."

That 2015 Blue Jays team won the AL East and made it to Game 6 of the ALCS before being eliminated by the eventual world-champion Kansas City Royals. Encarnacion hit 39 homers and drove in 111 runs that season, a set of numbers that would be good news for the White Sox half a decade later.

But in addition to that production, the White Sox could reap the benefits of Encarnacion's playoff experience. The same goes for what they can glean from Grandal, Keuchel and Gonzalez.

"I think that these guys in particular have played a huge role in postseason play in terms of actually performing and being in the limelight. I think their presence in and of itself and probably some of the conversations that they suddenly have with the group play a big part," manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday at Camelback Ranch. "I think that's one of the things that we're hoping to take advantage of. For us, it's a really important time, because now we're trying to take those young men that have developed and are putting themselves on the map, as very good Major League Baseball players trying to take it to the next place.

"And it's like anything too, those moments you can't replicate until you get there. So everybody deals with them differently. Hopefully we're able to deal with them positively. And they have some guys in that I've gone through it that will help them be able to make some adjustments."

The winning-experience ingredient has been added to the interesting gumbo that is the 2020 White Sox, a team that has designs on bringing October baseball to the South Side for the first time in more than a decade. All these veterans can serve as resources for the young guys and teach them what is necessary to be a contender along the way.

And these veterans can feed off the talent of those same youngsters to drive toward another addition to their postseason resumes.

"Once you get a little taste of the playoffs, that's why you play is to get that feeling," Keuchel said. "As much as you want to replicate it in the regular season, for guys who have no playoff experience, I think the regular season is that feeling. But there's another feeling to it that pushes you and wants you to be a better player.

"Ultimately I told Rick Hahn this: I said, 'Four out of the last five years, I've made the playoffs, and I don't expect any of these three years (during the contract with the White Sox) to be any different.'" 

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.

Tim Anderson starts YouTube channel to fix baseball's 'kind of bad' marketing'

Tim Anderson starts YouTube channel to fix baseball's 'kind of bad' marketing'

Tim Anderson asserted himself as one of the flashiest young players in baseball last season. Now, he’s taking his personality to YouTube.

The White Sox shortstop posted the first video to his channel on Saturday and has posted two more since. In the first, he explained why he started the channel.

“The reason we’re starting it is because, you know man, the marketing game is kind of bad in baseball, so who’s going to create that lane? I’m going to create that lane and give people behind the scenes,” Anderson said. “Everybody knows that the next five to six years are going to be dope, going to be great. Everybody is talking about the South Side. We got the pieces. Everybody’s excited. It’s going to be fun.”

Bold, as always, from Anderson. He didn’t hold back about baseball's “kind of bad” marketing of the game and its players. He’s not the first to complain about it, but he was blunt.

“I’m to the point now in life, I’m trying to capture everything,” Anderson said. “I don’t want to miss nothing. That way when I do turn 70 or 80 all I gotta do is be like ‘pop that in, let me see what I was doing in my 20s, in my 30s, in my 40s.’ It’s about capturing every moment in my life.”

So far, all we’ve seen are spring training workout videos but Anderson says he will talk about big moments in games during the season.

“I’m just going to be as real as I can be, and I feel like YouTube is the best way to go about it and connect with my fans,” Anderson said. “We’re going to give you those conversations before games when we ride to the field or we’re going to give you those conversations that we’re talking about the game that happened before, like what you did. We’re going to give you those conversations on how you feel in those moments when you do those things on the field, whether it’s bat flip or pimp a home run. We’re going to give you that. We’re going to give you everything.”

The next time Anderson makes a big play or is involved in a controversial moment, he might be airing out his thoughts for the world to see on his YouTube channel. This could get interesting.

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.