White Sox

Three questions answered — and three questions unanswered — through a couple weeks of White Sox spring training

0226_eloy_jimenez.jpg
USA TODAY

Three questions answered — and three questions unanswered — through a couple weeks of White Sox spring training

March is almost here, and the White Sox are in the thick of spring training down in Glendale, with Cactus League games getting going over the weekend.

After watching workouts and hearing from players and manager Rick Renteria for two weeks, some of the offseason's biggest questions seem to have answers, while others still remain.

Here are three questions that have been answered and three that still need solving.

Answers

1. Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert are something to get excited about

There are no guarantees in player development, but the White Sox top two outfield prospects seem to be legit. The highly touted pair, along with fellow prospect Micker Adolfo, generated a ton of buzz whenever they stepped into the batting cages at Camelback Ranch, and after watching them smoke baseballs over the practice-field fences, it’s easy to see why.

All three guys shared that they’re dreaming of playing together in the team’s championship outfield of the future, and if the White Sox can develop that talent, then watch out.

Of course there’s a long way to go. Jimenez has only played a handful of games above the Class A level. Adolfo has played none. And Robert hasn’t even played a minor league baseball game in the United States. General manager Rick Hahn keeps talking about how baseball has a cruel way of reminding that not all prospects pan out. Look no further than Adolfo, who now has a pair of arm injuries after being rated as the best thrower in the White Sox farm system.

But hearing the cracks of the bats and watching the baseballs fly, it’s easy to get excited about these guys’ futures.

2. Carlos Rodon won’t be ready for Opening Day

This one wasn’t that difficult to predict, but after having shoulder surgery last fall, Carlos Rodon won’t be a member of the White Sox starting rotation on Opening Day.

That was actually made relatively clear when the team brought back Miguel Gonzalez, seemingly locking the starting rotation into place alongside James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer. But now there’s confirmation that Rodon will not pitch during the Cactus League schedule and will stay at extended spring training after the White Sox leave Glendale for Kansas City.

There’s still no knowing, of course, when Rodon will be back. The White Sox are happy with his progress, and he was throwing during the early parts of the spring, cleared to throw right before SoxFest at the end of January.

Who knows if it will be as late as June this time around after he didn't make his 2017 debut until June 28 after suffering a separate injury last spring. But when he returns, he’ll have to prove that he’s healthy and capable of being the same pitcher who was envisioned as an ace of the future.

3. Hector Santiago gives the White Sox a long man — and starting depth

There didn’t seem to be a member of the White Sox bullpen who could serve in the long-relief role. Then the team brought Hector Santiago back on a minor league deal.

Even though it’s a minor league deal, the former and now current White Sox hurler seems likely to make the bullpen as the long relief man. That role was needed regularly last season, and it’s an important one for a bullpen filled with guys looking to prove themselves as either long-term pieces or midseason trade chips.

But Santiago also gives the White Sox starting pitching depth, providing a one-time All-Star starter as a backup in case any of the five guys in the rotation go down with an injury. Rick Hahn already said he wouldn’t rush Michael Kopech or any of the team’s other pitching prospects to the majors just because someone was hurt at the big league level. And now he won’t have to thanks in part to Santiago’s presence.

Questions

1. Who will be the closer?

While there might not be as many open spots in the White Sox bullpen as initially believed, there is a huge question mark at closer. Who will throw in the ninth inning for the White Sox this season?

Juan Minaya had closing duties at the end of last season and fared pretty well after much of the bullpen was traded away in summer deals. But do the White Sox see Minaya as a closer of the future?

If not, they might be more likely to go with one of the new acquisitions in order to try and establish a deadline trade chip. Maybe someone like Joakim Soria, who has tons of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. Of course those days are getting longer and longer ago.

But if the White Sox go with Soria and he does well, they could try to fetch the same kind of return they got last season when they shipped David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and other relievers away from the South Side.

2. Who will be the starting center fielder?

The White Sox are not short on options in center field. But there aren’t necessarily any slam-dunk ones, hence why the job is still up for grabs.

Adam Engel started 91 games in center last season and hit just .166. While his glove is terrific, his offensive production is not that of a starting position player in the major leagues. Leury Garcia was far better with the bat but might be more valuable as a versatile infielder who can spell the four guys around the diamond. Charlie Tilson has high hopes but has struggled mightily to just get on the baseball field and stay there, much of his White Sox career wiped out so far due to injuries. Further down the list is Ryan Cordell, the guy acquired in the Anthony Swarzak trade last summer who has a good Triple-A track record and got some love from Rick Hahn at SoxFest.

Garcia seems to be the best option if the White Sox are looking for the most consistent bat. But for a rebuilding team not expected to contend in 2018, maybe giving guys like Engel and Tilson more chances to prove themselves makes more sense.

3. Do the White Sox have another move left in them?

For a rebuilding team like the White Sox, this perplexing offseason might be a really rare opportunity.

In the last week, the White Sox were mentioned as a potential landing spot for a pair of All-Star position players: Mike Moustakas and Carlos Gonzalez. Considering the slowness of the market, guys who were once pegged for multi-year deals could now be bargains one one-year contracts. That could allow a team like the White Sox to swoop in and sign these guys at very low risk. If they produce, they could become long-term options or midseason trade chips. If they don’t, it was a one-year flier and did no harm for a team not expected to contend — and it does not negatively impact the rebuild in any way.

The White Sox already pulled the trigger on a springtime addition with Hector Santiago. There are still tons of free agents out there, and even if it’s not someone the caliber of Moustakas or Gonzalez, the White Sox could still ink someone who could really benefit the short- and long-term success of the team at a bargain.

Prized White Sox prospect Andrew Vaughn wraps up stint with USA Baseball

vaughn-1117.jpg
USA TODAY

Prized White Sox prospect Andrew Vaughn wraps up stint with USA Baseball

As the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Andrew Vaughn’s first full season in the minors this coming season will be one of the biggest storylines in the big picture of the White Sox rebuild in 2020.

Before that season begins for Vaughn, he got some international experience playing for USA Baseball at the Premier12 tournament. The Premier12 served as the first Olympic qualifying tournament.

Vaughn played in all eight games for the American team which was comprised of minor leaguers not currently on MLB 40-man rosters. He split time between first base and DH and was often in the middle of the order.

In eight games Vaughn hit .321/.367/.357. He had just one extra base hit, a double, in 30 plate appearances.

The lack of power might be somewhat concerning, but he certainly showed contact and on-base skills against quality, experienced competition.


As for USA Baseball, the team entered Saturday’s bronze medal game against Mexico knowing the winner would qualify for the Olympics. The Americans led 2-1 entering the ninth inning, but gave up a home run to send the game to extras. Mexico won with a bases-loaded walk-off single in the 10th.

The US still has two more chances to qualify for the Olympics. There is an Americas qualifying tournament in March and then a last chance tournament soon after that one. Those take place during spring training so it’s unclear if Vaughn would leave White Sox camp for that.

Tyler Johnson, a White Sox relief prospect, was on the initial roster for the tournament, but left the team due to a minor injury.

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.

 

Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

Jose Abreu accepts qualifying offer, returns to White Sox on one-year deal

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s almost like Jose Abreu never left.

He was only a free agent for a week and a half, Abreu bringing his brief time away from the White Sox to an end Thursday, when he accepted the qualifying offer of a one-year deal with $17.8 million.

It’s not the multi-year contract that was expected, but MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported that the sides will continue to discuss a long-term pact. Still, the decision is a rare one, with Abreu becoming one of the few players ever to accept the qualifying offer. But he’ll get a nice payday for the 2020 season with a chance to do this whole free-agency thing again a year from now, if he chooses.

There was speculation that Abreu could accept the qualifying offer because of a potentially weak market for his services league-wide. If Abreu rejected the qualifying offer and things fell apart in discussing a multi-year deal with the White Sox, any team that signed him to a contract would have lost a draft pick in doing so. That deterred teams from signing free agents just in the last year, with Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel notably going unsigned until June.

Who knows if that — or just the desire to earn $17.8 million before a potential dip in his annual salary as he ages — had anything to do with Abreu’s decision, but it’s what was being speculated.

Regardless, the White Sox have their first baseman back, great news after he turned in one of the more productive seasons of his six-year big league career in 2019. Abreu led the American League with a career-best 123 RBIs and came three home runs shy of matching a career-high in that category, as well.

Abreu’s return always seemed a foregone conclusion, with the three-time All Star spending the entire 2019 season talking about how badly he wanted to remain on the South Side, going as far as to pledge that if the White Sox didn’t re-sign him, he’d sign himself to a contract and play here anyway.

The feeling was mutual, too, with general manager Rick Hahn, manager Rick Renteria and teammates praising Abreu as a model player and a mentor for the team’s young stars in the making. Eloy Jimenez said Abreu had been like a father during the rookie’s first season in the majors. Abreu revealed that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told him he’d never wear another uniform.

He’s as giddy about the team’s future as anyone and has cited the planned shift into contention as the reason he wants to stick around. Tim Anderson said “it’s only right” that Abreu return for 2020, a season in which the long-awaited transition out of rebuilding mode could take place. Hahn said earlier this season that it’s “very likely” Abreu would be around for the franchise’s planned good times.

Abreu’s been incredibly productive at the plate, though his off-the-field contributions are just as important, of course, and he’s been a mentor to players like Jimenez and Yoan Moncada as they’ve gotten their first taste of the major leagues. Luis Robert, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, figures to find his way under Abreu’s wing when he reaches the bigs next season.

Abreu has long seemed to be held in the same esteem as players who have their numbers retired and statues standing at Guaranteed Rate Field, earning the title of “Mr. White Sox” for this generation. It’s no surprise the White Sox are keeping him in that role moving forward as they plan to start seeing brighter days on the South Side.

After capturing the RBI crown, Abreu made his final prediction of the 2019 campaign, saying he did believe he'd be back with the White Sox for 2020. It might not have been terribly difficult to be prescient in this case, but he was nonetheless.

"Everybody knows my wishes and my desire to stay here," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "This is an organization I respect. This is an organization I really honor.

"I want to be here, and you know guys, I’ve been telling you that. Hopefully I’m going to be here."

Hope no longer. It might not have gone down exactly as was expected, but Abreu isn't going anywhere.

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.