Let's just admit it. We're getting antsy.
Baseball is not far, with pitchers and catchers reporting in less than two weeks. But these are the dog days of winter, so to speak, as we wait for spring training to actually get here already.
So while we wait, we mull what the roster might look like two months from now. Spring training itself will likely change things. Players could break out and force themselves into the conversation. Certain fringe guys could fare not so well and play themselves off the roster. People get injured. Plans are established. You know, baseball happens.
But as we sit here at the close of January, the White Sox roster seems pretty well set for Opening Day — but with a few questions. Here are those questions, with their corresponding answers, which as we've established are subject to the usual springtime change.
Who will be the Opening Day second baseman?
It probably won’t be Nick Madrigal. While the top-40 prospect is probably the best second baseman in the organization, Rick Hahn said just last week that Madrigal still has some questions the White Sox would like to see him answer. Madrigal is still expected to be the starting second baseman for the majority of the 2020 campaign, but after playing just 29 games at Triple- A Charlotte last year, the White Sox opting for a little more seasoning wouldn’t be a surprise. It’d be in line with the patient way they’ve handled their prospects during the rebuild.
So that leaves us with Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick, both of whom are likely to make the Opening Day roster. Garcia is valued for his versatility, able to play second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions. Considering how much Rick Renteria leaned on Garcia last season, he’ll probably be the first choice to get the bulk of the starts at second until Madrigal is ready. Mendick will likely serve as a backup on the infield until Madrigal is ready, when his roster spot might go to the top prospect.
Hahn said that the possibility exists for Madrigal to impress enough during the spring to force the White Sox to change their minds and put him on the Opening Day roster, but Garcia seems the safest bet to be between Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson for the opener.
What will the bench look like?
The White Sox starting nine is not at all difficult to project at the moment: Yasmani Grandal behind the plate, Abreu at first, Garcia at second until Madrigal arrives, Anderson at shortstop, Yoan Moncada at third base, Eloy Jimenez in left, Luis Robert in center, Nomar Mazara in right and Edwin Encarnacion at DH.
But what about the reserves?
We’ve already talked about Garcia, who would figure to be the primary backup at pretty much every position he can play. Mendick seems a solid projection as a reserve infielder, and Adam Engel doesn’t seem an outrageous choice to be a defensive replacement of some kind in the outfield.
So settling this bench question comes down to whether the White Sox decide to utilize the new 26th spot on the active roster to carry a third catcher. Basically: Will Zack Collins make the team? Grandal and James McCann are a pair of All Stars behind the plate, and both earn rave reviews as game-planners and for how they handle the pitching staff. Collins is committed to sticking as a big league backstop, but his bat is more valuable at the moment than his glove. His left-handedness could also be of particular value to Renteria as he attempts to balance his lineup.
Of course, this also has something to do with how many relievers the White Sox want to carry. Given the prominence of relief pitching in recent years, an extra arm in the ‘pen would seem attractive, but a new rule requiring relievers to face at least three hitters (or finish an inning) might throw a wrench into that idea.
Pinch hitter and part-time DH with only the occasional catching assignment doesn’t sound like the best outcome for a first-round pick. But Collins can still make a solid contribution as a reserve bat as he continues his transition to the big leagues.
So your Opening Day bench: Garcia (technically a starter, I guess), Mendick, Engel, Collins.
Will Michael Kopech be on the Opening Day roster?
This is hard to answer, as the White Sox have been short on details about how exactly they’re planning to limit Kopech’s workload as he makes his long awaited return from Tommy John surgery. Don’t worry about Kopech’s health; he’s feeling great, and that’s not what this is about. It’s about the workload for a guy who hasn’t pitched in anything more than instructional league in a year and a half. His next major league appearance will be only his fifth.
But the White Sox still have sky-high hopes for Kopech and envision him as a key contributor in a championship-caliber starting rotation. We just don’t know when — or how often — he’ll be a part of the 2020 rotation. Hahn has said the plan will be determined once everybody gets to Arizona for spring training. We, and perhaps even Kopech or the team, won’t have any more info on how they plan to limit him until then.
It wouldn’t be out of the question for the White Sox to start Kopech in the minor leagues, especially with five starters slated for the Opening Day rotation: Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gio Gonzalez. But that’s just one of numerous ways the White Sox could approach handling Kopech this season, including having him as a member of the rotation but skipping starts or pitching him out of the bullpen in some capacity.
That’s just speculation, as the White Sox are still waiting to figure things out. Considering the team seems to have their Opening Day rotation locked in at the moment, Kopech starting the year in the minors looks like a realistic outcome.
Will someone make the Opening Day roster who isn’t currently on the team?
I’ll say yes, and it’s my intriguing way of bringing up the bullpen.
The relief corps isn’t terribly difficult to project for the time being: Alex Colome, Aaron Bummer, Steve Cishek, Evan Marshall, Jimmy Cordero, Kelvin Herrera and Jace Fry all figure to be safe bets to make the squad. So, really, that leaves only one spot left, particularly if that whole third catcher thing materializes as envisioned.
The mystery comes in attempting to figure out who that last bullpen spot goes to, and that’s why I think it’ll be someone who isn’t on the team yet. As mentioned at numerous points in the past, including on this edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast, the bullpen is missing a long man. While the White Sox, with an improved rotation featuring Keuchel and Gonzalez, are hoping they won’t have to deploy a long man as often as they have in recent seasons, it’s still a necessary part of the bullpen. The White Sox could get 125 terrific outings from their starters and still need someone to help clean things up in the other 37 games. Renteria will need someone who prevents him from using six relievers to eat up all the innings on a bad day for the starters.
The internal candidates for such a job are not plentiful. Ross Detwiler’s on a minor league deal, but given the departure of Dylan Covey and the waiting that needs to occur before Tommy John recoverers Carlos Rodon, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert are ready, the White Sox might be best served letting Detwiler start in the minors in case they need a replacement in the rotation. In other words, the starting-pitching depth, at least on Opening Day, isn’t currently set up to be very deep.
And so, adding a long man who can make a spot start or two would make a lot of sense. Who knows if the White Sox feel the same way. Hahn said last week the front office is still debating smaller additions, and this would fit that category. We could also see some starting-pitching depth added in a signing or two not dissimilar to the Ervin Santana one last spring.
I know you want a name. On the aforementioned podcast, Chris Kamka and I both brought up Collin McHugh, a Naperville native who pitched with the Houston Astros both in the rotation and out of the bullpen. But he’s far from the lone option still on the free-agent market. Whether it’s him or someone else, adding a long man seems a sensible option for the White Sox to polish off the bullpen, and with it the 26-man Opening Day roster.