It’s beginning to feel more like baseball season. Maybe.
At least Monday morning brought a little excitement as the White Sox announced an initial 44-man player pool for the modified “Summer Camp” that will officially begin Friday at Guaranteed Rate Field. Sixteen additional players can be added to the pool of 60 players available to the White Sox this season, but only 30 will make the major league roster that will be used to play regular-season games set to begin on either July 23 or 24.
There will be a lot to sort through over the next few weeks, but here are some initial takeaways from the 44-man pool announced Monday.
Starting rotation looks loaded
If Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech are able to pitch without limitations, then the White Sox’s starting rotation will be stacked. Had the season started on time, the expectation was that Kopech would already be in Chicago by now, with Rodon potentially in the mix by July or August.
When we last left the White Sox in March, Kopech was fresh off a dazzling spring debut in which he touched 100 miles per hour with ease. He was set to start the season in Triple-A Charlotte for some seasoning, but without minor league games available, you’d think there’s a realistic shot he is on the White Sox Opening Day roster.
“We talked about where Michael was in spring training and about how impressed we were as to how he came out of the gate despite the layoff,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said last week. “Hopefully he’s still in that spot when we all get together in Chicago. He’s certainly someone who could make a real impact for us over the course of 60 games.”
As for Rodon, he was in Arizona continuing to rehab during the hiatus, and it sure sounds like he’s close to returning. His progress over the next few weeks will determine a lot.
So theoretically, by July 23, the White Sox could have Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, Gio Gonzalez, Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech ready to start games. A six-man rotation might make sense to help reduce injury concerns off the hiatus, but even then it could mean moving another starter to the bullpen. Would Lopez be more consistent as a reliever? Would bringing Kopech back slowly as a high-leverage bullpen arm make sense? These are all things to consider.
Top prospects in the mix
Notable on the initial 44-man roster is that second baseman Nick Madrigal, first baseman Andrew Vaughn and pitchers Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert all made it.
Madrigal didn’t appear quite ready for the major league roster in March, and without any games or formal workouts since, that probably hasn’t changed. His situation is also complicated by the lack of a minor league season now. Will intrasquad games amongst the taxi squad help polish the talented second baseman, or is Madrigal better off with the major league team?
“Nicky, we only got to see him for a handful of games up in Glendale but he’s been, for the portion of big league camp we’ve had so far, as advertised and certainly is a consideration for breaking with us and if not immediately then certainly helping us at some point over the course of this summer,” Hahn said.
Madrigal seems like one of the players with the most to gain or lose over the next few weeks. As for Vaughn, there’s a log jam of bats ahead of him, but it makes sense for him to be among the 60 players working out and available the rest of the summer. Dunning and Lambert could certainly be in the mix to pitch in Chicago if needed this season.
Catcher situation is one to watch
One quirk with the tweaked roster rules is that there will be a three-man taxi squad that will travel with the team, and one of those three players must be a catcher. Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes were already in the conversation to make the 26-man roster in March, so the addition of this rule and the expanded 30-man roster (that will be reduced to 28 two weeks into the regular season) help their causes.
Yasmani Grandal and James McCann will obviously be the two primary catchers, but the guess here is that Collins and Mercedes both find their way on and off the major league roster at some point this season.
No Garrett Crochet ... yet
With speculation that first-round draft pick Garrett Crochet could potentially help the White Sox this season, it is notable that he is not on the initial 44-man roster. Of course, that could change. There are still 16 spots available and more players will be added.
With so many variables to consider, the White Sox patience with the 60-player pool is not surprising. For one, only players on the 60-man roster can be traded this season, so that is something to consider. Also, teams still don’t know what kind of developmental opportunities will be available to players later this fall. There could be an expanded Arizona Fall League, but that might be in jeopardy if the Phoenix area doesn’t get a better hold on rising COVID-19 cases.
How is a player like Crochet supposed to get ready for the big leagues without games to pitch in? On the other hand, if the fall developmental season doesn’t happen, he could probably use the work on the expanded 60-man roster this summer.
These are all things the White Sox are in the process of figuring out. Like everything else in the world right now, a lot can change every day.