What will the next championship-contending White Sox team look like?
That's what we're setting out to determine (or at least make a guess at) over the next few weeks. Ten members of our White Sox content team here at NBC Sports Chicago put our heads together to try to project what each position on the diamond would look like in one, two, three years. Basically, we posed the question: What will the White Sox starting lineup be the next time they're capable of playing in the World Series?
That question can have a bunch of different answers, too. We didn't limit ourselves to players currently a part of the organization. Think the White Sox are gonna make a big free-agent addition? Vote for that player. Think the White Sox are gonna pull off a huge trade? Vote for that player. We wanted to see some creativity.
Relief pitching is volatile, as Rick Hahn will tell you. It's hard to project out who's going to be your closer by the end of the season, making it exponentially more difficult to project who's going to be your closer two years from now. But we did it anyway. And we landed on Zack Burdi.
It makes plenty of sense. He was a first-round pick of the White Sox in 2016, he's yet to reach his 24th birthday (that comes in March) and he's ranked as the organization's No. 17 prospect. There's no White Sox relief-pitching prospect with a higher ceiling than the Downers Grove native.
But Burdi is also serving as an illustration of the pitfalls of development. He was injured in early July of 2017 and had Tommy John surgery, which wiped out the rest of his 2017 season and most of 2018. He got back into action in the Arizona Fall League to close out 2018, but he was shut down there, too, though that was explained as nothing to worry about by Hahn at the GM Meetings in November.
While the White Sox remain high on Burdi and see him as potentially making his way to the majors in 2019, it's perfectly valid to wonder how more than a year on the shelf has affected his future.
Hahn thinks there's no reason for concern.
“He is doing well, and it is too early to be concerned about Zack Burdi,” he said at the GM Meetings. “It's important to get back throwing regularly. He had a very long rehab process, as you can imagine, which ended with going out on a regular basis in the Arizona Fall League. He cleared every hurdle we had for him at the end.
“He expressed to us a level of fatigue as far as his overall body being worn out from the time of his throwing program to instructs, to the Fall League, we felt it made sense to just shut him down instead of just running him out there for the last two weeks of Fall League.
“We are pleased with where he's at right now. We had always said that the target for him would be to be essentially back without restriction in 2019. That continues to be the case.”
Is Burdi going to be the White Sox closer of the future? He'd figure to have as good a shot as anyone, probably the best shot. But you never know with relievers, you generally never know with prospects and you never know with guys who haven't played in a year and a half. The good news he'll probably start the season at Triple-A Charlotte and could be in the majors before season's end, giving the White Sox and their fans a chance to answer that question for themselves.
Alex Colome. Losing out to Burdi by one vote was the guy who will most likely be the White Sox closer of the present beginning in 2019. Colome was acquired in a trade with the Seattle Mariners this offseason and is a tremendous get for a White Sox bullpen that really needed one of those. He's just two years removed from being the major league saves leader when with the Tampa Bay Rays, and the only reason he didn't rack up a bunch more saves in 2019 is because he was dealt to the Pacific Northwest and worked as the setup man for last season's major league saves leader, Edwin Diaz. Colome has a great track record and is under team control for two more seasons, perhaps meaning he's around when the future arrives. He could also be used as a midseason trade piece if the White Sox so choose. It might require a contract extension at some point, but he's a solid pick to be the closer of the future — and a more established one than most of the organization's other internal options.
Ian Hamilton. Called up at the end of last season and doing a decent amount of impressing after a remarkable season in the minors, Hamilton is actually ranked higher than Burdi on the White Sox prospects list. A couple months younger than Burdi, he was sensational in the minors in 2018: a 1.74 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 51.2 innings between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Things didn't go quite as smoothly upon his ascension to the big leagues, with Hamilton turning in a 4.50 ERA in his just eight innings of major league work. But he'll be under way less pressure in 2019 thanks to the additions of Colome and Kelvin Herrera to the White Sox bullpen. Hamilton and a host of other young relievers won't be thrown into the high-leverage situations they were already getting thrown into at the end of 2018, helping their development, one would assume. Hamilton showed he could dominate in the minors, making him not at all a bad pick for the closer of the future.
Tyler Johnson. Speaking of dominating in the minors, the White Sox prospect more people should be talking about is Johnson, who was absolutely amazing, statistically, last season. Though he's yet to pitch above the Class A level, Johnson finished 2018 with a pencil-thin 1.40 ERA and 89 strikeouts in just 58 innings between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. His days in the majors might be a ways away, but this is the future we're talking about and maybe Johnson is that ninth-inning guy one day.