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) this month. 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.
Well, you could argue that our pick at first base shows absolutely no creativity or a whole lot of it. Why? Our first baseman of the future is Jose Abreu, the same guy we picked as our designated hitter of the future last week.
How can this be? Well, sometimes things like this happen in this democratic voting process of ours. The big takeaway, though, should be this: Five of our voters picked Abreu as the first baseman of the future, with four others picking him as the DH of the future, meaning nine out of 10 voters believe Abreu, who is entering the final season of his current contract, will end up staying on the South Side for the long haul.
That's significant, in that the White Sox would need to sign Abreu to an extension (or a new contract after he hits the free-agent market) to make that happen. All but one of us believe that will happen, and it's no illogical conclusion given the rave reviews Abreu constantly receives from White Sox brass and his teammates in the home clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field. He's discussed as a model for the younger players arriving from the minor leagues, an example of how to put in work, prepare for games and generally go about things the right way. It's why Yoan Moncada, such a big part of the team's long-term plans, has his locker right next to Abreu's.
Abreu saw a dramatic dip in his statistical production last season, unable to make it a fifth straight with at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. Of course, that was due to an uncharacteristic, prolonged slump in the middle of the season and a pair of freak injuries toward the end of the year. Still, he was elected as the American League's starting first baseman in the All-Star Game and won the second Silver Slugger of his career.
Full health and a more typical go of things should make for a bounce-back campaign in 2019. The White Sox made a move to help that become more likely, acquiring Yonder Alonso in a trade with the Cleveland Indians. Abreu and Alonso are slated to share first base and DH duties in 2019, with Abreu perhaps seeing more time at DH than in past seasons to keep him off his feet. Is Abreu a better fit for first base or DH in the long term? That likely depends on how some of the White Sox prospects develop. But his reduced workload in the field in 2019 should help with either scenario.
Outside of last year, Abreu's production since arriving from Cuba ahead of the 2014 season has been sensational, and he's already established himself as one of the best hitters in White Sox history. Given that consistent on-field production and his much-loved off-the-field contributions, it would be no surprise to see him get a new contract and stick around for the transition from rebuilding to contending on the South Side.
Of course, there are other options for the ever-flexible White Sox, who could conclude that Abreu's long-term prospects — he'll turn 32 later this month — don't align with those of the many young players coming up through the system. They could decide a midseason trade to acquire younger players might be more beneficial to the long-term future.
But with how beloved Abreu is within the organization, it would make sense that keeping him a part of it — something he's expressed a desire for — would be the preferred course of action.
Yonder Alonso. The aforementioned Alonso will split time with Abreu at first base and DH during the 2019 season. And while Alonso isn't guaranteed to be with the White Sox past the 2019 season (neither is Abreu, of course), one voter believed the White Sox would like what they see enough to keep him in their plans. Alonso has certainly played a lot of first base, and he's just two years removed from an All-Star season in which he posted an .866 OPS with a career-high 28 home runs. His numbers took a tumble last season in Cleveland. He'll turn 32 shortly after Opening Day. Is he a long-term option? Most likely no, but that doesn't prevent him from hitting his way into those long-term plans.
Zack Collins. Questions about Collins' defense have been present since the White Sox drafted him in the first round in 2016. He's moving his way through the farm system, spending all of the 2018 season at Double-A Birmingham, though he wasn't included among baseball's top-10 catching prospects, per MLB Pipeline's just-released rankings for that position. Last season's .382 on-base percentage was phenomenal, and continuing that kind of production could land him in the majors soon. But the questions about his defense haven't gone anywhere. In fact, while splitting some time with Seby Zavala last season, he played just 74 of his 122 games at catcher, the others at designated hitter. There exists a scenario in which Collins' bat is major league ready but his glove isn't, meaning perhaps first base is the best place for him. Of course, the White Sox have a ton of faith that he'll be a big league backstop.
Gavin Sheets. Sheets was a second-round pick of the White Sox in 2017, and he posted some good numbers in his first full season in the organization. Playing at Class A Winston-Salem last year, he batted .293 with a .368 on-base percentage. Of course, first base is a power position, and Sheets hit only six home runs in his 119 games. But he's still ranked as one of the top 15 prospects in the organization, and it's most definitely in the realm of possibility for Sheets to be the first baseman of the future.
Paul Goldschmidt. If the White Sox miss out on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper this winter, the need for a "finishing piece" to this rebuilding project will still exist, and the team will likely be as aggressive in their pursuit of one during the next round of free agency. One of the biggest names in next winter's free-agent class is Goldschmidt, the new St. Louis Cardinals first baseman who has been one of baseball's best hitters during the first eight seasons of his big league career. He's been an All Star in each of the last six seasons, won three Gold Gloves and twice finished the runner up for NL MVP honors. In other words, he'd be a heck of a "finishing piece" for the White Sox, and one voter thinks he could be the guy manning first base in the future.
Justin Bour. One of our voters likes the idea of Bour arriving on the South Side as a not too flashy but perhaps important addition to a contending roster at some point down the road. He's hit 83 home runs over the last four seasons, mostly with the Miami Marlins, though he played in 29 games with the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Bour has some pop and some good on-base skills, so his bat would perhaps be a welcome addition down the line.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.