Chicago White Sox
2019 Record: 72-89
Third Place: AL Central
Team ERA: 4.90 (22nd in MLB)
Team OPS: .728 (24th in MLB)
What Went Right
Despite the third place finish in the American League Central -- a massive 28 ½ games behind the Twins -- it was actually a very productive season for the rebuilding White Sox in which there were a ton of positives to take away. First off -- how about the season that Jose Abreu just had. The 32-year-old slugger rebounded from a disappointing 2018 season to lead the American League in RBI with 123.The White Sox also produced a batting champion in 2019 as Tim Anderson -- who had been a .258 career hitter through his first three seasons -- led all of baseball with his .335 mark in 2019. Yoan Moncada took a step toward super-stardom in his age-24 season, slashing .315/.367/.548 with 25 homers, 79 RBI and 10 swipes. James McCann was resurrected from the scrap heap, slugging 18 home runs and driving in 60. Eloy Jimenez blasted 31 home runs in only 122 games in a tremendous rookie season. And that’s just the offense. Lucas Giolito was one of the most pleasant surprises in all of baseball, posting a 3.41 ERA and 1.06 WHIP while punching out 228 batters in 176 ⅔ innings -- looking like the frontline starter he was always projected to be. Alex Colome was one of the best and most consistent closers in the American League, converting 30 of his 33 save chances while registering a 2.80 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. Aaron Bummer blossomed into one of the top left-handed setup men in the league, compiling a 2.13 ERA and 0.99 WHIP across 67 ⅔ innings.
What Went Wrong
Aside from Giolito, the rest of the starting rotation really struggled. Reynaldo Lopez showed flashes of brilliance and improved in the second half, but still finished the season with a 5.38 ERA and 1.46 WHIP while losing 15 ballgames. Ivan Nova wasn’t a whole lot better, but at least logged innings at close to a league-average level. Dylan Cease, Dylan Covey and Ross Detwiler were nothing short of abysmal. Carlos Rodon ended up making only seven starts before he was hit with an elbow injury -- ultimately undergoing Tommy John surgery. On the offensive side, Yonder Alonso was a complete bust as a free agent signing, slashing a putrid .178/.275/.301 with just seven homers and 27 RBI before he was released in July. Welington Castillo was a disaster as well, slashing .209/.267/.417 in 72 games. Daniel Palka and Nicky Delmonico -- two players who were major contributors to the White Sox in 2018 -- fell flat on their faces and couldn’t hit enough to even crack this White Sox’ lineup. In the year of the long ball, there just wasn’t enough power throughout the lineup. As a team, the White Sox slugged just 182 home runs -- the sixth lowest total in all of baseball -- and only ahead of the Tigers and Royals in the American League.
** The biggest story surrounding the White Sox in the preseason should be whether or not top prospect Luis Robert begins the season as the team’s starting center fielder. To say that the 22-year-old had a good season in the minor leagues would be a massive understatement, as he slashed .328/.376/.624 with 32 homers, 92 RBI and 36 stolen bases in 122 games across three minor league levels. He has the looks of a player who should be a five-category contributor from day one. In my first high-stakes draft of the year I pulled the trigger on Robert in the eighth round. I’d wager that by the time March rolls around, he’ll be going off the board in the third or fourth rounds of 15-teamers. In the case of Robert, the hype is completely warranted.
** Flying somewhat under the radar with Robert getting all of the attention, is Nick Madrigal. The 22-year-old was the White Sox top pick (fourth overall) from the 2018 draft class, and all he has done is hit since arriving. Like Robert, he climbed his way up through three minor league levels in 2019, slashing .311/.377/.414 with four homers, 55 RBI and 35 stolen bases in 120 games. He doesn’t possess the power or the pure speed of Robert, but he’s a more polished all-around hitter. Playing his home games in Chicago, he should be a 15-20 homer guy -- and like Robert he could be handed the starting job at second base right out of the gate.
** How real was the breakout season from Lucas Giolito. The former Nationals’ top prospect has long been heralded as a top of the rotation hurler, but prior to the 2019 season he had posted a miserable 5.48 ERA and 1.40 WHIP across 240 big league innings -- including leading the league in walks and earned runs allowed in 2018. In 2019 he was able to cut his walks while drastically improving his strikeout rate. The biggest factor in that change -- a major jump in velocity on his fastball. The right-hander averaged 94.3 mph on his heater in 2019 vs. just 92.4 mph in 2018. He seemed to tire a bit down the stretch, but as long as the velocity looks alright in spring training, I’m buying on a repeat performance here.
** Can Tim Anderson repeat his breakout 2019 season? He’s always been a useful fantasy commodity given his blend of power and speed, but he soared to new heights in 2019 with the newfound batting average. The power and speed will always play, but is Anderson now a guy who is going to compete for the batting title every year? He only drew 15 walks the entire season -- the lowest total ever for a batting champion -- while striking out 21.0% of the time. That strikeout rate was actually a major improvement over his career average, though the lack of walks is certainly concerning. So is the .399 BABIP that he posted. While some of the skill gains are real, I’d draft Anderson expecting a .270-.280 batting average, rather than hoping that he’ll repeat his .335.
** Just how good can Eloy Jimenez be? The 22-year-old took his lumps throughout the season, but it was extremely encouraging to see him make the necessary adjustments along the way. While no one was paying attention to the White Sox in September, Jimenez closed out his season by slashing .340/.383/.710 with nine homers and 25 RBI over 24 games in the season’s final month. This is a case where perhaps his full-season numbers don’t tell the whole story and could lead to Jimenez being a bit under-drafted in 2020 despite his pedigree and tremendous rookie season.
Team Needs: First and foremost, the team needs to re-sign Jose Abreu. He has been a force in the middle of the White Sox lineup and has been a terrific leader and mentor for the developing stars in the lineup. Staying in Chicago would be the best case scenario for both Abreu and the White Sox. They could also use another big bat in a corner outfield or designated hitter role -- something to add more power to the middle of the lineup. Adding one big bat -- perhaps a J.D. Martinez if he opts out of his deal with the Red Sox -- plus the addition of Robert and Madrigal to the lineup would transform one of the worst offenses in the American League to one of the most dynamic. The real focus off the offseason though needs to be improving the pitching staff. Giolito and Lopez are going to open the 2020 season in the starting rotation, but there’s nothing behind them at the moment -- and no major league-ready talent in the minor leagues banging on the door or an opportunity. Even if it’s a couple of veteran starters on one-year deals, the White Sox absolutely have to invest in their starting rotation this winter if they have any intention of competing in 2020. It would also be nice to see Rick Hahn lock up Robert and Madrigal to long-term deals -- a la Eloy Jimenez -- and let them play from day one rather than playing the service time manipulation game.