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  • Central Intelligence 2.0: Chicago White Sox

    Nick Nelson

    A rising core loaded with top-end talent was augmented dramatically over the winter by general manager Rick Hahn.

    The White Sox are shaping up to be Minnesota's staunchest division rival in the coming years, and may well represent the most dangerous threat to overtake the Central this year. A road-heavy 10-game season series against Chicago will kick off on Friday at Guaranteed Rate Field.

    Image courtesy of Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports (Yoan Moncada)

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    2019 Record: 72-89, 3rd Place

    2019 fWAR Leader (Offense): Yoan Moncada - 5.7

    2019 fWAR Leader (Pitching): Lucas Giolito - 5.1

    Key Offseason Additions: Yasmani Grandal ©, Dallas Keuchel (SP), Gio Gonzalez (SP), Edwin Encanacion (DH), Nomar Mazara (OF), Steve Cishek (RP)

    Key Offseason Losses: Ivan Nova (SP) Yolmer Sanchez (2B), Wellington Castillo ©, Ryan Cordell (OF)

    2020 Over/Under: 31.5 Wins


    Even before Hahn's offseason shopping spree, the White Sox were in line to welcome some new impact talent in 2020, with multiple top prospects set to enter the fold. Heading up that list is center fielder Luis Robert, ranked by MLB.com as the third-best prospect in baseball after spending a big chunk of 2019 at Triple-A. He's expected to be out there on Friday for his MLB debut. Likely to join him in the White Sox lineup, although maybe not from the start, is second baseman Nick Madrigal, ranked 40th on MLB's Top 100 list. The disciplined speedster was the fourth overall draft pick two years ago, and has reached Triple-A. It's only a matter of time before he's leading off for the Sox.

    These two electrifying youths, along with numerous free agent additions, will help elevate a club on the verge of seeing its rebuild pay off.


    Without accounting for all the new talent entering the fold, Chicago already had arguably the best position player and best pitcher in the division. Third baseman Yoan Moncada's 5.7 fWAR was higher than any other AL Central player in 2019 (despite playing just 132 games). Lucas Giolito was an All-Star who finished sixth in the Cy Young balloting. He might not be quite at the level of a Mike Clevinger or Shane Bieber, but Giolito showed last year he's a legitimate ace, and the Twins will have to tangle with him right out of the gate.

    The big problem in 2019 was that Chicago's standouts – Giolito, Moncada, batting champ Tim Anderson – were weighed down by a bunch of laggards. To illustrate, the Sox produced 23.3 total fWAR, and 14.3 of it came from those three. The stars of the squad figure to get considerably more help in 2020.

    Yasmani Grandal is himself a star-caliber addition at catcher. New DH Edwin Encarnacion has slugged 32-plus homers in eight straight seasons, and he joins newly-extended Jose Abreu to give Chicago two dangerous righty power bats in the middle of the order. Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez are no rotation-fronters, but they add quality veteran depth to a unit that last year had no above-average performers other than Giolito. Nomar Mazara is a sneaky good addition in the outfield.

    Another low-key impact signing by Chicago was Steve Cishek, the ultra-reliable righty who joins closer Alex Colome and setup man in Aaron Bummer in a bullpen that can hold its own in the late innings. Combining all of these free agency additions with the expected arrivals of top prospects like Robert and Madrigal puts the Sox in position to make a massive leap forward in 2020, helping explain why their over/under for wins in the shortened season is just one behind the Cleveland Indians, who won 21 more contests last year.


    As Twins fans are well aware, free agents don't always work out and top prospects don't always hit the ground running. As good as Robert may be, there's no guarantee he'll be an immediate difference-maker for Chicago, and the same goes for Madrigal. Moncada himself is a fine example of baseball's steep learning curve at the highest level – he was rated as the second-best prospect in the game when he arrived in the big leagues at age 2016, but it wasn't until three years later that he truly emerged.

    Another of the organization's premier prospects will not be helping them this year: hard-throwing righty Michael Kopech, pegged by MLB.com as the game's No. 20 prospect, who chose to opt out of the 2020 campaign. Like Moncada and Giolito, Kopech was acquired during the team's burn-it-down firesale in 2016. After missing 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, he appeared ready to return this year at age 24 and unleash his triple-digit heat in a White Sox rotation that could've sorely used it.

    The loss of his potential impact is a hit for Chicago's short-term chances, because starting pitching looks to be their sticking point. Even with some big-name veterans added to the mix, there's still a sizable drop-off after Giolito, and the back of the rotation is short on proven performers.


    As mentioned, it's very possible that Luis Robert will hit some speedbumps as he acclimates to the majors. In fact, that should be expected, particularly given the plate discipline struggles he experienced in the minors last year. But ... if he catches on right away?

    Robert was one of the most highly-touted international prospects to come along in some time when Chicago signed him out of Cuba for $26 million in 2017. He's a strong defender in center, and offers a rare combination of speed and power. Last season as a 21-year-old he mashed 32 homers and stole 36 bases in 122 games between three minor-league levels. This is an electrifying talent with the potential to change games nightly, kinda like the former top prospect now manning center field for the Twins.

    Of course, Byron Buxton is a perfect example of how it can take a while to click. But that's not the case for everyone. If Robert has a smooth transition to the majors, look out.


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    I dont know about those guys. For one Moncada just got to their summer camp. Jimenez is bound to have some adjustments to make. If Mazzara were so great why did the Rangers trade him for a bag of chips? Grandal is scary good and we all know what Encarnacion does in big games. What are they doing with McCann? I listened to their podcast the other day and they are having McCann and Mendick take ground balls at third because they dont know whats going on with Moncada. Abreu is more of a dh at this point and E.E has been a defensive liability for years now. Up the middle their defense is the worlds worst. Without expressing my disdain for them in general, their best starting pitcher induces ground balls atat a 50% rate. This in front if the leagues worst defensive infield. The bullpen is prolly their Strength. And that's assuming Cishek has anything left in the tank. Their depth is suspect and their management is never going to be recognized as top tier. Sorry White Sox. I do not see them as a threat at all.

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    Moncada is good, and while he may not be back by Opening Day, he should be soon after. They have so much young talent. Nick's right. As we know well, it doesn't always happen overnight, but they added some veterans too... I don't think they're quite there with Minnesota and Cleveland, but they should be over .500 and getting better.


    I'd be even higher on them if Michael Kopech hadn't opted out. 

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    It completely depends on the development of Cease and Lopez. Both have huge potential... Will they get there in 2020? We'll see... Like I said above too... if Kopech hadn't opted out, look out!

    well my best friend is a white sox fan and he painstakingly breaks down every game. Lopez, Cease, and Rodon have been a joke. To put your hopes on two aging left handers like Keuchel and Gonzalez is a side bet even in a sprint season. Come on man. Those guys are chumps.
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    Moncada is good, and while he may not be back by Opening Day, he should be soon after. They have so much young talent. Nick's right. As we know well, it doesn't always happen overnight, but they added some veterans too... I don't think they're quite there with Minnesota and Cleveland, but they should be over .500 and getting better.


    I'd be even higher on them if Michael Kopech hadn't opted out.


    in a year like this those fools may lose 45 games
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    in a year like this those fools may lose 45 games


    Wish you were right in your assessment. However, my sense is that maybe even the most charitable view of them here on TD may be underestimating this club, maybe more than many might be overestimating the Twins, especially when it comes to a raw comparison of talent and a guess about who is ready to produce and who might break out or digress.


    Pitching appears to be the critical differentiator, as Nick points out. But even here, I wonder why some think the gap is so huge. Aside from Berrios/Giolito, at best an even match, I can buy us having a huge advantage when we compare Keuchel and Gio to Hill, Homer, and Pinedo, and they don't have a Maeda or an Odorizzi. So we have an advantage in both injury insurance and talent. Plus, we match up alright, I think, in a comparison of Lopez, Cease, and Rodon, with Dobnak, Thorpe, and Smeltzer. Next year, things might move in their direction, as I think Kopech is in a different class than Duran or Balasovic. But my point is, given their decent but thin bullpen, they may be capable of hanging in there if they get more than we expect out of the vets, or more importantly out of Cease, Lopez, or even Rodon, all previously well-regarded talents. Unlikely, but over 60 games, a bunch of things could break wrong for our club and break right for theirs.


    But I think it's the position players that people are sleeping on. Why would one think that Robert won't step in and be more impactful than, say, Larnach or Kirilloff would be, let alone Buxton? Why won't Madrigal step in and be similar in impact to Arraez? Is Mazara that much worse than Rosario? Could Grandal be as important an addition as Donaldson? Are Jiminez and Moncada less likely to break out than Sano and Buxton? We'd rather have 40-year old Cruz, but both Encarnacion and Abreu appear to have something left in the tank. Even Anderson and Polanco can be thought of in the same tier. So, both teams are gonna have fearsome lineups and some questionable defense.


    While I personally still give the Twins the edge, I just wouldn't be at all shocked if both the Twins and Cleveland are looking up in this sprint season.

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    There defense is terrible, and until a player does it back to back years I am never convinced they will do it each year.  They will be better generally I believe, but I believe their defense will hurt them more than people expect.  

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    At first I was not so impressed with the Twin pitching moves but their rotation is better than the Chisox. Dylan Cease is pitching better and will have to step up. Michael Kopech is flaking out somewhere and who knows. Dane Dunning will get a chance to step up and pitch. Gio Gonzalez is OK and Carlos Rodon should be ready. Giolito and Keuchel look solid.


    The Sox generally don't match up or stand up well against the Twins.The lineup is gelling and could be dangerous. Luis Robert has to stay healthy of course but is looking like a beast so far. Right now people are in awe of his hitting. No tickets available for these three games. Big challenge looming for the other guys from Chitown. 

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    Long-term (really anything after 2020) they frighten me. I think they're being a tad over-hyped right at the moment though. Twins/Cleveland will finish 1-2 IMO. That said, the Central is not nearly as bad as advertised. The Royals were scrappy and I suspect will be again. And Detroit made enough moves to nto be awful.

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