At one point this offseason, the White Sox might have been considered to be favorites to sign Manny Machado. The White Sox, of course, did not sign Machado. Instead, they came away with Yonder Alonso, Machado’s brother-in-law, and Jon Jay, who is close friends with Machado.
The White Sox’ strategy in wooing Machado apparently wasn’t giving him the contract he deserved—reports were that they balked at going above eight years. Instead, they attempted to woo Machado by making the clubhouse a fun environment for him. It was the equivalent of a company saying, “We don’t have a health plan, but we do have a ping pong table in the break room.” Unsurprisingly, Machado went for the money.
The White Sox, like the Padres, needed a player like Machado to bolster their talented young players coming up. Unlike the Padres, some of those players have already come up, and well, the results haven’t been great. If the White Sox don’t get improved performances from their top prospects, they’ll continue to spin their tires, and they’ll have to try again to rebuild. This time though, they won’t have players like Chris Sale to deal away.
As far as veterans go, the White Sox don’t figure to get much production from anyone aside from Jose Abreu, and Abreu will be a free agent at the end of the year. Carlos Rodon hasn’t been the same pitcher since having shoulder surgery. Wellington Castillo can be an above average hitter for a catcher, but that’s still below average overall. Yolmer Sanchez could be a two win player though his on base skills are poor.
If this season is to be successful, the promising young core will have to fulfill its promise. Lucas Giolito, who was acquired in the Adam Eaton trade, has shown flashes of why he was once regarded as the best pitching prospect in baseball, but mostly, he’s been ineffective. In 240 major league innings, Giolito owns a career 5.48 ERA, a 5.68 FIP, and a 6.18 DRA. He’s struck out just 16.1 percent of batters he’s faced while walking 10.8.
The news with Giolito isn’t all bad. Jeff Sullivan, formerly of FanGraphs, pointed out that in the second half of the season Giolito had altered his delivery and raised his release point. The changes led to improved command and an increase in strikeouts for the month of August, but those changes didn’t last. In September, Giolito struck out 14 and walked 13 in 22 1/3 innings. Giolito didn’t end the season strong, but it’s possible he struck on something that can help him improve in 2019.
Across baseball, pitchers have been ditching the two-seamer, and some to great success, but Giolito may be among the most those who benefit from incorporating it more into their repertoire. In Giolito’s case, it’s not that his two-seamer is particularly remarkable, it’s that his four-seamer has been even worse.
Giolito’s four-seamer was worth -13.5 runs according to Pitch Info last season making it the third worst among qualified starters. The only pitches Giolito threw with a positive value were the changeup and slider, so if Giolito is to become an effective starter, it will probably be as a sinker-slider pitcher.
Another top prospect acquired in a trade, Yoan Moncada, hasn’t quite lived up to the hype just yet. In his first full season, Moncada hit .235/.315/.400 for a 97 wRC+. A two win season is perfectly fine for a 23-year-old, but for someone who was once regarded as the best overall prospect in baseball, it’s underwhelming.
Strikeouts are a major concern for the second baseman. In 2017, Moncada had a strikeout rate of 28.3 percent at triple-A Charlotte, and that number predictably rose when he became a full-time major leaguer. If Moncada is going to be a productive hitter, he’ll have to cut down on his 33.4 percent strikeout rate. As Devan Fink wrote last July, Moncada struggled with pitches below the zone especially offspeed and breaking pitches.
A sign of hope for Moncada is that he should see his power numbers increase. Moncada has kept most of his batted balls in the air, but his HR/FB percentage was just 11.7 in 2018. Considering he plays in the home run friendly Guaranteed Rate field and he generally hits the ball hard, I would expect Moncada to see more balls go over the fence in 2019 and beyond.
The ceilings of Giolito and Moncada might have come down a bit, but Eloy Jimenez’s potential is still sky high. Acquired in the 2017 Jose Quintana trade, Jimenez has risen to the third best overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline and the best outfield prospect overall. Steamer projects the 22-year-old right-fielder to slug over .500 and be worth 3.1 fWAR. Last season in triple-A, he hit .355/.399/.597 with 12 homers in 228 plate appearances. While his on base skills are somewhat dependent on his average, Jimenez avoids strike outs at an above average rate, and his monster power should play well on the South Side.
Dylan Cease, who also came over in the Quintana trade, could debut in 2019 though he hasn’t pitched an inning above double-A. Cease had an excellent year in Birmingham. In 52 1/3 innings, Cease struck out 38.6 percent of the batters he faced. Control has always been a concern for Cease, but his walk rates have gone down since his early years in professional baseball.
In 2020, Cease should join the rotation in time for Michael Kopech’s return from Tommy John surgery. When that eventually happens, the White Sox may have themselves a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Kopech, like Cease, has excelled at striking out hitters throughout his professional career, but control has also been an issue.
Even if Giolito is back of the rotation pitcher instead of an ace and if Moncada is an average starter instead of a superstar, the White Sox and their fans have reasons to be excited for the future in Kopech, Cease, and Jimenez. Whether those three fulfill their potential or fall short remains to be seen.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.