The White Sox announced last week that they had signed the following group of players to minor league deals and given them invites to spring camp: Keynan Middleton, Jesse Scholtens, Nate Fisher, Sebastián Rivero, Hanser Alberto, Erik González, Billy Hamilton, Jake Marisnick and Víctor Reyes.
At first blush, it doesn’t seem like too many of these guys have much of a chance to make the White Sox’ 26-man group that leaves Glendale for Houston in late March, and that’s mostly because the team is relatively set in place, the front office deciding that would basically be the case by committing to the core this winter.
If you assume a 13-man group of position players, eight spots are locked in for Yasmani Grandal, Andrew Vaughn, Tim Anderson, Yoán Moncada, Leury García, Andrew Benintendi, Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez. As the roster is currently constructed, Romy Gonzalez is the favorite to win the starting job at second base and Oscar Colás is the favorite to win the starting job in right field, with Gavin Sheets a fair assumption to provide lefty power off the bench. Then there’s the backup-catcher spot, which right now belongs to Seby Zavala and likely will without any further additions.
That leaves one “mystery” spot on the hitter side of things.
Able to play second base, shortstop and third base, García fills the need for a backup infielder, perhaps boxing out the likes of Alberto and González. That’s why plenty of attention in this area has been directed toward the trio of Hamilton, Marisnick and Reyes, with Sheets far from a typical “fourth outfielder” who can provide defensive help at any position. He’s strictly a right fielder, and many fans would argue he doesn’t much belong there, either. Surely, the power potential he brings with his bat is his most valuable contribution.
Hamilton has been part of this team and this clubhouse before, he plays good defense in all three spots, he brings an extraordinarily useful element with his famous speed, and on top of it all, he spent part of the 2019 season playing for the Royals, where new White Sox manager Pedro Grifol was part of the coaching staff. All that would seem to give him a leg up, but of course, “Billy The Hitter” has only made rare appearances throughout his lengthy big league career, meaning a need for more offensive certainty could point in a different direction. Statistically, Reyes has been the better bat throughout his career, though both Reyes and Marisnick have been below-average hitters each of the last two seasons.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff comes with slightly less clarity, as the status of two pitchers has been thrown into mystery by off-the-field events.
Liam Hendriks, the team’s back-to-back All-Star closer, announced he’s going through treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and the team will not even be commenting on his status until Opening Day at the earliest. Everyone’s thoughts should of course be with Hendriks, who’s earned the outpouring of support he’s received the last few weeks, but undoubtedly the White Sox will need to deploy someone else – or multiple someones – to close games in any absence.
In the rotation, Mike Clevinger, signed early this offseason to round out the starting staff, is under investigation by Major League Baseball after the mother of his child alleged domestic violence and child abuse. The White Sox have said they will not be commenting until the conclusion of the investigation, though recent precedent has sparked wonder if the league could take action to keep Clevinger off the field during the investigation, potentially causing a need for another starting pitcher on the South Side. The team’s starting depth is thin past Davis Martin, who had a solid year as a spot starter in 2022.
It remains to be seen what sort of needs the White Sox will need to fill, and certainly there could be more adding, even after the start of camp. But it’s safe to assume 10 pitchers will be no-doubt members of the Opening Day roster: Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly, Reynaldo López, Jimmy Lambert, Aaron Bummer and Jake Diekman.
Perhaps the same can also be said of Nick Avila, who the team picked in the Rule 5 draft in December after he posted an impressive 1.14 ERA in 47 appearances, though none came above the Double-A level. As a Rule 5 pick, he has to stay on the active roster for a year or the White Sox must waive him.
Garrett Crochet could possibly be a part of the Opening Day group, depending on how far along he is in his return from Tommy John surgery. The hard-throwing left-hander still has designs on being a starting pitcher, but he’s short on innings – thanks in part to his college career being impacted by the pandemic – and would likely require some kind of build-up period in the minor leagues. When healthy, he’s an obviously valuable member of the relief corps, and he figured to be too valuable to move from there this season. But Clevinger’s situation and any potential need for starting pitching at least brings to mind the possibility that his value as a starter might have gone up. Going the starter route would almost certainly keep Crochet off the Opening Day roster and push his return to a major league mound farther down the road.
José Ruiz has been a fixture in the White Sox’ bullpen for a while now, and despite a less-than-beloved status among fans, he’s been called upon again and again, pitching in 59 games in 2021 and 63 games in 2022, ranking in the top three on the team in appearances in both seasons. His numbers were significantly worse last year than they were during a quietly strong 2021 campaign, but perhaps he’s been reliable enough to convince the White Sox he deserves a spot over a hot hand in March.
Who knows how likely it will be, however, that any hot hand is one of the guys inked to a minor league deal. Middleton has struggled mightily pitching in big league ‘pens the last few years. Scholtens has logged some fine minor league numbers but never appeared at the major league level. And Fisher – yet another Nebraska Cornhusker, to go along with Bummer and Diekman – has just three big league innings under his belt; his minor league success came most notably in 2021, when he pitched at a number of different levels in the Mariners’ organization.
Remember, too, that Gregory Santos was acquired in the White Sox’ lone offseason trade, while Tanner Banks showed he has the ability to eat innings last season. It might be unclear what exactly the team is looking for to round out an expected 13-man pitching staff, but it will have a number of options.