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Tim Anderson is gone, and the Chicago White Sox need a new shortstop.
The long-term answer at the position is an obvious one. It’s Colson Montgomery, the organization’s top prospect, currently ranked No. 17 in the sport per the rankers over at MLB.com. Some evaluators think even more highly of the 21-year-old, who the White Sox made their first-round pick in the 2021 draft.
Montgomery has been tremendously impressive during his time in the minor leagues, and he’s fresh off posting a .287/.456/.484 slash line to go along with 14 doubles, eight homers and a jaw-dropping 56 walks in only 64 minor league games last year, splitting time between Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, plus a handful of injury-rehab games for the White Sox’ Rookie ball team.
He continued his fine work in the Arizona Fall League, where he had 20 hits in 20 games and earned MVP honors at the league’s All-Star Game.
So is that it? Are the White Sox ready for the future to start right away?
“He’s been the talk of the Arizona Fall League. Not just the White Sox talking, other organizations, as well,” White Sox general manager Chris Getz said during the GM meetings last week in Arizona. “That just speaks to his potential and how much he’s getting better every time he goes out and plays.
“I don’t want to set limitations on Colson Montgomery. He’s a guy that is very unique and has the ability to be a special player at the major league level. … We hope for a productive offseason out of him. He’s still growing into his body, but he’s played a pretty solid shortstop here in the Fall League. He has some zone awareness, he has a hit tool, he has some power he’s tapping into. So he has a chance to be a well-rounded player.
“I don’t want to have the expectation for Colson to think he’s going to be our Opening Day shortstop, but I don’t want to cap anything for him, either, because it’s important for him to stay motivated and be ready to go in spring training, because who knows how 2024 unravels for him.”
That might strike as somewhat of a non-answer, but it speaks to the possibilities that Montgomery — who only played 37 games at the Double-A level last season and has yet to play a game at the Triple-A level — has generated for himself with his impressive play in the lower levels of the minor leagues.
The White Sox don’t seem to be going into this offseason with the idea that Montgomery will win an everyday big league job come the spring.
But they’re also not dismissing the notion that Montgomery could arrive at Camelback Ranch in February and do just that.
“You don’t throw around the ‘it factor’ too often, but he’s really maturing,” Getz said. “He’s got an edge about him. You talk to the coaching staff with the Arizona Fall League, they all feel that team has really come under his wing, and that just speaks to the attitude he brings on a daily basis.
“He’s got this infectious way about him. He’s ultimately just a competitor and a guy that goes out there and wants to win.”
Sounds like an attitude that the major league White Sox could certainly benefit from. That and that dazzling on-base percentage.
Coming off a 101-loss season and with so many holes to fill on the roster, it would make sense that, right now, Montgomery is the team’s best option when it comes to shortstop. But of course, no one, especially Getz, who was the White Sox’ farm director as recently as three months ago, wants to rush things when it comes to a player with as much potential impact as Montgomery, who the team can easily pencil into its long-term plans already.
And so an outcome this winter where Getz’s front office pursues a short-term, stopgap solution at the position — one who could be easily replaced if Montgomery is ready at some point in the middle of the season — makes the most sense.
For clues on who that might be — the free-agent market at shortstop is incredibly dry, bolstered only by the White Sox declining Anderson’s option and sending him to the top of it — think defense. Getz hammered home that his priority this winter is improving the team defensively, and asked if, with Anderson gone, he needs to go out and find a leadoff hitter, he again emphasized that defensive ability will drive his decisions more than anything else on that front.
In both the short and long terms, it’s easy to see what areas Getz wants to strengthen on a team that had far too many holes the last couple seasons. And Montgomery seems to address some of them on his own, particularly when it comes to his ability to get on base and draw walks, where the White Sox ranked at the bottom of the league last season. Montgomery, perhaps, is Anderson’s heir apparent in more ways than one; couldn’t you see that skill set at the top of the order?
Defense, then, is the potential sticking point. And while Montgomery earned praise from Getz on that front, an unbiased evaluator might raise questions about his long-term ability to remain at shortstop, given his size. Can the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Montgomery play the position and play it well at the major league level? And can he be a part of the long-term defensive improvement Getz is eyeing for the White Sox?
“There’s different styles of playing the position,” Getz said. “You look at Corey Seager with Texas, a bigger body. Fairly or unfairly, Colson gets compared to him, just because of the size and being a left-handed hitter. But you look across the diamond with Texas: (Josh) Jung, (Seager), (Marcus) Semien and (Nathaniel) Lowe at first base. At least three of those guys aren’t the rangiest of defenders, but they make the plays that are supposed to be made.
“Once Colson is consistent on the routine play — he is athletic, he does show ranging ability. But really, it’s just having steady defenders across the diamond and all spots in the outfield, as well. It allows our pitchers to do a lot more and be more efficient and keep pitch counts down just by attacking the zone, knowing their defense can make plays.”
Who knows if that answers the question, and it might be one of the reasons that Montgomery shouldn’t be expected to assume the everyday job right away. Getz said that should Montgomery not win a spot on the White Sox’ Opening Day roster, he’s likely to start the 2024 season at Triple-A Charlotte, so he’s essentially earned a promotion after that smaller number of Double-A games, a small number, sure, but one in which he managed to reach base 40 percent of the time.
Montgomery, though, hasn’t had a ton of minor league time, in general. He played in fewer than 100 minor league games during the 2022 season and fewer than 70 in 2023, the latter due to a springtime injury that delayed the start of his season. Certainly, some time to master Triple-A before making the jump to the majors wouldn’t be the worst thing.
But that’s also assuming every minor leaguer follows a similar path. And one of the lessons new assistant GM Josh Barfield brought from his time as the Diamondbacks’ farm director is that every player needs to be treated differently.
“People do it differently. It’s unique to each individual,” Barfield said in September. “If you have a blanket, ‘We want to see X amount of at-bats or innings,’ that’s not right for everybody. We’re going to try and individualize as much as possible. There might be guys that are ready to come up. (With the Diamondbacks), Corbin Carroll played 130 games in the minor leagues, but he was ready to come up. Other guys will take longer.
“Challenging guys to the point where, as they move up, if they show us they’re ready to handle challenges, continue to push them up to the next level, but always being focused on what is going to make them successful at the next level and not the level they’re at. That’s the best way to prepare them the best you can for the big leagues.”
Carroll, by the way, played in just 142 minor league games before his promotion to the majors. The former first-round pick was the unanimous choice for the NL Rookie of the Year Award this season.
That’s the mindset the White Sox will be operating with when it comes to Montgomery, and perhaps he impresses enough in the spring to force the issue and force the White Sox to move on to the next era at shortstop. Or perhaps that time is further into the future.
Regardless, though, the White Sox have their successor to Anderson in place. It’s just a matter of how quickly Montgomery is ready to make his arrival at the major league level. And with the White Sox seeming more likely to focus on competing in 2025 than in 2024, there’s no rush to get Montgomery to the bigs right away.
Unless, of course, he gives them no other choice.
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