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In an alternate universe, we’re all talking about how crazy that season opener against the Twins was yesterday.
Yes, Opening Day was supposed to come March 31. Instead, we’re a week out from peanuts, Cracker Jacks and $14 ballpark beers.
But the seemingly never ending lockout this winter ended up doing little, now that it’s in the rear-view mirror, at least, to dampen enthusiasm for what should be a very successful season on the South Side.
We’ll get into all the big-picture predictions next week: how many wins, how many playoff rounds, how many meditation techniques you’ll need to prepare for the high stress of October baseball. For now, let’s focus on the cast of this summer’s daily drama.
There are 28 guys on the roster for the start of the season, with two coming off when they get to the end of April. While the team still has plenty of cuts to make in big league camp, here’s a best guess at what things will look like when the White Sox finalize their roster ahead of next Friday’s season opener in Detroit.
Starting pitchers (5): Dylan Cease, Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Michael Kopech, Lance Lynn
Rick Hahn forecasted last spring that Kopech would be a part of the starting rotation in 2022, confirming as much after the playoffs ended. Lynn’s extension last summer locked him into place, and Giolito and Cease weren’t going anywhere. Keuchel might have been the movable piece if Hahn decided a shake up was necessary in the wake of the ALDS. He didn’t, and Keuchel’s motivated and confident that he’ll bounce back from his career-worst season in 2021.
Reynaldo López and Vince Velasquez will provide depth for the rotation, and it’s possible they’ll be called on sooner than later, depending on the effects of the shortened spring. But this is the five for the South Siders.
Relief pitchers (9): Aaron Bummer, Ryan Burr, Kyle Crick, Kendall Graveman, Liam Hendriks, Reynaldo López, José Ruiz, Bennett Sousa, Vince Velasquez
The White Sox’ bullpen might have ranked as baseball’s best when everyone woke up Friday morning. Then change came, with Kimbrel shipped to the Dodgers in the A.J. Pollock trade and Crochet “very likely” heading for Tommy John surgery.
But even with all that change, the White Sox’ relief corps is still pretty loaded. Hendriks is the two-time defending AL Reliever of the Year, the most dominant closer in the game. Backed by offseason additions Graveman and Joe Kelly, the latter starting the season on the IL, the back end is fierce before you even get to homegrown hurlers like Bummer.
Burr and Ruiz will be called upon for middle-relief roles, while López and Velasquez are on hand as rotation depth that can also eat innings, necessary in the wake of the shortened spring, with starting pitchers perhaps unable to log the kinds of innings they’re used to out of the gate. The departure of Kimbrel and the injury to Crochet will force other arms into action, specifically Crochet’s injury, which leaves Bummer as the lone lefty in the ‘pen. Sousa’s had a nice spring, and Crochet’s injury presents an opportunity, just as the Kimbrel trade does for the former Pirates pitcher Crick.
Catchers (2): Yasmani Grandal, Seby Zavala
Grandal will obviously get the majority of the starts behind home plate, and even when he’s not catching, expect Tony La Russa to use the DH spot to keep Grandal’s bat – one of the team’s best in 2021 – in the lineup. Zavala won the backup job simply due to roster realities; he’s out of options, and Zack Collins, who was sent to Triple-A on Friday, is not.
Infielders (6): José Abreu, Tim Anderson, Leury García, Josh Harrison, Danny Mendick, Yoán Moncada
Abreu, Moncada, Anderson and Harrison should be the usual four on the infield dirt, though it’ll be somebody besides Anderson (García) while he serves a suspension for the season’s first two games. When it comes to playing time, Harrison will be watched closer than the rest. He’ll have to produce to stay ahead of García on the depth chart. Meanwhile, Harrison’s presence as an everyday second baseman allows the White Sox to utilize García’s versatility and play him all over the field. Expect to see appearances from Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets – currently ticketed to see the majority of their at-bats as DHs – at first base to spell Abreu from time to time.
And Mendick could get into a few games in April, even with García the first called on to sub in for any of Anderson, Moncada or Harrison. Mendick’s time with the big league club could be up at the end of the month, when rosters shrink back to 26.
Outfielders (6): Adam Engel, Eloy Jiménez, A.J. Pollock, Luis Robert, Gavin Sheets, Andrew Vaughn
Jiménez and Robert will be fixtures in left field and center field, respectively, after missing so much time in 2021. And Pollock, the team’s excitement-generating trade acquisition, figures to be the everyday guy in right field, even though his versatility in the outfield will allow La Russa to mix and match.
Vaughn, Sheets, Engel and García, the “cavalcade of stars” previously scheduled to man right field, will still make plenty of appearances in the outfield. But the Pollock acquisition likely shifts Vaughn and Sheets, specifically, to regular time as the White Sox’ DHs. As they continue to develop as major league hitters following their rookie seasons, they should see their dramatic righty/lefty splits from a year ago even out. But Pollock’s presence means that even if those numbers remain consistent from last year, the White Sox will be in a good spot.
Injured list (2): Garrett Crochet, Joe Kelly
Crochet’s injury takes away a guy who was supposed to be an important bullpen arm for the White Sox, but it’s more interesting from a long-term standpoint, considering his supposed future as a starting pitcher. We don’t know how long it will be before Kelly makes his White Sox debut after signing a multi-year contract in the spring. The team is slow-playing his recovery from a late-2021 nerve issue (think back to what Bummer dealt with in 2020), and the hope is his return is permanent, hence the caution.
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