What happened in 2019?
The White Sox entered January 2019 full of optimism that the franchise would secure the services of either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado … or maybe even both. The press office’s faux pas of their Harper banner reaching social media wasn’t a good start to the year.
As the city of Chicago suffered a big freeze, the two big free agents opted against the bitterly Windy City and the narrative for the 2019 season on the Southside was set.
It was a tough year for the White Sox, stuck in the abyss between the two division heavyweights and the two bottom dwellers. They enjoyed winning record against the Indians, the preseason division favourites, but suffered a losing record against the Royals. Kansas City only won 59 games in 2019 and 10 were against the White Sox.
Yonder Alonso, the poster boy for the fly-ball generation, hit just .178 and was DFA’d in June. Alonso’s lack of production was one of the main reasons why the White Sox were less effective at designated hitter than any other AL team.
It wasn’t all bad; there were some highlights. Cuban first baseman, Jose Abreu was the AL RBI-leader, driving in 123. Pretty damn impressive given the White Sox status as a bottom-three run-scoring team.
If that was surprising, then doubly-surprisingly was Tim Anderson’s transformation from an unthreatening .240 hitter in 2018 into the AL batting champion with .335 AVG.
Even though the results were not kind to Chicago, progression of the youngsters was very pleasing for the White Sox faithful. Eloy Jimenez hit 31 homers, Reynaldo Lopez made 33 starts, and Yoan Moncada established himself as a bonafide superstar with 141 wRC+.
Former first-rounder, Lucas Giolito, began the year with 5.48 ERA and a pedestrian strikeout rate of 6.4 K/9, but finished the season sixth in Cy Young voting after breaking out with 3.41 ERA and a far more effective 11.6 K/9.
One to watch
Star prospect Eloy Jimenez realised the dreams of White Sox fans by belting 31 home runs in his debut season despite enduring two IL stints. He whiffs too much, but that’s not surprising considering he played the whole season as a 22-year-old. In September, Jimenez launched nine home runs, while hitting .340 AVG with 1.093 OPS; his potential is immense.
Five reasons for optimism in 2020
(1) No more messing around. 2020 is the year the White Sox will break their decade-long postseason absence. It is a winnable division and ownership has invested for a playoff spot. The Indians are slashing payroll, the Twins cannot possibly repeat a campaign in which half of their hitters enjoyed career-years, and as for the Tigers and Royals, well they are just dreadful.
(2) Flame-throwing pitcher, Michael Kopech, is 18 months removed from his Tommy John surgery, so should be ready for the start of the season. There is no guarantee that his 100-mph fastball or his 12.0 K/9 strikeout rate will return, but the 23-year-old is still one of the most exciting pitching prospects in the game.
(3) The White Sox were in the market for a catcher, and they signed the best. Yasmani Grandal is not only one of the most productive catchers with the bat, but he is widely acknowledged as one of the best framers in the game. The presence of the 31-year-old behind the plate will undoubtedly result in a significant number of extra strikes for the White Sox pitchers.
(4) Second base prospect, Nick Madrigal, is a 5-foot-4* bundle of energy – think Jose Altuve, but without the power. In the top two levels of the minors, he hit .337 AVG with .399 OBP. Chicago’s future leadoff hitter’s main skill is avoiding the strikeout. In 532 plate appearances last season, he struck out 16 times.
(5) It is unlikely that Luis Robert is the second coming of Mike Trout, as his teammate Eloy Jimenez claims, but Robert slugged .626 across three levels of the minors last season while going 30-30. The dynamic play of the 22-year-old will be enough to make neutral fans switch on White Sox games.
*I hate non-metric measurements, but talking about a baseball player as 1.7 metres just doesn’t paint the picture.
Gavin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @_tramps