First came Jake Burger‘s Achilles tear. Not long after, forearm soreness sidelined Alec Hansen for two months. In May, Burger tore the Achilles again. Prior to the All-Star Break, the White Sox appeared to be one of the worst teams in baseball. Not only that, but top prospects Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada were underwhelming in the first half.
Following the break, however, things started to look up for Chicago. The team began playing better ball, and soon enough the invigorating anticipation of Eloy Jimenez‘s and Michael Kopech‘s arrival set in. Of course, not even that wave of positivity could last long.
After a few decent starts, the devastating news that Kopech needed Tommy John surgery broke. Then, most Sox fans were disappointed to hear that Eloy Jimenez would not join the team until 2019. To add insult to (literal) injury, the White Sox reverted back to their pre-break form, finishing the year with a .296 September winning percentage.
Amidst all this negativity though, the rebuild, a once-beaming ray of hope, still shines brightly. Not all is lost. Though disappointment was the most prevalent theme in Sox-related headlines through the season, I’m here to tell you that there are many reasons to be confident in Chicago’s future hopes.
1. Young Guys Show Promise
As previously mentioned, Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada had a lot of struggles this year. But, a closer look indicates the pair have a lot to be satisfied with. Additionally, three other key youngsters, Tim Anderson, Reynaldo Lopez, and Carlos Rodon, put together solid seasons while weathering poor stretches.
Second half success is the mantra for Giolito and Moncada. In analyzing the highly-touted hurler, it’s apparent that Giolito’s progress developed under the radar. His post-ASB earned run average was 6.04, just 0.14 below his first half number. However, almost all of his other stats improved, evidenced by a respectable 4.70 second half FIP (6.14 in the first half). For convenience, I’ll just list the rest of his improvements:
K%: 13.6% in first half, 19.9% in second half
BB%: 12.9% in first half, 9.7% in second half
HR/9: 1.48 in first half, 1.29 in second half
WHIP: 1.51 in first half, 1.43 in second half
The icing on the cake, or maybe just the explanation for his better peripherals, is that Giolito’s opponent BABIP jumped from .252 to .293, suggesting hitters got luckier against him following the midseason mark.
Moving on, let’s break down Moncada’s progress. In March and April, the second baseman played like South Siders hoped he would, posting a 139 wRC+ in spite of a horrendous 39.2 strikeout percentage. Things then took a turn for the worse. In both May and June, the 23 year-old earned a sub-62 wRC+ at the plate. From there, though, Moncada settled in, as he maintained a wRC+ above 100 throughout the rest of the season. While the second baseman could benefit from better defense, his offense over the last three months is a sign of hope for Sox fans.
Tim Anderson is quite the contrast. While the third-year shortstop didn’t provide as much pop at the plate as many hoped, his defense was nothing short of stellar. Put it all together, and Anderson racked up 2.5 WAR in 2018, making him the 14th best shortstop. That’s ahead of Brandon Crawford, Dansby Swanson, Addison Russell, and more. He also became the first White Sox shortstop ever to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases, even finishing the year with 26 bags swiped. Admittedly, there’s lots of room for improvement with the bat, but it’s clear that Chicago boasts a solid young shortstop on the rise.
If you only look at the bookends of Reynaldo Lopez’s season, he’would be the best pitcher in baseball. In both March/April and September, the 22 year-old righty posted an ERA under 1.78. While the peripherals show his September was actually much better than March/April, Lopez still pitched fantastic in both periods. Unfortunately, the months in between were nothing to brag about. Still, Lopez finished the year the right way and ended with commendable stats for an inexperienced pitcher: 3.91 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 4.63 FIP, and just 3.58 BB/9. Entering his time on the South Side, most fans and analysts hoped for Lopez to one day turn into a reliable number two or three starter. In his first full major league campaign he already resembled a good fourth starter, so he’s well on his way to reaching his lofty initial expectations.
Carlos Rodon pitched out of his mind in July and August, but cooled off heavily in September. His overall numbers were decent, with a 4.18 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. It’s concerning that Rodon couldn’t finish off the year well, as consistency has typically been an issue, but the lefty looked like an entirely different pitcher for over two straight months. He also avoided injury for the first time in three seasons, setting him up for a potential breakout year in 2019.
2. Jimenez, Cease, and More
Down in the minor leagues, 2018 was a mixed bag for the Chicago farm system. Alec Hansen deteriorated while Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, and Jake Burger all dealt with injuries. In contrast, Dane Dunning, Blake Rutherford, Luis Basabe, and a few mothers all met or exceeded expectations. Wondering where Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease are? They played too well to be limited to ‘exceeded expectations’.
Yes, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease both look like future stars in the majors. Cease is a bit more of a wild card due to his injury history and status as a pitcher, but is on track for major success. Look no further than a 1.72 ERA/0.99 WHIP with Class AA Birmingham. There’s almost no doubt about Jimenez, who has played like an absolute monster for two straight years, finishing 2019 with 22 bombs and a .961 OPS.
Eloy should be up a few weeks into April 2019 and Cease by the end of the season hopefully. That means that the White Sox are going to get a LOT more fun to watch. Regardless, though, these two players look like long-term cornerstones, and are probably the biggest positives from the past year of baseball.
3. Draft Spot
Unlike the Bulls, the White Sox know how to properly execute a tank. Yet again, Rick Hahn and Company get to choose in the top four of the Amateur Draft. The 2018 Draft yielded Oregon State middle infielder Nick Madrigal, who ranks 49th on MLB Pipeline’s top prospect list. This year Chicago gets to pick one slot higher, so the pick should be another ultra-talented prospect. It will be a couple years until the 2019 pick shows his true colors, but for the time being it should cement the Sox towards the top of the farm system rankings despite the loss of Jimenez and Cease.
4. Free Agent Frenzy
The White Sox sported the second-lowest payroll in the MLB in 2018, and have ample room to sign pieces over the next few offseasons. Rick Hahn detailed his ambitions for the 2019 market.
“If we see long-term pieces that make sense, in addition to augmenting the pitching or filling certain needs for 2019, I think we have the flexibility to pursue them and we are going to be opportunistic and respond to the market accordingly,” Hahn said.
Like usual, Hahn is speaking pretty vaguely and fans can’t pinpoint his plans. However, it’s pretty clear that Hahn will at least look into this year’s top free agents. Obviously there’s Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, but guys like Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, and A.J. Pollock all present long-term upgrades for the Sox. Plus, even if Hahn doesn’t sign any of the above names, the 2019/20 market is also jam-packed with talent.
All in all, it was far from a perfect year for the White Sox’s rebuild. But it was also far from a very poor year. From Eloy to Rey-Lo, numerous positives prove that the future is still bright on the South Side.
Featured Photo: Laura Wolff Photography