While 2019 may be a noncompetitive season, it remains an important developmental year for many White Sox players and prospects. With respect to players on the major league roster, 2019 provides an opportunity for roles to be solidified for future years. Four players come to mind: Eloy Jimenez, Reynaldo Lopez, Tim Anderson, and Yoan Moncada. While players such as Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon, or Jose Abreu may have some upside, the trio is less likely to enter the team’s long-term plans.
After signing a long-term extension, Jimenez no longer needs to press at the plate and is free to be himself. The White Sox will gladly accept this, as even somewhat conservative projections have Eloy amassing a wRC+ in the 120-130 range (meaning he, as a rookie, projects to be 20-30% better than a league average hitter) with an OPS well into the .800s, culminating in a ~3 WAR season. While his contract status makes his long-term standing with the team less of an issue, I feel as though some are forgetting just how good Eloy has been in the minors. We cannot realistically expect his godlike numbers to translate immediately, but if there was ever a prospect who was going to succeed in the major leagues right away, it’s Eloy.
Reynaldo Lopez had a good, not great, type of 2018 season for a 24-year-old starting pitcher. He showed flashes of dominance, but also had starts where he was hit around. Regardless, he finished the season strong, and if he can improve on generating swings and misses with his secondary pitches, he can make a giant leap in 2019 and cement himself in the future White Sox rotation. He certainly has that “second gear” that frontline starters such as Justin Verlander and Chris Sale have, and he made this clear when he reached back and got Shin-Soo Choo to strike out on a 96 MPH fastball on his 107th pitch of the game last May.
Anyone who watched White Sox games last year, especially during the second half of the season, knows that Tim Anderson is on his way to becoming a truly remarkable defensive shortstop. Offensively, despite an intriguing speed and power combination, some more patience at the plate could turn Anderson from a starting caliber shortstop to an all-star caliber shortstop. After posting a 2.0 WAR last season, a full season of his same offense with his improved defense would likely push that number closer to 3, but simply adding more walks could add a new facet to Anderson’s game. After all, the more he’s on base, the more he can do this:
One of the most polarizing players in baseball last season, Moncada was about league average offensively (97 wRC+). This year, he is at a new position, so one might expect some early struggles while he adjusts to the move. However, Moncada has been on an absolute tear offensively in the spring. While the stats themselves don’t matter, the fact that he is locked in does, as it suggests that Moncada may have tweaked his approach. It has been said countless times that Moncada showed terrific patience last year, but simply did not swing at enough pitches in the zone. A simple adjustment, perhaps humorously the opposite adjustment that Anderson needs to make, could lead to Moncada properly utilizing his bat speed and raw power. While he will still strike out at a decent clip, a new approach like the one he has used in the spring could lead to an offensive breakout. I would not be surprised to see Moncada’s .234/.321/.403 career line with the White Sox improve in short order. For the 2019 season, a .250/.335/.425 line seems within reach.
All four of the aforementioned players may not take steps forward in 2019, but any combination of the above scenarios coming to fruition would be well received by a fanbase that is still reeling from a miserable offseason. Jimenez, Lopez, Anderson, and Moncada give fans a reason to watch the 2019 season unfold, and while each player already figures to be in the organization’s long-term plans to varying extents, they also have an opportunity to erase any doubt about their futures.