Updated: Feb 12, 2020
Less than two days until Pitchers and Catchers report, and I don't think I've ever been more excited for baseball season to get here. I have the faintest memories of '05 that aren't from the World Series dvd, and was excited '06 season, but I was in kindergarten for Opening Day. Was the fandom real? Absolutely, but did I watch every game, read every rumor and want to blow my brains out when Ricky Renteria calls for a sacrifice bunt with one man on, no one out? Nope.
I'm almost 20 now, I've been taking the Rock Island Metra with my buddies for probably 7-years now to games, and even though we won't be able to walk up to the box office and ask for the cheapest seat you have and end up on the Main Concourse by the top of the 2nd, I wouldn't have it any other way.
This offseason was make or break for the fanbase in a lot of ways if you ask me. After watching the likes of Dylan Covey, Ryan Cordell, Nicky Delmonico, Odrisamer Despaigne (was at his starts against both Washington and on Father's Day against the Yankees for some reason), Adam Engel, and the list could go on for ever but what I'm getting to is that fans were nearly sick of being promised talent and seeing it flop. Looking back on it, thank the heavens we didn't land Machado because Yoan Moncada has become one of the premier third basemen in the game and will have an MVP type of season this year with more help in the lineup.
I'd be dancing like that if I was hitting in the 2 hole with this line, too.
Objectively speaking, baseball pundits across the country have crowned the Sox as the champions of the offseason, but this team's not here for that. They're here to win a god damn division, but there's still some work to do if you ask me.
1. Yasmani Grandal's impact on the young staff
When Rick Hahn inked Grandal to the largest deal in team history, the White Sox made their intentions loud and clear that they were in win now mode. Looking at Grandal's PECOTA projections get the blood flowing in all the right places, according to their projections his 1% WARP projection is 3.9. To put that in perspective, Jame McCann's 2019 WARP was 1.0, so yeah, Grandal's going to be a difference maker.
While it's great to have a power hitting catcher from the left side, I'm more excited about what he brings to the White Sox staff, who has an average age of 27.2 years old if you include Gio Gonzales. In 2019, Grandal was the third best defensive catcher in baseball, and the second best framer in the sport, saving 19.4 runs by framing alone. Not to keep kicking McCann while he's down, but he lost 8 runs in 2019 with how bad he is at framing. That's a 27.4 run difference behind the dish for the Sox and is something fans should be getting up for, specifically for someone like Reynaldo Lopez who gave up more hits, earned runs, home runs, despite seeing dips in his walks and an increase in strikeouts. I'm praying we can see a relationship built between these two that's similar to that of Giolitio and McCann, because having the right catcher is all it comes down to at times. This year is make or break for Lopez, and I'm hoping we start to see the signs of improvement from him specifically in Spring Training after having some time to work with Grandal.
Obviously, Grandal is going to help Cease and Kopech, as well. Not focused on them as much at the moment, because we all know at least one of them is going to be shipped out for Arenado.
2. Luis Robert
When I was trying to do some prep for this post, I texted a couple buddies about what they want to see in Spring Training this year. The guy whose opinion I respect the most out of all of them responded with a few things, but the one that stuck out the most to me was, "Luis Robert. Literally just watching Luis Robert has me horny already." And you know what? I couldn't agree with him more.
Just remember ladies and gentlemen, he's a 22-year old with absolutely no major league experience. Although it's going to be fun to watch him mash in Spring Training, I'm really looking to see what adjustments he's made in the batter's box. In 2019, he pulled the ball 43.63% across three levels, and it's imperative he shows more patience during Spring Training, because he'll get eaten alive by Major League pitching if he thinks that can continue. There are going to be strikeouts in 2020 (and a lot of them), but White Sox fans, I'm warning you, don't freak out. Enjoy him decimating fringe 40-man roster guys this Spring, because it's going to be a joy watching him bash baseballs.
3. Solidifying the Pen
This team better get used to pitching with leads in 2020, and that's something I have some legitimate concerns about. According to FanGraphs, the Sox finished 2019 as the 15th ranked bullpen which feels a little bit higher than I remember reading the last time I checked. After adding Steve Cishek this offseason, the Sox have 3 relievers who are rock solid in he, Bummer and Colome. Evan Marshall has a great 2019 that kind of came out of nowhere, but he proved himself and Sox fans can only pray he comes close to replicating what he did in 2019.
The player I'm going to be paying the most attention to of the pen this Spring isn't any of the guys I've already talked about, but Kelvin Herrera. 2019 was by far the worst year of Herrera's career statistically, and I would've never guessed that I'd be getting upset at him entering a July game with a lead last April. He underwent foot surgery in 2018, and actually came out yesterday and said that his down year is in part to the after effects of the surgery. Definitely something I thought about at points last year, but if Herrera returns to form (or even comes close) in 2020, the Sox pen is going to have opposing lineups begging for mercy.
There's another guy that I have to mention here, and I think almost everyone reading this knows where I'm going.
This spring is make or break for Carson Fulmer if you ask me. He's 26, a former first-round pick , and the converted starter has a career era of 6 from the bullpen. If he doesn't crack the opening day roster, he's not safe from waivers anymore, and who knows what happens to him. I really hope he figures it out, because he has the potential (can't believe I'm still writing that) to be successful out of the pen with the new 3 batter minimum rule.
4. A refined approach from Tim Anderson
This may rub some people the wrong way, but if you have a brain, you know Tim's 2019 output isn't sustainable. He never walks, and I get that him swinging the bat and having no plate discipline whatsoever has lead to him becoming must-see tv, but that's simply not what baseball is in 2020. I'm also not going to be one of those people who argue that batting average is a meaningless stat, but a BABIP of .399 on the other hand? That's going to come crashing down to Earth in 2020, now I don't see it getting to his 2018 number of .289, it's going to slide towards the .320s in my opinion.
You might argue that Tim should be able to be even more reckless at the plate this year considering all of the new help around him in the lineup, but a 2.9% walk rate is utterly inexcusable. With the promotion of Frank Menechino from Charlotte to 35th and Shields, it'll be interesting to see if he even attempts to adjust Anderson's approach and I really hope we see some minor changes this Spring.
Don't get me wrong, these are nice, but some walks would be cool.
4. Nick Madrigal earns the Opening Day start at 2nd
Realistically, what else does he have left to prove in Charlotte? There's no reason he shouldn't be penciled in as the Opening Day starter at 2nd, he gives an immediate upgrade to the infield and early big league at-bats are only going to make the transition easier. Get him the time early and settled in before the break, Madrigal is going to win a ton of Sox fans over this Spring/Season.
And since everyone's doing it
Enjoy the Spring everyone, this is going to be fun
-The Inn Keeper