The Chicago White Sox aren’t anyone’s idea of a sexy franchise.
After Monday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the White Sox are 20-23 and four games behind the surprising Minnesota Twins in the AL Central. They’ve basically been forgotten in their own hometown, thanks to the fairy-tale that happened at Wrigley Field, and they are working with the division’s lowest payroll.
While $101 million would have been huge money a decade ago, these days it ranks 23rd in the majors, a whopping $38 million below the league average. The Detroit Tigers are over $200 million for the second straight season, the mid-market Kansas City Royals are at $142 million and the defending AL champion Cleveland Indians are at $125 million. Even the frugal Twins are outspending Chicago at $108 million.
That’s why it was a bit of a shock when the White Sox turned out to be the highest bidder for the services of Cuban star Luis Robert. The 19-year-old hit a ludicrous .401/.526/.687 in the Cuban National Series in 2016, then defected in November. He can play all three outfield positions and gives the White Sox two of the ten best offensive prospects in the game.
The other, of course, is fellow Cuban Yoan Moncada — the biggest prize that Chicago received from Boston in the Chris Sale trade. He’s in his first season at Triple-A and has done nothing to change his ranking as baseball’s best prospect. He doesn’t turn 22 until later this week, but he’s hitting .331/.401/.504 for the Charlotte Knights. He’s got game-changing speed, stealing 104 bases in 221 minor-league games, and he can play both second and third.
Add in a top catching prospect in Zack Collins and four highly-regarded young pitchers in Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer, and the White Sox have a bright future.
There’s one other important thing about the White Sox, though. This year’s team isn’t all that bad.
Their record isn’t great, but they’ve scored 194 runs while only allowing 176 — the best differential in the division — all with starters James Shields and Carlos Rodon on the disabled list. Shields isn’t expected back any time soon, but Rodon threw six innings in a simulated game on Monday and could return to the rotation in early June.
The White Sox are also starting to see some long-awaited development from young hitters. Avisail Garcia is hitting .350/.393/.599, while fellow 26-year-olds Leury Garcia (.790 OPS) and Matt Davidson (.817) are also providing a decent amount of pop. Yolmer Sanchez has gone from an offensive disaster to a 25-year-old second baseman with an .822 OPS, and while Jose Abreu isn’t young, he’s still a significant presence in the lineup.
Even 24-year-old shortstop Tim Anderson has produced enough extra-base power to produce a 91 OPS+ despite his horrific 35-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Melky Cabrera and Todd Frazier have been awful, but the presence of Moncada and Robert means they were never expected to be part of the franchise’s future.
If Sanchez’s good start at the plate somehow turns out to be a major step forward instead of a fluke, either he or Moncada could play third base, with the other at second.
Put Collins behind the plate and Robert in the outfield and the 2018 White Sox suddenly look competitive in a division where the Royals are rebuilding, the Tigers are aging and the Twins never seem to live up to their promise. The Indians will still be the favorites, but a team in a bad division can easily pick up enough wins to contend for a wild-card spot.
The biggest question, of course, is the pitching staff. Jose Quintana is a solid anchor, and there are plenty of promising young arms. Rodon is 24, Fulmer and Lopez are 23, Giolito is 22 and Kopech just turned 21.
By 2019, they could give the White Sox the foundations of a deep rotation, or as is the way of pitching prospects, they could all be recovering from Tommy John surgery or banished to the bullpen.
Of course, given the all-conquering monster that Theo Epstein has built on the North Side of town, the White Sox could turn things around over the next two years without most of Chicago noticing. Still, it will be more fun for South Side fans if their team can give the Cubs a run for their money in the annual interleague games.
By Dave Hogg