Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: How many members of the bullpen are long-term pieces?

Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: How many members of the bullpen are long-term pieces?

White Sox fans might have their eyes on the future, but the 2018 season has plenty of intrigue all its own. As Opening Day nears, let’s take a look at the 18 most pressing questions for the 2018 edition of the South Side baseball team.

White Sox fans playing the 2020 projection game likely aren’t spending too much time on the relief corps.

It might be fun to pick out five names for a potentially elite starting rotation. It might be fun to go around the diamond and place the name of a top prospect at each position. It’s probably far less enjoyable to predict which pitchers won’t make it as starters and which middle relievers might hit the free-agent market after the 2019 season.

But the bullpen will be a valuable part of any contending White Sox team of the future. And just like everywhere else on the roster, its construction starts now.

The question is, though, after selling off most of the bullpen last summer, how many members of the White Sox bullpen in 2018 will be a part of it in 2020?

Rick Hahn’s front office could use a similar strategy this season as it did last season, when Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson and Dan Jennings were all traded away to acquire prospects that might or might not end up helping the team’s rebuilding efforts. This offseason has seen a lot of additions to the relief corps. Luis Avilan and Joakim Soria were acquired in a three-team trade, and there were a bunch of veterans signed to minor league deals that could end up on the team. Those older relievers fit the bill of trade bait, potential sign-and-flip guys that could be used to acquire more minor league talent.

But at the same time, there are young guys who will be a part of this ‘pen, guys who could show they belong for the foreseeable future. Juan Minaya, just 27, was the White Sox closer at the end of last season and could very well start this season with that job. He picked up nine saves over the season’s last month and a half and didn’t give up a run in his final eight outings. The 24-year-old Aaron Bummer pitched in 30 games with the White Sox last season and is still ranked as one of the organization’s top 20 prospects. Gregory Infante is 30 but put up good numbers in 52 big league games, finishing the year with a 3.13 ERA.

And then there’s Nate Jones. He’s pitched in parts of six seasons with the White Sox and just turned 32 years old, but the key word there is “parts.” Jones hasn’t been able to stay healthy, pitching in just 11 games last year and only 21 combined games in 2014 and 2015. But when he has stayed on the field, he’s been very good. Look at 2016, when he turned in a 2.29 ERA and struck out 80 batters in 70.2 innings. Jones is under contract through as long as the 2021 season and has the stuff to contend for the closer’s job at some point this season.

While Soria and Avilan look like guys who could be moved should they pitch well enough to draw midseason interest – a reason Soria could potentially get a look at closer at some point, that and his wealth of experience in the role – there are a few names that could be pitching for their long-term futures with the team. Outside of Zack Burdi, there isn’t a highly touted prospect that currently projects to be a bullpen guy. That leaves opportunity for some of the guys on this year’s roster.

White Sox's Carson Fulmer: Not out of rotation yet

White Sox's Carson Fulmer: Not out of rotation yet

Fulmer will get another start or two to right himself, Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. “We still have a little bit more trust in him than you might think,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I know we still have two more starts scheduled for him. We’ll see how the next one goes.”

Fulmer has had problems locating pitches this spring and is on the verge of losing a spot in the rotation. Pegged as the fifth starter coming into training camp, the 24-year-old right-hander has walked 10 and given up 18 hits, including seven home runs, over 6.2 innings. That’s what an 18.90 ERA looks like. If Fulmer can’t locate his pitches and ends up in the minors, Hector Santiago is considered the favorite to claim the job as Chicago’s fifth starter.

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White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Los Angeles Angels?

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Los Angeles Angels?

As the 2018 season draws ever closer, we take a look at the American League teams not based in the City of Chicago. Here’s a preview of the Los Angeles Angels.

As the 2018 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we’re taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

What’s there to know about the Los Angeles Angels?

A lot, actually.

But there’s only one thing we really want to know: Are we ever going to see Mike Trout in the playoffs again? You shouldn’t feel bad if you blinked and missed the best player in baseball’s lone postseason appearance, three losses to the Kansas City Royals in 2014. This guy’s been the face of the game, and he’s got only 12 more postseason at-bats than I do.

That’s a shame, of course, and the Halos have done quite a bit to try to change that this offseason. And they very well might. The new additions in Anaheim have provided plenty of interest, but will that translate to wins? Time to find out.

Obviously, Trout won’t even be the most paid-attention-to Angel come Opening Day, when we finally get to see if Shohei Ohtani lives up to the hype. Baseball had their own version of that reality show that everyone loves so much – Something to do with roses, I think? Is it a show about gardening? America’s Next Top Gardener! Nailed it. – with teams courting the talents of the two-way Japanese superstar. Ohtani is projected to slot into the No. 2 spot in the Angels’ rotation and play regularly as a designated hitter.

That seems like a lot to ask of a 23-year-old who’s never seen major league pitching or faced major league hitting, a lot of pressure on the guy instantaneously crowned baseball’s top prospect.

What Ohtani will do is a complete mystery – but that’s kind of the case for the Angels’ entire rotation. These guys should at least be well rested considering they’ve logged hardly any big league innings over the past two seasons. Seriously, look at the number of starts the Angels’ projected starting staff made last year:

– Garrett Richards: six (after just six in 2016)
– Shohei Ohtani: zero (no career MLB appearances)
Matt Shoemaker: 14
– Andrew Heaney: five (after just one in 2016)
– J.C. Ramirez: 24 (the first 24 starts of his four-year big league career)
– Tyler Skaggs: 16 (after just 10 in 2016 and zero in 2015)

So that adds up to 65 from six pitchers. Add up the combined 2017 regular-season and postseason starts by Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, the co-aces for the division-rival Houston Astros, and it’s 66. These Angels pitchers need to stay on the field.

But while that might not sound too promising, the Halos made some typical Halo-style additions, getting a bunch of All Stars on the other side of 30 to try and get Trout – still one of their youngest position players, despite being in the league for seven years – to the playoffs. Justin Upton, acquired in a trade last season with the Detroit Tigers, and Zack Cozart, signed as a free agent this offseason, are both coming off awesome seasons. Upton posted career highs in homers, RBIs and doubles and nearly had career highs in plenty of other categories. Zack Cozart was one of the National League’s best hitters last season, finishing 11th in on-base percentage and OPS. Ian Kinsler? Not coming off a good season. He was statistically bad for the bad-in-every-way Detroit Tigers, but he’s only two years removed from a .831 OPS and 28 homers in 2016, so who knows.

Will it all pay off? Will those moves make the Angels any better? Will it really matter all that much in an AL not exactly bursting with playoff contenders?

All I know is this: America is clamoring for its favorite baseball icon to return to the postseason. We need it. Nothing would make us more happy than to see a symbol of the game, why we watch the game, on the game’s grandest stage. So do it, Angels. Get the Rally Monkey back to October.

What, you thought I was talking about Trout?

2017 record: 80-82, second place in AL West

Offseason additions: Shohei Ohtani, Ian Kinsler, Zack Cozart, Rene Rivera, Chris Young, Jim Johnson, Luke Bard

Offseason departures: Cliff Pennington, Ben Revere, Jesse Chavez, Ricky Nolasco, Bud Norris, Yusmeiro Petit, Fernando Salas, Huston Street

X-factor: Former Cubs reliever Blake Parker was excellent for the Angels last season, making 71 appearances and finishing with a 2.54 ERA. But for X-factor, let’s go with heretofore unmentioned Andrelton Simmons, who was very good in 2017, perhaps the Angels’ best non-Trout player. He plays great defense at shortstop, baseball’s leader in defensive runs saved last season. He also slashed a very respectable .278/.331/.421 with 14 dingers and a career-best 19 steals. And all-around impact player to say the least.

Projected lineup:

1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Mike Trout, CF
3. Justin Upton, LF
4. Albert Pujols, DH
5. Kole Calhoun, RF
6. Zack Cozart, 3B
7. Luis Valbuena, 1B
8. Andrelton Simmons, SS
9. Martin Maldonado, C

Projected rotation:

1. Garrett Richards
2. Shohei Ohtani
3. Matt Shoemaker
4. Andrew Heaney
5. J.C. Ramirez
6. Tyler Skaggs

Prediction: Second place in AL West, AL wild card

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants

White Sox beat Angels 7-2, as Giolito turns in another strong effort

White Sox beat Angels 7-2, as Giolito turns in another strong effort

Chicago White Sox manager Rick Renteria had a big ol’ grin on his face as he took the ball from Lucas Giolito in the sixth inning on Thursday night.

Giolito finished the night throwing just under 80 pitches en route to 5 ⅓ innings of two-run ball in the White Sox’s 7-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.

Giolito’s night didn’t get off to the greatest start, though.

The righthander allowed a leadoff triple to Eric Young Jr., who then scored on an RBI groundout from Chris Young.

Cris Carter followed later in the inning, lining a solo shot off the left field foul pole. His super strength allowed him to turn on Giolito’s changeup and keep it fair.

Giolito was appropriately gruff when evaluating his first frame:

Indeed, Giolito did settle down after the first. He found better command of his off-speed pitches and did not walk a single batter.

The season opener is two weeks from today, and Giolito has had the best spring among Sox starters (not counting one good spring start from James Shields). He has a 3.18 spring ERA and looks in midseason form.

The White Sox offense did not line up too many starters tonight, but did get production.

Ryan Cordell continued his nice spring with an RBI triple off the center field wall in the third inning. He is hitting .345 and is giving Adam Engel and Leury Garcia some competition for the starting center field role.

Leury added two doubles and a triple to his box score on the night. Renteria had him playing shortstop, a role he’ll likely most often find himself during the season — as a utility middle infielder.

The back-end of the Opening Day bullpen is also starting to take its form.

Luis Avilan has been close to unhittable this spring and continued his dominance Thursday. He went ⅔ innings and added a strikeout. Joakim Soria pitched an inning of scoreless ball as well.

Overall, not a bad game at all for the Sox. Giolito pitched well, and the bats did enough to secure the win.

White Sox may be in race to bottom, but fans don't seem too concerned

White Sox may be in race to bottom, but fans don't seem too concerned

As the White Sox were working out Thursday at Camelback Ranch, players union head Tony Clark was on the other side of the valley discussing the “race to the bottom.”

Clark didn’t name names, of course, but the Sox are considered one of the so-called tanking teams that avoided spending on big-name free agents this winter while they continued to rebuild. Instead of trying to contend, the Sox and several other teams were seemingly content to endure a losing season to compete for a better draft pick and strengthen the organization from the bottom up.

It’s not a particularly novel idea. The Cubs and Astros had the same basic plan and wound up winning World Series titles in 2016 and ’17, respectively.

But the number of tanking teams seems to have grown, and Clark said Thursday he knew at the start of the offseason something was amiss “when we started to hear public commentary from clubs suggesting they weren’t as interested in competing, and/or they were focused in on a race to the bottom. You start to see those types of comments, then you start to question the integrity of what’s really going on.

“I know I’ve said it now a few times, but that type of commentary not being in the forefront of the public or the private dialogue is when you really start to question what’s happening. So I’d say that’s when the motor started moving a little quicker than it had been.”

There’s little doubt the “race to the bottom” means fewer teams spending money on free agents, less lucrative contracts for some of the bigger-name free agents who signed and no contracts at all for many players who are still waiting for a phone call.

But the only way it matters is if a team’s fan base stops going to games or paying any attention to them because they’re fed up with the lack of winning, or perhaps the lack of trying to win. If that fan base buys into the rebuild, there’s really nothing wrong with tanking a few years for the sake of long-term success.

As long as a team is open about its plan, as Cubs President Theo Epstein was when he came to Chicago in 2012, and as White Sox general manager Rick Hahn was when he announced the start of the Sox rebuild after the 2016 season, there should be little complaining about the lack of spending in the free agent market.

Hahn said before the start of spring training he didn’t care what outsiders said about their plan.

“Our focus is on putting the White Sox in the best position to win a championship, and regardless of what may be happening in baseball at a macro level, I know that this path puts us on the best course to do it,” he said. “That’s what my concerns are, not with any outside criticism or scrutiny of that process.”

Sox fans upset with the plan can go watch the Cubs or perhaps tune out baseball altogether. From what I’ve heard the last few weeks from Sox fans following the team here in Arizona, that attitude is almost non-existent.

The Sox have a few obvious holes, and there are still some available free agents who could make this team better in 2018, including starter Alex Cobb and closer Greg Holland.

But no one expects the Sox to change their tune and fork out money at the last minute just for a few more victories, knowing the future is bright with young players such as Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez on the big-league club and prospects such as Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Luis Robert and Dylan Cease in the system.

It helps when someone like Jimenez comes off a two-week layoff for a knee problem and hits two homers and a triple in his first three at-bats, and when a young pitcher like Kopech is firing triple-digit fastballs past major-league hitters in the Cactus League.

Sox fans are as hopeful as they have been in years, even if 2018 isn’t going to be the year they turn things around. The lack of Sox spending doesn’t seem to bother them, even if the strange free agent market upsets the union and players in general.

I asked Clark if he would describe the mood of the players as “angry,” as one agent suggested before the start of spring training. Clark wouldn’t go that far but said: “The group we have now is more focused now than they’ve ever been. And that in and of itself changes the conversation. Regardless of where you’re at in the scheme of things, and regardless of what your individual experience is, whether it be agitation or however you want to characterize it, the guys are engaged in a fashion I haven’t seen before.”

But as long as fans buy into the concept of rebuilds, and as long as it keeps working in some cities, the players union won’t get much sympathy whether right or wrong.

[email protected]

Twitter @PWSullivan

Carson Fulmer chalks up dismal performance to ‘just a bad outing’ »

White Sox dispatch top prospect Eloy Jimenez to Double A — for now »

Column: Michael Kopech clearly one of White Sox’s five best starters, but business dictates he must wait »

Five bold White Sox predictions for 2018

Five bold White Sox predictions for 2018

Our Chicago baseball team takes a crack at five bold predictions for the upcoming season, including big claims about Lucas Giolito, Avisail Garcia and Yoan Moncada.

Time to get bold!

There are plenty of predictions going around for the White Sox in 2018. But are any as bold as these?

1. Matt Davidson will lead the White Sox in homers

2. Lucas Giolito will be an American League All Star

3. Yoan Moncada will finish in the top 10 in baseball in walks

4. Avisail Garcia’s OPS won’t be higher than .750

5. Nate Jones will lead the team in saves – but won’t start the season with the job

If you need an explanation, we’ve got it for you. Check out our #WhiteSoxWhiteboard broadcast from Thursday to hear why we think all this will come true. And also hear five bold predictions from the other side of town, too.

Give it a watch: