Pitchers and catchers officially report to Glendale for the White Sox today. Baseball is back.
With a managerial change to Pedro Grifol and a pretty significant coaching staff overhaul, the White Sox enter Spring Training as a club pushing optimism and a vision of better times ahead after a disappointing 2022 season – even if fans currently aren’t feeling that optimism. Today begins the White Sox’ quest to truly gain back fan respect and support in 2023 and beyond – though, they certainly face an uphill battle in this area.
In an offseason that brought a lot of questions without a ton of answers, here are 10 key questions we as fans should be looking for the White Sox to answer throughout the spring as they get ready for Houston on March 30.
1. What will Rick Hahn have to say about the offseason?
Rick Hahn is scheduled to speak with the media today, and it’s assumed that an offseason that has been considered anywhere from underwhelming to an outright failure by fans and the media is going to be thoroughly questioned.
More specifically, media members are likely to ask about two different areas:
- The Mike Clevinger situation
- Rick Hahn’s evaluation of his own work this offseason
The White Sox added Andrew Benintendi, Mike Clevinger, and a smattering of minor-league pitchers and hitters to the team throughout the offseason. Hahn was quoted as saying the following at his end-of-season press conference:
“Yes, you have to be open to that because, look, we’re not just going to able to throw money at the problem. You might have to have to get creative, and the trade market may be a more fruitful path for us to go as opposed to free agency in the coming months… You want to make sure that you’re comfortable enough to make those tough decisions about players that you may have signed, developed, or traded for and you don’t get caught in some sort of bias in favor of what we thought we put together. But I’m confident that we’ll be able to evaluate any of the opportunities that come along over the next few months objectively… even if that means cutting into guys that we previously thought would be with us for an extended period of time.”
The White Sox proceeded to throw some money at the problem, but overall, the roster remained relatively unchanged. What changed from Hahn’s initial comments? How confident does he feel in the team that is currently on the field for the club – and how does Mike Clevinger affect that vision? What other avenues were explored, and why did the club ultimately settle mostly on the team they have on the field?
All of these questions and more are likely to be touched on on Wednesday, so consider this a question that could see a very quick resolution.
2. Who is going to step up in the clubhouse with the departure of Jose Abreu?
This question was first posed to Eloy Jimenez a few weeks ago. His answer was less than inspiring:
However, in a previous conversation with Shane Riordan of 670TheScore, Pedro Grifol expressed optimism in the team’s ability to not only find a new leader following Abreu’s absence but his ability as a manager to lead this group and help develop and empower some new leaders.
“Leadership is 90% taking and 10% giving. We have leaders in that clubhouse; they just haven’t had to lead yet. Those conversations are going to be a part of Spring Training and our culture… we will have a leader. I am certain that someone – or more than one – are going to step up and lead.”
So, who are those leaders going to be?
Players like Lance Lynn, Tim Anderson, and Yasmani Grandal are natural candidates to step up and become leaders in their own way in the dugout; however, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Yoan Moncada would also make great candidates to help lead a diverse group of players into the next era post-Jose Abreu on the South Side.
Everything Grifol has said on these sorts of questions should make White Sox fans feel good about his ability to lead the clubhouse, however, as of now, it’s clear he still has his work cut out for him in discovering which guys are going to step up.
3. How will the World Baseball Classic affect Pedro Grifol’s first Spring as a manager?
There has been a lot of talk about the changes in intensity, energy, and effort that are going to take place under the now-Pedro Grifol-managed White Sox. Grifol himself has referenced changes to how the team prepares, practices, and competes on the field as important parts of the new culture he plans to bring to Chicago. No matter what sound byte you listen to from Grifol, it usually leaves you with a feeling of optimism.
However, for Grifol to begin to instill his brand of baseball and his coaching culture, he’s going to need his guys there to do it. The full team will report at the beginning of next week, and from there, the White Sox will lose seven key contributors to the World Baseball Classic: Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn, Kendall Graveman, Jose Ruiz, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, and Luis Robert.
Games for the World Baseball Classic run from March 8-21. So, there is a solid period of about 2-3 weeks where Grifol will not have his full team together for periods at a time. It is unclear how often players are returning to their teams between pool play games, but regardless, it’s fair to expect that for those 2-3 weeks, Grifol will be instilling his brand of baseball in a smaller group of individuals. How will that affect his message – if at all? How might Grifol change his style to ensure that his message gets across as soon as possible? These are questions Grifol himself can only answer, but will be interesting to watch as an additional wrinkle to some of the typical growing pains of being a new manager.
4. How – and when – does the Mike Clevinger investigation conclude?
Yesterday, it was reported by Bob Nightengale that Mike Clevinger is expected to be a full participant in Spring Training for the White Sox and, at this time, Major League Baseball will not place Clevinger on administrative leave as they continue their near-nine month investigation.
Fans were understandably skeptical of signing Clevinger based originally just on his on-field ability. However, there are now ramifications for the Clevinger signing now that go beyond his play on the field. How do the players in the clubhouse receive him? Does his presence create issues on the team? How does Pedro Grifol manage a situation in which he was pushing a fresh start, and how does Rick Hahn balance his previous comments about “earning fans’ trust back” while signing a player who has since been found to be under domestic violence and child abuse allegations – especially when we already know how fans are perceiving him and what they want the White Sox to do in this scenario?
As of now, it appears that Clevinger will be pitching for the White Sox for the foreseeable future – if MLB hasn’t been able to conclude this investigation in the past 8-9 months, it’s unclear just how long it may take them. The league has put the White Sox in a tough situation by not providing clarity on when this investigation could come to an end. The on-field concerns for Clevinger will settle themselves one way or another via his performance. However, with plenty of husbands and dads in the White Sox clubhouse at current, how the players receive Clevinger – and how Grifol manages his clubhouse as a result – may end up mattering far more than Clevinger’s play on the field. Grifol certainly has his work cut out for him here.
5. What’s at Second?
The White Sox have made it clear that they are trusting their internal options at two positions: right field and second base. The answer to “Who is in right field?” is pretty obvious: Oscar Colas will likely have to find a way to lose the job in Spring Training, rather than win it. The White Sox seem incredibly confident in his abilities, and at a certain point, you have to be willing to trust your player development staff as a general manager.
However, the answer to Abbott & Costello’s question has remained consistently unanswered on the South Side since the departure of Nick Madrigal – and, truthfully, since at least the end of Gordon Beckham’s streak of four consecutive Opening Day starts at second base from 2010-2013. While it isn’t an incredibly strong position around the league, and therefore isn’t of the highest priority, it would be beneficial for the White Sox to find themselves a long-term solution at second base.
The likely in-house leader for that second base job is Romy Gonzalez, who has reportedly been working with new White Sox coach Mike Tosar, as well as with Colas, down in Miami throughout the offseason. Lenyn Sosa’s breakout campaign will likely earn him some additional looks this Spring, and there is always Leury Garcia – by default, as he is in fact under contract. While this position doesn’t have much overwhelming competition, it still features a bit more competition than right field. Gonzalez, Sosa, and Garcia all have their limitations and question marks, and while reading too much into Spring Training is a fool’s errand, tangible growth in the form of plate discipline from Gonzalez may be all it takes to earn him the job here – though there is plenty to watch here heading into 2023.
6. What is Michael Kopech’s status?
Michael Kopech had an up-and-down 2022 campaign in which the “ups” coincided with good health and the “downs” coincided with a knee injury that hampered him throughout most of the second half of the season – so much so that he needed surgery this offseason. The latest information we’ve gotten from the team regarding Kopech is that his rehab has been slower than expected, but he is still expected to be ready to pitch this Spring and be up to 85 pitches by Opening Day – which is typical for most starters.
Because Katz mentioned the rehab process was a bit more gradual than expected, it wasn’t the most confident answer we could’ve hoped for as fans, but it seems that Kopech is still on a good timeline to be ready for what should be his first full and unrestricted season as a member of the White Sox’ pitching staff. How will his body respond? Will he truly be unlimited in innings – and can we reasonably expect him to handle nearly 160 innings this season as a regular starter? What could a full season of a healthy Michael Kopech look like? These are all questions that are heavily dependent on just how healthy Kopech’s knee is as he comes into the Spring.
7. How will the White Sox handle Eloy Jimenez’s playing time?
Jimenez won’t spend a ton of time with the White Sox before heading to Team Colombia to participate in the World Baseball Classic. However, all offseason, the idea of where Eloy Jimenez was going to play became a significant talking point following the signing of Andrew Benintendi. With Benintendi in left field and Luis Robert in center field, that leaves the White Sox without much choice but to either feature Jimenez in right field or, more likely, Jimenez as the designated hitter and Oscar Colas as the right fielder for the foreseeable future.
A few weeks ago, Pedro Grifol appeared in an interview with 670TheScore, where he explained his thoughts on the right field situation:
“I’m talking about maybe seeing him there a day or two a week if possible and keeping him athletic and keeping him working on the defensive side, because I know that helps on the offensive side as well.”
Grifol also included that he expects Gavin Sheets, Leury García, Jake Marisnick, and Oscar Colas to compete for time in right field and ultimately the right field job, along with Jimenez. Based on Grifol’s comments, it’s fair to conclude that we might see Jimenez in right field a bit for the White Sox this season – though likely not as often as Jimenez himself would be hoping that he gets to play out there:
However, it’s one thing for Grifol to say what he’s thinking for right field and Eloy Jimenez, and it’s another thing to see it in practice. Most White Sox fans will likely express that they’d rather not see Jimenez in the outfield, especially in a position he hasn’t played at the major league level. But what would he look like out in right field, and how often could we realistically expect to see him out there – especially if Oscar Colas struggles? That will likely depend on how Colas shows up to Spring Training – and just exactly what Jimenez has done to prepare himself to be a better outfielder than he has been in the past.
Still, it’s an interesting – and potentially frightening – question of playing time for Jimenez that will need to be answered.
8. What are the immediate results of Lucas Giolito’s offseason changes?
A few weeks ago, a video surfaced on social media of Lucas Giolito’s mechanical changes over the offseason, which appear to feature a bit of a longer arm path than previous – somewhere between his 2018 and 2021 arm paths:
Giolito is obviously coming off a pretty brutal campaign, which has been attributed to a combination of muscle gain that worked counteractive to his plans, as well as a period in which his mechanics got out of sync and weren’t operating in the most optimal fashion.
Ethan Katz and Lucas Giolito have been here before – needing to overhaul Giolito’s mechanics in order to get back to the player he can be. It looks as if they have decided on a change in arm action being one of the key drivers of any improvement this season. Will it work? Will Giolito’s repertoire change at all – including the addition of the curveball more frequently? With Giolito pitching for a contract, as his current contract ends after 2023, there will be some extra motivation for him to get back to the pitcher he was from 2019-2021. If he gets there, the White Sox could once again have the strong 1-3 in the rotation that they envisioned with Giolito, Dylan Cease, and Lance Lynn.
9. Will the team provide any update on Liam Hendriks – and who’s the closer for now?
The White Sox, in a previous press release, mentioned that the club would likely not comment on Hendriks’ availability to the White Sox following his Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma diagnosis earlier this offseason until closer to Opening Day. It will be interesting to see if the White Sox remain committed to this stance, or if they are able to provide an update on Hendriks before that.
As always, Hendriks’ long-term health and safety are of the most importance, which is why it’s important for the White Sox to figure out a plan for who will be their closer until Hendriks is able to safely return. Has the club already made this decision, or is this something that will have to play out over the course of Spring Training? Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly, Reynaldo Lopez, Aaron Bummer, and even a healthy Garrett Crochet are candidates for this role – who is going to get the first crack at it? What is Grifol’s plan for bullpen management in general without the team’s lock-down closer?
We may have to wait until the games start in late March to get an answer to these questions, but it would be nice to hear what the White Sox’ current plan is – even if it is still a “wait and see” game for who stands out from the pack.
10. Who wins the fourth outfielder job – and how often will they play?
In the rankings of competitions, the fourth outfielder job is easily the least competitive, with Jake Marisnick and Victor Reyes really the only two competitors. Still, with the White Sox looking to replace Adam Engel and AJ Pollock in the outfield, the bar isn’t exactly high for fourth outfielders this season.
For a glimpse into this competition, here are Reyes and Marisnick’s numbers over the past five seasons.
- Marisnick (2018-2022): .228/.285/.406, 86 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR
- Reyes (2018-2022): .264/.294/.379, 83 wRC+, 0.6 fWAR
Since Reyes really isn’t able to provide an advantage with his bat that makes up for his lackluster defense, it’s likely that Marisnick – who is incredibly strong defensively – has the upper hand. But exactly how much playing time Marisnick – or any fourth outfielder – gets on this roster remains to be seen, and remains an interesting question. If Colas struggles, do the White Sox put Marisnick in the outfield, or do they put Jimenez in the outfield and Sheets at DH? The White Sox do have some options here, but with the fourth outfielder position not providing much offense, it may make the most sense to leave them as a late-inning defensive replacement.
Are there any more storylines that you are intrigued by this Spring Training – or that you are hoping the White Sox give answers to? Let us know in the comments below or on social media @SoxOn35th – where you can find tons of Spring Training coverage as the team gets back to work today!
Featured Image: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
WHY, with the ongoing struggles at 2B, is there not even an inkling of talk about moving Moncada back there and put Burger at third. Also, if that is not a consideration, why are we not trading Burger?