Over the past five days, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend five White Sox Spring Training games in some beautiful Arizona weather. Throughout the week, I’ve posted as many videos as possible on my Twitter feed (@jlazowski14) in order to give the fans some more looks at some of the players. Now that I’ve reach the end of my trip, I put together a list of some of the standout players from my week here, as well as some storylines to watch throughout the rest of the Spring.
Note: just because a player doesn’t appear here doesn’t mean they didn’t have any standout moments. There’s over 40 players I could reasonably write about in camp, and I don’t think you necessarily need me to tell you that Tim Anderson is still good at baseball.
That being said: Take a look below!
Players Trending Up
Dylan Cease has talked a lot about his fastball command and rotational mechanics being the key offseason pieces he worked on. He took on the Brewers on Wednesday and threw four innings while allowing one run on three hits, striking out five. He had solid command of both his fastball and offspeed pitches, while routinely hitting 98-99 on the radar gun. More importantly though, as Jim Margulus also mentioned in one of his recent pieces, Cease was able to locate his fastball down in the zone consistently against the Brewers, something he was unable to do last season. If Cease continues to spot his fastball down, he will make the high fastball – as well as his offspeed – all the more effective.
Cease now has a 1.50 ERA through two spring starts, so keep an eye on him as he works deeper into games and begins to hopefully turn into the pitcher we all expect him to be.
If you’ve read my work, you know I’m not often the first to place a lot of trust in Lopez. I feel he has struggled to develop his offspeed pitches, which will hold him back from overcoming some of his fastball woes. However, some positive things have been coming out of Lopez’s camp to start the Spring. Lopez has thrown 7.1 innings across two starts to begin the spring, allowing just one run across the two outings while striking out eight batters. He has also been working with Yasmani Grandal to throw two different variations of his slider in order to keep hitters more off balance. Lopez will continue to be a pitcher to watch throughout the spring, as he is the prospect who would be the most likely to lose his rotation spot should he begin to struggle this season.
Of all the hitters I got to watch over the five games, Andrew Vaughn was easily the most impressive out of the group. When I had first heard that Vaughn was likely going to start the season at AA, I was a bit skeptical – he’s only been in the minors for half a season, and I don’t want the Sox to rush his development. I couldn’t have been more wrong, however. Andrew Vaughn is an incredibly polished hitter who has earned the chance to start the year at AA. His approach at the plate is on par with major league veterans – he goes up to the plate with a plan, and rarely deviates from it. Vaughn does not make the mistakes a typical hitter at his age and player experience would usually make.
I said this on Twitter the other day: the White Sox have been looking for a prospect who can just come up and rake from day one and not have the intense struggles that Moncada or Jimenez had. Many think Luis Robert will be this player. However, I’d advise you to place your bets on Andrew Vaughn – he’s a special hitter at his age. If anyone is able to perform well from their very first at-bat, I believe it will be Vaughn.
As Spring Training continues, look for Vaughn to stay with the team for quite some time – he’s earned the extra at-bats in big league camp. I am looking forward to seeing how he handles the challenges of Birmingham to start 2020.
It does not appear that Zack Collins will break camp on the 26-man roster. However, that has not stopped him from doing his best to force the White Sox’ hand. Collins has posted a .286/.524/.571 slash line to start the spring, while walking more times (7) than he’s struck out (5). He still does have his shortcomings behind the plate – he allowed a pretty easy passed ball on Sunday – but has continually shown he is working to improve his defense to go with his strong arm behind the dish.
It likely doesn’t benefit Collins to sit on the bench and bat once or twice a week, and with Encarnacion, Grandal, and Abreu on the roster, there simply is no place for consistent play for Collins other than AAA. He will be the first one called up in the case of an injury, while simultaneously having nothing left to prove in AAA. The Zack Collins storyline might end up being one of the more interesting ones in 2020.
Danny Mendick did not have the best start to his spring. However, over his last three games, he has gone 4-for-6 with a double, and the quality of his at-bats has drastically improved. Look for Mendick to continue to try and force his way into the starting 2B role over the next 2.5 weeks. It will all come down to the quality of at-bats for Mendick, and he took a step in the right direction this week, while proving he can handle four different positions (2B, SS, 3B, LF).
Of all the pitchers in camp, Codi Heuer caught my eye the most. He has electric stuff, easily hitting 98-99 on the gun with consistency. He has some serious life on his fastball, and pairs it with a great offspeed pitch that keeps hitters off balance, largely because of his incredible command of his pitches. Heuer has a real chance of flying through the system and making an impact on the White Sox bullpen sooner than later.
Death, taxes, and Adam Engel having a good spring – the three things you can count on in life. Engel had reportedly made some swing adjustments in September, helping him to a slash line to end the year. Engel has a .375/.385/.708 slash line to begin the spring, and it truly does look like he has made adjustments at the plate that will help him stick as the other half of the right field platoon with Nomar Mazara. The only question remaining is the same as previous years: can he continue this into the regular season? With mechanical changes in place, here’s hopes that this year’s answer is different that the last.
Nick Madrigal was likely going to be kept down in AAA to start the 2020 campaign unless he had an otherworldly showing in Spring Training that forced the White Sox’ hand. Unfortunately for Madrigal, through the first two weeks of camp, it’s been a spring to forget. The young second baseball has a .208/.240/.208 slash line in 24 at-bats, and I wasn’t overly impressed with the quality of his at-bats. Perhaps he’s pressing a bit. Despite how fans may feel, it appears Nick Madrigal could use a little time in AAA before making the jump to the majors. He certainly has not yet forced the issue – though there are still two and a half weeks to change that.
None of this is to say Madrigal isn’t extremely talented – he is, and he will contribute at the major league level very soon. But he could still use a bit of time to develop that talent.
Much like with Lopez, if you know me, you know I’m not the biggest fan of Alex Colome, either. I worry that his 4.08 FIP, largely driven by his propensity to give up fly balls, is going to catch up to him this year. This week, he got fat with pitches, leaving the ball up and over the center of the plate far more than he should’ve. Perhaps the Arizona air has an effect on his pitches, but he has now given up three home runs and seven runs in three innings in camp. He had two rough outings during my time in Glendale, and while I fully expect him to break camp as the closer, I think the White Sox should keep a close eye on Aaron Bummer and be prepared to give him chances to close.
The Big Storylines of the Week
Giolito, Grandal See First Spring Training Action
After being out for some extended time to start Spring Training, both Lucas Giolito and Yasmani Grandal made their Cactus League debuts on Friday against the Cubs. Giolito worked one inning, giving up no runs or hits, while Grandal got his first hit of the Spring on Sunday against the Padres. Giolito is set to pitch again this week, but rain in the forecast threatens to push back his timeline. Look for Grandal and Giolito to continue to push forward on their trek to be ready for Opening Day.
Kopech Set to Start Tuesday
In a much-anticipated return to the mound, Michael Kopech was announced as the schedule starting pitcher for Tuesday’s matchup. However, as I mentioned, the weather in Arizona is not expected to be kind next week, as the forecast calls for rain Tuesday through Friday. Here’s hopes that Kopech will be able to return to the mound for the first time since the end of 2018. I’m sure White Sox fans will be watching this game.
White Sox Extend Yoan Moncada
Yoan Moncada looked like a player with something on his mind to start the spring. His at-bats weren’t great, and obviously neither were his numbers. Perhaps the 5/$70M contract extension he and his team were working on might’ve been weighing him down. Regardless, with Moncada now in the fold through at least 2024, the young third basemen can now begin to focus on the game on the field. As if a weight had finally been lifted, Moncada went 2-for-3 in his first game after the extension was announced.
This extension leaves Lucas Giolito as the only remaining player not locked up long term. Though there are no rumored discussions, Giolito has expressed his satisfaction with the club and his desire to win here in Chicago.
What to Watch For
#TeamMendick vs. #Team Leury Continues
As previously alluded to, the competition remains open for the starting 2B job. Leury Garcia likely has the upper hand here due to his long tenure with the ball club, though his .211/.318/.263 slash line isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. Mendick’s slash line is .250/.273/.313, so with neither jumping in to firmly take the reins of the second base job, the competition will continue into week 3 of the spring. However, Mendick’s numbers are on the rise, as are the quality of his at-bats. Time will tell how the 2B tale unfolds.
Who Will Complete the Bullpen?
The White Sox rotation and bullpen still remain in flux. Gio Gonzalez is not expected to break camp with the team due to injuries derailing his timeline, so the White Sox will need to find an extra arm to cover the first seven days of the season. Currently, Carson Fulmer and Jose Ruiz appear to be the two names on the bubble for the final bullpen spots. With Gonzalez injured, both are likely to make the team, with the inevitable conclusion that one of the two will be demoted once Gonzalez is ready to enter the rotation.
So, the bullpen battle will continue to be something to watch, as Carson Fulmer is out of options and Jose Ruiz has an 11.12 ERA in 5.2 IP this spring. So far, it looks as if Fulmer will get one last chance at the big league level, as his 2.25 ERA in 8 IP and 8:3 K/BB ratio is a bit more palatable and his command does seem drastically improved compared to recent seasons. However, he has also hit three batters, so he will need to harness his control more regularly if he hopes to stick at the major league level in what looks to be his final chance with the White Sox.
Who Will be the 26th Man?
Ah, the age-old question that didn’t get any easier to answer after five games of baseball. The talk of who will be the 26th man on the White Sox roster has stolen fans’ attention through the spring. Zack Collins, Yermin Mercedes, and Nicky Delmonico have all made solid arguments to start the spring that they should be the final player included on the roster. Collins and Mercedes would both be blocked by Grandal, Abreu, and Encarnacion, while Delmonico would end up as the 5th OF behind at least 3 guys who won’t be moved very much. So, while the battle rages on, this spot isn’t exactly going to warrant more playing time. That hasn’t stopped the debate from raging on for White Sox fans, and all three players will have eyes on them as the spring continues to unfold.
Have any other thoughts about Spring Training? Let me know @jlazowski14 on Twitter!