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At Last, the White Sox Have Depth

by Adam Kaplan

On Sunday, April 10, 2022, the Chicago White Sox defeated the Detroit Tigers 10-1. The Good Guys scored 10 runs with their third string second baseman and also without their starting right fielder, their starting catcher, and their starting third baseman.

Certainly one game does not make a trend, but for a franchise that, in the past, has seemingly hung their hat on the reliance of their starters to remain healthy, Sunday’s game was proof that the White Sox finally have offensive depth.

At this time last year, Sox fans were bemoaning the lack of depth. Losing Eloy Jimenéz and Adam Engel before the season stared, and having someone named *checks notes* Nick Williams start in left field during the Sox home opener didn’t help matters. However, a year later, the same cannot be said. Having more outfielders healthy this year certainly helps matters, but as of this writing, the Sox can trot out a respectable outfield.

Adam Engel has the talent to start games. Sox fans should be well aware of his defensive prowess…

and now we’ve seen his bat improve over the years. In 2021, the Sox outfielder had a triple slash line of .252/.336/.496, good for a wRC+ of 127. “Launch Engel” also has a little power in his bat. Last year, in 39 games, he hit 7 home runs.

Adam Engel as the Sox 4th outfielder as opposed to being a starter is a wonderful luxury. Engel can play all three defensive outfield positions (and play them well), which means the team can feel comfortable starting him every now and then to give the regular starter a day off, or he can be a late game defensive replacement if need be. As the Sox current right fielder, A.J. Pollock, is spending time away both on paternity leave and nursing a hamstring injury, Adam Engel can temporarily fill in without a drastic loss in performance to the team.

The White Sox even have depth to help keep themselves afloat when they lose one of the their best players. While losing a 4+ fWAR player like Yoán Moncada is never ideal, it does allow a young player like Jake Burger to prove himself. Burger, a former first round pick, lost a handful of years of minor league development thanks to being bit by the injury bug. However, he came on strong and healthy in 2021. In AAA, Burger slashed .274/.332/.513, with 18 home runs, good for a wRC+ of 122. He also did well with his major league cup of coffee slashing .263/.333/.474, in 15 games, good with a wRC+ of 120.

Thanks to players like Adam Engel and Jake Burger, plus the versatility of players like Leury García and Josh Harrison, White Sox line ups don’t currently look as bad as they did a year ago.

Andrew Vaughn

Andrew Vaughn started Sunday’s game because the Tigers were starting Tarik Skubal, a left-handed pitcher. In the early going, Vaughn and Gavin Sheets appear to be platooning at DH. The knock on Gavin Sheets, a lefty himself, is that he cannot hit lefties. In 2021, Sheets has a wRC+ of 143 against righties and a wRC+ of -26 against lefties. Granted, Sheets was only given 18 at-bats against Southpaws, but still, a drastic distinction. Andrew Vaughn on the other hand hit lefties very well and righties very poorly in 2021. Vaughn had a wRC+ of 155 against lefties and a wRC+ of 68 against righties. As such, it would make sense to platoon Vaughn and Sheets for 2022.

However, just because Andrew Vaughn did not hit righties very well last year, does not mean he will continue to struggle against them throughout his career. His three-run bomb from Sunday’s game against righty Elvin Rodriguez should be evidence of that.

Andrew Vaughn was the third overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft. He is an elite prospect/young player who is still developing. I am in the camp that he was put in an unfair situation in 2021. He was on the 26-man roster with limited time in the minors not necessarily because of his talent, but because he is cost-controlled by the team. To add insult to injury, he was forced to play in the outfield, a defensive position he never played before, as a result of Eloy’s injury. I believe these were contributing factors to Vaughn’s poor overall offensive performance in 2021. I believe that after an offseason of properly training for his expected role on the 2022 White Sox, Andrew Vaughn is prime for an excellent season. He’s already off to a great start.

However, if Andrew Vaughn is now going to hit righties and lefties well, where does that leave Gavin Sheets? Because Sheets, like Vaughn, can’t (and shouldn’t) play defense in the field, Sheets is either going to be relegated to less at-bats going forward, or he is going to take at-bats away from Vaughn.

Another possible solution is that Andrew Vaughn will play some outfield every now and then when Gavin Sheets DHs. This is a way to get both Vaughn’s and Sheets’s bat in the same line up. Although, I am personally not thrilled with this solution because I don’t really want AV playing defense, especially after his slide which caused him to miss a few games during Spring Training.

Regardless, this is a great problem to have. I will never complain about the Chicago White Sox having too many good players on their roster. At best, this is further evidence of the depth the Sox currently have.

Reese McGuire

Having a proper back up catcher isn’t necessarily the same thing as having depth, because every MLB team carries two catchers who start consistently thanks to the toll playing the position has on the body. However, I couldn’t be more pleased with the White Sox trading away Zack Collins for Reese McGuire a few weeks ago. Per Baseball Savant, Collins was the worst pitch framer in the league behind only Salvador Perez last season. Further, for a player known for being able to hit righties, his wRC+ against them in 2021 was only 101. Technically above average, but certainly nothing to write home about. I was so disappointed with the Zack Collins experience, that I wrote an entire post for SoxOn35th about why the Pale Hose should trade for Willson Contreras.

As of this writing, it has only been one game, and frankly one play in one game, during the Reese McGuire era, but I’m already thoroughly impressed.

Even though Reese McGuire was the only starter during last Sunday’s competition to not get a hit, I still enjoy him as the Sox’s back up catcher. Ideally, it would be great if the team could rely on his bat, but if McGuire is only going to be this good defensively, I don’t care. He’s still ultimately the Sox back up catcher and he’ll do plenty to earn his spot for this role.

Starting Rotation

Understandably, this is the area in which the Chicago White Sox have the worst depth. I will still argue in favor of the Sox’s depth a bit later, but let’s get some justified criticism out of the way first. I agree that Rick Hahn misallocated his resources when it came to starting pitching this ofseason:

The White Sox either had the resources to have Carlos Rodón on this team if he accepted the Qualified Offer or they should have spent resources towards a lower-tiered starting pitcher instead of Leury García, a sentiment I’m glad is shared by our Editor-In-Chief Jordan Lazowski. Even if Rodón didn’t accept the QO, it would have only been an additional $4M to match the Giants offer. The difference between San Fran’s offer and the QO is basically the price of Johnny Cueto‘s contract.

The White Sox also not having the assets to trade for a pitcher like Sean Manaea, a Southpaw who the Sox seemingly could have acquired if they didn’t have the 30th ranked farm system, is also extremely frustrating.

Yet, despite all of these aggravations, the White Sox do have depth in their rotation. If healthy, the Sox’s rotation will consist of Lucas GiolitoLance LynnDylan CeaseMichael KopechDallas Keuchel. Obviously, this rotation is not healthy. Lance Lynn is expected to miss a couple of months and Lucas Giolito is expected to miss a couple of starts. No team is going to have the depth to replace innings a pitcher like Lance Lynn or Lucas Giolito is going to give you, but at least the White Sox have plans to throw out innings eaters for a few starts this year- something they really didn’t have in 2021.

Vince Velasquez got his first start in the rotation on Tuesday during the Sox’s Home Opener. After a not-so-stellar Spring Training, Sox fans are justifiably concerned about this decision and his starts going forward, but that being said, he did produce one run ball over four innings. Further, Rick Hahn still came into the season with a Plan A in case a starter, understandably, misses a start or two. Further, this was a decision seemingly made with the consultation of the team’s pitching coach Ethan Katz. Katz has already shown his ability to fix mechanical flaws in a pitcher, see the aforementioned Carlos Rodón, so at some point you need to trust other members in your organization when making personnel decisions.

Though, even if the Vince Velasquez experiment fails like many of us expects it to, the White Sox still have the aforementioned Johnny Cueto and Reynaldo López to rely on. In 2021, for the San Francisco Giants, Johnny Cueto started 21 games with a 4.08 ERA. Hopefully the White Sox will not need him to start that many games, but if he performs similarly for the team when he inevitably pitches, that would be great. He’s already putting the work in:

Then there’s Reynaldo López. Going into 2021, the White Sox seemingly didn’t have anyone in the organization they could comfortably rely on to make starts if need be. To their luck and benefit, during the first half of the season, the team didn’t really need depth as the five main starters remained relatively healthy and Michael Kopech was able to start during 7 inning double headers. Of course, luck can only take you so far. At one point during the second half of the season, Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Rodón were on the IL. Miraculously, this happened to coincide during a time when everything seemed to finally click for Reynaldo López.

From August 17th through September 28th last year, ReyLo started 8 games (with an additional 2 appearances in between, though he did go 5 innings during the first appearance). During that stretch, López went 3-3 (the team went 6-4 during his appearances) with a 3.57 ERA, a 3.94 FIP and he struck out 37 batters while only walking 9. While for some reason the team seems insistent on making sure Reynaldo López isn’t starting for now, and I do not know why Jimmy Lambert is expected to get Thursday’s start over him, ReyLo still has proven himself to be a reliable starter if the White Sox smartly decide to go that route.

I believe that Sox fans have a right to be angry at the lack of specific resources used to improve and stabilize the rotation; however, the actual, planned depth in 2022 is much better than guys like Jonathan Stiever and the aforementioned Jimmy Lambert, pitchers who were Plans A in 2021. Last year’s plan seemingly was crossing their fingers and hoping starters stayed healthy. At least Rick Hahn and company have contingency plans this year.

Despite rotation concerns, the White Sox currently have depth on their roster in a way many fans didn’t think was possible a year ago. Some of these concerns have been addressed thanks to the late development of players like Jake Burger, Gavin Sheets, and Reynaldo López. Some depth arrived as a result of Rick Hahn trading for a competent right fielder and a competent back up catcher in A.J. Pollock and Reese McGuire, respectively. Other depth came thanks to cheap free agent signings like Vince Velasquez and Johnny Cueto. Regardless of how the depth occurred, I’m thankful it’s here.

Though all of that being said, no more starters are allowed to get injured. I like the Sox depth as it currently stands, but I would not like to see the limits pushed.

Follow us @SoxOn35th for more updates throughout the season!

Featured Image: White Sox / Twitter

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