The White Sox already rounded up their opening day rotation this offseason, inking Mike Clevinger to a one-year contract that also includes a mutual option for 2024. Not only did this signing complete their five-man rotation, but it also bumped Davis Martin to what we all assume to be a role as the “next man up.”
On paper, the White Sox have a more than capable enough rotation to begin the 2023 season. However, the starting pitcher position in the MLB is arguably the most volatile, with both short and long-term injuries becoming increasingly likely. Because of this, there is an increased need for teams to build as much depth as possible to ensure they can continue to call upon to take the mound and at least keep the game winnable.
The Sox’s current starting rotation, when healthy, has the potential to be one of the better five-man rotations in the league. This group of pitchers, however, has its own risks when it comes to injury history and recent performance. Michael Kopech is looking to build off his first full season in the rotation, however, he has struggled throughout his professional career to stay healthy for a full season. Lance Lynn battled a knee issue during the first half of the season, and while he started to look like his old self down the stretch, he is also going to turn 36 during the season. Newly signed Mike Clevinger is a former Cy Young candidate but missed the entire 2021 season while recovering from Tommy John Surgery. While Lucas Giolito remained healthy for the most part he is coming off a disappointing season in which he possessed a pedestrian 4.90 ERA. Even Dylan Cease, who is coming off a Cy Young-caliber season, has an injury history that includes Tommy John Surgery.
While in a perfect world, this staff would stay healthy and regain their former success, it is in the best interest of the White Sox playoff hopes to make sure they have options who can step in when needed.
26 Man Roster Options
Davis Martin was called upon several times during the 2022 season to make spot starts or eat innings, and it should be expected as of now that he will be the next man up if the Sox need a spot starter during the 2023 season. While his 4.83 ERA might not strike a ton of optimism for the casual fan, anyone who watched Martin this year saw that he has what it takes to pitch in the MLB at least in a limited capacity. Martin was one of the brightest spots in the White Sox minor league system last year, jumping from a dominant showing in Double-A Birmingham to the Majors relatively quickly. While some (myself included) argued in the past that he deserved a shot to be the final starting pitcher in this rotation, bumping him to the next man up provides much more stability to the staff as a whole.
After Martin, there is much more uncertainty, especially when it comes to pitchers with MLB experience. While Reynaldo Lopez and Jimmy Lambert have been starters in previous years, both carved out roles for themselves as relievers in 2022 (Lopez especially as a high-leverage option). In an emergency situation, Pedro Grifol could call on them to handle multi-inning work, however, it may be in their best interest to keep both pitchers in the roles in which they have shown the most success. Tanner Banks might make a bit more sense, as he also initially came up as a starting pitcher and handled multi-inning outings on multiple occasions last season with success. He may not be an innings eater, but he could handle a multi-inning opener role if needed.
Garrett Crochet is the wild card here. Coming off a lost 2022 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, it is unknown if he will be ready to begin the 2022 season healthy. He has noted during his rehab that he is going about the recovery process as if he is coming back as a starting pitcher, however, Ethan Katz has alluded to a multi-inning relief role, similar to Michael Kopech in 2021, as a more realistic expectation. Kopech did make 4 starts in 2021, although they were all approached with caution by implementing inning/pitch count limits. It is extremely possible that Crochet fills in through a similar approach this season if he is healthy and there is a need for it.
Minor League Options
Unfortunately, starting pitchers in the upper minor league levels is an area at which the Sox are relatively thin. Former third-round pick Sean Burke might be the most promising, although his cup of coffee in Triple-A Charlotte could have gone better than the 11.57 ERA he held, and he has struggled to consistently eat innings. Still, he has had no issues striking out opposing batters in the upper minor league levels and possesses the upside of a mid-rotation starter.
Another name that Sox fans might be familiar with is Jonathan Stiever, who made his MLB debut with the Sox back in the 2020 COVID-shortened season. While he was only able to pitch three innings in Triple-A before suffering a lat injury that would knock him out for the season, he appears to be on track to pitch during Spring Training. He showed plenty of promise prior to his aggressive promotion and injury issues, and if he can stay healthy this season and regain some of that success that prompted the Sox to call on him back in 2020, he could add some much-needed depth to this organization.
Other internal minor league options include Matthew Thompson and Jason Bilous, who both spent the majority of the 2022 season in Double-A Birmingham. Both have been looked at as pitchers with intriguing upsides but have also struggled with control and consistency issues. If either of them can take the next step in their development, then they could find themselves making their MLB debut in 2022. The White Sox also have recently drafted Jonathan Cannon, who is expected to move quickly through the system after being drafted in the 3rd round. He ended the 2022 season on the Low-A Kannapolis roster.
On a positive note, the signing of Mike Clevinger and the emergence of Davis Martin give the White Sox six capable starting pitchers they can count on. However, as it stands right now, there is a lot of uncertainty as to who else can step up in the event that they need to call upon their own internal options. While it is entirely possible that Crochet comes in ready to handle the multi-inning role and that Burke and Stiever have Davis Martin-type seasons, it might be in their best interest to look to bring in additional options to bolster their organizational depth at the position. Last season, the White Sox signed Vincent Velasquez to fill a swing-man role as a guy who could make spot starts while also functioning out of the bullpen. It might benefit the Sox to look to sign someone to play a similar role in 2022, although it is possible that they view Martin or Banks as capable of performing in that role.
In any case, the White Sox should at least look to sign a pitcher with MLB experience to a minor-league contract. Some available options who could potentially settle for this type of contract include Mike Foltynewicz, Zach Thompson, and Mike Minor. While none of these options move the needle in terms of bolstering their MLB roster, they can be stashed in Charlotte and be called upon in an emergency situation should it arise. For a team that is hoping to compete for the World Series title after a disappointing 2022 season, it would be better to be safe than sorry in such an important area.
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