After an eventful offseason, the Chicago White Sox have gathered in Glendale, Arizona for the start of spring training.
The White Sox have been aggressively seeking to improve their roster through free agency, but the team will also look to get big contributions from its young stars as they seek improvements after a 72-win season.
As the team prepares for the coming year, here are five big questions surrounding the White Sox this spring:
What will James McCann’s role be?
It wasn’t a big surprise that the White Sox were aggressive in upgrading their catching situation, as Yasmani Grandal inked a four-year pact with the club early in free agency, but the surprise is that the team was so willing to demote McCann to a back-up role after his best offensive season of his career.
McCann posted a .273 batting average and slugged 18 home runs while driving in 60 RBI’s. All of those numbers were career highs, but instead of being rewarded with more playing time after an All-Star season, McCann will now likely serve as Grandal’s backup behind the dish.
The question then is just how much playing time McCann will get. After all, the White Sox will need to get at-bats for Jose Abreu and Edwin Encarnacion, meaning that McCann might not be able to get a lot of at-bats in a designated hitter role, and he has not played a position aside from catcher in his MLB career, so it’s not even clear whether he could try an outfield or a first base spot to help boost his playing time.
How will the rotation shake out?
The White Sox were adamant about improving their pitching rotation this offseason, and they did exactly that as they added Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez as steadying veteran influences to a group that is stocked with young talent.
The big question for the White Sox isn’t what they’ll do with the top of their rotation, but rather how their bottom two starters will perform. Dylan Cease had an up-and-down debut with the White Sox last summer, but the biggest wild card of all is Reynaldo Lopez, whose inconsistency has baffled Sox coaches and fans over the last two seasons.
It will be interesting to see how he fares, and whether a player like Ross Detwiler or Michael Kopech, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, could potentially unseat him from his role in the rotation.
Who’s going to bat lead-off?
The White Sox have plenty of offensive talent on their roster going into the season, but they don’t exactly have a prototypical leadoff hitter to set the table for the rest of the lineup.
Leury Garcia’s .310 on-base percentage and 139 strikeouts last season don’t exactly scream “lead-off hitter,” but that’s exactly what he did with the team the majority of last season.
A player like Tim Anderson could potentially handle the lead-off responsibilities, but he only did that four times last season even as he led the American League in batting average. He was primarily used as the second hitter in the lineup last season, doing so 65 times, and one would imagine that Rick Renteria will use him there again this season.
One would suspect that Garcia will get the job, at least to start with, but eventually White Sox fans could see a player like Luis Robert or even Nick Madrigal get a shot at the spot.
When will Sox fans see Nick Madrigal?
The White Sox have a big question mark at second base heading into the 2020 season, but it’s unclear if the team will begin the campaign with their 2018 first round pick at the position.
Madrigal advanced quickly through the minor league ranks last season, playing in at least 29 games at three different levels in the team’s system. In total, Madrigal hit .311 with four home runs and 55 RBI’s last season in 120 games, and stole 35 bases for good measure.
Even still, it’s not clear whether the Sox will want to start him at the big league level right away. He’s only played 163 minor league games since being drafted, so the team might opt to take things slowly to start with, especially if they envision him as a speedy on-base threat for the club in the long-term.
Can the young stars excel under the spotlight?
The White Sox have plenty of veterans in camp this year, but their young stars are the real story and will be the primary focus as their preparations for the 2020 season get underway.
Lucas Giolito will have a lot of eyeballs on his performances this spring as he looks to prove that his 2019 resurgence was no fluke. Eloy Jimenez will also draw plenty of attention, as the talented young outfielder looks to cut back on his strikeouts and to improve his defense in his second full season in the league.
Luis Robert will also be a focal point for media and fan attention this spring, as the youngster is expected to be on the Opening Day roster for the White Sox. He destroyed minor league pitching in 2019, but with the 2020 campaign around the corner, will he be able to translate that offensive success to the next level?
This question will remain unanswered until the season actually begins, but as the spring moves along, it will be worth keeping tabs on the development shown by these players for a White Sox team looking to make a big leap forward in the coming year.