Leadoff, 2nd base set for Sox, who still have questions
Thanks to a busy offseason, most of the pieces were in place for the White Sox when they arrived in Glendale, Ariz., for the start of spring training.
It was just a matter of putting together the puzzle.
The Sox answered some questions before Major League Baseball’s decision to suspend spring training and delay opening day because of the coronavirus pandemic. Other topics still need to be addressed whenever the team resumes activities. Here’s where the Sox stand.
Top of the order: The Sox had a few directions to go at the top of the order.
Would they give top prospect Luis Robert a crack at the leadoff spot? The center fielder spent the bulk of last season leading off while doing damage at three minor-league levels.
Would they place their top free-agent addition, Yasmani Grandal, in the No. 2 spot to take advantage of his ability to get on base? Grandal finished fourth in the majors with 109 walks in 2019 with the Brewers.
So far, the plan appears to be heading in another direction.
With a potentially loaded lineup, manager Rick Renteria wants to bat Robert lower as he transitions to the majors. And Renteria sees Grandal batting anywhere between No. 3 and No. 5.
For most of the Cactus League games featuring the regulars, the Sox went with Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada as the one-two combination in some form. Anderson led the majors with a .335 average last season, and Moncada was third in the American League at .315.
Anderson walked only 15 times in 2019 but did lead the Sox with 17 stolen bases. Moncada stole 10 bases and has a goal of running more often in 2020.
Luis Robert’s expectations: There was plenty of buzz around center fielder Luis Robert, who came to terms on a six-year, $50 million contract during the offseason. Robert handled the hype well and displayed several of the skills that make him one of the game’s top prospects.
Robert had a .333/.394/.567 slash line with two doubles, one triple, one home run and two RBIs in 11 games this spring. He also went 3-for-3 in stolen bases.
Robert and left fielder Eloy Jimenez homered in the same game Feb. 29 against the Rangers. Jimenez, who hit 31 home runs as a rookie last season, said the next day, “You’re going to see that a lot this year.”
Second base: The Sox entered spring training with Leury Garcia, Danny Mendick and Nick Madrigal vying to be the openingday starter at second base.
Garcia is the veteran of the group. He has played all over the field, although he spent the largest chunk of his big-league career as an outfielder. Mendick hit .308 in 16 games last season after joining the Sox as a September call-up. Meanwhile, Madrigal is the No. 4 prospect in the organization, according to MLB.com.
None of the three hit higher than .235 this spring. Mendick had a .235 average, Madrigal hit .222 and Garcia batted .200.
While the Sox have not announced a starter, it appears Garcia had the inside track, having been in the lineup with the projected starters the most this spring.
26th man: Outfielder Nicky Delmonico spent parts of 2019 with the Sox and their Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte, N.C. He underwent season-ending surgery on his left shoulder in May and was released in June.
He signed a minor-league contract with the Sox this offseason and returned as a non-roster invitee to spring training. Delmonico then had a healthy and productive spring to emerge as one of the top candidates for the 26th spot on the roster. He hit .250 with one home run and four RBIs.
If the Sox are looking for more infield depth, Cheslor Cuthbert is a possibility. Cuthbert hit .407 with three home runs and six RBIs in 14 spring games.
Bullpen spot: Most of the bullpen is in place. Closer Alex Colome returns. Same with top setup men Aaron Bummer and Evan Marshall. Jimmy Cordero, Kelvin Herrera and Jace Fry are also back, and the Sox added veteran Steve Cishek in the offseason.
At least one spot is available. Carson Fulmer, who had a 1.86 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 9 2⁄3 spring innings, is among the experienced options.
Michael Kopech’s next step: Michael Kopech made his return to the Cactus League a memorable one.
The right-hander, who missed all of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, had one strikeout while retiring the side in order in one inning of work March 10 against the Rangers.
When asked about his timeline after the start, Kopech said: “They have a plan in mind, and if I don’t fit into it right away, then I hope to fit into it at some point. Right now I’m just going to do what I do, and hopefully they get me there at the right time.”