The expectation for the Chicago White Sox was always that the organization would still be rebuilding in 2018.
Yes, we might have gotten a little overstimulated coming away from an encouraging spring, thinking that this young club might be ahead of schedule because we just weren’t sure when we’d see some of their young talent.
However, reality set in quickly and, in all honesty, the White Sox have actually looked further behind than many might have expected through their first 63 games. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter that they’re 22-41 heading into a four-game series with the Cleveland Indians next week, but there have been some discouraging things.
The bullpen has been abysmal, the outfield has no depth whatsoever, and setbacks from Carson Fulmer and Lucas Giolito have taken a young staff we assumed would be a strength (to an extent) and turned it into a question mark (to another extent).
All that being said, there have been some pleasant surprises along the way and the organization has been remarkably patient with the prospects they’ve stashed in their minor league system. So it still feels safe to say the White Sox should have happier days ahead soon — they’ve actually won 6 of their last 10 games now.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the brightest spots of the season so far.
Reynaldo Lopez belongs in the top of the White Sox rotation
Reynaldo Lopez has been absolutely brilliant for most of the season, and he put together another business-like start on Sunday afternoon against a very good Boston Red Sox lineup to pick up just his second win of the season despite an ERA of just 3.26.
Nobody in baseball has more starts with six innings pitched and two hits or fewer allowed, which tells you exactly how dominant he can be when he’s on. And he’s discovered this season that he can work more efficiently late in games if he isn’t trying to blow the ball by everybody he faces early.
The man is built to eat innings, and that virtually assures he is going to be a fixture in this rotation along with Carlos Rodon now that he’s healthy. And, so far, it seems he belongs at the top, especially given the aforementioned struggles of Giolito and Fulmer.
Jace Fry will be a valuable piece in the White Sox bullpen
We did a deep dive into what has made rookie left-handed reliever Jace Fry so challenging late last month, and he’s just continued to reinforce our early position that he belongs in this bullpen long-term. He helped shut down the Red Sox after Lopez’s exit in a high-leverage 1.1 innings of work on Sunday.
Fry’s ERA on the season now sits at 2.12 with 20 strikeouts through 17 innings of work. We know it’s a small sample, but the splits still paint a pretty clear picture. He’s absolute hell on lefties, who are hitting just .059 against him now, and he’s not much easier on righites thanks to a unique arsenal.
Eventually, the White Sox bullpen will be remade with whatever is left over from the power arms the organization is throwing at the starting rotation at the moment. But even as this unit is eventually overrun by flamethrowers, it’s clear that Fry will have a place.
Daniel Palka and Matt Davidson give White Sox extra offensive depth
We can’t sit here and promise that either Daniel Palka or Matt Davidson will be on the roster whenever the White Sox are ready to contend, but they’ve done enough this season to give the organization the offensive competency it needs to patiently develop their prospects. And there’s always the chance they can hit their way into the club’s future.
Palka plays poor defense, strikes out a ton and doesn’t walk, but he absolutely hammers the ball when making contact. He’s even entered the rarefied air of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton with some of the exit velocities he’s generated this year. That sort of power from the left side will always have some value.
Meanwhile, Davidson has refashioned himself as one of the most patient hitters in the organization without losing any of the power that got him into the lineup in the first place. Add in the fact that he won’t even hit arbitration until 2020 and provides a little positional versatility and it’s easy to see him sticking around for at least a couple years.
One way or another, Jose Abreu will help the White Sox moving forward
Jose Abreu has been as steady as ever, leading the American League in doubles with 25 and adding 10 home runs for a pretty slash line of .295/.356/.520. Abreu has been a producer and continues to prove he’ll be a producer on a daily basis. So no matter what the White Sox do, he’s going to help them moving forward.
If they keep him, he’s going to be a worrisome out in the middle of the order, and he can be an example of how to adjust successfully not only to baseball at the major league level but also to life in the United States for all the White Sox’s young Latin talent. If they trade him, he’s going to bring back another prospect or two who factor into rebuilding this roster.
It’s sad to think that his impact might be reduced to the latter option, but if somebody is willing to pay a premium for him now, Rich Hahn probably can’t afford to get sentimental. Everything the White Sox have done the last 19 months has been forward-facing, otherwise you’d see Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Dane Dunning and others at the major-league level now.
Still, no matter what happens, Abreu’s consistency ultimately will be one of the reasons this organization keeps moving forward because of either his trade value or physical value.
Dylan Covey was a punchline in 2017 — the easiest representation of the organization’s futility after a 7.71 ERA resulting from giving up 20 home runs in just 70 innings.
That’s probably not fair considering he had little help around him, and he’s only 25 years old. Now, he’s proving we may have been a little presumptuous this year.
Covey was okay in an April spot start but then earned his way into the rotation in late-May when Fulmer was demoted and hasn’t looked back since. He’s given up just 3 earned runs in 22.1 innings since rejoining the rotation while striking out 25 and walking just 8.
We won’t sit here and pretend like this guarantees him anything moving forward, considering how many young arms the organization has stashed. However, he does have a few things going for him.
The peripherals aren’t indicating this is a flukey performance. His BABIP is a pretty standard .309, and his groundball rate is finally in line with where he has been historically in the minors. Also, the strikeout rate finally seems appropriate for somebody with as much life on his fastball to go along with a slider and changeup that generate swings and misses.
Plus, he’s here already. We all want to project what might become of Kopech, Dunning, Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease and others, but if Covey is producing now at the Major League level, it’s a helluva a lot easier to see who he might be moving forward than it is trying to guess how they younger prospects’ success in the minors translate.
Yeah, it’s been frustrating watching their pitching struggles and seeing the lineup go through prolonged stretches where they can’t score runs. But the organization, generally, is still moving forward nicely.
Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez continue to show off star potential in the minors, and they could very clearly make an impact at the highest level right now if they had to. They just don’t have to right now.
Tim Anderson has refined his approach in an encouraging way. The handful of prospects that are healthy and that we assume to be a couple years away all seem to be progressing nicely.
The pieces are coming together, and 2020 still looks like when the window will open. The pleasant surprises Lopez, Fry, Palka, Davidson and Covey have provided can only aid the process of turning this organization into regular contenders.