On Thursday, the 2019 Chicago White Sox season will begin in Kansas City against the Royals. In the third year of a rebuild, the young team will look to improve on a 2018 season in which the team lost 100 games for the first time in franchise history. If the team is to turn their fortunes around in 2019, they will need their young core of players to lead the way.
When the White Sox began their rebuild it started with the acquisition of Top 100 prospects in Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, and Eloy Jimenez. All were acquired via trade in the first season of the rebuild with Moncada, Giolito, and Lopez being called up late in the 2017 season.
Their performance in 2017 led to possible hopes that the team was ahead of schedule in the rebuild for the 2018 season, but they regressed rather than progressed. Moncada, who was the top prospect in the Chris Sale trade, led the league with 217 strikeouts which were also a White Sox record. Giolito, who posted a 2.38 ERA in seven starts in 2017, finished with a 6.13 ERA in 32 starts last season. Lopez was the one prospect who actually improved from 2017 to 2018 as he led the starting staff with a 3.91 ERA and strikeouts per nine innings with 7.2.
Moncada has had a terrific spring training this season as he has batted over .300 and hitting four home runs while playing a new position at third base. Giolito has a strong spring while pitching with a new pitching mechanics is throwing harder as his fastball has been clocked at 97 MPHs.
Pitching prospect Michael Kopech will be sidelined for the entire 2019 season following his debut in 2018. He made four starts in 2018 before it was announced that he would require Tommy John surgery which will keep him out until the 2020 season.
The two most anticipated players for the White Sox this season will be both Jimenez and Cease. Jimenez will start the season with the team after signing a six-year $43 million deal which is the biggest ever for a minor league prospect. In Triple-A Charlotte last season, he hit 22 home runs and drove in 75 RBIs in 108 games. It is this reason why many are predicting him to win the American League Rookie of the Year award this season. Cease was named MLB Pipeline’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season and is expected to be called up by the White Sox in either late-July or August.
Another reason why the team could be better in 2019 is because of a set bullpen, something they didn’t have last season. Manager Rick Renteria did not have a permanent closer as Jace Fry, Nate Jones, and Joakim Soria all were given the opportunity to close last season. This past offseason, general manager Rick Hahn traded for All-Star closer Alex Colome and signed All-Star reliever Kelvin Herrera. Colome saved a league-high 47 games in 2017 and Herrera posted an ERA under three in three of his last four seasons. With Colome as his closer, Renteria is able to set up his bullpen properly, something he hasn’t been able to do in the past two seasons.
Finally, health will be a factor for a few White Sox veterans who have struggled with injuries in the last few seasons. Opening Day starter Carlos Rodon will look to have his first injury-free season since 2015. If he can stay healthy, he has the potential to one of the best pitchers in the American league.
First baseman Jose Abreu will also look to rebound following a 2018 season cut short due to injury. A lower-body injury led to him playing in a career-low 128 games hitting just 22 home runs and driving in 78 RBIs.
The 2019 season should be better for the White Sox if their young talent improves and their veteran talent can stay healthy. The team doesn’t need to compete for a playoff spot but does need to show signs of improving with more wins than last year. In a Central Division in which others are rebuilding, there is no reason why the team can’t improve and inspire hope for the 2020 season.