MLB: Spring Training-Seattle Mariners at Chicago White Sox

Defining Success: The White Sox Roster

The White Sox are in a situation recent memory is unfamiliar with as they enter the 2017 season devoid of hopes for contention. Because of this, it would be foolish to judge the successes or failures of the team based solely on wins and losses, but instead look at individual growth of certain players, trade value increasing or decreasing, or players cementing themselves as having a future with the organization, in order to better gauge how successful this season will be. We’re taking a look at every aspect of the organization, from the prospects, to the players on the 25-man roster to begin the season, to the team as a whole, trying our best to answer the question: How do you define success with this team as currently constructed? Thursday, we looked at the prospects, and today, we’ll look at the White Sox roster as, barring any weekend surprises, we’re likely to see against the Detroit Tigers on Monday.

POSITION PLAYERS

Omar Narvaez
PECOTA projections: 376 PA, .240/.307/.335, 6 HR, 33 RBI, -1.2 WARP

When asked last week about what, if anything, the White Sox learned from the Great Catching Failure of 2016, general manager Rick Hahn reiterated that the White Sox do, in fact, care very much about framing and catcher defense and that the ill-fated decision to downgrade in that department from Tyler Flowers to Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila was an attempt to generate more offense. Hahn noted that the White Sox have had success in developing catcher defense, reminding us that when Flowers entered the White Sox system he was considered a bat-first prospect who might have trouble sticking at catcher defensively. This is a fair point, and it’s certainly possible that the Sox bet on their ability to teach both Navarro and Avila how to better frame pitches. But apparently you can’t teach an old dog new tricks … or something. If the White Sox want to better prove their point, Narvaez is about the best guinea pig imaginable. Narvaez graded out at a below-average pitch framer in his limited major league time in 2016 (minus-4.1 FRAA), but he’s still young enough that writing him off in that department might be premature. Catcher is a notoriously thin position across the league, so if Narvaez can remain what he was offensively in 2016 — plenty of walks, little power — and improve his defense, it would be considered a win for the White Sox. - Collin Whitchurch

Geovany Soto
PECOTA projections: 193 PA, .223/.289/.384, 6 HR, 23 RBI, -0.1 WARP

The White Sox aren’t asking for much from Soto: give Narvaez some days off, mentor him a bit, and don’t be as terrible as Dioner Navarro. And as long as Soto doesn’t get hurt, those are all pretty easy bars to clear. Anything he adds on offense is just bonus points. -Mark Primiano

Jose Abreu
PECOTA projections: 633 PA, .288/.349/.495, 28 HR, 92 RBI, 3.4 WARP

We’ve seen different calibers of Abreu over his three years in the majors, and while his second half resurgence makes PECOTA’s projection eminently reasonable, there’s still reasonable hope for more. His contact skills and power should still be there, and if he gets a little more luck with his health in 2017, we could see something closer to his 2014 than the past couple of seasons, which would firmly pull him back toward, “Fearsome Beast” instead of “Solidly plus 1B bat.” And as sad as it is to contemplate, it wouldn’t hurt if he boosted his trade value either. And if he’s hitting .310/.360/.550 at the All-Star break instead of the above, he might command something quite interesting (and maybe get to play in the playoffs for someone). -Nick Schaefer

Tyler Saladino
PECOTA projections: 300 PA, .257/.305/.391, 10 HR, 42 RBI, 1.3 WARP

With Brett Lawrie’s release, Saladino went from “supersub waiting for Frazier to get traded” to “starting second baseman hoping Frazier gets traded pretty close to when Moncada comes up so he can be the starting third baseman.” He can certainly handle it defensively, and the question becomes what caliber and shape his offense take. Saladino is no stranger to injury himself, but if he can play 140-plus games while providing league average offense and a plus glove, he is suddenly a legitimate regular and not just a plus utility player, although third would certainly put more pressure on his bat. -Nick Schaefer

Tim Anderson
PECOTA projections: 626 PA, .267/.288/.404, 14 HR, 57 RBI, 1.0 WARP

Anderson will very likely be the most interesting player on the Opening Day roster. Of the position players, he’s the most likely to stick around for awhile — as seen by his recent contract extension. With that said, the White Sox don’t need Anderson to blow the league away in 2017. The nice thing about finally breaking down and rebuilding is that there is no longer intense pressure on prospects to rapidly reach their ceiling. Anderson is never going to post strikeout and walk rates like Jose Altuve, but it is one glaring area for improvement. Last year he walked 13 times in 431 plate appearances. A successful season sees him improve that to 30 over a full season while keeping his strikeout rate the same, if not lower. It wouldn’t hurt to see the surprising power from a season ago make a return either. More than anything a successful season for Anderson involves him avoiding a sophomore slump and taking a step forward rather than backward. -Ryan Schultz

Todd Frazier
PECOTA projections: 551 PA, .247/.312/.449, 27 HR, 84 RBI, 1.8 WARP

It still feels weird that the White Sox went from a team that was consistently full of mashers to one absolutely lacking in power hitters. The Sox finished 13th in the AL in home runs and 11th in ISO last season, numbers that make it pretty damn hard to put together a half-decent offense. Frazier did his part, putting up a career high 40 home runs, though the rest of his batting stats continued a worrisome decline from their 2014 high. Frazier is in his walk year on a rebuilding team, so a successful season would involve putting up a strong enough first half (which would be in line with his career splits of .833 vs .721 OPS per half) to bring back a useful player or two for the future. -Mark Primiano

Melky Cabrera
PECOTA projections: 540 PA, .288/.332/.422, 12 HR, 60 RBI, 1.5 WARP

In his last year of his contract, a good season for Cabrera is one in which he stays healthy, strokes a couple clutch hits for the White Sox, entertains us in the outfield, and plays well for a contender after he gets shipped out in July for a couple B prospects. More concisely: “90 percent of 2016 Carlos Beltran’s production, but with funnier facial expressions and more pratfalls.” (Beltran had a .293 tAV when he was traded last year, and Cabrera’s 90th percentile tAV per PECOTA is .294) -Frank Firke

Avisail Garcia
PECOTA projections: 432 PA, .263/.311/.404, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 0.5 WARP

I honestly have no clue what would indicate a successful season for Garcia at this point. Hitting 20 home runs while being passable in the outfield would certainly be successful, but that doesn’t seem entirely plausible. For White Sox fans, the Avisail Garcia experiences has been nothing but disappointment. However, now that the focus has shifted from achieving the greatest possible outcome from fill-in players in the interest of competing for a playoff position to simply rebuilding for the future, the picture changes a bit. The White Sox are no longer being crippled by allowing Garcia to play despite his troubles at the plate and in the field. They’re free to allow him to play and perhaps find the player they saw when they chose him over Jose Iglesias. On the flip side, perhaps a truly horrible season from Garcia is the most successful in that it sees the White Sox finally give up on him. -Ryan Schultz

Jacob May
PECOTA projections:
206 PA, .233/.275/.336, 3 HR, 19 RBI, -0.6 WARP

May will be one of the most watched players heading north with the big club after his surprising ascension to the Opening Day roster. But even after his impressive spring both offensively and defensively, the odds will be stacked against May given his season-long struggles with the bat in 2016 during his first season at Triple-A. Still, the White Sox have shown enough faith in him to give an opportunity that probably wouldn’t be afforded him during a year with contention in mind, and if he’s able to hold down a roster spot all season long, that’d be a major accomplishment. -Collin Whitchurch

Matt Davidson
PECOTA projections: 396 PA, .208/.283/.372, 17 HR, 59 RBI, -0.7 WARP

After so many setbacks, success for Davidson is probably qualifying for an MLB pension, but that happens if he makes it through April on the active roster. If we’re a little more ambitious, it’s staying on the roster all year. From there, two paths: one with a stretch goal of replacement level (which PECOTA says is a top quartile outcome) and a best case scenario of an average bat, decent reps at third base, and a spot on someone’s roster next year. The other path’s best outcome? Well, Dayan Viciedo posted an .838 OPS in Japan last year. -Frank Firke

Cody Asche
PECOTA projections: 
101 PA, .247/.305/.410, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 0.1 WARP

The White Sox have plenty of players who will get an opportunity to prove they belong on a major league roster in 2017. While there’s still a bit of an unknown element in the likes of Narvaez, Davidson, or May, Asche doesn’t quite fit that mold. With nearly 1,300 plate appearances to his credit, Asche falls more in a category with Avisail Garcia as someone who has experienced enough failure during his career to where hope of success is mostly gone. In fact, in about 250 fewer career plate appearances than Garcia, Asche has a lower OPS+. Anything remotely positive he’s able to provide would be considered a shocking success. -Collin Whitchurch

Leury Garcia
PECOTA projections: 
94 PA, .246/.286/.359, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 0.0 WARP

More than half of Garcia’s 331 career plate appearances came during the 2014 season, when he hit a paltry .166/.192/.207 with a ridiculous 15 OPS+, while also playing every position on the field except first base and catcher. But after being considered a guy with a solid glove at most spots on the field but a terrible bat for most of his minor league career, he’s been solid at the plate in each of his previous two seasons at Triple-A Charlotte. Garcia’s career probably won’t amount to much, but it’s not impossible that he carves out a nice career as a utility guy given his positional versatility if he’s able to hold his own with the bat. The odds are still against that happening, but he’s likely to get the best opportunity of his career to prove it with this year’s team. -Collin Whitchurch

Yolmer Sanchez
PECOTA projections:
186 PA, .246/.286/.371, 4 HR, 18 RBI, -0.1 WARP

Sanchez has been in the White Sox system long enough that it’s hard to believe he’s still just 24, younger than Leury Garcia, Tyler Saladino, and Jacob May. When the White Sox signed Sanchez, they were just a year removed from their last playoff appearance! Still, while Sanchez’ opportunities have and will continue to come from the uncertainty of the White Sox second base situation (until, ya know, Yoan Moncada comes up), his ceiling is almost certainly that of a backup infielder. Proving that he can stick around to provide even that, and put an end to his ping-ponging between Chicago and Charlotte, would be a big step for Sanchez. -Collin Whitchurch

PITCHERS

Jose Quintana
PECOTA projections: 189 IP, 12-11, 3.95 ERA, 181 K, 50 BB, 2.4 WARP

Quintana received a fifth-place Cy Young vote last season, something simultaneously irrelevant and so very meaningful. It was meaningful solely because it showed that Quintana, who has put together four consecutive seasons that prove he’s an established, above-average starter, is finally starting to get some of the recognition that goes with that kind of performance. The spotlight will shine even brighter on Quintana this season as the bonafide No. 1 starter on this White Sox team. Quintana is easy to root for, and while a realistic expectation from the White Sox perspective includes him shoving for the first half and getting dealt in July for a plethora of prospects from a desperate contender, the personal expectation includes him continuing to ascend to the point where it’s no longer noteworthy when he’s rightfully mentioned in the same breathe as the top pitchers in the American League, regardless of what team’s uniform he’s wearing by the end of the season. -Collin Whitchurch

Carlos Rodon
PECOTA projections: 177 IP, 11-11, 3.92 ERA, 187 K, 64 BB, 2.3 WARP

This time last week a successful season would be a breakout — 180-plus innings, 200 strikeouts, an ERA below 3.40. Even with the good news that his MRIs came up clean and a diagnosis of bursitis, perhaps health and further incremental progress should be sufficient for White Sox fans. After all, he doesn’t have to hit his ceiling this year. He just needs to keep getting closer to that point. Or he could see a jump in his fastball command and feel for his change and morph into an ace now. That is also welcome. -Nick Schaefer

Miguel Gonzalez
PECOTA projections: 148 IP, 8-11, 4.63 ERA, 121 K, 49 BB, 0.6 WARP

After the release of John Danks and the downward spiraling fiasco that was Mat Latos, the White Sox rotation went through it’s growing pains at the back end in 2016. But that was before Gonzalez was officially named to the starting rotation. The Orioles quickly released Gonzalez after his ERA and peripherals shot up to around the 5 mark in 2015, though Gonzalez had no significant or apparent injury. When Gonzalez joined the White Sox rotation he was just the unexpected surprise that the a weary team needed, tossing 135 innings (his inning total would have been higher if not for a groin injury that sidelined him for a handful of starts) to end the season with a very balanced 3.73 ERA, 3.71 FIP, and 3.99 DRA. Gonzalez’s success could have been a fluke, and it may still come in waves, but Gonzalez managed to keep his ground ball numbers steady at 40 percent, and lowered his HR/FB rate to just 6.8 percent, down from 15 percent in 2015. Locating his pitches will be a key factor for Gonzalez, who went from 27 walks in the first half of 2016 to just 8 in the second half. Starting in the two spot until Carlos Rodon is healthy may not be the prettiest sight for the White Sox, but flipping a pitcher such a Gonzalez to the third starter spot is a whole different animal of expectation, and could be a quite comfortable roll for Gonzalez in 2017. -Cat Garcia

Derek Holland
PECOTA projections: 101 IP, 5-7, 4.72 ERA, 79 K, 32 BB, 0.3 WARP

Another White Sox-esque acquisition that is more of reclamation project than anything after eight seasons in Texas, Holland leaves the White Sox to salvage the remains of a now-injury riddled starter who last threw 200 innings back in 2013. However, if anyone can help maintain the health of a pitcher such as Holland, pitching coach Don Cooper is the man for the task. PECOTA shows Holland nearly replicating his 2016 with Texas this year, a performance that caused the Rangers to decline Holland’s $11 million contract option in favor of a of $1.5 million buyout, leaving Holland free to the open market for the first time in his career. With Holland likely bumping to the fourth spot once the White Sox rotation gets settled in, repeating his 2016 wouldn’t be utterly disastrous for a fourth starter on a one-year deal with a team not looking to contend. One concern with a Holland-type is that should he only start around 100 innings as PECOTA predicts, he defeats the purpose of absorbing the lack of sharp stuff for an inning eater type who is able to spare your bullpen of a few unnecessary outings. -Cat Garcia

James Shields
PECOTA projections: 174 IP, 9-12, 5.04 ERA, 154 K, 68 BB, -0.2 WARP

Shields had a 6.77 ERA on the South Side last year, but he was unlucky — if you use BP’s all-inclusive DRA metric, it should’ve been more like 6.73. Still, in 2015 he was worth 1.8 WARP for the Padres. That’s about his upper bound (90th percentile outcome in PECOTA is 2.0 WARP), and so the best case scenario is probably that he pitches that well, moves up the active complete games leaderboard (he’s tied for fifth, and if everything breaks right he can get as high as third), and gets some nice buzz for mentoring some of the White Sox prospects. More realistically, Shields gave up two homers per 9 last year (2.4 as a White Sox) and failed to clear 200 IP over a full season for the first time. If he can clear the latter benchmark and cut the homers by 25 percent or so, the White Sox will have gotten what they need out of him. -Frank Firke

David Robertson
PECOTA projections: 61 IP, 3.48 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 74 K, 0.9 WARP

A return to form. Robertson’s 2016 season was a lost year due to trying to pitch through a knee injury. The results? His lowest K/9 since 2013 and his highest BB/9 since 2011. With him being fully healthy once more, one would expect (hope?) those numbers correct themselves back towards where they belong. If they do, that could go a long way towards helping the rebuild effort because there’s never a shortage of contending teams looking for bullpen help come July. -Mark Primiano

Nate Jones
PECOTA projections: 64 IP, 2.92 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 73 K, 1.3 WARP

A successful season for Jones likely sees him with another team by August 1. Despite David Robertson having that elusive title of closer, Jones appears to be the more valuable asset. A solid first half of the season where he stays healthy and avoids bad outings could be more than enough to fetch some solid prospects in a trade, especially given the development of the reliever market that we’ve seen over the past couple seasons. If Jones does stick around, for whatever reason, a successful season is essentially just one where he remains healthy. So far he’s been a Tommy John success story, but that can change at the drop of a hat. -Ryan Schultz

Dan Jennings, Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka, Anthony Swarzak, Dylan Covey, Michael Ynoa

I mean no disrespect to these six pitchers by lumping them all together at the end, but the fact of the matter is we’re at 3,000 words and relievers are so unpredictable that I could probably have put a giant shrug emoji in this space. Success for this group is that they all stay healthy and effective enough to eat innings and maybe one or two of them find enough success to fetch something of value at the trade deadline. Maybe one of them emerges into something more. In the cases of Jennings, Putnam, and Petricka, you already have established major league relievers with a good chance of remaining somewhat valuable. For the other three, sticking around for the season would be a profound success. -Collin Whitchurch

Lead Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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1 comment on “Defining Success: The White Sox Roster”

Russ

I’m hoping fans and media are patient with Anderson, May, and Narvaez – they will likely be rotten players the first half of the season. These three should be given as much rope as Starlin Castro and Addison Russell were given with the Cubs.

I have no expectation that Anderson will top 24 walks for the season. He’s had exactly zero so far in spring training. 24 would be about 1 a week, so I’d put the over/under at 20. My offensive hopes for him is that he does not repeat 2016’s feat of having fewer walks than GIDP.

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