Look nobody has ever accused me of burying a lede, but while the short and simple answer to the question is “no”, there are individual elements of these games that matter both from a roster-building and developmental standpoint.
The White Sox begin their Cactus League schedule today against the Dodgers. Dylan Covey will start, and Tyler Danish, Thyago Viera, and Brian Clark are all expected to toe the rubber. It’s exciting, because live baseball will be in front of our eyeballs for the first time in far too long, but while these games can often feel like a meaningless slog as we count down to opening day, there are aspects worth keeping an eye on, even if the wins and losses absolutely do not matter.
1. HEALTH. If this list were 20-deep, health could probably take up spots 1 through about 16 or so. In those terms, the player everyone will have their eyes on is Carlos Rodon, who is in the early stages of a throwing program but who general manager Rick Hahn said Wednesday might not return until closer to June 1.
“This is more about getting him healthy for the long term rather than an extra two or three starts in April or May of 2018,” Hahn said. “I’m guessing it’s going to be closer to June 1, but until he’s actually throwing in games, it’s still speculative.”
Aside from Rodon, the most relevant injury-related name to watch in camp is Charlie Tilson. “Charlie Tilson if he’s healthy” has been an option in center field for more than a year now, but as much of a long-shot as it seems at this point, having a healthy Tilson as an option in center field would be a big bonus at a position where the incumbent is Adam Engel and his .517 OPS. Tilson is far from a sure thing, even when healthy. But you don’t know what you have in him until you know, ya know?
2. What the players and coaches say after spring training games actually matters, at least it matters as much as things like that can matter. Watching, say, Michael Kopech on the mound or Eloy Jimenez at the plate is fun to watch, but the results of those spring game appearances aren’t nearly as important as them executing what the coaching staff is asking of them in each appearance.
Maybe on Monday Don Cooper will have Kopech focusing on glove-side fastballs away, or standing tall. Fastball command is a common refrain you hear from White Sox coaches when working with young pitchers, and what and how they approach that with, say, Viara, is key.
You often hear what, specifically, those pitchers are working on after the game, in a matter-of-fact-ness that isn’t always the case in games that matter.
3. We mentioned Charlie Tilson earlier, and the group of outfielders will be worth monitoring throughout the spring. Tilson (yeah if healthy) and Engel are presumably battling for the starting center fielder spot, presuming the White Sox envision Leury Garcia for the utility role. There’s also Daniel Palka and Willy Garcia to consider.
Last year, the presumed starting center fielder in camp was Peter Bourjos before Jacob May came out of nowhere to earn the job. A lot can happen to change plans in these meaningless games.
4. Results. Wait, what? But you said …
Yes, results don’t matter. But let’s face it, it will be a helluva lot more fun this spring if Kopech comes out and torches a major league-ish caliber lineup, or Jimenez goes on a world-crushing tear. Last year, Yoan Moncada went .317/.391/.683 in 46 spring game plate appearances, and some guy nobody had ever heard of named Nicky Delmonico posted a .941 OPS and team-high five home runs in 71 plate appearances.
For every fun thing like that you have a May or Cody Asche, so take everything with a grain of salt. But the long spring is a lot more bearable when your presumed future roster pieces are playing well.
Lead Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports