The fun part of the season came and went rather quickly. The White Sox went 17-12 in August, despite series against the surging Rays, Cleveland, the Yankees and a few games against the Red Sox. During that run, they allowed only 4.38 runs per nine, as Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and the newly-arrived Michael Kopech joined Carlos Rodon in not only surviving but thriving.
September has been a bucket of cold water, to say the least, instead of a month where the loaded farm system started bubbling over with talent to excite for next year. Debates swirled around the White Sox’ decision to leave Eloy Jimenez in Triple-A, the Tigers blew them out twice, tagged out with Mike Trout, and then the Angels proceeded to sweep them. They’re now on a seven-game losing streak, with two losses against the Royals of all teams. We also learned Kopech tore his UCL and will be out for all of the 2019 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
As commonplace as UCL surgeries have become in this sport, it bears emphasizing it is no guarantee. Even someone like Zack Wheeler who, in 2018, finally looked the part of what evaluators hoped he could be once upon a time took years of setbacks before he got there—and that’s still a better outcome than some. Some guys never get their stuff back. Some guys never pitch again.
On the positive side, I suppose, Kopech got hurt in September and there is no ambiguity about trying to get him to return midseason. By all accounts he has a tremendous work ethic and will have as much time as he needs to rehab. This series of events, however, feels like the epitome of 2018 White Sox. An elite prospect with a devastating injury, and his replacement is Rob Scahill—a major league veteran acquired off waivers who is just here to soak up innings, rather than to be a meaningful part of the future.
As for the rest of 2018, there are still a few things for which to hope. Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson could close strong, Ian Hamilton and Ryan Burr are relief prospects only, but interesting prospects nonetheless. Matt Davidson continues to claw his way from speculative non-major leaguer to intriguing bench piece, and Yolmer Sanchez is certainly fun if nothing else.
2018 was always going to need an absurd amount of positive development luck for the team to start looking like something. Something like Eloy Jimenez or Michael Kopech going nuclear and basically doing some watered-down version of what Juan Soto did in Washington D.C. Kopech was starting to look like the White Sox’ first glimpse of its hoarded talent breaking out, only to do what so many pitching prospects do and blow out his elbow.
The benefit of hoarding prospects—pitching prospects in particular—is you try to overcome the hateful, inexorable forces of nature with volume. Dylan Cease, of all people, was healthier than any other prospect in the White Sox’ pre-season Top 7 as Eloy, Alec Hansen, Luis Robert, Dane Dunning, and now Kopech all missed time with a variety of injuries. And, it hasn’t been all bad this year. The aforementioned Hamilton and Burr forced their way to the majors, Cease had his excellent season, arguably the best player in the draft slid to the White Sox at pick number four, and a number players in the 11-30 range of the system took steps forward: Luis Alexander Basabe, Luis Gonzalez, Bernardo Flores, Micker Adolfo, Laz Rivera, etc.
The consolation prize for the major league post-prospects/rookies/young players scuffling so much and the miserable September is your draft position improves. For a while the White Sox looked to be playing their way out of a Top 5 draft pick. But perhaps this crystallizes and makes real what had been a hypothetical argument and a position I’ve staked out for a long time: I’d rather the major league team play well and lose draft position than the alternative. If Michael Kopech had stayed healthy and pitched well in September, that would have meant more for the team than him blowing out his elbow and moving up two or three draft slots.
Regardless, it hasn’t been easy being a White Sox fan since George W. Bush left office. 2018 didn’t really change that. Worse, it’s harder to evaluate the players we have on hand–there’s this sort of indistinguishable morass of mediocre corner players, uber talented middle infielders failing to break out in earnest, and #2-4 starter types all pitching like #4s or #5s. Instead of going on a huge streak anchored by Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada and inspiring the confidence to sign free agents and see if you can contend in 2019, my initial forecast is an offseason with a whole lot of the same–minor league free agents, one-year stop gaps, maybe a fringe trade or two, and hoping the internal talent takes the jump in 2019 one might have hoped for in 2018.
But as I warned before the rebuild began, rebuilds don’t guarantee you anything.
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