Are the White Sox closer to a championship today than they were six months ago?
When looking back at the last six months of baseball, that’s the question I’ve found myself pondering. There’s a lot of noise during the course of a 162-game season, and sorting out what matters and what doesn’t isn’t always easy. Similarly, one can look at the full-season stats for some of the more important players in regard to the future — Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon, Tim Anderson — and make deductions without taking into consideration specific improvements made, or conversely reasons for concern.
It’s those concerns that always seem loudest. For every glimmer of becoming an offensive force that Moncada showed, there was an abundance of contact issues and prolonged slumps. You could say almost the exact same thing about Anderson. And Giolito, Lopez, and Rodon at times looked like the type of starters the White Sox could rely on for years to come … only to struggle with command or fail to miss bats far too often for anyone’s liking.
Couple all that with the rash of injuries the White Sox suffered at the minor-league level — Luis Robert, Dane Dunning, Alec Hansen and Jake Burger are just a few of the prospects who missed some or all of 2018 — not to mention Michael Kopech, and it’s difficult to find much optimism in how the organization as a whole fared.
Still, we can try.
Positionally, even if you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that Moncada will never be the superstar many saw him becoming (I’m not there just yet), he was still an above-average offensive player at age 23 even after you factor in all the struggles he’s gone through. Likewise, Anderson showed gains (albeit minimal) in both his strikeout and walk rates, increased his power production, and got better defensively as the season went on. Even if neither of those players become stars, there’s no doubting they have the makings of quality major league producers. Not every player development victory produces a star. Not every regular starter on a championship-caliber team is an All-Star. And maybe — just maybe — that eventually star-level player to pair with the likes of Moncada and Anderson is Eloy Jimenez.
It’s a lot more difficult to spin things positively on the pitching side. Rodon again failed to pitch an entire season because of injury and saw his K rate dip significantly, Giolito was the worst starting pitcher in baseball for a good portion of the season, and Lopez — who pretty easily had the most promising season of the trio — still hasn’t completely persuaded those who believe his future is out of the bullpen. Carson Fulmer flamed out, was moved to the bullpen in Triple-A, and was far from dominant even in that role, and for all the excitement Kopech brought, we’re unlikely to see him pitch again until the 2020 season.
If you believe the answer to the first sentence’s question is yes, your reasoning is based on hope. For all the frustration that 2018 brought, there’s still hope that Jimenez becomes the type of game-changing hitter his talent portends, that Nick Madrigal moves quickly and becomes a top-of-the-order force for years to come, that Dylan Cease continues his ascent as the next White Sox Pitching Prospect Du Jour, that Kopech’s injury doesn’t hinder his long-term viability, and that the plethora of injury setbacks or underwhelming seasons are merely blips on the radar in what become otherwise successful careers.
Quite frankly, it’s a difficult proposition to buy.
When the White Sox started down the rebuilding path, as much as we bemoaned their inability to win with a cost-controlled core of All-Star caliber players, we to a certain extent applauded the fact that they had a sense of direction after too many years of straddling the line between contention and also-ran. But while that’s all fine and well, at some point you need to see sign of progress. That progress doesn’t necessarily need to be in the form of immediate contention a la this year’s Braves, but simply a reason to be confident that the path is leading somewhere meaningful. You can stockpile prospects all you want, but until all the scouting and player development translates into on-field success, the only thing you’re winning is Most Dudes on the Top 101 Prospect List. Last I checked, you don’t get a trophy for that.
And until it translates into on-field success, the questions will grow about whether this front office is the group to break a run of ineptitude that’s resulted not just in a playoff drought now 10 years strong, but in only two winning seasons during that same span and three of the 15 worst seasons in the franchise’s 118-year history.
Are the White Sox closer to a championship now than they were six months ago? I’m not entirely sure. After a season rife with injuries, poor performance, and a general lack of progress, the patience necessary to endure a rebuild is running thin. Hope remains, but it’s dwindling fast.
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