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Behind Enemy Lines: White Sox Q&A with South Side Sox

The White Sox aren’t in much better shape than the Tigers this year, but the future isn’t far from them.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday afternoon, the Detroit Tigers will kick off a series in the Windy City against the Chicago White Sox. At 1-4, the Tigers have gotten good outings from all of their mainstays in the starting rotation, but have already been shut out twice this season. The White Sox currently have a record of 3-2, which is good for first place in the AL Central Division, not that that matters in the first week of April.

To get you familiarized with the White Sox, we talked to Brett Ballantini of South Side Sox, SB Nation’s excellent White Sox community.

BYB: The White Sox aren’t expected to compete this season, but have a deep farm system and some exciting young players in the majors. What are you most looking forward to in 2018?

BB: The end of the season?

No, heh, there are a lot of things to look forward to. The keystone combo of Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson has great promise. Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech’s presumed arrival on the South Side, once their service time clocks turn over. Um, is my time up yet? No? OK, Avisail García’s attempt to go from one-season wonder to two-season wonder, and who knows, multi-season wonder? And the young rotation combo of Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez is going to be a trip to watch this season.

Tim Anderson has started the season on fire flashing extra base power and the ability to wreak havoc on the base paths. What do you think is reasonable to expect out of him this year at the plate?

He had a very solid rookie campaign and a pretty horrible 2017, both personally and professionally. But he was much improved in August and September of last year, and that has translated through Cactus League play and this early season. I see Tim taking pitches the other way and flashing opposite field power. His speed is tasty; already this season he’s scored from first on a single (running on a full-count, but it was a no-BS run aided by a bobble on a relay or something) and stolen second and third base just pitches apart. So I’d say the ceiling is somewhat high. On the conservative side, let’s project 15 HR, 70 ribs, 25 steals. High side, 20 dingers, 80 RBI, .300, 30 steals.

Not to steal TA’s prodigious swagger, but really, the guy I’m quietly tabbing as the “surprise” offensive MVP is on the other side of the bag, Moncada. Five-tool ability, taking the leadoff spot without batting an eye, can throw some leather (not Anderson’s strong suit), Real Man power.

Despite the existence of James Shields, the White Sox have a ton of young arms who are either in the rotation or on the verge of cracking it this season. Out of Carlos Rodon, Carson Fulmer, Lucas Giolito, and even Michael Kopech, whose development in 2018 is most critical to the future success of the club, and who needs to take the next step forward to prove his value to the club?

BB: Oh, Cameron, if only we could “despite the existence of James Shields” away the actual existence of James Shields. Well, the White Sox have at least taken some precautions this year. OK, on to the real guys:

Rodon is established and is still the “No.1” starter on the team. He just needs to stay healthy. He’s back sometime in June, say, and will be a nice shot in the arm to a ragged rotation.

Fulmer remains an enigma, reliever makeup still being trotted out as a rotation piece. He had one glistening start of five or whatever in spring, and that’s just not good. The White Sox seem to be taking a while to get the message that Fulmer is probably not a starter, and lineups salivate over seeing him a second time through. So he would fit in your “needs to take the next step forward” category, or start packing his bags for the pen.

Giolito has been pretty much aces for the White Sox, impressing in K.C. in the second game of the season even with lackluster stuff (no bite on his breaking ball). A real surprise to go from a somewhat ho-hum season in the bushes last year to an August callup where he took off and never looked back. He should have been the Opening Day starter, based on whatever metric you like: merit, stuff, height, promise, bulldoggery.

Kopech is at AAA Charlotte, where he’s going to work on his composure and his changeup. When he has a good touch with both, and once that service time clock rolls over, he’ll be in Chicago. If we close our eyes and dream a bit, Kopech moves right into James Shields’s old locker.

Matt Davidson hit three homers on opening day. Who the heck is he, and could he be the next hitter to break out as a late bloomer?

Well if you had asked me this question the day after Opening Day, I would have been blubbering some nonsense about Davidson going 30 and 90 this year. Though Davidson has fallen off of his 783 home run pace for the season, there still are some good signs. He’s taking some pitches. At least two of his Ks this season were very questionable calls. With increased contact and more exclusive focus on hitting (as primary DH, rather than third base), Davidson is due for a strong season. I still believe the White Sox offense is the “strength” of the team, so you know what, I’ll double down on my blubbering and stick with the 30 and 90, and next year I’ll just have to beg your forgiveness.

Oh, who is he? Well, he has fabulous hair. And he came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks for closer Addison Reed, like 16 Addison Reed teams ago.

Which prospect/prospects who isn’t/aren’t in the major leagues right now do you anticipate will crack the roster this season and could potentially make an impact?

Kopech, we have addressed. The other biggie is a literal biggie, the squeeze-your-eyes-real-tight-and-you-can-almost-see-Frank-Thomas, Eloy Jimenez. Jimenez starts in Birmingham (AA) this season, but then, so did Big Frank in 1990, when he made his way up to the bigs and got a 60 game cup of coffee, by the end of which pitchers across the AL started clamoring for trades to the Senior Circuit. Worrisome, Jimenez has been a bit banged up in 2018 (a little knee pain in Cactus play, pectoral strain delaying the start of his season now) but when you are talking about the Biggest Bonus Baby the Sox have seen since, oh wait, Moncada, it’s hard to know how much of that is injury, how much is We’re Not Gonna Screw This Up on the part of the White Sox.

One sleeper could be Ryan Cordell, big, swift outfielder who the Sox got from Milwaukee last deadline for Anthony Swarzak. Impressed in spring training, and if he mashes early at Charlotte we could see him up and taking some reps from Nicky Delmonico (LF), Adam Engel (CF) or even Davidson, if he somehow falls short of that 30-90.

With generally low expectations across the league for the White Sox, what has to happen in 2018 throughout the organization for this season to be a success?

They finish September healthy, with expected or better campaigns from Moncada, Anderson, Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Kopech, Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Luis Robert, Rodon. The wins don’t matter, and arguably the White Sox, with one tanking draft still left in ’em, probably prefer to trade wins for development, and a higher draft pick. I believe they might also be looking forward to removing James Shields’s nameplate from the home clubhouse.

Thanks again to Brett Ballantini for answering our questions. You can follow find his work at South Side Sox, or follow them on Twitter at @southsidesox.