Analyzing Chicago White Sox Hitters For 2020

Adam Lawler examines the lineup for the Chicago White Sox going into 2020.

The perils of White Sox fandom are steeped in fatalism. The writer of this article was born into the dreary, self-defeatist mold. One that often finds others weathering the storms of life as they grow up on the South Side of working class Chicago. The 2019 offseason, like the writer, was supposed to be different. One of promise and growth. A new hope.

Like the writer, the 2019 offseason was—by and large—one of disappointment and unfulfilled plans. No Bryce Harper. No Manny Machado. Instead, we got…Jon Jay and Yonder Alonso. Still, there was a comfort in that failure. A familiarity with mediocrity and “try hard” attitude. After all, what’s more blue-collar American than the lessons of the journey? There’s always next year!

Truly, it wasn’t all bad. Yoan Moncada took a nice stride toward stardom, though not superstardom. Eloy Jimenez signed a deal before the season started that essentially bought out his arbitration years and allowed him to be a part of the major league club without the frustrating time-manipulation practices. He did very well, but it’s hard not to wish he did more Yordan Alvarez type things. Jose Abreu stayed steady as ever. Hitting over .280 with 25+ bombs and 100 RBI for the fifth time in six seasons. He’s so underrated. The Jose Quintana of first basemen. More notably, he took a nice three-year deal this offseason. Running down the list….yeesh. James McCann was a delightful surprise. If you want a surface-level silver lining, the Sox stood proudly in the middle of the road from an offensive standpoint…waiting for a Mack truck to run them over.

Again, fatalism reigns supreme. The more you look into the 2019 White Sox, the more you come away disappointed. In a league of haves and have-nots a -49 Off WAR and 93 wRC+ is very much not what you want. The Sox were near the top of major league leaders in categories I would consider the “Bad Place”: K rate, swinging-strike percentage, ground-ball percentage, soft contact. So…they were whiffing a ton, and when they weren’t, the hits were soft grounders. Beep. Beep.

There are a number of names listed on Roster Resource who are projected to be a part of the Sox’s starting roster. These names will not be in the starting nine for much of (if any of) the season. At least they shouldn’t be. If they are, it’s a bigger disaster than last year. But…knowing how the Sox have historically operated, maybe I should plan on that.

But a new hope arises! I anticipate upcoming promotions combined with at least two offseason signings in the outfield and at starting pitcher. The promising prospects? Nick Madrigal and Luis Robert. We’ll touch on them below.
(Last Updated: November 27, 2019)

Roster Changes

Hitter Previews

Catchers

Yasmani Grandal (Catcher | Batting: 4th)

2019: 79 R, 28 HR, 77 RBI, 5 SB, .246/.380/.468 | Position Rank: C #3 (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: #122 (C #3 )

Now this is what I am talking about! Hope!

Yasmani Grandal signed after a majority of this write-up was created, but I have revised a number of items so that we may celebrate the most expensive contract the White Sox have ever executed. Yes, Grandal is 31. Yes, catchers face a steep decline, and we shouldn’t love that the richest man wearing a Sox uniform is a dude who squats two-plus hours a day over the course of eight months.

That said, Grandal has been, by and large, one of the best catchers over the last four years because of his big bat and great framing skills. From 2016 to 2019, Grandal has had the best walk rate in three of four seasons among catchers. Meanwhile, his ISO and wRC+ has been in the top three of catchers in three of four seasons. He hits for power, and he’ll benefit from being a part of a budding White Sox offense.

The concern, however, is games played. Over the last two years, Grandal has led all catchers in this category. I anticipate the Sox will use him at first base and DH to get his bat in the lineup while giving his legs some rest. The result would be gains positional eligibility and provides volume at a position that would sometimes be better left empty than playing someone like Tony Wolters.

With as bad as this position is, Gary Sanchez may be the only player who offers higher offensive upside over the next two or three years.

Strengths: PA/AB, OBP, HR, R, RBI
Weaknesses: AVG, SB

Best-Case Scenario

Grandal continues to post a strong walk rate, provides a high volume of at-bats, and puts the ball in the stands. Life is good. The White Sox make the playoffs, win the World Series, and Grandal is the MVP.

Worst-Case Scenario

Grandal is injured. McCann fills in admirably. The Sox marginally improve in 2020 with eyes on 2021. Grandal’s injury lingers as his 32-year-old body fails to fully heal. The contract is a disaster. I hear the constant droning of some guy named Rick, or Mike, or Tim call Chicago sports radio to rant about how the Sox are organizationally inept and they’re financially hamstrung with a bad contract they gave to a catcher in his decline.

2020 Projection: 70 R, 24 HR, 70 RBI, 4 SB, .250/.380/.460

James McCann (Catcher | Bench)

2019: 62 R, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 2 SB, .273/.328/.460 | C #5 (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: N/A (C #N/A)

Welington Castillo was supposed to be the name to watch on the South Side. Instead, McCann retained the majority of the playing time behind the plate, and the production was jaw-dropping. In 2019, McCann took major steps forward, posting career highs in every statistical category. He hit the ball harder and benefited from the rabbit ball. While Zack Collins had been promoted, McCann still holds a clear-cut No. 2-catcher status in the clubhouse. For fantasy purposes, however, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that the underlying metrics point toward a negative regression. Even without the signing of Grandal, I wouldn’t have banked on 2019 repeating itself. He’s no longer rosterable in deep mixed formats. If you’re the gambling type or in a deeper dynasty league, keep an eye on Collins. The dude has prodigious power…when he gets the bat on the ball.

Strengths: AVG, OBP
Weaknesses: PA/AB, HR, R, RBI, SB

Best-Case Scenario

2019. That was it. Peak McCann. Even 90% of that is his best-case scenario. In either event, with Grandal the primary backstop, McCann would be lucky to play a reasonable amount between catcher, first base, and DH.

Worst-Case Scenario

He is slow out of the gate, and they decide Collins is worth giving the C/1B/DH role. Playing time is further reduced, and McCann is relegated to duties similar to his 2016 campaign with the Tigers.

2020 Projection: 30 R, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 0 SB, .260/.330/.420

Infielders

Jose Abreu (1B | Batting: 3)

2019: 85 R, 33 HR, 123 RBI, 2 SB, .284/.330/.503 | 1B #9 (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 89 (1B #10)

Even at age 32, Abreu is one of the safest bets at first base. As I mentioned previously, Abreu was as steadfast as ever. For the fifth time in six seasons, Abreu posted 150+ hits, 30+ home runs, 100+ RBI with a .280+/.330+/.470+ slash line. Even his underlying metrics are still within career norms. There are seemingly no red flags beyond his age and his unwillingness to take a walk.

Unfortunately for most managers, this level of consistency isn’t very sexy for a position considered to have a bunch of sluggers. Yes, Abreu will never have the Pete Alonso season. He will never hold a candle to a healthy Freddie Freeman. Inevitably, names like Josh Bell and Matt Olson will eclipse him this offseason in ADP. Still, he’ll always be a much better option than the Trey Mancini, Yuli Gurriel, and Dan Vogelbachs of the world.

Abreu stated throughout the season that his future is with the Sox. This year, he was rewarded by signing a semi-lucrative three-year deal, cementing his place within the White Sox lineup. For 2020, I’m a believer that Abreu’s skill level will continue to trudge along. It’s amazing how impressive that consistency is and how overlooked it can be. It’s important to remember that he missed the last half of September, which may have hurt his overall value a bit.

Strengths: PA/AB, AVG, HR, RBI
Weaknesses: OBP, SB

Best-Case Scenario

He continues to produce as he always has.

Worst-Case Scenario

Age comes for my Cuban friend. Abreu’s unwillingness to walk catches up with him as his eyes deteriorate and his bat becomes slower. His .280 average becomes more like .260. The live ball continues to inflate homer production across the league and the 30-home run plateau isn’t as vaunted as it used to be. Instead of a top-10 first baseman, he becomes a top-14 first baseman.

2020 Projection: 85 R, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 1 SB, .281/.331/.500

Nick Madrigal (2B | Batting: 9)

2019: N/A | 2B N/A

2020 ADP: 345 (2B #35)

Some people have a “type.” Madrigal is my type. Over 530 plate appearances, spanning across three levels, Madrigal struck out 16 times. That’s it! He is the omega to Willians Astudillo’s alpha. Like Astudillo, he’ll never overwhelm you in the power department and really doesn’t walk. In fact, he may have difficulty breaking double digits in some seasons. However, what he does have is elite speed. Granted, I’m a little worried about the SB:CS ratio. However, if he can learn to be average in the stolen base efficiency department, there is no reason he couldn’t be in the upper 20s most seasons. That’s important given the lack of available speedsters in the majors.

 

Strengths: AVG, OBP, SB
Weaknesses: R, HR, RBI

 

Best-Case Scenario

Madrigal breaks camp with the team and provides a .280+, 20+-steal campaign. He’s a bench bat or waiver-wire pickup in most leagues when your other options fail.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

The Sox bring back Sanchez and make everyone suffer through that experience as Madrigal continues to hit the crap out of the ball at Triple-A working on…I don’t know…“his mechanics.” He ends up coming to the big leagues a couple of weeks in and slowly takes over the spot, posting 250 at-bats and 10 steals.

2020 Projection: 70 R, 3 HR, 40 RBI, 25 SB, .290/.335/.380

 

Tim Anderson (SS | Batting: 1)

2019: 81 R, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 17 SB, .335/.357/.508 | SS #9 (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 117 (SS #15)

Tim Anderson set the world on fire to start the 2019 season. During the first month of baseball, he hit just as many home runs and scored as many runs as he did the entire second half. Though he stole 17 bags the entire season, 10 were snagged during the first month. More importantly, he provided a level of leadership with flair so desperately needed in baseball, let alone on a bad team. He flipped bats. He celebrated. He handled racial slurs directed at him with admirable responses and brought in a larger audience to discuss and consider the way we treat one another.

Still, for all the positivity during the first month, nothing truly had changed in his profile. He was—what we like to call in the biz—“on a heater.” The issues that plagued him the rest of the season are the issues that have been red flags his entire career. Anderson swings out of his shoes. In fact, it was worse in 2019 than in previous years. His swing percentage and O-swing rate were career highs at 58.5% and 45.2%, respectively. The only difference is that his contact rate in both categories improved as well, which speaks to his bat speed. This gives reason to a mind-numbing .399 BABIP. For context, that number was the second-highest in the league (we’ll get to the other momentarily), so I wouldn’t expect Anderson to hit anywhere close to the .335 he posted this past year.

For 2020, Anderson is fantasy-viable despite all of these concerns surrounding the swing-and-miss profile. Admittedly, shortstop is one of the deepest positions in this game we play. However, had Anderson not missed a fraction of June and almost all of July, he would have been in the 20 HR/20 SB club. There were only nine other names who achieved that plateau last season. The Sox are committed to Anderson for the long term, so his playing time is not in question. Therefore, 20/20 is nearly a lock, barring health issues.

Strengths: PA/AB, SB
Weaknesses: AVG, OBP, R

Best-Case Scenario

2016 Jonathan Villar. Maybe he cuts his swing rate, becomes a more selective hitter, strikes out less, gets on base more. Inevitably, this would lead to a increased stolen base and home run totals.

Worst-Case Scenario

2017 Villar. Becomes a human windmill. Strikes out a ghastly amount. His average and on-base percentage plummet into the .250s. Never getting on base thus mitigating his stolen base opportunities and barely cracking the 15-home run threshold.

2020 Projection: 80 R, 21 HR, 69 RBI, 25 SB, .260/.320/.405

Yoan Moncada (3B | Batting: 2)

2019: 83 R, 25 HR, 79 RBI, 10 SB, .315/.367/.548 | 3B #6 (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 59 (3B #9)

Welcome to the breakout.

The lynchpin to the Chris Sale trade entered his fourth season as the neurotic Sox fanbase wrung their hands, wondering if the rebuild was a complete failure due to Moncada’s inability to immediately perform at an All-Star level. Rest assured that Moncada is entering the phase of superstardom everyone was sold on. Unlike Anderson, Moncada’s bugaboo was too much patience, which led to a ton of called looking strikeouts.

That all changed this past year as Moncada began markedly swinging more. Perhaps most notably, swinging at balls in the zone more. Moncada was in the top 31 in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage. The underlying metrics also point to sustained success, as he barreled the ball better than most, leading in categories like hard-hit percentage, and exit velocity. Do not be fooled by the lack of counting stats; those will come as general manager Rick Hahn installs the pieces around him. People can worry about the K rate or the league-leading BABIP, but he is showing clear signs of growth, cutting the K rate by nearly six points last year and utilizing his speed to garner extra bases whenever possible.

For 2020, plan for another step forward. Anticipate additional cuts in K rate, increased power, and increased counting as a better supporting cast is put around him.

Strengths: PA/AB, AVG, OBP, RBI, SB
Weaknesses: R

Best-Case Scenario

His best case is a top-four third baseman who battles with the likes of Anthony Rendon, Nolan Arendo, and Alex Bregman for the top spot.

Worst-Case Scenario

The White Sox fail him in 2020. They delay the call-up of Robert and Madrigal. They do not sign someone like Marcell Ozuna. Abreu takes a step back. Anderson heavily regresses. In this scenario, he’s a top-10 third baseman.

2020 Projection: 90 R, 29 HR, 95 RBI, 15 SB, .310/.380/.550

 

Edwin Encarnacion (DH/1B | Batting: 5)

2019: 81 R, 34 HR, 86 RBI, 0 SB, .244/.344/.531 | 1B #11 (per FG wOBA)

2020 ADP: 224 (1B #19)

The White Sox added an immediate impact bat by signing Edwin Encarnacion in January to a 1-year, $12 million deal with a club option for a second year at the same rate. Though he’ll play 2020 at age 37, the late bloomer has aged like a fine wine. Encarnacion has hit at least 32 homers in each of the last 8 seasons, producing a total of 297 that’s unmatched by any other major leaguer in that span.

He’ll complement the dynamic youth in the White Sox lineup by providing a steady and sage veteran presence, along with his lovable parrot pose after dingers. He went criminally late in the PL Mocks — perhaps because of his advanced age and our culture’s passive disdain of such geriatrics — but could provide a boatload of pop and counting stats in the 18th round or later. Smash that draft button.

Strengths: R, HR, RBI
Weaknesses: SB

Best-Case Scenario

E5 manages to maintain his current level of production and stay healthy enough to play in ~140 games, adding tons of thump to a lineup that seeks a wild card and your own lineup that seeks its own title.

Worst-Case Scenario

He misses a large chunk of time and he’s never healthy enough to showcase that sweet swing. He’s a tough hold on your bench or hits the waiver wire, and you move on to greener pastures.

2020 Projection: 78 R, 33 HR, 89 RBI, 0 SB, .246/.346/.498

Outfielders

Eloy Jimenez (OF | Batting: 6)

2019: 69 R, 31 HR, 79 RBI, 0 SB, .267/.315/.513 | OF #101 (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: 70 (OF #20)

In 2019, Jimenez displayed the raw power and bat speed that has had me salivating over him since the Sox acquired him in 2017. Prior to his call-up, Jimenez had shown improvement at every stop in the minor leagues. Upon his arrival, Jimenez solidified the Victorious Youth-like mythos around his strength, excelling in hard-hit percentage and exit velocity. He’s always going to be a slugger who hits in the .260s-.270s and will post 40+-home runs in the better seasons. And that’s good!

It’s impossible not to compare him to his contemporaries. Inevitably, this is where the red flags come up. Putting Jimenez in the same view of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alvarez, Alonso, and Fernando Tatis Jr., Jimenez had the worst O-swing, Z-contact, and swinging-strike percentages, all while having the highest swing rate. This can be disappointing to some, but expected by others.

Yet, if we’re going to compare this lot off one season, we’re doing it wrong and growth is not linear and context is important. After struggling to start the season, Jimenez developed an imposing presence at the plate in June before suffering an elbow injury during July. Once he returned, he went supernova in August and September.

Be ready for the breakout in 2020. 40+ home runs with a .265+ batting average is a very real possibility and something only eight other major leaguers achieved last year.

Strengths: PA/AB, HR, RBI
Weaknesses: R, SB

Best-Case Scenario

A top-20 outfielder. Hits a bunch of dingers. Runs into some luck with average and posts closer to .280, not .260.

Worst-Case Scenario

He takes a step back. Perhaps he struggles during the colder months. In either case, he is dropped in the order, and it temporarily hurts his counting stats. He ends up hitting 30-35 home runs instead of 40-45.

2020 Projection: 83 R, 41 HR, 99 RBI, 0 SB, .269/.330/.515

Luis Robert (OF | Batting: 8)

2019: N/A | OF N/A

2020 ADP: 132 (OF #36)

While many will rightfully say the Sox’s rebuild (as far as batters are concerned) lives and dies with Moncada, there are few successful teams with just one elite hitter. Enter Robert.

After struggling with injuries during his first two campaigns, Robert put together his first healthy season and subsequently is well within the top five of every respectable prospect ranking list.

If we were able to give truth serum to Hahn, he would admit Robert should have been up at the end of last year. The biggest concern of the 2019 season? Robert posted a career-low .297 batting average over 223 plate appearances at Triple-A Charlotte. The good? Across three leagues, La Pantera hit 32 bombs to pair with a very efficient 36 stolen bases. One thing that may hurt him is the…well, whatever the opposite of a Zen-like plate approach would be…the dude just goes up there and rakes.

If he’s not starting in 2020, I will be writing a strongly worded letter to Mr. Hahn. Excoriating him for his willingness to seemingly put another subpar product out on the field. Robert has the makings of a perennial top-20 outfielder.

Strengths: R, HR, SB, AVG, OBP
Weaknesses: Nothing

Best-Case Scenario

A top-20 outfielder from the jump. A lock at 20/20 with a puncher’s chance of 30/30. Discussed as the next Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto. Parades are thrown in his honor. Men and women weep in his presence. He heals the national wounds by uniting us under one banner: House Robert.

Worst-Case Scenario

He hurts himself and I write the same things in 2021. Maybe his ultra-aggressive approach leads to a .275 average.

2020 Projection: 88 R, 24 HR, 70 RBI, 25 SB, .284/.330/.490

 

Nomar Mazara (OF | Batting: 7)

2019: 69 R, 19 HR, 66 RBI, 4 SB, .268/.318/.469 | OF #88 (per FG wOBA)

2020 ADP: 274.8 (OF #64)

Nomar Mazara was acquired by the club in a December trade that sent minor league outfielder Steele Walker to the Rangers. As a top prospect who was lefthanded and offered an advanced approach at the dish, Mazara had numerous opportunities to prove himself but never seemed to click. He became expendable as Texas re-shaped its roster.

He’s said that lingering injuries kept him from making an impact last year, which would make sense, given his final slash line. The White Sox certainly hope so, as he’ll be provided the lion’s share of opportunities in right field. He’ll still play 2020 at just 24 years old and, at this point, has entered post hype status. He could be a sneaky add in the reserve rounds of drafts. Current projections have him set for only about 130 games, so if you take the over on that the odds are you could profit pretty easily.

Strengths: AVG
Weaknesses: RBI, SB, OBP

Best-Case Scenario

Mazara’s top prospect status clicks and his addition to the White Sox helps turn their lineup into an absolute force. He way exceeds projections and he’s an even bigger boon for your fantasy squad.

Worst-Case Scenario

Injuries continue to linger or he’s just plain ineffective. He hits the pine early in the season and you forget about him.

2020 Projection: 76 R, 25 HR, 66 RBI, 3 SB, .255/.318/.468

 

Playing Time Battles

Catcher: Collins may end up getting some time at backstop, but don’t bank on him being the answer. He’s a big swing-and-miss guy who’s better suited for DH.

Everyone else is Forky.

Third Outfielder: It’s hard to say what’s going to happen during the offseason, but I am guessing the Sox add an outfielder through free agency. It makes the most sense. However, if Adam Engel ends up being in the mix, I will riot.  Nobody else is worth consideration.

 

Projected Lineup

Chicago White Sox Projected Lineup vs. RHP
Chicago White Sox Projected Lineup vs. LHP

 

Conclusion

If you’re not getting excited about the Sox’s offensive outlook, you’re doing it wrong. There are reasons to be optimistic at nearly every spot in the lineup.

(Writer squints, sees shadow surrounding it and becoming bigger, looks up.)

Oh, look. A piano.

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Adam Lawler

Fun dad. Generally tired. Follow me @TheStatcastEra.

  • Avatar Joe Harwood says:

    Grandal is a switch hitter

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