The Chicago White Sox have a lot to prove in the 2023 season. After making the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history in 2020 and 2021, the team fell flat in 2022 and looks for a bounce-back year with a new look. Is this lineup strong enough to compete for a World Series this year? Or will they continue to struggle as a team, despite bright young stars bolstering the lineup and rotation? Let’s look at the boys on the south side and see how they shake out compared to the rest of the league.
Pedro Grifol enters his first year as the Sox skipper in a pretty good situation. He replaces the re-retired Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, who stepped down after only two years with the team in his second stint. The expectations are two-fold. On the one hand, he is expected to do better than La Russa, a feat many fans think would be hard to mess up. On the other hand, this is a team with championship expectations. The former Royals bench coach will be looked at to embrace a culture that facilitates winning in a system that has its share of dysfunction. In the past decade in Kansas City, he has been a member of two pennant-winning teams, including being a 2015 World Series champion. He looks to bring some of that culture to Chicago but still has a lot to live up to. Considering his presence comes to make up for a flopped manager search two years ago, when the Sox could have come away with someone like A.J. Hinch, he is not the A+ signing the 2020 White Sox hoped would be the guy for their young core. However, he knows talent and how to unlock it and has the potential to make this team the contenders they want to be.
The White Sox starting rotation leaves a lot to be desired from the perspective of World Series contention. As it stands now, the starting five looks like this:
Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Mike Clevinger*
Cease is the clear ace in that rotation. Finishing 2nd in A.L. Cy Young voting last year, he might have the nastiest stuff in the American League, possibly in the entire MLB. However, behind him are an array of guys that could be as good as a 2nd in rotation or could find trouble and be bottom-of-rotation. Lance Lynn, a typical workhorse of consistency, has continued his career success with the White Sox but has been rocked in certain situations. The 2021 playoff series against the Astros comes to mind. Lynn is a dominant pitcher who is on when he’s on, but smart hitters and advanced metrics can poke holes in his overpower-the-hitter pitching approach. Though nobody is unhittable, any manager should still trust Lynn to go out there and get the job done on any given day. A 1-2 punch of Cease and Lynn is scary for most teams.
This is where pitching gets interesting for the White Sox. Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, and Mike Clevinger. These guys have shown flashes of success that would put them near the top of almost any rotation in baseball. Kopech, a young stud who can throw hard and with movement, came onto the scene as a starter last year, his first season with over 100 IP. Finishing the season with a 3.54 ERA does nothing but instill confidence that he should be a consistent starter for this team, but with a 6.4 H/9 and a 4.3 BB/9, he can find himself in tricky situations. He’s been able to pitch himself out of some jams impressively but looks to find success a little more smoothly in 2023.
Lucas Giolito, the former ace of this pitching staff, needs a bounce-back year. For the White Sox to be successful, he needs to be the pitcher he was in 2020 and parts of 2021. This rotation was built to count on him to succeed on the days that he is on the mound, and if he can’t do that, then there is a giant hole every fifth day for which the White Sox do not have a game plan or alternative. He has the potential to be as good as whatever pitcher is in the other dugout, but he needs to pitch with the confidence of a player who led this team to two playoff appearances if they want to get back there.
Finally, Mike Clevinger rounds out the lineup. Acquired via free agency just this offseason, he is no stranger to the A.L. Central, as he spent four and a half years with the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians. Pitching alongside Shane Bieber, Trevor Bauer, and Corey Kluber, he was a part of one of the most terrifying rotations in baseball. However, following a 2022 season in San Diego in which he posted a 4.33 ERA and nearly a 1.2 WHIP, he hopes to return to his old form in the midwest. The 2022 season came after a second bout of Tommy John surgery, leaving many questions for Clevinger individually headed into the next season.
An even bigger question, however, for Clevinger is if he will even play in 2022. According to a report by The Athletic, the mother of his 10-month-old, Olivia Finestead, has been in contact with the MLB since this summer regarding domestic abuse and child abuse by Clevinger. The White Sox organization claims they were unaware of these allegations at the time of his signing and stand by the decisions made by the MLB. There will be more information about this situation as it comes out. For now, count on the White Sox need to find another starting pitcher.
Maybe the biggest free agency move for the White Sox impacts their infield: Jose Abreu signing with the Houston Astros. Abreu, 35, has been the longstanding leader of the team and had one of the best careers in White Sox history. The 2020 A.L. MVP, Abreu, is nearing the end of his career, and the young Andrew Vaughn hopes to step into his own as the power-hitting top recruit the White Sox planned him to be. With an abundance of first basemen and designated hitters as of late, Vaughn found himself playing only 38 of his 261 major league games at first base. Behind him is another 1B/DH/makeshift OF Gavin Sheets. Both Vaughn and Sheets are looking for a comfortable role in this system and have great potential to be power-hitting leaders on this team. As a tandem, this duo can be one of the biggest difference makers on the team as they grow more comfortable in Major League Baseball.
The Chicago White Sox do not have a starting-caliber second baseman on their team. They have super-utility Leury Garcia, who has been a member of the team longer than anyone else. Still, his 2021 season proved that his value lies in providing days off for a multitude of players, not being a guy expected to start in one spot all season. They also had two infielders, Josh Harrison and Elvis Andrus, go to free agency this year. Both were at least serviceable, and Andrus even proved to be a reliable batter and defender for this team, nearly single-handedly sparking this team back into playoff contention. Both are names that the White Sox need to consider bringing back unless they have another plan (making a trade, bringing up prospect Lenyn Sosa or moving Yoan Moncada come to mind). As it stands now, however, they do not have a player ready to start at second base daily.
Tim Anderson. The guy who walked it off in Iowa. He’s a batting champ, a Silver Slugger, and an All-Star. He’s the leader of the White Sox infield and, for many, a top 10 shortstop in the entire league. As a homegrown prospect, he is the energy on this White Sox team and holds a 2.78 Win Probability Added over the last three seasons, according to Fangraphs. This includes a 2022 season in which he played only 79 games. Simply put, when Anderson is on, the White Sox are on. He’s not hitting the ball out of the park at more than an average rate, but he’s putting it in play, moving guys around the diamond, and getting himself on base. Though he still leaves a little to be desired in the field, his defense has only improved over the last couple of years, and he could be the best player on this White Sox team in any given game. He is a game-changer.
However, beyond Anderson, the White Sox face the same problem they do at second base. No one else can play in the middle infield besides him. The Sox better hope they avoid the injury bug they’ve encountered the last two years.
The White Sox have a solid player in Yoan Moncada, starting at the hot corner. He has great reflexes, and despite never winning a Gold Glove, he has been a finalist and passes the eye test in fast-moving plays. However, especially for a former #1 prospect, he has offensively had his fair share of woes. After contracting COVID-19 in the 2021 season, he never really returned to his 2019 form, a season which included batting .315, hitting 25 bombs with a .915 OPS, and a 5.2 WAR. More recently, his 2022 season featured a .212 average with only a .626 OPS for a mere 0.9 WAR. A bounce-back season for Moncada could do wonders for this White Sox lineup, who don’t have the top-to-bottom depth to cover his recent struggles.
Behind Yoan Moncada is third base prospect Jake Burger, who may see time if the Sox have Moncada play any second base this year. Burger would be a drop-off defensively. However, his brief showing in the majors showed promise that he could be successful offensively and hit the ball over the fence. It is yet to be seen whether there are expectations for him to be a frequent flyer with Chicago.
At his arrival, Yasmani Grandal was the biggest free agent signing in White Sox history. Behind him are Romy Gonzalez and Seby Zavala. All three catchers have shown reason to get playing time, and if it weren’t for the money invested in him, there is an argument to be made that Grandal is not guaranteed the starting spot. Grandal drew walks in nearly 12% of his total plate appearances, a skill that keeps him in the lineup despite average (sometimes below average) defense, a .202 average, and a .570 OPS last season. In 2021, his OPS was nearly 1.000, with 87 walks, which brought a batting average of .240 up to an OBP of .420. Those numbers, along with 62 RBIs in 2021, show that he can be a facet to the offense that is reliable and deserves to start in the lineup, but similar to many other players on this team, he needs to perform to the better, past version of himself for the White Sox to succeed. Otherwise, Gonzalez and Zavala will be waiting for their shot.
Inside the Diamonds has touched briefly on the status of the White Sox outfield in the article “Does Andrew Benintendi Complete the White Sox Outfield?” As it stands, there is a bit of uncertainty, simply dependent on the ability of prospect Oscar Colas to perform at a major league level. If he does, then the outfield looks like LF Andrew Benintendi, CF Luis Robert, RF Oscar Colas, and Eloy Jimenez can hopefully maintain his health and be a star DH. However, Jimenez has made it clear that he wants to earn the right to stay out on the field, even if it means adjusting where he plays. Therefore, this ranking will be on the outfield unit as a whole, not broken up positionally, because those are not quite solidified yet.
Andrew Benintendi is one of the better defensive LF in baseball. He will be trusted to make plays that many guys couldn’t and take a bit of the workload off Robert’s shoulders. He is not a player who will hit 40 home runs, but he is unlikely to struggle greatly at the plate. Considering what they had last year, good defense and the average offense are an improvement.
Eloy Jimenez is a problem. For both opposing pitchers and his medical staff, he is a problem. In 139 games across two seasons, he hit 26 home runs and logged 91 RBIs. He’s also battled back from a torn pectoral and hamstring problems, so he is yet to be around for a full 162 game season. If he stays healthy, he will be a player to watch as one of the better hitters in the MLB and will be an exciting part of 2023 for the entire league.
Luis Robert is poised to have himself a year. He has gotten better discipline at the plate, and though he has also missed plenty of playing time due to injury, his 5.7 WAR and 25 bombs in the last two seasons (166 games total) give fans a lot to look forward to. He is fast and can cover an impressive amount of the outfield. The 2020 A.L. Rookie of the Year runner-up is on pace to do great things, and 2023 might be the year that the ball gets rolling.
Oscar Colas is exciting, but he’s still a prospect. Everyone can be excited about his impressive numbers in minor league play and the fact that he is an actual right fielder. However, not every exciting prospect carries to the big leagues. There is plenty of reason to look forward to when he breaks onto the scene, but for now, there is little to say that he will or will not succeed.
Finally, the bullpen closes off the list of the 2023 White Sox. Headlined by Liam Hendriks*, Kendall Graveman, Garrett Crochet, Reynaldo Lopez, Aaron Bummer, and Jake Diekman, this bullpen has the potential to be lights out, especially if Crochet can return to the high-heat, virtually unhittable pitcher he was before his Tommy John surgery, which kept him out for the entirety of the 2021 season. But that’s a big if, especially considering how much of his success relied on high velocity, which can be affected by the operation more than other pitching styles. They have a handful of guys that can go for multiple innings, which is important in keeping the other arms fresh. Of course, the question of Liam Hendriks’ return and the struggles these guys have faced in the past leave question marks, but there is no reason to think this bullpen can’t be one of the best in the American League. Again, this is a bounce-back season for almost everyone on the roster.
As it currently stands, the White Sox have vacancies in their rotation at second base and outfield depth. However, there’s no reason to think this team can’t find solutions to those areas before the season starts and compete for the division and the pennant. Players expected to be high-caliber must play at that level, and the younger prospects must be able to handle the roles they are given. This team is still a few pieces away from serious World Series contention, but those pieces could be found this offseason or at the trade deadline.