By Chris Emma–
(670 The Score) If general manager Rick Hahn’s plan for the White Sox reaches its desired heights in the years to come, the 2018 season will be viewed as an instrumental platform of growth for a rebuilding organization.READ MORE: On 3rd Birthday Since She Vanished, Kierra Coles' Family Still Praying For Her Safe Return; 'She’s Alive Somewhere'
Development is on the mind for budding young position players like Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson and young pitchers like Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer, while other prospects await their call to the big leagues and Hahn assesses the trade market for veterans.
The White Sox are entering the second year of their rebuild with a quality foundation established the last year, one that includes five minor leaguers ranked among the top 100 prospects in the game by Baseball America.
With SoxFest set to begin at the Hilton Chicago on Friday, here are five key storylines awaiting this White Sox team in 2018.
When will Carlos Rodon return?
High hopes for the White Sox’s 2014 first-round pick remain on hold, as Rodon has spent the offseason recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in late September. The White Sox announced an initial recovery timetable ranging from six to eight months. Hahn should provide an update on the status of Rodon at this weekend’s SoxFest media session.
Rodon, who turned 25 in December, has made 66 appearances (63 starts) in three seasons with the White Sox, registering a 3.95 ERA and 1.41 WHIP as he’s sometimes struggled with his command. Last season, he debuted in late June after experiencing biceps bursitis and posted a 4.15 ERA in 69 1/3 innings before being shut down in early September.
The White Sox are conducting a rebuild that features some prominent pitching prospects, and the hope was for Rodon to potentially find his way as their ace. His injury woes will leave a void in the rotation to open the season. The hope is that they aren’t prolonged beyond that.
When will Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez arrive?
Guaranteed Rate Field was buzzing when Moncada made his debut in a White Sox uniform last July. Who will be next up? It could well be Kopech and Jimenez, two more star prospects that could display a major-league readiness in 2018.
A flame-throwing 21-year-old, Kopech finished at Triple-A Charlotte last season, making three starts and recording a 3.00 ERA in 15 innings. Prior to that, he rebounded from a slow start in Double-A Birmingham and posted a mark of 8-7 with a 2.87 ERA in 22 starts over 119 1/3 innings at that level. The other big name acquired in the Chris Sale trade, Kopech was named the 11th-best prospect in Baseball America’s Top 100 list.
Kopech was topped on that list by Jimenez, who was ranked baseball’s fourth-best prospect by Baseball America. Jimenez was acquired from the Cubs in the Jose Quintana trade last July and is further from the big leagues than Kopech after finishing last season with Double-A Birmingham. That capped a sensational season in which Jimenez hit 19 home runs, had 65 RBIs and posted a robust slash line of .312/.379/.568 in 89 games.
The White Sox could include Kopech in their Opening Day rotation with a superb spring training, though he’s more likely to open the year back in Triple-A. Jimenez played just 18 games in Double-A, so it would take a strong spring for him to open the year in Charlotte. Hahn could have answers to both of their opportunities come Friday.
Hahn and the White Sox were ever so careful in working Moncada up to the majors, though he forced their hand by late July. The experience proved to be benficial for Moncada, who hit .231 and had a .338 on-base percentage with eight home runs and 22 RBIs, showing an improved plate approach over time.READ MORE: Man Shot On CTA Bus In Irving Park
Moncada looked every bit the talent hoped for at second base, flashing an impressive glove. But last season for him was about settling in at the plate against big league pitching. That will again be the case in 2018 as Moncada prepares for what will be his first full season in MLB.
Moncada will spend this season furthering his adjustments to pitchers and getting a better grasp of the strike zone. He will look to improve a 12.6 percent walk rate and drop a 32 percent strikeout rate.
The pop was certainly there in Moncada’s bat, and the potential is as advertised. The goal this season is to become a more complete player.
What about Abreu?
The White Sox made trade after trade last summer, selling off any piece of value for prospects and adding to their farm system. The exception to that was first baseman jose Abreu, who turns 31 on Monday.
Abreu just completed yet another steady season, hitting 33 home runs with 102 RBIs. In four seasons with the White Sox, he has hit 124 home runs, driven in 410 runs and hit .301 overall. One would presume that kind of player would be worth more top-line prospects, right?
Hahn has resisted a trade of Abreu to this point, in part because there’s a large supply of other slugging first basemen on the market and also because of Abreu’s place in the White Sox clubhouse. Abreu and Moncada, a fellow Cuban, have developed a strong rapport, something that’s considered a valuable asset.
Abreu is under team control through the 2019 season. How he fits in the big picture of the White Sox rebuild remains unclear, as he’s a middle-of-the-order threat but will be due for a new contract around the same time the White Sox hope to start contending at a high level. Abreu figures to be a powerful bat for years to come, but the question will be at what cost and where at.
In 2017, outfielder Avisail Garcia finally became the hitter he was expected to be for the White Sox. After hitting .245 the year before, Garcia was third in the big leagues with a .330 average and posted a .380 on-base percentage and .885 OPS in an All-Star campaign.
A strict diet allowed Garcia to become a more athletic outfielder, and his improved plate approach fueled his offensive transformation. So, what’s next for Garcia? That’s a natural question after a surprise season.
At 26, Garcia is still on the early side of what should be his prime years. Perhaps he could sustain what occurred last season, and even a small drop-off at the plate would still mark a quality season. But is one season of production enough to earn Hahn’s belief?
Hahn has seen plenty of Garcia since his arrival by trade in 2013 to understand whether there’s more plate production in store or if this is the time to sell high on his value. Like Abreu, Garcia is an intriguing trade candidate and one the White Sox may deal if they have the conviction in an offer that presents itself.
All that and more is worth keeping an eye, as there’s more in store for the second year of the White Sox’s diligent rebuild.MORE NEWS: Chicago Weather: A Little Rain, Then Sun For The Weekend