2020 Fantasy Baseball: Chicago White Sox Team Outlook
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox missed the playoffs in each of the past 11 seasons. Over that span, they have only had two winnings seasons (2010 – 88-74 and 2012 – 85-77). Their last World Series appearance was a win in 2005 over the Houston Astros. That team was led by Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle, JoseContreras, and Dustin Hermanson in the regular season. In the 119-year history of the franchise, they’ve made the playoffs just nine times with two other World Series titles (1906 and 1917).
Last year, they finished with a 72-89 record with weakness in their ERA (4.90 – 19th). They have allowed over 800 runs in each of the previous three seasons (820, 848, and 832). The White Sox scored 708 runs (24th) in 2019, which was their highest total since 2012 (748). Power (182 HRs – 25th) remains a problem as Chicago was only one of six teams in baseball to hit fewer than 210 home runs. They ranked 25th in RBI (676) with some growth in batting average (.261 – 8th). A big part of their failure was a high number of strikeouts (1549 – 6th) by their batters paired with a major league-low in walks (378).
The White Sox made a splash in the offseason by signing C Yasmani Grandal, DH Edwin Encarnacion, and by trading for OF Nomar Mazara. After adding a top outfield prospect in Luis Robert, who signed a six-year $50 million deal in early January, Chicago now has a balance of veteran and young upside bats to push their way up the offensive standings.
Their quest to contend for the AL Central title in 2020 didn’t stop at hitting. The White Sox signed SP DallasKeuchel and SP Gio Gonzalez to add experience to their starting rotation. Chicago inverted in RP Steve Cishek for bullpen depth.
Chicago comes into 2020 with high expectations, but they still have to catch up to the Indians and the Twins based on the early Las Vegas expected win totals (CLE – 91.5, MIN – 90.5, and CWS – 80.5). The White Sox could improve dramatically if their chemistry develops, and some of their young players have breakthrough seasons. Their biggest question may be the depth and strength of their bullpen.
After a slow start to his major league career at the lower levels of the minors in 2017 and 2018 (.281 with three HRs, 31 RBI, and 27 SBs over 270 at-bats), Robert turned into a beast last season in his push through three levels of baseball. He hit .328 over 503 at-bats with 108 runs, 32 home runs, 92 RBI, and 36 stolen bases with his best power coming at AAA (.297 with 16 HRs, 39 RBI, and seven SBs over 202 at-bats). All signs point to upside, but his approach is trailing. His strikeout rate came in at 23.4 percent in 2019 while barely taking any walks (5.0 percent). Both his AVH (1.903) and CTBA (.441) graded high in 2019. Robert missed most of 2018 with a left thumb injury. With plus power and speed, Robert should hit the ground running in 2020. His swing path in 2019 delivered a high fly-ball rate (A – 55.6, AA – 49.1, and AAA – 49.3), which may hurt his batting average early in the majors if he doesn’t improve his approach. Pencil him in for a 30/30 skill set out of the gate with runs being an edge. I expect him to hit lower in the lineup early in the year. With an ADP of 107, Robert looks to be a steal, but his draft value will rise over the next couple of months due to his new contract and each good game in Spring Training.
After striking out 217 times in 2018 with a strikeout rate of 33.4 percent, Moncada was taboo in drafts in 2019 due to his batting average risk, despite his high upside in power and plenty of underlying speed. He was a little more aggressive earlier in the count last season, which led to a lower strikeout rate (27.6) and regression in his walk rate (7.2 – 10.3 in 2018). Moncada had the highest contact batting average (.451) in the majors while ranking 25th in hard-hit rate (47.4) compared to 61st in 2018 (44.2). He hit well against both right handed (.322) and left-handed (.299) pitching. His season started with a hot April (.314 with six HRs and 20 RBI over 105 at-bats) and ended with a massive push in batting average in September (.412 with three HRs and 15 RBI over 102 at-bats). Moncada was at his best when hitting second in the batting order (.344 with 17 HRs and 42 RBI over 300 at-bats). His HR/FB rate (20.2) was a career high, along with his groundball rate (42.3). Fantasy owners are still waiting for his speed to emerge (111 SBs over 1,042 at-bats in the minors). Improving player with downside in batting average if his strikeout rate reverts to his previous resume. Moncada has an ADP of 68 as the 10th third baseman off the board in 2020. His intrigue comes from speed at third base. Next step: .270 with 100-plus runs, 30-plus home runs, and a push to 20-plus steals.
The quality of hitters at the top of the White Sox starting lineup improved in 2019, leading to Abreu’s most RBI (123), RBI chances (465), and highest RBI rate (21) of his career. In his six years in the majors, he has hit at least 30 home runs four times and produced at least 100 RBI in five different seasons. His ability to score runs (80.5 per year) remains only a slight edge. Abreu had a second straight season of regression in his strikeout rate (21.9), and matched his career low in his walk rate (5.2). His hard-hit rate (48.2) ranked 24th in baseball, with 237 of his batted balls hitting 95 MPH or more (3rd). Abreu is excellent against lefties (.360 with nine HRs and 31 RBI over 164 at-bats). His best month in power came in May (10 HRs and 26 RBI over 120 at-bats), but he did struggle to put the ball in play (.225 BA). After the All-Star break, he only had 12 home runs over 289 at-bats with 57 RBI and success in batting average (.291). Even with his highest HR/FB rate (21.0) since his rookie season (26.9), his power didn’t take a step forward due to a fading fly-ball rate (31.9). An outside chance at a 40/120 season with Chicago having a better overall lineup.
Jimenez made the White Sox out of Spring Training in 2019, but he failed to make an impact in April (.241 with three HRs and eight RBI over 79 at-bats). He landed on the injured list on April 27th with an ankle injury that cost him just over three weeks of the year. His bat flashed in June (.284 with eight HRs and 20 RBI over 88 at-bats). After another IL stint with a right elbow issue, Jimenez delivered an explosive end to the season (.308 with 14 HRs and 40 RBI over 214 at-bats), highlighted by a great September (.340 with nine HRs and 25 RBI over 100 at-bats). His end to the year personally cost me $45,000 in one high-stakes event. Even with success, his strikeout rate (26.6) had risk with a below-par walk rate (6.0). His hard-hit rate (47.9) ranked 26th. Over six seasons in the minors, Jimenez hit .311 with 235 runs, 66 HRs, 282 RBI, and 15 SBs over 1,585 at-bats. His strikeout rate (18.3) and walk rate (6.8) showed more upside in his approach in the minors. Jimenez has beast upside in power but also has a vast history of injuries. His late-season success pushed his ADP to 56 in the early draft seasons in 2020. A future .300 hitter with a chance at 50-plus home runs. If I could trust his health, I’d draft him this year with the idea of a .320/40/110 season.
The White Sox will have an interesting dilemma when setting their starting lineup in 2020. Do they want to protect their power hitters with more power behind them? Or do they want to have a mix of right and left bats to protect from reliever arms later in the game? Last year Encarnacion missed much of the final two months of the season with a broken right wrist and an oblique issue. He was on pace for another 40/100 season while continuing to have an edge in his RBI rate (18). His experience with runners on base should keep him in the middle of the White Sox batting order even with regression in his strikeout rate (21.2 – 17.3 in his career). Encarnacion will take walks (11.9 percent). His bat is lethal versus left-handed pitching (11 HRs and 22 RBI over 106 at-bats) despite his risk in batting average. His CTBA (.324) is trending down, but it isn’t far off his range (.340) where he hit .265 in batting average. Over the last seven seasons starting at the age of 30, he has 255 HRs and 740 RBI. Pretty much a gift for a fantasy team looking over low-average power based on his ADP (209). Some of his downside in batting average is tied to many easy outs via his massive fly-ball rate (50.6 in 2019 and 44.8 in his career). With 500 at-bats, .250 with 35-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI.
Fantasy owners will overpay for Grandal in 2020 based on his massive plate appearances (632). Only three other catchers had over 500 plate appearances in 2019 (J.T. Realmuto – 593, Wilson Ramos – 524, and Christian Vasquez – 521). In essence, Grandal had a 44 percent better opportunity than the 12th ranked catcher last year. His opportunity was helped by playing first base, which will be a smaller window in the AL even with a DH option as Chicago has deeper talent on their expected roster. My second point with Grandal is that he doesn’t have a middle of the order bat. His RBI rate has been league average (14.3) or below in five of his previous six years (13.2 in 2019 and 14.2 in his career). Grandal will take plenty of walks (17.3 percent in 2019 and 13.9 in his career), which may help him to hit second in the batting order on some days. In 2019, the Brewers had him hit in the top five of the batting order over 90 percent of the time. His strikeout rate (22.0) was his best since 2015 (21.6). Grandal does handle lefties (.258 with 11 HRs and 25 RBI over 155 at-bats). His best play in 2019 came before the All-Star break (.259 with 19 HRs and 48 RBI) before fading in over his next 145 at-bats (.221 with two HRs and 15 RBI). Grandal showed growth in his HR/FB rate (19.6) over the past two years. I expect his opportunity to drop by 15 percent this season. With 550 plate appearances, a fantasy owner can expect about 70 runs, 25 home runs, 65 RBI, and continued risk in batting average. With an ADP of 94, I’d look for value elsewhere at the catcher position. For the record, Grandal’s season in 2019 ranked 94th in SIscore while being drafted 63rd best player in 2020.
The coin toss for me in the White Sox starting lineup comes between Anderson and Luis Robert. Last year Anderson had 277 at-bats (.329 with 11 HRs, 30 RBI, and six SBs) batting second in the batting order. His opportunity was helped by a career year in batting average (.335) but now supported by his weak walk rate (2.9). Robert has more speed, and I expect a better walk rate. If this plays out as expected, Anderson will get a chance to hit high in the batting order early in the year before moving possibly to hitting ninth by the beginning of June, where his speed can matchup with the top two White Sox bats. Anderson was a targeted player for me in 2019. His slugging percentage had weakness in 2017 (.402) and 2018 (.406), but he hit 17 and 20 home runs in those two seasons over 1,154 combined at-bats. Hidden in his swing was a rising AVH (1.347 in the minors in 2016, 1.526 in the majors in 2016, 1.563 in 2017, and 1.691 in 2018). At the same time, Anderson came off two years (.355 and .325) with a fading contact batting average. Earlier his career, he showed the ability to hit for a high average when he put the ball in play (CTBA – .392, .396, .401, and .397) from low A Ball to the majors. In this equation, his AVH was rising, but Anderson’s slugging percentage remained flat. With a rebound in better contact, he looked destined to have growth in power. He has a ground ball producing swing path (50.3 in his career), but his swing path did show improvement in 2018 (ground ball rate – 46-6 with a career-high fly-ball rate – 33.5) with more strength in his HR/FB rate (14.5 in his career). In the end, Anderson failed to make a big step forward in power (18 HRs over 498 at-bats), he did have a much higher contact batting average (.429). Unfortunately, he had a step back in his AVH (1.515). Some of his shortcomings in power did come from missing over a month of the seasons with an ankle injury. Anderson has an ADP of 117 in early January as the 15th shortstop off the board. I’m buying If his discounted on draft day. More a .280 hitter with 25/25 skill set with upside. His slot in the batting order dictates his value in runs and RBI.
I don’t expect a big fight for Mazara in 2020 based on his flat home runs totals over the past four seasons (20,20, 20, and 19). Last year he was on pace for 88 runs, 24 home runs, and 85 RBI if he didn’t miss most of the final six weeks of the season with oblique and thumb injuries. Mazara saw his strikeout rate (23.0) become a new high after regression for the third straight year. He also took fewer walks (6.0 percent – 7.4 in his career). He did have growth in his AVH (1.748) and CTBA (.358) with strength in his RBI rate (17). Mazara struggled against left-handed pitching (.220), but he did have six home runs and 20 RBI over 127 at-bats. Other than batting average (.261), he helped fantasy teams before the All-Star break (50 runs, 12 HRs, and 49 RBI). His HR/FB rate (17.8) plays well once he adds more loft to his swing (fly-ball rate – 32.7 in 2019 and 30.8 in his career). I have Mazara hitting lower in the batting order, but his success with runners on base supports a middle of an order opportunity if Chicago wants to break up their right-handed power hitters. I’ll call him a neutral four-category hitter (.270 with 75 runs, 25 HRs, and 80 RBI) with more value if he hits fifth in the batting order.
When I read Madrigal’s scouting report, my first thought was that he might be the next Jose Altuve. Unfortunately, his swing looks miles away from 20 home runs based on his AVH (1.289) in the minors and at college (1.389). In 2019 between High A and AAA, he hit .311 with four home runs, 71 RBI, and 35 stolen bases over 473 at-bats. Considering the length of his hits, Madrigal played well with runners on base. Over 628 at-bats in the minors, he struck out only 21 times (2.9 percent – 5.2 percent in college). His walk rate (7.2) in the minors rank below the league average. Madrigal has the bat control to be the majors while being a frustrating player to get out with runners on base. His value in steals may look better than his true speed based on his success rate (70.8 in the minors and 61.0 percent in college). In today’s power game, Madrigal projects as a big liability in two categories, and I don’t see him running as much in the majors. Avoid the temptation as he’s overpriced (ADP – 303) until he gets stronger.
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James McCann (C) worked well as a second catcher for fantasy teams in 2019. He set career highs in at-bats (439), runs (62), hits (120), doubles (26), home runs (18), RBI (60), and steals (4). Even with success, McCann his weakness in his strikeout rate (28.8) and walk rate (6.3). He hit 14 of his 18 home runs against righthanded pitching, but he did have 101 strikeouts over 317 at-bats. His bat did play better vs. lefties (.295 with four HRs and 17 RBI over 122 at-bats). This season McCann will struggle to get at-bats. If he plays two games a week after the White Sox added Yasmani Grandal, a fantasy owner can expect fewer than ten home runs with fewer than 250 trips to the plate.
Zack Collins (C) played at first base and catcher in 2019 at AAA while coming through the minors as a catcher after being selected in the first round in 2016. Over four seasons in the minors, he hit .244 with 59 home runs and 213 RBI over 1,218 at-bats. His defense won’t be an asset in the majors behind the plate, which pushes him toward the first base position. Collins will take plenty of walks (18.5 percent), but he lacks the foundation skill set to drive the ball out of his base approach. His power has high upside once Collins learns to see and react rather than load and attack, which creates lag and lousy timing on gas on the inner half of the plate. Only bench hitter if he makes the team out of spring training.
Leury Garcia (OF) saw starting at-bats for most of 2019, which led to setting career highs across the board. He hit .279 with 93 runs, eight home runs, 40 RBI, and 15 stolen bases over 577 at-bats. Both his strikeout rate (22.5) and walk rate (3.4) didn’t support a top of an order opportunity, which he had for almost all of his at-bats. Over ten years in the minors, Garcia hit .274 with 24 home runs, 219 RBI, and 206 steals over 2,510 at-bats. With Luis Robert ready to steal the centerfield job, Garcia will have a considerable step back in playing time in 2020.
For four starts in 2019, I had the keys to this breakout arm. His season started with an attention-grabbing outing (two runs over 6.2 innings with one walk and eight Ks). Over his next two games, Giollito regressed to his 2018 form (nine runs, 20 baserunners, eight walks, and two home runs over 9.1 innings). After 2.2 shutout innings with five strikeouts, he landed on the injured list with a hamstring issue while receiving a parting gift to the free-agent pool. Giolito ended up only missing two weeks of action. When he returned the mound, his arm was electric on most nights over his next 12 starts (2.09 ERA and 92 Ks over 77.1 innings) thanks to him cleaning up his command (23 walks). After pitching poorly in two of his next four starts (7.06 ERA), Giolito regained his elite form over eight starts (2.72 ERA and 75 Ks over 53 innings). His season ended in mid-September with five runs allowed and 12 Ks over six innings due to an oblique injury. Both his strikeout rate (11.6) and walk rate (2.9) beat his minor league resume (9.6 and 3.3) while being well above his early start to his major league career (6.4 and 4.3). Giolito dominated lefties (.172) and was successful versus righties (.235). His AFB (94.1) had more life and success (.204 BAA). He threw a plus changeup (.191 BAA) and a winning slider (.215 BAA). His biggest change form 2018 was dumping his sinker. Giolito pitched more up in the strike zone, leading to a higher fly-ball rate (42.8 – 37.3 in 2018), but he didn’t fix his issue with home runs allowed (1.2 per nine and HR/FB rate (13.6). Not ready to be a fantasy ace, but his stuff supports follow-through as long as he repeats his command. With an ADP of 59, Giolito seems reasonably priced. I expect more wins with a run at a sub 3.00 ERA and 250 Ks with a full season of starts.
After a slow start to his career in 2012 and 2013 (9-18 with 5.20 ERA and 161 Ks over 239 innings), Keuchel has been more than serviceable over the previous six seasons (75-53 with 3.33 ERA and 875 Ks over 1,063 innings) while posting an ERA under 3.00 in three years (2.93, 2.48, and 2.90). Last year he held out for two months, which led to 19 starts for the Braves. Keuchel allowed three runs or fewer in 14 of 19 games with two disaster starts (13 runs and 20 baserunners over 8.2 innings). He had a massive problem against righties (.281 with 14 HRs over 360 at-bats). His walk rate (3.1) was his highest since 2012, with weakness in his HR/9 rate (1.3). He relies on a short fastball (89.6) while his changeup (.227 BAA) and slider (.213 BAA) still grade as assets. Keuchel gains his edge with a high ground ball rate (60.1) with a meniscal fly-ball rate (19.6) and a massive HR/FB rate (23.9). A solid inning eater that will win games, but his WHIP does have risk until he cleans up his walks and regains the life in his fastball. Worth a gamble based on his ADP (271).
Over five seasons in the minors, Kopech has a 3.05 ERA with 514 Ks in 395.2 innings. His walk rate (4.4) is well below being major league ready with strength in his K rate (11.7). In 2017, he dominated at AA (2.87 ERA with 155 Ks over 119.1 innings) while making strides in 2018 at AAA (3.70 ERA and 170 Ks over 126.1 innings). He pitched well in his first three appearances in the majors (0.82 and nine Ks over 11 innings), but his season ended on September 5th in 2018 after a disaster starts (seven runs, ten baserunners, and four home runs over 3.1 innings) with a right elbow injury. With a full 18 months to recover, Kopech should be ready to go in 2019. His fastball can reach triple digits while his curveball still needs better command and his changeup is a work in progress. He has ADP (272) will rise in spring training once Kopech receives positive reports. Must follow, but his innings could be limited to 130 to 150 in 2020 with some WHIP risk.
Gonzalez struggled to find a home in 2019 despite a successful 11 seasons in the majors (127-97 with a 3.69 ERA and 1,748 Ks over 1,814 innings). His decline in 2018 came from a high walk rate (4.2) and regression in his strikeout rate (7.8). Last year he signed late in April with the Brewers, but he pitched well over his first six starts (3.19 ERA and 26 Ks over 31 innings). Gonzalez landed on the injury report in late May with what was called a “dead arm.” The issue cost him almost two months of the season. Milwaukee limited his inning over his final 13 games (only one game with more than five innings pitched), which led to a 3.67 ERA and 1.349 WHIP). The White Sox signed him to a $4.5 million contract after his down year. His failure came from a bum left shoulder (no offseason surgery). Gonzalez struggled vs. righthanded batters (.257 with eight home runs over 257 at-bats). His AFB (89.8) was a career-low. Batters drilled his sinker (.339 BAA), but he still had two secondary pitches of value (changeup – .155 BAA and curveball – .209 BAA). At this point in his career, Gonzalez is only a backend inning eater with a chance to help in strikeouts with a bounce back in command. His biggest risk should come in the WHIP category.
Lopez has a live arm, but he’s yet to be an asset in his four seasons in the majors (4.67 ERA). His ERA (3.91) in 2018 suggested growth last year. Unfortunately, Lopez was easier to hit (.278 BAA – .234 in 2018), which led to the more runs (110) allowed in the AL and a massive HR/FB rate (1.7). His walk rate (3.2) improved slightly with a career-high in his strikeout rate (8.3). He had an ERA over 5.20 in five of his six months with his only flash coming in July (3.41 ERA and 34 Ks over 31.2 innings). Lopez pitches up in the strike zone (fly-ball rate – 44.2), leading to a high HR/FB rate (14.0). His AFB (95.8) is a plus in velocity. In 2018, he owned a plus four-seam fastball (.236 BAA) and elite slider (.194 BAA). Last year all of his pitches lost value. Tons of confidence issues here, so proceed with caution.
The lack of reliable starting options for Chicago in 2019, led to Cease receiving 14 starts despite not being ready. He posted a disaster ERA (5.79) and a massive walk rate (4.3) while allowing 1.8 home runs per nine. His AFB (96.7) looks good on paper, but batters hit .349 against it with nine HRs over 149 at-bats. Both his changeup (.121 BAA and slider (1.83 BAA) flashed upside while his curveball (.257 BAA). After struggling to win games (1-10) in 2017 in the minors despite a 3.28 ERA, Cease showed growth between High A and AA in 2018 (12-2 with a 2.40 ERA and 160 Ks over 124 innings). His strikeout rate (11.5) has been elite in his minor league career while still trying to find his command (walk rate - 4.2). Last year Cease failed to make an impact at AAA (4.48 ERA) with a step back in his strikeout rate (9.6). Overall, he has a 3.02 ERA over five seasons in the minors with 450 Ks over 354.1 innings. There's more here than meets the eye in major league stats, but Cease still needs time to develop. Track his command as it will be the “tell” to his progression forward.
Most of the top young arms in the White Sox system have command issues, which isn’t the case with Dunning. Over three seasons in the minors, he went 17-13 record with a 2.74 ERA and 300 strikeouts over 266 innings. His walk rate (2.4) looks major league ready with strength as well in his strikeout rate (10.2). In 2018, he made 11 starts at AA with success (2.76 ERA and 69 Ks over 62 innings), which should have led to a call up to AAA. Unfortunately, a sprained right elbow ended his season in late June, which was followed up by TJ surgery in mid-March of 2019. At age 25, Dunning doesn’t have an inning pitched at AAA. Only a late-season option for the White Sox if his recovery goes as planned.
Colome ended up being a value reliever in 2019 after beating out Kelvin Herrera for the closing job. Before the All-Star break, Colome posted a 2.02 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 20 saves over 35.2 innings. Over the second half of the year, his arm (3.91 ERA, 28 Ks, and ten SVs over 25.1 innings) lost value. He had almost the same value vs. righties (.192) and lefties (.190). Colome had his highest walk rate (3.4) since 2014 (3.8) with a step back in his strikeout rate (8.1 – 9.5 in 2019). His AFV (94.7) was a career-low while being tough to hit (.234 BAA). Colome relies on his cutter (.182 BAA) as his best pitch. Plenty of closing experience with less than desirable peripheral stats, which pushes him lower in the closer rankings (ADP – 172). The White Sox will win plenty of games, but he’s not a lock to hold the job all year. His fade in his first pitch rate (57) paired with regression in his command may be the sign to get off the bus. I would consider a 3.00 ERA with 75 strikeouts and 35 saves a win for Colome in 2020.
After picking up 88 saves from 2012 to 2014, Cishek has settled into a setup man with occasional save tries (41 saves over the past five years). Over the last two seasons with the Cubs, he posted a 2.55 ERA with 135 Ks and 11 saves over 134.1 innings. His walk rate (4.1) looks miles away from a return to a closing job while also seeing fade in his strike rate (8.0). He did have success vs. right-handed (.206 BAA) and left-handed (.216 BAA) batters. His AFB (91.0) is below the league average while relying on his slider (.200 BAA) as his best pitch. Only a seventh-inning arm with fading command.
Bummer pitched well over his five seasons in the minors (3.14 ERA and 136 Ks over 126 innings). He struggled in his two years in the majors (4.36 ERA) before making a step forward in 2019 (2.13 ERA and 60 Ks over 67.2 innings). His walk rate (3.2) still needs more work. Bummer pitched well vs. righties (.188) and lefties (.178). His AFB came at 95.3 with batters struggling to hit his sinker (.216 BAA) and his four-seamer (.143 BAA). Both his cutter (.111 BAA) and slider (.067 BAA) played well. Not quite closer-worthy due to his command issues, but he is tough to hit.