With three weeks of Spring Training left, the White Sox opening day roster mold is starting to take shape. Having just returned from Phoenix, I had an opportunity to watch a few games and morning workouts in person. For the most part I left very encouraged. There was an energetic and excited feel to both of the infield sessions I watched and solid game performances as well. Regarding the game performances, it’s important to remember to take great caution when analyzing the relevance of Spring Training statistics, whether they are good or bad. After all, Ivan Rodriguez hit 8 Cactus League home runs in 2008, and went on to hit 7 home runs in the entire regular season. Understanding that Spring Training stats aren’t necessarily indicative of regular season performance, there are still a number of Sox players who have left strong impressions on the coaching staff, front office, and myself this spring, and a few who have surprised.
Burdi throws absolute gas. On top of that, he hides the ball very well with a slightly funky motion. He goes 100% on the backfields as well, throwing the ball hard to the bases in pitcher fielding practice. It’s a miracle none of the throws I witnessed went through the middle infielder’s glove. Burdi has been impressive in game action as well. As long as he keeps throwing strikes, he is going to be an elite back end of the bullpen reliever. He is ready for the big leagues right now; however, he will get more minor league innings first. I would expect him to start at A+ Winston Salem or AA Birmingham, and come to Chicago in June.
Giolito gave it up a little bit in his first start against the Cubs, but still pitched well. He was even better in his next start on March 4, allowing only 1 hit, no walks, and striking out 3 in 3 shutout innings. I was in attendance for this start and Giolito was locating his fastball, burying his changeup, and getting swings and misses on his curveball. I was quite impressed. While his curveball was working, he threw a lot of them in the dirt and still needs to work on locating it for strikes more frequently. He will be in Chicago soon, but will likely start at AAA Charlotte.
Lopez has sometimes been referred to as a thrower and not a pitcher — a guy who will end up in the bullpen. That’s not what I see when this guy pitches. He throws a hard, heavy fastball with a plus breaking ball. He seemed to have some feel for when to add or subtract from his velocity as well. I didn’t see the repeatability problems with his delivery that have been discussed by some during his start on March 5 against the Diamondbacks for which I was in attendance; however, that could be an early return of extra work put in with Don Cooper. He struck out Paul Goldschmidt twice too, so there’s that. I see this guy as a very good starting pitcher, and I think the White Sox do as well. Lopez will likely start the season in AAA Charlotte as well.
Kopech struggled in his first spring start with the big club. However, the results of that start are a prime example of potentially over-analyzing spring stats. Watching the game online, it was apparent that Kopech made a few key mistakes with his slider that contributed to him getting hit around. After some additional work with Don Cooper last week, Kopech received another start on Sunday, March 12 against the Rangers in which he was outstanding. He located his fastball both up and down, showed that he could throw his slider for strikes, and showed a lot of poise to work out of an early jam. Sox beat reporters indicated that Kopech’s fastball was working from 95-101 mph, averaging 98 mph. If he can continue to locate that fastball, get the slider over, and develop the feel for an average changeup – he will be a very special pitcher to watch debut in Chicago in 2018 or 2019.
I have not been shy about leading the Matt Davidson bandwagon, projecting his performance for 2017 in an article last month ( https://chisportsnation.com/2017/02/24/projecting-2017-performance-matt-davidson/ ). Davidson has looked good at the plate and has moved well at 3B. Watching his swing improvements, I would be surprised if he hasn’t been trying to emulate Paul Konerko. There are a lot of “Konerko-esque” actions in his load and new swing, and he looks very confident and “hitter-ish” at the plate – not lost like he has in the past. Davidson is out of minor league options, meaning should the Sox wish to send him to the minors he would need to be outrighted off the 40-man roster and clear waivers first. Considering his improvements and that the Sox won’t want to risk losing him on waivers, I fully expect Davidson to be given every chance to get regular at bats in Chicago between 3B, 1B, and DH this season.
Nicky Delmonico has been one of the pleasant surprises of camp for many. Those who follow the Sox minor league system will have noticed that Delmonico had an outstanding season at AA Birmingham in 2016. He hit .338 with 10 HR, 31 RBI, and 14 2B in only 142 at bats. This earned him a call up to AAA Charlotte where he struggled to hit .250. This spring he has looked great at the plate. He has a smooth left-handed swing with good power. However, he doesn’t really have a defensive position. The Sox are trying to make it work for him at 1B, and he should be competent there but probably needs more work defensively. He has put himself in the conversation for an opening day roster spot, potentially as DH. However, his lack of defensive versatility and that Matt Davidson is out of minor league options will likely keep him off the opening day roster. If he continues to hit, there’s a good chance he will see time in Chicago this season.
Saladino is generally thought of as a utility player because of his defensive versatility; however, he consistantly continues to improve. He is an above average defender who routinely took extra ground balls during workouts. He has worked to improve at the plate as well, even tapping into some power. He’s just a good baseball player. Saladino was a .300 hitter when given regular at bats last season, and appears ready to pick up where he left off. He is no longer an afterthought. His solid play and continuous improvements have forced the issue. With the release of Brett Lawrie, every indication is that Saladino will win the everyday 2B job, at least until Moncada is ready. -DV
Photo: Dan Vroom