Just like that, our 2020 fix of Cactus League baseball came and went before we knew it. The rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic halted the baseball world with about two weeks of spring baseball to play out, but there were some takeaways that we can apply to the White Sox’s Opening Day plans, if and when that day comes.
Nick Madrigal was Feeling the Pressure
When camp opened, there was some hope — maybe even some genuine optimism — that second-baseman of the future, Nick Madrigal could buck the trend and make the White Sox Opening Day roster if he could put together an impressive Spring.
While I’m more than confident that Madrigal will be a stalwart at second base for years to come, the potential of him snaring an Opening Day nod clearly overwhelmed him this time around.
In 27 plate appearances, Madrigal reached base just six times — all base-hits — and the vast majority of his plate appearances looked like he was pressing and hitting a ton of ground balls, while his success will rely on his ability to produce line-drive contact.
By comparison, in 2019 — when there was no realistic Opening Day opportunity for Madrigal — he looked much more relaxed, and collected seven hits and a pair of walks in seven less plate appearances. His 2019 Spring featured a 1.50 GO/AO ratio, compared to a 2.80 number this time around.
For the “Madrigal Truthers,” reading, this is not a slight towards the former first-rounder, but just a realization that he might have been feeling some lofty expectations created by the buzz at Camelback Ranch this year.
Luis Robert was not…
On the flip-side of the rookie expectations spectrum, Luis Robert — who’s Opening Day roster spot was all but guaranteed when he signed his long-term extension in January — looked as cool as a cucumber this Spring.
The most anticipated Sox prospect since, *checks notes*, Eloy Jimenez just one year ago, more than looked the part in his abbreviated Cactus League performance.
In 33 plate appearances, ‘La Pantera’ reached base safely 13 times (.377 OBP), collecting six singles, two doubles, a triple, and a home run to go along with three walks. Robert looked confident at the plate, and the result was a whole lot of barrels.
The same can be said of his outfield play this Spring, and as for the swing-and-miss concerns — they were there, especially with sliders low-and-away, but as I’ve stressed before his other tools will help make up for those while he works that issue out.
Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease Provided us a Look at a Rotation to be Reckoned
The White Sox starting rotation was one of the biggest question marks when camp opened, but not for a lack of talent, rather for a lack of any sort of track record, consistent or at all.
Dylan Cease struggled for most of his starts in 2019, Michael Kopech is coming off an 18-month recovery from Tommy John surgery, and Lucas Giolito has only one good — albeit, very good — season to boot. Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez are on the wrong side of 30, and Reynaldo Lopez has been a mixed bag of results at best to date.
This spring, Cease looked sharp save for one start, Kopech was nothing short of enamoring in his lone appearance and Dallas Keuchel was everything they paid for in his four innings of work when he finally made his Spring debut.
Sure, you can “small sample-size me to death,” but I feel a whole lot better now about this rotation, than I did at this time last month.
Yermin Mercedes, 27th Man
The lovable and confident catcher slugged four home runs and drove in nine runs in his shortened Spring, but he still wasn’t making that Opening Day roster.
Such became clear just before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the Spring short, with multiple White Sox beat writers hinting that the club was looking for the type of versatility that a healthy, and rejuvenated Nicky Delmonico would provide in that limited role.
Honestly, Cheslor Cuthbert’s versatility would have given him the edge over Mercedes in the end.
To be frank, I don’t agree with the Cuthbert statement, but that’s how I realistically saw it playing out, given what we heard from skipper Ricky Renteria.
Whenever the season does finally start, the White Sox will likely have learned these same things, and will likely comprise their 26-man roster accordingly.
If you’re looking for an idea of what a realistic 2020 season schedule might look like, for the White Sox and the rest of baseball, be sure to check out my story on that.