White Sox Spring Training Preview: With Rebuild in the Rearview, it’s Winning Time

It’s been a long four and a half months since the Chicago White Sox saw their 2020 season end at the Oakland Coliseum in the Wild Card Series against the Athletics on October 1, but despite the 36 inches of snow that’s socked the Chicagoland area square in the mouth the past few weeks, the boys of summer are back.

White Sox pitchers and catchers are due to report to Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona this morning to begin their preparation for the 2021 season, one that staff ace Lucas Giolito hopes ends with a World Series Championship.

“We want to win a ring. We want to win a World Series.”

Giolito and the White Sox got their first taste of the Postseason four-and-a-half months ago in Oakland, and according to the lanky right-hander, “the word rebuild is completely out of [their] vocabulary.”

After a stellar Game 1 performance in Oakland, last season the White Sox had Oakland on the brink of elimination, but despite needing to win one of the two remaining games in the three-game series to lock up their first playoff series victory since 2005 when they won the World Series, the White Sox couldn’t seal the deal.

That brings us to the first of five storylines to watch during Spring Training, creating a culture equal to their World Series expectations.

Building a Championship Mentality

The White Sox had Oakland where they wanted them in that series, but they couldn’t close them out. The White Sox had a three-game lead over the Minnesota Twins and the best record in the American League in late September as well, but they choked away the division title by losing eight of their last 10 games to fall all the way the seventh seed in the expanded playoffs.

Now, it’s time for the White Sox to create a killer mentality, a trait of most championship teams. This is something that Lucas Giolito and Tim Anderson have been vocal about in the days leading up to the start of Spring Training.

“Building the winning culture,” Lucas Giolito told the media this week. “We had the first steps of that last year but there’s still so much more room to grow. That’s what we are intent on doing. Continuing to grow, get closer as a team, play really really solid baseball. Consistent baseball. And at the end of the day, we want to a World Series. That’s obviously the goal.”

Tim Anderson related the same with his own flare last week, on the White Sox Talk Podcast that the White Sox needed to learn how to go out and, “whoop these m—–f—–s.”

“We need that type of attitude versus like, ‘Are we going to win today?’ No. ‘Let’s go out here and whoop ‘em.’ It might be 10-0 in the first, let’s keep going. That type of winning, not just feel around and see what happens. From the first inning, let’s go.”

Photo: John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

Lucas Giolito conquered, and said that the White Sox “need to step on throats, try to kill other teams until the very end.”

“Have that killer instinct, that killer mentality as a whole, and we just get the job done. I don’t think there’s any more room for premature celebration, that’s for sure.”

Giolito and Anderson are the perfect pairings to speak up on the need to create a killer mentality within their clubhouse, as they’re going to be the two that set the tone for the rest of the team this Spring.

Michael Kopech

“Michael Kopech will — in all likelihood — stay down in Arizona for an extended spring, head to Charlotte for a couple of starts, and then make his way to Chicago sometime in May.”

This is a quote from my Spring Training preview last February over at On Tap Sports Network, a literal copy, and paste for this edition, as Michael Kopech is in the same exact boat he was in at this time last year, for the most part.

Different this Spring for Kopech is that he’s now long-removed from his 2018 Tommy John procedure and his health and recovery from that procedure that will be three full years ago this fall. I’m not going to try to understand why exactly Michael Kopech opted out of the truncated 2020 season like may have. It’s not my business, it’s not your business.

What I do know, is that Kopech came into camp last season post-surgery and said and looked like he was in the best shape and mindset of his life.

Remember his Cactus League start against the Texas Rangers?

Same as it ever was, Michael Kopech has possibly the highest ceiling of any starting pitcher in the White Sox organization, and now he’ll finally have the shot to prove it, both healthy and on his terms.

It’s going to be a treat to see this special talent on the mound again this Spring, but don’t expect him to open the season on the major league roster. The plan is to have him start the season with the Charlotte Knights, and then rejoin the White Sox for the majority of the season after he gets some starts under his belt in Triple-A.

Andrew Vaughn

With the departure of Edwin Encarnacion and no replacement at the designated hitter position this winter, it’s not a question of if Andrew Vaughn will assume that bulk of that role, but more so, when he will.

Although in my opinion, a better question is, is he ready for that role? I asked Nick Hostetler — the man who drafted him third overall in 2019 — back in December what he thought about that question.

“There are very few guys that I think you see as amateurs that could play in the big leagues right then — he was one of probably, and I’ve been scouting for 20 years on the amateur side, he’s one of probably five or six that I felt comfortable in saying that he can go right away,” said Hostetler. “Obviously we know it’s very lofty expectations, but he’s just got a professional, and it’s not just at the plate, he’s got a professional approach about him that you don’t see often.”

Hostetler thinks that Vaughn is up to the task, and Assistant GM and Director of Player Development Chris Getz sounded convinced when asked the same recently. Reports out of the Schaumburg last summer were glowing, and at this point, it seems like the consensus is that Vaughn’s elite bat to ball skills will play up despite the lack of professional at-bats since being drafted.

“Based on what we’ve seen with Andrew Vaughn since he’s been part of the organization — and I anticipate he’s going to carry that same approach that has made him successful not only as an amateur but throughout his time here,” Getz said. “I would imagine with the amount of success that he’s had and he probably will in spring training, that he’ll be in a position to be that DH or be on the major league club,” White Sox assistant general manager Chris Getz said Wednesday. “He’s ready to help this team.

Vaughn looked strong in Cactus League competition in 2020 before the Coronavirus Pandemic halted competition, slashing .259/.394/.444/.838 with a home run and a pair of doubles over 27 at-bats last spring. 

So, the question this Spring Training is simply, when will Andrew Vaughn be the everyday designated hitter for the White Sox?

In writing about Andrew Vaughn earlier this month, I shared my opinion on the matter. The White Sox have historically played the service time game with prospects, holding them down after camp until they’ve earned an addition full season of club control, save for the spring extensions of Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert in back-to-back years. 

They also brought 2020 first-rounder Garrett Crochet up last season, and plan to keep him with the major league club in the bullpen to open the 2021 season, and likely for good, so it’s not a guarantee that they’ll keep Vaughn off of the Opening Day roster this spring solely for financial gain. 

Rick Hahn loves to use the phrase, “force the issue,” when referring to potential arrivals for heralded prospects. Will Andrew Vaughn prove Hahn to be a man of his word this Spring?

Yoan Moncada‘s Health

Coming off of his best season in 2019, Yoan Moncada’s 2020 campaign was riddled with the fatigue-related effects of battling the COVID-19 virus in July.

Despite opening the season on a tear just removed from his bout with the Coronavirus, the fatigue caught up with Moncada after the first two weeks of the season. During his first 13 games of the season, Moncada slashed .315/.383/.481/.864 with two home runs, five RBI, three doubles, and a 141 wRC+ over a span of 60 plate appearances.

In those first two weeks, Moncada looked like he was picking up right where he left off in 2019 when he was arguably the most dynamic offensive force on the White Sox.

Then everything came crashing down for the 25-year-old third baseman. In his final 171 plate appearances, Moncada mustered up a measly .192/.298/.349/.647 with just four home runs, 19 RBI, and an 81 wRC+.

Photo: Chicago Sun-Times

In 2019 Moncada had a breakout season slugging .548 with 25 home runs and 83 RBI on his way to a 5.6 fWAR campaign, and that was without the presence of guys like Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal in the lineup, and without Tim Anderson hitting in front of him in the lineup, something that we saw in 2020 and will likely see moving forward.

Healthy Yoan Moncada simply destroys baseballs, and with a stacked lineup around him and fresh legs under him in 2021, Moncada is primed to return to his trajectory that he ended the 2019 season on.

That’s good news for White Sox fans, because that Ken Griffey, Jr.-like left-handed bat drop on a no-doubter by Moncada is something that’s been sorely missed.

Tony La Russa

Ah, last but certainly not least, Tony La Russa.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was vocally disappointed in the hiring of Tony La Russa when it happened, and like many, I was even more aggravated when the news of his second drunk-driving offense broke in November. But, Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t care about what I think, or what you think, so let’s just get over it.

When asked about La Russa since the hiring, players have had nothing but positives to say to the media. That’s all fine and dandy, but the real test begins now.

The real test will be whether or not a 76-year-old manager who hasn’t managed a game in a decade can successfully integrate himself into a whole new era of baseball, an era partly being spearheaded by his star shortstop, Tim Anderson.

That test starts this week, and you can bet that the magnifying glass will be fully centered on La Russa and his interactions with the club. I will say this though — if La Russa can do one thing better than his predecessor Rick Renteria can, it’s probably going to be playing a role in helping the White Sox birth that killer instinct that Lucas Giolito and Tim Anderson are speaking of.


Featured Photo: Chicago Tribune