MLB Team's Pile of Young Stars Can Rocket It from Loser to Contender in 1 Year

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 9, 2018

It's not too soon to get your hopes up for the 2019 Chicago White Sox.
It's not too soon to get your hopes up for the 2019 Chicago White Sox.Jon Durr/Getty Images

While not the factor, what's certainly a factor in this slow-moving Major League Baseball offseason is that teams don't really dig investing in free agents anymore.

It's making things an ominous brand of awkward. However, it's reflective of how the game of building contenders has changed.

Strolling through the open market and freely distributing wads of cash to veterans used to be business as usual. Now the trick is to build a contender from the ground up, first by establishing a foundation of young, cheap talent and then carefully sprinkling in veterans as needed.

The last three World Series champions—in order: the Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros—are shining examples of the wonders that await any team that follows the blueprint well enough. Right now, that bodes well for a good third of the teams in MLB.

None more so than one in particular: the Chicago White Sox.

It's been a while since the White Sox were any good. They haven't had a winning season since 2012 and haven't made the postseason since 2008. After losing 95 games in 2017, it's unlikely that they're ready to deviate from their recent norm in 2018.

They're working on something, however.

Take a look at their major league roster, and you'll see 25 spots filled mostly with players in their early and mid-20s. If you take a look at what's underneath, you'll see Bleacher Report's No. 2 farm system.

"I want everybody to see my excitement, because it is real," Rick Renteria, the White Sox's second-year manager, told Scott Merkin of MLB.com. "Not everybody is going to make it, not everybody is going to be the guy. But there is a lot here. If we do it the right way, at the end of the day, we're going to have a chance for some successful seasons and to have a lot of fun."

It's not hard to spot the places where the South Siders are already set up for the long haul.

Start at shortstop, where they have 24-year-old Tim Anderson signed through 2024. Then over to second base, where 22-year-old Yoan Moncada is under club control through 2023. Nobody should mistake either side of this double play combination for a finished product. But then, they're both former top prospects whom nobody should mistake for anything other than excellent athletes with loads of potential.

Not to be overlooked is the 25-year-old Nicky Delmonico, who in his 2017 MLB debut added an .856 OPS and nine home runs to his application for the club's designated hitter slot. Matt Davidson (26) offers power at third base. Adam Engel (26) offers speed in center field.

From there, it's on to the riches the White Sox have on the mound.

After what's left of James Shields comes an array of young starters. Once he returns from shoulder surgery, the 25-year-old Carlos Rodon will be the elder statesman, with Lucas Giolito (23), Reynaldo Lopez (24) and Carson Fulmer (24) all around. Giolito and Lopez are two more former top prospects. Fulmer is a prospect whose stock has cooled, yet there's still hope contained within his live-wire right arm.

The White Sox won't have to wait long before welcoming two more youngsters who could prove to be the best of the lot: outfielder Eloy Jimenez and right-hander Michael Kopech.

The 21-year-old Jimenez was the big prize in the blockbuster trade that sent steady left-hander Jose Quintana to the North Side of Chicago last July. He was an elite prospect at the time and has only helped grow his profile with power-hitting displays like this one:

Jimenez advanced to Double-A Birmingham last season, raking to the tune of a .947 OPS and 19 homers along the way. After a little more seasoning in the minor leagues, he'll be ready to make his major league debut sometime in 2018.

For his part, Kopech figures he's seasoned enough.

"I feel like I'm ready," the 21-year-old righty told reporters, including Vinnie Duber of NBC Sports Chicago, in January. "I'm not going to say that I should be there and I deserve to be there because I haven't earned anything yet. But I feel like I'm ready if I get the call."

His control is one reason to doubt that, as he's walked 4.5 batters per nine innings in his four minor league seasons.

Otherwise, doubt isn't something Kopech specializes in. His minor league track record includes a 2.74 ERA and a rate of 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings. These are largely products of an otherworldly fastball that has climbed as high as 105 mph.

If all goes well, the White Sox will exit 2018 with a starting rotation full of young arms and a lineup with a handful (i.e., at least two) of young regulars in it. If All-Stars Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu still occupy right field and first base, respectively, the club's offseason shopping list will be that much shorter.

And make no mistake: That shopping list could still be the genesis of a shopping spree.

The fact that the White Sox have never had a payroll north of $130 million is solid evidence they're not one of MLB's big spenders. However, a key bonus of accumulating so much young, cost-controlled talent is that they have only $10.9 million in guaranteed dollars on their books for 2019.

That equates to a blank check for a free-agent market that's far better than the one this winter and possibly better than any free-agent market from any winter ever.

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will lead the pack, followed by Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Craig Kimbrel and A.J. Pollock. Machado could be the most likely target for the White Sox, based on their reported interest in him last December, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. None of them, however, could be beyond the club's reach.

In any case, it could only take a couple of moves to put the White Sox on the contention radar for 2019. They could then sit back and wait for the next wave of young talents to take them over the top. To name just a few: phenom outfielder Luis Robert (20), slugging catcher Zack Collins (23) and right-handers Alec Hansen (23), Dylan Cease (22) and Dane Dunning (23).

It was only in December 2016 that the White Sox started tearing down a faulty product by trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. But it was clear even at the time they were putting themselves on a straight trajectory to a brighter future.

One year and change later, that bright future is starting to take shape. One year and change from now, it shouldn't even be a bright future anymore.

It should be a bright present.

          

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Payroll data courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

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