Ryan Bukowiecki is a student at the Illinois Media School and a contributor to The D & Davis Show and WARR where he follows the White Sox
The Chicago White Sox’s 2017 season has officially come to an end and though the win-loss column looks bad on paper (fourth worst in all of baseball) a new path to October looks more clear than it has in several years.
Though “guarantee” is embedded in the name of the White Sox’s stadium, nothing is guaranteed for the South Side franchise, but as we sit at the end of the season there is plenty to look back on and feel good about for 2018 and the years to come. I think most Sox fans would agree that this year may have felt better than any other in recent memory, what with the purging of superfluous older talent and the surprisingly easy transitions seen with several first-time major leaguers who will be counted on to define the rebuilding of this team.
Now with some foundational pieces in place and plenty more to come, the South Side is brightening up.
It’s a wrap
When looking at the beginning of the 2017 season, there were two things the average Sox fan had to look forward to explicitly — the day Yoan Moncada is scheduled to be called up and the first day of September, which meant wide-spread call ups from the minors. These two events, worth paying attention to in any season, were particularly notable for this team and this year since both days can be looked at as initial steps towards winning a championship. Beyond that, neither moments disappointed, especially in September.
Let’s start with the Sox prized prospect, Moncada. At first Moncada struggled and was noted on previous White Sox reports (including on this site). All the while flashed of Moncada’s talent shown through and it seemed to be a matter of time for the top prospect in all of baseball to start to get the hang of things, that happened during the calendar month of September.
Moncada had a slash line of .276 AVG/.349 OBP/.469 SLG for an OPS of .818 and he was easily above average with wRC+ (weighted runs created) of 120 (115 is above AVG). Overall, the season stats will not look great but Moncada started to show what made him so highly touted as a prospect. And as Sox fans look forward to 2018, Moncada is easily at the top of the list.
Next on that list are the three rookie pitchers that turned a terrible rotation at the beginning of the season to a must watch one — Lucas Giolito, Carson Fulmer and Reynaldo López each made themselves into names to watch in the pantheon of American League pitching.
- Giolito had a 2.38 ERA, a WHIP of 0.95, and a 6.8 K/9, he struggled a little bit in AAA at the start of the season but as soon as he was called up in August, he has looked like he belonged. Giolito was the prized possession in the Adam Eaton trade and so far it looks like a great deal by Rick Hahn, he is just below Moncada in excitement level for 2018.
- Fulmer had a 3.86 ERA, a WHIP of 1.24, and a nice 7.3 K/9. Saying Fulmer had an up and down year is dead on, he struggled for much of the season at AAA and had a horrible 2017 MLB debut. It brought questions of Fulmer’s future as a starter and maybe he would be better served as a reliever. These questions will still remain in 2018 but after a strong September, it is possible that Fulmer may develop into a solid starter.
- López had a 4.72 ERA, a WHIP of 1.32, and a 5.7 K/9. López started out with a bang and had a good 2017 in the minors before his call up, he unfortunately started stronger than he finished once promoted to the majors. Regardless, López flashed the type of stuff that should excite any Sox fan heading into 2018.
Of course, the top pitching prospect in the system, Michael Kopech, is most likely going to be called up at some point in 2018 as well. Combined with the three starters above and still-young but experienced Carlos Rodón, the rotation has a lot of potential.
Tip of the Cap to Abreu
It is funny to see the totality of José Abreu’s 2017 in retrospect. At the beginning of the year, Abreu was thought to may be on the trade block, finishing 2016 with a WAR of just 1.8, much lower than his 3.2 in 2015 and much much lower than his rookie year of 5.3 in 2014. It seemed that Abreu was on the decline for a time and the Sox might as well get as much value from him before he flat out couldn’t play anymore. That is when Abreu’s value started to turn around.
The Cuban slugger was considered a good leader and an influence to fellow countryman Moncada, adding a comfortability the prized prospect could use in a new setting. Then Abreu was an element in the pitch to get other fellow Cuban, Luis Robert. By late May it seemed like Abreu would be here just from the fact that it will help the organization in the development of their young Cubans. Abreu then went ahead and put his decline in talent questions to bed, exploding toward the end 2017 and finishing with a WAR of 4.1. Abreu’s slash line was the second highest in his career, .304 AVG/.354 OBP/.552 SLG for an OPS of .906.
Abreu defense improved to his best season, even though he will never be a stud at first. He also had his second best base running year. And also had his lowest K%, of 17.6, in his career. At this point Abreu will be here through the 2019 season with two arbitration years in 2018 and 2019, unless a new deal is struck. The question now is how many years do you keep Abreu instead of what is Abreu’s value.
A Pair of Pleasant Surprises
Before wrapping up this article, two more players need to be highlighted for the value this year and beyond in Tim Anderson and Avisail García. Both these players had very different seasons and very different narratives heading into 2017, by its end Anderson and Garcia each stand as sources of optimism heading into 2018.
For García, his 2017 started with the constant question of…”how much longer do the Sox have to keep García?” Avi has been a huge disappointment in his White Sox career and it seemed like there was a large enough sample size he built to consider him a bust. García went ahead and had a monster year that included an All-Star selection, this followed two seasons where he ended with a negative WAR.
García was once worse than a replacement level player, in 2017 he ended with a WAR of 4.2. That is a huge turnaround and combined with a slash line that looks more like an MVP rather than a replacement player (.330 AVG/.380 OBP/.506 SLG for an OPS of .882). The power from Avi is still not quite what Sox fans hoped for but he had a career high of 18 home runs. Two more numbers that pop out are Garcia’s OBP and his K%, before this season his lowest was 23.5%, this year it dropped four percent (19.8%).
Defensively this was Garcia’s second-best season and his best base-running season. The future for García is murky, he still may be traded because of all the prospects behind him on the Sox farm. At the least, Garcia has turned around his value where Rick Hahn can actually get some value from him.
Tim Anderson’s value to the organization was the opposite of García for most of the year. The White Sox invested in Anderson by signing him to a team friendly long-term deal early in the year.
Anderson struggled out the gates and dealt with a personal issue that haunted him all the way through July. Through counseling and getting back to the basics, Anderson turned his season around from August through September. Not eye popping numbers but clearly Anderson looked more confident at the plate and on defense. It will be interesting to see the pair of Anderson and Moncada up the middle next year.
All in all, the 2017 campaign was a fun year despite the constant knowledge that the White Sox weren’t ready to compete for anything. Expect 2018 to be similar with new players getting called up but next year the team will feature more players that should be an active part of the Sox future. The next stage of the rebuild is watching the seeds grow.
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