Chicago White Sox team outlook

The White Sox underwhelmed in 2015, but can new faces and underperformers spur a turnaround? Al Melchior identifies some possible Fantasy contributors.

The White Sox impressed a lot of fans and Fantasy owners last offseason, but their in-season work left something to be desired. They aggressively remade their roster, trading for Jeff Samardzija and dishing out a combined $128 million for free agents David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke. The additional talent resulted in just three more wins than in 2014, as the White Sox finished 76-86, avoiding the American League Central cellar by two games.

After a frustrating season, Samardzija hit the free agent market and signed with the Giants, but the White Sox’s biggest offseason additions heading into 2016 were on offense. After getting precious little production from second and third base, the team shored up those positions by trading for Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier. They also had a vacancy at shortstop, since they declined to exercise a team option on longtime incumbent Alexei Ramirez, and at least initially, Tyler Saladino could replace him, moving over from third base. The new catching tandem of Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro replaces the old pair of Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto.

The White Sox will not only have to count on Frazier and Lawrie to provide major upgrades, but also on improvements from several of the returnees from 2015. LaRoche and Cabrera both experienced significant decline, and 24-year-old Avisail Garcia failed to progress as many had hoped. Even Jose Abreu, the team’s best hitter, was a bit of a letdown for Fantasy owners, as he did not rank among the top five first basemen. Adam Eaton, who had a major breakout season, is the only hitter who gets a pass for his 2015 performance.

Aside from Samardzija, it’s hard to put much blame on the White Sox’s pitching. Chris Sale‘s 3.41 ERA was the highest of his career, but he was a top 10 Fantasy pitcher, even though he received a below-average level of run support. Jose Quintana was his usual steady self, and Carlos Rodon showed signs of developing into a must-start pitcher late in the season. With seven blown saves in 41 attempts, David Robertson had a bumpy ride in his first season as the team’s closer, but he should go unchallenged in the role for the coming year.

Even with the addition of two-time All-Star Frazier, it’s questionable whether the White Sox have done enough to raise themselves above .500 or lift themselves out of the AL cellar in terms of run scoring. That could make it difficult for Abreu to rebound or for any of the White Sox’s pitchers to garner wins. However, if the supporting cast, including Eaton, Lawrie and Garcia, can outperform expectations, the team just might enjoy the success that was predicted for them last season.

2016 projected lineup

1. Adam Eaton, CF
2. Melky Cabrera, LF
3. Jose Abreu, 1B
4. Todd Frazier, 3B
5. Adam LaRoche, DH
6. Avisail Garcia, RF
7. Brett Lawrie, 2B
8. Alex Avila, C
9. Tyler Saladino, SS
BENCH: Dioner Navarro, C
BENCH: Mike Olt, 3B

2016 projected rotation

1. Chris Sale, LHP
2. Jose Quintana, LHP
3. Carlos Rodon, LHP
4. John Danks, LHP
5. Erik Johnson, RHP
ALT: Scott Carroll, RHP

2016 projected bullpen

1. David Robertson, RHP
2. Nate Jones, RHP
3. Zach Duke, LHP
4. Jake Petricka, RHP
5. Dan Jennings, LHP

Bust …

Adam Eaton CF / Chicago White Sox (2015 STATS, LAST 129 GAMES)

PA: 584 AVG: .306 OBP: .382 HR: 14

To be clear, Adam Eaton needs to be owned in standard mixed leagues, but owners who weight his 2015 results too heavily could wind up paying too much. After he spent the vast majority of last season hitting with far more power than he had before, it’s fair to look to Eaton to hit at least a dozen home runs and maybe even more than 15. With Eaton’s enhanced power came more flyballs and more strikeouts, so it may not be realistic to view him as a .300 hitter. He should produce enough to finish as a top 40 outfielder, but it’s risky to assume he will be a top 20 outfielder as he was for all of 2015, much less the top 10 outfielder he was in the second half.

Breakout …

Brett Lawrie 3B / Chicago White Sox (2015 ROAD STATS)

PA: 302 AVG: .272 HR: 10 HR/FB: 16.1%

This year we can celebrate the five-year anniversary of Brett Lawrie’s minor league power breakout, the one that launched him into a homer-drenched 43-game debut with the Blue Jays. It seems like an eternity since that happened, and ever since, we have been waiting for Lawrie to live up to the promise he showed back then. More accurately, many of us stopped waiting somewhere on Lawrie’s four-year odyssey.

Because we have grown impatient with Lawrie, we may have lost sight of three pertinent facts. First, he is 26 years old. Second, in 2014, he hit 12 home runs in 282 plate appearances over 70 games in his last year with the Blue Jays, putting himself on a 28-homer pace for a full season. Third, last season, Lawrie was only about five homers off his 2o14 pace — that is, when he was away from Coliseum. Lawrie is hardly over the hill, and he has shown the ability to hit 20-plus homers in good environments in back-to-back seasons. Now that he calls U.S. Cellular Field home, the wait might finally be over for a 20-to-25 home run season from the new White Sox second baseman.

Sleeper …

David Robertson RP / Chicago White Sox (2015 STATS)

ERA: 3.41 K/9: 12.2 BB/9: 1.8 LOB%: 67.3%

After a 2014 season in which their bullpen was in disarray, the White Sox’s choice of David Robertson as their new closer seemed inspired. From a Fantasy perspective, he was a big upgrade over the likes of Jake Petricka, Ronald Belisario and Matt Lindstrom, but Robertson’s results weren’t quite as good as they had been the year before with the Yankees. You wouldn’t know it from his ERA, but Robertson was actually a much better pitcher last season than he has ever been. He threw strikes and got swings-and-misses at rates that were far above his career norms, but difficulties with stranding runners hurt his Fantasy value. Previously, Robertson had no strand rate issues, and there is no reason to think that he is due to have them again. Chalk 2015 up as a fluke, and be prepared to draft Robertson as a one of the top 10 relievers in Fantasy.

Prospects report

In his first full season in Double-A, Tim Anderson lost some of the power he had shown in the Carolina League, but he continued to hit for average (.312) and steal bases (49 in 62 attempts). Though Tyler Saladino might not present much of a roadblock, it’s not a given that Anderson will supplant him as the White Sox shortstop this season. Anderson has to improve his plate discipline and build on the gains he made defensively in 2015. At minimum, he needs to be owned in dynasty leagues.

The White Sox also have speed in the outfield, with Jacob May and Adam Engelworking their way through the system. May is the more advanced of the two, as he should open 2016 in Triple-A, but Engel is coming off an MVP campaign in the Arizona Fall League. Engel will see if he can make his 65 steals from the Carolina League hold up in Double-A. Neither outfielder is likely to make a Fantasy impact this season.

Carson Fulmer and Spencer Adams are the organization’s top pitching prospects, and both ended last season in the Carolina League. Fulmer, in particular, could be on the fast track and has an outside chance of debuting late this season. Both righties are worth coveting in dynasty formats.

Tyler Danish has already pitched a full season in Double-A, so he is closer to making his major league debut than Fulmer or Adams. His struggles in the Southern League (4.50 ERA, 1.5 K/BB) make him a less than ideal candidate for any Fantasy format. If he rebounds at Triple-A Charlotte, Danish could have some AL-only value.

-Al Melchior

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