Coronavirus, out of the way! A full baseball season of 162 games is waiting to be played, and White Sox spring training will start on time, with pitchers and catchers officially reporting Wednesday. The first full-squad workout is Feb. 22, with sights set on getting the season underway as planned April 1.
Protocols are in place, the games will go on and players are proceeding confidently after pulling off a 60-game schedule and expanded postseason in 2020.
When the Sox were last in Arizona, spring training was canceled March 12; baseball didn’t resume until July 3 at summer camps. The Sox would charge out to a 32-16 start, become the first team to clinch a playoff berth and then fade with a 3-9 skid down the stretch to finish tied for second in the American League Central. They settled for a wild-card berth and lost a best-of-three series to the Athletics after winning Game 1.
Fast forward 4½ months to next week, when camp will begin with smarting from those losses at Oakland.
The Sox are fortified with a new starting pitcher in Lance Lynn, a new closer in Liam Hendriks and a new (sort of) right fielder in Adam Eaton, who probably will platoon with Adam Engel. And, yes, they have a new manager in Tony La Russa, whose hiring stunned the baseball world, rankled the Sox’ fan base and puzzled some players when the announcement was made 17 days after Rick Renteria was fired.
The La Russa shock is wearing off, but the attention on him won’t. His return at age 76, after being away from the field since 2011, figures to make the Hall of Famer one of the bigger national stories of spring training.
In Arizona, the Sox will sort out which 26 players La Russa will have at his disposal from Day 1 to prove this was a good move. They already have a very good idea, with few jobs to be won.
Veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy’s addition to the mix last week on a minor-league contract with an invite to camp positions him to win the No. 2 job behind Yasmani Grandal. Lucroy’s competition consists of two catchers with defensive limitations (Zack Collins and Yermin Mercedes) and one with better defensive skills but questions about his offense (Seby Zavala). La Russa will demand a catcher who’ll guide, lead and communicate with his pitching staff, and Lucroy, 34, fits that bill.
Also to be determined is the designated-hitter spot. Top prospect Andrew Vaughn appears to have the inside track in the competition based in part on general manager/director Chris Getz’s endorsement last week, even though Vaughn has no experience above Class A. There are also service-time issues to consider, which could delay Vaughn’s debut a couple of weeks into the season, even if he’s deemed ready to roll.
Other options might include the defensively limited Eloy Jimenez in the DH slot (with the defensively superior Adam Engel or Leury Garcia playing left field), Collins doubling as a third catcher on the pandemic-expanded roster of 26, a hitter to be acquired during spring training or a combination thereof.
Zack Burdi, Dylan Cease, Jimmy Cordero, Garrett Crochet, Bernardo Flores Jr., Matt Foster, Jace Fry, Lucas Giolito, Liam Hendriks, Codi Heuer, Tyler Johnson, Dallas Keuchel, Michael Kopech, Jimmy Lambert, Reynaldo Lopez, Lance Lynn, Evan Marshall, Carlos Rodon, Jose Ruiz, Jonathan Stiever.
Zack Collins, Yasmani Grandal, Yermin Mercedes, Seby Zavala.
Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Jake Burger, Nick Madrigal, Danny Mendick, Yoan Moncada, Gavin Sheets.
Micker Adolfo, Adam Eaton, Adam Engel, Leury Garcia, Luis Gonzalez, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford.
Non-roster invites to spring training
Jonathan Lucroy, Tim Beckham, Nick Williams, Marco Hernandez, Matt Reynolds, Ryan Burr, Tayron Guerrero, Alex McRae, Felix Paulino, Connor Sadzeck, Mike Wright, Jacob Lindgren, Kodi Medeiros, Matt Tomshaw.
Sox minor-league prospects
Andrew Vaughn, Danny Dopico, Kade McClure, Emilio Vargas, Bennett Sousa, Carlos Perez, Zach Remillard.
Wednesday: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
Feb. 22: First full-squad workout.
Feb. 28: Cactus League opener vs. Brewers.
April 1: Opening Day at Angels, 9:05 p.m.
April 8: Home opener vs. Royals.
Aug. 12: Field of Dreams Game vs. Yankees.
Predicted 26-man roster
*Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodon.
Right-handers: Liam Hendriks,
Evan Marshall, Codi Heuer, Matt Foster, Reynaldo Lopez.
Left-handers: Aaron Bummer, Jace Fry, Garrett Crochet.
Tim Anderson SS, Yoan Moncada 3B, Jose Abreu 1B, Yasmani Grandal C, Eloy Jimenez LF, Luis Robert CF, Andrew Vaughn DH, Adam Eaton RF, Nick Madrigal 2B.
Jonathan Lucroy C, Adam Engel OF, Leury Garcia IF-OF, Danny Mendick IF.
*A word on the starting rotation: Rodon, who was signed to a one-year, $3 million deal to return after he was non-tendered after last season, will get every opportunity to win a job on the back end. Lopez ($2 million), who, like Rodon, is seeking to show more consistency after being good in spurts the last few seasons, will push Rodon but could settle into the role of bullpen long man. And don’t forget Michael Kopech, who hasn’t pitched in two seasons and likely will need ramp-up innings at Class AAA Charlotte before rejoining the Sox for his 2021 debut, which would be his fifth major-league appearance. It might be a stretch for the Sox — coming off a 60-game season in which Giolito led the team with 72 ⅓ innings over 12 starts — to have several pitchers compiling 200 innings in 2021. More than five starters will be needed.
Manager: Tony La Russa
Bench coach: Miguel Cairo
Pitching coach: Ethan Katz
Assistant pitching coach: Curt Hasler
Hitting coach: Frank Menechino
Assistant hitting coach: Howie Clark
First-base coach: Daryl Boston
Third-base coach: Joe McEwing
Analytics coordinator: Shelley Duncan
Major-league instructor: Jerry Narron