It's finally here. Well, kind of.
White Sox pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training in Glendale, Ariz., Thursday, and an offseason that seemed to last three lifetimes officially comes to a close.
Of course, it comes to a close with a roster still very much in flux as the possibility looms that the White Sox make a move that fixes the glaring hole in right field or the not-quite-glaring-but-it'd-be-cool-if-they-upgraded-it hole at shortstop.
So, yes, there's still time. While pitchers and catchers are ready to report, position players aren't required to arrive until next Monday and the first full-squad workout isn't until next Tuesday. And even then, the first exhibition game isn't until March 3. And even then, the regular season doesn't begin for another month.
Damn, baseball season suddenly feels really far away again.
But Spring Training is officially here, so let’s take a look at where things stand.
Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer both got invited to big-league camp and for both, a good opportunity to get work in against established players and impress the coaching staff and front office.
Fulmer enters camp in a similar situation to where Carlos Rodon stood a year ago. Although he was drafted less than a year ago, many believe the Top-10 pick could contribute at the big-league level relatively soon, even if it’s just in a bullpen role. While there’s virtually no chance he breaks camp with the team, how his develop progresses throughout the spring will go a long way in determining when he makes his ascension.
Similarly, Anderson is a player fans are clamoring for to be ready soon, as the Shortstop Of The Future impressed at Double-A Birmingham a year ago and is a legitimate Top 50 prospect regardless of the your preferred ranking source. With Alexei Ramirez gone and Tyler Saladino’s future likely better suited for a bench role, the calls will get louder for his promotion sooner than later.
While the safe bet is that Anderson stays in the minors for the duration of 2016 — don’t make me bring up the White Sox history of developing hitting prospects again — an extended look against advanced competition will be interesting to watch.
Short of a late acquisition (SIGN DEXTER FOWLER), there isn’t much to watch here. While it’s certainly possible that Carlos Sanchez could unseat Saladino at shortstop, that’s far from likely and the rest of the positional starters are set.
The only real question marks that remain on the 25-man roster are in the back-ends of the rotation and bullpen and with bench roles. It’s likely that Sanchez will be carried as the lone backup infielder, and with starting second baseman Brett Lawrie’s ability to move to third base, the Sox will have all four infield spots covered if necessary.
In the outfield, incumbent J.B. Shuck will likely battle with newcomer Jerry Sands for the backup spot.
The starting rotation is mostly determined — we think. Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon are in, with John Danks, Mat Latos and Erik Johnson the three candidates for the last two spots. One would have to imagine that, barring Latos legitimately looking awful in Spring Training, Johnson will be the odd-man out. And the fact that he’s young and still has minor-league options makes that decision even easier.
Even the bullpen mostly lacks intrigue. Assuming the White Sox carry only one backup infielder and one backup outfielder, that leaves eight spots for the bullpen. If we’re assuming Johnson — or whichever starter isn’t in the rotation — isn’t shifted to the bullpen, we’re looking at a definite bullpen of David Robertson, Jake Petricka, Zach Duke, Zach Putnam, Dan Jennings, Nate Jones and Matt Albers with Daniel Webb and Tommy Kahnle the prime candidates for the eighth spot. And considering the White Sox traded for Kahnle during the offseason, one should assume he gets the final spot.
Anything else noteworthy going on?
There are a few non-prospects among the non-roster invitees who could make a splash, but as noted here, it’s short on substance.
Other youngsters invited to camp to keep an eye on include Tyler Danish, Jordan Guerrero, Adam Engel and Jacob May. Maybe Courtney Hawkins still intrigues you. He’ll be there too.
The most important thing to watch for in camp, as always, is health. Last season we saw Sale go down with an injury early in camp and he didn’t come back until two weeks into the season. Watch the prospects, check out the new guys, but so long as the White Sox make it through a month in Arizona with all of their main contributors healthy, it’s a successful camp.
Oh and also, SIGN DEXTER FOWLER.