Michael Kopech. Dane Dunning. Alec Hansen. Dylan Cease. Zack Burdi (when he recovers from Tommy John surgery). They’re all coming, but with the exception of Kopech, it won’t be in 2018.
Before we begin on the 2018 White Sox starting rotation, let me ask a quick question of Sox GM Rick Hahn. Mr. Hahn, did you contact Tadahito Iguchi to write our (you see, there it is again-me pretending to be a part of the team) letter to Shohei Ohtani, so he chooses the White Sox as his first American team in 2018? If you haven’t, may I ask why?
Ohtani missed approximately three months of the Japanese baseball season to a thigh injury, but posted impressive numbers when he did play. The two way star hit .332, .403, .540 slugging, with 8 home runs and 31 runs batted in. On the bump he went 3-2 with a 3.20 earned run average and 29 strikeouts in 25.1 innings pitched. The lefty hitter/righty pitcher is just 23 years old and along with Giancarlo Stanton is the darling of the Hot Stove league this offseason.
Put Tadahito to work! He helped the White Sox win their first World Series in 88 years. Other than Wise’s catch to save Buehrle’s perfect game and Buehrle’s between the legs toss to Konerko from foul territory, Iguchi’s side arm, parallel to the ground throw against Toronto (with big Bobby Jenks on the mound) was the best defensive play from a south sider in the last 20 years! He was honored at Guaranteed Rate Field (my God I hate that name-I will refer to it as Comiskey from now on) in September and Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, Ozzie Guillen, Geoff Blum, and Paul Konerko all sang his praises at his last Japanese ballgame this year via Jumbotron video message.
Tadahito, put pen to paper brother! Hook the White Sox up!
James Shields: Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. We have one more year of this guy pitching for us, but wait, there is a glimmer of a silver lining. If he pitches poorly and if the Sox sign a one year rental who succeeds and if Rodon recovers sooner than expected from shoulder surgery and if the Sox promote Kopech in June, Shields could be cut loose by mid season. Before you dismiss that idea because the Sox rarely pay a player not to play for them, remember how surprised you were when John Danks was cut in May 2016. It could happen.
In fairness, Shields did pitch better in the second half of 2017 than he did after coming to the White Sox in 2016, as well as the beginning of the 2017 season. He altered his arm angle and threw fewer batting practice fastballs and more breaking stuff, the latter seeming to be a MLB pitching trend. Ultimately, the differences between 2016 and 2017 were minimal, but improvement did occur.
2016: (with the White Sox) 4-12, 6.77 era, 114 innings pitched, 139 hits allowed, 31 home runs allowed.
2017: 5-7, 5.23 era, 117 innings pitched, 116 hits allowed, 27 home runs allowed.
My ‘if’ sentence is for the most part tongue-in-cheek, so I don’t sincerely believe Shields will be cut loose before season’s end. Why? Several reasons. 1) I don’t think the reclamation project the White Sox sign will be any better than Shields. My evidence? Mike Pelfrey, Derek Holland, Dylan Covey-Covey being more of a never materialized former prospect than reclamation project, but you get my drift. 2) The White Sox weren’t exactly transparent from the beginning of the 2017 season as to the aches and pains of one Carlos Rodon. I say this only because any time frame they offer for a potential Rodon return should probably be pushed back an extra month at least. 3) There are too many other uncertainties about the 2018 rotation and its projections. For example, Kopech could struggle at Triple A. The Sox know what they’re getting (and not getting) from Shields.
The cherry on top? SS Fernando Tatis, Jr., son of the former Cardinal and Met, is the #51 ranked prospect in all of Major League Baseball. He was traded to the Padres from the White Sox for Mr. Shields. Sorry, I’m here to share information.
Lucas Giolito: Let me get straight to the point. I think pitch selection is a huge reason for Giolito’s success with the White Sox in 2017. When I saw him pitch in Charlotte in 2017, I was awed by his stuff and at the same time annoyed by the fact that he overly relied on his fastball and hitters noticed. He got hit around after a good beginning against Durham and lost the game. After the first time through the order, Durham hitters just sat on the fastball.
Fast forward to last season in the majors and Giolito, most likely with Don Cooper’s assistance, figured it out. He finished the season 3-3 with a 2.38 era and just 31 hits allowed in 45.1 innings of work. Compare that stellar earned run average with the 4.48 era he posted in Charlotte and it is apparent some alterations were made for the better. The eye test says those alterations consisted mainly of utilizing a three pitch mix with an excellent curve ball, instead of relying solely on his mid 90s fastball.
I am genuinely excited for a full season of Lucas Giolito. If you believe internet chatter, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo may have lost faith in Giolito before he was traded to the White Sox, despite the fact he was ranked their #1 prospect and a top 10 prospect in all of baseball when the Nationals gave him up (with Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning) for Adam Eaton. It took him a little longer than some scouts expected, but it appears Giolito is here to stay.
Thanks Mr. Rizzo.
Reynaldo Lopez: I believe from a fan’s perspective, reading every reputable baseball source (The Big 3-thank you Baseball America, Baseball Reference, and MLB Pipeline), Giolito was supposed to be the enigmatic, inconsistent million dollar arm. However, that’s what Lopez seemed to me to be last year with the White Sox.
When I saw Lopez in Durham against the Bulls last year, his stuff matched up well with Giolito’s. The differences I noticed between the two were Lopez seemed to tire more quickly in that particular start than Giolito did, and he became noticeably agitated when the defense and ball/strike calls weren’t going his way. Nevertheless, the stuff was evident.
Even an inconsistent Lopez is going to mature to be a number 3 starter, at least, in my opinion. He is much better than his 4.72 era or his only 30 Ks in 47.2 innings indicates.
Like Giolito, I can’t wait to see what a full season of Lopez will bring.
Carson Fulmer: We have a lot of unfinished products in this rotation. In other words, boom or bust or something in between. No one exemplifies this uncertainty more than Carson Fulmer.
Is he the guy who went 2-0 in his last 3 starts (not including a start where he was pulled for a blister in the first inning), with 17 innings pitched, only 10 hits allowed, 3 earned runs, and 16 strikeouts to 6 walks? Or is he the guy who posted a grotesque 8.59 era in 8 relief appearances in 2016? Is he the guy who went just 1 1/3 innings in his first major league start, letting up 6 earned runs-this coming after pitching to a 5.79 era at Charlotte? Or is he the guy who finished 2017 with a 3-1 record and a respectable 3.86 era?
I’m scared of a full season of Carson Fulmer starting for the White Sox. However, I am not suggesting you be scared with me. Cross your fingers, I think Fulmer Road is going to be bumpier than any pot hole ridden street in Chicago that Emmanuel or his friends don’t live on.
Carlos Rodon: If you believe Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone, Carlos Rodon is a future ace, Chris Sale with a better bench press and no scissors.
I see him as an oft-injured pitcher (2016, 15 day disabled list-wrist, 2017, out 3 months-bicep, 2017-18, out 6-8 months-shoulder) who has yet to perform to the expectations set for a pitcher taken number 3 overall in the 2014 MLB draft. He has four more years of team control (although perhaps only 3 seasons, as 2018 may be for the most part lost, if not entirely) and is represented by Scott Boras, who the Sox historically don’t seem to care for very much (justifiably so).
My point? Is this the trajectory of Carlos Rodon: He misses most or all of 2018, comes back in 2019, pitches well, and gets moved for two younger players that can help for the 2020 season and beyond?
The reality, we’re not waiting for Carlos Rodon in 2018. We’re waiting for Michael Kopech.
We’ll discuss Michael Kopech when we start to comprehensively cover the minor league system. As for a 5th starter for the 2018 White Sox, I don’t think he has been signed yet. To be determined.