With 18 home runs at the Triple-A level and a slugging percentage near .500, you would expect Jose Rondon to be a topic of conversation more frequently. Factor in six home runs in 42 games with the White Sox last season and you’d think people would start characterizing the Padres castoff as payback for Fernando Tatis Jr. But after seven seasons in the minors, Rondon is closer to Leury Garcia than one of the top prospects in baseball. In 645 games in his minor league career, Rondon has 37 long balls with a slash line of .285/.334/.408. He played at three different levels of the Padres system in 2017 before being DFA’d. Looking for organizational depth after trading Jake Peter, the White Sox picked him up.
The gamble paid off well enough that Rondon has injected himself into the conversation for a roster spot this season. He started 77 games at shortstop for Triple-A Charlotte while delivering a slash line of .250/.290/.497 and a wRC of 116. He moved around more position wise at the big league level playing 10 games at short, eight at third, four at second and even getting an inning at first base. According to multiple reports, he will also play the outfield this spring. Moving around the diamond, while leveling up, did not have a negative impact on his offensive production as he slashed .230/.280/.470 with a wRC of 102 in Chicago. With Rondon out of options, his power profile makes him a viable candidate for the MLB roster in late March.
With Manny Machado (moment of silence) off to the newly minted arch-rival San Diego Padres, the picture for utility infielder has become a little less muddled. Yolmer Sanchez appears destined for second base while Yoan Moncada shifts over to third and Tim Anderson remains at shortstop. The Sox typically carry 13 pitchers, so versatility is an essential factor in snaring a utility role.
Leury Garcia has held down the role for the last few years but has spent much time on the injured list. In 275 plate appearances in 2018, he slashed .271/.303/.376 with a below average wRC of 86 and a zero WAR. Having been around the organization since he was acquired for Alex Rios in 2013, now 28 with a contract of 1.6 million in 2019, it’s possible the White Sox opt for a more youthful, cheaper option. [insert your own sarcastic comment here]
Nicky Delmonico is limited because he can only play the outfield, DH or perhaps first base. These areas became more crowded over the offseason with the addition of Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay to go with holdovers Daniel Palka and Adam Engel. In 318 plate appearances, Delmonico slashed .215/.296/.373 with a wRC of 84 and a -0.3 WAR. His eight home runs don’t match the power production that Rondon generated. Given his versatility, Rondon has a clear advantage.
Signed as a free agent in early December, thirty-one-year-old Ryan Goins is a long shot to make the roster. He played 42 games with Kansas City last season with all but nine of them coming at second base. In 27 starts, he slashed .226/.253/.313 with a wRC of 49. In 2017 as a Blue Jay, he appeared in 143 games making 459 plate appearances. His slash line was similar, with a below average wRC of 70. He could be used if a veteran left-handed option is needed in the infield.
Danny Mendick has been good enough to hang around the periphery of our Top 30 list, making the Just Missed segment earlier this year. He’s MLB ready defensively and put up interesting numbers last year clubbing 14 home runs with a high walk rate and low strikeout rate in 132 games at Double-A Birmingham. His slash line of .247/.340/.395 won’t grab your attention, but with a wRC of 111 and the ability to cover three infield positions defensively, he’s a long shot to make the club in a utility role. More likely than not, he’ll begin the year at Triple-A, where the saying goes you’re a play away from the big leagues. As a 22 round pick, he doesn’t ooze the tools of a top talent, but that hasn’t prevented him from being one of the more intriguing layers in the system. Exceeding expectations is what Mendick does.
Eddy Alvarez spent the majority of his time at second base last season in Charlotte, but also logged significant innings at shortstop with a start at third base. The 29-year-old is best known for getting a silver medal in speed skating at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He was the first Cuban-American male speed skater to make the Olympic team, signing on with the White Sox as a free agent shortly after that. In reviewing his 2018 numbers, the wRC of 122 leaps off the page. He also had solid contact figures with a 21.7% strikeout rate to go with a walk rate of 11.8%. His slash line of .253/.348/.435 isn’t terrible for a 5’9” 180-pound middle infielder. With more time at the Triple-A level, he ranks a tick above Mendick for a shot at the MLB roster. The pair will likely share middle infield duties at Charlotte in April, but both are candidates for a trip to Chicago.
Given that he is out of options coupled with his breakout 2018 performance, Rondon is a good bet to crack the MLB roster out of Arizona. Leury Garcia has had his share of injuries but has performed well when he is on the field. Rondon’s versatility gives him an edge over the one-dimensional Delmonico, mainly since there are newcomers on the roster and others coming soon (Eloy Jimenez) to compete with him. Beyond that, there are some enticing long shots waiting in the wings. With the roster continuously fluctuating, it’s entirely possible that some new players are in the mix before spring training ends in late March.
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