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Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Sun-Times
25 Mar 2023


NextImg:White Sox close to finalizing Opening Day roster

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Size up a healthy White Sox lineup and it looks like one that will score enough runs.

Assess a starting rotation with no weak link, and it should prevent runs.

The bullpen? The closer and its leader is out, so a red flag is raised until further notice. But the other components in the pen are proven and, where not experienced in high leverage situations, possessing elite stuff. Reynaldo Lopez, who has featured 100 mph velocity during spring training, is a case in point.

With the lineup basically set and the rotation cemented, what the Sox ninth innings look like in a closer-by-committee plan is the biggest question mark with four days left till Opening Day.

The bench? It won’t be filled by deserving starters who would have more significant roles on other teams. But the Sox powers that be, including manager Pedro Grifol, see enough things assorted bench players can bring. The same can be said for a versatile bullpen.

“It’s a really good problem to have. That means you have some depth,” said Grifol, who said he would begin talking to players about their status Saturday. “You have things to think about and good players competing for a few spots.”

The Sox expect to have their roster finalized in 24 to 48 hours, Grifol said Saturday morning. Barring a hot-button development, such as prospect Oscar Colas getting sent to Triple-A Charlotte to open the season for fine-tuning, or Leury Garcia’s $5.5 million in salary for each of the next two seasons getting eaten by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, the primary uncertanties are the eighth spot in the bullpen and the fourth spot on the bench.

With four days left in camp and six till Opening Day, here’s how the 2023 Sox shape up:

 Bullpen

Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly, Lopez, Jose Ruiz, Jimmy Lambert and lefties Aaron Bummer and Jake Diekman – assuming Bummer is good to go after his late start in camp – should make up the top seven. The last spot should go to righties Bryan Shaw, Gregory Santos or perhaps Rule 5 Draft pick Alex Avila.

The big question is how Grifol manages it without Hendriks, who is undergoing treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He said he has no set closer, although Graveman has the most experience of the group closing games and Lopez the best stuff.

Starting rotation

Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Mike Clevinger and Michael Kopech, in order, comprise the starting five. It’s been set since the beginning of spring training, pending Major League Baseball’s Clevinger investigation, which resulted in no penalty. It should be a team strength, albeit with fingers crossed if there are injuries. Davis Martin, the sixth man who posted a 4.83 ERA last season, has already been optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. He allowed seven earned runs in 12 innings this spring.

Lineup

Tim Anderson SS

Luis Robert Jr. CF

Andrew Benintendi LF

Eloy Jimenez DH

Yoan Moncada 3B

Andrew Vaughn 1B

Yasmani Grandal C

Oscar Colas RF

Elvis Andrus 2B

This assumes Colas makes the team, and while it’s expected – he batted .289/.378/.684 with three homers and 1.062 OPS going into Saturday night’s Cactus League game against the Reds and hasn’t done anything blatantly unforgiving in the outfield – Grifol has noted the 24-year-old’s baserunning lapses and hitting the cutoff man shortcomings every time they occurred. He has also noted Colas’ intense willingness to take instruction.

Grifol would be faced with a decision on the left-handed hitting Colas as soon as Opening Day when the Sox face tough Astros lefty Framber Valdez. He doesn’t view Colas as a straight platoon player, but testing him on Opening Day with a loud stadium and ESPN audience would be a bold ask. One alternative is playing Eloy Jimenez, a defensively challenged left fielder during his career, in right field for the first time in a major league game.

Bench

Unless outfielders Billy Hamilton or Jake Marisnick make the team, providing other right-handed hitting options. Hamilton is a switch hitter, albeit with a career .239 average including .164 over the last three seasons. Having Andrus, who is converting to second base after playing his entire career at shortstop, negates the need to have Garcia, 32, around to back up Anderson at shortstop. A favorite of former manager Tony La Russa who batted .210/.233/.267 in 97 games last season, Garcia has switch-hit value, speed and experience at every position except catcher and first base.

Meanwhile, veteran Hanser Alberto, who can play all four infield spots, has asserted himself with a .459/.474/.811 hitting line, two homers, five doubles and a 1.275 OPS in 14 Cactus League games. Alberto is also regarded as one of the best clubhouse guys in the game. Leadership was missing last season, and Alberto can supply it.

Hamilton can supply defense and pinch running (324 career stolen bases), energy and a likeable presence in the clubhouse.

Romy Gonzalez, thought to be the everyday second baseman before Andrus signed at the beginning of camp, has slugged four homers this spring but is probably better served honing his Swiss Army Knife versatility tools at Charlotte than riding the Sox bench.

No. 2 catcher Sevy Zavala and first baseman/outfielder Gavin Sheets are expected to make the team.

“There’s no perfect team,” Grifol said.

Exactly how far from perfect are the Sox? We start finding out Thursday.