20/20 vision: Dreaming of roster for White Sox next World Series contender

20/20 vision: Dreaming of roster for White Sox next World Series contender

Be afraid, baseball world. Be very afraid.

While "Winter is coming" in this weekend's Game of Thrones series opener, the White Sox version of the iconic phrase from one of television's most popular shows will be coming to a baseball diamond near you in a few years.

The White Sox farm system has gone from worst to first in the span of 15 months.

And it's only going to continue to get stronger as the White sox have a few more trade chips to sell off and they'll have a Top 5 draft pick in 2018. The organization will also have a few briefcases stuffed with cash to toss around to the loaded 2019 free agent class.

As most White Sox fans pick their jaws up from the floor when looking at MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospect list, we've done our best to construct the optimal White Sox lineup for the 2020 season.

LINEUP

1. Yoan Moncada (2B)

The top prospect in MLB is a five-tool talent who possesses the on-base skills (.385 in Triple-A) and speed (16 stolen bases in 2017) to set the table for the White Sox for the next decade.

2. Manny Machado (3B)

If the White Sox are going to throw big money at a free agent in 2019, Machado could be the guy. His age (27) when he hits the open market is right around the White Sox window of contention.

3. Eloy Jimenez (LF)

Some scouts believe Jimenez could be better than Moncada. His power and ability to hit for a high average make him an ideal candidate to hit No. 3 for the White Sox in 2020.

4. Jose Abreu (DH)

Abreu's leadership will still be imperative for the White Sox when they're ready to contend.

5. Luis Robert (CF)

Robert is the ultimate wild card in the White Sox system as he's yet to show off his skills in the United States. Another five-tool talent, Robert's upside is off the charts.

6. Avisail Garcia (RF)

Coming off his first All-Star appearance, Garcia could be an integral part of the White Sox future or the team could sell high on his 2017 season for more high-end young talent.

7. Zack Collins (C)

Collins low batting average (.220) and high strikeout numbers (90) in Single-A are alarming, but he's still only 22 years old, and his defensive abilities behind the plate have improved immensely since the White Sox drafted him. 

8. Jake Burger (1B)

Burger's advanced bat and power will have him moving up the pipeline. It wouldn't be surprising to see him shift from third base to first base by the time he's ready to join the majors.

9. Tim Anderson (SS)

The first piece of the rebuild has gotten off to a bad start in 2017, but he's still an important part of the young core.

BENCH

Nicky Delmonico (OF), Adam Engel (OF), Yolmer Sanchez (IF), Kevan Smith (C), Gavin Sheets (1B)

Engel is a must-have on the bench for the White Sox as he could be an important late-inning defensive replacement at any position in the outfield. Delmonico's left-handed bat and pop give him the nudge over a few other White Sox minor league outfielders. Sanchez can play all over the diamond and would be the perfect utility infielder for a contender. Smith and Sheets round out the rest of the White Sox bench.

ROTATION

1. Carlos Rodon

2. Michael Kopech 

3. Alec Hansen

4. Lucas Giolito

5. Dane Dunning

While he hasn't shown consistency thus far in the majors, Rodon — the only holdover from the current White Sox rotation — has the dynamite stuff to be the ace. Kopech, who has topped out at 105 MPH, has the highest upside of any pitching prospect in the minors and if his command continues to improve he could challenge Rodon for the top spot in the rotation. The last three spots in the rotation could be a toss up because the White Sox have about 15 arms that are worthy of a starting spot. No matter how it shakes out, the White Sox project to have a strong starting five. Hansen, Giolito and Dunning — our projected No. 3, 4 and 5 starters for the 2020 South Siders — have the upside of being No. 2 starters if they were on a handful of other clubs. 

BULLPEN

Zack Burdi (closer), Andrew Miller (SU), Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, Carson Fulmer, Bernardo Flores

Burdi possesses an 80-grade fastball (the highest possible rating) and a potential wipeout slider. If Burdi can bounce back from potential Tommy John Surgery, he'll likely still be the White Sox closer of the future. Instead of inserting one of their young pitchers in the setup role, the White Sox will throw some money at the best reliever in baseball, Andrew Miller, because why the hell not? Lopez' fastball which can reach 100 and plus-curveball would be devastating in a 7th inning role before the White Sox turn the ball over to Miller and Burdi. Cease and Fulmer round things out.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Revisiting the whole idea of the Cubs as a dynasty

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AP

Cubs Talk Podcast: Revisiting the whole idea of the Cubs as a dynasty

Cubs coach Mike Borzello joins the Cubs Talk Podcast with Patrick Mooney, providing a fresh perspective on the Cubs as a “dynasty” given Borzello was a staffer on the New York Yankees in the late ‘90s as they won four World Series from 1996-2000. Borzello also compares Kris Bryant to Derek Jeter and takes a big-picture view on the 2017 Cubs season.

Elsewhere, Jeff Nelson, Scott Changnon and Tony Andracki sum up the first half and answer the burning questions ahead of the season’s second half, including what has to happen for the Cubs to shift gears completely and turn into a seller at the trade deadline.

Plus, how much of the Cubs’ first-half struggles can be attributed to just poor luck?

Check out the entire podcast here:

Will Cubs clubhouse come together or completely collapse?

Will Cubs clubhouse come together or completely collapse?

This was hours after the Cubs dumped Miguel Montero for ripping Jake Arrieta, becoming the viral national story during a dead spot on the hot-take calendar with the NFL on hiatus and the NBA in between the draft and the start of free agency.

Roughly half the team skipped an optional trip to the White House, where that afternoon board member Todd Ricketts told Donald Trump the Washington Nationals would “crumble” against the Cubs in October. The Nationals at that point had a 98-percent chance to make the playoffs while the defending World Series champs were stuck around .500 and hadn’t been in first place in three weeks. That’s Cub.

Surrounded by reporters on June 28, star manager Joe Maddon sat on the bench in the visiting dugout at Nationals Park, knowing his team would also be playing shorthanded with a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist), Gold Glove outfielder (Jason Heyward) and Cy Young Award finalist (Kyle Hendricks) already on the disabled list and a World Series legend (Kyle Schwarber) demoted back to Triple-A Iowa the week before.

With his eyes shielded by sunglasses, Maddon listened to the question during his pregame media session: Are you concerned about the clubhouse starting to splinter?

“No,” Maddon said, pausing and leaning in as if he would launch into a filibuster or a philosophical dissertation or some story from his days as a minor-league instructor and instead going silent.

Why not?

“Because there’s no reason to,” Maddon said.

OK then, maybe we’re talking to the wrong guy here, because bench coach Dave Martinez usually runs interference and handles a lot of difficult conversations with players.

Just ask John Lackey, who responded this way after a 6-1 loss on June 12 when a reporter mentioned Maddon’s pregame suggestion that the veteran pitcher might change his approach this time against the New York Mets: “Joe doesn’t have much to do with the pitching. I don’t know what he’s talking about there.”

Lackey — who has a history with Maddon, three World Series rings and a 5.20 ERA that ranks 66th out of 74 qualified big-league pitchers — would later crush a softball question about Jon Jay after the super-sub delivered a pinch-hit, game-tying, three-run homer in a comeback win over the Tampa Bay Rays on July 5: “He’s been everything we needed this year. Honestly, I can’t believe he doesn’t play more.”

It’s hard to believe, but there are times where it feels closer to 108 years than eight-plus months since the Cubs last won the World Series.

For all the talk about this 43-45 team getting hot and having a run in them, the Cubs should also be concerned about the possibility of the bottom falling out and this second half turning ugly.

For all the speculation about Theo Epstein’s front office riding to the rescue at the July 31 trade deadline, this post-All-Star break window could be about making sure the Cubs don’t overreact and give up on the wrong young player and do something that blows up The Foundation for Sustained Success. 

That day in Washington, Maddon circled back to his belief in the clubhouse culture and the positive attitude and hands-off style that’s made him a three-time Manager of the Year and a future Hall of Famer. 

“Primarily, again, there’s a lot of guys missing,” Maddon said. “That’s the biggest thing. You’re not going to find splintering among (Albert) Almora and (Javier) Baez and (Addison) Russell and Willson (Contreras) and (Kris) Bryant, to answer your question specifically.

“It’s not about splintering. It’s about youthful players finding their way to the major-league level. We’re missing a lot of the key components that drove us to the World Series last year, and now we’re building another group of components that are going to take us back there again.”

Russell became the subject of a Major League Baseball investigation last month after a third party leveled an abuse allegation on social media, responding to his wife’s since-deleted Instagram post that accused him of infidelity and foreshadowed her divorce filing.

Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year and then starred for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, but Maddon didn’t feel comfortable anointing him as the everyday second baseman. Baez has signed endorsement deals worth $2 million in the last six months, according to USA Today, joining forces with Nike, Toyota, Apple and David sunflower seeds and getting on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s body issue. 

Almora, Contreras and Ian Happ haven’t gone through a full season in the majors yet. Backup catcher Victor Caratini made his big-league debut after the Montero fiasco. 

“Splintering is not it at all,” Maddon said. “For me, it’s a patient, consistent approach with me doing my job as the manager and the coaches doing what they’re supposed to do in regards to bringing the message out there on a daily basis.

“It’s a different path. We’re fortunate we are in this division right now, based on the record and we’re still very solvent. (But) it’s an entirely different group — entirely different. I mean, to try to connect the dots between last year and this year, to me, is impossible.”  

Except it’s impossible to ignore after making history. A player agent once described meeting his client on the road last year and noticing the flocks of Cubs fans gathering and growing bigger and bigger as they walked through a mall near the team hotel. This is life after “Embrace The Target.”  

“That’s where you want to be,” said catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello, who won four World Series rings with the New York Yankees. “You want to be that team. It’s this rock-star aura around this club now with all the young guys. Good players, good-looking guys – men, women, everyone wants to be around the team. It was the same way in New York.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Schwarber — who now has the lowest batting average (.178) among all qualified big-league hitters — became part of a Gatorade ad campaign, a face of the New Era hat company and a regular on WMVP-AM 1000. That’s the same station where Anthony Rizzo used his radio gig to either stick up for a teammate or do some of management’s dirty work, burying Montero before the DFA news leaked.

The Twitter account for Rizzo’s charitable foundation — which does admirable work for cancer patients and recently donated $3.5 million to Lurie Children’s Hospital — retweeted Rizzo’s ESPN 1000 comments: “When you point fingers you’re a selfish player. We have another catcher that throws everyone out.” The message above that since-deleted tweet: “Win together, lose together.”

“I think we have a great clubhouse,” Rizzo said. “Guys get along really well. We’re all joking around. We’re all having a good time. We’re just not 25 games over .500. We got to keep playing (and) come together and continue to fight.”

While Bryzzo Souvenir Co. didn’t get the ideal All-Star Game placement, Bryant and Rizzo still combined for 38 homers, 94 RBI and an OPS range between .894 and .928 in the first half. Yet the Cubs are still a stunningly mediocre team with 399 runs scored and 399 runs allowed and 61 errors through 88 games.

The Cubs keep talking about searching for their identity, because that beats the alternative of admitting they’ve already found it.

“It’s a hard thing to define,” Epstein said. “It’s like culture. You can go on and on trying to define it, but it’s like what the Supreme Court said about pornography: You know it when you see it.

“I think our identity last year was all our guys got to the point where they felt like they were part of something bigger than themselves. They felt completely connected with one another. They felt like they were on a mission to win the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

“I think part of their identity was they were keenly aware of how talented they were — and what a special opportunity it was — and how as long as they had each other’s backs, things would work out really well for this group. That meant maybe playing multiple positions or taking less playing time or backing up a teammate rather than playing a leading role.

“Nothing was going to get in the way of the group working together to make history and take advantage of the special opportunities that they had. Every year, the landscape is different. The environment is different. The challenge is different. The circumstances are different. And the group is different.

“Every year, a new identity has to emerge. And I think it just so happens that we’re still in the process of that happening. Again, it’s kind of been a stop-and-start first half of the season for us. We haven’t gotten on any kind of roll.”

Combined, the Cubs are 2-6 against the American League East and 6-11 vs. the Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies, a reality check that means the next 74 games could become more and more about player development, 2018 auditions and planning for the future, even while trying to make up that 5.5-game deficit against the Milwaukee Brewers.

“Guys have been around enough, for the most part, to understand that tomorrow if something happens and I don’t walk in this clubhouse, the game will still be played,” Jon Lester said, the $155 million ace looking back on the churn rate. “Regardless of what moves that Theo and the front office and ownership and management feel we need to make, the game will still be played.

“That’s kind of how you have to look at it. There’s a lot of moving parts. It’s not too often that you have a team that doesn’t make a move through the entire course of a season. Some of them as a player you don’t like, and some of them as a player you agree with or whatever, but that’s not our job. Our job is to go out and play with who’s in this clubhouse and make the best of it. That’s all we can control.”

That starts again Friday night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, where the Cubs will either begin to finally click or continue this slow-motion collapse. As Lackey said: “Winning makes everything better.”