Looking for the ideal White Sox lineup for Opening Day 2020


You remember the Dr. Seuss book "If I Ran The Zoo," right?

Well, this is "If I Ran The Sox." It probably won't sell as many copies.

I want to make it clear from the outset that when we're talking about the White Sox lineup, only one guy gets to decide what it is, and his name is Rick Renteria. Of course, everyone has and will continue to have their own opinion on how the White Sox, now in win-now mode thanks to a busy offseason that appears to be baseball's most successful, should line up on a daily basis. I am not immune to this affliction. Nor is Dylan Cease.

Renteria hasn't given many clues as to how he'll write things out on Opening Day, going as far to say, when asked what his lineup will be last weekend during SoxFest, that he won't be sharing his lineups. But he did say that Luis Robert probably won't be leading off at first. Rick Hahn made it sound like the chances of Nick Madrigal making the Opening Day roster aren't great. You'll notice below that I have Robert leading off and Madrigal as the starting second baseman. Again, this isn't a prediction, it's merely what I would do if for some laughable and unthinkable reason I ended up in the manager's chair.

So, without further ado, your March 26 starters against the Kansas City Royals in the alternate universe I have just created by removing one of the Infinity Stones and failing to return it.

1. Luis Robert, CF

Robert will likely not be leading off on Opening Day. Renteria said as much last week when asked about leadoff hitters, a discussion topic that is not only overplayed but overplayed exclusively surrounding winning teams. So I guess Renteria should take it as a good sign for the state of his team that he's already being pestered about it in January.

"I still think that Luis — as you guys knew, a few years ago, I would put guys at the top of the order and give them as many at-bats as possible, continue to get them as much involved as possible. Right now, I'm not forced to do something like that, necessarily.

"So if you're thinking about me leading off Luis at this particular time — even though in the minor leagues he's shown an on-base quality — he might not be at the top. But will he see some at-bats at the top of the order at spring training? Yeah, it's possible."

That doesn't mean Robert won't eventually be the White Sox everyday leadoff man, it just sounds like he won't be that to start the season.

But that's where I'd put him.

Robert getting his first taste of the major leagues and struggling would not be wildly surprising. We saw the same thing happen with both Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez. But Robert has been hailed as potentially the best of the entire bunch of White Sox youngsters, a true five-tool threat who can do everything on a baseball field. That includes get on base, which he did at a .376 clip last season in the minor leagues. He also has some blazing speed, stealing 36 bases in 2019.

Robert can do the things a stereotypical leadoff hitter can do without being a stereotypical leadoff hitter. He's not just going to single and steal second and wait for the guys behind him to drive him in. He had 74 extra-base hits last season. So maybe sometimes he'll leadoff by getting to first base, and sometimes he'll leadoff with a moonshot into the bleachers.

Either works. I'd rather have the guy who can do it all getting as many at-bats as possible at the top of the order.

2. Tim Anderson, SS

Anderson's going to have a challenge ahead of him replicating the numbers he put up in 2019. But until there's a reason not to keep Anderson near the top of the order, that's where he belongs.

Are there red flags showing maybe the No. 2 spot isn't the best place for Anderson? Sure. He hardly ever walks, doing so just 15 times — fewer walks than Madrigal had strikeouts! — in 518 trips to the plate last season. And his baseball-leading .335 batting average — a .095 point jump from the .240 average he had a year prior — was helped by a wildly high .399 BABIP (batting average on balls in play, or batting average in all the at-bats that weren't strikeouts or home runs; the higher it is, the luckier a hitter got, the harder it is to maintain over the course of multiple seasons).

But as of this minute, Anderson's most recent season's worth of production includes a .335 average and a .357 on-base percentage. I don't know if that production is going to dip, and if it does how significantly, but I know that until it does, why not allow Anderson to keep hitting and getting on base ahead of the big boppers in the middle of the order?

The most realistic spot for Anderson on Opening Day? Maybe the leadoff spot.

"I want to see Timmy there," Renteria said when discussing his leadoff options going into spring training before mentioning another name or two.

3. Yoan Moncada, 3B

Moncada, too, had the help of a ridiculously high BABIP, his all the way at .406 during his breakout 2019 campaign. However, he also showed that he might just be this team's best all-around hitter, combining average, on-base skills and power for a .315/.367/.548 slash line.

The No. 3 spot has traditionally been occupied by a team's best hitter, and though Moncada's 25 home runs in 2019 weren't as many as the totals cranked out by Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Edwin Encarnacion or Yasmani Grandal, Moncada only played in 132 games and is still developing. That sweet swing of his should produce even more pop as time moves along. In 2019, he got the strikeouts way down, even though the walks fell with them, but that .548 slugging percentage would like mighty nice in the No. 3 spot.

4. Jose Abreu, 1B

Abreu batted exclusively in the No. 3 spot in the lineup in 2019. And 2018. He hasn't hit cleanup since 2017, when he did it in 22 games. But in the last few seasons, there haven't been any obvious challengers to Abreu's status as the team's best hitter. Abreu will happily take some threats to that title now, with his locker buddies Moncada and Jimenez finally joining him in giving these White Sox some middle-of-the-order presence.

Abreu gets tons of credit, all of it deserved, for his off-the-field role as a mentor to guys like Moncada and Jimenez. Robert is sure to find his way under Abreu's wing this season, too. But don't think the attention paid to Abreu's off-the-field value equals a diminished impact on the field. He had one of the most productive seasons of his six-year big league career in 2019, especially from a power perspective: he led the American league with a career-best 123 RBIs, hit 33 homers to come three shy of his career-best total in that category, posted a .503 slugging percentage that ranked as the third best of his career and hit 38 doubles, the second most of his career and just five away from his career high.

In other words, driving in runs is still Abreu's forte. With Robert, Anderson and Moncada ahead of him, he ought to have plenty of opportunities to do just that in 2020, making the cleanup spot the perfect place for him.

Don't be surprised, though, if Renteria keeps Abreu comfortable and leaves him in the No. 3 spot he's been in for the majority of his major league career.

5. Eloy Jimenez, LF

White Sox brass keeps talking about Jimenez as just scratching the surface of what he can do in the big leagues. If hitting 31 homers as a rookie is just scratching the surface, then look out.

But indeed, Jimenez will be expected to leave some of the growing pains he experienced during his rookie season behind him in 2020 while still showing off that impressive power stroke. This is the same guy who hit .337 and put up a .384 on-base percentage as a minor leaguer in 2018, and the offensive skills that led to those numbers are expected to shine through at the big league level, too.

What Jimenez did in the final month of the 2019 season could serve as a hint of what's coming in 2020: He slashed .340/.383/.710 with nine home runs, eight doubles, 25 RBIs and 19 runs scored.

A guy who fans are hoping tops 40 home runs in his sophomore season provides perfect protection in the lineup for Abreu and fits quite nicely into the No. 5 spot.

6. Edwin Encarnacion, DH

The White Sox imported some thump this winter in the 37-year-old Encarnacion, hoping to reap similar rewards from an aging slugger that the division-rival Minnesota Twins got from Nelson Cruz in 2019. Encarnacion probably won't be expected to lead the highest single-season home run total in baseball history, like Cruz did, but seeing him lead the South Siders in home runs would not be a shock. He hit at least 32 homers in each of the last eight seasons, and his 34 dingers a year ago would have led the White Sox (who got a team-high 33 homers from Abreu). Those 34 long balls came in just 109 games for Encarnacion. He'll be expected to appear in significantly more than that as the White Sox primary designated hitter.

A stereotypical middle-of-the-order bat, it only makes sense to keep Encarnacion in the middle of this order, where he can crush home runs and rack up RBIs.

7. Yasmani Grandal, C

My least favorite part about this lineup I've constructed is that the best position player the White Sox added this winter is batting seventh. But Grandal knows what it's like to be in a loaded lineup from his days with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2018, when he was part of the NL pennant-winning Dodgers, he spent at least 15 games in seven different spots in the batting order, logging no more than 24 in any one spot.

He'd be a valuable bat in any spot in the White Sox order, too, bringing in some career-best numbers from his 2019 campaign with the Milwaukee Brewers, including 28 home runs, 77 RBIs, 109 walks, a .380 on-base percentage and a .848 OPS. When you've got a good lineup, you can extend your run production down to the No. 7 spot, and that's what would happen here with Grandal.

Because of Grandal's on-base skills and in-lineup versatility, it wouldn't surprise to see him just about everywhere over the course of the 2020 campaign. Heck, that ability to walk would even make him a valuable leadoff man, considering it's a skill that isn't exactly prevalent elsewhere on the roster.

8. Nomar Mazara, RF

That once imagined platoon for Mazara is looking less and less likely as spring training approaches, with the 24-year-old looking destined for everyday status, at least out of the gate. Yes, Mazara has a career .231/.272/.361 slash line against left-handed pitchers. But Renteria argued last week that sitting Mazara against lefties is no way to make those numbers better.

"He's been in the big leagues for four years already. He's hit 20-plus homers a year. And I was sharing this with somebody the other day, I don't think he's even close to reaching his potential," he said. "I believe that the staff that we have will be able to get out of him more. He won't be just the guy that you say, 'He's great against righties and horrible against lefties.'

"When you take away this opportunity to face lefties, he's not going to develop that skill set or that confidence in order to do that."

Just like sticking a productive bat like Grandal's in the No. 7 spot, putting a guy who's averaged 20 homers in his four major league seasons in the No. 8 spot ain't too shabby, either. And if what the White Sox believe could happen happens, if Mazara reaches that potential that was sky high when he was a heralded prospect a few years back, then we won't be talking about him in the No. 8 spot much longer.

9. Nick Madrigal, 2B

Madrigal likely won't be on the Opening Day roster. He played just 29 games at Triple-A Charlotte last season, and Hahn's comments last week illustrated that the White Sox would like to see some more from Madrigal at that level.

“He's got a few more things to prove,” Hahn said. “I think that when we go through trying to be as objective as possible thinking about where he is developmentally, he hasn't necessarily answered all the questions we have for him at the minor leagues.

“But we're going to go in with fresh eyes and a fresh approach in spring training and see where he's at and in all probability make an assessment there.

“I don't think we have him, by any means, written in pen as the Opening Day second baseman at this point, if that's what you mean. But could he change our minds? Yeah.”

Well, that's somewhat good news for Madrigal, who keeps saying he's very much ready for the challenge of the big leagues. Certainly he did some great things against minor league pitching in 2019, playing at three different levels and striking out an insane 16 times in 532 plate appearances. His bat-to-ball skills have proven to be elite, as described, and he continues to receive rave reviews for his defense.

Given all that, it's no stretch to suggest he's the best second baseman in the White Sox organization, even if Leury Garcia is the better bet to be the Opening Day starter at second. The White Sox have exhibited patience that has sometimes maddened fans when it comes to their prospects, and they shouldn't be expected to treat Madrigal any different. But the situation has shifted on the South Side, with the White Sox suddenly facing realistic playoff expectations. If winning as many games as possible is the goal, wouldn't Madrigal help them do that?

We'll see if that has any bearing on the team's decision come spring training, or if Madrigal blows the doors off the Cactus League and really forces the issue.

Regardless of when Madrigal arrives, be it Opening Day or some time after, the No. 9 spot seems logical, not because he'd be the team's worst hitter — far from it — but because he has the skills to make him one of those "second leadoff hitter" types, someone who reaches base enough to treat the No. 9 spot as a kind of second No. 1 spot to set the table even further in anticipation of the lineup turning over.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Contact Us