Though the end left a sour taste in the mouths of everyone involved, the 2020 season was an undoubtedly successful one for the White Sox.They ascended out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode, snapping a dozen-year postseason drought for the franchise and having a chance to win the AL Central crown on the final day of the regular season.The rebuilding project on the South Side has always been a long-term endeavor, and so a bright future remains the overarching theme for this team.Here’s a look at how every key cog did in 2020 and where they fit in that bright future that will now bring World Series expectations on an annual basis moving forward.
Grandal got the richest free-agent deal in team history last November. And then James McCann had a big season at the plate. So maybe Grandal’s contributions were a tad obscured in 2020. But make no mistake, he was still pretty good, even if he never got to where he wanted to be.
Grandal put up a .351 on-base percentage that was his second highest in the last five seasons. That ranked third among qualified White Sox hitters, behind only the MVP candidates José Abreu and Tim Anderson. He ranked fourth in RBIs, sixth in home runs and led the team in walks.
And though there might have seemed to be some memorable moments of defensive imperfection, he still ranked highly in that department, Fangraphs assessing him as the second best defensive catcher in baseball in 2020. Grandal showed up in the playoffs, too, with a couple of home runs, four walks and four RBIs in the White Sox three postseason games.
His personal expectations are undoubtedly higher, but he certainly made some important contributions.
And you thought the All-Star season was good?
McCann topped his 2019 with an excellent 2020 at the plate, turning in an .896 OPS. He delivered at the plate time and time again, even while playing in just half the team’s games. He caught Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter and continued to work with the staff ace after they established such a terrific working relationship in 2019, when they were both All Stars.
McCann is a free agent, and it would seem unlikely the White Sox would be able to keep him as part of a catching timeshare with Yasmani Grandal when opportunities to top the depth chart will pop up elsewhere. But if they can figure out a way to make it work, they’d be wise to keep a guy Giolito described as a “captain” of this team.
What else can you say about #MVPito that hasn’t already been said?
All Abreu did in the first year of his new contract was put up the best season of any hitter in the American League. He led the Junior Circuit in hits, RBIs and slugging percentage; ranked second in home runs; third in runs scored; fourth in batting average; fifth in OPS; and in the top 10 in doubles and on-base percentage.
And that’s before even getting to the clutch factor, the improved defense, the one-man home-run barrage he staged on the North Side, a homer in his first career playoff game and the continued mentorship and leadership off the field.
In 2020, the baseball world found out what the White Sox have known for years: This guy’s the MVP.
That’s what Madrigal was after reaching the major leagues. He hit .340 as a rookie, slapping, bouncing, poking and pushing balls all over the field. He struck out just seven times in 103 major league at-bats. And his .321 batting average in two-strike counts was downright ridiculous.
There’s obviously plenty more growth to be had for Madrigal, as evidenced by some notable base-running and defensive blunders in his first taste of the big leagues. But for the most part, it was a successful rookie campaign.
Talk about picking up where you left off.
Anderson followed up his breakout 2019 campaign with an even better 2020 season, establishing himself as a legitimate MVP candidate and one of the faces of not only the franchise but the sport, in general.
He chased another batting title for the majority of the season, finishing second in the AL with a .322 average. He also led the AL in runs scored, ranked fourth in hits and peppered the leaderboards elsewhere.
And Anderson showed up when it mattered most, with nine hits in the AL Wild Card Series, backing up his claim that he wants to be in the game’s biggest moments on the game’s biggest stage.
Moncada’s numbers were not good in 2020, way down from the all-around production in 2019 that had him discussed as a future MVP candidate. From a cold, hard numbers standpoint, he was somewhere in the Cs.
When it comes to the intangibles, though, he was an A+. He was sidelined by a COVID-19 infection at the start of “Summer Camp” and worked to return in time for the start of the regular season. Then he played through the entire campaign, saying in the middle of it that he was going through a “daily battle” to find the energy necessary to play. The aftereffects of COVID-19 were making him constantly tired and making it hard to do his job.
But he did it. And that alone is amazing. When he was spotted on the bench in Cleveland, exhausted after tripling and scampering home on a ground ball, with Rick Renteria fanning him with a towel, the extent of that daily battle was evident. Moncada gave it all for the White Sox this season. And that’s what he’s being graded on.
Jiménez seemed to figure things out in the final month of the 2019 season, and he looked more like that guy throughout the 2020 season. All his rate stats were way up, including his .891 OPS that ranked 11th in the American League. He was all over the AL leaderboards, in the top 10 in hits, home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage.
A late-season injury made it so he couldn’t play with the AL Central crown and the season on the line.
But after a rookie season of adjusting to major league pitching, Jiménez fully emerged as the middle-of-the-order bat he was long billed as, as essential a piece of the White Sox long-term plan as anyone.
A Jekyll and Hyde campaign. A tale of two months.
Whatever classic literary reference you want to use, it applies to Robert’s rookie season. In July and August, he set the baseball world on fire with an eye-popping display of talent. He was homering, diving all over the place in the outfield and doing all the stuff he was advertised to be capable of when he was ranked as one of the top prospects in baseball. And in September, major league pitchers adjusted and he hit .136.
Robert showed some signs of breaking out of that slump with five hits in the final series of the regular season and a 487-foot moonshot of a homer in Game 3 of the AL Wild Card Series. He’s so talented that there’s no reason to worry about what comes in 2021 and beyond. But not even the uber-talent Robert was immune from the growing pains that come for most every young hitter.
The White Sox weren’t exactly sure what they were going to get out of Mazara, who they traded for during the Winter Meetings. He had hit for power in his first four big league seasons in Texas, but the White Sox thought there was something more.
The “untapped potential” they believed existed didn’t show itself in 2020, as Mazara had one of the more disappointing seasons on the team. He hit just .228 with a sub-.300 on-base percentage and, most notably, just one home run.
Depending on what happens this offseason, it might not prevent the White Sox from trying again in 2021 -- Mazara started the season on the injured list with an illness -- but whether it’s him or someone else, right field needs to be better next season.
Engel went from defensive replacement to the preferred offensive option of many in right field thanks to some excellent offensive growth. Engel had a career .601 OPS coming into 2020, and had you told fans in July that he would be in the lineup for the team’s first playoff game, it would have been met with confusion.
Instead, he put up an .811 OPS in 2020 -- which ranked fifth on the team behind only José Abreu, James McCann, Eloy Jiménez and Tim Anderson -- and got the starting nod over Nomar Mazara, the guy the White Sox traded for back in December.
Obviously, Encarnación did not live up to expectations in 2020, and judging by the frustration on his face late in the season, he was just as angry about it as any fan. At the time, it was a great signing for a team that desperately needed a power boost, Encarnación carrying as good a home-run track record as anyone in the game.
But though the power showed up a bit -- he did bust the parrot out 10 times -- and he was praised as a positive presence in the clubhouse and dugout, his general offensive production was extremely disappointing, not good when you’re the designated hitter.
Giolito threw the 19th no-no in White Sox history in August, putting an exclamation point on his transformation from the pitcher with the worst numbers in the game in 2018 to an All Star in 2019 to one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2020.
He finished the regular season ranked second in the AL in strikeouts, and though not all dozen regular-season starts went swimmingly, he was the same Giolito, showing he can dominate opposing lineups and be a stopper when the team needed him to be one.
And then he delivered big time in the White Sox lone playoff win, becoming the fifth pitcher ever to take a perfect game into the seventh inning of a postseason game.
You know, ace stuff.
Keuchel did absolutely everything the White Sox hoped he would when they signed him to a multi-year deal in the offseason. He was the dependable, consistent veteran presence at the top of the rotation, and he ended up having one of the best seasons of any American League pitcher, finishing second in the Junior Circuit with a 0.99 ERA on a steady diet of ground balls.
His 2020 might be more remembered for what members of his family said to the team, whether it was him calling out a lack of effort during the season or his mom setting expectations way back in spring training with her “playoff or die, b-----s” rallying cry.
Keuchel wasn’t able to stay as steady in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series, but a season’s worth of dependable performances makes it ridiculously easy for the White Sox to craft two-fifths of their starting rotation for 2021.
Cease finished the campaign with a 4.01 ERA, down nearly 1.80 points from his rookie season. But his tendency to dance out of danger obscured the fact that he was often in it. He led the American League with 34 walks, and only four AL pitchers gave up more home runs.
Cease is still developing at the big league level, with not even a full season’s worth of starts under his belt in his major league career. To call him a finished product would be wrong, and the White Sox are hardly ready to give up on him yet. But he will enter 2021 with the same question marks he entered this season with.
Returning from Tommy John surgery and getting his first taste of the major leagues, Dunning was mighty impressive. Through his first five starts, he had a 2.33 ERA and the White Sox won all five games. He allowed four earned runs apiece in his final two starts of the regular season to shoot his ERA up near 4.00, and he only faced four batters before getting yanked in the first inning of Game 3 of the AL Wild Card Series.
But all in all, it was a successful entry into the big leagues, and Dunning figures to be right in the middle of the starting rotation in 2021.
López had a tough go of things. After an inconsistent 2019, he was out of his first start of 2020 before the first inning was over. He missed much of the next month with an injury, failed to find any consistency and got sent down. Then, after his return, he strung together a few nice outings before falling apart in the final game of the regular season, blitzed by the Cubs for six runs in 1.1 innings, and was left off the playoff roster.
He’ll likely be on the outside looking in of the starting-pitching mix come 2021 with Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and Michael Kopech seemingly having a leg up.
It was another lost season in a string of lost seasons for Rodón, who was once again sidelined for the majority of the campaign by an injury. It was a tough turn of events for Rodón, who was coming back from Tommy John surgery and emotionally described how happy he was to have a chance to prove himself in the preseason.
Now, after a couple of disastrous relief appearances at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs, it’s becoming more and more difficult to see how he would factor into the White Sox pitching plans in 2021, the final year before he’s scheduled to hit free agency.
Quietly, Colomé put up one of the best seasons of any closer in baseball in 2020. He had a 0.81 ERA and converted 12 of his 13 save chances during the regular season. He was close to automatic for these White Sox -- and now he might be heading elsewhere.
Colomé is a free agent, though one entering an uncertain market in the wake of a season without paying customers in the stands. Could that improve the White Sox chances of retaining him and keeping their bullpen one of the strengths of the roster? Time will tell.
A certainty: That relief corps is better with Colomé than without him.
It’s true, Bummer was injured for much of the 2020 season, but when healthy, he not only picked up where he left off after an excellent 2019 campaign but put up even better numbers. He had a 0.96 ERA in nine appearances, proving himself the White Sox most important bullpen weapon.
And depending on what happens with Alex Colomé in free agency, Bummer might be the heir apparent at closer after signing a contract extension in spring training.
Forced into an even higher stakes role with Aaron Bummer on the injured list for much of the season, Marshall was even better than he was in 2019 in 2020. He had a 2.38 ERA and established himself as one of the go-to seventh- and eighth-inning guys in the White Sox excellent bullpen, leading the relief corps with an 11.9 K/9.
Like everyone else matching that description, he had an unfortunate go of things in Game 3 of the AL Wild Card Series. But that’s not going to stop Marshall from being a big part of the relief-pitching plans on the South Side in 2021.
Heuer flashed some fantastic stuff in his first taste of the major leagues, establishing himself as one of the most dependable members of an excellent South Side bullpen. With a 1.52 ERA in 21 appearances, he most definitely will be a big part of things in 2021.
And who knows, depending on what happens with free against Alex Colomé, the White Sox might opt to keep Aaron Bummer in his setup role. Maybe it’s Heuer who gets a shot at closing?
Foster was one of several uber-reliable bullpen arms who had bad days at the worst possible time in Game 3 of the AL Wild Card Series. He perhaps fared the worst, walking in a pair of runs in a nightmarish fourth inning.
But before all that, Foster was one of the impressive rookies in the relief corps. He posted a 2.20 ERA on the season in 23 appearances, striking out 31 batters. He was excellent, and while Rick Hahn will be the first one to tell you that it’s hard to predict what relievers will do from one season to the next, Foster figures to again be a key piece of the ‘pen in 2021.
Cordero’s 6.08 ERA skyrocketed from the sub-3.00 number it was when he performed well as a waiver claim in 2019. He was called on an awful lot, one of just two major league relievers to appear in 30 games, half the games on the shortened 2020 schedule.
While he did a good job putting out fires -- he was one of the best relievers in the AL when it came to stranding inherited runners, allowing just one of the 16 he had to score -- and he pitched a huge 2.2 innings of scoreless relief in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series, he also gave up a bunch of runs. Still, he was good enough to be part of the team’s relief mix in 2021.
What an impressive five appearances Crochet had jumping into the final week and a half of a pennant race after being drafted just three months earlier.
In a season with no minor league games to play in -- not to mention a year in which he got to make all of one collegiate start due to COVID-19 -- he threw his first in-game pitches as a pro against major league hitters, and he blew them all away, routinely hitting 101 miles an hour on the radar gun.
Who knows what the future holds. He was somewhat concerningly removed from Game 3 of the AL Wild Card Series with the dreaded left forearm tightness. Plus, with the White Sox projecting him as a starting pitcher, would he return to the minor leagues for typical development, even after dazzling at the major league level as a reliever? It remains to be seen. But this guy can chuck it.