Twins Daily: Central Intelligence 2.0: Breaking down the Chicago White Sox

Nick Nelson gives the strengths and weaknesses for Minnesota's first opponent.
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This story first appeared at Twins Daily and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News

A rising core loaded with top-end talent was augmented dramatically over the winter by general manager Rick Hahn.

The White Sox are shaping up to be Minnesota's staunchest division rival in the coming years, and may well represent the most dangerous threat to overtake the Central this year. A road-heavy 10-game season series against Chicago will kick off on Friday at Guaranteed Rate Field.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX AT A GLANCE

2019 Record: 72-89, 3rd Place
2019 fWAR Leader (Offense): Yoan Moncada - 5.7
2019 fWAR Leader (Pitching): Lucas Giolito - 5.1

Key Offseason Additions: Yasmani Grandal ©, Dallas Keuchel (SP), Gio Gonzalez (SP), Edwin Encanacion (DH), Nomar Mazara (OF), Steve Cishek (RP)
Key Offseason Losses: Ivan Nova (SP) Yolmer Sanchez (2B), Wellington Castillo ©, Ryan Cordell (OF)

2020 Over/Under: 31.5 Wins

TEAM OVERVIEW

Even before Hahn's offseason shopping spree, the White Sox were in line to welcome some new impact talent in 2020, with multiple top prospects set to enter the fold. Heading up that list is center fielder Luis Robert, ranked by MLB.com as the third-best prospect in baseball after spending a big chunk of 2019 at Triple-A. He's expected to be out there on Friday for his MLB debut. Likely to join him in the White Sox lineup, although maybe not from the start, is second baseman Nick Madrigal, ranked 40th on MLB's Top 100 list. The disciplined speedster was the fourth overall draft pick two years ago, and has reached Triple-A. It's only a matter of time before he's leading off for the Sox.

These two electrifying youths, along with numerous free agent additions, will help elevate a club on the verge of seeing its rebuild pay off.

STRENGTHS

Without accounting for all the new talent entering the fold, Chicago already had arguably the best position player and best pitcher in the division. Third baseman Yoan Moncada's 5.7 fWAR was higher than any other AL Central player in 2019 (despite playing just 132 games). Lucas Giolito was an All-Star who finished sixth in the Cy Young balloting. He might not be quite at the level of a Mike Clevinger or Shane Bieber, but Giolito showed last year he's a legitimate ace, and the Twins will have to tangle with him right out of the gate.

The big problem in 2019 was that Chicago's standouts – Giolito, Moncada, batting champ Tim Anderson – were weighed down by a bunch of laggards. To illustrate, the Sox produced 23.3 total fWAR, and 14.3 of it came from those three. The stars of the squad figure to get considerably more help in 2020.

Yasmani Grandal is himself a star-caliber addition at catcher. New DH Edwin Encarnacion has slugged 32-plus homers in eight straight seasons, and he joins newly-extended Jose Abreu to give Chicago two dangerous righty power bats in the middle of the order. Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez are no rotation-fronters, but they add quality veteran depth to a unit that last year had no above-average performers other than Giolito. Nomar Mazara is a sneaky good addition in the outfield.

Another low-key impact signing by Chicago was Steve Cishek, the ultra-reliable righty who joins closer Alex Colome and setup man in Aaron Bummer in a bullpen that can hold its own in the late innings. Combining all of these free agency additions with the expected arrivals of top prospects like Robert and Madrigal puts the Sox in position to make a massive leap forward in 2020, helping explain why their over/under for wins in the shortened season is just one behind the Cleveland Indians, who won 21 more contests last year.

WEAKNESSES

As Twins fans are well aware, free agents don't always work out and top prospects don't always hit the ground running. As good as Robert may be, there's no guarantee he'll be an immediate difference-maker for Chicago, and the same goes for Madrigal. Moncada himself is a fine example of baseball's steep learning curve at the highest level – he was rated as the second-best prospect in the game when he arrived in the big leagues at age 2016, but it wasn't until three years later that he truly emerged.

Another of the organization's premier prospects will not be helping them this year: hard-throwing righty Michael Kopech, pegged by MLB.com as the game's No. 20 prospect, who chose to opt out of the 2020 campaign. Like Moncada and Giolito, Kopech was acquired during the team's burn-it-down firesale in 2016. After missing 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, he appeared ready to return this year at age 24 and unleash his triple-digit heat in a White Sox rotation that could've sorely used it.

The loss of his potential impact is a hit for Chicago's short-term chances, because starting pitching looks to be their sticking point. Even with some big-name veterans added to the mix, there's still a sizable drop-off after Giolito, and the back of the rotation is short on proven performers.

WILD CARD

As mentioned, it's very possible that Luis Robert will hit some speedbumps as he acclimates to the majors. In fact, that should be expected, particularly given the plate discipline struggles he experienced in the minors last year. But ... if he catches on right away?

Robert was one of the most highly-touted international prospects to come along in some time when Chicago signed him out of Cuba for $26 million in 2017. He's a strong defender in center, and offers a rare combination of speed and power. Last season as a 21-year-old he mashed 32 homers and stole 36 bases in 122 games between three minor-league levels. This is an electrifying talent with the potential to change games nightly, kinda like the former top prospect now manning center field for the Twins.

Of course, Byron Buxton is a perfect example of how it can take a while to click. But that's not the case for everyone. If Robert has a smooth transition to the majors, look out.

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