White Sox getting back into groove, Luis Robert, and 2020 schedule

After a tumultuous offseason of negotiations for the 2020 season, the White Sox and the rest of baseball have restarted workouts ahead of a season that will be defined by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and all types of different: Empty stadiums, 60 games, a universal DH and extra innings beginning with a runner on second base.

And while already multiple teams have had to shut down workouts and MLB has encountered big problems with getting the results back from testing its players, the show continues to tentatively go on.

“I hope we don’t have to deal with something like that,” said Sox manager Rick Renteria. He later added, “Hopefully if it happens to be a one day glitch it’s not going to really, hopefully, hurt us in any significant way, especially if we’ve been able to get through a significant amount of workload in our preparation for our upcoming season.”

White Sox manager Rick Renteria, via Zoom

As for the White Sox, they, like the rest of baseball, have to pick up where they left off in Spring Training. That means a rotation headlined by Dallas Keuchel and 2019-breakout Lucas Giolitio will take some time in tuning up to a regular pitching schedule. That leaves the three through five spots up for some combination of Carlos Rodón, Reynaldo López, Dylan Cease, Gio Gonzalez or Michael Kopech. Rodón and Kopech are both coming off seasons of recovery, with Kopech not yet at camp due to a personal matter. Cease is less than a year in the majors and is still seen as a face of the White Sox’ future, and the hope is that López can find some sustained stability this year. Gonzalez appears to have some gas left in the tank after posting a 4.04 FIP in 2019. With only 60 games to figure out how to fill out those three spots, we still may not know the White Sox’ long-term rotation after this year.

“The way I’m looking at this season, it seems like it’s going to be a spring,” said Cease. “So, we’ve got some really good depth. so I don’t see why we can’t do something big.”

White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease, via Zoom

One of the more difficult pills to swallow in the delayed season was putting off the debut star outfield prospect, Luis Robert. In keeping their seemingly annual tradition of having a top prospect called up to the Majors Robert’s .961 OPS was enough to turn heads in Spring Training. As they did with Eloy Jiménez, the White Sox signed Robert to a multi-year contract extension, his signed in January for six years at $50 million. He was primed to steal the show for the White Sox and seriously contend for Rookie of the Year until the season was derailed. He still has that chance, but over the course of 60 games instead. Making adjustments that can typically be done over the course of 162 games will now have to be done in almost a third of that time.

Where he fits in the lineup is yet to be seen, as Renteria said he plans on keeping some variation of Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada in the first two spots of the order. Yasmani Grandal and James McCann will split time behind the plate, especially if McCann builds off his 2019 season. Their outfield of Robert in center, Jiménez in left and Nomar Mazara in right should remain pretty constant, especially in a shortened season, and will be everyday features of the lineup. José Abreu at first and Edwin Encarnación as the DH will further complicate Robert’s place in the lineup, and, like the rotation, we may still not know the best order for the team by the end of 60 games.

White Sox outfielder Luis Robert

“If for whatever reason I don’t start the season as hot as I want to, or as hot as I know I can, I know I will do my best to make adjustments as fast as I can,” said Robert through team interpreter Billy Russo. “But of course that’s not my mindset right now. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to start the season pretty hot and display all my talent.”

That season will start, it was announced on Monday, on July 24 against the Minnesota Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field. The White Sox face a tough slate of teams in their region, with a schedule that includes the seven games total against the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers, both playoff teams from a year ago, and their crosstown rival Cubs, whom they play six games against, are still a talented roster. The Twins may very well be one of the AL’s best teams this year, and they occupy one-sixth of the White Sox’ schedule. 33 of their games are against teams with winning records in 2019, and that list doesn’t include an improved Reds team, so their games against the Pirates, Tigers and Royals become of even more importance. If they can take care of business against those teams and win a few series against the meat of their schedule, they could very well be in the postseason come October.

Hear audio from Dylan Cease, Rick Renteria and Luis Robert