This post continues our Depth Chart Discussions. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will continue to break them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find the Depth Chart Discussion posts gathered here.
In an offseason defined by a bevy of moves, the White Sox biggest acquisition may have come in the rotation. Adding Jeff Samardzija not only announced the team’s plans to compete this season, but it also gave them three fantastic starters at the top of the rotation. The secondary effect of adding a strong top-of-the-rotation pitcher is that the other players in the rotation get moved down a peg. For the White Sox, this was a significant development. While the club should by strong at the top, the bottom of the rotation contains some big questions for fantasy owners.
Preliminary Depth Chart
There’s very little to say about Sale at this point. Sure, there are always going to be injury concerns, but he’s now thrown 674.2 innings in the majors without a major issue. He’ll occasionally experience arm troubles, but the White Sox have a fantastic training staff, and have been able to keep him healthy with rest. Sale had early elbow issues last season, and returned to post the best numbers of his career. He likely would have been near the top of the Cy Young race had he not missed time early. Sale’s an exceptional pitcher, and will likely be one of the top five throwers selected in most drafts. The injury issues are overblown at this point. He’s great, and you should be happy if you get him on your team.
Samardzija, like Sale, is mostly a known commodity. It was nice to see his numbers remain constant after leaving the Cubs last season. While there was no reason to doubt Samardzija’s performance, it’s worth noting that Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio has had a lot of success turning guys around lately. In that sense, it was good to see Samardzija’s success wasn’t dependent on Bosio, though, again, no one really expected that to be the case. Over the past two years, Samardzija has turned into an innings workhorse, and should be able to deliver 200+ innings if Sale misses a few starts with soreness again. Samardzija has had some issues with the long ball over his career, and that won’t play as well in U.S. Cellular Field, but Wrigley Field can play pretty offensive depending on the wind, so it’s probably not a major concern. If Samardzija can retain his new-found control from 2014, he should be able to turn in a repeat performance in 2015. If not, the pre-2014 Samardzija will show up, and that’s still pretty good.
Quintana is the latest example of Don Cooper’s wizardry. The former minor-league free-agent has developed into a legitimate number two starter. His development has been dependent on a couple of things. The White Sox were able to tweak his delivery a bit, allowing him to gain some velocity since joining the team. He’s been able to retain that velocity, and that’s led to a heightened strikeout rate. On top of that, he does a good job limiting free passes. Quintana may have been lucky with home runs last season, and that should lead to a higher ERA, but there’s no reason to doubt his ability. He’s become a legitimate starter, and could have sneaky fantasy value later in the draft. There’s nothing sexy about Quintana on the surface, but he’s pretty darn good.
This is where things start to get sketchy. Danks used to be a solid mid-rotation starter, but a shoulder injury has turned him into a battler. The stuff isn’t as strong, and his velocity rarely breaks 90 mph now. One of the unfortunate side effects of that is that when Danks misses, hitters tee off. The last two years, he’s seen a much higher home run rate, and that probably isn’t going to go away any time soon. There are teams who value competitors like Danks, but his $15.75 million price tag makes it pretty hard for the White Sox to let him go. On top of that, he is the team’s best option in the four spot, so they kind of need him. He’ll eat up innings, and should post an average ERA, but he’s no longer a useful fantasy asset. Shoulder injuries suck.
The White Sox really tried to test the limits of Don Cooper’s magic last season. Noesi received 27 starts with the club, and was surprisingly passable with the Sox. Over 166 innings, he posted a 4.39 ERA. Still, the upside is low here. Noesi gives up a ton of home runs, and that’s never going to play in The Cell. If the Don Cooper magic can last a little longer, Noesi is a decent stop gap type who could start a couple games until a more qualified minor-league is ready to ascend.
The scenario described above could actually happen. Rodon was drafted last season, and barely pitched in the minors, but his ceiling is immense. As the White Sox showed with Gordon Beckham and Chris Sale, if a prospect is ready, they’ll get promoted. Rodon had some issues with velocity prior to the draft, but the White Sox were able to correct those shortly after he joined the team. He’ll have a shot to start during spring training, but team brass has been hesitant to put big expectations on Rodon. The general consensus is that they would like him to break into the majors as a reliever and transition into the rotation. However, the team is clearly trying to win now, and if Rodon absolutely dominates in spring training, it’s unclear whether they’ll keep him off the team. On top of that, Hector Noesi should not hold anybody back. If he gets off to a slow start, it’s possible Rodon is up earlier than expected. He needs to perform, obviously, but there’s a chance he’s up and contributing this season.
Johnson came into last season as a possible sleeper, but injuries quickly derailed any chance of that. He had fourth or fifth starter upside prior to last season, but will need to rebuild his value if he wants another shot this year. Penny signed a minor-league deal with the club during the offseason. He’s the token veteran option in the minors. The White Sox took a similar approach with Tommy Hanson last year, and Hanson never made it to the majors, so it’s unclear if Penny would be in line for a promotion if a couple guys go down in front of him.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.