2017 MLB Preview: AL Central- Chicago White Sox

2016 Record: 78-84 (4th Place)

Manager: Rick RenteriaScreen Shot 2017-03-23 at 10.17.35 AM

Although they entered the season with high hopes, the 2016 White Sox finished in fourth place in the AL Central for the third straight season. After an aggressive 2016 offseason, the White Sox now find themselves in full-blown rebuilding mode having dealt two of their star players in Chris Sale and Adam Eaton this offseason.

Todd Frazier was at the center of their new additions last season, who hit career-high 40 home runs but saw a dramatic drop in batting average last season, hitting just .225. The 31-year-old should bring that figure up after a full season of adjusting to American League pitching, which will raise his stock as a potential trade target this summer. Melky Cabrera could also be a trade target as he enters his contract year, who hit .296 last year with 14 HR and 86 RBI’s.

It will be difficult for Jose Abreu to match the numbers from his rookie season with less protection in that lineup, yet the 30-year-old out of Cuba has still managed to hit over .290 with at least 25 HR in all three of his seasons in the majors. A breakout season from Matt Davidson could bring some of this much-needed protection to the lineup, who is slated to get most of their at bats at designated hitter. A first round pick way back in 2009, Davidson has always hit for power but has had significant struggles with his batting average and strikeout totals in past minor league seasons. The 25-year-old showed improvements last season in Triple-A, and will need to maintain this upward trend if he wants to keep his spot on the roster.

Avisail Garcia will also need to show improvements to keep his job, who in his four MLB seasons has yet to meet the high expectations he once had. He has struggled with numerous injuries in the past and could be a candidate to hit 25-plus home runs if he manages to stay healthy. Tyler Saladino looks to be the temporary solution at second base, with recently acquired prospect Yoan Moncada getting closer to the major leagues. Ranked as the number two prospect in baseball by MLB.com, the soon-to-be 22-year-old out of Cuba was acquired the centerpiece of the Chris Sale package this offseason. He has the power, speed and glove-work to be a five-tool player, and shouldn’t need too much more time in Triple-A. Tim Anderson showed he was ready for the show last season, hitting .283 with 9 HR in 99 games last season. This was enough for the White Sox to lock Anderson down to a six-year extension, as the 23-year-old shortstop should put up above-average numbers for a shortstop over the course of the full season.

Peter Bourjos should begin the season as the team’s starting center fielder, with prospect Charles Tilson set to begin the season on the disabled list with a foot injury. Bourjos has not been a threat with his bat nor on the bases over the past couple seasons, but will play an above-average center field until Tilson’s return.   Omar Narvaez is not their catcher of the future with prospect Zack Collins about a year away from the majors, but is certainly no scrub as an excellent defender and solid plate discipline.

After an offseason filled with trade rumors surrounding his name, Jose Quintana will begin the season as the team’s ace with Chris Sale out of the picture. The 28-year-old Quintana was quietly one of the better pitchers in the American League last season, finishing with a 13-12 record with a 3.20 ERA over 208 innings pitched. The White Sox will remain patient while waiting for the massive package any young pitcher of his caliber should garner, especially with his team-friendly contract that could have him locked down through 2020.

Carlos Rodon hasn’t exactly been the ace the White Sox pictured him to be after selecting him in the first round of the 2014 draft, finishing last season with a 4.04 ERA in 28 starts. Still just 24-years-old, Rodon did perform much better in the second half of the season and could get closer to meeting his top of the rotation expectations this season. Miguel Gonzalez will also look to build off the momentum of a strong second-half, who was a pleasant surprise for the White Sox last season posting a 3.73 ERA over 23 starts after being brought in on a minor league deal at the start of the season.

The mid-season acquisition of James Shields proved to be a disaster, who went 4-12 with a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts with the White Sox, putting him among the worst starting pitchers in baseball. He had little to no command of his pitches, surrendering a league-high 40 home runs last season and walking 82 batters. The White Sox now find themselves stuck with the 35-year-old’s $21 million salary through next season, who is almost certain to lose his rotation spot if his struggles continue.

Derek Holland will get the fifth spot in the rotation, having spent most of the past three seasons on the disabled list. Once a promising young pitcher for the Rangers, the White Sox will be extra cautious with Holland, who has been struggling with shoulder issues since 2012. While he could be a candidate for a comeback season, it is unlikely that his worn down shoulder will ever have him reaching the 200-inning mark again.

Lucas Giolito is almost certain to end up in the rotation at some point in 2017, who the team managed to acquire from Washington as part of the Adam Eaton package. MLB.com has the 22-year-old Giolito ranked as the second-best pitching prospect in baseball, with the hard-throwing righty expected to begin the season in Triple-A. The rebuilding White Sox will be in no rush to call up their ace of the future, who showed he still has some work to do in the four starts he made for Washington last season.

Closer David Robertson’s contract may make it hard for the team to get too much out of a potential trade, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them settle for a lesser deal just to shed the salary. Even if Robertson is traded, the White Sox have plenty of candidates to take over the closers role in Nate Jones, Dan Jennings, and Jake Petricka.*

Bottom Line: The White Sox will once again find themselves towards the bottom of the standings in 2017, as they stay active on the trade market. They are a lot closer to contention than many of the other rebuilding teams in baseball, with many of their top prospects nearing the major leagues.

*Stats and Info from Baseball Reference

-Feature Image from CBS Sports