Nick is an author of Baseball Prospectus, and co Editor-in-Chief of BP South Side.
Nick Schaefer: September is here. The time for call ups, small samples to get us overly excited / dour for next year, and--for some fanbases--playoff races. What's on your minds?
Dusty (Colorado): What do you think of Wander Javier and his upside?
Nick Schaefer: Not even the teenaged Wander with the highest ceiling!
Dusty, I'd love to have some good news for you, but shoulder surgeries are scary. Our own Mark Primiano has described shoulders as four muscles vaguely hoping to work in conjunction with each other. So, we'll see how the recovery goes. Before the surgery it sounds like he was one of the more fun Lotto Ticket Low Minors Guys out there, but this just piles more volatility on the volatility pyre.
cowhitchurch (Austin): Hamilton or Burr?
Nick Schaefer: Hamilton has more velocity and better statistics in the minors, so I'm going to lean in his direction, but I still think they look like 8th/9th inning relief options as soon as right now.
The White Sox should also sign Jon Jay and Matt Adams as bench pieces and see if Reggie Jefferson wants to coach to get more Founding Fathers action.
Nico Soto (Milwaukee, WI): Nick, would love your take on the Hamel’s comments and the Cubs-Brewers rivalry. Is it right to blame Brewer fans for the millions of Chicago fans who come here when it’s cheap and close? Feels like odds are against us, lots of great fans here and our yearly attendance(even in bad years) has to mean something right?
Nick Schaefer: It wasn't the most coherent statement. The Rays and Yankees were still rivals when the Rays were making the playoffs repeatedly ~3-5 years ago and Yankee fans famously fill that stadium. I understand that in any rivalry there's probably going to be one team at any given moment who has had the upper hand. Before 2004, even as heated as Red Sox / Yankees rivalries were, Yankee fans could just cackle and point at the scoreboard and there wasn't much coming back from that. So the fanbases experience the rivalry differently, but it's still a rivalry.
And, as a White Sox fan, I'm always going to bristle at affluent fanbases using that as some sort of mark of superiority.
Regardless, Hamels clearly hasn't seen Brewers/Cubs Twitter if he thinks there's no rivalry here.
The biggest fan (Chicago): You guys should do your podcast more often and definitely talk more about wrestling on it.
Nick Schaefer: I think this is a compliment, but also a way of saying, "Podcast more, but without Nick."
Nick (Chicago IL): Which team under .500 this year, do you think will have the best record next year?
Nick Schaefer: I'm sure the technical correct answer will be something like the 80-82 Pirates simply because they were the best team of the bunch this year, or even the Nationals if they wind up technically below .500.
Mileage may also vary depending on which of the bad teams decides to go for it. I think the Reds are weirdly closer to contending than it might seem? Suarez and Gennett morphing into All Star bats to support Votto's suddenly makes that lineup more competitive than you'd think, and they've had some breakout relievers. Theoretically they could sign a cadre of mid-rotation starters, the likes of which were cheap this offseason, and take a big leap forward after dropping Nick Senzel in there.
But again, so much depends on who keeps their powder dry v. not.
Brian (Chicago): What percent odds would you give that there will be a strike once the current CBA reaches its endpoint?
Nick Schaefer: Since '94 there has been labor peace and I'm not sure it has worked out for the players. The Players Union hiring Bruce Meyer as lead negotiator could be interpreted as a willingness to play hardball, if you'll forgive the expression. Still, there's so much incentive for both sides to come to an agreement, I'd still peg it at <50% of a labor stoppage.
Then again, we've seen ownership willing to lose in the short term out of principle, and after 1994, as a White Sox fan, I expect the team to finally get good in time for the season to get canceled. We can see the league setting up narratives which may just be bargaining chips they don't really care about (e.g. pace of play).
minoso fan (connectiut): Does Manfred have any support for trying to do away with shifts?. It seems like such a harebrained idea.
Nick Schaefer: Dovetailing this question with the above answer: I have a hard time figuring out whether this is just something that Manfred is setting up as leverage for the next CBA negotiation or not. I initially rejected the idea of banning shifts out of hand. After all, it goes back to the days of Ted Williams and beyond. And, I generally assume rules like this will wind up doing more harm than good.
Still, most of the suggestions I've heard to "fix" the shape of offense we have currently don't strike me as helpful either. Lowering the mound or moving it further back or limiting pitching changes would simply increase the amount of offense, rather than impact manner in which it is coming (walks and dingers rather than lesser hits and stolen bases etc.)
I will say, I'm sympathetic to the idea that the shift generally erases singles and increases walks, and even as a stat appreciator I prefer seeing the former to the latter.
At our BP Chicago event, Rob Arthur suggested deadening the ball, which would disincentive hitters attempting to swing for home runs, which would lead to more swing planes geared toward line drives. That sounds more promising than mound changes.
Hunky Dory (Searching for Nimmo): Is Ryan O'Hearn going to be any good for real?
Nick Schaefer: I'm not a scout, but the .713 OPS in the PCL/AAA does not suggest an impact bat to me. It's a boring answer, but this looks like extremely flukey small sample size.
Nick (USA): Do you see Yolmer Sanchez as a player who will be with the White Sox when they are in contention?
Nick Schaefer: On the plus side, 2018 has shown us 2017 Yolmer (the ~90-95 OPS+ type) wasn't an aberrant career year but perhaps something he can sustain, rather than the pre-'17 pitcher-hitting type years. On the down side, him basically repeating that in a second year of regular at bats probably means this is about what you're going to get. Still, a 90-95 OPS+ from a bench bat is very useful, as White Sox fans have seen when you don't have one. Ray Olmedo and Orlando Hudson send their regards.
The x-factor here, and why I think he will be on the team for a long, long time is that he is clearly beloved in the clubhouse. By all accounts, Yolmer is just as fun and awesome to be around as his walk-off celebrations might indicate. Pair that with being a home grown contributor who can play a million positions, that sounds like a fixture to me.
GoWhiteSox (Madison): Are there any guys ranked low (outside Top 15-20) in the White Sox system you're particularly fond of/people should keep an eye on?
Nick Schaefer: I have been a Bernardo Flores booster for some time and would have put him on our Top 20 coming into this year. The velocity is inconsistent, and the strikeouts aren't where you'd like, but the relief-to-starter conversion project has been building up the physical ability to maintain this workload, the walks are low, and the ERA is shiny in Double-A.
Tyler Johnson might be in the Top 20 or so, as his low-minors numbers are insane.
Going further down (and further away from the majors) the White Sox surprised people by signing Bryce Bush, a 33rd round pick who was expected to go to college, but instead got 6th round money. He's probably going to outgrow third base, but the prep bat has showed well in pro ball so far.
I heard positive things about Kade McClure before he hurt his knee, and generally I'm very pleased with how the current regime has been finding guys after round 3 in the draft in recent years.
answerdave (Everywhere -- and nowhere): How egregious is the White Sox's handling of Eloy Jimenez? He needs to work on his defense? Why not do it with the big club?
Nick Schaefer: Citing defense was a pretty unsatisfying thing to hear. It's not clear to me why he can't work on his defense in the majors--after all, it's left field in a tiny ballpark, and because Charlotte didn't make the playoffs, this means he simply...won't play at all in September. It's not like balls hit to left in the majors are so different than the minors that his development would be damaged, and it's not like the White Sox haven't stomached bad glove work in the outfield as it is.
In some ways, I would have been more satisfied--not satisfied satisfied, but more so--if the answer had been, "We want him to see another 200-300 PAs of high minors pitching because hitting is reactive and we haven't seen him have to adjust to failure yet" or something.
I'm certainly disappointed, even if I'm someone who was aghast at how quickly the organization rushed bats in years past.
Fred Fredderson (South Lodi, Baja California): Did Dave Dombrowski blow it again by not supplementing the Boston bullpen with some reinforcements. Or at least reinforce it with some supplements?
Nick Schaefer: Even rental relievers seem to fetch better returns than say, J.D. Martinez did last year at the deadline (no offense, Mr. Lugo), so there is some cost here, and frankly, the Red Sox have one of the worst systems in baseball at this point, so he may not have had the ammo to make meaningful upgrades. That said--the system is very bad, and they probably don't have much by way of internal reinforcements either. Dombrowski already traded a lot of prospect capital in the first place to get his hands on Kimbrel and Thornburg, too.
The bullpen definitely looks like the weak spot on that team, but it's not that bad, even if it isn't exactly a weapon. Theoretically Eovaldi is a supplement come postseason with shortened rotations, right?
Kevin (Chicago): What kind of expectations can I have for the White Sox this free agency, when Abreu is still the most lucrative contract in team history? Any non-Machado/Haper FAs you'd like the Sox to go after?
Nick Schaefer: The Abreu fact and all the history it represents in tandem with Eloy being left down in the minors certainly cut against thinking the White Sox will make big moves this offseason. If Eloy had come up and mashed immediately, which was certainly possible, you'd have a better sense of how competitive the team would be for 2019.
I still think it is worth exploring signing both A.J. Pollock and Josh Donaldson, particularly with the idea that injury risk and age brings them down into the realm where you don't have a contract the White Sox perceive as an albatross.
I don't love the pitchers on the free agent market, but I think you can at least hedge against Giolito turning back into a pumpkin / Rodon's health / Kopech's command / Reynaldo's command by signing some decent innings and pair that with an excellent bullpen to attack a weak division as soon as next year.
I...still don't think that's going to happen, sadly.
Adam (Evanston): Make a World Series prediction now. No qualifiers. Put it in ink, punk.
Nick Schaefer: I'm rooting hardest for an Oakland v. Brewers match up, but given how my rooting interests wind up working out and team quality, we're probably going to get like, Red Sox or Astros v. Cubs or Dodgers or Mega Troll Option: Cardinals.
Let's split the difference and say Dodgers over the Red Sox in 6.
Alex Prettyface (Gundergunder): Will the White Sox bullpen be stacked with power rookies next year? And what will the rotation look like after Rodon, Kopech, two guys and Giolito?
Nick Schaefer: This is part of why I foresee a path to 2019 contention as hinted at above, even if it's unlikely--and we've seen how conservative teams have gotten when playoff berths appear to be less than 50% in the offseason.
I'm bullish on both Ryan Burr and Ian Hamilton, Jace Fry has already had an excellent 2018 in the majors, and there's reason to think Caleb Frare is already here and effective. There's always attrition in the bullpen, but there's just so many guys here who have flashed ability to be excellent back end options, and it's a strength of the organization. Covey has looked really good in short bursts, Carson Fulmer will have an offseason to prepare solely as a reliever, some of the guys who don't make the rotation, like say, Jordan Stephens may be effective in that role. Nate Jones might come back, Zack Burdi should be in the majors at some point next year, and even the newly promoted Jose Ruiz has an extremely live arm. Kodi Medeiros is still getting to try starting, but I think he could be a late inning reliever as well. Aaron Bummer is a guy they like a lot.
All of these guys individually are risky propositions based on being relievers, health, ability, etc. But collectively I think they just have a flood of in-house options such that this could be a big strength as soon as next year.
Rick johnansen (Sweden): Hey when are we grabbing beers, also when do you think we see the first nordic baseball player?
Nick Schaefer: I've always wanted to go to Sweden. Please forgive me for seeing Denmark and Norway first.
I have no idea how to answer the second half of your question.
Liam (The Lonely Bronx): When are we grabbing drinks also is eloy jiminez a deep state false flag attack?
Nick Schaefer: I have been saying my life would calm down and I'd have more free time soon for months and it hasn't happened, but tentatively October looks pretty good!
Josh (Des Moines): Now that the Nationals are officially 100% dead for the year, they're supposedly calling up Victor Robles. How do you see that playing out?
Nick Schaefer: I'm glad he's healthy and we'll get a chance to see him, because a whole lot of very smart people have been very excited about Robles for a long time. I don't think he was ever seen as someone who would dominate with the bat, certainly not immediately, but it would be more of a total package contribution. For instance, he should be an excellent glove in CF immediately, which makes his floor quite high.
It's more contact than power, as I understand it, at the plate, so he could be the victim of batted ball luck in a brief September look. It's kind of crazy the Nationals might lose a Hall of Fame OF in his prime and still run three All Stars in the outfield next year.
Yolmer (Gatorade Bucket): Rodon's peripherals concerning to you at all?
Nick Schaefer: DRA is very very good, so yes, it makes me very anxious. Even though his swinging strike numbers have generally been fine, the low K% while coming off shoulder surgery gives me pause, even if the run prevention has been very good.
The fastball velocity seems fine, the optimistic data comes from xwOBA saying he's simply doing a good job of limiting quality contact, and...well, he's been healthy for the first time since 2016. So it's not all bad news, obviously, but I'd sure like to see him just morph into a #2 that I don't need to stress about.
Charlie (San jose): What would you like to see from Eloy to show he’s ready for the majors? Sounds like he has a ways to go still despite the numbers.....
Nick Schaefer: Other than seeing him adjust after a slump, I'm not sure there's anything left for him to show. He's a bat first prospect who is not challenged by minor league pitching. I'm sure he could improve his glovework, but I don't see why he can't do that in the majors.
Graybar (Hotel): What is Gleyber Torres looking like as an everyday SS in this trial? Will he unseat DD in the long run or is he going back to second pronto?
Nick Schaefer: From what I can tell, Torres is fine at short, but Gregorius is better there and a Gregorius SS / Gleyber 2B situation definitely seems like an "if it ain't broke don't fix it" type thing.
Then again maybe Machado insists on playing short and all of this gets jumbled even further.
George (Kankakee): Are you confident the White Sox starting middle infield in, say ... 2022 will be Timmy and Moncada?
Nick Schaefer: I think they're both solid regulars at SS/2B right now, I think there's a lot more in there from Moncada and think Anderson can keep improving. However, 2022 is pretty far away and a lot can happen by then. Moncada may get bigger and move to 3B or 1B, and there's always a chance guys have to move off shortstop just because it's so difficult--although Anderson has athleticism to spare and has looked a looooooooot better there in recent weeks.
Still, Nick Madrigal may put pressure on a position change for *someone* as soon as next year, so 2022 feels like forever away.
Jake (From State Farm): Cease and Basabe made "the leap" as prospects this year. Any others, in terms of guys a bit further from the majors, who showed notable progress to you?
Nick Schaefer: Aside from the lotto ticket guys I listed above--and without quibbling about the definition of The Leap on those two you named--Micker Adolfo also had a really successful year, even with the injury. Jimmy Lambert took a big step forward, in my opinion. Amado Nunez finally had some good performance to go with his tools in rookie ball. Joel Booker, Luis Gonzalez, and Ti'Quan Forbes all took leaps in their own ways, and I'd think Blake Rutherford had a bounceback season too.
Generally speaking, it was an injury-riddled year for the Top 10, but a lot of the depth guys in the system emerged or progressed, such that you wind up with the Endless Uber Reliever Pipeline, for example, that I discussed above.
Nick Schaefer: Thanks everybody for your questions--think I'm going to call it there. Always happy to keep the conversation going on Twitter, you can find me there @Nick_BPSS.