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View from the other side: White Sox questions for Brett Ballantini of South Side Sox

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Oakland Athletics v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

The White Sox come to town for a 3-game series, fresh off a 2-game series sweep of the Royals.

I sent off some questions to Brett Ballantini manager of South Side Sox, and he was nice enough to send me back some answers.

So 3 home runs for Mark Davidson on opening day. What are you expecting from him this year? Can he cut down on the strikeouts enough to be a valuable player?

Projections for Davidson — negative WAR, I believe — were pretty dour. Now, it would be a lot to expect him to make the same jump this year as last, when he went from a AAAA player who couldn’t stay healthy to 26 homers. But he’ll be helped a ton by not being allowed to wear a glove, which accounted for a solid portion of his negative value. There’s been a lot of talk about Paul Konerko talking with Davidson for like five minutes in spring training, and fairy-dusting him into Konerko II. Ludicrous, but Davidson got hot from the jump in the Cactus League, and hasn’t cooled since. He’s willing to drive the ball the other way. Holy crap, he’s walked twice already this year, after walking 19 times in 118 games last year. Is it insane to expect 30 and 90 from Davidson this year as a DH in a more jacked-up White Sox offense? Probably. Am I sitting here after a game just got snowed out in Kansas City and telling you it’s going to happen? Yeah, I guess I am.

What additions did the White Sox make this winter?

Is “none” an answer? OK, that’s not entirely true, there were a few sneaky-quiet moves from GM Rick Hahn in the winter. Welington Castillo coming to the Sox was a shocker, as a guy getting decent bucks with a “now” window coming to a 1,000-loss projection team. But the acquisition proved Hahn was looking ahead to the playoff contention window opening as soon as 2019 — and a comment on the current state of MLB-ready catching for the Sox, depth chart 1. Null 2. Void.

Hector Santiago reached agreement with the Sox far earlier than his announced signing date, but he wanted to lay low in case anyone else offered him a roster spot (Chicago gave him a minors deal). Nope. He pitched well enough in spring to earn the No. 5 slot in the rotation, at a minimum, but the club is curiously invested in Carson Fulmer as a future starter, so Santiago starts in the pen as a long man/spot starter/Fulmer fire extinguisher.

The Sox swapped Jake Peter to the Dodgers and in a ménage a trade, got Luis Avilan and Joakim Soria back from the Kansas City Royals. Solid deal, as Hahn is looking ahead to July flip-ability. Avilan has been insane since donning black, and surely the Sox are looking at him as this year’s Tommy Kahnle (who netted the Sox Blake Rutherford). Soria is running more on fumes, but Hahn is probably holding out hope he can be this year’s Anthony Swarzak (who netted the Sox Ryan Cordell) come deadline.

So, are all those deals boring as hell? Pretty much. But something more exciting, like signing Mike Moustakas or Jake Arrieta or Eric Hosmer or ugh, gross, I’m getting intestinal discomfort just thinking about being saddled with any of those guys for three, five or seven years at prime-time prices, would have set the Sox WAY back in their rebuild mission.

Next year, boring as hell won’t fly. This year, it’s all good.

Can we have a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers the Jays are likely to see?

Reynaldo Lopez is a sweet kid, fun to watch, has fun on the mound. The second piece (behind Lucas Giolito and ahead of Dane Dunning) of the THREE the Sox somehow got in return from the Washington Nationals for Adam Eaton. Power arm, control trouble, has shown an uncommon ability — some might call it dumb luck, at least for his sample size — to wriggle out of trouble of his own creation. Decent August-September audition last season with the Sox.

Miguel Gonzalez is back with the Sox after being dealt to Texas a month after the trade deadline, because the Rangers thought they were going to be in the playoffs or something? Will be asked to eat innings despite never coming very close to 200 in a season before.

Fulmer broke camp with the team despite a fairly horrific spring. His second-to-last spring start was finally a strong one, whereupon the White Sox hid him away on the back fields for his final start, so as not to continue wracking the kid’s confidence. He was a Vanderbilt stud whose profile as a major league starter is questionable. It appears batters like seeing him a whole, whole whole lot as they step up to the plate a second time. A third, and it’s Christmas in July. So Fulmer could be a killer high-leverage reliever. A starter? Probably not. The 2018 season is when the White Sox will finally get that memo.

I see Joakin Soria is listed as ‘closer’, its been a few years since he’s had that job. How confident are you in his ability to finish out games? Who sets up for him?

Soria should be listed as White Sox closer only on the spreadsheets kept by his agent; I don’t think Soria would himself print up business cards stating such. What manager Rick Renteria has promised is bullpen by committee, which the most hopeful among us are hoping translates to high leverage = best reliever. After the White Sox took the lead on Saturday in K.C. with a Castillo double in the bottom of the eighth, Renteria went to his best reliever, Nate Jones, to hold the lead. If Jones’s eighth was a touch cleaner, or it wasn’t like 35°, perhaps Jones would have finished the game with a six-out save attempt.

Soria is in the mix, for sure. Avilan is, too. If Fulmer proves me an idiot and Santiago is not needed as a bailout 5b starter, hell, he was once a White Sox closer.

So, no, I am not confident Soria will be a wipeout closer for the White Sox. I am fairly confident that Renteria will buck orthodoxy and have leverage determine his closer, not “ninth-inning saves.”

There are a lot of good young players on the White Sox, who are you most excited about watching over the next few years?

I do not have enough space.

Yoan Moncada at second base is a five-tool player and in the most optimistic scenarios is the club’s offensive MVP this season. I am eager to see if Tim Anderson at short (in his second full season) shows growth. Adam Engel in center has already flashed an elite glove, but he tied for the team lead in homers in the spring and has shown some surprising pop in 2018.

But really, it’s all about the kids still traveling on buses. Eloy Jimenez, if I cross my fingers so hard they sprain, is the spiritual offspring of Frank Thomas. Michael Kopech, presuming he polishes his changeup, is the spiritual offspring of a pitcher the White Sox have never had, with a 100 mph fastball, bring tears to your eyes slider, and reality show swag.

Wild card is Luis Robert, who to be honest was Hahn’s actual offseason acquisition, except the timing was more last May, not November. He’s a Cuban bonus baby whose five tools could rival or surpass Moncada’s. He starts in high-A this year but it is not inconceivable he is 2019’s Opening Day center fielder.

Do we see Michael Kopech in the majors this year? What’s his ETA

Kopech started so well in Cactus play, the drum beat began to have him break camp with the Sox. His last couple of big-boy starts solved that potential dilemma for the front office, as Kopech struggled with command and got knocked around. He starts in Charlotte (AAA), and if all is timed perfectly, he masters his changeup in time for a pre-All Star break callup, which coincides nicely with the turning over of his service time.

How long until the White Sox can compete?

How long? Huh? Did you see what the Boys in Black did to those dastardly K.C. Royals? Only undefeated team in the AL, anyone? Or, better said: Have you seen the AL Central?

No, of course there’s no chance the White Sox compete this year. Defensively, they could do it. Offensively, for sure they could. Bullpen, if left intact, I think could do it. The rotation, with James Shields and Carson Fulmer, and pretty much all question marks aside from Giolito, who has all of about one month of lights-out chucking under his belt? Nope.

Next year, with Kopech in the rotation with Lopez and Giolito, and possibly Dylan Cease, Dunning or Alec Hansen chomping at the bit to join them, I think you’re talking about a team that can get into the Wild Card game.

2020? Watch out.

Any chance Hawk Harrelson will retire anytime soon? Is he loved by White Sox fans as much as he is hated by everyone else?

Your wish will be soon granted. Hawk is doing only Sunday home games this year, and indeed it is his last season. While he has been an increasingly uncomfortable fit in the White Sox booth and hasn’t aged at all with the times or with his partner, Steve Stone, I will take Hawk’s again curve over, say, a Chicago comp like Harry Caray’s, every day of the week.

Low bar, sure. But only the greatest of the great age well. And when you are a color man (I guess Hawk is supposed to be the play-by-play guy, maybe, but c’mon) the job is almost impossible.

You will be relieved to know that there is more of a split among the White Sox base on Hawk than ever. The time is right for him to mosey on into the sunset.

I was never a huge fan of the Harrelson-Don Drysdale broadcasts. But Hawk and Wimpy Paciorek, for my money — and this largely extends to Wimpy’s sub work for Stone over the past few years — was the best duo I ever heard, certainly on White Sox broadcasts.

Thanks for this Brett.