As the 2021 White Sox gather in sunny Arizona, fans are getting hyped up for what they hope (expect) to be a playoff season. Fans are hoping that 2020 was just the beginning of a long-term run of playoff appearances. There are good reasons for the optimism, although there are also some question marks.
Undoubtedly, concerns remain with the back end of the rotation, the DH, and the backup catcher position. These have been well-documented, and they tend to keep Sox fans up at night. At this juncture, there are no clear-cut decisions yet, and it may take most, if not all of spring training to sort them out. There is one area, however, where the South Siders look to be in very good hands.
2021 White Sox: An Elite Bullpen
GM Rick Hahn and the Sox have assembled an impressive stable of arms in the White Sox bullpen. This may very well be crucial to their hopes, as starters are not expected to go deep in games on a regular basis. Thus, the bullpen will be a central focus in MLB this season, and not just for the Sox. Fortunately for Sox fans, the 2021 White Sox bullpen looks very deep and talented.
White Sox Bullpen: The Closer
In 2019 and 2020, the Sox had Alex Colome in the closer’s role. He performed admirably for the Sox, and many fans clamored for his return in 2021. However, the White Sox evidently had bigger things in mind. They may have been swayed by Colome’s low strikeout rate, or lack of big-timer velocity. In either case, they decided to go in another direction.
On January 12th, the Sox announced the signing of Liam Hendriks to a three-year, 54 million dollar contract. Hendriks, rated by many as the top closer in MLB, immediately becomes the closer for the Sox. While Colome was solid, Hendriks represents a nice upgrade to the 2021 White Sox. He will anchor the bullpen for the next three years. solidifying the important closer’s role.
The Bridge To The Closer
While Hendriks is a big plus, the Sox need to get the game to him if they are to be successful in their quest for a deep playoff run. The starters are only going to pitch so far into games, and there has to be a bridge from the starters to the closer. This is an area where the Sox appear to have plenty of depth, almost an embarrassment of riches.
Working backward here, in looking at setup men, there are several candidates to fill the role. If one prefers a lefty, how about Aaron Bummer? He is flat-out nasty and is effective against both lefthanded and righthanded hitters. He did have an injury that caused him to miss the majority of the 2020 season. When he did pitch, however, he was solid, and the Sox are looking for big things from the young veteran lefty.
If you are looking for a righthanded setup man, Codi Heuer may be your guy. In his rookie season, he put up solid numbers and impressed Sox management and fans alike with his fastball and slider. He does need to cut down the walks some perhaps, but his stuff was well above average in 2020. If he can throw more strikes consistently, he will be a big part of the bullpen for the 2021 White Sox.
More Depth With These Middle Men
If Bummer and Heuer are used as the main setup men, the Sox have others who can also set up or pitch in middle relief. Again, they have the luxury of both righthanded and lefthanded pitchers who can serve as a bridge to Hendriks. They are ideal swing men as the Sox look ahead.
Garrett Crochet, the first-round pick in the 2020 draft, made a name for himself in MLB during the season. The tall hard-throwing lefty burst onto the scene, displaying an easy 100+ mph out of the bullpen. While he was drafted as a starter, he can certainly be a huge asset to the 2021 White Sox as a middle reliever/setup man.
Evan Marshall, a veteran right-hander, has found a home in the Sox bullpen. The 30-year-old reliever has been outstanding in middle relief for the Sox the last two seasons. His numbers in the 2020 season were spectacular, albeit in a short season. However, his veteran presence and solid performance should once again be a solid asset to the Sox bullpen.
Matt Foster, another 2020 rookie was a solid performer for the Sox in 2020. The 26-year-old right-hander put up very impressive numbers as a middle reliever and an opener. While he is slightly older for a rookie, his numbers cannot be ignored. Is it possible that teams may figure him out some over the course of a 162 game season? Certainly, that is a possibility, but Foster can make adjustments as well. Time will tell with him, but he looks awfully good at this point.
How about a wild card? The name of Michael Kopech has been mentioned as often as anybody else this spring. While he has always been a starter, it is possible that he will start the season in the bullpen. If he does, that would be an electric arm that can be used in a number of ways. His potential is still off-the-charts, and he would be a great addition to a loaded pen.
The Rubber Arm: Every Bullpen Needs One
A final piece to the bullpen for the 2021 White Sox could be “Every Day” Jimmy Cordero. The moniker is well-deserved, as the rubber-armed pitcher seemed to pitch every day during the 2020 season. While his numbers are not overly impressive, he does offer value with his durability. In a 162 game season, there will be ample opportunity for a guy like Cordero to eat innings. While he will never be a CY Young candidate, his value is likely to keep him around.
While we have discussed eight relievers above, this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are other candidates for the 2021 White Sox bullpen. Kopech may be sent to Charlotte to focus on starting. Reynaldo Lopez, who has been a starter for all of his career, could be demoted to the bullpen. Zach Burdi and Tyler Johnson are a couple of other guys who could contend for spots in the pen. Maybe even Carlos Rodon, Jimmy Lambert, or Bernardo Flores.
While the Sox will sort out their roster during spring training, the bullpen should be an elite unit. While there are many names floating around, imagine an eight-man bullpen comprised of these names:
Hendriks, Bummer, Heuer, Foster, Crochet, Marshall, Kopech, and Cordero. That is a bullpen that brings a lot of heat and features the game’s premier closer. If the other facets of the team can perform to expectations, this is a bullpen that can put the 2021 White Sox over the top in the AL Central.
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