After a successful 2020 season, the 2021 White Sox are looking for even better results. They added a veteran starter, Lance Lynn, a right fielder in Adam Eaton, and ace closer Liam Hendriks. They addressed obvious needs as they prepare for the upcoming season, however, many fans feel that the Sox failed to address at least one key area. In addition, there are those who have doubts about at least one other position.
The White Sox have struggled at DH for the last several years. This has been especially troubling for Sox fans, as it ought to be one place where a team can find a hitter. Yet, the spot has been a major failure, and they will need more production if they hope to make a deep playoff run. Similarly, some fans still see a need to reconsider the second base position. This seems to be an area where fans have strong feelings on both sides. Again, they will need stability at second base in order to contend for an AL title.
2021 White Sox: The DH Dilemma
So, what is the Sox plan for DH in 2021? There were several options on the free-agent market, such as Nelson Cruz, among others. Cruz re-signed with the Twins, so he was not an option for the Sox. They also passed on other veterans who could have helped at the DH spot. So, what are they going to do at the critical DH spot?
From all appearances, rookie Andrew Vaughn could be the Sox DH on Opening Day. There is also the possibility that he may play at Charlotte for the first couple weeks, in an obvious service time decision. In any case, though, it seems likely that Vaughn will get a full shot at the DH spot for the 2021 White Sox.
Sox management has been glowing in their comments on Vaughn this spring. In fact, new manager Tony LaRussa called Vaughn “very impressive,” high praise indeed. These comments are not overly surprising, in terms of raw talent. Vaughn won the Golden Spikes Award in 2018 at Cal, where he hit over .400. His hitting prowess has never been questioned, at least in college and in his brief experience in the minor leagues.
Yet, serious questions remain for many Sox fans about putting a raw rookie into the pressure cooker of a pennant race unnecessarily. These questions are reasonable, based on the DH failure over the last few years. Vaughn has not played above High A ball. and has much to prove. What if he fails? What is Plan B for the 2021 White Sox? Are Sox fans doomed to suffer through another year with ineptitude at the DH position?
There are no answers to any of these questions yet. It appears that management has decided that Vaughn is the guy, for better or worse. While this may or may not work out, it looks like the Sox are committed to Andrew Vaughn as their primary DH. Time will tell if this was a wise choice or not.
2021 White Sox: Is Madrigal The Answer?
The second question concerns Nick Madrigal. The Sox top pick in the 2019 draft made his MLB debut in 2020, amid much fanfare. The diminutive second baseman, known for his ability to make contact, did not disappoint with the bat. While his season was limited due to injury, Madrigal put up solid numbers with a .340 batting average in 29 games, however, he did not walk much and had only three extra-base hits. His OPS was only .745.
Madrigal has drawn some detractors, as he appears to be destined to be a singles and doubles hitter for the duration of his career. In today’s game, where home runs are everything, this does not appeal to a segment of Sox fans. On the positive side of this, though, is the fact that he only struck out seven times in 109 plate appearances.
Two other concerns also popped up during Madrigal’s short 2020 season. He committed four errors in just 29 games, slightly alarming for a guy who won a minor league Gold Glove in 2019. He also had a critical error in the postseason, something some fans will have a hard time forgetting.
The second issue that put a damper on Madrigal’s rookie season was his somewhat erratic baserunning. While he only attempted three stolen bases (and was successful on two of them), Madrigal made some mental errors on the base paths. While they were generally errors of aggression, they are still issues that will need to be addressed.
Madrigal was drafted partly because of his high baseball IQ. His ability to make contact, especially with two strikes, is uncanny. This does suggest a keen baseball mind. It also suggests that his errors in the field and on the base paths were more likely rookie mistakes than a predictor of things to come. Sox fans surely hope that the latter is the case.
Ready Or Not, Here They Come
There are no guarantees that the 2021 White Sox will thrive at either the DH spot or at second base. They are set to start the season with two young, talented, inexperienced players in these positions. That is an escapable fact, unless they make a last-minute switch at one or both of these positions. That seems highly unlikely, but not out-of-the-question. That said, what are realistic expectations for Vaughn and Madrigal?
It would not be a surprise if Vaughn struggled at the start of the season. He has amassed less than 300 plate appearances and has not played above High A. However, he did hit well, and will likely adjust as the season progresses. Maybe he can reach as high as .275 by year’s end, perhaps with 15 homers and 70 RBIs? Those are not stellar numbers but would be an upgrade over the last few years. Even with the ups and downs of being a rookie, Vaughn should be an asset for the 2021 White Sox. Sox fans would no doubt be thrilled with that outcome
As far as Madrigal is concerned, there is every reason to think that he can hit. 300 and play solid defense. He will be batting in the ninth position, and should be an effective table setter for the top of the order. Perhaps 30 stolen bases, if all goes well? If he does show his Gold Glove defense and improves his baserunning, he should be of no concern to nervous sox fans.
Overall, the 2021 White Sox will be expecting big things from their two prize rookies. Madrigal already has some experience, and Vaughn has had a solid track record all of his career. They do not to be MYP candidates, nor lead the league in any categories. They just need to play baseball and focus on learning from every experience. If they succeed in doing that, the 2021 White Sox should be in pretty good shape.
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