The latest installment of the crosstown series begins Monday night at Wrigley Field with the Cubs playing host to the White Sox. Our ESPNChicago.com beat writers weigh in on three Chicago baseball questions before the first of four games at Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field this week.
1. Which team has a brighter future, Cubs or Sox?
Doug Padilla, White Sox beat writer: We have been hearing about the Cubs' hot prospects for a while, and the hype appears to be legit, but don't sleep on the White Sox's young talent pool. Knocked for years, the White Sox's farm system is flush with high-ceiling talent, including guys like second baseman Micah Johnson, third baseman Matt Davidson, right-handed starter Chris Beck and outfielders like Courtney Hawkins and Trayce Thompson. Add them to guys like Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, and a healthy Chris Sale, along with Avisail Garcia, and things are looking good for the White Sox in the future.
Jesse Rogers, Cubs beat writer: The answer to the question hinges on one player: Chris Sale. With so much uncertainty about the notion of relying on prospects, as the Cubs are doing, Sale is already one of the best starters in the game. The Cubs don't have anyone who can match his potential. And if they trade Jeff Samardzija, as expected, they're even further away from finding an ace. It's the most important single aspect of a baseball team. Having a true No. 1 sets everything up for the rest of the starting rotation, eases the burden on the bullpen, and is a losing streak "stopper." We can argue about position players, from Jose Abreu to Anthony Rizzo, or Adam Eaton to prospect Albert Almora, but Sale is the difference-maker. But just as big as counting on him to be your ace for the decade to come, losing him to injury can have the opposite effect on an organization. The only thing worse than not having an ace is thinking you do and then losing him to arm problems. It wouldn't be an issue if not for the recent history of Sale, who is on the disabled list with a strained flexor. So the question is answered with this qualifier: If Sale is healthy, the Sox have a brighter future, but without him, they lag behind the Cubs.
2. Who will have a better career, Jose Abreu or Anthony Rizzo?
Padilla: An astonishingly productive April showed that Jose Abreu has the chance to one day be mentioned among some of the most productive right-handed hitters the game has seen, so he gets the clear nod here. Rizzo is no slouch, though, having shown tons of power potential from the left side and a Gold Glove-caliber glove. Chicago will have productive first basemen for a long time.
Rogers: Power is a commodity in baseball and right-handed power is especially useful these days, so it would be hard to argue against Abreu. Although both are at the beginning of their major league careers, at his worst Abreu looks to have 30-homer power. Rizzo's best might be 30 homers someday. Abreu will never be the defender that Rizzo is, and it remains to be seen what either will hit in terms of batting average, but Abreu is quickly becoming one of the feared hitters in the game. Rizzo burst onto the scene in 2012, and then pitchers made adjustments to him. That undoubtedly will happen to Abreu, but his power doesn't look to be an issue. Most aspects of a player's game go through ups and downs, but if his power turns out to be the commodity that rarely slumps, Abreu will have a very nice career. He's the more sure thing right now if power is what you're interested in at a corner infield position. Rizzo could be more well-rounded, but you can't deny Abreu's tremendous power.
3. By the end of the season, who will emerge as the best closer in Chicago?
Padilla: Neither team has shown much in the closer department, but the White Sox have an interesting path emerging. Matt Lindstrom is showing signs of settling down, but in the final year of his contract, he could be traded in July if his recent success continues. The prediction here is that Lindstrom is moved and rookie Daniel Webb takes over the job at that point, giving the White Sox a new late-inning option moving forward.
Rogers: As crazy as it sounds, the best closer for either team might be playing at Class A right now. Cubs flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino is a top pitching prospect despite two years of arm problems. He could easily have made the Cubs' roster out of spring training; he's at Class A only for strategic reasons, not because he's that far from being a big leaguer. He has an ERA of 1.00 with 10 strikeouts over nine innings. Vizcaino showed flashes in the Cactus League this spring, hitting almost 100 mph on the radar gun without ever being hit hard. He just needs innings under his belt. And he seems to have the makeup to close games. That may not necessarily be the case for the Cubs' current closer, Hector Rondon. He won the job by default and is riding a wave right now, though he lost Sunday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He's bound to come back down to earth after a great start this season. Pedro Strop will probably get another chance to close, and either of them might be better options than what the White Sox have right now. Lindstrom is 4-of-7 in save opportunities with a WHIP of 1.50. That doesn't scream closer material, but for now that's the best they have.