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After devoting the first day of White Sox prospect groups to my favorite cases, and the second day to players who face developmental hurdles, let’s conclude with the remaining players of particular interest this upcoming season.
Last year’s draft picks
Here’s what they’re working on in their first full pro seasons
Jake Burger: There was some stuff to like about his pro debut at Kannapolis, mostly the 14 percent strikeout rate over 200 plate appearances. That gave credence to the idea that the White Sox indeed used their first-round pick on a polished bat. However, they supposedly used it on a polished power bat, and the .409 slugging percentage left some to be desired. He hit too many grounders, and he seems to that criticism to heart, which is encouraging. He’s going to need to tap into that muscle because he’ll only be adequate at third base if he even sticks there.
Gavin Sheets: A first-base-only prospect is never going to tear up the charts, and he didn’t really turn heads with his pro debut (.266/.346/.365 over 218 plate appearances at Kannapolis). He’s a big guy with a classic lefty first baseman swing, though, so one can see how the power could materialize. For the time being, the strike zone numbers (20 walks, 34 strikeouts) give him a decent base for contact. He’ll be working on a wider base, including a leg kick, for 2018.
Luis Gonzalez: Maybe it’s just fatigue from first-day draft picks who have to fight to stay away from first base, but I kinda wonder if Gonzalez might end up being the best pick from the 2017 draft. The White Sox selected him out of New Mexico with a third-round pick, and Nick Hostetler saw value there. Part of it was for good reason (Gonzalez was a two-way player in college), and part of it not so much (off-the-field issues that Hostetler and Keith Law also referenced).
Gonzalez’s numbers at Kannapolis don’t look like much, but they’re hampered by a terrible start. He hit .287/.381/.435 over his final 30 games with 16 walks over those 135 plate appearances. That kind of approach can be valuable if it comes with good center field defense. The White Sox have issued positive reports, but we’ll have a better sense of how they view his skills when he’s sharing time with other Luises (Basabe and Robert).
Tyler Johnson: Of the collegiate pitchers selected during the second day, South Carolina’s Johnson is the one who seems likely to rise quickly. Unlike Lincoln Henzman (fourth round) and Kade McClure (sixth round), Johnson (fifth round) seems ticketed for relief thanks to his high-90s velocity and high-leverage intensity. He’s working on finding the right balance between power and tilt with his slider, after which command will hopefully follow.
Running on polish
Pitchers who are short on projectability
Jordan Guerrero: Like Jake Peter, he was a surprising omission from the 40-man roster. Unlike Peter, he’s still around. The fastball-changeup lefty should be on the doorstep of the majors at Charlotte, even if he’ll need a break or two to get on the 40-man. He might have a better path to the bullpen if he had a more defined breaking ball, but Aaron Bummer and Jace Fry get in the way there.
Ian Clarkin: A sequence of injuries have taken a toll on his development, including an oblique strain suffered shortly after the White Sox acquired him in the Tommy Kahnle trade. He was throwing 88-90 when I saw him at Winston-Salem’s home finale last season. Maybe he can regain some oomph with a fresh start.
A.J. Puckett: Kansas City’s second-round pick in 2016 came to the White Sox in the Melky Cabrera deal. He’s a righty with a fastball that sits in the low-90s with a good changeup and a curveball with potential, but he walked nearly 10 percent of the batters he faced in Kansas City. He halved that number during his five starts with the White Sox, although his stuff still proved hittable. Given Cabrera was a free agent who hasn’t fielded much in the way of loud offers this winter, one shouldn’t expect Puckett to explode.
2018 should help us know what to make of them
Seby Zavala: He split an age-23 season between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, so he might be not picking on people his own size. Still, one takes notice of a catcher hitting 21 homers in 107 games, especially one who improves after jumping up a level. He capped off his year with a fine showing as a backup in the Arizona Fall League (.326/.407/.435). The catching is behind his hitting, and sharing time with Zack Collins doesn’t help, but the Welington Castillo signing gives them time to battle it out in Birmingham.
Ian Hamilton: He was a starter at Washington State when the White Sox picked him in the 11th round of the 2016 draft, and the front office has noted a major jump in stuff after moving to the bullpen. He struck out 52 batters to just eight walks over 52 innings in Winston-Salem, where he pitched twice around a bit of a beating in Birmingham. The organization has gone out of its way to cite Hamilton’s high-90s fastball and biting slider, so I’m more curious than I would be about a reliever who hasn’t yet figured out Double-A hitters.
Jordan Stephens: He’s going to keep starting for the time being, which he deserves after posting a 3.14 ERA over 92 innings at Birmingham with decent peripherals. The questions about whether he can hold up as a starter linger, reinvigorated by his missing the first two months with forearm issues. There’ll be room in the White Sox bullpen if he’s crowded out.
Tito Polo: Besides the great name, he came to the White Sox with the classic fourth-outfielder combination of speed, some pop and the ability to cover center. He hit .278/.342/.389 with seven steals in eight attempts at Birmingham, and he didn’t turn 23 until late August, so all that stuff is still there. The Sox didn’t consider him compelling enough to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and Triple-A could be his ceiling without one standout tool, but center field is mushy enough that a hot half could upend the depth chart.