Judging only from the rosters at Charlotte andBirmingham, one might wonder why the White Sox farm system is considered to be one of the top five in baseball. Then again, any organization looks like it’s missing something when Eloy Jimenez and Alec Hansen are on the shelf.
Winston-Salem is where prospect depth makes itself immediately evident. The outfield in particular is negotiating a bottleneck, and it could get even more congested if Luis Robert looks worthy of the Carolina League in May. The rotation boasts two stars at the top and at least one extra starter in the bullpen, but that one is easier to remedy.
This group seems subject to change in short order, as Kevan Smith’s return from the DL could send Brett Austin down here. Either way, the 25-year-old Mercedes will get the bulk of the starts. He’s a career .303/.363/.474 hitter in the minors, but James Fegan summed up his game well — some impressive physical tools (power, throwing arm) that might be undermined by flaws (aggression, mobility). Still, he was worth a pick in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft if only for the flair. Nolan struck out almost 40 percent of the time last year between Great Falls and Kannapolis, which is why I’m guessing he’ll return to Low-A when organizational depth allows.
Sheets anchors the infield, and he’ll get to do it in the same city in which he played college ball. If he doesn’t slug better than .400 in this ballpark, it’ll be a mystery. Forbes and Yrizarri were toolsy prospects who didn’t work out for their original organization. The Texas Rangers traded the former for Miguel Gonzalez and the latter for international pool money. Forbes was the Rnagers’ second-round pick in 2014, and Baseball America said he had “arguably the biggest gap between the player he is today and the player he could be at maturity” in that year’s draft. Forbes had a sub-.600 OPS in High-A, so he hasn’t yet made meaningful progress.
Yrizarri signed for $1.35 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2013. He’s got tools, including an arm that could warrant a change to pitching if his offense is untenable. He drew just eight walks in 113 games last year, so pitching could be the future.
The Cohoes native Remillard (10th round) and Roman (12th round) are 2016 draft picks who look like organizational players.
Here is the world-renowned High-A Outfield Logjam, and it’ll get even more crowded when Robert returns from his surgically repaired thumb.
Adolfo is trying to ward off Tommy John surgery, so he’ll be confined to the DH role. That still leaves four players for three spots. The hope is that Basabe capitalizes on the kind of talent that made him the White Sox’ “breakout” candidate on MLB.com. He hit just .221/.320/.320 in his first season with Winston-Salem, but he underwent surgery for a torn meniscus at the end of the year, which could explain some of the struggles.
While Basabe is repeating the level, Rutherford, Call and Booker are getting their first prolonged exposures to it. Those names are in order of priority. Rutherford was the centerpiece of the Tommy Kahnle trade, so while they didn’t draft him in the first round like the Yankees did, they put a similar investment in him. He’s got a well-rounded game, but he’ll have to stop hitting so many grounders if any of it is going to pay off. Call, the 2016 third-round pick, spent the first half of the season out of action with a chest muscle strain, and spent the second half looking off his game in the low minors. He needs a mulligan.
Booker could be the casualty. The 22nd-round pick out of Iowa State hit .301/.359/.385 over 71 games for Kannapolis, but struggled over 52 games at Winston-Salem(.233/.284/.296). He’d get another chance to anchor center for a High-A affiliate under other circumstances, but he appears to be on the outside looking in for now, especially if and when Robert joins the fray.
This is the order given in Winston-Salem’s press release, and Dunning started Opening Day. It’s a surprise he’s returning to the Dash, so I’d expect him to move up to Birmingham once a Baron or two moves up to Charlotte. Cease should also make his way to Double-A if his stuff looks as sharp as it did in the Cactus League, but it probably won’t be as immediate, even if he succeeds immediately. The Sox will want to finally get him over the 100-inning mark after a Tommy John-delayed start to his pro career, and inferior competition helps toward that end.
Flores (seventh round) and Lambert (fifth round) were both picked out of California colleges in 2016. Both had fine seasons in Kannapolis but were exposed a little in Winston-Salem. Flores has the edge, in that he’s a lefty with a good changeup, whereas Lambert is more of a pitchability righty. Flores also had an oblique injury at the end of the year.
Pinto was a late addition to the organization at the end of spring training. The White Sox acquired him from the Phillies for international bonus pool money. Pinto posted a 7.89 ERA over 25 games for the Phillies last year, so it’s weird to see him all the way down in High-A, but Rick Hahn says the White Sox want to stretch him out there, then send him to Charlotte.
- Victor Diaz (DL)
- Danny Dopico
- Matt Foster
- Drew Hasler (DL)
- Blake Hickman
- Kyle Kubat
- Luis Martinez
- Mike Morrison
- Jose Ruiz
- Zach Thompson
Hickman returned from Tommy John surgery to make 17 carefully managed starts last year. There will be a rotation spot available once Pinto leaves, and maybe starting the year in the bullpen is one final way the White Sox are regulating his workload. Either that or Luis Martinez returns to the rotation, where he’s made 81 of his 83 professional appearances. Martinez was roughed up over five games in Winston-Salem, so maybe he’s hit a wall as a starter.
The rest have already been converted to relief. Ruiz is the biggest name, as the White Sox thought highly enough of him to claim him from the Padres and use a 40-man roster spot for several months. The Sox outrighted him to A-ball at the end of the spring. He boasts actual MLB experience — one game forced by a post-trade roster shortage — and has an intriguing fastball-slider combo.
Morrison had an insane run of success in Kannapolis to start his 2017 — nine hits, six walks, 42 strikeouts, 0.53 ERA over 23 appearances — before regression pounded him in Winston-Salem (5.03 ERA, 1.59 WHIP).