Rather than award Good/Bad performances as I’ve done the last couple months, I thought this month it’d be interesting to take a more holistic look at the rebuild. In the Sox Machine comments and on White Sox Twitter, I’ve seen a fair amount of anxiety that the organization has fallen off track over the first three (terrible) months of the 2018 season. But is that really the case? Let’s take a look.
Major League Baseball defines a player’s Baseball Age as how old they are on July 1 of a given season, so to evaluate where the Sox stand in their efforts to build a playoff-quality roster, I decided to rank the top 25 players in the organization who are 25 or younger this season. In addition to being numerically satisfying, players that young will theoretically be entering their primes when the front office’s targeted contention date rolls around in 2020.
Since the goal is World Series or bust, I also decided to name each tier of the rankings after a member of the 2005 White Sox. While Rick Hahn & Co. aren’t trying to build a perfect replica of that team (nor should they), I think it’s a useful/fun proxy for fans to measure the current crop of young players against.
I gave some consideration to all these guys, but ultimately felt they were either too far from the majors or lacked the upside to surpass the players listed below.
Odds are decent that none of these guys will be around by 2020, but all are useful major league pieces.
Tilson is having a very successful season considering he basically hadn’t played baseball in 18 months prior to Spring Training. His contact-heavy approach works for a speedy, defense-first outfielder, especially if he can slug a little closer to his .096 career minor league ISO rather than his current .033 mark. A playoff team could do worse than having him as their 25th man.
Delmonico is likely watching his opportunity to earn a long-term roster spot vanish while he sits on the DL, but he’s managed to maintain his plate discipline numbers this year despite showing considerably less power than in 2017. The difference in the quality of his at-bats versus a Trayce Thompson-type guy is obvious, and the pieces are there for a Ross Gload-ish career if some of his pop returns.
Rondon has been a pleasant surprise, showing off a utility infielder skillset in both Charlotte and Chicago. He’s made the minor rabble about trading away Jake Peter a distant memory – so much so that I had to look at a Dodgers depth chart to remember Peter’s name. Sorry, Jake.
Konerko was a much more highly touted prospect than either Zavala or Burger, but concerns that he couldn’t stick at catcher, then third base led both the Dodgers and the Reds to give up on him. Spoiler alert: those concerns were well-founded. He had to hit to earn a major league career, and hit he did.
Similarly, Burger and Zavala will both have to slug if they’re going to be around for the long haul. 2018 has obviously been a worst-case scenario for Burger, and that’s if you’re feeling charitable. Two Achilles tears is like if Paris had shot Achilles in the heel, then stomped on his lil’ Myrmidons just for good measure.
Zavala, however, may be playing his way into the Sox’s plans. His ascension to Charlotte and reports of improved defense are happy developments. But he’ll still have to hit.
Hey, this has the makings of a pretty good bullpen!
Fulmer remains the highest upside arm in this group, though the odds that he fulfills that promise grow dimmer by the start. However, the list of busted starting prospects turned excellent relievers is extremely long, so there’s still some hope.
Burdi continues to tread water as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, but Stephens and Fry have both dramatically improved their stock this season. Stephens has been consistently effective in both Birmingham and Charlotte — check out the last 6 columns of his B-Ref line if you don’t believe me. He’s likely to make a major league start or two in September, even if a lengthy injury history means he’s probably a reliever long-term. Meanwhile, Fry looks like the best lefty reliever in pale hose since Matt Thornton.
These three are all vaguely Rowand-ish, if you messed with the Rowand’s skill sliders in MLB: The Show. Basabe is Rowand with slightly more speed, Adolfo is Rowand with the power attribute cranked up but the defense turned down, and Rutherford is Rowand if you made him prettier and added glasses for some reason.
All three look better than they did in 2017, Basabe and Rutherford considerably so. Assembling this kind of depth in the outfield bodes well for future White Sox squads, as having three simultaneous cracks at Avisail Garcia/Dayan Viciedo quality outfield prospects drastically reduces the hopes pinned on any one of them.
The AJ Pierzynski Tier: Wild Card
13. Zack Collins
The spectrum of outcomes for Collins ranges from Mike Napoli to Ryan Doumit to early-career Tyler Flowers to a guy who spends most of his career in AAA. He’s moved the needle a bit towards Napoli this season, improving his numbers across the board despite moving up a level into a tougher hitter’s park. The Sox seem determined to make him a catcher; hopefully it’s a “we think Chris Sale can start” proposition, not the “we think Carson Fulmer can start” version.
Garland is a good reminder that highly touted pitching prospects can look terrible in their first major league stints, but still turn into quality players (see also: Danks, John and Floyd, Gavin). Giolito has been the single most disappointing element of the 2018 season, looking nothing like the reasonably effective pitcher we saw at the end of 2017 or the potentially dominant one we saw in spring training. But he is younger than guys like Stephens or Fulmer, and virtually the same age as Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning. He still has time to turn it around.
It’s hard to know how to order Hansen, Dunning, and Cease at this point. Dunning’s terrific year was just interrupted by a potentially serious elbow injury, and Hansen’s return from forearm troubles has been rough through three starts. Meanwhile, Cease has the thinnest track record of the three, thanks in part to his own injury problems. This is where I’ll sadly note that TINSTAAPP.
I opted to go Cease-Dunning-Hansen because Healthy + Effective > Injured + Effective > Injured + Not Effective. All three have tremendous upside, but all three come with major questions.
Lopez ranks above the last four starters for two reasons: health and major league innings. He also has the stuff to potentially outclass them, though that hasn’t translated into missed bats yet. Many tweets have been twote about his relative good fortune and imminent regression this year, but I see a starter who can touch 99 and is racking up major league experience while mostly avoiding the disastrous control problems that have foiled Giolito and Fulmer. With time, the stuff and results figure to come into alignment.
Madrigal is exactly what the organization needed from the 2018 draft: a high-floor hitter who can potentially contribute by 2020 and provides a contingency plan for several positions. It was also a welcome change to see the Sox draft the best player available by most analysts’ estimation.
Twenty-some games into his stateside career, Robert has been effective if not outstanding. It’s encouraging that he’s held his own at the plate, since looking completely lost was entirely within the realm of possibility and would have been a blow to the rebuild’s potential star power. The next step towards reaching his upside is to start showing some literal power.
Keen readers will note that Jose Valentin was not on the 2005 White Sox. However, Anderson is certainly his spiritual descendant as an unfairly maligned shortstop. I can’t for the life of me figure out why fans choose to harp on Anderson’s imperfections, when he has made great strides amid a sea of wretched baseball. (Well, maybe I can figure out why some of them do.)
In his last five months of baseball, Anderson has put up a .770 OPS while socking 21 homers and stealing 26 bases in 132 games. He continues to show excellent range in the field, and Fangraphs rates him as the 11th-best defensive shortstop in baseball this year, sandwiched between Didi Gregorious and Brandon Crawford. HE’S WALKING 7.5 PERCENT OF THE TIME.
Yet a low batting average and fielding miscues have overshadowed his overall productivity for many. AKA the Curse of Jose Valentin.
Here’s where we start getting to the real lynchpins of the rebuild. While some of the other pitchers on this list flash star potential, Kopech and Rodon are the only guys you’d currently feel comfortable projecting to start game one of a playoff series.
Kopech’s season has been slightly underwhelming, since he was held in the minors for service time reasons and subsequently hit an extended rough patch. But the stuff’s still there, so his ceiling remains sky-high, and he’s younger than many 2017 draftees.
I have Rodon slightly ahead of Kopech, if only because he’s a proven major leaguer. He looks like the same pitcher he was before shoulder surgery, which was most certainly not a given (see once again: Danks, John). His career-long inconsistency can be maddening, but with 400 innings under his belt it’s easy to forget that he’s young enough to still be on top prospect lists. His return to health takes a lot of pressure off the pitchers below him on the depth chart.
Despite all the other players on this list, the ultimate fate of the White Sox rebuild depends heavily on these two guys becoming stars. Luckily, both seem up for the challenge.
Since joining the Sox organization, Jimenez has done nothing but Crush It (sorry to co-opt the term, Zack Collins stans). The only conceivable reasons he’s not in leftfield for the Sox today are service time manipulation, an overabundance of organizational caution, or a weird obsession with Charlie Tilson’s small head. It’d be a crushing disappointment if he doesn’t hit in the majors, but only the most fatalistic White Sox fan would predict that happening based on his performance.
Moncada has been up-and-down in his first full big league season, showing a lively bat and excellent batting eye before going down with a quad injury, then struggling to get his timing back upon his return. His defensive lapses are less explicable, but also more easily remedied. I don’t expect him to keep booting grounders like he’s in my rec league – as frustrating as those mistakes are, they’re not long-term concerns. He still profiles as an All-Star.
There you have it, a comprehensive and infallible ranking of the White Sox’s young players. If you’re curious, these names make for a fairly tidy depth chart, signaling that perhaps the front office has some semblance of a plan.
My overall evaluation of where the rebuild currently stands: Positive individual developments at the major league level have been overshadowed by the team’s general awfulness, while injuries to the upper echelon of prospects are mostly offset by encouraging performances in the middle tier. The addition of Nick Madrigal to the depth chart is important, and is a good reminder that the players who will lead the next Sox playoff team are not all in the organization yet.
I think the rebuild is largely on the same path it was coming into the year. However you felt about it then is roughly how you should feel about it now, despite having to watch Trayce Thompson so much in the interim.