The White Sox are at least a year away — if they’re lucky — from making any prospect-for-veteran trades with the express purpose of improving the team for the task at hand. But there is one pocket in the White Sox organization where a trade from depth could provide short-term benefits before even factoring in the return.
The White Sox have a whole lot of outfielders around Winston-Salem and Birmingham. That’s a great problem to have, and a couple of injuries prevented the logjam from fully clogging the lanes in 2018.
Ironically, this might be the one area where a luckier season health-wise could create more complications developmentally.
If Micker Adolfo is ready for Opening Day and Luis Robert can stay healthy for the entirety of spring training, the Sox could have five prospects for four spots at Double-A, and that’s before accounting for older guys worth some consideration like Alex Call. There’s also Steele Walker potentially waiting in the wings as another left-handed collegiate hitter who hasn’t yet been eliminated from the center field conversation. I’m mentally assigning him to Winston-Salem for most of 2019 based on his performance this season, but if his inaugural struggles were mostly due to the oblique injury suffered late in the year at Oklahoma, I wouldn’t want to obstruct the rise of a second-round pick.
I could see the White Sox dealing from this cluster, whether to acquire a blocked, MLB-ready prospect at a position of need, or address a shortcoming somewhere else in the farm system. The question is which one, because a rebuild makes it easy to get attached to underpaid minor leaguers who haven’t done anybody dirty, and any trade that backfires would hurt the heart. Fortune favors the bold, though, and with the pitching depth getting ravaged by setbacks, the outfield depth is the one surplus the Sox can use to reallocate resources.
Here’s a rundown of the outfielders who could all be stuck at the same stage, and the cases for and against prioritizing them. Most of them are named “Luis.”
Why keep: He’s the most talented outfielder in the White Sox organization, figures to stick in center, and the White Sox have invested more than $50 million in him. If you’re bullish on him, he’ll get past this cluster of assorted-but-not-chronic injuries and start showing the true breadth of his game in 2019. Even if you’re bearish on him, trying to deal him before he gets a chance to show his skill set would set off all sorts of alarms.
Why trade: If you look at this latest hamstring injury and just see more of it in the future, trading him for 70 cents on the dollar is better than 30 cents.
Why keep: He posted an .800 OPS in a season evenly split between Winston-Salem and Birmingham as a 21-year-old, proving that his down year in 2017 was entirely attributable to a knee that needed addressing. He’s got an encouraging mix of power, speed and patience from a switch-hitter, and I haven’t seen anything about moving him to a corner. He has the cleanest path to Chicago of anybody in this group, especially if he makes the Sox feel comfortable about an early trip to Charlotte.
Why trade: The 27 percent strikeout rate is a career high for any season, although that’s partially a product of being young switch-hitter for the level. Also, he’s already on the 40-man roster and has two options left, so a bad year could complicate things.
Why keep: Finally started showing some of that first-round talent by posting a .293/.345/.436 line at Winston-Salem, hitting more homers in 2018 (seven) than his first 1½ years in pro ball (five). He’s a lefty with a good idea of the strike zone, and whose hit tool shows up against both righties and lefties. He has enough speed to cover center in a pinch for the time being. He’s probably another year away from regaining his previous stock, assuming the uptick in power follows him to Birmingham.
Why trade: His value hinges on continued improvement, because while that line represents progress, skepticism remains about the strength of his contact. His OPS was 100 points highest at home, so the jump to Regions Field in Birmingham will test his muscle. If his slugging percentage drops, there isn’t a compelling corner profile here.
Why keep: Outside of Fernando Tatis Jr., Adolfo is Marco Paddy’s greatest success story. He hit .282/.369/.464 as a 21-year-old even though a bad right elbow confined him to DHing for Winston-Salem. He made major strides in his strike-zone control while losing none of his power while advancing a level. Assuming he’s no worse for the wear after Tommy John surgery and can resume playing right field, I like his chances of making some noise. The surgery makes it difficult to get full value back now, anyway.
Why trade: The 27 percent strikeout rate represents major improvement, but it’s still a profile that could come up empty. Like Robert, if you fear his health record is going to throw him irrevocably off course, sooner is better than later regardless of timing. Like Basabe, he was added to the 40-man roster, so he’ll be down to one option after the season.
Why keep: He’s the argument for loosening the logjam, as he had to spend half the season punching below his weight class at Kannapolis. Still, he hit .300/.358/.491 there, then improved to .313/.376/.504 over 62 games at Winston-Salem. He turned 23 in September, so a season-starting assignment in Birmingham means he’ll have caught up age-wise. He’s clawed his way back into the pack as a lefty with on-base skills, some pop and a chance of sticking in center.
Why trade: He’s 23 and has yet to try Double-A, so he might be operating from a deficit when it comes to remaining development versus remaining projection. Also, unlike Rutherford, Robert and Adolfo, he’d be traded while his game is in full working order. If you believe in Walker’s ability to get going in his first full pro season, he might cover all the same ground while being a year younger.
It’s hard to know at this point what we have with these guys. I would hate to trade one now and then have them turn into Fernando Tatis. My plan would be to start Basabe and Call in AAA, and the other 4 in AA. Then after this season, when we see them for a full year at advanced levels, make a trade or two to acquire players for other spots.
None of them is turning into Tatis, who was 17 and hadn’t even made his rookie ball debut when he was traded. Huge difference in remaining upside between him (at the time) and any of these guys.
And just what is Tatis? We don’t know for sure. Everyone has him as a superstar and he hasn’t played a game in the majors. I think Robert probably has as much or more talent than Tatis and Luis Gonzalez hits wherever he goes. But with all these guys we won’t know until they get further along in their careers. It’s funny how everyone has Tatis labeled as a can’t miss, but so many have already given up on another can’t miss- Moncada.
Who is Tatis Jr.?
He is a pretty good SS (Premium position) that can hit (rare skill for a SS). He is just 19 yrs old. He will be a star.
Robert is 21….we don’t know if he will be a star yet. He has the tools to be one, but it will be nice to see him playing a little bit more often.
I say we try the all-Luis outfield, because I’m a sucker for gimmicks
I’d probably trade Rutherford out of any of them. He seems to have the least clear path to being an above-average major leaguer.
He’s also still ranked. I mean, I don’t think front offices make decisions based on that sort of thing, but I’d guess he’d been seen as a better “get” than anyone other than Robert or Adolfo.
I wonder if they could flip one for another OF – Clint Frazier? It would be nice to see some talent in the OF for the Sox this year. I assume Yanks will be looking for MLB pieces in return for Frazier, but maybe this is the alternative if they come up empty. They trade out of their short-term logjam for needed long-term assets, while we trade out of our long-term logjam for a needed short-term asset (though obviously Frazier could be one that sticks around).
I wonder if Adolfo or Rutherford alone could get it done? Or maybe even Yolmer + one of these guys (not Robert) would entice the Yanks more. His versatility would be appealing for them, I would imagine, especially given their defense at 3B currently.
Everything about Frazier looks tempting except for the head injuries. Basabe and Robert are the two who, health willing, look the most like they will be part of a good Sox team. I’m a little sad this article didn’t mention Luis Mieses so we could throw yet another Luis into the mix.
Yeah, it’s definitely a hesitancy. But I think it’s also what keeps his price down. It would be a risk, but it would be at least be a fun project to follow in 2019 that could really pay off.
Rutherford is the easy one for me. No power, limited speed which means likely relegated to a corner OF spot down the road. His name value is high too. Sell sell sell.
I don’t think his name means much anymore.
I think I’d just leave Robert in WS to start the season. Unlike the other four, Robert’s promotion would be more about pedigree than results. I’d rather leave him down for awhile until he’s 1) stayed healthy for a while and 2) produced results that show he’s no longer challenged by high-A.
Hopefully by the time he does that, Basabe will have put together a good enough season to move to Charlotte.
I suppose much of the “why keeps” are also why to consider trading them inasmuch as they speak to what the Sox would get in return. Is there anyone who stands out as a player that other teams may value more highly than the Sox?
I guess(for all we gave up) it would it be too much to ask to have more than one prospect to be genuinely excited about.
I disagree with the premise here. One of the most significant benefits of stockpiling minor league talent, even at the same position, is precisely because you don’t know which ones will turn out to be worthwhile big leaguers and which ones will bust, so you increase the odds you have a hit in your midst. While still in the rebuild phase, there’s simply not enough justification for the risk of trading away someone who could be that hit for a different unknowable prospect. (Different calculus when you’re competing and trading prospects for established big leaguers.) Attrition is coming for some of these guys, let that help sort things out.
Oh yeah? Well I disagree with YOUR premise, in the sense that getting ahead of attrition is sometimes worth the risk (see: Jake Peter).
Good point, That kind of proactive approach works for low-stakes cases like Peter. But I would hate to trade, for example, Blake Rutherford for a still-risky other prospect only to see Rutherford turn into a legit everyday player, the acquired guy do nothing, and Gonzalez/Basabe/Adolfo et. al. flame out.
The risk of a prospect turning into a legit Major League player needs to be attenuated by having great scouts….and there, the White Sox appear to have a weakness. But if the team have good scouts, and a trade needs to be made, they will provide input so the trade does not hurt the team.
I highly doubt the White Sox trade players thinking “what if he turns out to be a legit major league player” which sounds more like a guessing throw the dart decision making…I would like to think the White Sox are ahead of that…although Tatis Jr. still stings a lot.
I’m of the opinion there is no certainty which of Robert/Rutherford/Adolfo/Basabe/Gonzalez/Call/Walker will be major league starters, so I’m keeping them all until I find out (or trading them for an established one).
What if the other prospect turns out to be awesome and Rutherford sucks?
I may be misinformed but I believe 23 is young for AA. At ant rate, I’d be happy to trade Steel for say…. Sonny Gray.
But why trade a prospect for 1 yr (when the Sox won’t be competing) of Gray
Because we need a starter, have the money to spend, and might trade him at the deadline for something else.
I’d be for getting Gray but only if we have designs on making a run at this awful division.
If they chase Machado, and actually catch him, they have to make a run.
There are a lot of starters in the free agency, and plenty of budget room. Why trade a prospect for a 1 year player that can easily be signed?
Then I ask you, which of these “lot of starters” will you sign to a one year deal, that are worth a flying F… that you might compete with or trade for something at the deadline?
Next year, the Sox aren’t going to compete. They just need inning eaters while the organization continues to develop young arms and prepare to enter into the free agency for big tickets LATER when they compete.
James Shields just gave us 200 innings. He will be cheap on a 1 year contract. Wade Miley can be signed for 1 year. He is a reliable inning eater. JA Happ can be signed (he is probably a better pitcher than Sonny). Jeremy Hellickson. Matt Harvey, Marco Estrada, …even Bartolo Colon can be fun. All those pitchers only cost money.
So, maybe Migo? You complain about what they are feeding you, them order a shit sandwich.
They should sign Manny Machado!!! That’s where they should focus. All I see are players we will be wowed if the sneak close to a 3fWAR season. Contending teams need at least one 6+ fWAR player (hitters).
Machado makes sense for when the Sox think their contending window is…Sonny Gray? No. Gray is just another shit sandwich hidden with tasty condiments
You just want to sign crappy players so you can complain. And whine.
overpay for Harper, move Moncada to CF and use these guys as trade bait.
Although I wouldn’t be unhappy if the team signs Harper, Machado makes more sense.
The correct answer is both. Duh.
I like Harper better because left-handed power is a scarce commodity and using only Jimenez (with Moncada moving to CF) to fix the outfield leaves plenty of trade avenues open with the minor league stash.
As far as 3B goes sign Donaldson as a stopgap and take one with the third pick in the draft.
What are people’s thoughts on Odubel Herrera? Reportedly they are going to listen to offers.
He’s an OK buy-low candidate, although he’s buy-low for multiple reasons. I’d be wary of him having peaked already.
I’m keeping them all. Not trading Chris Young to keep Brian Anderson again
Didn’t need hindsight to identify Young as the better prospect, and the Sox wouldn’t have pressure to move the best guy for immediate help.
Fair enough, but with the same decision makers consider me skeptical!
Which is fair. This post is partially to assess risk tolerance before the Offseason Plan Project.
Please remember this is a rebuild third year. Why trade any of them until you see what you got. Jaun Soto was 19 and he could be rookie of the year. But if he was 28th the Sox he would probably be in low A ball. If you’re going to lose 100 games, give the kids a chance to get experience. In 2016 we needed a center fielder and second baseman, we got Big Game James. Now we need a manger and hitting coach and watch these kids have fun.
I don’t see Robert as part of AA jam as I see him still in Winston with a pretty long way to go:
AAA: Jiminez, Cordell, Tilson,Polo, Booker, Call. AA is Basabe, Rutherford, Gonzalez, Fisher. WINSTON is Robert, Adolfo. Kanny: Walker.
Believe Walker and Adolfo could merit promotion quickly.