It’s Prospect Week at Sox Machine.
Last year, I assessed the farm system with the way my brain naturally sorts it, categorizing by ascents, obstacles and lack of pro ball experience, among others.
The first group, defined by smooth and significant trajectories, struggled with turbulence last year. Five of the six prospects who came into 2018 with the most momentum hit major health snags to start, interrupt or end their seasons.
- Michael Kopech: Tommy John surgery
- Alec Hansen: Forearm issues
- Luis Robert: Thumb sprain, among others
- Dane Dunning: Elbow sprain
- Micker Adolfo: Tommy John surgery
Thanks to all the woes, there are only four players who enter the season with clear upward mobility this time around.
FULL SPEED AHEAD
Players who only have to prove their games hold up at the highest levels
Eloy Jimenez: The consensus top White Sox prospect could have been in the majors last July, so the only question here is how Rick Hahn will go about pretending Jimenez isn’t the best and most capable outfielder in their system come Opening Day. Hahn’s probably crossing his fingers that Jimenez tweaks a hamstring celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, which requires a rehab stint in Charlotte just long enough to require an honest-to-goodness two-week tuneup in Triple-A. Given Jimenez’s track record with minor injuries, it’s not a terrible bet.
Dylan Cease: Hansen made this part of the list last year after dominating both levels of A-ball and earning a promotion to Birmingham in his first full season, and then look what happened. It’s worth keeping Hansen in mind since both pitchers have had issues staying healthy. Cease powered his way into consensus top-50 status after running roughshod over the Carolina and Southern leagues. He posted a combined 2.40 ERA with 160 strikeouts to 135 baserunners over 124 innings, and his Birmingham stats were better than his Winston-Salem line.
He seems to have a better idea of what he’s doing with his delivery, and also what he’s supposed to be doing when it goes awry. One hopes that will enable him to get through the grinder after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014 and suffering shoulder fatigue in 2017. It doesn’t take many looks at his high-90s fastball and sharp-breaking curve to envision him starting games in Chicago after the All-Star break if this newfound durability is here to stay.
The players who cleared their biggest hurdle of 2018, with work remaining
Luis Basabe: At this time last year, it was a hope that an underwhelming first season in the White Sox organization could be pinned on a knee that required postseason surgery. After hitting .258/.354/.445 across a full, healthy season split between Winston-Salem and Birmingham, he’s back to being the prospect they thought they’d extracted from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale trade.
There’s a lot to like about Basabe, although one of them (switch-hitting) can contribute to a longer development track. He’s got 20-steal speed and 20-homer power, decent plate discipline, and he plays a legit center field. Right now, the biggest concern his that his walk and strikeout rates each veered the wrong way upon promotion to Double-A …
- Winston-Salem: 13.9% BB, 26.1% K
- Birmingham: 11.1% BB, 28.1% K
… with his production taking a mild turn for the worse as well. However, he finished the season with a flourish, hitting .317/.391/.467 with just 15 strikeouts over his last 16 games, which was around the time he turned 22.
That’s a very small sample, but there’s reason to feel better about the contact, if nothing else. He had six three-strikeout games in the month of July, but only one in August and September, which also happened to be his first game of the month. Perhaps he faced a greater percentage of recently promoted pitching, allowing him to punch in his weight class, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if a switch-hitter needed some time to iron out issues against higher competition.
The White Sox haven’t signed a real center fielder to usurp Adam Engel (Jon Jay doesn’t really count), so Basabe might be able to barge into the picture late in the season. This will be his second option year, so a call-up isn’t out of the question, as it gives everybody a sense of how much work lies ahead.
Luis Gonzalez: He’s done everything asked of him in his 1½ seasons in professional baseball. He owns a line of .283/.362/.447 with an 18 percent strikeout rate as an outfielder who hasn’t been kicked out of center yet. The problem is that he’s been in Kannapolis or lower for two-thirds of those plate appearances, the biggest victim of the Winston-Salem outfield logjam last season. That’s not his fault, but it makes it hard to staple “top prospect” status to him.
The good news? He hit even better after getting the call to Winston-Salem (.313/.376/.504, 16 percent K rate), and with Alex Call traded to Cleveland, there are fewer outfielders in the way of a smoother ascent. The lack of a carrying tool may eventually bite him if his contact quality lags at higher levels. Hitting left-handed makes him better suited to the fourth-outfielder lifestyle should that be his ceiling.
Coming Tuesday: Injuries. So many injuries.
I would really like to see Basabe up in August or September. Let him work out those major league jitters this year when competing is still unlikely.
Plus what little he gives up in range to Engel defensively he makes up for with that arm. With all the young pitchers finding their way it would really help for the Sox to have a defense that doesn’t allow runners to go 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home on every single.
Keith Law’s rankings of the best farms systems came up today, and it had the White Sox sitting at 13. He ranks the Twins and the Indians above us. Say what you will about Law, but for a team that sold many pieces, and has logged several “tank” years, that’s not the ranking I was expecting.
I still think this organization needs a big shake up, top to bottom.
I agree with your conclusion, but Law seems to be the lowest on this group of prospects of the major outlets. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.
The second sentence of this is the thing that most seem to miss. I’m disappointed with his list every cycle, but it would be nice if the Sox proved him wrong once in a while (Sale notwithstanding).
Since nobody else agrees with Keith, Maybe he’s wrong. After all, opinions aren’t facts.
Wait, they’re not?
I don’t take Law’s “opinions” lightly. He travels a lot. He sees the players, he has been in this business for years. Of course, I reckon imperfections on people assessing baseball skills, but I still take seriously analysis from informed people. I think the main reason the White Sox farm system has a lower score is injuries from some key players (Adolfo, Roberts, Kopech, Dunning, Hansen, Cease, Burger)
Yet, I cannot stop thinking that our far system is starting to age. Look at these names we have been proudly (past & present) displaying in our strong farm system:
Zack Collins => Almost 24
Hansen => 24
Dunning => 24
Burger => almost 23
Adolfo => quietly is already 22 and far from the majors
Some of those players are not near close to be major league ready, and their peak years are fast approaching. I wonder if time and injuries are slowly killing the White Sox farm system.
I still think it’s a strong farm, but I don’t think it’s a top 5, nor maybe top 10.
and the experts think you are wrong. maybe the Sox should only draft high school players, so they are younger.
Here’s a tip, find something real to worry about.
Not saying we should only draft high schoolers, but the Whit Merrifields do not happen often.
I am not that worried. Collins and Dunning will see major league time this year if they continue to play well. Hansen could rise back fast if he figures out whatever the hell is wrong with him. Burger lost a year, but if he plays well, he will rise fast. Adolfo is age appropriate at AA.
Law has thrown cold water on every single White Sox issue, so I would take his skepticism with a grain of salt.
Don’t forget he never liked Madrigal. Many “experts” felt he was the best player in the draft. Law denies his existence. Contradiction is his game.
law was also the only one ranking tatis before he blew up
Madrigal cannot be used as a proof against Law when he has not hit AA yet and was ostensibly bad in his short time in A ball last year.
I am a huge Madrigal guy too, just saying.
Collins “continuing to play well” would be a real surprise, since I’ve yet to see him start to play well.
This list you have here aren’t exactly the cream of the White Sox crop, though.
The Top 5 are where the White Sox stand out, and not many systems (maybe 1 or 2, if any?) have 2 players (Eloy and Robert) with elite upside and 2 pitchers (Kopech and Cease) with ace upside.
over the past 5-7 years, We are getting used to seeing elite prospects show up when they’re 22 or younger.
That said, its still very normal for a baseball player to reach the majors when they’re 24 or 25 and then be a good player. All the guys you listed save maybe Hansen are on track to reach the majors by the time they’re 25.
If the only purpose of prospect evaluators is to quibble over whether a guy should be ranked at X or 5 spots higher, then what’s the point of having more than one?
Keith Law does seem to be consistently different. Until someone can show me that his difference is systematically worse than other evaluators, I don’t think it’s grounds to dismiss his opinion, especially on a topic as difficult to predict as prospect forecasting.
It’s less surprising when you take into account his particular style. These guys each have their own personal beliefs/biases, and Law’s don’t line up particularly well with a lot of these prospects. He puts a bunch of stock in the loud tools and to a certain extent the “this is what they look like” mindset. You’re going to have a bunch of hits and misses doing this, but I don’t think it’s coincidence that Law’s higher profile misses (Sale, Pedroia, etc.) were guys that were physically or mechanically breaks from the norm. Given that, hard to be surprised where the rankings fell if Law sees somebody like Madrigal being a rich man’s David Eckstein and not some of the more optimistic takes.
I think a lot of the Sox prospects are high ceiling prospects too. It sound like you aren’t going to get a lot of praise for looking above average, but you can win a lot of games that way.
I didn’t really think his explanation held water, though. For starters, the White Sox have way more high end talent than the Twins, which gives them an automatic leg up. Then to act like there’s some sort of vast gulf between the top guys and the next tier is absurd in and of itself. Guys like Basabe, Gonzalez, Sheets, and others have plenty of ceiling and potential. I don’t think that the Twins 10-30 prospects are any better than ours by any stretch of the imagination, and certainly not in a manner that should rank them nine spots ahead!
Basabe, Collins, Hansen, and Rutherford all seem close to breaking the top 100 for the other evaluators. I haven’t read much of Law, but his perception of the Sox depth seems flawed. There are easily 10 prospects in the system with star potential.
collins and hansen are probably not particularly close to the top 100 in many publications
Collins is probably in the top-200 somewhere, and some might even have him top-125, but Hansen dropped completely off the map. There’s no sugar coating how damaging his 2018 campaign was to his value.
The Sox’ most obvious problem is what Jim addressed at the start and end of the post: injuries. They’ve had an excessive amount of attrition among players who should’ve been staking claims in the top 100. Collins’ struggles don’t help matters, either.
The other problem is a that’s good/that’s bad situation. The logjam in the low minors is a result of their recent drafts offering a college-aged infusion of talent. The new draft approach is good. Although it covers for an inability to develop high school players better than college coaches can, which is bad. But there’s a lot of talent there, which is good. But it’s piled up a long way from the majors, which is bad. The logjam should sort itself out soon–hopefully due to promotions because of success rather than more attrition–which is good.
They’ve got more 45+/50 FV guys in the system than at any other time in recent memory.
Even without the high draft pick, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of progress by this All-Star Break or next Spring Training. But it’s a short-term/near-term problem that they don’t already have more to show for what they’ve done. They’re going to have to spend to get over the hurdle.
I don’t have an ESPN+ subscription but I’ve read through Law’s rankings from the last few years. He seems to prioritize youth and health more than other evaluators (there are a lot of guys with minor injuries who he’s ranked much lower than other websites).
The fringe guys for the White Sox (the 5-15 org prospects) don’t really have these things on their side as you noted in your other comment.
*believe in Eloy though
Me to baseball: Shut up and deal….