Grouping the White Sox prospects: The big questions

The first three installments of Prospect Week covered roughly 30 White Sox prospects, to the degree that I had things to say about them.

Now let’s add 14 more by assessing the players who have one significant obstacle to conquer before they’re part of any bigger picture.

Zack Collins: Hit tool

Collins feels like the Faustian bargain to anybody who wanted the White Sox to spend a top draft pick on somebody with plate discipline already baked in. He led all of the minor leagues with 101 walks over 122 games, and he also tacked on 15 homers, a respectable showing in Birmingham. He’s also thrown out about 40 percent of baserunners over the last two years.

And yet there are serious doubts about whether he’ll stick in the majors. The chief flaw is that he’s never hit higher than .244 in any minor league season, which doesn’t bode well against MLB pitching. Yoan Moncada shows what it looks like — some strikeouts are due to terrible zones, and other are due to not driving hittable pitches earlier in at-bats. Moncada is a .230 hitter in the majors … but he was a .285 hitter in the minors, or 53 points higher than Collins’ .232 average over a comparable amount of plate appearances.

Collins’ receiving work has also been panned, a concern going all the way back to the draft. Going into another time share with Seby Zavala doesn’t seem like the answer if they want to make him a catcher.

The catching is a secondary concern, as nice as it would be. Whether first base or DH, the Sox have places to move him if he could ever develop into the bat-first prospect he was supposed to be all along. Keith Law says Collins has had “one of the most bizarre pro careers of any recent first-rounder I can remember” because of the way his obvious strengths are neutralized by glaring flaws. He could be unlocked into an effective player, but how?

Seby Zavala: Triple-A production

Zavala is Collins’ spiritual opposite in their climb up the ladder, because he doesn’t do anything especially well or poorly. He hits for some average, some power, takes some walks, strikes out some, and he’s adequate as a catcher. His work ethic and attention to detail has allowed him to beat the odds as a 12th-round pick thus far.

His rise hit a snag at Charlotte, as he hit just .242/.266/.357 with a uncharacteristic chasm between his walks (six) and strikeouts (45) over 192 plate appearances. He ran hot and cold, and the question is whether upper-level pitching or a wrist issue is more to blame. The documented physical issue in an otherwise durable history alleviates the immediate concern.

If he regains his form at Charlotte, then he has a career as a second catcher waiting for him. He has enough power to be a threat in the majors, but first he’ll have to threaten Triple-A pitching his second time around.

Blake Rutherford: Power

After a disappointing pro debut split between the Yankees’ and White Sox’ South Atlantic League affiliates, Rutherford showed some progress in Winston-Salem. His .293/.345/.436 line accurately reflects the improvements — the feel for hitting, the uptick in extra-base hits.

Plenty of work remains. He’s a corner outfielder — and probably a left fielder — so he’ll have to keep digging to get at that power, especially when he leaves Winston-Salem’s cozy ballpark for Birmingham’s expansive one. Law said it’s about his legs: “He makes plenty of contact but doesn’t use his lower half well, so the ball seems to go nowhere off his bat — it’s noticeably quiet even when he squares something up.”

Rutherford might be the reason the White Sox hired Matt Lisle to the newly minted role of hitting analytics instructor.

Gavin Sheets: Power

OK, Sheets might be another reason the White Sox hired Lisle. When you look at his build and his swing, you think “25 homers, easy.” Instead, he’s hit just 10 over his first 175 games, including six at Winston-Salem last season. The knocks on Rutherford’s power are well known, and Rutherford outslugged him.

If Sheets could somehow add 25-homer power without sacrificing anything from his approach, he’d be an All-Star. Even if he has to sacrifice something from his contact to enhance it, there’s soom room to give. He hit .293/.368/.407 with a 16 percent strikeout rate, so he might be comfortable enough to trade swings and misses for better contact. He said that he went through a transformation in his junior year at Wake Forest as he got the sense he could hit in Division I, so maybe another third-year leap is on the way

Kodi Medeiros: Role

Medeiros had a decent year in the Southern League, setting career bests in ERA (3.60), innings (138) and strikeouts (141). He also set a career high with 67 walks. He’s devastating against lefties, but a three-quarters slot is problematic against righties, and the walks might be the result of attempting to mitigate the long look those hitters get.

The White Sox have plenty of other bullpen lefties, so they can devote more time and resources to starting Medeiros if they’d like in hopes of maximizing their return from the Joakim Soria trade. Right now, such hopes would probably be in vain.

Jordan Stephens: Role

Stephens finally hit a wall in 2019. After succeeding with relative ease against younger competition at lower levels, Stephens had to work to get through five innings at Charlotte. He posted a 4.71 ERA at Triple-A, with his strikeout and walk rates narrowing and his low ground-ball rate biting him more frequently.

If he comes back a little wiser for the wear, he could end up snagging a few spot starts for the White Sox. But just like Medeiros, if the White Sox want to get more than adequate, occasional starts, a re-routing to the bullpen could be in order. The White Sox added him to the 40-man roster, so that suggests they have a plan in mind.

Bernardo Flores: Oomph

While teammate Dylan Cease absorbed most of the coverage in Winston-Salem and Birmingham, Flores carried a heavier workload. He threw 156 innings over his 25 starts between the two levels, and was highly effective in terms of run prevention (2.65 ERA).

Flores throws a lot of strikes (31 walks). He doesn’t miss a lot of bats (105 strikeouts). He’s got a kitchen sink approach he developed while surviving a big drop in velocity in 2017, so he’s shown an ability to adjust to the competition. The fastball is back into the low-90’s, and with life that reversed the slide in his grounder rate, increasing his margin for error. Lefty starters can get by in ways that righty starters can’t, and Flores will test those bounds.

Spencer Adams: Oomph

Adams is here to show you what Flores’ career looks like for a right-hander. He’s topped 150 innings in each of the last two seasons despite lagging strikeout rates, but it results in more walks, more homers and a higher ERA.

Adams had massive problems missing bats — the 11.3 percent strikeout rate is a big issue when it isn’t attached to a power sinker — and it doesn’t seem like he can gain velocity in shorter stints, so “crafty righty starter” seems like the only way he can get to the majors. The White Sox protected Stephens over Adams in the Rule 5 draft, which is one indication of which pitcher the club thinks can provide more value.

Lincoln Henzman: Track record

Henzman has a sinker, which alleviates some of the threat from the rather low strikeout total at Winston-Salem (80 over 107 innings). The White Sox’ fourth-round pick was also stretching out to starting after closing for Louisville in college, so getting deeper into games might’ve been his first priority.

It worked. He posted a 2.35 ERA over 27 games, and he probably could have thrown 120-130 innings if the Sox didn’t make the deliberate decision to govern his workload after a promotion to Winston-Salem.

His game plan seems clear — dependent on sinkers, allergic to walks — but we’ll get a much clearer idea on his path upward when he’s back to pitching without restrictions.

Laz Rivera: Plate discipline

Rivera’s a .309/.365/.471 hitter in pro ball since the White Sox selected him out of the University of Tampa in the 28th round in 2017. He’s been a little older than the competition the whole time, which is one caveat. He’s also drawn just 21 walks over 171 games, which is the larger one.

He’s an average-dependent player, and that average went from .346 in Kannapolis to .280 in Winston-Salem. He’s shown enough power to make the approach interesting, especially for a shortstop, but it’s one that has a hard time succeeding at higher levels. There’s no rush to judgment, because look at…

Danny Mendick: Chances

Before Rivera, Mendick was the older-than-the-level, third-day shortstop pick that forced his way onto radars. He’s still hanging in there, batting .247/.340/.395 with 14 homers and 20 steals during his age-24 season at Birmingham. He has no obvious weaknesses and plays all around the infield. The problem? He also doesn’t have a carrying tool, and the White Sox have two or three other utility infielders ahead of him with Yolmer Sanchez, Jose Rondon and Leury Garcia. It seems like his best opportunity will have to come elsewhere.

Luis Curbelo: Reps

Luis Curbelo, the Sox’ lone prep pick over the first two days of the 2016 draft, bounced back from a knee injury that wiped out his 2017 season by playing 83 games in Kannapolis.

The fact that he returned to regular action trumped his pedestrian production (.237/.282/.338), but now it’ll be time to show something. There should be more power in that profile, for starters.

An odd wrinkle: His defense smoothed out after going from third base (10 errors over 20 games) to shortstop (14 errors over 57 games).

Amado Nunez: Track record

Outside of Bryce Bush, Nunez might’ve been the biggest surprise for the White Sox in rookie ball. After three seasons of mediocre-at-best production, the 20-year-old Nunez hit .357/.394/.568 over 60 games at Great Falls.

There are major caveats, like the 15 walks to 71 strikeouts, and the potentially combustible combination of repeated exposure to low-level stateside pitching and an offense-friendly Pioneer League. He’s also slid down the defensive spectrum, from shortstop to third base to second base, and he also made eight appearances at first.

However, the White Sox did sign him for a $900,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2014, so maybe some of that initial talent is starting to come together. There will be more eyes on him in Kannapolis, so April and May should paint a clearer picture.

Corey Zangari: Health

One bad break followed another for Zangari. After losing all of 2017 to Tommy John surgery, he was limited to just 18 games in 2018 after a pitch broke his hand on July 20.

That pitch came in his second plate appearance in Kannapolis, which he reached after bashing his way out of Great Falls. Zangari hit .266/.329/.734 for the Voyagers. He pounded nine homers over just 17 games. He had more RBIs (22) than strikeouts (16).

Outside of a couple months of 2016, when he was overmatched as a 19-year-old in Kannapolis during the first half, Zangari has fared respectably when healthy. He just hasn’t been available.

Now 22, he’s still in a pretty good situation, even if he probably doesn’t have time for a Curbelo-like mulligan season. All the playing time in the world is available to him, as the Sox have no other first basemen of note in A-ball, and he’s also Rule 5 eligible after the season, so it’s in his interest to make the most of this third chance if his body will allow it.

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!
32 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Willardmarshall

Can we look forward to a midseason Obstacle Watch?

Patrick Nolan

Thanks, Jim. This looked like a lot of work for you, but it was a lot of fun to read.

Josh Nelson

Finally! A big move.

Lurker Laura

I trust nothing this offseason and will believe it when it happens.

zerobs

Would you believe Cleveland signed Dioner Navarro?

Lurker Laura

Somehow, yes. Because that’s how much this offseason makes sense.

GrinnellSteve

Even then, 40% of America still won’t believe it.

Josh Nelson

Done

roke1960

I would imagine now the Phillies will make a push for Harper or Machado. It’s time for the Sox to sign Manny now.

PauliePaulie

What do you think the Sox max offer to Machado should be?

roke1960

I’m thinking 7-8 years, $230-260Million with an opt out after 3-4 years would get it done.

PauliePaulie

I agree that should get it done. But if it doesn’t, what’s the max you think the Sox should offer?

roke1960

They should offer higher than anyone else, though I’m not sure they should go over $350 Million. Of course, that isn’t close to what he’s going to get. In other words, SIGN HIM already!

jorgefabregas

Hector Gomez says his source says they’re going to sign him, although Gomez didn’t provide any details (when and for how much) beyond that.

Right Size Wrong Shape

the highest one.

roke1960

Gomez is a pretty reliable source in the Latino community. My guess is this is very similar to JD Martinez last year. The Sox have the highest offer for Machado- he has decided he will sign with the Sox and now they are hammering out details of the contract. I sure hope that’s the case.

Neat_on_the_rocks

8 years 264M w/opt out after 4.

roke1960

Sounds about right.

PopeDonnPall

I really don’t see that Gomez gave any new info that he hasn’t been saying for a month. His source told him White Sox and then since it then when people

tweet things about the Sox and Machado, he posts responses like “According to my source, this will happen” but even in there he admitt he has new info. But then next thing you know Ryan McGuffy’s posting Googly Eyes and WhiteSox Dave has a whole blog about it suddenly the lastest non information is a story.

On the flip side, from Manny;s POV, the Phillies just added a big win now piece. We added Brandon Guyer. That can;t be lost on these guys. Sox hanging their hat on thr farn system only. Not sure about tht.

karkovice squad

Sox weren’t a match if Alfaro was the key to that deal. And giving up someone equivalent to Sanchez probably would’ve been a dealbreaker, anyway.

Trooper Galactus

Yeah, that’s basically Cease/Collins/Medeiros plus another pretty significant prospect to make up the gap between Collins and Alfaro (one of Rutherford, Adolfo, Gonzalez, or Basabe, I’d guess).

karkovice squad

There isn’t a way to make up the difference between “major league catcher” and “not-major league catcher” if Miami was set on the former. If they were set on major league talent in the first place the Sox were out in the cold.

Trooper Galactus

Agreed, I was just speculating that even from a straight value standpoint the White Sox would never meet that asking price.

PauliePaulie

PECOTA released.
Jose Abreu only Sox projected to contribute more than 1.9 WARP.

GrinnellSteve

FP

jorgefabregas

Nah, I’d rather bill him.

Marty34

So the season ticket holder single game presale is Monday. That’s earlier than I can ever remember. Guessing Machado signs with them early next week.

jorgefabregas

Now Marty’s optimistic too? What is happening?

MrStealYoBase

If Zack Collins does nothing but maintain his current level of play up to the majors you have a .230/.375/.425 catcher, with top 5 caught stealing rate but negative marks on framing and blocking numbers. 

That’s still easily a top 10 catcher in today’s game. Pair him with a defensive wizard to handle the wilder young guys and I’d say you have a better situation at catcher than 25/30 MLB teams.

karkovice squad

Omar Narvaez .275/.366/.429/122 wRC+

No longer a White Sox.

Trooper Galactus

And the one time I saw him on a top-10 list nothing was said of his godawful framing.

lil jimmy

or his complete lack of power. or his inability to drive in base runners. or all the passed balls. in no time at all, he will pass Flowers in fond false memories.