Keith Law isn’t a favorite among White Sox fans. He probably isn’t a favorite among a lot of fan bases because he holds opinions that sometimes run counter to the consensus, he holds them strongly, and unlike Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, there isn’t a committee to pull contrary takes closer to the mean.
He delivered such an opinion on Monday. In a world where most following the White Sox are comfortable with the idea that their organization has a top-five farm system, Law ranked it 13th.
Still the most top-heavy system among the top half of organizations, although a couple of years of college-oriented drafts have provided depth in players who should at least be big leaguers, albeit with limited ceilings. The emergence this year of Micker Adolfo, who had the best year of his career before the White Sox shut him down to get his elbow fixed, was the nicest surprise, but the system could still use more starters who project as more than No. 5s. I found it harder to get to 20 names I felt strongly about than I do for most systems above the median.
Law is the outlier right now. He’s been wrong before, as has everybody. However, there is a non-zero chance that the White Sox could be on the outside looking in when the game of Rebuilding Musical Chairs comes to a halt, or that they’ll have to revert to finding players outside the organization to augment a limited crop of internal solutions. The skeptical read on the farm system would be how it happens.
Also: Injuries. Lots and lots of injuries to key players. That’s the most direct line to disappointment, and the White Sox had a heaping helping of them in 2018.
Every rebuild is a little bit like a rocket launch, with pieces of it coming off in flight as their usefulness to the mission comes to an end. This analogy also hits a limit, at least in real time. Unlike a rocket launch, those booster engines can sometimes come back into service. If the Sox get half these guys back on track without any other considerable losses, the depth is back on track. Another rough year, and we might need Jim Lovell to return to the broadcast for tips and tricks.
*Onward and upward
*When injuries interfered
*2018 draft picks and relievers
*The big questions
The onslaught attacked the White Sox’ top 10 from the start of spring training and didn’t relent until it claimed ..
Michael Kopech: Tommy John surgery
Even before the torn UCL came into play, Kopech had a year full of the non-linear development for which Rick Hahn regularly issues caution. He came out firing in April, sank into a professional and personal funk in May, and didn’t fully emerge from it until mid-July. However, the guy that came out of that morass was one who simply stopped issuing walks, and after stringing seven sturdy-to-outstanding starts with Charlotte, he made his long-awaited MLB debut.
Because White Sox fans couldn’t have nice things, Kopech was only able to show his goods in one of four starts. Two others were shortened by rain delay, and the final one was hampered by a lack of stuff. Kopech’s velocity was down all night, and it was more than a dead arm.
If Kopech returns to full power, he’s got enough of what he was lacking — control and confidence with the changeup — to be a full-fledged starting pitcher, with a shot at acedom. Even if Law is a Pierce Downer on the Sox farm system, he was Kopech’s biggest booster last season and still has him at No. 20.
But that can’t be assumed, because the Sox have a couple guys who haven’t yet returned to their pre-TJS heights. Lucas Giolito is one, and another is …
Zack Burdi: Tommy John surgery
Speaking of the surgery and Pierce Downer, Burdi underwent the knife in July 2017, and returned to action a little over a year later in the Arizona Rookie League. His velocity didn’t come with him. He spent time in both Arizona’s Fire League and Fall League getting back into regular work, but his fastball sat 93-95 mph, as opposed to his 98-101 days with Louisville and his first year in the system. The White Sox shut him down before the close of fall ball due to general fatigue, although Rick Hahn tried to head off panic at the pass.
Even before the surgery, Burdi faced milder concerns about his durability. He didn’t pitch on consecutive days in 2016, and he got rocked the one time he tried it in 2017. That remains something to solve, but his velocity is the first point of order. He wasn’t invited to major-league camp in spring training, so I expect the White Sox to treat him with caution in spring training, maybe shielding him from prying eyes and radar guns.
Micker Adolfo: Tommy John surgery
Adolfo tore his UCL in spring training, and imagine the disappointment if he succumbed to surgery right then and there, especially with Jake Burger right on his heels with an exploding one of his own.
Fortunately, the elbow issue didn’t affect Adolfo’s hitting, and not wanting to waste a year of development after making strides in 2017, Adolfo soldiered through it as Winston-Salem’s DH.
It was worth it. Adolfo hit .282/.369/.464, contributing 18 doubles and 11 homers over 79 games in his first exposure to High-A pitching. More crucial to his cause, his progress with plate discipline picked up where it left off the year before:
- 2017: 6.6% BB, 31.5% K
- 2018: 10.1% BB, 27.4% K
That’ll play, especially with his ability to make hard contact to all fields.
The elbow couldn’t play. The White Sox tested his arm in July in an attempt to get him on the field, and it failed. That was the second-best outcome. Obviously, everybody would’ve been happiest had Adolfo not required surgery, but surgery in July is better than surgery this month or the next. He hopes to be able to open the season as a DH and return to the field at some point midseason.
Once he’s back, then his attention will turn to staying off the DL for other reasons. His development was previously stunted by a series of injuries, the most severe one being a broken ankle on a slide at home plate. The guy gets hit by a lot of pitches, so danger is never far away.
Dane Dunning: Elbow sprain
With Kopech throwing 100, Dylan Cease already repaired once and Alec Hansen having his own history of arm issues in Oklahoma, Dunning was supposed to be the safe one. Indeed, he continued his track of low-maintenance excellence over his first 15 starts, the first four of which he was overqualified for at Winston-Salem.
Birmingham posed some initial challenges, as Dunning struggled to get to the sixth inning with his usual regularity, and averaged a walk every other inning. Perhaps aided by an arsenal designed to dominate the Chattanooga Lookouts, Dunning started getting his peripherals back in line, racking up 34 strikeouts to four walks over his next four starts.
And then on June 23, he departed a game against Montgomery in the fourth inning with elbow injury.
Dunning didn’t appear in a game the rest of the season, although he did surface in Arizona after the season and felt fine after instructional league. He’s supposed to start the season in Birmingham, although he, too, wasn’t invited to big-league camp as a way to let him get into gear on his own schedule.
The elbow injury sapped some enthusiasm, as he’s been a divisive prospect on top-100 lists. When he’s healthy, he might be a No. 3 starter, but he needs all the power he has to be a difference-maker.
One key point in his favor: After giving up 15 homers over 118 innings in 2017, he allowed just two over 86 innings in 2018, and none in Double-A. Birmingham’s larger stadium has something to do with it, but a better sinker probably can stake equal claim.
Luis Robert: Sprained thumb, other stuff
Robert made better use of the Arizona Fall League than anybody else, as it gave White Sox fans and league scouts an extended chance to see what he looks like when he’s in rhythm, although hamstring tightness took him out of action for a spell.
Regular playing time eluded Robert during the regular season, just like it did in 2017. He missed the second half of spring training after spraining his thumb sliding into second base, and he aggravated the injury making a catch at the wall at the end of June. In between and around the injuries, he posted a pedestrian .269/.333/.360 line over 50 games, with diminishing returns from rookie ball to Kannapolis to Winston-Salem.
It wasn’t until fall ball — specifically the second half — that Robert showcased the breadth of his skills. After settling for singles early, the extra-base power, outstanding speed and high motor emerged over the course of the season. He finished the slate hitting .324/.367/.432 with two homers, two doubles, five walks and 13 strikeouts over 79 plate appearances. He stole five bases in five attempts.
Robert brings concern about his pitch recognition and a swing that could be exploitable, but some of that is attributable to his extended absences. With regular playing time, everybody should have a better idea which of his shortcomings are inherent and require refining, as opposed to flaws that stem from trying to make up for lost time. Playing 100-plus games is his chief objective for 2019.
Alec Hansen: Forearm issues, malware
Another victim of spring training, Hansen positioned himself to be one of the prime attractions at Camelback Ranch. The 6-foot-9-inch righty harnessed all his physical potential during a dominating season across A-ball in 2017, putting a 2018 major-league debut well within reach.
Then he only made one Cactus League appearance before being shut down with forearm soreness.
Hahn downplayed the injury by saying, “Everything is fine with Alec,” but the rest of the season undermined that notion. Hansen didn’t get into another recorded game until mid-June, and when he did pitch, he pitched poorly, whether at Birmigham or Winston-Salem.
Regardless of the level, Hansen’s line included more walks than innings pitched:
- Birmingham: 9 GS, 35.2 IP, 30 H, 30 R, 42 BB, 35 K
- Winston-Salem: 5 GS, 15.2 IP, 14 H, 10 R, 17 BB, 20 K
The performance sent him spiraling off top-100 lists. It speaks for itself, but also it speaks for the past. The Sox said Hansen’s forearm issues were something he dealt with in high school, and Hansen’s season resembled his junior year at Oklahoma, which sent his draft stock tumbling from a 1-1 candidate to the second round.
The hope is that it’s just a lost year, and the 14 starts he made, while terrible, are better than making no starts at all. The mechanics of tall pitchers can get out of whack, and it’s not like Winston-Salem pitching coach Matt Zaleski can use scaffolding to restore him. Fingers crossed, he has a healthier spring this time around, maintains a strong routine and enters the season with all his keys intact.
Should Hansen restore and maintain his 2017 form, it’ll still be hard to shake how quickly everything went sideways for him. However, as long as he’s not the most significant factor for the success of the White Sox rebuild, the Sox will be happy to weather uncertainty after the year he had.
Jake Burger: Ruptured achilles, ruptured achilles
The granddaddy of them all, Burger’s injury foreshadowed the year to come when he collapsed in a heap short of first base on Feb. 26.
It looked like a ruptured Achilles tendon, and the Sox confirmed it a day later.
Losing the entire season would’ve been bad enough, but Burger also lost half of 2019 when he reinjured the same tendon walking in his backyard. He had another procedure, and now June 1 is his target date for returning to game action.
Burger entered spring training as one of the prospects to watch, less for his first-round pick status and more for the way he attacked his shortcomings during the offseason. He took measures to improve what scouts would call a “bad body,” and tweaked his swing to lift the ball after so too many grounders hampered his production in Kannapolis.
He flashed a little of both in his first game, rumbling for a triple in his first game and making a fine play behind third base. Then one of his wheels blew out, and he’ll be starting over, whenever he can get back to starting.
Burger isn’t a lost cause, but unlike Hansen’s 14 ugly starts, there’s no positive way to spin losing 1½ years of development time. Specific to Burger’s situation, he was already going to have to fight to stick at third base, and now he’s coming off two injuries threatening to deplete his athleticism further. There’s some solace in the fact that nobody has questioned his makeup or work ethic, so while the circumstances make it impossible to count on him, it’s also premature to count him out.
Kade McClure: Knee surgery
Jimmy Lambert: Strained oblique
When Law says that he sees a shortage of starters who project as more than No. 5s, McClure and Lambert represent that murky gray area. They’re built differently — McClure’s got five inches and 60 pounds on Lambert, who is listed at 6-2, 170 — but they’re both right-handed second-day draft picks who were more highly regarded for control than power.
Also, both pitchers suffered injuries that made distinguishing themselves more difficult. McClure twisted his knee trying to field a batted ball, and ended up having surgery akin to an ACL repair. His first full pro season ended after eight encouraging starts in Kannapolis.
Lambert, drafted in the fifth round in 2016, needed a second pro season to make a statement. He found a way to miss bats, even against higher levels of competition.
- 2017: 150 IP, 163 H, 40 BB, 102 K
- 2018: 95.2 IP, 77 H, 27 BB, 110 K
That’s a 75-percent jump in his strikeout rate, at no cost to his other peripherals. Lambert climbed the ladder by climbing the ladder, ditching his sinker and slider in favor of a four-seamer/curve combo, with an improved changeup for good measure. He had no problems handling the jump to Birmingham, at least through five starts, further redefining what had been a pitchability-based draft-day profile.
Then he strained his oblique, putting a damper on what was otherwise a breakout season.
Had Lambert been able to throw another 50 innings to position himself for a season-opening assignment in Charlotte, perhaps he’d represent pitching depth that offered more than spot starts in the minds of those like Law’s.
At least there’s a fresh year ahead for Lambert to pick up where he left off, especially since his injury doesn’t involve his arm or legs. When looking at it that way, Lambert can count himself lucky in a farm system that ended up on the unfortunate side of events with alarming frequency.
Coming Wednesday: New guys and relievers
That’s great, Jim, but can you put a little number next to each one so that we can have something to argue about and nitpick?
I think that comes in the next series, Groping The White Sox Prospects
I triple-check for that every time.
I suffer from the same ailment as Luis Robert. Stuff. And not just “Stuff”, but stuff and things.
Better stuff and things than malware.
The Rick Grimes school of baseball analysis.
I did not know about Pierce Downer until today. Come for the baseball, stay to learn about Downers Grove. (Apostrophe free since 1873!)
Painful, but good heel humor, Jim.
Re: Keith Law. The worry about a system’s depth, and the subsequent knocking a system for it, seems odd to me. Sure, depth is preferable to non-depth. But wouldn’t having a few high caliber prospects be rather easily preferable to depth, generally speaking?
I haven’t seen Law’s list, but I assume even by his own rankings the White Sox far exceed the Indians in terms of top-tier talent. Presumably, then, he rates the Indians above the White Sox based on their depth, but how is this not an objectively terrible way to rate systems? I don’t have the data in front of me, but I would assume the top 3-5 prospects in a teams system each year make up the lion’s share of future value/worth to a team. So why would a team’s top 3-5 prospects not make up the lion’s share of weight when comparing teams?
Maybe asked another way: isn’t there a good chance – even assuming Law’s evaluations of them – that Eloy/Kopech/Cease/Robert/Madrigal alone produce more WAR in the Majors than the Indians entire minor league system?
^^^^^ 10000% – Give me a few high end over a bunch of above average any day of the week and twice on sunday
The weird thing with his ranking is the double standard involving this.
He says he ranks the Whitesox lower due to a lack of depth, saying they have a great top of the farm system but not much behind that. Then at the same time, he says there is actually depth, but its in high floor low ceiling type guys?
Pick a side Keith. There is not a single team in baseball that has 20 guys with star potential.
@Neat_on_the_rocks I don’t see a double standard. All depth isn’t created equal, and he’d rather have ceiling than floor. To compare it to the Indians’ system, he says they have a load of rookie-league talent he likes. Because the Sox emphasize college in the draft and have been in the international penalty box, they don’t compare when it comes to 20-and-under players.
At a time when 1 WAR guys are getting minor-league contracts, there’s a decent argument for placing more emphasis on projectability than which guys can crack an active roster in September.
Yeah, but I don’t think the Sox prospects are 1 WAR players. I think a lot will end up like Tim Anderson, a player with a lot of above average production in his position who may not crack stardom. Basabe, Rutherford, Dunning, and Collins seem like they are on that path, which is just fine. The bullpen is the same. Hamilton, Farare, Ruiz, and Burdi may not end up as stars, but their stuff will play even if they just end up as above league average. You can make the playoffs and go far with a team with a lot of 2-3 WAR position players and starting pitchers and ~1 WAR bullpen help. Plus, they probably have enough of a critical mass that there will be one or two players that surprise projections and end up as stars. I think they still need Moncada, Jimenez, and Kopech to be stars and Robert and Cease to approach stardom to be successful. The rest I am not that worried about.
The notable prospects behind Madrigal & Robert are 40-50 FV players right now. (And again, some of that is because of injury and other setbacks among players who might otherwise have graded higher.) Getting more than 3 WAR total from any of them would be a good outcome.
2/3rds of them will probably be busts. And fewer than 1 in 10 will come close to averaging 2 WAR per year in the majors.
I don’t know. I guess I have more faith that the Sox second tier guys will be adequate everyday ballplayers than Fangraphs or whoever does.
We’re not talking about second tier guys. Those are Kopech and, depending on who’s doing the grading, maybe Cease and Madrigal. Their 3rd tier is Robert. Their 4th tier is Dunning and maybe a few guys like Basabe, Adolfo, and Rutherford.
We’re talking about the 5th tier and beyond.
Which is why what you’re advocating for requires an act of faith.
I don’t know if it is all faith. Collins, Rutherford, and Hansen have been in top 100 lists before. Hansen dropped out by performance, and Collins because of so-so performance. Rutherford played well at Winston Salem. Everyone knew his power would come later. I think Rutherford dropped out because of lack of excitement. These writers have to have some turn over in the list year to year. But Rutherford is on the same track as his projection.
The Sox system has a lot of floor talent to me. I think 1-15 or 20 might not have as many stars, but they can convert a good number of them into major league players with some value even if many are league average or slightly above league average. It is just an opinion, but really everything is just an opinion about prospects.
Take another look at the bust and success rates. Those are for exactly the kind of players we’re talking about. Rutherford and Collins were in the top 100, yes, but not the very top. Once you get past the top 30, maybe top 50, you’re looking at those probabilities.
The talent gap from 1 to 25 is bigger than the gap from 50 to 100
And even if the Sox had the toolsy, high-ceiling talent we still wouldn’t have much confidence they could convert it to skills. We’re still a ways away from Adolfo and Robert definitively showing the Sox have improved in that area.
He must have loved the farm system before Hostetler then.
Well, no. Because their toolsy players found their floor more often than their ceiling then.
But moving to the middle of his rankings by outsourcing development to college coaches through the draft still represents improvement.
Thanks for this…that’s a lot of injuries, but I feel better now as many of the injured guys are in the way to return which should be very nice.
I take Law’s comments as an unwarranted offense to our Zangari, Sosa, Bush, Curbelo, and Nunez. I will not stand for this type of blasphemy. Those are 5 future studs and if he doesn’t see it well then he isn’t a very good scout.
That McClure article is interesting because I would not describe an MPFL reconstruction as “…essentially the same as an ACL surgery.”. Yes they’re both knee ligaments and yes you use a graft to reconstruct each of them but an ACL tear is a much more dysfunctional injury to the knee than an MPFL tear is. The recovery is a lot more challenging afterwards as well.
He’s likely paraphrasing what people have told him given that probably neither him or the reporter have much of a background with knee injuries.
I almost forgot about McClure. I remember him from “Today we kill, tomorrow we die” and “Gladys the Groovy Mule”.
“Locker Room Towel Fight: The Blinding of Larry Driscoll.”
“Fireworks: The Silent Killer”
I was always a fan of David vs. Super Goliath and P is for Psycho.
Don’t forget “Two minus Three equals negative Fun”
Personal favorite “Earwigs, Ew !!!” And “Man vs Nature: The Road to Victory”.
I forgot about Man vs Nature. That’s a good one.
I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned “Dial M for Muderousness” and “The Erotic Adventures of Hercules”.
It’s my favorite, just ahead of “Smoke Yourself Thin!”
I think “They Came to Burgle Carnegie Hall” was how I learned “burgle” was a verb.
The farm system would benefit from adding several more players like Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, who is celebrating his 85th birthday today.
Happy birthday, Hank!
As opposed to adequate Segui.
Or above average Segura.
What stands out is, because of the injuries & Collins’ woes, without all the players the Sox acquires in trades the farm system would probably be on the border between the bottom and middle 1/3rd of the league. It’d look a lot like when Rodon and Anderson were headliners and then a gap to everyone else.
Ah, the good ole days when Trey Michalczewski was the White Sox #5 rated prospect.
Still better than the days when Erik Johnson and Addison Reed topped the lists.
I think Nestor Molina once peaked higher
Will A J Puckett be ready by spring training?
Keith Law is the perfect Sox fan. Only look at the negative,not the positive.We’ll see what happens.I think the out look is better than some say.Hoping Kopech can come back healthy and realize that throwing 105 MPH is nice, but getting outs consistently is the objective in the big leagues.
You do realize that there is actual statistics that show the higher the velocity, the more likely to get the out?
All I know is that this team has never had so much depth in the outfield or relief. How many #1 pitchers is Law expecting a team to have? Would he have considered Buehrle a great prospect? In addition to hard throwers Rodon, Lopez, Kopech and Cease, I like having pitchers that offer a different look ala Dunning, Flores, Lambert, Stiever, McClure, Guererro, (hopefully) Hansen, etc. to battle for a spot or two in the rotation.
I find it interesting Law’s complaint is that the Sox system lacks high ceiling guys, and instead has been drafted high floor with “limited ceiling” college guys; when just a year and a half ago Dave Cameron made the opposite complaint that the prospects the Sox were targeting in trades were too high ceiling, high risk type prospects.
Also, I think what both are saying can be true, but not necessarily a negative as they make it out to be. I think both can be good ways to obtain the farm system they wanted, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the player development.
There’s no real contradiction there. They’ve traded for high-ceiling, low-floor guys and drafted low-ceiling, high-floor guys
Good teams have a combination of both on them.
The Sox were in trouble last time because they didnt have the average regulars coming from the farm so they had to spend for them.
If they can save their resources on premium talent and fill in average DH holes with a burger or Collins then they are doing it right
The contradiction is Cameron’s piece ignores the draft strategy and Law’s piece is too focused on his grading of the 45 FV prospects, which is a dumb way to evaluate a farm system.