2020’s weirdness makes 2021 White Sox prospect rankings, roles hard to grasp

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Chicago White Sox pitcher Garrett Crochet (45) gets set to throw during a Major League Baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs on September 26, 2020, at Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago, IL.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

I learned a fact this weekend that surprised the hell out of me: Christmas is less than a week away. That’s crazy.

It’s hard to use the scientific method to determine why this caught me off guard, because moving south generates an extra variable outside the pandemic. If I were still in New York’s Capital Region like I had been the previous 15 winters, I’d have dug out from under two feet of snow this week. Instead, this month marked the first time I listened to holiday music while mowing the lawn. I keep waiting for the cold, and 40s might be it.

That’s probably a part of it, but I’m guessing the pandemic’s flattening of time takes care of the lion’s share of my confusion. Two purchases took care my shopping. There were no vacations to arrange. In terms of the head count in the house, Dec. 24 and Dec. 25 will look like June 17 and Aug. 4 and Nov. 23 in my house. What was I doing on those days? I didn’t look it up, but whatever it was, guests weren’t involved.

We’re in the throes of prospect season, and what’s normally a most wonderful time of the year suffers from that same context loss. Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America posted their top-10 prospect lists over the past few weeks, and FanGraphs joined them a couple days ago with Eric Longenhagen’s top 32 prospects, which pushes us to the halfway point of the season. There’s a general agreement over the top five spots — especially after the Lance Lynn trade brought about Dane Dunning’s departure — and then chaos reigns.

BProBAFG
Nick MadrigalAndrew VaughnAndrew Vaughn
Andrew VaughnMichael KopechMichael Kopech
Garrett CrochetNick MadrigalNick Madrigal
Michael KopechDane DunningGarrett Crochet
Dane DunningGarrett CrochetJared Kelley
Jared KelleyJared KelleyZack Burdi
Jonathan StieverMatthew ThompsonBenyamin Bailey
Andrew DalquistJonathan StieverJose Rodriguez
Codi HeuerAndrew DalquistMicker Adolfo
Avery WeemsLuis GonzálezMatthew Thompson
(Heuer was not traded, but he exceeded his rookie eligibility with his 2020 playing time.)

Longenhagen’s list looks loose by comparison. Burdi shot up from 13th to sixth year over year, while Stiever slid from sixth to 12th. On one hand, Burdi’s stuff regained more of its former potency, while Stiever’s fastball lacked pop. On the other, both were worked over by Central division hitters. At least they both pitched in real competition. We didn’t see four of the other top 11 pitchers in any traditional professional environment this year.

What do you do with all that? I’m still working on that part, mostly because beyond the 2020-specific vagaries, it’s unclear what kind of start awaits most of these players in 2021. Minor League Baseball’s new order hasn’t yet been established, and even when the affiliates are finalized, there’s the matter of spring training being potentially impossible in its traditional form, and minor league baseball being nonviable without fans in attendance under the standard business model.

I have the same ambivalence to discussions about Garrett Crochet’s future. On the White Sox Talk podcast, Ethan Katz gave his impressions of Crochet, as well as an injury update (he’s healthy and throwing). What he didn’t reveal was a role:

“He’s dedicated himself. He’s in Arizona, full time. He’s preparing, getting ready for the season. He’s throwing right now, everything’s feeling good. He’s going to be a big part of what we do next year. It’s exciting. What he did from (being) drafted to showing up in the big leagues and complete dominance, not normal. Not normal. And the stuff’s not normal, either. The mentality behind the stuff is definitely off the charts.”

In Longenhagen’s write-up of Crochet, he said that teams focusing on Crochet’s college data thought he was “one of the few pitchers available who might pitch at the top of a rotation or the back of a bullpen.” After watching his brief time in Chicago, Longenhagen leans more toward the latter:

He pitched six innings in five relief appearances, walked no one (though he was pretty wild if you put on the tape), allowed just three hits and no runs, and struck out eight big leaguers. He made the White Sox playoff roster but left his first career postseason outing with a flexor strain, which ended his season. He’s healthy now, training and throwing at the team’s complex in Arizona. Because he barely threw in 2020, he’s likely to be on a strict innings limit in 2021. The club is going to try to thread the needle here and use Crochet in a relief role while still trying to develop him as a long-term starter. Players in this situation tend to wind up in the bullpen, and that’s where I have Crochet projected based on his strike-throwing limitations, independent of his shortened developmental timeline.

For an extra point of data, Keith Law was asked about Crochet in his Friday afternoon chat:

ffballmaster: Do you think Gerrit Crochet has top of the rotation potential or ends up as a high end bullpen arm?  Impressive debut but not sure how you’d rank him among some of the other draftees like Meyer and Lacy.

Keith Law: Bullpen guy. Basically a one-pitch guy in college, with control issues and trouble staying healthy. That’s a lot to fix to make him a starter.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Law revises Crochet to a two-pitch guy after reviewing Crochet’s full body of work in 2020. If he doesn’t, I’m tempted to liken the improvement in Crochet’s slider to the way Chris Sale quickly rendered Law’s draft day scouting report outdated. But after Carlos Rodón fizzled and Carson Fulmer flopped, I’m less inclined to draw direct comparisons to Sale, because that was 10 years ago, and the White Sox haven’t made a habit out of beating the reports since.

It feels rash to rule out starting for Crochet, especially if we could say something like, “He’ll be the Opening Day starter in Winston-Salem.” For a different reason, it feels rash to pencil him into the White Sox bullpen because of something he told Scott Merkin in November.

In his first comments since that playoff loss, Crochet spoke to MLB.com about feeling soreness even before the left forearm tightness arose in Game 3. He still wanted to push through, including that final appearance of 2020.

“I was kind of sore just like leading up to the game,” Crochet said. “I felt like I just hadn’t been recovering well because I felt like I was thrown into the mix pretty quick and tried not to really speak out of turn. I didn’t want to feel like they were going to have somebody else do my job. So that was a little selfish on my part, not really speaking up a little bit more.

“It was kind of a quick trigger. As soon as they got out there, it was already known I was coming out of the game. There really wasn’t anything I could have said to stay in. I like to think I could have but after the diagnosis, I’m glad that I didn’t. They definitely made the right call doing what they did.”

This is immaturity of the physical and emotional kind, although not in a way that reflected poorly on him. He pitched six times as many games in the majors than he did in college this past summer, with no minor league experience in between. The last of those games was the franchise’s tensest situation in more than a decade. He blew away all reasonable expectations, and I can’t blame him if his body and mind didn’t react to the sudden burden in the most polished way.

It brought to mind the rise and fall of Rodón, who managed to survive his rookie season without a firm idea of a five-day routine, but struggled to sustain availability after his sophomore year. Fulmer suffered from a more exaggerated form of this phenomenon, as the White Sox rushed him to the majors before all parties involved had settled on how, what and when they wanted him to throw.

Whatever role the White Sox choose for Crochet, I just want them to prepare him physically for it, with the brain in tow. I can see the club’s best-laid plans thrown awry by incomplete camps and delayed starts, so if they think full-time MLB bullpen work is the stablest way to ready him for a career-high workload, I’ll have a hard time finding fault. If the minors start on time, the Sox have bullpen arms to spare and the White Sox have the luxury of letting him resume a five-day schedule, that’s terrific too. Whatever happens, I just want the Sox to have safeguards in place where previous attempts at fast-tracking were derailed.

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

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knoxfire30

Keith law missing a 70 grade slider feels about right.

Sox should put Kopech and Crochett on roughly the same path, get them 20 or so starts of about 5 or 6 innings (100-120 total innings) in the minors then for the playoff drive have them come up for September and October and work out of the pen adding maybe 10-15 mlb innings each. This gives the sox a lights out bullpen and keeps their inning totals somewhat in check while evaluating if they can be front line starters or fit better as bullpen weapons.

Lynn is under control for 1 more year, Keuchel only 2, the sox have no clue what they have in cease, stiever, lambert, lopez, and its unlikely any of them become more then back end rotation guys but we will know more as 2021 takes shape. The big hole in the system moving forward is gonna be front line playoff caliber starting pitchers so I would exhaust all chances on Kopech and Crochett becoming that.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I agree completely with Crochet. With Kopech, I really don’t think he’s going to need that much time to reestablish himself I realize it’s been a long time since he’s pitched competitively, but it’s also been a long time since he’s been injured. He looked pretty darn healthy to me during Spring Training (albeit 1 inning), and that was a long time ago. I think they’ll give him a little time to get the rust knocked off (gain back a year of service time), and he’ll be making an impact on the rotation in short order.

knoxfire30

Kopech does seem much more likely to quickly see MLB innings, but my thought is if the sox add another vet starter the roster log jam puts Kopech in the minors. Let alone if they add Hendrix or a closer which burns another bullpen spot too. Usually these things work themselves out via injury or a starter being ineffective but if they externally add two more arms Kopech may be given a longer minor league transition then initially planned.

metasox

I would like to see Crochet get that starter opportunity (assuming the Minors schedule allows it), but I wonder if the Sox would consider even that workload of 100 plus innings to be too much.

lifelongjd

This is a pretty critical year for our pitching plans. The initial guys that the FO gave an opportunity didn’t pan out, save for Giolito. Rodon, Lopez, and Fulmer have not fulfilled the vision so now it’s onto the second wave. Cease and Kopech have a ton of talent and easily could be top of the rotation starters by the time Lynn and Keuchel are gone.

But I concur with Jim that putting faith in the Sox to guide these arms to that level seems foolish and naive. Their overall development of young arms has been lacking. Hopefully Katz brings a new, more effective approach.

The one thing I do like is Hahn has made a significant amount of high draft picks so hopefully it increases the chance of hitting on a couple. One would hope the Sox would “luck into” a couple solid starters out of Lambert, Stiever, Crochet, Thompson, Dahlquist, Kelley and the rest.

asinwreck

2021’s weirdness means I have no idea what the Sox should do with their higher-level talent and I imagine that subject is taking up a lot of time in discussions between Hahn, La Russa, Getz, and their staff.

When does the minor league season begin? If it is delayed until mid-summer, or, worse, cancelled again, is there much benefit to putting Crochet and Vaughn in Schaumburg again and having Kopech join them? If the MLB season starts in the spring, would setting the roster so these guys can gain experience but supplementing the roster with one more innings eater and a reasonable DH/OF type so they aren’t overexposed be best for their development? How should the Sox balance their development with the team’s bid to contend? (That’s always a question for the late stages of a rebuild, and especially so now given the uncertainties of sports during the pandemic.)

Reinsdorf’s other team might be worth keeping tabs on over the next 2-3 months. The Bulls haven’t decided whether their G-League team will play in the league’s bubble, have activity in Chicago, or play at all. The NBA season opens Tuesday. That kind of limbo is tough for a team seeking to develop its young players. Seeing how the Bulls manage their player development operation between now and March might be instructive for how the Sox proceed with Crochet, Kopech, and Vaughn.

MrStealYoBase

I would put Sale, Rodon, Crochet in one category and Fulmer in another. The former group didn’t need to rework their mechanics or develop new pitches before they could be major league pitchers. Fulmer was a much more typical development project that they treated like a more-or-less finished product for some reason that defies logic.

In the Sale v Rodon comparison, the obvious difference is that Sale spent a year and a half in the bullpen before becoming a starter. Learning how to get major league hitters out first, before having to learn how to do it for 5+ innings seems to be easier for a guy than trying to learn how to do those things at the same time.

Tl;dr Crochet in the bullpen for 2021

Last edited 3 years ago by MrStealYoBase
John SF

It also may turn out that there is a major injury awaiting crochet soon, and only a limited number of miles that arm can throw before it’s lost that level of dominance.

Probably better to find that out while getting an elite bullpen performance in 2021 than find it out while “wasting” that time trying to develop Crochet in the minors.

We also quite literally might need those innings from him more next year than any other year of the rebuild.

John SF

The pre-draft concerns about Crochet were, IMHO:

1) lack of control
2) inability to sometimes command slider or fastball because of falling out of sync
3) the increased college velocity was a fluke
4) injury concerns for a guy throwing so hard
5) very likely chance of ending up in the bullpen
6) no good third pitch

I fee like each and every one of these has seen meaningful updates to our data post-draft.

I saw a guy, and heard scouts raving about a guy, who had his long levers mostly in control and clearly looked like someone capable of keeping that motion together. He had cleaned up his motion quite a bit and it did not even look max effort.

Most of his 3-ball at bats were on the first batter of an inning, & he still got that person out. He looked overpowering out there.

Clearly his college velocity was not a fluke and upper 90s lefty with deceptive arm slot is really his potential with a possible even higher potential living in a relief role around 100mph.

Clearly his stuff translates to the majors.

Yes he got hurt, that’s a big deal.

Yes, he may still end up in the bullpen but also his bullpen value has sky rocketed.

And his changeup is still developing but considering the strides it made, as did his 1 & 2 pitches, I think writing off his changeup forever is premature.

——

Take all that together and I feel like we have to put him pretty darn high on any list, in any system not just ours. There are not very many guys with HoF potential ceilings are their starting pitching. That’s just not normal. They are even more rare than this elite position player prospects like Robert who draw that kind of hype.

So while Crochet came into the draft as a high variance player, and still is, the amount he has raised his ceiling IMHO should be decisive in putting him ahead of any other Sox pitching prospect. And if someone wanted to rank him first in our system I wouldn’t have a problem with that.

HallofFrank

I really like Crochet but ranking him over Kopech seems like an overreaction. Pretty much everything good you’ve said about Crochet could be said about Kopech, too, and Kopech has a much longer track record of success in high level ball.

Crochet was certainly electric but I’m not sure how much we can revise previous concerns based on this sample size. If anything injury is a greater concern: he started 2020 twice and got hurt twice after 6 IP or less. Hopefully that’s not a trend.

GrabSomeBench

We have the knowns and unknowns. If this is the staff, then Kopech is probably in the rotation unless someone thinks Lopez is going to be lights out. Crochet should be in the minors until hopefully, he is called upon for the playoff run in the bullpen. I like the Sale comparison but Sale did pitch in the minors when he left college.

knoxfire30
  1. Giolito
  2. Lynn
  3. Keuchel
  4. FA Addition
  5. Cease

Closer: FA Addition
RH: Hauer
LH: Bummer
RH: Marshall
RH: Foster
RH: Cordero
LH: Fry
Long: Lopez

Sox carry 13 pitchers to start this year this is how I figure it to work out.

Hard to see how Kopech and Crochet immediately fit. These 13 don’t include Ruiz, Burdi, or Johnson who may figure into the pen mix as well.

dwjm3

If we don’t sign a RF, do we look at a Kris Bryant trade maybe for Seby Zavala and Jake Burger?
— @toddieonohan

The White Sox have their right fielder in Adam Eaton, while also having Adam Engel and Leury García to frequently work into the mix. The addition of Eaton also won’t preclude Chicago from adding another player who can help at designated hitter while being able to play somewhere else defensively.

I thought this response by state run media (Scott Merkin) was interesting. I read that as him debunking Nightengle’s tweet on Michael Brantley.

dwjm3

Yup, I forgot about Schwarber