We spent the first two installments of Prospect Week — international signings and high school selections — discussing mostly encouraging developments among the White Sox organization’s youngest players, although most of them will have to rediscover momentum after an early interruption. At least they have time on their side.
The same can’t be said for older prospects who had already lost years through injury or underperformance, and had looked to 2020 to reopen some eyes. Not all is lost. A number of these players still have a little bit of wiggle room to create an opportunity for themselves with the White Sox or elsewhere. Others might be reaching the end of the line, especially after minor league consolidation reduces the number of jobs at a position.
In a normal season, Jake Burger probably would’ve returned to affiliated ball a couple months into the season, where we could better assess what remains of his ability on both sides of the ball after two surgeries. That verdict will have to wait a year. There was some good news in the interim. Burger was able to participate in the CarShield Collegiate League. He’d normally be overqualified for it, but between the rust and the need to show that he could participate in normal baseball activities, it was worth his while. He used it as a springboard into Schaumburg, and he ultimately earned protection on the 40-man roster after the season.
Between José Abreu and Andrew Vaughn, there isn’t a whole lot of room at first base for Sheets, which was made abundantly clear when the White Sox didn’t invite him to the alternate training site. Credit Sheets for using the time to redefine himself. He got into shape that might allow him to play the outfield, and the early returns are being taken seriously for a guy as large and first-baseman-shaped as he is.
Had the path been clearer at first, the bigger concern would’ve been converting a contact-conscious approach into one that can do a little more damage on the whole. The reports from the instructional league were positive on both fronts, but considering his previous high in slugging was .414, he’s got a little more work to do to make himself a threat.
Adolfo has been in professional baseball since 2014, and he still has only one fully healthy season, and one season where he showed his abilities, and they were not the same season. He struggled before and after his elbow surgery in 2019, and he didn’t get any run in 2020, but he still gets attention because he’s one of the few White Sox prospects above A-ball who can pull the ball in the air. I’m open to the idea that he might’ve been able to address his strikeout problem with work against advanced pitching at the alternate site, but between that particular flaw and his general problem getting reps, the odds still seem really, really long.
Gonzalez benefited from the pandemic season in that it got him to the majors faster than it would have otherwise. He didn’t quite look ready, not because he struck out in his only at-bat (he was plunked in another), but more because he duffed a catchable fly in center.
He kinda needs to be able to catch those flies, because his profile — more spray than pull power — requires him to handle all three positions adequately.
At least González made himself compelling enough for even a call-up in a pinch. Rutherford has been battling the same issue his entire career — hitting with enough power to sustain a corner-outfield profile. Baseball America’s report says he actually made strides in this regard …
He worked with Brewers star Christian Yelich over the offseason and brought those lessons to camp, where he worked on getting the barrel on plane quickly and meeting the ball in the strike zone. The result was double-digit home runs against some of the White Sox’s higher level pitching.
… but it’s hard to give that kind of line much weight when you’re not likely to hear the opposite from the alternate training site environment. The good news is he faced a lot of upper-level pitching at the ATS, and had the chance to tinker with his swing without worrying about stats. Perhaps that’s something that can lead to a breakthrough against outside competition.
Since he and Louisville teammate Lincoln Henzman were selected two rounds apart in the 2017 draft, I’d wondered if both pitchers were products of Nick Hostetler’s Cardinals fixation more than anything else. Henzman’s sinker-heavy closer profile didn’t translate into starting, but McClure has overcome a knee injury to make a dent in the middle of top-30 lists because he’s apparently using his 6-foot-7-inch frame to be more than just a strike-thrower.
McClure worked with White Sox biomechanist Ben Hansen to increase the power in his delivery, and the result was a fastball that ticked up to the low 90s with flecks of 95.
In the Fall of 2020, he was also throwing harder: up from 89-92 and touching 94 in 2019, McClure was suddenly sitting 92-95 with a host of viable secondary pitches. He looks like a near-ready depth option and perhaps more if his velocity keeps climbing.
The Sox need any and all the near-ready depth they can get. I’m curious whether that 92-95 plays up further thanks to extension, like we see with Lucas Giolito.
In 2019, Mercedes did all he could possibly do at the plates in Birmingham and Charlotte, and the White Sox didn’t give him a 40-man roster spot in November, even though Welington Castillo was a dead spot walking. In 2020, he put together one of the most entertaining spring trainings in recent memory, but only got one plate appearance to show for it despite the production issues at DH (he grounded out to second). Perhaps his aggressive swinging tendencies make him exploitable and the majors and there’s nothing to see here, but I’ll be kinda annoyed if this story line drags into a third season.
For aspiring musicians in need of a winning band name, here’s Stateside Adolfo. Zangari’s shown flashes of the immense power that led the Sox to draft him out of high school back in 2015, but bad breaks have stalled every attempt at momentum. Tommy John surgery cost him all of 2017, and a broken wrist cut his 2018 short after 74 plate appearances. He finally returned to the field with Kannapolis, where the impressive power returned (.225 ISO), but with the contact issues in tow (33.4 percent strikeout rate). Throw in the pandemic, and Zangari has only played in 267 games over six seasons. He’ll turn 24 in May and first base is somewhat crowded in the system, so I’m not sure where he goes from here.
A consensus top-60 prospect before the 2018 season, Hansen walked 103 batters over 103 innings in the two seasons afterward. He turned 26 in October and is three full years removed from anything resembling success. He showed up on the transactions page to prove he’s still in the system. Perhaps the Ethan Katz era of White Sox pitching instruction has one more idea to try correcting those long, malfunctioning levers, but it’s probably more the case that Hansen’s one season of dominance was a beautiful, fleeting dream.
* * * * * * * * *
There’s a cumulative effect to all these players losing an opportunity to prove or reestablish themselves at critical junctures in their career. Keith Law posted his annual farm system rankings at The Athletic, and the White Sox have slipped all the way to 22nd.
One might be tempted to dismiss this showing as a result of Law’s unique stance leaving Nick Madrigal off his top 100 list entirely, but even White Sox fans are well aware of how the talent drops off after the top prospects. Here, Madrigal didn’t earn a number on Law’s list, but he’s covered in the blurb, which isn’t as critical as the number suggests it could be.
The White Sox have graduated or traded a lot of talent but still have four guys atop their system who will have major-league value in 2021-22, and now they have some high-ceiling arms below that as they opened up their draft approach a little in 2019. The system’s problem now, as ever, is a lack of depth, especially up the middle, although their international scouting group has been adding more players to the system than they have in quite some time.
There’s a bigger knock against the Sox to be found in Law’s ranking that goes unsaid. You just have to look at the systems of teams that recently engineered successful rebuildings — or have merely enjoyed plenty of success without one — without consuming all of their prospect capital:
- Tampa Bay (1)
- Cleveland (2)
- Atlanta (6)
- San Diego (7)
- Minnesota (8)
Law’s tended to be the low man on the White Sox system during the rebuild, and the system’s inability to produce players from outside the top of the first round or blue-chip trades has justified his skepticism. He’s no longer alone, as Baseball America ranks the White Sox system 21st after placing it in the top 10 four consecutive years.
There are some signs of a shifting approach and potential successes in early development, so cross your fingers that the public health situation cooperates enough to allow some of these players to reap the benefits and change some minds.
(Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire)
The low upside early round college picks have been a disaster. Walker, Pilnkington, Sheets, Gonzalez, Henzman, Call, Fischer types… just ugly. Even some of the higher end talent guys like Burdi, Collins, Burger just havent worked out. Good to see them starting to mix in some HS talent like Kelly, Thompson, and Dalquist
I posted this on an earlier post, but it has not ceased to amaze me: the Sox 2020 draft has already accumulated more career WAR than the 2015, 2016, and 2017 drafts combined.
Every day I come to this site hoping for a Corey Zangari mention and every day I’m disappointed.
I missed Minor League baseball last year.
Years ago, it seemed the Sox could draft and develop young pitchers, but not position players. More recently, they don’t seem able do either, with the possible exception of some first-round talent. Does anybody have any insight into why other teams seem so much more successful at this?
Behold the ’17 draft,
The strategy was most daft,
They looked for high floor, the scouting was poor,
Keith Law just sat back and laughed.
Too bad they didn’t draft anyone from Nantucket
The Narron news is official; bigger news is Brian Ball’s leave has led to a permanent change in the head trainer position,
When I think of athletic training and physical fitness in baseball, the first name that comes to mind is Kruk.
I’m not an athlete, lady, I’m an athletic trainer.
I mean we had Herm forever….
And he never missed a day on the DL
We need a minor league season so badly this year, if only so we can see if Alec Hansen can combine for 400 Ks and BBs.
How does the fact that Adolfo is out of options affect what the Sox do with him this year? I suppose there shouldn’t be a huge concern that another team will claim him off waivers if they don’t want to keep him on the active roster, but I’m wondering if the Sox will allow that risk to influence their decisions.
I don’t think there’s a risk of losing him, and I don’t think there’s risk in losing him.
At this point, I will be happily surprised if he becomes a KBO legend one day, though I suppose his chances of doing something with the Sox are higher than those of fellow onetime marquee prospect Alec Hansen.
The over/under PAs as a White Sox member from Adolfo and Dayan Viciedo should be on Las Vegas waging thing.
I’ll take the under please.
Adolfo got granted an extra option year, so that’s a 2022 decision.
Good to know, thanks!
Why do I have memories of McClure dominating somewhere in the low minors? With lots of K’s too maybe? Yet he was only throwing 88-92? I must be misremembering.
Hi, he’s Kade McClure. You may be remembering him from such minor league seasons as 2017 (19 Ks in 11 innings and 0.82 ERA across 3 leagues) or 2018 Kannapolis (42 Ks in 41 2/3 innings with 3.02 ERA).
I have not yet given up hope of Konnor Pilkington becoming a useful piece.
Anyone have any thoughts on which names from this group stand the best chance of salvaging some value? McClure seems like the easy answer here if his stuff is really ticking up, especially if he still has the solid command / control he had before the injury.
Outside of him, Gonzalez seems like he might be able to carve out a 4th OF role, though whether or not he can hang in CF seems like it would make a big difference for him. Sheets and Rutherford are at least lefties, so maybe they could end up as big-half-of-a-platoon guys? Gonzalez looks like he has mostly even or reverse splits, so he probably doesn’t fit in that kind of role. It’s hard to say with Burger until he gets on the field for an extended period of time, but if the tools are still in tact and as advertised coming out of the draft, the bat could be legit (though it sounds like it’s 1B/DH only now).
The rest just seem like really tough profiles to make work with all of their issues. I’m particularly bummed about Hansen. He was a favorite of mine coming up, but it’s just hard to see it coming back together enough to even be a pen arm. He seems like a guy that probably needs a change of scenery.
I still have faith in Burger. His talent and his determination have never been in question—so here’s hoping he can stay healthy.
I’m encouraged to hear that BRuth got >10 homers at the alternate site because it just takes a bit of pop to give a line-drive hitter some value. He’ll probably never be a star, but maybe he can platoon with Engel in RF during the 120 games that Eaton and Leury are both on the IL.
ZiPS projecting the Sox to have the second best pitching staff (in terms of runs allowed per game) in the AL, but only 7th/15 for offensive scoring.
I’d be happy with that. That sounds like a playoff team.