Baseball America takes first shot at sorting murky White Sox prospect picture

Jose Rodriguez (Sox Machine photo)

Wrangling the individuals of the White Sox farm system into a top-10 list used to be a fairly straightforward enterprise. As recently as last spring, you could put Michael Kopech, Andrew Vaughn, Nick Madrigal and Garrett Crochet in any order and be four-tenths on the way to credibility.

With no sure MLB contributors remaining, there’s certainly more of a wild-west feel to the exercise. To me, any list that has Colson Montgomery and Norge Vera on the podium has pretty much crossed off the only givens, and even then, their affiliated experience is limited to rookie ball.

As for the others of note, Yoelqui Céspedes has equal factions of dreamers and doubters. The former was satisfied by his regular-season performance, the latter validated by his poor showing in the Arizona Fall League. Jose Rodriguez had the most impressive pound-for-pound performance, but he lacks one dynamite tool, and might stand out more here due to the lack of competition in the system. None of the prep arms selected in the past few drafts distinguished himself, and the most intriguing position players after Céspedes and Rodriguez all have a troubling combination of choppy track records at advanced ages.

I’m anticipating a lack of consensus, which is typically a bad thing, since the prospects who generate widespread agreement are usually the ones who can headline seismic trades. The Sox don’t appear to have such a needle-mover in the bunch.

Yet there’s also a benefit in the White Sox system being untethered from any semblance of unanimity, in that the discussion is wide open. In past years, the debate was mostly limited to whether Keith Law was too pessimistic about Madrigal’s big-picture impact on a team. (The fact that the White Sox traded him for a reliever suggests Rick Hahn might’ve agreed with him.)

This time around, a case for any decent prospect over another shouldn’t generate immediate backlash. I can’t foresee any major list having Montgomery fourth, but if one did, I wouldn’t immediately suspect ignorance. Freed from the pressure to present a certain order, now’s the chance to make strong cases for independent hunches.

* * * * * * * * *

Baseball America took the first crack at publishing an order to White Sox prospects this offseason when it released its top-10 list this morning. There are a few elements that surprised me, after which I realized that I should reduce my capacity for surprise. More information is needed about every prospect, so let’s focus in on anything that might inform.

The list, as presented by Bill Mitchell:

  1. Colson Montgomery
  2. Yoelqui Céspedes
  3. Norge Vera
  4. Wes Kath
  5. Jose Rodriguez
  6. Andrew Dalquist
  7. Jake Burger
  8. Jared Kelley
  9. Sean Burke
  10. Matthew Thompson

The initial smell test is passed, in that Montgomery, Vera and Rodriguez all reside in the top five. Céspedes is polarizing — his write-up doesn’t mention his AFL performance — and some draft guides liked Kath over Montgomery last summer, so the top five checks out.

After that, it’s time to make cases. Burger gets the last position-player entry because his 2017 first-round draft report translated into a successful 15-game cup of coffee with the White Sox in 2021 despite everything that happened in between, which is more than anybody else has going.

As for the pitchers, I’m surprised to see Thompson behind Dalquist and Kelley despite Thompson having the most convincing finish to his 2021 season. The determining factor here seems to be consistency of top-end velocity, which has hampered Thompson’s stock dating back to his senior year of high school. Kelley’s issues with shoulder fatigue trouble me more, but I appreciate contrary positions when any of them could turn out to be correct … or all of them could turn out to be irrelevant.

BA isn’t yet revealing its full top-30 lists, so it’s temporarily punting on Romy González, whose case fascinates me the most. It’s weird that a well-rounded 20-20 season at shortstop isn’t good enough to leap ahead of three A-ball pitchers with underwhelming assessments. I have a feeling that the back half of this list won’t be mirrored by the next top 10 we see. The question is whether any list looks like any one that came before.

Author

  • Jim Margalus

    Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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gibby32

Hahn might agree with Keith Law as to Madrigal. The problem is that Hahn drafted Madrigal fourth and not that long ago. It is damning as to Hahn either way.

calcetinesblancos

Really? I kind of view it as the opposite; they saw big potential, gave him a shot, and between his injuries and unexpected shortcomings they decided he wasn’t what they wanted/needed so they shipped him off to try and add to the team.

HallofFrank

I’m beating the Jake Burger drum and I’ll plant my flag here: Burger is the best White Sox prospect and should get back end Top 100 consideration.

My case is this: his former prospect strengths (hitting, power) have played at the highest levels and his former prospect weaknesses (defense, mobility, speed) are less of a concern now than before. He’s leaner, faster, and able to stick at 3B. Because of that, I’m convinced the injuries are behind him. Age is the knock on him, but he may be younger than you think: at 25, he’s only two years older than Vaughn and 11 months older than Madrigal. I realize the path to playing time is limited, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sox move him, but I’m expecting him to be a big-league regular in the future somewhere.

calcetinesblancos

He produced more at the MLB level than a lot of bigger names.

rugbysox

I want to see him developed at second base. Teams like the dodgers create super utility players because they TRY. Give it a shot and get that bat in the field. Hold defensive development coaches accountable. Same goes for sheets, keep him working at corner outfield so we can see how real the bat is.

metasox

If they want try Sheets in the minors, that is one thing. But this team is trying to win a championship. It should be beyond on-the-job defensive training. And it may be he is simply not athletic enough. I would expect an org like the Dodgers to make that kind of determination as well.

Last edited 2 years ago by metasox
Trooper Galactus

The Dodgers also had tons of credible, noteworthy prospects as well as a bevy of actual major leaguers under contract for depth. I mean, the guy they pretty much used as a fourth or fifth outfielder we were clamoring for as our Opening Day right fielder.

Trooper Galactus

I’m very impressed by the way Burger turned things around and was totally wrong about his preseason prospects. However, I can understand limiting his ranking in this fashion based on a few criteria:
1) He has not shown an aptitude for third base, or any other position, so all of his value has to come from his bat.
2) He struck out quite a bit in AAA and even more in the majors, and while this is not a damning thing for a guy who missed so much time and was thrown off the deep end so quickly, it is notable.
3) Entering his age-26 season, he has less time to make good on his physical peak than other prospects.

HallofFrank

I’m not sure about (1). I heard he was handling 3B well and should stick there. As long as he’s not hemorrhaging value defensively, it’s not a concern. But, it’s at least fair to say the jury is still out.

I’m not concerned about (2) for the reason you state. Burger has fewer professional PAs than Andrew Vaughn. The contact especially should improve.

For (3), fair enough. This is the knock, as I mentioned. But if you think he’s going to hit and stick at 3rd, it shouldn’t impact his ranking much. He still has four full seasons in his 20’s.

Trooper Galactus

Everything I heard (and what little I saw) suggested his instincts and motions at the position are still sub-par. Athletically, I think there’s less concern about his ability to cover it, so it stands to reason he will improve with more reps. Still, in a results based business, and with few results to go with, this is what the rankings have to reflect, and I can understand analysts not being aggressive ranking Burger.

metasox

Some players just don’t have the instincts and quickness for 3B. But if he stays trimmed down and shows some range, maybe there is something to the idea of playing 2B. Would be interested to know what the Sox are really thinking

burning-phoneix

I can’t claim to have seen him play in the minors but according to the scouting report on BA, him slimming down has made him a better fielder that can stick at 3B.

Trooper Galactus

“Can stick” I don’t doubt, but whether he can manage to field the position in a non-damaging way is I think a bit more suspect. I think the bat will always have to carry the defense.

knoxfire30

I would of gone:

  1. Burger
  2. Vera
  3. Rodriguez
  4. Montgomery
  5. Cespedes

But this is about as weak a farm system in baseball so some prospect ranking murkyness is expected

Augusto Barojas

I like your list a lot better than the one from Baseball America. Cespedes seems overrated, and their minor league pitchers all suck aside from Vera. Burger is going to hit, easily has as much upside as anyone in their system (because their system is so weak as you said).

asinwreck

Vera would be my non-expert #1 for what seems like the highest ceiling. That said, a review of Rick Hahn’s assessment of the team’s player development goals back in 2019 raises eyebrows today:

Obviously the higher up picks have been collegiate guys the last few years but the goal always has been to build waves upon waves of talent. It wasn’t we need to build a top and now we can fill in behind it, similarly nor was it ever about, we need middle infielders as opposed to outfielders. It was about taking the best guys.

We have gotten the organization to a spot now where we have enough depth and breadth in terms of the talent that if we add a high school guy or a (junior college) guy or a college guy, they are going to fit into different waves that we have already created, if that makes sense.

In other words, we’ve got some of the near-ready guys among those names. The guys that we’re solidifying in A-ball or Low-A or Rookie Ball, coming from this draft or coming internationally will be in that next wave. I don’t think there’s ever been a sense of we did college guys and now we’re free to go get high school guys, it’s about getting the timing of the arrival in Chicago that’s more important.

Where’s the wave that can plug holes in the outfield, second base, bullpen, and catcher (either with playable rookies or prospects who can return quality MLB-ready players in trade)? Read the rest of James Fegan’s interview with Hahn for a spirited defense of Zack Collins, Catcher, in which Hahn states “the verdict on Zack, as a catcher is still several years off, still two, three years off I’m guessing.” As we enter 2022, I hope the people in charge of roster construction have a clear-eyed evaluation of Collins.

Last edited 2 years ago by asinwreck
JimMargalusBiggestFan

Newsflash: Rick Hahn and KW are incompetents who have zero ability to produce waves of prospects. If they didn’t come from trading top players or picking in the top 5, they’ve had almost zero successes.

soxexile

Luis Robert was neither a trade nor drafted, but that exception doesn’t invalidate your larger point.

JimMargalusBiggestFan

I consider him to basically be a top 5 player. He wasn’t drafted, but spending $60 million for an international player is basically picking first overall in the draft.

Trooper Galactus

The waves of talent broke apart upon hitting Birmingham for the most part. At one point, we thought our pitching and outfield depth were unparalleled and we looked a lot weaker in the infield. Now, here we are with basically every secondary outfield prospect either stalling or outright flopping in the minors, and what looked like a super talented relief corps completely disintegrated.

The core guys worked out, and that’s absolutely a feather in Hahn’s cap (see Florida’s end of the Yelich trade for what happens when you miss on that sort of deal). But their inability to get more out of secondary prospects has absolutely had dire consequences. Admittedly, some of this was not entirely their fault (i.e.-Ian Hamilton’s snakebitten 2019 season or Adolfo’s myriad injuries), but teams with strong farms are able to deal with such attrition.

Steve

Here’s a tale of two minor leaguers.
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The first is Marcus Semien. The second is Romy Gonzalez. Comp-wise, the two looked very similar last year to me. I’m not sure what the misgivings with Gonzalez are right now, but I can’t reasonably see why he isn’t at least in the top 10 for the Sox.