One of the reasons why the White Sox farm system doesn’t feel like the worst in baseball — or the second-worst, if you’re charitable like Baseball Prospectus — is that there remains plenty of talent to watch. It’s just that the talent hasn’t been given the required time to manifest itself yet.
In some cases, it’s because their first attempts at conquering a level of affiliated ball didn’t go as planned. In these cases, it’s because they just haven’t had time to define themselves one way or another, and just about all of them have age in their corner.
Starting with the most prominent picks from the 20-round 2021 draft…
The White Sox’s first-round pick was seen as a second-rounder by some due to his age (19) and limited baseball experience due to multi-sport stardom in Indiana. The evaluators who liked him appreciated the athleticism that allowed him to hoop it up, which helps him in his quest to stay in the middle infield, as well as the idea that focusing solely on baseball means the best is yet to come.
His pro debut was a fine first step. He hit .287/.396/.362 over 26 games with 13 walks (and four HBPs) to 22 strikeouts over 111 plate appearances. He didn’t homer or steal a base, but he committed only five errors at shortstop. Perhaps counterintuitively, he was actually better at the finer points than the toolier aspects. Some may prefer seeing the hit tool emerge with hopes that power will come, while others would rather see evidence of being able to access power, while hoping that contact issues will tighten up with more experience. The nice thing is that he’s athletic enough to have all sorts of types of players as a possible outcome.
Considering Kath only played baseball, was drafted for his bat, turned 19 before the end of the season and spent his pro debut at home in the Phoenix area, one might think he’d show the kind of strike zone control that Montgomery exhibited. Instead, he had the raw output — 212/.287/.337 with three homers and two triples, but 42 strikeouts to just eight walks over 115 plate appearances. Baseball America said that he was overdoing it at the plate, and that he should be able to leverage that power with fewer holes as he locks into a professional routine.
He’s probably a third baseman, although he did start one game in right field. That might be more of the White Sox’s recent emphasis in flexibility rather than an indictment of his defensive future.
The White Sox selected Burke in the third round of the 2021 draft shortly before they traded Konnor Pilkington to Cleveland for César Hernández, so they effectively used the Maryland righty to replace the Mississippi State lefty in their hopes of fast-tracking some back-end depth.
Unlike Pilkington, Burke didn’t last until the third round due to missing velocity. His problem is an uncomfortably high walk total, which followed him from the Terrapins to the Cannon Ballers. Burke walked 10 over 14 innings, although the 20 strikeouts suggests the stuff is plenty lively.
The idea is that between Tommy John surgery in 2019, the pandemic-shortened season of 2020 and a big jump in workload in 2021, Burke is still learning how to be a pitcher. That sounds like a big project, but since he possesses the potential for a well-rounded arsenal based off a mid-90s fastball, he’s already taken care off the hardest part. If Burke needs time to pan out, the White Sox tried to strike local gold with Bradley University product Brooks Gosswein one round later.
With Tanner McDougal already covered in the rundown of injured prospects, Butler is the second most compelling prep pick over the final 18 rounds of the 2021 draft. He’s also the only other prep pick of the final 18 rounds of the 2021 draft, but that’s besides the point.
Butler was signed for over slot based on his athletic prowess. Coming out of a small program in Modesto, Calif., Butler didn’t have much in the way of a track record against upper-level competition. He did have tools in abundance, offering plus power, arm strength and speed. The question is whether he’ll be able to hit enough to make use of the other parts of his game, and that remains open after going 4-for-48 with 11 walks and 27 strikeouts in his ACL debut.
Among all the collegiate prep players taken by the White Sox on the third day, Hackenberg stands out for name recognition (brother of Penn State and Jets quarterback Christian) and position (a true catcher). He never met the billing at Clemson thanks in part to injuries, but he did what he could to stand out in his first attempt at affiliated ball, hitting .346/.384/.457 for Kannapolis. The Sox have Carlos Pérez and little else in the minor league catching ranks, so ay and all depth is appreciated.
Along with the recent draft haul, the White Sox also have gotten a boost from recent international classes that have more going for it than Cubans in their early 20s … even if they still figure prominently in Marco Paddy’s strategy.
There’s an upcoming post about prospects who did all they could against the talent they saw over the course of the 2021 season, and Norge Vera meets that description based on numbers alone.
But when you take that line and combine it with his age (21) and the stuff he was reportedly throwing …
… and it looks a little bit like Kramer’s domination of the dojo.
In both cases, it’s still fun to watch for a little bit, but here’s hoping he opens in an A-ball affiliate to see what a 0.00 ERA over 19 innings in the DSL actually means in contexts we better understand.
The long-awaited $2.7 million signing of Colás became official after the published prospects list were submitted, so he remains a surprisingly blank slate. A lot’s been said about him — particularly during the time he generated the “Cuban Ohtani” hype — but little is known about him. He fared well enough in NPB’s minor league as a 20-year-old, but between the pandemic and a contract dispute with Fukuoka, he hasn’t logged any recorded time since 90 plate appearances in Serie Nacional over the course of the 2019-20 winter.
It seems pretty reasonable to expect him to handle right field without issue. As for the bat, will he be a fast-rising 30-homer guy, or a platoon bat with considerable swing-and-miss? Marco Paddy managed to walk the line between stoking hype and downplaying expectations. He and Colás both inferred that the success in adjusting to one kind of professional baseball should count for something. The good news is that his professional contract isn’t a major-league one, so even if the league is locked out, he’ll be able to get to work in the minors. At least as long as his visa issues are sorted out.
Even if it’s distant, Colás’ history of production gives us some inkling of where to place him on a White Sox prospect list. Hernández just turned 17, he looks like he’s 13, and he’s the first Dominican the Sox have signed to a seven-figure bonus since Josue Guerrero in 2018.
Despite the bonus, any ranking of Guerrero would’ve turned out to be premature at best and misinformed at worse, as he never made it out of the Fire League after signing for $1.6 million. Hernández seems like his signing is based more on his hit tool than his pedigree, so there are reasons to expect better from this investment, but let’s just enjoy a big name facing DSL competition because it’s appropriate for his age for once, then reconvene after the year.
Veras, the son of MLB utility infielder Wilton Veras, was signed three classes ago as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic for $200,000, finally made his pro debut in 2021. He made up for lost time, debuting in the ACL and hitting .322/.416/.533 over 178 plate appearances, and with a reasonable 23.6 percent strikeout rate. He didn’t turn 19 until after the season, so if he appears in A-ball at any point over the 2022 season, he’ll be well ahead of the curve.
Until his bat encounters a level that requires weeks of reps to solve, Veras’ most pressing issue is on the other side of the ball. The White Sox would prefer if he could play third base, but the early returns aren’t pretty there. Again, this is the luxury of signing younger players.
The White Sox’s most notable non-Cuban signing of the 2020-21 signing class fared well in his pro debut, hitting .250/.353/.436 over 184 plate appearances with sure hands at third base in the DSL. The numbers were dragged down by a 3-for-28 July, but he hit .288/.385/.488 over the final two months. He’s on track to make his stateside debut next year at age 18, probably in the ACL, and it’s worth anticipating.
Both could have fit in the previous posts about injury-altered forecasts, but because they barely surfaced in the DSL before their seasons were cut short, there’s not much to say about what they did, or even how they got hurt. They were both six-figure signings out of Venezuela who had strong first start/week before they stopped playing. Since they were both 17, it’s possible both could return to the DSL if they’re able to play at all in 2022.