As has been the custom during Prospect Week, we run through dozens of prospects by organizing them in groups. The categorizations shift from year to year based on the shape of the system, and with all top prospects graduated and none yet taking their place, the earliest roundups aren’t going to generate the kind of excitement as they did in previous years.
It’d be a lot grislier if this year’s roundup of injury-riddled Sox prospects captured some of the biggest names remaining. As it stands, only one top-10 prospect enters the season with a lingering health concern, and he’s now a fringe one at that. The rest of them couldn’t quite be penciled into future rotations or lineups, and now their tasks at hand are harder still.
Stiever had one of the more frustrating existences among White Sox prospects in 2021. At the MLB level, he appeared in one game and gave up hits to the only four batters he faced, finishing with an infinite ERA. At the minor league level, he made 17 starts, but the 5.84 ERA shows the difficulty he had in stringing together positive outings.
He still hasn’t shown the form that gave him a boost up the prospect charts in 2019. The guy who was supposed to hit 96 has struggled to sit above 94 in his two cups of coffee in the majors, and the breaking stuff has lacked similar power. His season came to an early end with lat surgery, and we’ll have to see how much that was hampering him, although any kind of significant injury in that area usually keeps a guy off the field.
Even before a shoulder impingement severely sapped his velocity in his 12th and final outing of the season in late August, Kelley didn’t look ready for Kannapolis. He might have failed to impress with regular work in the Arizona Complex League for that matter, based on underwhelming results in two rehab starts after an early bout of forearm soreness. Walks were a persistent issue, which is to be expected for a teenage making his pro debut in A-ball, but seeing him open the first inning in the low 90s provided a real scare.
Chris Getz tried to spin Kelley’s season in a positive light, saying they were able to work on building up his strength, but natural power was supposed to be one of his assets. Instead, everything looked rather difficult.
In 2019, promising bursts of performance at Kannapolis were interrupted by a couple of unlucky foul balls off his foot, followed by a bout of bronchitis that limited him to 71 games, over which he hit just .194.
And yet that remains his healthiest season to date. Bush appeared in just nine games last season, all at DH, and his season peaked two games in with a thunderous homer.
He made just two appearances after May 12, including one rehab game with the ACL White Sox in early July, before the Sox shut him down for good.
A lat injury interrupted Johnson’s previously smooth rise through the White Sox’s relief ranks, and a mechanical overhaul designed to address that issue preceded control problems, both in the Arizona Fall League in 2019, then in Charlotte when Minor League Baseball resumed in 2021. He issued 19 walks over 16 innings between three levels with an injury in the middle of it, and it turned out to be a knee problem that required surgery.
The White Sox released him in order to free up a 40-man roster spot, but he re-signed with the team, so he’s still in play. He posted a positive update video on Twitter.
Shilling might’ve been in the same position as Johnson occupied previously, entering a season only a couple of hot months away from a taste of the big leagues. At least that’s how it looked based on his work in Winston-Salem during the first half. He racked up 27 strikeouts against eight walks over 18⅓ innings, and while relievers can appear out of nowhere in the lower levels, Shilling’s story was truly remarkable. He hadn’t pitched in three years due to a Jake Peavy-like lat injury nine days after he was drafted in 2018, which was the culmination of shoulder and lat injuries suffered during his time at the University of Illinois. Throw in the pandemic season, and the White Sox released him before he threw a professional pitch.
The White Sox lucked out that Shilling re-signed with them, but the good fortune only lasted so long. Shilling left a game after two batters on June 29, and he missed the rest of the season due to Tommy John surgery. Throw yet another comeback on his to-do list.
The White Sox are coming up on the 100th anniversary of their last immaculate inning, which Sloppy Thurston accomplished on Aug. 22, 1923. The feat is rare on any level, so McDougal made an immediate impression when he opened his career by striking out the side on nine pitches after the Sox selected him over slot in the fifth round.
McDougal followed that up with four strikeouts over another two perfect innings, making it the most impressive debut of any of the White Sox’s prep pitching selections over the past three years.
Alas, McDougal, whose season in Las Vegas was limited to 10 games due to COVID-19 and innings limits, didn’t make it out of the season intact. He experienced diminishing returns over his next four outings, ending with a one-batter appearance on Sept. 17 that foreshadowed Tommy John surgery. The solace is that he was expected to have a long road toward a normal workload even without the procedure, so while he’ll miss a season, it may not set him back all that much.