For one reason or another, from one year to the next, Lenyn Sosa has been an easy White Sox prospect to overlook.
It started when he started, as the late $26 million landing of Luis Robert overshadowed the entire 2016-17 signing class, which included Sosa out of Venezuela for a normally significant $325,000.
Sosa then embarked on a run of performances that could be called respectable when accounting for his age, but no particular aspect of his game jumped out. He brought a broad base of tools to the field, but not one that could carry him to the majors alone. He can cover shortstop, but the White Sox have been willing to move him in order to accommodate others at the position. Most notably, he struck out five times for every walk, and that plate discipline often leads a hitter into hitting a wall at the upper levels.
Another reason for Sosa’s so-so track record is the time he’s needed to acclimate to a new level. That’s no knock on him considering he’s opened his two full seasons years younger than his peers, but it means he starts each season in a hole that takes months to escape. Look at his first two years spent with full-season affiliates for example:
Sosa’s 2021 numbers were further compromised by a second introductory period. For the first time in his pro career, Sosa received an in-season promotion, so his overall line was bookended by arduous transitions. Sosa hit just .214/.240/.282 over his final 35 games after getting bumped up to Birmingham in August, and the gap in his plate discipline widened to extreme proportions (two walks, 28 strikeouts).
As a result, a year that was on track for major improvements across the board instead merely resembled minor improvements, with glaring gaps still in need of repair.
The struggles were real, but it’s possible the shape of his seasons magnified them. What Sosa is showing in 2022 is the kind of season he can put together when he enters a year having some idea of what a level has in store.
“I think it’s just comfort and being here again, not trying to do too much,” Barons manager Justin Jirschele said. “I’ve seen him just really mature since last year to this year.”
This post conveniently catches him at another 35-game sample of Double-A games, and it’s hard to say which area of production is the most striking. He’s hitting .359/.429/.585, with eight homers already chasing down his career high of 11. He’s leading the Southern League in batting average and total bases, while running second in OBP and third in OPS, and this surge is taking place while Sosa is playing less of his natural position than ever before.
But the area he’s made the biggest stride is strike-zone control. He’s walked 13 times against 22 strikeouts over 161 plate appearances, but it’s easier to see the progress when comparing rates year to year:
- 2021: 3.4% BB, 22.2% K
- 2022: 8.1% BB, 13.7% K
With José Rodríguez experiencing his first sustained difficulties in professional baseball and Yoelqui Céspedes struggling to turn strength into game power, Sosa has become the most compelling prospect on the Barons roster, and he was the main reason why I drove down from Nashville to catch a couple of games earlier this week.
On Tuesday, Sosa blasted a pair of homers in the opener of the Barons’ six-game series against Rocket City. The first one ricocheted off the back wall of the Birmingham bullpen behind the fence in right center. The second one traveled out to left, leaving even less doubt upon contact.
Two other at-bats stood out to me, even with opposite results. In his final at-bat on Monday, Sosa struck out on three pitches, tipping the last one into the catcher’s mitt. In his final trip to the plate on Tuesday, he struck out looking. Both times, Sosa took consecutive strikes.
Talking to various members of the organization, the patience and power seem to go hand-in-hand, a result of the combination of experience and physical maturation.
“This year, he got early down to our Dominican complex and we started working on being in sync more with the pitcher and having a strong path through the zone,” Barons hitting coach Charlie Romero said. “Which means that, sometimes, he was loading just to hit the ball, and not loading to see the ball.
“Getting in sync with the pitcher is going to give him more time to be able to recognize a pitch and make the decision if he wants to swing.”
Sosa has the ability to wait a little longer because he doesn’t necessarily need the pull field to generate power.
“Last year, we saw a little bit more intent in driving the baseball to the off gap,” said Chris Getz, the White Sox’s director of player development, who was at Regions Field on Wednesday. “We felt like it was still going to allow him to drive the ball to the pull side. He’s using his lower half more, he’s putting together good at-bats, and he’s certainly becoming much more of a complete player.”
The intent Getz talks about is evident in his swing. Look at various offensive highlights from 2021, and you’ll see the ball follow the same route to right center that Sosa finds natural, but with more of a hands-oriented, inside-out action.
But this year, the ball jumps out that way.
“He’s loaded on his back side early, where he was more centered to begin with,” Getz said. “He would still load, but I think he’s in a much stronger position to begin with, just allowing him to see the ball better and to lower the barrel out in front.”
With Romero as a translator, Sosa also emphasized his bat path.
“Since before spring training, I’ve been working on my swing and just trying to stay behind and through the ball, controlling the contact point up front,” Sosa said.
And that’s when he chooses to swing. As the numbers show above, he’s more comfortable in waiting for another pitch this time around.
“He’s hunting tunnels, he’s hunting pitches, and he’s OK with not giving in and keeping his chase [rate] down,” Jirschele said.
“He’s making better pitch decisions,” Getz said. “We see that certainly with some of the underlying metrics as well.”
Sosa extended his hitting streak to 14 games on Thursday against Rocket City, and then some. He went 3-for-6 with a double and five RBIs. which propelled his OPS over 1.000. He’s hitting .397/.453/.750 over 16 games in May, with just eight strikeouts over 75 plate appearances.
He also started at shortstop, which hasn’t been the norm in 2022 due to the presence of Rodríguez, who has played 200 fewer games than Sosa stateside.
“Obviously José Rodríguez is a guy that it’s important for him to get his reps at shortstop, but the way Lenyn is showing offensively and his ability to play short, we want to continue to groom him as a shortstop with knowing that he’s going to be able to play second base or third base,” Getz said.
“He’s a solid defender. He makes the plays. Very steady, reads the ball off the bat very well, he’s always in a good position to field the baseball and consistent with his throws.”
Getz said if I asked Sosa, he’d probably say that he’d prefer to play shortstop. I took him up on that, and he wasn’t wrong.
“Because of my range, I think that I’ve been playing more second or third, but I’d like to play more shortstop,” Sosa said through Romero.
As long as Tim Anderson is manning the position at the major-league level while batting .346, Sosa will have to maintain his flexibility. The path to second base is clearer up top. It’s just a little more crowded below, as he has competition in Birmingham and Charlotte between Sánchez, Rodríguez and Romy Gonzalez.
That competition looks far different six weeks into the season. Sánchez is the only one of that group playing near his best this year, whereas Sosa has put together the best start to the season among any prospect in the system, especially relative to expectations. He’s only had limited control of what people could think of him prior to 2022, but as long as he’s hovering around a four-digit OPS while playing three infield positions, it’s now going to be next to impossible to ignore him.