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Even after the White Sox graduated their top three prospects, Baseball America calls the farm system “still as strong as last year.”
That seems improbable on its face, although partially because Baseball America rated Reynaldo Lopez a little higher than the rest (he was behind Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech in the consensus rankings). More to the point, yes, Eloy Jimenez came over from the Cubs to take over Moncada’s spot as the position player who makes scouts drool (with such descriptions like “man-child,” “mutant” and “Superman”), but fellow Quintana-trade traveler Dylan Cease is still limited to low-A, and the most comprehensive scouting report on Luis Robert simply says “ALLERGIC TO SHIRTS.”
For the system to maintain its strength, it requires incumbents to rise up and swarm the top half of the list.
Baseball America’s new top-10 list says some of them did just that:
- Eloy Jimenez
- Michael Kopech
- Alec Hansen
- Luis Robert
- Dane Dunning
- Zack Collins
- Jake Burger
- Blake Rutherford
- Gavin Sheets
- Dylan Cease
Once again, the White Sox have a pretty solid foursome at the top, and Kopech’s stock likely outpaces Giolito’s from last year. The bellwether is at No. 3. BA was more skeptical about Hansen than the other seven outlets, and now you can call it a skeptic no more. In his write-up of the system, Josh Norris said Hansen improved his arsenal by maintaining the life on his fastball via mechanical changes and hiked his changeup from a show-me pitch to one with average potential.
Looking at this list, the combination of Robert’s physicality and acquisition cost make him a natural top-five fit, and his lack of recent relevant scouting information makes it hard for prospect analysis outfits to put him over guys they’ve seen dominate stateside. That effectively makes him a firewall between the rock-solid prospects and the ones who are going to have major detractors, and there are more of those guys than last year.
Dunning: His combination of skill set and performance should make him the least divisive of the remaining prospects. It’ll come down to whether a scout believes he can improve his changeup enough to be a third pitch that gets outs, which he’ll need as a starter since his fastball doesn’t keep up with Kopech’s or Hansen’s.
Collins: The biggest question last year was whether he could catch. After hitting .224 with 129 strikeouts over 113 games, now he has people wondering if he can actually hit enough to make his batting eye and power usable, and he still hasn’t quelled his defensive doubters. He tried to clean up his swing mechanics in the instructional league.
Burger: Everybody loves his makeup. Nobody is crazy about his body, which makes it very easy to think he won’t stay at third base (and thus elevates concerns about his swing’s lack of loft). Judging by his offseason work in Arizona, he’s taking the criticism about his build seriously.
Rutherford: The guy hit two homers over 440 plate appearances in the Sally League.
Sheets: He’s a first baseman who is legally required to be compared to Lucas Duda, so he shouldn’t generate much controversy in his individual profile, but he’ll probably be the subject of philosophical debates between those who cringe at putting an A-ball first baseman this high in a good system.
Cease: Considering Cease breached Checkpoint Luis on the Baseball Prospectus list, it only takes two rankings to get a sense of how much he can divide evaluators. His fastball-curve combination isn’t the problem, but it’s the lack of advancement both in-game (limited to five innings) and in-season (hasn’t hit Winston-Salem yet) that puts the bullpen tag on him.
These profiles are where the battles will take place, and this is where the overall level of regard for the White Sox farm system will fluctuate. For his part, Norris has the Sox behind the Padres, Braves and Yankees overall.
* * *
Other things to note from Norris’ rankings and follow-up chat:
*Luis Alexander Basabe underwent knee surgery at the end of the year, and it may have been bothering him more than he let on. He’s somebody who can come back to crash the party after being a consensus top-1o prospect last year.
*Ian Hamilton is a sleeper due to an ordinary starter repertoire transforming dramatically out of the bullpen.
*Jimenez provided Norris enough material to indulge fans multiple times over:
AA (FL): Please wax poetic about Eloy Jimenez.
Josh Norris: I already did, but I will again. Let’s talk more about his batting practice this year. At Carolina, he pulled balls into the forest in right field over a Green Monster-type of wall, then put balls over the batting eye in center field, then put balls over the ribbon board to the opposite field. When he gets to Charlotte, look out, because he’s going to knock out a window in one of the stadium’s surrounding buildings.