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Before we continue Prospect Week with a look at the players who just started their pro careers, a quick follow-up on Tuesday’s post about the body count:
Michael Kopech started throwing.
That is all.
Looking at the post about the 2017 draft class from last February, nobody really changed the dialogue all that much. Jake Burger didn’t get a chance to show anything due to the Achilles rupture, but Gavin Sheets lacked power in his debut, and that was his chief shortcoming in 2018. Luis Gonzalez had the most impressive start to his career, and he padded his lead throughout the season.
The pitchers made bigger strides. Tyler Johnson walked fewer guys in his first full season (16 over 58 innings) than he did in his pro debut (19 walks over 25⅔ innings), while Lincoln Henzman’s transition from college closer to A-ball starter succeeded, at least in terms of getting past 100 innings.
Another college-heavy class makes rapid transformations unlikely, but when factoring in injuries and new routines forced by a pro ball schedule, it’s worth dropping the preconceived notions and see what sticks in the year after they’re drafted.
Nick Madrigal: He ranked 15th on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 100 list. He didn’t make Keith Law’s at all. Such is life for a 5-foot-7-inch second baseman who settled for opposite-field singles in his pro debut. Glass half full, Madrigal can play some shortstop, and authoritative pull contact increases in frequency as he gets further and further away from the broken hand he suffered in February. Glass half empty, Madrigal looks professional and doesn’t strike out, but struggles to make an impact. I’m expecting him to turn around Carolina League pitching if he starts there.
Steele Walker: He dealt with a strained oblique at the end of his college season, and his .209/.271/.342 line over 44 games scattered across two rookie leagues and Kannapolis suggest he could’ve used a longer break. The end of the season probably came as a relief, as he went 3-for-29 with 12 strikeouts over his last seven games. His draft-day profiles agreed that he should’ve had more success with wooden bats. I’m guessing he’ll resume action in Kannapolis, where he’ll be hard-pressed to outrace Gonzalez up the ladder.
Konnor Pilkington: The big lefty out of Mississippi State fell to the third round due to a drop in velocity, and pro hitters certainly found him hittable, even in the rookie leagues. He gave up 21 hits and five walks over 14 innings, although he sandbagged his line with an ugly debut. It’s hard to get a gauge on a guy when he’s limited to two innings at a time, especially when he’s setting a career high in innings when combined with his collegiate workload. He can throw three pitches for strikes, but the hope is that he’ll have more to offer than polish when he gets back in a regular starting routine.
Bryce Bush: The draft board says the White Sox took only two prep players on the second day of the draft (Lency Delgado and Cabera Weaver). The money says they took three. They selected Bush in the 33rd round, but they signed the Detroit prep product for $290,000, which is a sixth-round bonus. Bush slipped that far not because he was truly interested in going to Mississippi State, but because he seemingly had a price in mind, and the White Sox were the only ones willing to meet it.
Bush looked worth it out of the gate. He outproduced Weaver, a wispy center fielder with speed and some on-base ability, but missing contact and quality. Bush also outproduced Delgado, who surprised by playing shortstop instead of third but lagged with the bat. He outproduced everybody in the Arizona Rookie League, hitting .442/.538/.605 with twice as many walks as strikeouts before getting promoted to Great Falls.
The Pioneer League provided more of a test, as he hit .250/.327/.385, although the plate discipline numbers were still acceptable (10 walks, 21 strikeouts over 108 PAs). Those numbers also don’t count his five hits and five walks over four games in the Voyagers’ two postseason series. He’ll need to have an impact bat as long as he lacks a position, but as one of the rare teenagers showing some thump for the White Sox, he has time on his side.
Jonathan Stiever: The Sox drafted a lot of college arms, and the fifth-rounder had the best debut of them all, striking out 41 batters to 10 walks over 34 innings. He made 15 appearances, and 10 of them were scoreless. He’s ready for a full season of work, and will probably get the chance with Kannapolis. More power on his breaking stuff will help him gain separation from what 2080 Baseball called a back-end profile.
Davis Martin: The White Sox met or exceeded the third-day max for four pitchers early in the draft’s second day. Martin, who signed for $130,000 out of Texas Tech, was the only one to pitch at a level representing his talents. Isaiah Carranza (12th round) is recovering from Tommy John surgery, Luke Shilling (15th round) suffered a lat injury like Jake Peavy’s, and Jason Bilous (13th round) had a 7.85 ERA. Martin’s 21 decent innings in rookie ball don’t elevate his fifth-starter profile and the bigger arms may speed past him, but 80 percent of success is showing up.
The White Sox drafted South Florida college closer Andrew Perez in the eighth round, as well as Codi Heuer, a sixth-round righty who started for Wichita State but is expected to find his calling in the bullpen.
I suppose you can add them to the list, but relievers aren’t terribly satisfying to rank, mostly because it seems like they can be generated from a whole bunch of different sources. Look at all the ways the Sox acquired their best bullen prospects:
First-day draft picks: Zack Burdi, who was among the injured prospects covered on Tuesday.
Third-day draft picks: Ian Hamilton was one of those max signings early on Day 3, and he looks like he has the inside track to high-leverage work if he can iron out his slider with the pro ball. The Yankees signed Caleb Frare the same way, and the White Sox also used international money to acquire him.
Waivers: The Padres converted Jose Ruiz to pitching, but didn’t have the time or 40-man roster space to see it through. The White Sox claimed him on waivers, were able to outright him, and Ruiz climbed back into the mix with a fastball-slider combo and impending minor-league free agency. He succeeded in his audition to hang around another year.
That doesn’t even count Thyago Vieira, who was also acquired for international money but harder to watch due to a lack of a compelling secondary pitch. It also doesn’t yet include pitchers like Jordan Stephens and Kodi Medeiros, who were drafted and groomed as starters (the latter by the Brewers) but may soon end up relieving. There’s no glory in putting these guys in any order, so I’ll punt on the issue for now.
Coming Thursday: The big questions