Wrangling 2020 White Sox prospects: Big hurdles

In this morning’s Prospect Week installment, we looked at players who might be two or three years into their careers, but are still too young to have any firm idea of their futures.

The inventory of prospects below is the flip side of that — prospects who are old enough, and/or have been in the game long enough to know, to know there’s at least one obstacle they’ll need to clear in order to reach the next level in their development.

And if you missed any of the prevous installments, here you go:

Zack Collins: Doing enough of something

We’ll start with the birthday boy, who faces the same question once again: Can he hit enough to overcome his catching, or can he catch enough to overcome his hitting?

There are a couple of updates since we last considered this. Collins actually made the majors, which wasn’t a given. He hit .186/.307/.349 with 14 walks against 39 strikeouts over 102 plate appearances, which is what one would expect Collins’ line to look like, given the gap between his batting eye and his hit tool.

While that tells a tidy tale, it’s not the whole story. His season comprised two cups of coffee, and the second one showed progress:

StintPAAVG/OBP/SLGBB%K%
First31.077/.226/.19216.145.2
Second71.233/.343/.41712.735.2

His September call-up looks even better if you cut that in half, because he opened it by going 2-for-23. I just wouldn’t cut up the samples even smaller because the swing-and-miss in his game always runs the risk of lengthy slumps, but there was some documented personal growth, and it was made with documented changes in the box at Charlotte between promotions.

Those need to hang around, because Baseball Prospectus has his receiving as bottom-10 with no help from his blocking numbers, either. He looked passable in some games, but overwhelmed in others. It’s cool to be a third catcher when the bat plays enough to take plate appearances at DH and first base, but given the talent the Sox stacked at both areas, he’s not a great bet to stand out.

It’s a murky situation, but partially for good reasons. If Collins didn’t hit at all last year, his write-up would be a lot shorter.

Gavin Sheets: In-game power

By and large, there were two types of Birmingham Barons position players in 2019: Those who hit the ground hitting, and those who never figured out the level for any length of time.

In between the ascents of Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal and the season-long struggles of the non-Robert outfielders stood Sheets. The .267/.365/.414 line isn’t impressive in and of itself for a huge first baseman, but it was dragged down by a miserable start. Over the last three months, Sheets hit .285/.373/.465 with 11 homers, an 11.5 percent walk rate and a 17.9 percent strikeout rate. The power is decent, but the other two numbers are excellent, and show that he has a little room to give if he has to sacrifice some bat control for power.

His sub-.300 slugging percentage against lefties drags down his overall line, so he could stand to mash righties a little more than he does. That said, the numbers at Charlotte won’t really tell us much if it behaves the way it did last year. The metrics that record damage done will have more to say.

Blake Rutherford: A carrying tool

A weird thing happened to Rutherford on the way to an otherwise disappointing season. He started walking a ton, and didn’t even stop in the Arizona Fall League.

  • April: 6.1
  • May: 3.9
  • June: 5.5
  • July: 6.1
  • August: 15.0
  • AFL: 12.4

Rutherford needed such a development to keep him interesting. Through the first four months, he merely saw his strikeout rate surge without anything in return, like reaching double-digits in homers or getting his ground-ball rate below 50 percent. The White Sox put him on the 40-man roster, but unless that plate discipline hangs around, I don’t know where he goes from here as a platoon outfielder who is stretched in center field.

Luis Gonzalez: Strength of contact

There wasn’t much separation between Gonzalez and Rutherford in terms of production, but they found the same neighborhood via different routes. Gonzalez didn’t have Rutherford’s issues against lefties, or the increased strikeouts, or an uncharacteristic amount of grounders.

The ball just didn’t seem to go that fast or that far, or maybe questionable exit velocity was exposed by the Southern League’s pitcher-friendly environment. However it happened, he lost 80 points of ISO from his 2018 season in two levels of A-ball, hitting .247/.316/.359 and nullifying hot streaks with cold patches in fairly short order.

He played more center and offers more arm than Rutherford, which gives him an edge for bench duties should the situation above require their services, but unless he makes more noise with his contact, it’s hard to see him breaking through, either.

Konnor Pilkington: Fastball

The White Sox snagged him the third round back in 2018 because his fastball lost some zip, and he hasn’t been able to break out of the crafty lefty profile. He overmatched the Sally League to start the season, but wasn’t a great bet to go beyond five innings after his promotion to Winston-Salem. He wore a 4.99 ERA over 19 starts there, with more walks than you want to see for a guy whose fastball tops out in the low 90s (39 over 95⅔ innings).

He did have some excellent outings, and he should for an SEC pitcher with a versatile breaking ball and a respectable changeup. Fastball location looms larger for him than others, so unless he finds the few miles per hour he left in his sophomore season at Mississippi State, he’s going to have to get more precise.

Bernardo Flores: Charlotte

After earning the moniker of “Mr. Quality Start” for his 156 innings between Winston-Salem and Birmingham the year before, Flores ended up missing a good chunk of the season with a strained oblique.

As luck would have it, he matched his previous season’s Double-A innings total to the out, making it easy to see how he addressed his troublesome strikeout rate:

YearIPERAHHRBB%K%
201878.12.767954.414.9
201978.13.3374104.721.5

Baseball Prospectus said that Flores restored his fastball back into the low-90s, which could complement what he learned in getting through starts with diminished velocity.

The strained oblique might have been a blessing in one sense, because BB&T Ballpark is probably a terrible place for his kitchen-sink approach, especially if he gave up 10 homers over 78 innings with the Barons. He won’t be able to dodge Charlotte for much longer, leaving everybody to hope that the major league baseball has calmed the hell down.

Lincoln Henzman: Strikeouts

There was a point where the White Sox drafted every other Louisville Cardinal, and Henzman was one of them. He closed for Louisville, but the White Sox saw a starter, so they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2017 draft and moved him into the rotation.

In 2018, he topped 100 innings over two levels of A-ball with a sub-3.00 ERA despite a troublesome strikeout rate. In 2019, he topped 100 innings, but the inability to miss bats flared up. He owned a 5.24 ERA over 120 innings between Birmingham and Winston-Salem, striking out only 62 batters. A 12 percent strikeout rate doesn’t work without an insane sinker, and Henzman’s is only decent.

At this point, it probably makes more sense to shift him back to the bullpen and see if his stuff looks like a collegiate closer’s. That hasn’t yet worked for the Sox either — see Henzman’s predecessor at Louisville, Zack Burdi — but the approach right now is untenable.

Kade McClure: Catching up

There was a point where the White Sox drafted every other Louisville Cardinal, and McClure was one of them.

McClure’s promising 2018 season was ruined by a knee injury, but he put the surgery in his rear-view mirror by throwing 122 innings between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, faring well in both places.

McClure’s strikeout and ground-ball rate took a hit in Winston-Salem, which isn’t a good combination. The injury also put him behind the age curve, as he’ll turn 24 before his first exposure to Double-A. That said, pitchers as large as him (6’7″) sometimes need time to figure out how to use their levers. Given that control has never been his problem, there doesn’t seem to be that much projectability, so my hopes aren’t high. Still, three years into his pro career, he can say the only thing that’s failed him so far is a patellar tendon.

Coming Friday: However many prospects I feel like ranking.

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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yinkadoubledare

Hi, I’m Kade McClure. You may remember me from such things as that point where the White Sox drafted every other Louisville Cardinal

Michael Kenny

Could’ve called this one The Comeback Kid.