Wrangling 2021 White Sox Prospects: See you in Chicago

The first three installments of Prospect Week covered all of the White Sox’s young talent that couldn’t really get in the mix during the 2020 season. It’s a mere inconvenience for some of them. For others, the timing couldn’t have been much worse.

If you missed them …

… you now have no excuse.

The following eight White Sox prospects all enter the 2021 season no worse for the wear when it comes to their MLB standing. If they’re not already on the Opening Day roster, they’ll be expected to arrive in short order, or have the runway in Birmingham and/or Charlotte to prove themselves into a 26-man roster spot.

Andrew Vaughn

If there is any doubt or debate about Vaughn, it’s mostly about the timeline. His two-year-old Winston-Salem numbers are probably irrelevant, but without anything tangible from Schaumburg with which to replace them, his immediate future involves a lot of guesswork, which is not ideal for Plan A at DH. I’m still not used to a righty first-base-only prospect being so highly ranked, which I hope speaks to his can’t-missitude.

I don’t think he’s somebody who will appear overmatched if he’s promoted prematurely to Chicago. His plate discipline looks too strong and ingrained to be short-circuited. His struggles strike me more in the vein of Yoán Moncada, where he spends most of his time behind in the count because the borderline pitches are better, or he’s finding MLB-caliber stuff harder to square up. His hit tool allows him to turn some of those strikeouts into singles, but being the DH raises the bar of acceptability to a higher level than should be immediately expected from him.

But again, I’m basing this off a handful of 2020 looks, second-hand reports from Schaumburg, and general enthusiasm from people who usually aren’t impressed by Vaughn’s position and handedness. He could be a prodigy that immediately quells doubts, or it could take a couple years before he starts doing bat-only damage. I’m keeping an open mind.

Nick Madrigal

The hit tool plays, at least over 29 games. Madrigal hit .340/.376/.369 over 109 plate appearances, looking no worse for the wear even after injuring a shoulder that required surgery after the season. He managed just three doubles and nothing reached even the warning track, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he spends a decade or more gnatting MLB pitching into fits. It certainly fits in with his hypercompetitive profile.

Alas, the rest of that intensity was used against him. He ran into a whopping four outs over those 29 games, and his defense looked similarly ragged. Both were supposed to be a plus, but the speed of the game caused his already charged style of play to spin out of control.

The good news is that’s fixable, but if he can’t will his way to the base ahead as regularly as he did in the minors, it’s hard to know where those extra bases are going to come from. Here’s hoping the surgically repaired shoulder generates a few more doubles to give him a little more of a cushion.

Michael Kopech

Michael Kopech hasn’t pitched in a competitive game in two years. The layoff — and everything that’s happened to him in between — that every time he shows up in a Google News notification, he’s referred to as “Estranged Husband.” Restoring “White Sox right-hander” to his search-engine optimization is Job One.

If he has what he had in August of 2018, he’s the White Sox’s No. 4 starter. He says he tried to use the layoff to learn how to pitch without needing his best power, then came out in the original 2020 spring training hitting 101, so maybe he’d be dropping the “Why not both?” GIF if he still had social media profiles. His opting out of the pandemic schedule made that one inning a tease.

If you factor in the extracurriculars, he has as many unanswered questions as Vaughn. It’d be nice if he could start the season in Charlotte or the Alternate Training Site to better understand how he looks through five innings every five days, just like it’d be cool if Vaughn could start the season facing another team’s upper-level pitching in games that count but don’t. They both represent the only real depth in their respective areas.

Garrett Crochet

The quality of Crochet’s arsenal is immediately apparent. Add his Game 3 appearance in the Wild Card Series to his regular-season body of work, and he struck out 10 batters against three hits, no walks and one HBP over 6⅔ of work.

The only problem is that his velocity started crashing after 6⅔ innings of work, and he left Game 3 with a flexor strain in his left forearm. He didn’t need surgery, and the White Sox appear to be using him in the bullpen for the 2021 season, but I’m trying not to pin too many full-season hopes on him, because this:

If he can keep breaking off fresh hundos outing after outing, then he’s pretty much a hotter version of Matt Thornton‘s Easy Heat, complete with a better slider and multi-inning potential. There’s a refreshing lack of mystery in what he’s supposed to look like, compared to two other guys we’ve already discussed. Now, can his pitching parts withstand that kind of power? Allow for the possibility that they might not.

Jonathan Stiever

The Stiever who rocketed up White Sox prospect charts in 2019 sat 94-96 with fastballs up in the zone that set up sharp curveballs down, and he seldom issued free passes. The Stiever who made it to Chicago in 2020 averaged 92 with his fastball and walked more batters than he struck out. Granted, he only made two appearances, and he suffered from a forearm strain in the original spring training, but the entire package can’t be penciled into any plans yet.

The nice thing about guys with inconsistent velocities is that he makes for easy monitoring in spring training. 2019 Stiever and 2020 Stiever have to go about their business in different ways, so I’m looking at 2021 Stiever to break the tie.

Jimmy Lambert

Lambert was also limited to just two appearances in Chicago, but there was nothing wrong with the results. He pitched a scoreless inning both times, allowing one hit and striking out one. The bigger problem was that he suffered a velocity drop in his second outing and spent the rest of the season on the injured list with a forearm strain. That was the scariest such injury of the bunch mentioned here, because he was just coming back from Tommy John surgery, and repeat injuries usually spell doom.

Fortunately, he’ll be heading into spring training with no restrictions, and a chance to resume impressing after nailing all his opportunities during the summer. It’d be nice if one of these guys could take the spot previously occupied by Dane Dunning — back end of the rotation stuff, but the command to give them staying power.

Zack Burdi

If you told me that Burdi averaged 98 mph and had the pitching staff’s best swinging-strike rate during the 2020 season, I would’ve guessed that my fellow Downers Grove South Mustang made it all the way back. Not quite! He got his share of swings and misses, but he also suffered his share of swings and very loud contact.

The line from his last four appearances — 3.1 IP, 9 H, 10 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 3 HR — would be nightmare material for most rookies, but Burdi experienced worse during his very long rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. There were a couple of years that he looked cooked, so that he earned a shot at the majors and threw hard enough that Statcast mistook his changeup for a fastball is encouraging.

He now finds himself in the same position as a couple other White Sox pitchers. He has a bit of the Dylan Cease thing where his fastball has too much horizontal movement, and his slider had the tendency to spin on him. Both pitches lingered in the middle of the zone, and hitters didn’t miss.

He also has a bit of the Carlos Rodón thing, where you can choose to buy into the regained velocity and believe the command will rejoin it, or wonder if the attempts to add more heat have sapped some life out of the pitch. Fortunately for the White Sox, they can let Burdi iron it out in the minors and force him to barge his way back into the picture, for this is what championship depth looks like.

Tyler Johnson

I initially considered placing him on Wednesday’s list of players who really could have used 2020 to re-establish himself. Between the lat strain to start the season and mechanical changes that compromised his Arizona Fall League numbers, he could’ve used a clean slate to show what he’s working with. He did summer in Schaumburg, but he didn’t seem to establish himself as a credible call-up candidate. Then again, the White Sox were deep at that position, and he wasn’t yet on the 40-man.

He’s on the 40-man now, though, as the White Sox protected him from the Rule 5 draft after the season. That puts his status where it needs to be for consideration, and as soon as he resumes missing bats against other teams, he’ll be back on the radar. It’s rarely too late, if ever, for a high-minors reliever to figure it out.

(Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)

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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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asinwreck

One of the particularly challenging aspects of assessing projections for the 2021 White Sox is what to do with Vaughn, Kopech, and Crochet given the lack of performance data for these three potentially major contributors.

The only bet I’d make on any of the three is a wager that Crochet will tear his UCL at some point during the season. The relatively recent jump in his velocity to elite level, along with the lack of innings, seem to point to the October injury as a portent of surgery to come. But he could generate 2.0 WAR before that happens.

Eagle Bones

Outside of the injury risk (which is obviously a huge risk), I’m pretty confident in Crochet for a guy with like 7 pro innings to his name. I don’t see any reason he can’t be an elite reliever starting this year. And given the injury risk, I’m not sure I see the purpose in trying to move him to the rotation down the line. At some point you just need to leave well enough alone.

Last edited 1 year ago by Eagle Bones
David

Is there anyone who DOESN’T believe that Crochet will spend at least 1-1/2 out of the next 3 seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery?

Just John

On the bright side, at least we haven’t seen him posting his “max-velocity” workouts like some of his teammates waiting in the wings.

Oddvark

I remember Trevor Bauer showing off his 120 mph throws a couple of years ago. it’s worked out pretty good for him.

jose robcada

Just throwing this out there since there has been a bit of negativity about our off-season but Was listening to inside pitch on mlb network and they were doing a segment on the white Sox and both hosts are picking white Sox to win the American League and that we had second best offseason (dodgers #1). Ya they could have done a bit more but this is prolly the most talented white sox team of my lifetime so enjoy the ride.

Eagle Bones

Did you purposely leave out who the hosts were? Because that seems relevant. Let me guess, one of them Jim Bowden.

Last edited 1 year ago by Eagle Bones
jose robcada

Casey stern and brad lidge, you could have just googled it though lol

ParisSox

Great username

denny

I’m all on board concerning Vaughn. He seems to be a prototype in the mode of P Konerko and I’m excited that he’s on the W Sox. I also am leaning towards Kopech reaching top-of-the-rotation status by the time Lynn’s contract expires and Keuchel is another year older.

peanutsNcrackerjack

Totally agree. These two are the thoroughbreds of the prospects IMO. I just hope in Kopech’s case it’s not just from the neck down.

Red_Hair_White_Sox

Seems a rather distasteful way to allude to Kopech’s struggles with mental health