It’s Prospect Week at Sox Machine.
I haven’t had to think much about ranking prospects over the last seven years because I could leave that to Larry, who had individually forged viewpoints on the farm system and the notable players therein.
Without the concern of coming up with an authentic order of my own, I tend to look at the minor leagues like the Eliminator in “American Gladiators.” Or a version of “American Ninja Warrior” that more people finish. Or “MXC” with a little less innuendo. Or “Slippery Stairs” without so much collateral damage.
In any of these events, you’re watching some guys climb obstacles with ease while other guys crash spectacularly, with degrees of success in between.
Thus, when looking at the farm system, I tend to filter it by which ones are on the healthiest trajectories toward completing that climb, after which I compartmentalize them based on their specific brand of struggle that lies ahead.
If you want to deduce rankings from this, the first five names feel like a real Top Five. The rest is subject to interpretation.
FULL SPEED AHEAD
Players who only have to prove their games hold up against higher levels
Eloy Jimenez: There are some things he can’t do. He’s not going to steal bases. He won’t cover center field, and there appears to be some disagreement over his arm strength being good enough for right. That puts him a notch below up-the-middle players like Ronald Acuna, Fernando Tatis Jr. and others on the prospect charts.
On the other hand, what he does, he does very well. There seem to be no questions about his bat. He hit .312/.379/.568 over 89 games, spread out among two Carolina League teams and 18 games at Birmingham. He makes plenty of contact relative to his age and power (20 percent strikeout rate), and his walk rate is on the way up, too.
He says the Sox should win multiple World Series, so he’s speaking as though he’ll be the fixture of the White Sox’ lineup for years to come. He makes a starting assignment in Birmingham seem conservative. It makes sense, though. Beyond the standard service-time concerns, he only has 18 games and some winter league experience above A-ball. He theoretically could use reps against high-minors pitching to better understand how he reacts to different approaches. If it looks like a natural (or The Natural), I look forward to watching Rick Hahn try to reason his way around it.
Michael Kopech: Approaching the All-Star break, it looked like a new innings threshold would be Kopech’s crowning achievement for 2017. He lost sharpness by the time he surpassed his previous career-high workload in late June, but if he weathered them to pitch 100+ sporadically dominant innings in Birmingham in 2017, it’d still be definable progress toward a call-up by the first few months of 2019.
Instead, he came back from the break rejuvenated, posting a 0.66 ERA over six starts, with 54 strikeouts to just seven walks over 41 innings. He ended up crashing the party in Charlotte during the second half of August, wrapping up his season by throwing three successful five-inning outings with the Knights.
Rick Hahn has tasked Kopech with throwing his changeup confidently at Charlotte, which could cost him in the results department depending on how aggressively he uses it. The fastball and slider are enough to do some damage in the big leagues now, at least accounting for inconsistency from a guy who doesn’t turn 22 until April.
Alec Hansen: The talent that gave him top-10 pick potential before a disastrous junior year at Oklahoma has resurfaced with the Sox. He led all of the minors with strikeouts, racking up 191 to just 51 walks over 141⅓ innings.
Some of that was stat padding, as the White Sox let him finish out the first half of the minor-league season in Kannapolis. Yet he was no less effective at Winston-Salem, and he even came out firing in two starts at Birmingham to end the year … at least until the sixth inning. He hit a wall both times, which might be a byproduct of throwing an impressive 141 innings in his first pro season. That said, he geared his offseason work toward not wearing down as he approaches quality start territory.
He’s closer to 6’9″ than his listed height of 6’7″, so he can get a lot of mileage out of his mid-t0-high-90s fastball, which pairs nicely with a power curveball. Like fellow towering righty Lucas Giolito, he’s got a changeup and slider that could also get to average.
The third pitch is one item on his 2018 list. He’ll also have the third-time-through thing to work on, and given his size, there’s concern that his mechanics can unravel, but it didn’t really happen at any point over the 2018 season. Unlike others further down the line here, notable hindrances or fatal flaws are only speculative.
Luis Robert: If he’s capable of doing everything Rick Renteria said he did in the Dominican, then he’s probably a better prospect than Jimenez. As it stands, all the prospect lists are hedging their bets by placing Robert in the 40-50 range, waiting to see how those standout tools hold up against stateside pitching, stateside weather, stateside schedules and just about everything else American.
The players who cleared their biggest hurdle of 2017, with obstacles remaining
Dane Dunning: Considering he spent most of his Florida career pitching out of the Gators’ bullpen, it’d be hard to top what he did pitching every fifth day for the White Sox in his first full pro season. He struck out 168 batters over 144 A-ball innings, the majority of both happening at Winston-Salem, and the long season didn’t appear to wear on him. He showed an ability to maintain 93 mph into the sixth inning at the end of the season.
Home runs were his lone issue, even after accounting for the hitter-friendly dimensions of his home park. There’s room to improve his command, which is more necessary since he’s not overpowering on the level of Kopech or Hansen. Fortunately, the White Sox have some solutions when stuff flattens out (stay tall, keep the plane, etc.).
Micker Adolfo: He finally showed the kind of promise that warranted a $1.6 million bonus, mostly because he finally played in enough games. He was healthy enough to appear in 112 games, which represents a career high by a comfortable margin. He did miss the end of the season and South Atlantic League playoffs due to a broken hand to give him the documented injury he’d been missing.
As a 20-year-old, he hit .264/.331/.453 for Kannapolis, which represents improvement with his contact. He struck out 149 strikeouts over 112 games, so there’s still a chasm in his plate-discipline numbers. The walk rate did move in the right direction after a sluggish start, although the K rate did, too, which might be the byproduct of a deeper counts.
- April: 1.5% BB, 30.3% K
- May: 3.8% BB, 26.9% K
- June: 8.0% BB, 30.4% K
- July: 9.1% BB, 34.5% K
- August: 8.6% BB, 35.8% K
Assuming he starts the season in Winston-Salem — a fair guess since the White Sox liked him enough to add him to the 40-man roster — he’ll still be age appropriate for a prospect of note in High-A. He doesn’t have much ground to give in this department now that every season in the minors is an option year, but the fact that he’s compelling enough to warrant a roster spot is a victory in and of itself.
Coming up: Five more categories and upwards of 20 names. We’ll see if any of them get eliminated extremely.
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