Patreon Request Line: How did the last stacked White Sox farm system fare?

Patreon Request Line: How did the last stacked White Sox farm system fare?

Let’s wrap up Prospect Week with a couple of farm-related inquiries from the Patreon Request Line. Thanks to the 113 of you who have supported Sox Machine one month in, and thanks to 3GamesToLove for this question:

How did the last crop of Sox prospects in any way comparable to this one turn out?

This White Sox farm system placed five prospects in Baseball America’s top 100. They’ve had a more robust showing on other lists, but BA has been the historical standard.

We’re going to stick with that one because we’re going to need that history. In order to find the last time the White Sox placed five prospects in the top 100, you’d have to go back to 2001. And when you look at the list, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

2001 2018
  1.  Jon Rauch (4)
  2. Joe Borchard (23)
  3. Joe Crede (36)
  4. Matt Ginter (44)
  5. Danny Wright (61)
  6. Lorenzo Barcelo
  7. Brian West
  8. Aaron Rowand
  9. Josh Fogg
  10. Jason Stumm
  1.  Eloy Jimenez (4)
  2. Michael Kopech (11)
  3. Alec Hansen (57)
  4. Luis Robert (58)
  5. Dane Dunning (82)
  6. Zack Collins
  7. Jake Burger
  8. Blake Rutherford
  9. Gavin Sheets
  10. Dylan Cease

That class isn’t exactly a bust, as Crede and Rowand overcame setbacks and blocking to become everyday players on a World Series winner. Borchard flopped, but the White Sox salvaged him by turning him into Matt Thornton. All in all, I’d call that satisfactory value from the three position players on the list.

As for the other seven, this is why TINSTAAPP is a thing. It’s of course an overstatement to say There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect, but this group shows why any one individual pitcher can’t necessarily be expected to survive the climb.

The injury bug sank its teeth into three of them. Rauch cracked top-five status by dominating at Birmingham as a 21-year-old (63 strikeouts to 54 baserunners over 56 innings). Then he had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, and was lucky to reinvent himself into an OK medium-leverage reliever for a handful of teams over an 11-year MLB career. Likewise, Barcelo couldn’t stay healthy after an encouraging audition in 2000, and Stumm’s career never got off the ground due to a series of injuries in A-ball.

Ginter and Wright made it to the big leagues and received multiple chances to stick in a rotation, but neither had what it took to succeed in such a hitter-friendly era, so there’s your more ordinary brand of coming up short. West was a pitcher the White Sox lured out of a football scholarship to Texas A&M, but he couldn’t throw enough strikes to get out of the high minors, which is an ordinary high school pitcher story.

Fogg was the only starter out of all of those arms with any staying power. He just happened to find it after the Sox shipped him away in the disastrous Todd Ritchie trade.

Fogg served as a back-end type for the Pirates and Rockies, going 62-69 with a 89 ERA+ over a nine-year career. In a fun twist, the White Sox drafted in the third round out of the University of Florida, where he was the closer. As is the case with Dane Dunning, they saw a starter where the Gators saw a reliever, and it worked out well enough.

A lot has happened — namely Moneyball and the data revolution — in the 17 years between these lists, but if one lesson can be carried forward, I’d say the Sox are on a better track since they graduated Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez to the majors with their prospect shine largely intact. Throw in Dunning’s successful first pro season and you have pretty much the best-case scenario for the Adam Eaton trade. Now that they’re out of the way, the list is heavier with position players, and the grind is a little more forgiving for them.

* * *

This week’s other question is from J.T. Waugh, and it’s a doozy, probably resulting in 75 or so page views for Baseball-Reference.com.

In the past 20 or so years have the Sox had a similar player to Nicky Delmonico or even Adam Engel, to an extent, who seemingly came out of nowhere (in the view of the general fan) to make an impact on the team? I know Delmonico has the first round pedigree, but I think fans were still generally surprised at his performance. I’m sure there are some obvious candidates, but it would be interesting to see a list of players who started pretty low on the totem pole and went on to meaningful time with the Sox.

Engel doesn’t have a lot of company in his draft round (19th) among White Sox, but he was also the product of a rebuilding year’s playing time. Lots of minor-league defensive specialists could bat .166 if given the opportunity, but the Sox were that desperate for any kind of competence in center field. At least Engel made the pitching staff’s job a little easier.

Delmonico is the meatier question given what is … well, not expected of him, but thought possible. A lofty but realistic scenario has the White Sox taking somebody else’s minor-league castoff and turning him into an average starter.

Should Delmonico succeed, he won’t have many peers.

Jose Quintana is the obvious, heads-and-shoulders-above-the-rest answer if you’re looking for any player. He was an anonymous A-ball lefty in the Yankees organization when the White Sox picked him up, and he didn’t even need 50 innings in Birmingham to become a fixture in the rotation and eventual All-Star.

On the position player side, though, this hypothetical Delmonico story is harder to find.

There’s an ongoing case in Omar Narvaez. The White Sox took him away from Tampa Bay in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft in December of 2013, and so it’s impressive that he’s been able to spend 1½ years in the majors and handle starting catcher duties from that origin story. However, if you incorporate framing, he’s been a replacement-level player, and we’re talking about a world where Delmonico is worth a couple of Wins Above that R.

The position players successfully salvaged by the Sox over the years have had major-league experience. Alejandro De Aza was a nice find on the waiver wire who served the same purpose (everyday left fielder out of nowhere), but he doesn’t quite meet this criteria because he had 67 unsuccessful games with the Marlins before they gave up on him. Removing anybody who had MLB exposure also yoinks away credit from the Sox for unprecedented everyday quality from guys like Eaton, Juan Uribe and Carlos Quentin.

To find somebody who had zero MLB experience before coming to the Sox and became an average-or-better starter, you might have to go all the way back to Chris Singleton, whom the White Sox acquired as a player to be named later for Rich Pratt in December of 1998, fitting just inside J.T.’s 20-year scenario.

Singleton had a subpar season at Triple-A Columbus as a 25-year-old. That age puts him in out-of-options territory, and he wasn’t going to get forgiving looks with the Bernie Williams anchoring the outfield for a Yankee dynasty. The White Sox were able to pick up Singleton for a player to be named later, and not only did Singleton prove worthy of a 25-man roster spot, but he responded with a 5 WAR season in his rookie year. He never quite reached that peak again, but he was an adequate MLB outfielder for a few years, while Pratt didn’t even pitch for the Yankees organization when the regular season rolled around.


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Trooper Galactus
Member

Never realized Rauch ranked that highly as a prospect.  Just remember him getting pretty good for a few years after the White Sox sent him packing.

Eagle Bones
Member
Eagle Bones

Ugh I remember being so pumped for him to come up. MiLB news was much more sparse then (plus I was a kid), I can’t remember if I knew he had shoulder surgery or not, but I remember being surprised when I saw he wasn’t throwing harder. What a bummer.

patrickcroberts
Member
patrickcroberts

That list from 2001 is . . . sobering. If that is our outcome from this crop of players I’d be disappointed. Definitely a reminder that baseball prospects are difficult to project. That’s a dumb truism but it’s something to see it so clearly demonstrated.

patrickcroberts
Member
patrickcroberts

I’d be really curious to know if the industry has gotten better at projecting prospects overall. Is the top 100 list from this year based on better data or more reflective of potential success than 5 years ago or 10 years ago or 17 years ago? No idea but I’d bet the answer is no.

karkovice squad
Member
karkovice squad

I don’t think I’d use prospect lists as a measure of whether prospect projections are improving. To answer that question you’d want to look at the actual scouting grades, WAR projections, etc.

The lists just sort eligible prospects in a given relative to each other. The lists have historically been pretty good at doing that which you can see by looking at how the bust rates increase and median productivity decrease as you go from 1 to 100.

They’re also a flawed measure of improvement just because of how big a difference there is between #1 and #100. Talent dries up quickly. There’s usually a bigger gap 1-10 than 50-100.

polishwith
Member
polishwith

I wholeheartedly agree. I love the excitement of the potential of the farm system, but appreciate when Jim can bring us back to earth. I wonder what kind of answer lies in expanding the question to, “How many teams consistently had top 100 prospects in their farm, but were unsuccessful at constructing a major league line up with them.” However, there’s likely too many variables here for the answer to be very meaningful.

Trooper Galactus
Member

Don’t get too discouraged. The list from 2001 is stacked with pitchers, who are bound to be volatile, but two of the three position players were very good for a while. If the current top ten pans out similarly, we’ll be looking at four pretty good position players in the deal. And that’s with Yoan Moncada having already graduated from the list.

WaughSox
Member
WaughSox

Thanks for the great follow up Jim! Really interesting to see how rare it is to find a guy like Delmonico if he can sustain his level of play. Next time I’ll try a question that requires a little less BRef research. Maybe I’ll stick with beer name requests.

ParisSox
Member
ParisSox

Here’s my new comment. I scrolled all the way to the top and boy is my finger tired.

winningugly
Member

NICKY HAS A PEER, IF YOU CONSIDER CHRIST, BUDDHA, AND MOHAMMED “PEERS”.

Lurker Laura
Member
Lurker Laura

Amen, brother.

lastof12
Member
lastof12

But they’re all dead. Nicky shines on…

quickly0and2
Member
quickly0and2

I’m curious about the actual scouting grade of those 5 top 100 prospects in 2001 vs. the scouting grade of our current crop.  Sure those 2001 players were all in the top 100, but were they projected with a scouting grade to be as good as these current players?  Maybe there was a really overall weak top 100 in 2001??  No idea.  Just asking

Jason.Wade17
Member
Jason.Wade17

Don’t know what this says about the overall list, but:

1) Josh Hamilton
7) CC Sabathia
9) Ichiro Suzuki
12) Vernon Wells
27) Alfonso Soriano
31) Jimmy Rollins
33) Adam Dunn
42) Albert Pujols
89) Adrian Gonzalez
91) Miguel Cabrera

Greg Nix
Editor

Ichiro not being the number one prospect is nuts, considering he was the three-time Pacific League MVP and in the middle of his prime. But I guess there were no comparable imports at the time.

Amar
Member
Amar

Whoah, that 2001 list is an indictment on BA’s scouting evaluation more than anything. 

PauliePaulie
Member
PauliePaulie

Sickels posted a preliminary prospect grade breakdown. 8 players with a “B” or better. 6 in the “A” to “B+” range.

Trooper Galactus
Member

Our old friend Derek Holland signed a minor-league deal with the Giants, per MLBTR. Best of luck to him!

Sophist
Member
Sophist

not the most recent list, and I don’t remember if this was considered a stacked system (or if they did org rankings then), but there’s hope if we see this list as the standard:

1990

Wilson Alvarez, lhp
Sammy Sosa, of
Robin Ventura, 3b
Scott Radinsky, lhp
Wayne Edwards, lhp
Adam Peterson, rhp
Frank Thomas, 1b
Roberto Hernandez, rhp
Craig Grebeck, ss
Ron Stephens, rhp

I think I remember the scouting line on prospect #7: good power, great hit tool, high BB rate, but a 1B only prospect and not a great defender there, either, so not quite at the top of that list.

NateDPT12
Member
NateDPT12

The Sox also gave up Kip Wells in the Ritchie trade who was serviceable for a couple of years as well. The Sox definitely could’ve used Fogg and Wells in the 02-04 time frame when they were constantly dragged down by the hot garbage at the back of their rotation in their yearly fade against the Twins.  As much as I enjoyed the Annie Munoz, Mike Porzio, Josh Stewart, Felix Diaz, Scott Schoenweis experiences, having an actual competent MLB starter or two at the back of the rotation probably leads to another division title.

Hobo Under 35th St. Viaduct
Member
Hobo Under 35th St. Viaduct

A few years before Singleton, there was Dave Gallagher, a top ten pick who fizzled, but rejuvenated his career after Sox picked him up on Minor league waivers, and he had a couple nice seasons.

Octoba
Member
Octoba

Let’s not forget Mr. Jenks when considering those coming over with minimal expectations!

Octoba
Member
Octoba

…..and Mr. Thornton!