Feature Photo: Yoan Moncada, 2B/3B, White Sox
By Dave DeFreitas and Nick J.Faleris
Some impressive trades over the past nine months have quickly moved the Sox from a bottom-third farm system to one of the more impactful collections of talent in the game, with a lean towards upper-minors talent to boot.
CREAM OF THE CROP
The Tools: 60 hit; 60 power; 60 glove; 70 arm; 65 run – Moncada projects as a plus hit, plus power bat, showing quality bat speed and good natural strength to go with an advanced approach. He has the hands to handle any position on the infield, though the plus foot speed doesn’t seem to translate to range, likely limiting him to a long-term home at either third base or second base. There’s double-plus arm strength out of a very short arm action, but Moncada is silky smooth in his transfer and release, and his throws maintain their carry and excellent finish when he’s on the move as well.
The Profile: Built like a middle linebacker, Moncada may be the most legitimate five-tool prospect in baseball right now. His move to third base in Boston made sense at the time with Dustin Pedroia (2B, Red Sox) already established there, plus it set up his 70-grade arm. The White Sox plan to use Moncada at second base for now, but given Todd Frazier’s (3B, White Sox) age and declining defensive ability, Moncada being able to move between second and third base could be a significant value-add in 2017, and third base could still be an eventual landing spot once the Sox are competitive.
With double-plus bat speed, Moncada’s efficient actions and level swing plane should produce consistent hard contact and significant carry to the gaps. He looks equally comfortable from both sides the plate, but stays slightly more compact from the right side. His plus power translates more to the gaps right now, but given his strength and bat speed, it is only a matter of time before he starts seeing those doubles clear the fence more often. He has a pull-heavy approach from both sides, but is more than capable of driving the ball with authority to any part of the ballpark. Moncada is quick to full speed and is a serious threat on the bases with natural instincts. He isn’t overly aggressive and shows awareness, but he’s still learning the situational aspects – he will constantly pressure the defense, but given the inconsistent competition he faced in Cuba it should come as no surprise that there will be a learning curve.
Moncada projects to have more than enough power to fit the corner profile, but more importantly the arm would seemingly be wasted at second base. The White Sox currently have holes all over their big league roster, so where they will deploy the prize of their recent Chris Sale (LHP, Red Sox) trade remains to be seen, but there is no current presence on their 25-man roster that should impede Moncada. Given that there is a need for versatility in today’s game, allowing him to develop at both spots may make the most sense.
If there is any concern here, it is that Moncada doesn’t have the consistent reps that most players his age have. He saw inconsistent competition in his native Cuba and was forced to sit out for a while during his free agent negotiations. So while he is already performing at a high level, there will be bumps in the road due to the overall lack of exposure he has had versus upper-level competition. We got a small preview of that during his brief MLB debut last year where he was flat-out overmatched at the plate, striking out in 12 of his 19 at-bats. There is no reason to believe that Moncada won’t make the necessary adjustments going forward; it may just take more time than everyone expects. To that point, him leaving Boston for an organization more in-line with his own progression models could ultimately be a blessing that no one thought he needed. White Sox fans may expect him to be in Chicago on Opening Day, but don’t be surprised if he starts off 2017 at Triple-A and shows up on the South Side once the weather starts to turn in May.
Michael Kopech, RHP, High A Salem (Red Sox) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 70/60
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 7m
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The Tools: 80 fastball; 65 slider; 60 changeup – Kopech has one of the most impressive fastballs in the minors, regularly sitting in the upper 90s with stints into the triple-digits. His slider is a second plus offering that can play up beyond its upper-80s velo and bite thanks to the tough angles created by Kopech. His changeup is inconsistent, but there is impressive arm speed and sharp fade when he hits he release, allowing for future plus projection.
The Profile: Though he slipped to Boston in the supplemental-first round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Kopech had supporters as the highest-upside arm in the draft, displaying superior arm speed, loose actions, an already strong but still projectable build and frame, and feel for four pitches that could each flash above-average or better during his senior year of high school. Fast-forward 30 months and Kopech has matured in one of the most dominant arms in the minors, with his present borderline-elite fastball. He has all but scrapped his curveball, which makes sense given the slot and arm action better fit his hard slider, a pitch that has grown into a consistent above-average to plus offering already. His changeup can come in a bit too firm, but is a third true plus offering when he hits his release, showing sharp arm-side dive and excellent arm speed and slot deception.
Kopech has below-average control, but has shown progress in reining in his powerful and limby mechanics during his pro development. An impressive athlete, the native Texan should develop at least average control in time given his rapidly improving body control, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see an above-average control, average command profile when all is said and done. With a durable build and easy mechanics, the components are here for a long-term starter profile. He missed 50 games to start the 2016 season after testing positive for a performance enhancing substance, though he showed little in the way of rust upon returning, posting a jaw-dropping 14.2 SO/9 over 11 starts and 52 innings of work with High A Salem. He made up for some of his lost time with 22-plus innings of work in the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 26 while walking eight and allowing just 18 hits.
Kopech has front-end stuff and the body and mechanics to match. While the high-octane stuff is good now for gaudy strike out numbers, he’ll need to rely on his bat-missing ability for more utilitarian purposes at the upper levels, as he can lack plane on his fastball at time and major league bats will have an easier time catching up to the pure velocity. Will he continue to dominate against more advanced lineups? Given his developmental progress to date and the intense nature of his competiveness, it seams like a solid bet to take. He projects as a legit front-end starter with a floor as a quality mid-rotation arm.
The Tools: 60 hit; 50 power; 60 arm; 60 glove; 55 run – Basabe profiles as a legit five-tool talent, showing good bat speed and feel for contact that could see his hit tool earn plus grades at maturity, while his emerging pop could settle in as a solid-average tool in its own right. An above-average runner on the grass and on the dirt, Basabe moves well enough to stick in center field long term, with the arm and glove profile as an above-average defender there.
The Profile: While receiving the least fanfare of the names coming back to the White Sox in the Chris Sale (LHP, Red Sox) trade, Basabe has the tools to be an offensive contributor who plays in the middle of the field. Said to be very raw when he signed as an international free agent in 2013, Basabe has begun to really put things together going into his age-20 season. His ability to impact the ball from both sides of the plate and his present feel for the strike zone have him projecting as a top-of-the-order contributor, while bringing plus defensive potential at a premium position. He has been up and down thus far in his pro career, but that’s not a surprise considering that he didn’t start playing baseball until shortly before signing with the Red Sox. So while the 25.7% K rate at Class A Greenvile last year is not a great number, the 8.9% walk rate during that same span is nice to see and makes it easy to bet on this kid maxing out his tools and eventually recognizing off-speed better, eventually getting the strikeout rate down below the 20% mark.
The swing is smooth, and he does a good job keeping the barrel in the zone while generating plus bat speed, traits that are conducive to him making consistent hard contact. The strength started to show up in 2016, but he doesn’t project to be a big over-the-fence threat. While he has more than enough juice to leave the yard, his power impact stands to be more of the doubles and triples variety. He has more than enough run to pressure the defense on the bases, and the instincts as a baserunner to emerge as a threat to swipe a few bags.
He doesn’t have a ton of physical projection left, as he has more of a broader build, however, the fast twitch is there, and the athleticism will carry over as he fills out. He is already a strong kid, but has room to add a good deal more strength without sacrificing foot speed or body control. There are some that don’t see him as a true center fielder, but the run plays up underway and he gets good reads off the bat which allows him to go back on balls with ease. The plus arm works very well with a clean release that sees his throws stay online, making him a real asset in center field. As he gets more reps in center, the route running should continue to improve, but this is a kid that already has an excellent game clock with some feel for going back on balls. His run tool gives him some margin for error in the outfield, but his first step will be key to how efficient he is in tracking balls.
It is not a coincidence that Basabe and Manny Margot (CF, Padres) are products of the same system – both are similar athletes, and while Margot has more run and is the superior defensive prospect, Basabe looks to have a bit more pop. White Sox fans should expect him to return to High A to start the season with a call up to Double-A before the All-Star break.
Lucas Giolito, RHP, Nationals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/55
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/255 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 5m
The Tools: 60 fastball; 60 curveball; 55 changeup – At one time projecting to two double-plus offerings, Giolito appears to be settling in closer to plus grades at maturity for his fastball and curveball, with the former lacking life at higher velocities and the latter still showing inconsistent bite and shape. He still projects to an above-average changeup that could get to plus if he can hit his release point with more regularity. He’s an average athlete who handles his big body well, but he ran into issues with his mechanics in 2016, dropping his command/control grades by a half tick.
The Profile: One of the most highly touted prep arms in the last 10 years, Giolito struggled with elbow pain his senior year of high school in 2012, dropping him to the Nationals in the middle of the first round where he was selected with the 16th overall pick and signed for just under $3 million. The big-bodied SoCal native promptly underwent Tommy John surgery, returning to game action in the second half of 2013 before breaking out for good with 98 dominant innings of full season ball in 2014. Giolito shot to the big leagues after just 73 starts and 369 minor league innings, debuting with the Nationals at the end of last June for a couple of starts before rejoining the club in September. The righty made his way to Chicago one month after the World Series, joining Reynaldo Lopez (RHP) and Dane Dunning (RHP) as a three-piece trade package for outfielder Adam Eaton.
Giolito struggled some with his mechanics this past summer, as the Nationals worked to shorten his stride and keep him more upright. As a result, his stuff played down across the board and his command/control profile had slipped a half of a grade by the time he was wrapping his season in Washington. His fastball still projects well as a plus offering, sitting in the low-to-mid 90s, while his curveball can play to plus, as well, working as both a bury pitch when ahead and a freeze pitch he can drop in the zone for a strike early on in the count. His changeup works off the same slot and plane as his fastball, flashing some bottom and helping as a change-of-pace offering.
While too much shouldn’t be read into Giolito’s inauspicious major league debut season – just 21 1/3 innings of work – there were some indications that the stuff that blew the doors off of minor league lineups would need some not-insignificant tweaking in order to play at the highest level. Giolito’s fastball can be a little true, and there isn’t tons of deception in the mechanics, making him a more comfortable at-bat than you’d expect. He gets decent plane and can be tough to lift when he’s working effectively in the bottom of the zone, but too often he found himself belt-up in the bigs and without the upper-90s velocity he’d displayed in the past. There is still a potential impact arm here, and at a minimum you would expect Giolito to emerge as a quality inning-eating arm in the middle of the rotation given his size and stuff. He won’t turn 23 until later this upcoming summer, so the White Sox have plenty of time to work to get him comfortable with his motion and see if they can recapture some of the old velocity on the fastball and a bit more consistency with the breaking ball. He’ll compete for a rotation spot in camp provided he finds his groove, and in any event should be up for good at some point in 2017.
Reynaldo Lopez, RHP, Chicago White Sox | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/55
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 11m
The Tools: 70 fastball; 60 curveball; 55 changeup – Lopez boasts elite raw stuff with his fastball reaching the upper 90s with devastating late life in the zone, and his plus breaking ball that shows a 15 mph differential off the heater. There is some effort to his delivery, but the arm action is the same on both pitches and he has some feel to change shape with the breaker and will use it backdoor to lefties. The changeup gets hard fade, but has limited depth, however, the arm action again works to play it up, bringing significant deception and making it a weapon versus left-handed hitters. The command is a work in progress, and it’s ultimately what will determine whether or not he sticks in the rotation.
The Profile: One of three impressive arms the White Sox got from Washington in return for Adam Eaton, Lopez brings to the table elite pure stuff, though the command in the zone and the inconsistency of his mechanics will factor into his ability to turn over lineups in the power-packed A.L. Central division. Lopez is an excellent athlete and while he does have some effort in his delivery, he is relatively under control and has shown signs of learning how to throttle up and back. He stays tall and creates very good angle for his size and the arm is lightning quick through a high-3/4’s slot. He gets a tad deliberate over the rubber and his soft front side will cause the front shoulder to leak open early. That in turn will cause him to rush the arm a bit and it impacts his ability to hit his spots. Because he has such incredible arm speed, he is able to make up for some of those lapses, but it does impact his ability to right the ship when things start to go wrong. With runners on, he slows way down and can struggle to regain his good rhythm.
He is still just 23 and because he is so athletic should be able to smooth out the mechanics and still channel the same sort of arm speed and plus stuff. He has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues, so expect the rebuilding White Sox to let Lopez take his lumps in the big leagues in 2017. If the command can get to average you are probably looking at a number three starter long term. However, even if the command sticks in the 40-to-45 range, he is still a good number four. It is too early to project him in the pen, but the matchup stuff would definitely play well there, should he end up needing that safety net.
ON THE HORIZON
Quick Hit: One of the reasons the White Sox are willing to listen on closer David Robertson is the power arm of their 2016 first-rounder. Burdi brings two plus to double-plus pitches, and if he is able to throw enough of them for strikes, he should be able to impact the back end of the big league bullpen in short order. The fastball sits in the upper 90s and there have been reports of him being up around 102 mph, but what really makes it a devastating pitch is the late, heavy life he gets in the zone. He has significant arm speed from a low-3/4’s slot and can really bore it in on righties. It straightens out up in the zone, but he has big margin for error due to the velocity and life, and if he can locate down he will be incredibly hard to square up. The slider is a true swing-and-miss pitch now with short, 3/4 bite, but it shows hard downer break in the upper 80s on occasion that suggests it could play up even higher with some added consistency. It backs up on him at times, but the arm action and huge velo on the fastball still can render the misfires effective. Burdi is quick to the plate and the closed front side adds some deception and that has the ball coming out of his shirt sleeve from the hitter’s vantage point.
He likely heads back to Triple-A to start the season, but if Burdi makes some strides with his command in the zone, there will be little for him to prove at the minor league level. No doubt the White Sox have images of Craig Kimbrel (RHP, Red Sox) in their minds, and rightfully so when you compare the raw stuff – that said, even though Burdi doesn’t have to spot up with the fastball, he will still have to show that he can hit his quadrants on a regular basis and limit the walks better than he did in his first 26 pro innings in order to impact that eighth-or-ninth inning role.
Carson Fulmer, RHP, Triple-A Charlotte | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/55
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 11m
Quick Hit: The former Vanderbilt ace and eighth overall selection in the 2015 MLB Draft pushed his way to Chicago last summer in spite of just 103 minor league innings, split between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, that were fraught with control issues. Those issues finally caught up to Fulmer in the majors, where big league bats knocked him around in his 11-plus innings of relief work, as the righty failed to place the ball in the zone with purpose and, at times, struggled to find the zone altogether.
Fulmer will show a plus fastball in the low-to-mid 90s with arm-side life, and he can also cut the pitch for a different look in the upper-80s to low-90s velo band, as well. His best secondary offering is a hard-breaking curve that generally plays in the low 80s and comes with depth and sharp action. Fulmer’s changeup is inconsequential at present, showing potential but often coming too firm and imprecise, leaving it vulnerable playing as a soft upper-80s fastball.
Fulmer is a strong, durable arm who can maintain his stuff late into games, but there’s so much effort in the motion it’s tough to see him wielding his stuff with any precision over the course of a starter’s workload of 190 major league innings. The White Sox will likely continue to run him out in their rotation in 2017, but his more likely future home is in the pen where his fastball and curve could work more effectively in short one- or two-inning bursts. This is where he profiles best – as a potential multi-inning setup man – and he’s all but ready to tackle the role. As a starter he may top out as a solid number four starter who will give you equal parts quality start and early-inning exits.
Spencer Adams, RHP, Double-A Birmingham | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/55
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/171 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 8m
Quick Hit: The lanky Adams has moved steadily through the White Sox system since being drafted in the second round of the 2014 June draft. Adams is blade thin, but he oozes projection as his long legs, high waist and broad shoulders give him ample room to fill out and add strength to his plus athleticism. He already has good body control, his mechanics are fluid and compact, and he moves very well off the mound. He gets great angle and has a quick arm through his high-3/4’s slot. The fastball sits in the 88-to-92 mph range with gradual life in the zone, but he has flashed more velocity at times, so he should end up with a 60-grade heater once the body matures. He is not max effort and the arm works the same on the slider and changeup, both of which he has advanced feel for at a young age. The slider gets good, ¾ depth with good plane off of the fastball – it lacks much bite right now, but projects as a future above-average to plus offering. He is able to use it in the zone and will dial up some chase when he is ahead in the count. He uses it mostly to righties, but showed some ability to back-foot it to lefties. The changeup gets good fade, but only average depth and is more on plane with his two-seam fastball. The arm works well and he can throw it for strikes, but he will have to do a better job turning it over to give it some bottom.
Given how the arm works, it is easy to see the raw stuff taking a step forward as he adds strength, and provided he can continue to show hitters the top half of the baseball (1.16 GO:AO ratio in 2016), Adams should prove to be an effective innings eater. The swing and miss, or lack thereof to this point in his pro career, is a mild concern, however. He topped 160 innings pitched in 2016 so the decline in the strikeout rates once he moved to Double-A Birmingham likely had something to do with fatigue. That said, he still managed to work efficiently and consistently generate soft contact.
Expect Adams to return to Birmingham this April where he should see the strikeout rates start to climb as the quality of the stuff develops. He is already adept at working deep into games and with a strong start to the 2017 season, the White Sox will have little reason to hold back on this youngster. The floor is high with Adams and a Doug Fister (RHP, Astros) comparison at the major league level is not a stretch. He should take his spot as a very good number four starter sooner rather than later.
Jordan Stephens, RHP, High A Winston-Salem | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 3m
Quick Hit: Stephens saw his developmental path take a detour in his junior year at Rice, undergoing Tommy John surgery and delaying the start of his pro career by a year and change. After returning to Rice for a redshirt junior year in 2015 and coming off the board to the White Sox in the fifth round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Stephens was eased into pro action with 11 appearances on the complex and with Rookie Great Falls, totaling just 17 2/3 innings. In his first full season of work in 2016, Stephens dropped the pedal to the floor and peeled off 141 solid innings over 27 starts with High A Winston-Salem, averaging 9.9 SO/9 along the way.
Stephens will show two plus offerings at his best, including a low- to mid-90s fastball and an upper-70s curveball with impressive depth. He can mix in a short slider/cutter for a different look, as well as a straight change, though each lacks consistent finish and can lead to damage when left up in the zone. His solid 2016 notwithstanding, there are questions as to whether Stephens has the depth in his arsenal necessary to turn over lineups at the upper levels, given his lack of a dependable third pitch and his slightly undersized stature that prevents him from consistently getting downhill on his offerings. There’s fourth starter upside in the profile, though the former Rice standout may fit best as a solid swing-and-miss set-up man off the strength of his one-two fastball-curveball combo. He’ll ship out to Double-A Birmingham to start 2017 and could be logging innings in Chicago by season’s end if all goes well.
Quick Hit: Tilson was traded to Chicago at the July trade deadline last summer, with the Sox sending lefty reliever Zach Duke to St. Louis to help bolster the Cardinals’ pen. The former second rounder out of New Trier High School (IL) made his major league debut a day after coming across to Chicago, then promptly saw his season cut short due to a hamstring injury sustained just five innings into his first game.
Tilson has a compact stroke that helps to produce hard line drive contact to all fields and plus to double-plus speed that plays well out of the box and allows him to seek out the extra base when he finds the gaps and lines. Though he boasts an aggressive approach at the plate, his bat-to-ball skills are strong enough to maintain high contact rates, even when expanding the zone.
He’s unlikely to work enough walks to profile as a true top-of-the-order option, but there’s enough contact and extra-base potential for the speedy outfielder to carve out some value as a down-order stick that can do a bit of damage. His arm is light for right field, limiting his utility as a true fourth outfielder, but he handles all three outfield positions well enough to view that as his floor, and is a strong enough defender in center to profile as potential everyday talent. He’ll look to break camp with the White Sox this spring.
Jordan Guerrero, LHP, Double-A Birmingham | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/195 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 7m
Quick Hit: Drafted in the 15th round in 2012, Guerrero is looking more and more like a legitimate steal despite hitting some bumps in the road upon his promotion to Double-A in 2016. A strong-bodied kid with smooth, repeatable mechanics, Guerrero’s arm works exceptionally well and has him projected to have average command of at least two average to above-average pitches. The fastball sits in the low 90s, but it comes in with good life in the zone and some two-seam tail to both sides. He won’t sink it much, and the tail action tends to stay on plane, so it plays to contact and means that he will have to hit his spots to be effective. The circle changeup is his best secondary offering with late dive and he will use it to both righties and lefties. The smooth, quick arm helps to play up the deception and does well to keep hitters off balance. The slider is loose with below-average depth, but the fringe-average pitch is useable if he is able to locate and sequence off of the changeup.
The arm works well enough and there is enough projection still with the body that it is not a stretch to expect more stuff to arrive as he gets stronger. He is a thick kid and there is some present strength there, but he does still have some baby fat on the frame that will firm up as he matures. He has shown some swing-and-miss ability in the past, but his MO is going to be soft contact. He does not have good fly ball rates, with a 0.94 GO:AO ratio in 2016 and a 1.03 mark in his career, and that limits his ceiling a bit as it will make him susceptible to the home run ball versus big league lineups. Ultimately, there is a lot to like here and he doesn’t turn 23 until May, but he will have to find a way to miss a few more bats in order to limit the traffic on the bases and hedge the damage risk that his fly ball heavy style brings. He should head to Triple-A this April and could pitch his way into a swingman role in the big leagues in the second half.
Quick Hit: The big-bodied Oklahoma native played all of his age 21 season at Double-A and the capped it off with a trip to the Arizona Fall League. Michalczewski sports a very athletic frame with some present strength and very smooth, easy actions both at the plate and in the field. The swing from the left side has some length to it and he tends to work uphill a bit, but he has quick hands that translate to bat speed that is a tick-above average. From the right side he is a bit shorter with less of a load and a more level swing plane. He has good balance from both sides, but will get some hip travel from the left side, which will cause the barrel to drag at times. He has some raw power and at age 22 he has some time to get stronger, but as of now he tends to hit lofty fly balls that don’t get great carry. He has good feel for the strike zone and doesn’t expand very often, but is very pull heavy from the left side and is yet to show much juice from center field over to the left side. His right-handed approach is more middle of the field, but houses significantly less pop.
Defensively, he moves well at third base and has good body control for such a big guy, but has just average range and lacks the ability to speed up his actions, causing his feet to get heavy. The hands are above average and he should catch what he can get to and the plus arm strength maintains when he makes throws on the move. He does have some accuracy issues, which goes back to the footwork, but if he gets stronger he’ll find more power in his movements and the athleticism will play better. He should stick at third base for now, but he also saw some time at shortstop last year and, given the athleticism, he could be a guy the Sox look to groom for that super-utility role. Despite getting 487 at-bats in Double-A last season, he could end up back there since he is only 22. He is a big, athletic kid, but he needs to get stronger so that he gets more impact from his smooth actions. There will likely always be some swing and miss in the zone, but added strength and a middle-of-the-field approach will help the power play up.
Brian Clark, LHP, Triple-A Charlotte | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/225 B/T: R/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 8m
Quick Hit: Since moving to the bullpen full time in 2016, Clark has a high likelihood of debuting in Chicago at some point in 2017 as a second lefty out of the pen. Clark has a mature build with good lower-half strength and some effort in the mechanics. He has some arm speed, but really opens his front side early and will have the arm drag at times. The fastball is average velocity-wise, but has limited life in the zone and can flatten out when he doesn’t locate down. He will get some sink when he’s on, and the effort will add some deception, but he has limited margin for error overall. The slider has big shape and gets loopy at times – he will get some chase from lefties, but it is not a true swing-and-miss pitch. The changeup is average, with the effort level playing it up a tad and making it his weapon versus righties.
Clark is a strike thrower and has some feel to vary the looks he gives hitters, but ultimately he is a guy who will have to locate and mix his pitches well to get soft contact to be successful. The changeup is his best pitch and has led to him having success versus right-handed hitters, so he has upside beyond a lefty specialist. But the lack of true matchup stuff will keep him from the eighth and ninth innings, and likely land him in the sixth or seventh.
Quick Hit: The recent Rule 5 pick out of the A’s organization, Covey will now get the chance to see how well his heavy fastball will play in the big leagues. Once a highly touted youngster who passed on a first round selection by the Brewers in 2010, Covey has battled a number of injuries, the most recent of which was an oblique in May that cost him the rest of the season. He did not fare well in his 15 2/3 AFL innings last fall, but that had more to do with his rusty command and less with the quality of his stuff.
The fastball is plus and sits in the low 90s with significant heft that should allow him to continue to put up the excellent ground ball rates. The secondary is lacking, with a 50-grade slider being the better of his two off-speed pitches – it gets tight, ¾ break, but stays shallow and his feel with it is inconsistent. When he gets ahead in the count it is serviceable, but he is yet to be able to execute on a regular basis. The changeup has limited separation and acts more like softer version of the sinker. His extreme ground ball tendencies are no doubt the strongest part of Covey’s profile (2.63 GO:AO ratio in 2016 and 2.35 career), and it is likely the White Sox see some of the same things that they have in bullpen arm Matt Albers (RHP, Free Agent). If Covey can pound the heavy fastball down in the zone and not walk too many, the fringy secondary could be enough of a wrinkle to keep hitters honest and make him an asset in the middle innings.
Adam Engel, OF, Triple-A Charlotte | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/210 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 11m
Quick Hit: With his double-plus run tool and above-average defense in center field, Engel has potential to impact a 25-man roster in that OF-5 role if he can make enough contact and do any kind of damage at the plate. Engel’s strong, athletic frame still affords him some physical projection, however there is a fair amount of effort to his actions. He has a wide base at the plate and while the swing is compact, there is a tremendous amount of pre-pitch movement in his hands that makes it harder for him to get the barrel out front on time.
When he is in his good rhythm, things look smooth and the swing plays, however, he can struggle to keep his hands back on off-speed stuff, which leads to low-impact contact. He does have some juice and can leave the yard to the pull side, but his game is gap to gap and using his legs to pressure the defense. He has shown decent on-base ability with a .352 OBP mark at Double-A, but unless he shows that he can impact the ball a bit more, he will get challenged like he was at Triple-A and the on-base ability will fall off. There are some similarities in the profile to that of newly signed Peter Bourjos (OF, White Sox) with Engel’s defense and run tool – if he can bounce back from the poor showing at Triple-A and do a better job staying up the middle with his approach, there should be opportunities for him in Chicago in 2017.
Quick Hit: Hawkins has struggled to live up to the hype after being taken 13th overall in the 2012 draft. His immense raw power and plus athleticism makes it easy to dream on what could be, however the lack of plate discipline and pull-centric approach will continue to be an issue for him versus more advanced pitching. He does a good job staying compact with his actions at the plate and generates above-average bat speed with a fairly level plane that creates good carry on his line drives. That said, he does not track the ball well, and his issues picking up spin make him susceptible to chasing when down in the count. In the field he has the tools to be an average corner outfielder, but the arm is fringy and makes him a better fit for left field. He moves well for how big he is, but the fringe-average run is likely to take a step back barring some transformative training habits.
Hawkins is never going to be a hit-for-average guy and the swing and miss will limit his ceiling. However, if he can get the strikeouts into the low 20% range, that increased level of contact should allow his power to show through a bit better and make him a legitimate power asset off the bench at the big league level. For now, he’ll get some looks in big league camp next month, but is most likely be ticketed for Triple-A, or even back to Double-A come April.
Quick Hit: Thought to be on the short list of potential 1-1 candidates for the 2016 MLB Draft at the start of the spring last year, Hansen saw his control and effectiveness abandon him during his junior year with Oklahoma, falling out of the weekend rotation and over the course of the college season and out of the first round by the time the June draft rolled around. The White Sox rolled the dice on the mountain-esque righty and his electric arm in the second round, popping him with the 49th-overall pick and easing him into pro life with 10 Rookie-level starts before allowing him to take the hill for Class A Kannapolis for his final two outings of the year.
During his time in Rookie ball, Hansen and the White Sox worked to get the former Sooner a little more streamlined in his motion and more consistent in his stride (both angle and length). The results were impressive, as Hansen saw his fastball velocity pop with more consistency, sitting 91-to-96 mph, and he faired much better attacking the zone aggressively across his arsenal. His mid-80s slider plays as his best secondary, with tilted action and sharp bite helping to draw empty swings out of the zone and soft contact in-zone. His upper-70s curve and low-to mid-80s changeup each have their moments but lag behind at present, with the changeup showing more promise as a potential above-average weapon with arm-side dive.
Hansen appears to have solved at least some of the issues that plagued him during his junior year with Oklahoma, though the hard-throwing righty will need to continue to show an ability to repeat his mechanics and execute his pitches over the long haul of a full pro season in order to fully put his past struggles behind him. If everything clicks he’s a quality number three starter with bat-missing ability and a heavy fastball/slider combo that should draw plenty of soft contact. A strong showing in camp could see Hansen jump directly to High A Winston-Salem and on the fast track to Chicago for as long as he can keep the train on the rails.
Dane Dunning, RHP, Short-Season A Auburn (Nationals) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/55
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 11m
Quick Hit: One of three arms to come over from the Nationals in the Adam Eaton (OF, Nationals) deal this winter, Dunning has the repertoire and command to move quickly through the White Sox system over the next two seasons. His fastball has average velocity, generally ranging from the upper 80s to the low 90s, but it’s about as easy to lift as a bowling ball when it comes in with heavy arm-side bore. His changeup shows parallel action to the heater and flashes plus at its best with good deception out of the hand and a hefty finish. His slider could give him a third average offering as he continues to tighten it up, and already works well as a different look off of the fastball with two-plane break and solid bite.
A reliever in college (thanks to the bevy of high-end arms populating the weekend rotation for the Florida Gators last spring), Dunning looks every bit the part of a major league starter given his tough-to-square arsenal and impressive command. Like Alec Hansen, he could jump directly to High A Winston-Salem if the Sox are so inclined, and in any event should log innings there at some point in 2017. There’s still some physical projection remaining in the body, leading chippy evaluators to project the fastball to see a bump in velocity closer to the 93-to-95 mph range (where he regularly sat in relief), which could push the overall profile a half-grade higher. For now, Dunning looks the part of a good number four starter who may not miss a ton of bats, but will work the corners and the bottom of the zone effectively and efficiently while limiting hard contact.
Quick Hit: A three year standout at the University of Miami (FL), Collins slashed .363/.544/.668 during his junior campaign last spring, while walking 78 times compared to just 53 strikeouts over his 274 plate appearances. The offensive-minded backstop was tabbed by the White Sox as their first selection in the 2016 MLB Draft (#10 overall), and then spent three short games on the complex before drawing a High A assignment to close out his season.
His debut highlighted both the strengths and the risks in the profile, as Collins put up a .200-plus ISO and worked 33 walks over just 153 plate appearances – good for a 160-point delta off of his batting average. At the same time, Collins’s hitchy load and lengthy path to contact lead to more swing and miss than you would hope to see out of a college bat at the lower levels – particularly one whose offense is going to be expected to carry the profile. Behind the dish Collins is heavy-footed, struggling both with his side-to-side actions and through his transfer on throws to second. He struggles to get his feet underneath him consistently, sapping both strength and some accuracy on his pops to the keystone.
It seems unlikely that Collins’s lower half will allow him to stick behind home, long term, placing increased import on the bat coming through to its full potential at first base. And while he will show solid bat speed and impressive explosiveness when he squares the ball up, there is a serious question as to whether he will make enough contact when faced with advanced arms capable of exploiting the holes in his swing and attacking the soft spots in his zone. The White Sox, for their part, seem unconcerned, with Collins getting pushed to the AFL in his first season of pro ball, then drawing a non-roster invite to camp this spring. Collins should start the spring with Double-A Birmingham where he will be just a phone call away from Chicago once he proves capable of handling his business behind the plate and in the box.
Alex Call, OF, Class A Kannapolis | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/188 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 2m
Quick Hit: Selected in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Call boasts a well-rounded profile that includes the potential for an average hit tool, above-average speed, plus arm strength, and a solid-average glove in the outfield. Call’s speed, arm strength, and glove should provide solid foundational value for the profile, with the Ball State product capable of projecting as an everyday center fielder or right fielder, depending on team needs, and possessing enough versatility to slot in as a quality fourth outfielder if the offensive side of the equation proves light for an everyday gig.
Call keeps a compact swing with the barrel traveling flat through the hit zone, but the bat speed is merely average and there isn’t a lot of damage to be done save for some doubles potential. He should see time with High A Winston-Salem to start the 2017 season, where evaluators will look to see how the swing and bat speed play against better talent. If the bat proves capable of providing at least down-order value, Call could carve out a second-division starter’s role in right or center, though it’s more likely he settles in as a reserve option in a fourth- or fifth-outfielder role, if the glove provides enough value.
Luis Curbelo, 2B/SS, Rookie AZL White Sox | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/35
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 1m
Quick Hit: Curbelo was selected in the sixth round of last year’s MLB Draft, though the infield prep product received a sizable over-slot bonus of $700,000 to keep him from attending the University of Miami (FL). With a projectable build and frame to go with current fringe-average foot speed, Curbelo figures to outgrow shortstop in the near future and settle in at either third or second base, where the hands and arm strength would play just fine.
Advocates are most intrigued by the offensive potential, as Curbelo has already shown an ability to put on impressive batting practice displays while flashing average raw power to the pull side. That pop, however, isn’t yet showing up when the evening lights turn on, mostly because his approach remains raw and susceptible to expanding the zone and racking up empty cuts. Curbelo will be a long-term project for the White Sox developmental staff, offering up solid upside as a potential everyday third or second baseman. There is a lot of space right now, however, between his present profile and where he needs to be in order to realize that potential. He’ll play all of 2017 at the age of 19, giving the Sox an option to challenge him with a full season assignment or allow him to further ease into pro ball with an extended stay on the complex.
Jameson Fisher, OF, Rookie Great Falls | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/200 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 11m
Quick Hit: A former catcher whose days behind the plate concluded following labrum surgery that sapped his catch-and-throw game, Fisher is now a bat-first talent likely tied to a corner. The 2016 fourth-rounder brings above-average bat speed to the plate, as well as some natural loft in his swing that could help push his power production to average in time. Jameson has a solid understanding of the strike zone and is willing to work a walk, though advanced arms are likely to make him prove he can punish offerings in the zone before worrying about pitching to the fringes. Fisher had a solid pro debut with Rookie Great Falls, albeit as a 22-year-old against much younger competition. He’ll play all of 2017 at the age of 23, putting some pressure on the White Sox to challenge him this year and see how quickly he can move. A below-average runner with below-average instincts in the outfield, Fisher will need to earn his keep with the lumber, particularly if a move to first base is in the cards. He has the upside of an everyday corner bat that will hit for average and low-teens home run totals.
Zach Thompson, RHP, High A Winston-Salem | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’7”/230 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 1m
Quick Hit: Thompson works hard downhill with his low-90s fastball, pairing with it a solid-average curve with good shape. His changeup is a below-average offering that lacks quality velocity delta off of the fastball and can be easy to pick up out of the hand. Thompson has an outside shot at a back-end role, but fits better as a swingman or middle-relief option due to his lack of a true swing-and-miss offering and his ability to force hitters into soft contact with his heavy fastball. He’ll likely repeat High A in 2017, but he could move up quickly should the Sox elect to shift him to the pen, where he could develop into a true ground ball specialist.
Micker Adolfo, OF, Class A Kannapolis | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 3m/
Quick Hit: Adolfo received a gaudy seven-figure bonus as an international signee in 2014, but has struggled to amass any developmental momentum in his two-plus years with Chicago. Adolfo can flash plus raw power from the right side, but isn’t close to realizing that level of pop in-game as of yet. He’s overly aggressive in the box and consistently finds himself working from behind in the count, limiting his fastball opportunities and hard contact production. Still only 20 years old, Adolfo should get a second run through the Sally in 2017 where he will look to improve his contact rates and tap into his strength with more regularity. He’ll likely always be a high strikeout risk, but could eventually settle in as a below-average corner outfielder who can put charge into the ball from time to time.
Amado Nunez, SS, Rookie AZL White Sox | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/178 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 2m
Quick Hit: A 2014 J2 signee, Nunez had a solid showing during his second tour through the complex league this past summer, demonstrating a feel for contact and soft hands that could help him stick the dirt long term, though probably somewhere other than shortstop. Nunez has below-average speed and a slow-twitch lower half that limits his range at short, though he has enough arm to play the hot corner, and his hands are generally soft and forgiving. There’s limited upside in the profile as a likely contact-first third baseman with limited playable power, but Nunez is young enough to at least make the journey interesting along the way. He should get his first crack at Class A Kannapolis in 2017.
Luis Martinez, RHP, Class A Kannapolis | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 10m
Quick Hit: The limby righty is primarily a two-pitch arm at present, leaning predominantly on his low-90s fastball and solid-average two-plane slider. His 137 innings in 2016 represent his highest single-season output to date, and could help to give him a longer leash out of the rotation this year. With his changeup currently a solid full grade below average, Martinez might benefit from a quick switch to relief work where he can focus on working his fastball and breaking ball into true plus offerings. He should move to High A Winston-Salem this year with an eye towards debuting in Chicago at some point in 2018.
|1. Yoan Moncada, 3B/2B, MLB||6. Zack Burdi, RHP, AAA||11. Jordan Stephens, RHP, High A|
|2. Michael Kopech, RHP, High A||7. Carson Fulmer, RHP, MLB||12. Charlie Tilson, OF, MLB|
|3. Luis Alex. Basabe, OF, High A||8. Alec Hansen, RHP, A||13. Jordan Guerrero, LHP, AA|
|4. Lucas Giolito, RHP, MLB||9. Dane Dunning, RHP, SS-A||14. Trey Michalczewski, 3B, AA|
|5. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP, MLB||10. Spencer Adams, RHP, AA||15. Brian Clark, LHP, AAA|
The White Sox leveraged two of their biggest trading chips this offseason when they moved Chris Sale (LHP, Red Sox) and Adam Eaton (OF, Nationals) in deals that brought back the collection of prospects listed 1-through-5, as well as number 9, on 2080’s pref list. Those same prospects could be flipped to bring back any number of major league talents, though that clearly is not the direction the White Sox are headed at present. With a new core of talent emerging in Chicago over the next two seasons, the White Sox are poised to continue focusing on building up the farm and restructuring the 25-man roster with an emphasis on young, cost-controlled talent.
The most obvious trade chip Chicago has to yet cash in is Todd Frazier (3B), who is entering the final year on his deal, making a very reasonable $12 million in 2017, and who is coming off of a 40 home run year in 2016. Melky Cabrera (OF) could also bring back some solid pieces at the trade deadline, particularly if the White Sox are willing to eat a bit of the $15 million still owed in 2017 – his final year under contract. Finally, given the price tags we’ve seen tied to high-end relief arms over the past twelve months, it’s probable that the White Sox continue to entertain moving David Robertson (RHP) before the deadline, particularly if the closer is able to put together an impressive first half.
With Jose Quintana (LHP) potentially under control through 2020 (including team options) and Carlos Rodon (LHP) ready for his second full season in the White Sox rotation, Chicago has a pair of lefties around whom a quality rotation can be constructed. Enter three top-shelf righties acquired via trade this offseason – Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, and Reynaldo Lopez – as well as a couple of arms in the lower levels that could move quickly – Dane Dunning (RHP) and Alec Hansen (RHP) – and some power arms who should help lock down the back of the pen – Zack Burdi (RHP) and Carson Fulmer (RHP) – and all of the sudden the White Sox have the makings of a completely revamped staff. With the vast majority of these arms inexpensive for the next few seasons, the door is open for Chicago spend a little in free agency if need be to help tie the whole staff together with a quality front-end talent.
The offense will require a bit more work, as the Sox will need to replace Eaton’s production at the top of the order and, likely, Frazier’s run production once they find a suitable trade partner for the third baseman. Preferably, any moves made this season involving the likes of Frazier, Cabrera, or Robertson will bring back some near-ready positional talent to join lineup anchor Jose Abreu (1B), wunderkind Yoan Moncada (2B/3B), and the rapidly developing Tim Anderson (SS). Charlie Tilson (OF), Zack Collins (C), and Trey Michalczewski (3B) could all provide some value over the next couple of seasons, with Luis Alexander Basabe (OF) waiting in the wings as a potential impact talent in the outfield as early as 2019.
With the pitching side of the organization looking to be in good shape for the near future, and a good amount of money coming off the books via trade and expiring contracts between 2016 and 2017, the White Sox could position themselves well for a return run at the playoffs as early as 2018 or 2019, depending on how aggressive they want to get in free agency. With a handful of savvy trades, the Pale-Hosers appear to be on their way to completing a massive reload at the upper-levels without having to suffer through a long and arduous rebuild. It stands out as one of the more impressive short-term restructurings in recent memory and has, in a matter of months, moved the Sox from organizational-rebuild candidates with a bottom-third farm system to a potential Top 10 system.
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