Alas, nobody jumps off the roster here, but there are a couple of right-handed starters who could emerge, and it has to be sooner rather than later. Zach Thompson, a fifth-round pick out of the 2014 draft, built up a 140-inning workload in Kannapolis last season, albeit with inconsistent results. Big pitchers – and he’s 6’7” and 230 pounds – often need time to get mechanics in order, and this would be the time for the 23-year-old.
Luis Martinez was one of the White Sox’ first big international splashes, signing for $250,000 all the way back in 2011. He’s 22 now, and he’ll make his High-A debut once he gets off the disabled list, yet that still makes him a relative success story from the Sox’ return to the international market. He struck out 141 batters over 137 innings, but more out of sporadic bursts of effectiveness than start-to-start dominance.
It’s typically not worth getting excited about minor-league relievers until they reach Double-A, but Louie Lechich is the most compelling story in the bullpen. He switched from the outfield last season and allowed just one unearned run over 15 innings between the Arizona Rookie League and Kannapolis, and with impressive strikeout (16) and walk (three) totals. He followed that up with a superficially strong Arizona Fall League performance, allowing just one run over 12 2/3 innings.
Zack Collins returns to Winston-Salem, where he showed above-average patience and power, albeit with a strikeout rate that was a little concerning for a collegiate first-rounder in High-A. He probably could’ve started the season in Birmingham, but he’ll get there soon enough. For the time being, he’ll get a chance to cut down on K’s while continuing to address his game behind the plate. The White Sox believe he can catch, but outsiders are split.
Like Martinez, Johan Cruz is among the White Sox’ most advanced international signings of the Marco Paddy era, even if that doesn’t yet say much. The shortstop signed for $450,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. He’s age-appropriate for the level (21) and he had an OK season at Kannapolis (.255/.323/.371) despite being limited to 65 games due to injury. Staying healthy would go a long way in helping everybody discover whether there’s anything here.
While the infield is rather bare, the outfield is stocked with potential contributors. Luis Alexander Basabe, the third of four Boston prospects in the Chris Sale deal, takes the next step by starting the season in the Carolina League, where he made a brief appearance in 2016. He offers speed, defense and some pop; refining his hit tool is the top task on his list. Alex Call, the third-rounder out of Ball State in last year’s draft, gets a chance to bolster his sleeper status after an encouraging debut in Kannapolis last season. He hit .301/.390/.435, and his game is well-rounded, although the strikeouts started piling up toward the end of the year.
Aaron Schnurbusch doesn’t stand out in terms of age (23) or draft background (28th round; went to Pitt). He does stand out for being a 6-foot-5-inch left-handed outfielder who hit .357/.471/.542 in 66 games at Great Falls. That could be a rookie-league mirage, but we have the time to watch it play out.
Who could join the party?
Alec Hansen, if he dominates Kannapolis the way he did Great Falls in his first taste of professional baseball. His 2017 debut suggests it may not come as easy as it did in the Pioneer League. Jameson Fisher and Joel Booker are collegiate outfielders who may be in search of a challenge, but they’ll need some playing time to open up first.