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Deep Dive: shortstop edition, part 1

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The White Sox depth at shortstop has improved greatly in the last two years

Getting Stronger Every Day: Luis Curbelo is one of two shortstops among the Top 30 White Sox prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.
Tiffany Wintz/South Side Sox

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

  1. Depth in the lower levels (Dominican through Kannapolis)
  2. Depth in the higher levels (Winston-Salem through Charlotte)
  3. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  4. Free-agent options at that position, plus sneak peeks into available players in the upcoming 2019 MLB Draft.

Now, let’s focus on the shortstop depth in the organization by providing small bits of information on players who primarily played that position for DSL, AZL, Great Falls and Kannapolis. Player’s age as of April 1, 2019 is listed.


Kannapolis Intimidators

Luis Curbelo
6´3´´
185 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 21
Additional position: third base

Curbelo began his high school career at the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy, and after performing well on the summer showcase circuit, he moved to Cocoa (Fla.) High as a senior to increase his exposure. At the time of the 2016 MLB Draft, Curbelo was the 33rd-ranked prep prospect in the country, according to PerfectGame. As a result, when he fell to the sixth round, the White Sox pounced and paid him an over-slot bonus of $700,000.

In his first two years of professional ball, with the AZL White Sox and Great Falls, Curbelo slashed just .242/.322/.354 with a combined three homers, 16 RBIs, four stolen bases, 16 walks (7.92%) and 46 strikeouts (22.77%) over 178 at-bats. Unfortunately, he missed plenty of development time in 2017 when he tore his miniscus after just three games with Great Falls.

When winning a promotion to Kannapolis this year expectations were tempered, as Curbelo was coming back from such a serious injury. For the year, he managed to slash .237/.282/.338 with 19 doubles, three homers, 31 RBIs, 18 walks (5.25%) and 87 strikeouts (25.36 K%) over 317 at-bats. Curbelo’s hitting, especially his high number of strikeouts, is certainly disconcerting. Considering he was 1.3 years younger than league average, and he had relatively little professional exposure previously, the struggles were not entirely surprising. Perhaps of more concern may be on defense where Curbelo committed 14 errors in 57 games at short, while also erring 10 times in 20 games at the hot corner.

Curbelo still has the build to hit for more power as he learns to adapt in the minors. Defensively, he needs to keep his focus and keep in front of the ball while trying not to rush things. Offensively, he’ll need to maintain better plate discipline, which often comes with experience. There’s a possibility Curbelo will be promoted to Winston-Salem, in order to be the club’s third baseman until Jake Burger is ready to take the helm; after all, Curbelo is the 27th-ranked prospect in the organization, according to MLB Pipeline. Otherwise, he could be competing for playing time next year at shortstop/third base with Lenyn Sosa and Bryce Bush.

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Great Falls Voyagers

Lenyn Sosa
6´0´´
180 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 19
Additional positions: third base, second base

Sosa was part of a large signing class in 2016, and after getting $325,000 from the White Sox, Sosa (a native of Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela) was projected by most scouts to begin last season in the Dominican Summer League with his fellow signees. Instead, he made a bold move forward, to the AZL White Sox.

Despite being so young on the AZL Sox in 2017, the teenager slashed a respectable .270/.330/.358 with 14 walks (7.8 BB%) and just 24 strikeouts (13.3%) in 180 plate appearances, while slugging two homers and swiping three bases.

In 2018 for Great Falls, Sosa’s slash line improved to .293/.317/.406 with seven walks (2.4%) and 36 strikeouts (12.4%) through July 27, in 276 at-bats. His power numbers also have seen an uptick with Great Falls, as he clubbed 20 extra-base-hits (including four homers), possibly a result of the thinner air in the Pioneer League’s ballparks. Currently, Sosa is a line-drive hitter with occasional gap power. However, with more strength, there is indeed room for power projection. Defensively in 2018, Sosa spent 76% of his time at short, 19% at third base, and 5% at second. Despite moving around, Sosa only committed seven errors in 65 games — not too shabby!

Sosa has shown quick bat speed and hand-eye coordination from the right side of the plate, along with good bat-to-ball skills in games. He actually fared better against righties (.303) than southpaws (.255). Sosa’s hitting is only expected to improve as he develops more patience, which usually comes with experience. Sosa is an excellent glove man, with a strong enough arm to continue playing shortstop and third base as he progresses through the system. It is possible, however, that he may end up moving to second base due to his average speed. Finally, Sosa is said to have a hard-nosed mentality, which speaks to future leadership abilities as well. I believe Sosa will begin the 2019 season with Kannapolis.


Arizona League White Sox

Lency Delgado
6´3´´
215 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 19

Delgado was drafted in last year’s fourth round of the MLB Draft with a signing bonus of $525,000, which was enough to pry him away from his verbal commitment with the Alabama State Hornets. Although born in Havana, Delgado moved with his family to the U.S. as a 16-year-old, graduating from Doral Charter Academy in Miami. What did he do at Doral Charter? Oh, only hit .480 with 14 homers and 33 RBIs. At the time of the draft, Delgado was described by PerfectGame as athletic, with a strong arm, and defensively advanced. He also ran a 60-yard dash in 6.87.

However, a move to the pros from high school is almost always difficult, as the game moves at a much faster pace. For the AZL White Sox in 2018, Sosal slashed .233/.309/.301 with one homer, 22 RBIs, 4-for-4 in stolen bases, nine walks (6.0%) and 40 strikeouts (26.7%) in 133 at-bats. He committed nine errors in 35 games, which is quite high; however, he did show sufficient range at the position. I expect Delgado to return to the AZL for 2019, but wouldn’t be surprised to see him promoted to Great Falls later in the year if he hits a hot stretch.

Kelvin Maldonado
5´11´´
160 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 19
Additional position: second base

Not much was known about Maldonado prior to the 2018 MLB Draft, but Marco Paddy was pushing for him. According to PerfectGame, Maldonado is a 6.54 runner with solid actions on defense. In fact, his defense and speed will carry him until his bat comes around, as it is too mechanical right now to make an impact. The Sox liked his potential enough to sign the Puerto Rican in the 11th round, for a $175,000 bonus.

As expected, Maldonado struggled terribly with the AZL White Sox in 38 games. Over the course of 120 at-bats, he slashed just .150/.184/.167 with no homers, four RBIs, no stolen bases, four walks (3.1%) and 31 strikeouts (24.2%). He may have let his offensive struggles get the best of him defensively, as he committed 16 errors in just 34 games. I expect Maldonado to return to the AZL White Sox in 2019, but he may have to fend off some of the DSL players listed below for playing time.

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Dominican Summer League White Sox

Jose Rodriguez
5´11´´
175 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 17
Additional position: second base, third base, right field

Rodriguez was arguably the most effective, and consistent, player with the DSL White Sox in 2018. Of course, that doesn’t say a whole lot — the team won only 18 of 72 games! But that doesn’t take away anything from what Rodriguez accomplished in 2018.

For the year, he hit .291/.318/.401 with two homers, 23 RBIs, 16-for-20 in stolen base attempts, nine walks (3.8%) and 29 strikeouts (12.1%) in 227 at-bats. I don’t have much information on Rodriguez other than stating the obvious from his stats: In addition to being a good line-drive hitter, he’s got solid baserunning instincts, and doesn’t work the count too deeply (which isn’t unusual at his age). I project Rodriguez to begin 2019 with the AZL White Sox, where he could end up playing a similar utility role.

Harold Diaz
5´10´´
170 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 19
Additional positions: second base, third base

Diaz is yet another White Sox farmhand who was born in Cuba. Diaz was one of five players who signed with the Sox on International Signing Day last July, but the only one who opted get started right away, after signing his $300,000 bonus. In many ways, Diaz had just a solid a year as Rodriguez, in a much smaller sample size. In 69 at-bats encompassing 18 games, he slashed .290/.388/.406 with no homers, seven RBIs, six stolen bases, seven walks (8.8%) and nine strikeouts (11.3%). Although he wasn’t as efficient as Rodriguez on the basepaths (caught five times), he played just as well, if not better, in all other areas. Defensively, Diaz played half his time at short, with the other half split between second and third. He made just four errors during his short season. Like Rodriguez, I believe Diaz may be promoted to the AZL White Sox — perhaps in the second base/utility role.

Samil Polanco
6´0´´
160 pounds
Bats: Both
Age: 19
Additional position: second base

Shortstop was by far the deepest, and best, offensive position the DSL White Sox had in 2018. With the likes of Rodriguez, Diaz and Polanco, the White Sox were almost forced to play some of these guys at positions where the team’s depth was thin. Polanco signed a minor league contract with the DSL White Sox last May, and had a decent rookie season. For the year, he hit .274/.314/.371 in 197 at-bats with one homer, 16 RBIs, 12 stolen bases, 10 walks (4.8%) and 33 strikeouts (15.7%). Defensively, he spent 56% of his time at short, with the remainder at second base, making 17 errors in his 55 games on the field. It was a close call for me, but I believe Polanco returns to the DSL in order to work on his defense.

Sidney Pimentel
6´1´´
160 pounds
Bats: Both
Age: 18
Additional position: second base

At the time of Pimentel’s signing on July 3, 2017, Baseball America said of him, “He has the length and range for SS and possesses soft hands that allow him to field grounders and get rid of the ball without wasted movement.” BA also noted that he’s built to be a leadoff hitter that “sprays balls into the gaps.” Pimentel struggled badly in his first season with the DSL White Sox in 60 at-bats over the course of 70 games, slashing just .169/.217/.300 with two homers, seven RBIs, two stolen bases, four walks (6.3%) and 18 strikeouts (28.1%). He spent 77% of his time defensively at short, with the remainder at second base — in the 13 games he played on defense, he committed six errors. Obviously, Pimentel will have a lot to work on when he returns to the DSL Sox for 2019.

Anthony Espinoza
5´10´´
165 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 17

Like Diaz, Espinoza signed on International Signing Day with the White Sox in July. The Venezuelan signed a $200,000 bonus with Sox, but opted (like most signees) to begin ball in 2019. He’s said to be a slick gloveman, and I expect him to compete with Polanco at shortstop next year.
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Summary

The talent level at shortstop in the lower levels of the White Sox system is much better than it has been in the past. Of course, much of this depth is unpolished and may take years to hit its stride. However, it was refreshing to see the White Sox place such emphasis on this most athletic positions this last year, as they drafted two shortstops and signed four guys internationally (two on International Signing Day, two before). It will be interesting to see if the White Sox add to those numbers in 2019.