“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:
- Depth in the lower levels (Dominican through Kannapolis)
- Depth in the higher levels (Winston-Salem through Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- 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 the position for Winston-Salem, Birmingham and Charlotte.
Additional positions: third base, second base, first base
Signed for $70,000 out of Venezuela in 2011 by the Angels, Rondon spent three years in rookie ball (slashing .290/.352/.392) before making his full season debut in with the Inland Empire 66’ers (A+) in 2014. He appeared in that year’s Futures Game and was hitting .327 when on July 19, he was involved in a six-player trade to the San Diego Padres. He continued hitting for Padres affiliate the Lake Elsinore Storm (A+), to the tune of .301/.371/.390.
In 2015, Rondón started the year ranked fifth in the Padres MLB Pipeline, and continued raking in Lake Elsinore, to the tune of .300/.365/.414, prior to earning a promotion to AA San Antonio. His struggles in San Antonio (.190/.219/.230), combined with a season-ending fractured elbow, slipped him to 12th in MLB Pipeline’s prospect rankings to begin 2016. Rondón rebounded that year between San Antonio and El Paso (AAA) to hit .283/.309/.386. He also earned a promotion to the Padres that year, but struggled badly, with just three hits in 25 at-bats. In an injury-riddled 2017 campaign, Rondón hit .293/.347/.442 with a career-high seven homers, but didn’t earn a return trip to San Diego. Rondón was designated from the Padres in early January 2018, to clear space on San Diego’s 40-man roster. The White Sox pounced immediately, and acquired him for cash considerations on January 10.
With Charlotte in 2018, Rondón sacrificed average for power. In 80 games he slugged 18 homers; in 565 prior minor league games, he hit just 19. Overall with Charlotte, Rondón hit .249/.290/.495. However, he only had 16 walks (4.86 BB%), against 82 strikeouts (24.92 K%), percentages that are among his career worst. He stole five bases with Charlotte — but has been caught six times. For the White Sox in 2018 in 100 at-bats, he slashed .230/.280/.470 with six doubles and six homers.
If the White Sox maintain the status quo in the infield, Rondon would have an excellent chance to begin next season on the Opening Day roster as the reserve infielder. However, if the Sox acquire a third baseman via trade or free agency during the offseason, Rondón’s situation wouldn’t be as clear. He is out of options; thus, Rondón can’t be sent to the minors unless he first clears waivers, which is unlikely. Thus, the White Sox would either have to trade Yolmer Sánchez in order to make room for him, or simply trade Rondon instead. The Sox likely won’t keep both as reserves.
In three years of collegiate ball (the first in junior college, the final two with the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks), Mendick displayed consistently solid hitting skills albeit without much power. In those three years, covering 458 at-bats, Mendick slashed .332/.419/.483 with a combined eight homers, 90 RBIs, 32 stolen bases, 55 walks (10.13%) and 38 strikeouts (7.0%). Partly because he didn’t hit for much power and his competition level wasn’t quite so fierce, Mendick fell to the White Sox in the 22nd round of the 2015 MLB Draft. In his four-year career in the White Sox organization, he has slashed .253/.336/.380 while combining to hit 31 homers and steal 48 bases, while walking and striking out at respectable rates of 9.62% and 12.65% respectively.
This year with Birmingham, which is a notoriously difficult place to hit, Mendick managed to slash .247/.340/.395 in 132 games (453 at-bats) and record career highs in doubles (25), homers (14) and stolen bases (20). He walked (10.78%) and whiffed a bit more (17.01%) as well. Although he only played shortstop in 2018, Mendick has played plenty of games in his career at second and third bases as well.
Mendick does everything a utility infield/bench type is supposed to do: He’s hard-nosed, focused, and squeezes everything he can out of his game. His gritty competitiveness gives him an outside shot at a small, random window of modest success in the big leagues, thanks to hard work and good fortune. He is eligible for selection in the Rule-5 Draft, but I don’t believe he’ll be protected. If he’s not selected, I project Mendick to begin 2019 as the starting shortstop for the Charlotte Knights, as the White Sox prepare to pull their Grinder Rules back out of mothballs in case the gritty grinder gets a call-up.
Additional positions: third base, second base
Rivera played for three different schools in his four-year college career: the University of Miami, Chipola JC (2015), and the Division II University of Tampa (2016-17). One thing is clear: The Miami resident excelled wherever he played. During that time, Rivera combined to slash .386/.442/.546 with 15 homers, 124 RBIs, 25 stolen bases, 40 walks (5.63%) and 66 strikeouts (9.28%) in 624 at-bats. After a typically successful season as a senior, Rivera wasn’t picked until the 28th round of the 2017 MLB Draft.
His first assignment with the White Sox, upon receiving his $1,000 signing bonus, was with the AZL White Sox, and he didn’t disappoint. In 47 games (186 at-bats), Rivera slashed .296/.374/.446 with 12 doubles, five triples, two homers, 24 RBIs, eight walks (3.76%) and 26 strikeouts (12.21%). Of course, his 2017 success was taken with a grain of salt because Rivera was more than two years older than league average.
Rivera emerged as a true prospect in 2018 with Kannapolis, after slashing .346/.395/.502 in 237 at-bats with 15 doubles, two triples, six homers, 24 RBIs, seven stolen bases, six walks (2.26%) and 48 strikeouts (18.11%). After earning a promotion to Winston-Salem on July 21, Rivera held his own in 225 at-bats by slashing .280/325/.458 with 15 doubles, two triples, seven homers, 37 RBIs, 10 homers, seven walks (2.81%) and 44 strikeouts (17.67%). Thus, though his average dipped a bit in Winston-Salem, Rivera improved his power while marginally improving his walks and whiffs.
Rivera shot up the prospect charts last year and now ranks 28th among Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline. He’s given 50 grades in all categories except power, which earns a fairly low grade of 40. Rivera is an average defensive shortstop who committed 19 errors last year. I project Rivera to begin the 2019 season with the Birmingham Barons; how he’ll do in that difficult hitting environment will determine whether he’s best suited for a starting or utility role going forward.
Additional positions: third base, left field, right field
Yryzarri received a whopping $1.35 million signing bonus with the Texas Rangers on International Signing Day of July 2, 2013, when he was just 16. As a Ranger, the Venezuelan had a reasonable amount of success, but was never quite ready to take that next step. He was playing for the Down East Ducks, the Texas’ A+ squad, when Yryzarri was traded to the White Sox for international bonus pool money on July 15, 2017. After the trade, Yryzarri slashed .295/.304/.330 with Winston-Salem with one homer, 11 RBIs, one stolen base, two walks (1.71%) and 21 strikeouts (17.95%) over 112 at-bats.
On his return to Winston-Salem in 2018, Yrizarri hit .247/.296/.363 in 372 at-bats, with six homers, 46 RBIs, 16 stolen bases, 18 walks (4.46%) and 75 strikeouts (18.56%). On the surface, the season was a disappointment. However, Yryzarri easily attained his career high in walks and improved his stolen base efficiency. His slash averages are only slightly below his five-year career of .261/.292/.368.
Yryzarri has an exceptional throwing arm, and if his hitting doesn’t take him further, he may end up having a future on the mound. He is still quite unrefined, but he won’t turn 22 until February and still played last year against competition about 1.4 years older than he was. There’s still hope for him going forward. I expect Yrizarri to return to Winston-Salem to begin the 2019 season, but if he may move up fairly quickly if he gets on a bit of a hot streak.
There’s significant talent at shortstop at every level of the White Sox organization. Granted, the talent isn’t elite, since most aren’t listed in the Top 20 organizational prospect lists. At the very least, you can envision all the guys in the upper levels getting to the big leagues as role players, if not more. Combined with the talent at the lower levels, and possibly new talent emerging from the 2019 MLB Draft and International Signing Day, it’s not going out on a limb to say that shortstop is (and will continue to be) the deepest infield position in the White Sox organization.