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How rich is the White Sox farm system? FanGraphs sez: Time for some real talk

Brilliant Craig Edwards study values the cream of the system at a stunning $369 million

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Seattle Mariners
Bonanza: Eloy Jiménez headlines a list of 11 White Sox prospects representing at least $10 million in surplus value apiece.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Today, Craig Edwards published a couple of posts at FanGraphs that put the state of the upper reaches of the Chicago White Sox system in stark perspective. And when by stark, I mean, like, dripping with gold coins.

Edwards both broke down the top 131 prospects and their surplus values, and updated (post-2018 season) farm system rankings through a fairly rigorous methodology that I strongly encourage you to click on and read about, because it is fascinating.

And in the case of the White Sox, a somewhat reserved term like “fascinating” translates to, I dunno, something like running down the stairs on Christmas morning.

That the White Sox place somewhere in the range of a dozen or so prospects among the top 150ish in the game isn’t necessarily news. Applying a dollar value to those prospects is.

FanGraphs Player Valuation 2018-11

Rank Player Grade Value (millions)
Rank Player Grade Value (millions)
3 Eloy Jimenez 65 $64
19 Nick Madrigal 60 $53
24 Michael Kopech 55 $44
27 Luis Robert 55 $43
66 Zack Collins 50 $26
83 Luis Basabe 50 $21
87 Micker Adolfo 50 $20
95 Dylan Cease 50 $18
96 Dane Dunning 50 $18
116 Zack Burdi 50 $13
130 Alec Hansen 50 $10

(Edwards is valuing 1.0 WAR at $9 million dollars.)

Team-wise, this valuation lands the White Sox roster in a nice spot, as well.

Again, we already had a good sense that the White Sox were a third-ranked system, behind the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves. But with a total of 28 prospects ranked with a scout rating of 40 or better, translating to 41.0 WAR, Chicago has a valuation of $369 million.

Again, these figures are best explained with a full reading of Edwards’ work at FanGraphs, and really, if you’re digging this information, give FanGraphs a couple of clicks, please. Loosely translated, however, both the individual player values and team value can be looked at as either a sort of surplus value, or, in even more direct terms, the amount of a signing bonus a player would get today based on anticipated future performance.

In other words, if Eloy was freed from his White Sox bonds and went to the highest bidder, Edwards’ exhaustive research anticipates a team offering him $64 million would break even on the investment with future production. (Of course, drooling over Eloy as a possible future Hall-of-Famer would drive the price up north of $64 million, but the smart money, the money with the best chance of being recouped, would be $64 million.)

If you think that might even skew low based on the $400 million contract figures being anticipated for the likes of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, well, prospects are still far from a sure thing. Edwards’ story on player valuation spells it out really well, but there’s basically no such thing as a sure thing.

Well, actually, there is: Pitching prospects with a scout value of 70 have a 0% “bust” rate in Edwards’ study. But guess what? There are no such pitchers currently in the minors. In fact, only Vladimir Guerrero Jr., a third baseman, holds a 70 value, and position players scouted as 70s still do have a 4.8% bust possibility.

Another thing you might be tempted to muse over when seeing such a large dollar figure attached to the top of the White Sox system might be : Handle with care. Like, oh, now I understand why Rick Hahn wants Eloy to “work on his defense!”

But remember, these aren’t just willy-nilly bux being attached to players like Eloy. The bucks are derived from anticipated future WAR production. A player slotted with Eloy’s resume (a 65 value position player) produces an average MLB WAR of 6.9. His bust rate is (a somewhat nerve-wracking) 18.8%.

So, the values represent anticipated WAR. And that takes us back to the semi-circular argument of winning now vs. waiting for a magic window.

If there was a perfect strategy, we’d have no debate, and Hahn would be making the right choice because it would be the “only” choice. But the truth is, these values may go up or down, depending on how players perform before they get their call (let’s just say Alec Hansen’s value is really ebbing these days). And once a player is up, prospect value is gone, and the clock starts ticking on whether a blue-chipper like Eloy will meet or surpass his anticipated MLB WAR.

It’s nerve-wracking, man. But it’s better to have the system with nearly $400 million in future value in it than not.

Let’s hope that 2019 brings the White Sox the first of many anticipated happy returns from their rich prospect depth.