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Deep Dive: center field edition, part 2

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The White Sox are loaded with top center field prospects — with three guys named Luis leading the way

Top Dog: Leading the bill among the Luises is Luis Robert, shown here after another hit down in the AFL this season.
Kim Contreras (@Cu_As)/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 center field depth in the organization by providing small bits of information on players who primarily played the position for Winston-Salem, Birmingham and Charlotte. Player’s ages below are as of April 1, 2019.


Charlotte Knights

Ryan Cordell
6´4´´
205 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 27
Additional positions: right field, left field

Ryan Cordell spent his three collegiate seasons with the Liberty Flames. He was selected in the 11th round of the 2013 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers after slashing .261/.310/.391 in his junior season, with six homers, 40 RBIs, 28 stolen bases, 19 walks and 40 strikeouts in 261 at-bats. Cordell remained in the Rangers organization until Sept. 5, 2016, when he was part of the Texas-Milwaukee Brewers trade involving Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress.

Cordell was doing well in the high altitude of Colorado Springs, the location of the Brewers’ AAA team, until he suffered a lower back injury and was placed on the DL on June 30, 2017. Cordell would remain sidelined the rest of the season. For the year, he ended up at .284/.349/.506 with 18 doubles, five triples, 10 homers, 45 RBIs, nine stolen bases, 25 walks and 65 strikeouts in 261 at-bats.

The White Sox, based on Cordell’s talent, versatility (he’s played all positions except pitcher, catcher and second base) and history of success, opted to trade reliever Anthony Swarzak for Cordell — despite his back injury — on July 26, 2017.

After a solid spring training (where he slashed .317/.417/.512, with six extra-base hits, seven walks, eight RBIs and eight runs scored in 17 games) that nearly earned him a promotion to Chicago, Cordell was assigned to Charlotte to begin the season and was struggling horrifically (5-for-38) when he suffered a broken clavicle. Cordell missed two months of valuable development time, as he didn’t return to the field a rehab assignment until July 18. From that date through the end of August, Cordell was able to improve his minor league totals to a more respectable .246/.286/.374 in 203 at-bats, with a 10 doubles, two triples, four homers, 26 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 12 walks (5.45%) and 52 strikeouts (23.64%). When Charlotte’s season ended, Cordell earned a promotion to Chicago, but struggled miserably (4-for-37, with one double, one homer, no walks and 15 strikeouts). It’s unlikely Cordell will begin the 2019 season with the White Sox, as he does have one option left. Barring a trade or unexpected release, he should start 2019 in Charlotte.


Birmingham Barons

Luis Alexander Basabe
6´0´´
160 pounds
Bats: Both
Age: 22
Additional positions: right field, left field

As a prospect from Venezuela, he and brother Luis Alejandro Basabe received identical $450,000 signing bonuses from the Boston Red Sox on Aug, 26, 2012, when they turned 16. From 2013-16, “our” Basabe advanced as high as Salem, the High-A affiliate of the Red Sox. On Dec. 6, 2016, he was traded to the White Sox along with Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and Victor Diaz for southpaw ace Chris Sale.

The 2017 season with Winston-Salem was a disappointment for Basabe, marred by injuries that he decided to play through. His poor results should be taken with a grain of salt, partly due to the injuries, but also because he was much younger (2.6 years) than the average player in the league. Overall, Basabe slashed .221/.320/.320 in 435 at-bats, with five homers, 36 RBIs, 17 stolen bases, 49 walks (11.26%) and 104 strikeouts (23.91%).

As a result of those struggles, Basabe returned to the Dash in 2018 and displayed much better results. In 2018 for Winston-Salem, Basabe slashed .266/.370/.502 with 12 doubles, five triples, nine homers, seven stolen bases, 30 RBIs, 34 walks (13.88%) and 64 strikeouts (26.12%) in 207 at-bats prior to his June 21 promotion to Birmingham. For the Barons, in a much tougher hitting environment, Basabe slashed .251/.340/.394 with nine doubles, three triples, six homers, nine stolen bases, 26 RBIs, 30 walks (11.11%) and 76 strikeouts (28.15%). Other than strikeouts, Basabe actually had a really solid year. He is now the ninth-ranked White Sox prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

Basabe seems to just be scratching the surface of his raw talent. He’s got above-average power and exceptional arm strength, especially for someone with such a slight build. In fact, aside for perhaps Micker Adolfo, Basabe may have the best outfield combination of power and arm strength in the organization. Throw in speed, his defense (just 14 combined errors in six minor league seasons), and his power, the potential for superstardom is there if he can fully tap into it. Basabe is just 22, so there’s every reason to believe he can do so — especially if he can reduce his strikeouts. If he were able to reduce his whiffs by one every five games he played this year while maintaining his BABIP of .343, Basabe’s cumulative average would have risen from .258 to .276. A strong spring training may have Basabe begin next season with Charlotte; otherwise, he’ll head back to Birmingham instead.

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Winston-Salem Dash

Luis Robert
6´3´´
185 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 21
Additional positions: right field, left field

The White Sox won a bidding war with the St. Louis Cardinals for the services of this standout Cuban outfield prospecton May 27, 2017. The contract certainly wasn’t cheap — the White Sox paid Robert a $26 million bonus, the second-highest ever given to an amateur, a matching amount as a penalty for exceeding their bonus pool to land him, and the inability to spend more than $300,000 for any international prospect for the next two years.

But the promise made it all worthwhile: Robert, a five-tool athlete, hit .401/.526/.687 with 12 doubles, two triples, 12 homers, 40 RBIs, 11 stolen bases, 38 walks (16.4%) and 30 strikeouts (12.9%) as an 18-year-old in Cuba’s top league in 2016.

Robert had a great rookie season with the DSL White Sox in 2017, as he played in the Dominican for tax reasons. In between minor knee and ankle injuries, he was limited to 84 at-bats but slashed .310/.491/.536 with eight doubles, one triple, three homers, 14 RBIs, 12 stolen bases, 22 walks (18.80%), and 23 strikeouts (19.66%).

In 2018, with the AZL Sox, Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, Robert slashed a combined .269/.333/.360 in 186 at-bats with 11 doubles, three triples, no homers, 17 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 12 walks (5.77%) and 52 strikeouts (25%). It’s difficult to assess those numbers, because Robert dealt with damaged ligaments in his left thumb for much of the season. It has been reassuring to see Robert play effectively this offseason, when healthy, in the Arizona Fall League.

It’s easy to be disappointed when injuries have limited Robert’s playing time and results. All his tools, with the possible exception of hitting, rank above average. His speed is off-the-charts, and has posted sub-6.3 second 60-yard dashes. He does have above-average power, though it hasn’t yet shown in games due to his inexperience and injuries. He’s a terrific center fielder due in large part to his range, and has the arm to play right field if needed.

Robert could well return to Winston-Salem to begin the season, but expect him to be promoted by mid-May to Birmingham if he is healthy and starts the season well. Robert is the system’s fourth-ranked prospect and 44th overall, according to MLB Pipeline.

Luis Gonzalez
6´1´´
185 pounds
Bats: Left
Age: 23
Additional positions: right field, left field

Gonzalez, a three-year starting outfielder and starting pitcher with New Mexico, enjoyed a terrific junior season with the Lobos. He not only had a 4-3 record in 11 starts, he slashed .361/.500/.589, with 22 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 42 RBIs, 14-of-14 stolen bases, 58 walks (20%) and 32 strikeouts (11.03%). It’s easy to see why the White Sox would draft Gonzalez in the third round in 2017, ultimately signing him to a $517,000 bonus. After being drafted, and after a slow start, Gonzalez combined with Great Falls and Kannapolis to slash .236/.351/.348 in 250 at-bats, with 14 doubles, two triples, two homers, 15 RBIs, 42 walks (14.05%) and 53 strikeouts (17.73%).

Although Gonzalez’s plate discipline numbers slipped a bit in 2018, his other numbers showed significant improvement. Spending nearly equal time with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, he combined to slash .307/.368/.498 in 482 at-bats with 14 homers, 71 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 48 walks (8.86%) and 103 strikeouts (19.00%).

Gonzalez is a fundamentally-sound player who does everything well, if not exceptionally. As evidenced in his collegiate pitching, he has an excellent arm and could well be suited for right or left field, if center is occupied by someone else. He strikes me as a medium-ceiling, high-floor player, and currently ranks 14th among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline. Gonzalez did enough in 2018 to warrant a promotion to Birmingham for 2019.

Nolan Brown
5´11´´
175 pounds
Bats: Left
Age: 25
Additional positions: left field, right field

Nolan Brown went undrafted after his senior season with TCU, in which he slashed .277/.369/.388 for the Horned Frogs in 242 at-bats, with 14 doubles, two triples, three homers, 35 RBIs, 26-of-28 stolen bases, 29 walks (10.25%) and 53 strikeouts (18.73%). Brown’s hitting was better than expected with Great Falls last year, as he hit .329/.376/.393 for the Voyagers with one homer, 18 RBIs, seven stolen bases, 12 walks (6.15%) and 30 strikeouts (15.38%) in 173 at-bats.

This year, Brown combined hit .285/.358/.358 for Kannapolis in 206 at-bats, with 11 doubles, a triple, 19 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 19 walks (9.22%) and 43 strikeouts (20.39%). When promoted to Winston-Salem on July 18, he played sparingly, and was only six-for-37 for the Dash. Brown is your prototypical fourth outfielder who can play all outfield positions well and hit for a decent average, but doesn’t wield much power at the plate. He makes a good organizational bat who could fill in during injuries, but where he begins 2019 is a difficult question to answer. If he returns to the organization, it will most likely be with the Dash — especially if the team doesn’t feel Ian Dawkins is quite ready to move up from Kannapolis.

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Summary

The White Sox have an embarrassment of riches in center field. Most of their outfielders have shown sufficient versatility and above-average throwing arms, so if one stands out, the others could end up occupying the corner spots down the road. Robert will be the most exciting to watch, but it’ll just as much fun watching Basabe and Gonzalez continue to develop. Of course, by the time the White Sox eventually reach its competitive window, the White Sox won’t be able to play all of them (not to mention Eloy Jimenez, Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford, Alex Call, Steele Walker or Anderson Comas who have been, or will be, listed in different Deep Dives). Obviously, a few may not cut it ,while others may end up getting traded to fill other needs in the organization. With that said, this deep mix of outfield talent (especially center field) is quite a nice problem to have.