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Deep Dive: right field edition, part 2

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The White Sox have terrific right-field depth, and it’s getting closer to Chicago

Lucky Number: Blake Rutherford ranks seventh among top White Sox prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.
Winston-Salem Dash

“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 right 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

Believe it or not, the Knights didn’t finish their season with one player who primarily played right field last year. The season began with Daniel Palka, who was promoted in late April to Chicago. Mason Robbins then was promoted from Birmingham, but was released a couple of months later. While Jacob May, Ryan Cordell and Trayce Thompson all played right field at times in 2018, they each spent more time at center. Also, Avi Garcia spent some time in right, during rehab time. Don’t be surprised to see either Luis Basabe or Cordell spend significant time in right this year for the Knights.


Birmingham Barons

Alex Call
6´0´´
188 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 24
Additional positions: left field, center field

Call, a Burnsville, Minn. native, was a master of consistency during his three-year reign as starting outfielder for the Ball State Cardinals, where he averaged .351/.425/.530. At the end of his junior season in 2016, Call led NCAA Division I hitters in total bases, after slashing .358/.443/.667 in 243 at-bats, with 24 doubles, six triples, and 13 homers to go along with 17 stolen bases and 29 walks (which matched his strikeout total). Results like these made it difficult for the White Sox to pass him up in the third round of 2016’s MLB draft, signing for slot value, at just more than $719,000.

Call continued his consistent play with Great Falls and Kannapolis in 2016. His combined slash line was .308/.395/.445 over 292 at-bats, with six homers, 35 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, 34 walks (10.1%), and 58 strikeouts (17.2%). Upon promotion to Winston-Salem to begin 2017, Call was off to a mediocre start .244/.311/.366 in 10 games when he was placed on the DL with a painful intercostal rib muscle injury that cost him about 10 weeks of critical playing time. From June 30 to July 19 for the AZL White Sox on a rehab assignment, he slashed a paltry .059/.180/.078, which indicates either he was still in a great deal of pain or quite rusty (or both). After his rehab assignment, Call put up so-so numbers with Kannapolis, .248/.333/.386 with three homers, two stolen bases, 16 walks (9.5%), and 33 strikeouts (17.6%) over 145 at-bats.

After his struggles, Call knew he had to have a big year in 2018. While his numbers weren’t spectacular in Winston-Salem over 195 at-bats, they were enough to get him promoted to Birmingham on June 21. For the Dash, Call hit .256/.368/.421 with five homers, 28 RBIs, four stolen bases, 35 walks (15.2%), and 52 strikeouts (22.6%); his best month was June, when he hit .286/.359/.484. Call got off to a terrific start with Birmingham and hit .320/.402/.505 in July, but struggled badly in August (.176/.261/.324). Overall for the Barons, Call hit .242/.325/.411 over 236 at-bats, with seven homers, 30 RBIs, two stolen bases, 25 walks (9.6%), and 75 strikeouts (28.7%). Prior to his late-season slump, Call seemed like a good bet to begin 2019 with Charlotte; now, that may be in doubt.

Based on innings played, Call spent 58.6% of his time in right, 22.4% in left, and 21% in center. He has good range in center field, but like former White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton, Call’s defense plays even better at the corners. Because Call has a grade 60 arm, which is probably second only to Micker Adolfo in the White Sox organization, he is better suited in right where he can show it off more frequently. Call doesn’t have blazing speed, but can still play a solid center as well.

Call was ranked No. 14 in MLB Pipeline’s 2017 preseason list of top White Sox prospects, but has fallen off since. He graded at the end of 2017 as 50 Hit, 45 Power, 55 Run, 60 Arm, 50 Field. Re-ranking him now, I’d improve the Field grade to 55 (especially as a corner outfielder) and reduce his hit grade to 45.

Reducing the hit grade may be a bit harsh, but his strikeout rates have risen drastically over the past couple years, and his averages have dropped as a result. If he can cut down his strikeouts, he could be a consistent .280/.375/.440 hitter. As it is, his career minor league slash line is .256/.347/.400. Call has shown nice power for his frame. It’s possible that Call will begin 2019 with Charlotte, but likelier that he returns to Birmingham.

Jameson Fisher
6´2´´
200 pounds
Bats: Left
Age: 25

Jameson Fisher, formerly a catcher and later a DH/outfielder for the Southeastern Louisiana Lions, wielded an efficient (and improving bat) during his time in the Southland Conference. In Fisher’s freshman season of 2014, he slashed .315/.403/.425 with 21 walks (8.30%) and 23 strikeouts (9.09%) in 219-at bats. Despite suffering a torn labrum and dislocated shoulder which zapped him of his power during his sophomore season, Fisher still managed to slash .389/.481/.469, with 30 walks (10.20%) and 29 strikeouts (9.86%). Finally, in Fisher’s junior season, he slashed .424/.558/.692 with 11 homers, 66 RBIs, 15-of-15 stolen bases, 54 walks (19.57%) and 31 strikeouts (11.23%) in 198 at-bats.

Despite being quite raw defensively in his new position, Fisher’s bat ultimately forced the issue, as the White Sox drafted him in the fourth round in 2016 MLB, ultimately signing him to a $485,000 bonus. Fisher capped his sensational 2016 season by slashing .342/.436/.487 for Great Falls in 187 at-bats, with 13 doubles, one triple, four homers, 25 RBIs, 27 walks (12.33%) and 43 strikeouts (19.63%).

Fisher struggled last year while playing for both Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. Overall, he combined to slash just .245/.342/.402 in 458 at-bats, with 10 homers, 68 RBIs, 58 walks (10.82%) and 114 strikeouts (21.27%); the numbers were actually worse in Winston-Salem. However, due to the prospect crunch at the beginning of this year at Winston-Salem, Fisher was promoted to Birmingham though he really should’ve returned to the Dash. As a result, his numbers fell to just .216/.321/.321 with six homers, 21 RBIs, 44 walks (11.89%) and 113 strikeouts (30.54%) in just 315 at-bats. Fisher was clearly overmatched.

It’s difficult to say what Fisher’s future is at this point. His only above-average tools at the time of the 2016 MLB draft were hitting (55) and power (55), according to MLB Pipeline; without either of those tools reaching expectations, and his mediocre defense and weak arm becoming a major hindrance, Fisher certainly doesn’t project as a right fielder going forward.

It’s possible Fisher could be demoted to Winston-Salem for 2019 and play first base, since I originally had Justin Yurchak slated to begin the season there, before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for hurler Manny Bañuelos. Struggling corner infielder Matt Rose could also fit that bill as well. Unless Fisher’s power and hitting tools return to their college forms, it’s difficult to project him in any type of organizational role going forward.

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Winston-Salem Dash

Blake Rutherford
6´3´´
195 pounds
Bats: Left
Age: 21
Additional positions: left field, center field

All Rutherford did in his senior season with Chaminade Prep H.S. (Canoga Park, Calif.) was slash .577/.676/.706 with 13 doubles, one triple, and hit four homers in 102 at-bats. At the time of the 2016 MLB draft, scouting reports were glowing: Keith Law said Rutherford had a “unique combination of hit and power and has shown an ability to spray well-hit balls to all fields,” while Baseball America wrote “some scouts see him as a potential power-hitting center fielder in the Jim Edmonds mold.”

As a combined result of his performance and scouting reports, the New York Yankees selected him in the first round (18th overall). After signing him to $3.282 million bonus to pry him from his commitment to UCLA, the Yankees had him play for two of their rookie-league teams, where combined to slash .351/.415/.570 in 130 at-bats.

Rutherford was off to a good, but unsensational start with New York’s A-team in Charleston as of July 19, 2017. At that time, he was slashing .282/342/.391 with two homers, 30 RBIs, nine stolen bases, 25 walks (8.22%) and 55 strikeouts (18.09) in 274 at-bats. Of course, on that date, he was traded along with Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo, and Tyler Clippard to the White Sox for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier. Rutherford struggled with his new squad in Kannapolis, slashing just .213/.289/.254 with just five doubles and five RBIs in 126 at-bats.

Promoted to Winston-Salem to begin 2018, Rutherford bounced back to slash .293/.345/.436 in 447 at-bats with 25 doubles, nine triples, seven homers, 78 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 34 walks (6.98%) and 90 strikeouts (18.48%). While it would’ve been nice to see him crack the double-digit mark in homers, it was great to see him considerably improve his slash line.

Rutherford is a solid outfielder with good range, and played all three defensive positions. If Rutherford and Adolfo both begin next year in Birmingham, Rutherford may likely move to either left or center field, because Adolfo has a much stronger arm. According to most scouts, Rutherford’s tools rank from 50-55, so he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses; with that said, he doesn’t have any off-the-chart tool, either.

Rutherford does have legitimate power, though like Gavin Sheets, it hasn’t translated yet to games. Last year, he was 1.4 years younger than league average. He’s still just 21, so there’s still time for him to grow into his power. Expect Rutherford to begin next season with the Barons.

Micker Adolfo
6´3´´
200 pounds
Bats: Right
Age: 22

Adolfo was quite the coveted international prospect in 2013, as MLB.com and Baseball America ranked him second and ninth respectively prior to International Signing Day. The White Sox signed the 16-year-old outfielder to a $1.6 million bonus. Special assistant to the GM Marco Paddy stated at the time of the signing, “He is a special kid. In my 21-year career, I had never seen in a player what I’ve seen in Micker, and that is due to the mental approach that makes him special. He has an understanding of what he is doing, what he needs to improve and how to go about it.” It also didn’t hurt that Adolfo displayed prodigious power, a cannon of an arm, and good defensive ability.

However, progress for Adolfo didn’t come as easily (or quickly) as originally expected. In his first three years with the AZL Sox and Kannapolis, he combined to slash just .225/.282/.356 in 525 at-bats, with 28 doubles, four triples, 11 homers, 54 RBIs, 35 walks (6.10%), and 206 strikeouts (35.89%).

The struggles had a lot to do with learning a new culture, understanding the speed of the game, and injuries (breaking his leg in 2015 on a slide into home plate, fracturing the hook of his hamate bone in 2016). Although he did appear for short stays on the DL twice in 2017, Adolfo finally broke out by slashing .264/.331/.453 in 424 at-bats, with 28 doubles, two triples, 16 homers, 68 RBIs, 31 walks (6.55%) and 149 strikeouts (31.50%). While the walks and strikeouts weren’t great, they were improvements nonetheless, and his 46 extra-base-hits (along with an improvement in his slashing averages) definitely showed signs of good things to come. In order to prevent teams like the San Diego Padres from selecting him in the Rule 5 draft, Adolfo was added to the 40-man roster during the offseason.

The 2018 season didn’t start off so well for Adolfo. He was diagnosed with a torn flexor muscle and a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow during spring training. However, he got the green light from doctors to play for Winston-Salem as a DH, because swinging the bat wasn’t expected to cause further damage. As a result, Adolfo had his best season to date by slashing .282/.369/.464 in 291 at-bats, with 18 doubles one triple, 11 homers, 50 RBIs, 34 walks (10.12%) and 92 strikeouts (27.28%). The White Sox ultimately shut him down in July so he could get Tommy John surgery in time to be ready for 2019.

According to MLB Pipeline (who currently ranks Adolfo 11th among White Sox prospects), Adolfo’s tools all rank 50 or better, with the exception of hitting (45). His arm grades 70, power 55, running and fielding 50. On the positive side, Adolfo’s walks have risen while his whiffs have decreased; thus, with a improvement in all areas of his slash line, it’s conceivable his hitting could eventually move up to 50. Since Adolfo has just two options left as a result of being placed on the 40-Man Roster last season while still on the Kannapolis roster, expect Adolfo to begin next season with Birmingham, with an eventual jump late in the year to Charlotte provided he’s healthy.

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Summary

It’s conceivable that Adolfo, Rutherford and Call could all have futures in the majors. Call looks to be a reserve outfielder in our loaded system, but he could eventually become trade bait as part of a package to lure stars to the White Sox; this not only would help the White Sox, but it would give Call a chance to play every day for another organization. As for Adolfo, while strikeouts are still a concern, he’s improved by leaps and bounds during the past couple of years. With his power and arm, he should be a fixture in right field for the Sox as early as mid-2020 or 2021, provided he can stay healthy. Finally, Rutherford has all the potential to succeed in the major leagues. He’s still only 21, and is just learning to turn on pitches. Rutherford’s floor could be as a reserve outfielder, as he is a reliable defender and possesses an advanced approach by hitting the ball to all fields; if he can reach his 20-plus homer potential in actual games, he could become another fixture in the White Sox outfield for years to come—possibly as early as 2021.