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Top 10 White Sox Prospects for 2018: Midseason Update

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Jimenez and Kopech remain atop the system — but for how long?

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game
Ace, in Spades: The future No. 1?
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

First, the caveat: I didn’t put a great deal of thought into this. I spend a lot of time on the offseason list. On this, I spent about 15 minutes thinking about it. I always call my midseason list “high-precision, decent-accuracy.”

Injuries have certainly been a key factor here, with more than half the players on my offseason list missing significant time.

Offseason ranking, if any, is in parentheses. Position is current, not necessarily projected major league position. If you want more detailed scouting reports, you can find most of them in the offseason list.

1. RF Eloy Jimenez (1)

The start to his season was delayed due to injury, but he picked up right where he left off last year, just obliterating baseballs. And he has barely missed a beat after his promotion to Charlotte. The hit tool continues to impress, with the slight drawback that his plate coverage abilities mean he doesn’t walk as much as one would expect from a guy with his elite power.

After exclusively playing him in right field after he came over from the Chicago Cubs last year, he’s increasingly played left field this season. With Avi García’s hamstring issues keeping his future in right field with the team still muddled, Jiménez’s path to the majors right now is in the other corner. Still just 21, the Dominican has been major league ready for awhile, and I expect to see him in a White Sox uniform very soon.

2. RHSP Michael Kopech (2)

Kopech looked like he was major league ready in May, but an erratic last couple of months has put the brakes on the hype train for now. Part of the issue, of course, is that the White Sox are attempting to get him to throw his fastball less so he can get more reps with his secondaries. That can be hard to do, as some of Kopech’s best outings this season have seen him throw 80% fastballs. That’s an approach basically no starter except Bartolo Colon gets away with at the major league level. The 22-year-old recently added a curve to his repertoire that is particularly effective against righties and, depending on the day or even inning, it seesaws with his slider as his best secondary. The change continues to be an infrequent sight, as against lefties he ordinarily uses his fastball, which runs away from them. Even with his lack of consistency, Kopech really is and has been major league ready, and I expect see him in a White Sox uniform sometime in the next month.

3. RHSP Dylan Cease (5)

Cease is the only pitcher of the quartet of Chicago’s top pitching prospects who has improved his stock. And, amusingly in a year where injuries are a theme, the most oft-injured player has been the one to stay healthy. The 22-year-old has already amassed 89 innings over 16 starts (and one relief appearance, in the Futures Game) and his next start will likely see him eclipse last season’s innings total, which was also his career high. Since Cease’s stuff has always been good, putting together a full season as a starter without missing time would reduce the concerns many have about whether the bullpen is his future. Knock on wood.

4. CF Luis Robert (t-3)

A left thumb injury delayed Robert’s Stateside debut until early June, and then he re-aggravated it earlier this month. It’s possible that he may miss the remainder of the season, but the Winston-Salem Dash already having locked up a playoff spot gives him a bit more runway. Anyway, the Arizona Fall League is almost a certainty.

In the brief time he has played this season, Robert has been largely been as advertised: raw and tooled-up. The strikeout rate is high, and the raw power doesn’t yet translate to game power. He can play a legit center field. But all these injuries, dating back to his time in the Dominican Summer League, mean that the soon-to-be 21-year-old has accrued just 201 plate appearances in affiliated ball. The more time he misses, the more time he’ll remain raw. Durability is becoming a major concern.

5. 2B Nick Madrigal (NA)

On a lot of lists, the 2018 first rounder is higher up. As someone who doesn’t follow college baseball at all, I’m a bit behind on my assessment. The late end to Madrigal’s college season and injury have conspired to prevent me from getting much of a look at him as a pro.

That said, it doesn’t take much time watching Madrigal to see he’s got excellent bat control and should have few issues making contact. He’s got above-average speed. Defensively, he looks fine and capable of playing third or second, with the possibility of shortstop. The main drawback is that he’s small. And I don’t just mean short, because Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia are short. Madrigal has a small frame. He’s very unlikely to hit for more than doubles/triples power and, given his bat-to-ball skills, that also means he won’t walk much, either. Durability will be a concern, as well. Given his overall skill set, though, I certainly see how people get to his projections as an above-average player.

6. RHSP Alec Hansen (t-3)

Injury kept Hansen out until mid-June, and he has not been impressive. Of his seven starts, only one can be described as good, with the remainder somewhere between poor and atrocious. Hansen’s strikeout rate (19.4%) is way down and his walk rate, which he had improved so much as a pro, is at a shocking level (18.7%). While a re-adjustment period can be expected when returning from a lengthy injury, the fact that it’s stretched to well over a month and shows no signs of ending is extremely concerning. The 23-year-old has a history of elbow issues, and the latest injury (forearm soreness) was right in that same area.

7. RF Blake Rutherford (9)

After being traded over from the New York Yankees last season, the 21-year-old was pretty uninspiring. Still, the White Sox believed in Rutherford enough to promote him to High-A to start the year, and he’s repaid that confidence. While it’s important to remember that Winston-Salem is offense-friendly (and Kannapolis is not), a near-.300 batting average, 17.8% strikeout rate and .154 ISO are very welcome sights. Since Rutherford’s skill set will probably ensure that he’s a corner outfielder, the power needs to improve, but he’s taken a lot of pressure off himself this season.

8. RHSP Dane Dunning (6)

The 23-year-old was having an excellent season until a grade II elbow sprain abruptly ended it. For those scoring at home, “elbow sprain” is a polite way of saying “tear in a ligament around the elbow,” almost certainly the ulnar collateral ligament. The timeline the White Sox gave for Dunning’s return would put him on course to potentially throw in fall instructs and/or the Arizona Fall League. Given Dunning only managed 66 13 IP, it would be helpful if he could add some innings — health permitting of course.

9. RHRP Zack Burdi (7)

Obviously, not much has changed with Burdi. We know he was throwing off a mound in Glendale, since he tweeted that out last month. We’re almost to the one-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery and, assuming Burdi hasn’t experienced any setback recently, he’s probably been throwing simulated games. It’s more likely than not that we see him in a minor league game this season, though perhaps not all the way back at Triple-A. Burdi should be back to full strength in fall instructs and available for an AFL assignment. His ceiling remains a high leverage reliever.

10. C Zack Collins (NR)

Collins has raised his batting average to an acceptable .250 range, but it’s fueled by a very high BABIP. He’s hitting for less power, but that’s mostly park-related, and his strikeout rate is right where you’d expect it. The only things that are different about the 23-year-old is an improved walk rate, and that’s he doing all this at Double-A. That’s good — until you remember his horrifying defense. Defense is why Collins is still with Birmingham, while Seby Zavala got promoted. I still cannot ever fathom Collins as a regular catcher, and it remains a very open question whether the bat will be enough at another position.

*****

The players dropping out:

For the second year in a row, no players from the offseason list have graduated to the majors (yet).

Spencer Adams (8): The 22-year-old continues to chug along with his low-strikeout, low-walk, weak-contact approach and finally earned a promotion to Charlotte. It’s a fairly dangerous profile, particularly when backed by a bad defense (as the White Sox currently have). But Adams basically has done what was expected of him, it’s just that a top draft pick and improved former draft pick have jumped ahead.

Jake Burger (10): Burger ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon again while rehabbing and, while this didn’t change his timeline of missing the entire season, you’re not going to hold your spot treading water.

***

Most of you know that I eschew numeric lists in favor of groupings, which I think more accurately display the difference, or lack of difference, in value among players. If someone wants to re-order my numeric rankings while remaining within the same player grouping, I’m not going to argue with them.

  • Group 1: Jimenez and Kopech
  • Group 2: Cease and Robert
  • Group 3: Madrigal
  • Group 4: Hansen, Rutherford, Dunning, and Burdi
  • Group 5: Collins and a bunch more