Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. Next up is Alex Call, a former top prospect whose injuries and subsequent struggles in 2017 saw him fall out of many top prospect lists.
Alex Call (OF) Birmingham Barons
Alex 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, he 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 has 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, as evidenced by these videos:
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 since fallen off. Their grades him for the end of 2107 were 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 six-foot, 180-pound frame as evidenced by this video:
Aaron Rowand, now the outfield and baserunning coordinator for the White Sox, said this about Call on an NBC Sports Chicago podcast:
He’s a gamer, he’s got good tools, he’s got good speed, he’s a great outfielder, he’s got a lot more power than someone would think for his size, great base runner. There’s just a few things he’s working on cleaning up as far as his swing goes. If he gets that, he’s got the ability to be an impact player.
High praise indeed!
It’s possible that Call will begin 2019 with Charlotte, but likelier that he returns to Birmingham. Call is not the only Barons outfielder that has a chance for promotion — others include Joel Booker, Luis Basabe and Tito Polo. Of these outfielders, Basabe seems to have the highest ceiling, while Call may have the highest floor. If Call gets off to a good start, he could earn his promotion to Charlotte rather quickly.
Barring any significant and/or major regression with the White Sox outfield prospects (Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Luis Gonzalez, Blake Rutherford, Basabe, Adolfo), it’s hard to envision Call being an everyday starter for the White Sox in 2020 and beyond. However, he could be a valuable fourth outfielder, who can play all outfield positions exceptionally well. It’s also possible, of course, that Call could eventually be part of a trade package (like Ryan Cordell has been twice in the past) that could help steer the Sox toward an eventual playoff run.