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FanGraphs gone loco

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Four Top 50 players, five Top 60, but Eloy, Kopech, Cease drop in the rankings

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Seattle Mariners
We feel you, Dylan: Cease consumed the minors whole in 2018 — and fell 11 spots in his FanGraphs prospect ranking
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, FanGraphs was the last of the big boys to submit its Top 100 (Top 131, in fact). And let’s just say, for Chicago White Sox fans, it was not worth the wait.

As usual, scroll to the bottom for a composite Top 100 listing.


FanGraphs

Good lord, this list is a mess. Taken on its own merit, OK, FanGraphs is a little down on the core five top White Sox prospects. In conjunction with their top picks of 2018, placements this year are borderline outrageous.

FanGraphs:

8. Eloy Jiménez, OF (down two spots from 2018)
29. Michael Kopech, RHP (down 12 spots)
32. Nick Madrigal, 2B (unranked)
43. Luis Robert (up 12 spots)
58. Dylan Cease (down 11 spots)
121. Dane Dunning (down 32 spots)

Let’s just bullet-point the craziness:

  • Jiménez is drooled over through three paragraphs of writeup, but is dinged for “myriad of injury issues” and somehow drops two spots after his otherworldly 2018.
  • Kopech has “No. 3 starter ceiling” if he returns intact from TJS. Yep, No. 3 starter.
  • Madrigal’s generous placement at No. 32 is pockmarked with concerns from FG, but overall the tone is sunny for a nice bounce-back in 2019.
  • Conversely, Robert’s writeup is almost entirely negative (not necessarily unfair, but still) yet “LouBob” was raised 12 spots in the ranks.
  • Cease is also raked over the coals for “control” rather than “command,” essentially projecting him as a spot starter/long man.
  • Dunning remains projected as a mid-rotation starter, which begs the question of why he’s ranked 63 places behind Cease.

I mean, overall, FanGraphs has four White Sox in the Top 50 and five in the Top 60, so FG wouldn’t be wrong to ask that complaints be checked at the door. But some of the reasoning and placements are curious, to say the least.


The Athletic

John Sickels, formerly of Minor League Ball here at SB Nation, made the switch to the athletic, and with it released his Top 100 (paywall) list this week. Sickels is notably down on Michael Kopech for ... getting TJS? Harsh. But, he is pretty high on Dylan Cease. Sickels whittling his normal Top 175 list down to 100 perhaps made him a little angry at the White Sox, because he has some fairly harsh South Side picks.

The Athletic (John Sickels):

3. Eloy Jiménez, OF (up six spots from 2018)
18. Dylan Cease, RHP (up 28 spots)
35. Michael Kopech, RHP (down 21 spots)
57. Nick Madrigal, 2B (unranked)
64. Luis Robert (down 21 spots)

“Sleepers”: Luis González and Jimmy Lambert

Frankly, Sickels’ writing is pretty dry, so I’ll skip the play-by-play, with one exception. His blurb on Kopech is notable, in that he discusses how tough it is to rank him during TJS rehab. Yet, yep, there it is, No. 22, Brent Honeywell of the Rays. Same surgery, six months earlier, hardly more measurable “progress” from the surgery than Kopech. Yeah, there’s another “your mileage may vary” disclaimer in there from Sickels regarding Honeywell, but to rank him 13 spots higher than Kopech is odd, given Kopech has already made the majors.


Clubhouse Corner

Former Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners scout Bernie Pleskoff released a Top 50 over at Clubhouse Corner. Spoiler: You’re gonna like it.

Pleskoff, simply by his Chicago White Sox rankings, appears to skew to the more polished product. The introduction to his Top 50 outlines all the factors he takes into account in compiling his list, and it makes plenty of sense. That said, feast on this:

Clubhouse Corner (Bernie Pleskoff):

1. Eloy Jiménez, OF
10. Michael Kopech, RHP
14. Dylan Cease, RHP
21. Luis Robert, OF
46. Nick Madrigal, 2B

Yikes! That is tasty. Pleskoff has a section after his Top 50 he terms “Bernie’s Guys,” the players he most likes to watch and is likely higher on that other scouts — three of the eight Guys are White Sox.

You just can’t get more over the moon over a player than Pleskoff is on Jiménez. He’s the only player on his list to earn a scouting grade of 70 and the scout predicts Eloy will be an All-Star in 2020 as a “lethal” hitter who will “make a tremendous impact in the game.”

As for Kopech, Pleskoff believes “Kopech has enough in his tank to be a No. 1 or 2 starter for the White Sox for years to come” and that what sets him apart from others is his mound presence and competitive edge.

Cease, as in every list, chases right behind Kopech, and has his “blazing” fastball touted, which will lead to “strikeouts by the bushel.” Of course, Pleskoff also sees Cease as a future closer.

There are no substantial skinnies outside of the top 20 or so players, but, as you can see, Bernie digs the Sox system. In fact, an informal jotting of players ranked would place the White Sox with the top system in baseball: Five players in the Top 50, with only the San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays and Atlanta Braves having as many as four.


ESPN

ESPN’s Top 100 (Top 50, bottom 50, and extras, all paywalled), courtesy of noted Chicago White Sox fan Keith Law, came out at the end of January.

The news wasn’t great by any stretch, in terms of White Sox prospects. But Law still puts three White Sox — Eloy Jiménez, Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease — in his Top 25, and is actually more generous to the White Sox than Baseball America.

Of course, it’s all made worse by Fernando Tatis Jr. jumping from No. 3 to No. 1, ahead of even the gilded Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and him being enamored with San Diego prospects (six in his Top 50).

ESPN’s full list is below, and an aggregate of rankings follows at the end of the article.

ESPN (Keith Law)

5. Eloy Jiménez, OF (up one spot from 2018)
20. Michael Kopech, RHP (down nine)
25. Dylan Cease, RHP (unranked)
54. Luis Robert, OF (down eight)
109. Dane Dunning, RHP (unranked)
112. Nick Madrigal, 2B (unranked)

Law is enamored of Eloy’s bat and power (of course), dings him as a below average runner and defender, but finishes with “any team would gladly take a few runs not prevented by his glove for the high-average and 30-homer bat he’ll provide.”

Kopech gets raves as well: “... if Kopech comes back with the same stuff, there’s no good reason he can’t be Chicago’s ace in two years.”

And from one ace to another, Cease makes a huge leap for Law, from unranked to No. 25 overall: “... all indicators are pointing up, and he has No. 1 starter stuff if he can hold up in that role.”

Robert tumbled out of the Top 50, eight spots to No. 54. Law touts Robert’s “star-level tools” that, with better health, could lead to more than just an average MLB player.

One spot the White Sox are well represented on Law’s list is in the “extras” category, i.e. guys who just fell short of the Top 100. The South Siders place two there, Dane Dunning at No. 109 and Nick Madrigal at (an unspecified but presumed) No. 112.

Law also ranked each MLB farm system (paywall), dropping the White Sox from No. 4 in 2018 to No. 13 now, branding the system “top-heavy.”


MLB Pipeline

MLB Pipeline

3. Eloy Jiménez, OF (same as 2018)
18. Michael Kopech, RHP (up one)
21. Dylan Cease, RHP (up four)
40. Luis Robert, OF (up four)
47. Nick Madrigal, 2B (up two)
80. Dane Dunning, RHP (down 21)
Just missed: Luis Basabe, OF (not ranked)

Five players in the Top 50!

MLB Pipeline keeps its last updated list for the year as its “season” ranking, so the 2018 ranks are not from a full year ago. However, seeing the lifts and drops is still instructive.

Four of the top five White Sox prospects moved up. Eloy has nowhere to go, really. Kopech got a bump in spite of his TJS. Cease took a predictable step forward from No. 25. Robert continues to march upward and is poised for a major jump in 2019. Madrigal’s gain was modest.

Dunning took a huge ding from MLB, which seems odd given the conservative moves above him on the list, and the fact that Kopech and Robert seemed not to be penalized for injury. And Rutherford, listed at No. 77 last time out, fell completely out of the Top 100. For what? Taking a couple of weeks off after the season? Sheesh.

On February 1, MLB’s reveled each team’s “next” prospect. The White Sox player who just missed the Top 100 was Basabe, making him the team’s No. 7 prospect overall.

The full Top 30 White Sox rankings should be available from MLB in the second week of February.


Baseball America

Baseball America

3. Eloy Jiménez, OF (up one spots from 2018)
21. Michael Kopech, RHP (down 10)
38. Dylan Cease, RHP (not ranked)
43. Nick Madrigal, 2B (not ranked)
76. Luis Robert, OF (down 18)

Six White Sox in BP’s Top 76!

In a move that was harsh but anticipated after Monday’s news, RHP Dane Dunning, ranked No. 82 in last year’s list, fell out of BA’s Top 100.


Baseball Prospectus

Baseball Prospectus

4. Eloy Jiménez, OF (up two spots from 2018)
15. Nick Madrigal, 2B (not ranked)
24. Michael Kopech, RHP (down seven)
26. Dylan Cease, RHP (not ranked)
45. Luis Robert, OF (up 10)
76. Dane Dunning, OF (up 13)

BP nearly had four White Sox in their Top 25!

Six Top 100 picks is swell, but consider that a year ago, the White Sox placed eight: Yep, Alec Hansen (No. 40 in 2018), Jake Burger (No. 84) and Blake Rutherford (No. 90) all fell out of BP’s Top 100.


Average Rankings

Here’s a look at the average ranking among the seven top prospects lists published so far (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB Pipeline, ESPN, Clubhouse Corner, The Athletic, FanGraphs):

Eloy Jiménez (average rank, 3.9): Only MLB kept Eloy stuck at No. 3 — but then, only MLB had Eloy ranked at No. 3 at the end of last year. ESPN, a bit stingy. Clubhouse Corner, as in nearly every case in the White Sox’s top five, is bullish. FanGraphs at No. 8?

Michael Kopech (22.4): Kopech didn’t get knocked too hard for a mixed MLB debut or his TJS injury/rehab that will keep him out for 2019. Instead, all lists, while applying some caution to Kopech given the severity of his injury, preferred to place fair weight on his outstanding Triple-A season. Kudos to MLB for actually moving Kopech up one spot. The Athletic’s placement at No. 35 is just brutal.

Dylan Cease (28.6): The march to the Top 10 continues for Cease, who took mega-leaps on the BA, BP and ESPN lists, and a still-healthy, four-spot jump with MLB, who already had the righthander ranked in their Top 25. Given that Rick Hahn basically put Cease on the Kopech track for 2019 (Triple-A, and a call-up after the All-Star break), it makes sense that Cease is nipping at Kopech’s tail in the prospect rankings as well. The Athletic’s love for Cease has pushed him nearly to Kopech’s overall rankings level. FanGraph’s treatment (No. 55) drops Cease from a lower-20s average ranking to an upper-20s).

Luis Robert (49): The most fascinating contrast of all lands with Robert. BA chose, not completely unfairly, to ding Robert for basically missing all of 2018’s regular season. Meanwhile, BP must have been agog at Robert’s AFL work this fall, moving him up 10 spots in spite of his All-Absentia 2018 season. MLB also nudged Robert up, four spots from their latest 2018 rankings. ESPN kept Robert’s ranking relatively unchanged. Robert’s placement with CC at No. 21 pops him into an overall Top 50, giving the South Side four consensus Top 50 picks across baseball.

Nick Madrigal (50.3): BP’s Madrigal love is actually shocking. No. 15 places him impossibly, like 2019 call-up, high. Wow. MLB and BA both ranking him in the 40s seems a bit more realistic. ESPN, in utter, 100-point ranking difference from BP contrast, buries Madrigal in its rankings. Ugh.

Dane Dunning (96.5): Between BP and MLB, Dunning is still considered a Top 100 player; ask BA and ESPN, and he’s not. Overall, somebody at BP really digs the cream of the White Sox crop. While BA used Dunning’s late elbow issues to drag him off of their list (ignoring a season nearly as inspiring as Cease’s), BP not only kept Dunning in its Top 100, but bumped him up 13 spots. MLB sort of split the difference, ranking him high as of their last 2018 rankings (No. 59) but then somewhat inexplicably dropping him 21 spots this time out. ESPN apparently bumped Dunning up from the ether, into the “almost” category, at No. 109. FanGraphs dropped him nearly out of its Top 131, to No. 121.