We started this out trying to get as many names as possible on the ballot, but that only worked for about a dozen rounds before the results started to get a little wonky — no offense, Lincoln Henzman. So we’re back to the traditional five players out for each round, with combined 2018 stats to help you out in your decision-making process.
As we count down the SSS Prospect Vote, we’ll be counting up the overall list of Top 100 Prospects, with the SSS poll vote counting as a voice in the order of our official SSS Top 100.
A final note: All copy below the poll, unless otherwise noted, comes from wsm’s Deep Dive series. Credit due. YOTH is just running the numbers.
Sound cool? Now, get voting!
Voting results for Round 15
Ian Hamilton took the No. 15 spot with ease, earning 70 of 230 votes (30.4%). With Hamilton finishing No. 25 in last year’s vote, his 10-spot jump is the biggest so far in this year’s vote.
Note on the table below: “Movement” refers to the number of slots a player moved up or down from the last round. “Normal” movement would be +1, everyone moving up in order.
2019 South Side Sox Prospect Vote Winners
2019 South Side Sox Prospect Vote Right-Handed Relief Pitchers
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Who is the 16th-best prospect in the White Sox system?
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Right-handed relief pitcher
2018 SSS poll ranking 31
2018 High Level Winston-Salem (A+)
Overall 2018 stats 9-0 ▪️ 41 games ▪️ 14 saves ▪️ 58 IP ▪️ 1.40 ERA ▪️ 89 K ▪️ 16 BB ▪️ 0.879 WHIP
Johnson spent nearly all three of his seasons in the bullpen for South Carolina, with terrific results. As a sophomore in 29 games totaling 52 innings, Johnson saved nine games for the Gamecocks with a 2.42 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, allowing 34 hits and just eight walks while striking out 59. The following year, he posted a 2.39 ERA and 1.33 WHIP along with 10 saves; in his 19 games totaling 26 innings, he relinquished 20 hits and 15 walks while striking out 40.
Due to Johnson’s decrease in control during that junior season, his stock dropped a bit — and when Johnson fell to the fifth round of the 2017 MLB draft, the White Sox were ecstatic, picking him at No. 147 overall. Johnson struggled a bit after the draft with Great Falls and Kannapolis, as he posted a combined 3.86 ERA and 1.75 WHIP over 25 2⁄3 innings, allowing 26 hits (.263 OBA) and 19 walks (15.7%) while fanning 37 hitters (30.6%).
He returned to Kannapolis to begin the 2018 season, and embarrassed South Atlantic League hitters by posting a 1.33 ERA and 0.96 WHIP over 27 innings, allowing just 16 hits (.170 OBA) and 10 walks (9.3%) while striking out 46 (42.6%). Johnson fared even better after winning a promotion to Winston-Salem. In his 21 games for the Dash totaling 31 innings, he posted a 1.45 ERA and 0.81 WHIP — surrendering just 19 hits (.174 OBA) and six walks (5.1%) while fanning 43 (36.4%). Overall in 2018, Johnson compiled a 1.40 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, .172 OBA, 7.1 BB% and 39.4 K%. Of all the outstanding relievers in the White Sox system, Johnson had arguably the best year.
Johnson now ranks No. 24 among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline, though that ranking will likely rise entering the 2019 season. His fastball generally runs from the mid-to-upper 90s, peaking at triple digits, and is complemented by an above-average, low 80s slider. Johnson’s third pitch is a changeup that still needs work, although he did hold lefties to a respectable .230 average in 2018.
Johnson’s whole key is control and command; when on, like it was in his sophomore season at South Carolina or last year in the minors, he’s basically unhittable. If Johnson’s command drops off, he simply won’t be as dominant and becomes far more hittable. Expect Johnson to begin next season with Birmingham, with an opportunity for promotion to Charlotte before the end of the year.
2018 SSS poll ranking 15
2018 High Level Winston-Salem (A+)
Overall 2018 stats 119 games ▪️ 6 HR ▪️ 61 RBI ▪️ .293/.368/.407 ▪️ 52 BB ▪️ 81 K
After a terrific junior season with Wake Forest (in which he hit .317/.424/.629, with 21 homers, 84 RBIs, 46 walks and just 37 strikeouts), the son of former Baltimore Oriole outfielder Larry Sheets was drafted in the second round by the White Sox in last year’s MLB Draft. With the AZL White Sox and Kannapolis last year, he combined to hit .279/.365/.397, with four homers, 28 RBIs, 23 walks (9.8%) and 34 strikeouts (14.4%) in 204 at-bats. While the numbers were unexceptional, they were still respectable considering the fatigue he may have been playing through after the long collegiate season.
However, while Sheets continued to maintain his rock-solid plate discipline, his game power still didn’t feature prominently in 2018, despite playing in hitting-friendly Winston-Salem. In 437 at-bats for the Dash, he hit .293/.368/.407, with six homers, 61 RBIs, 52 walks (10.5%) and 87 strikeouts (16.3%). While the game power still has yet to show, Sheets easily has put up the best numbers at first base in the upper levels of the system. In 641 at-bats (basically the equivalent of a full major league season) over two years in the White Sox system, Sheets has hit .289/.367/.404 with 40 doubles, 10 homers, 85 RBIs, 75 walks (10.3%) and 115 strikeouts (15.7%). Sheets hit .280 against southpaws and .296 against righties last year, so a platoon situation doesn’t appear imminent.
Of course, it’d be nice to see him start hitting some dingers, as his career ISO is only .115 thus far. Perhaps some of those doubles can evolve into homers? Aside from his power, all other parts of his game has been above average, aside from his grade-35 speed. However, as a second round pick at a power position, it’s hoped that Sheets could begin turning on the ball and start hitting homers at a 25-30 yearly clip going forward. He’s certainly got the projectionable build and relative youth to make that happen. Expect Sheets to start at first base in what looks to be a quite powerful Birmingham Barons squad for 2019.
Right-handed starting pitcher
2018 SSS poll ranking 18
2018 High Level Charlotte (AAA)
Overall 2018 stats 8-10 ▪️ 28 starts ▪️ 146 2⁄3 IP ▪️ 4.23 ERA ▪️ 139 K ▪️ 54 BB ▪️ 1.398 WHIP
Stephens, a native of Alvin, Texas, played college ball for the nearby Rice Owls. He was considered by many scouts at the time of his junior season to be a possible third-round pick. However, three starts into that season, Stephens was injured and required Tommy John surgery, missing the remainder of the season. Thus, Stephens returned to Rice for his senior season and pitched surprisingly well: 3.17 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 59 2⁄3 innings, allowing just 51 hits and 17 walks (2.56 BB/9) while striking out 75 (11.31 K/9). Due to his competitiveness and the results he posted during his four-year stint with Rice, Stephens was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 MLB draft — ultimately receiving a signing bonus of $300,000.
Stephens’ results had been solid from 2015-17, moving through the White Sox system quite rapidly while striking out more than one batter per inning and maintaining solid peripheral numbers in the process. He missed the first two months of 2017 with forearm tendinitis but still pitched effectively, with a 3.14 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 91 2⁄3 innings, allowing 84 hits (.249 OBA) and 35 walks (3.44 BB/9) while striking out 83 (8.15 K/9).
In 2018, after a return to Birmingham for seven blistering starts, Stephens was promoted to Charlotte, where he struggled a bit. For the Knights in 21 starts (107 innings), Stephens posted a 4.71 ERA and 1.46 WHIP — allowing 114 hits (.271 OBA) and 42 walks (3.53 BB/9) while striking out 99 (8.33 K/9). Lefties hit .296 against his offerings at AAA, while righties hit just .242, and a similar differential occurred with Birmingham as well.
Stephens’ top pitch is an excellent, upper-70s curveball with good depth. While his fastball isn’t overpowering, the low-90s velocity is still effective because of the way he hides and locates it. He also has a cutter and changeup, which still need work due to his lack of results against lefties.
Because of issues Stephens has had staying healthy both in the college and professional levels, and due to his relatively small size and bulldog mentality, a switch to the bullpen may eventually be in order. At this moment, unless the White Sox acquire additional starters via trade or free agency, Stephens will be competing against the likes of Dylan Covey, Manny Banuelos, Spencer Adams and Jordan Guerrero in spring training for back-end spots in the rotation. The fact that the White Sox chose to add him to the 40-man roster this month, over the likes of both Adams and Guerrero, indicates he has the inside track on a rotation spot in 2019.
2018 SSS poll ranking N/R
2018 High Level Kannapolis (A)
Overall 2018 stats 98 games ▪️ 18 HR ▪️ 74 RBI ▪️ .291/.371/.495 ▪️ 13-of-18 SB ▪️ 41 BB ▪️ 85 K
Walker improved during each of this three seasons with the Oklahoma Sooners: his slash line was .290/.352/.414 in his first season, .333/.413/.541 for his second, and .352/.441/.606 to wind up his career. In his senior season, Walker also hit 14 doubles, one triple, 13 homers, and 53 RBIs, and had 31 walks (12.20%) and 48 strikeouts (18.90%) over 216 at-bats. Walker was projected to be a borderline first-round pick, so when he fell to the fourth pick in the second round, the Sox happily selected him and inked him to an over-slot, $2 million signing bonus.
Sooner (pun intended) or later, you knew with the year the White Sox had, Walker was doomed to have an injury. In his case, a strained oblique muscle caused Walker to miss some time, and may have hampered his overall results for 2018. For the season (split among the AZL Sox, Great Falls Voyagers and Kannapolis), he managed to slash just .209/.271/.342 in 158 at-bats, with a combined six doubles, five homers, 21 RBIs, six stolen bases, 10 walks (5.65%) and 37 strikeouts (20.90%).
Walker ranks 12th among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline. He’s considered slightly above average in all tools, with the exception of his arm, which is a bit below average. He’s an exciting player, and is quite excitable himself when giving interviews. Expect him to return to Kannapolis to begin 2019 because of last year’s struggles, but if he gets off to a good start, don’t be surprised to see him promoted to Winston-Salem before the end of May.
2018 SSS poll ranking 16
2018 High Level Charlotte (AAA)
Overall 2018 stats 104 games ▪️ 13 HR ▪️ 51 RBI ▪️ .258/.317/.418 ▪️ 18-of-55 CS (32.7%) ▪️ 33 BB ▪️ 109 K
Zavala had a fairly uneven year with Birmingham and Charlotte. He started off really well with the Barons, hitting .315/.411/.616 in April, with six homers and 19 RBI in just 73 at-bats. However, because of a nagging wrist injury that sapped his production the rest of the year, Zavala’s results were relatively pedestrian afterward. With that said, he did earn a promotion to Charlotte in June due to a combination of his hitting abilities and improved defensive prowess. He hit .271/.358/.472 with 11 homers, 31 RBIs, 27 walks and 65 strikeouts in 199 at-bats with Birmingham; for Charlotte, he hit .243/.267/.359 with two homers, 20 RBIs, six walks and 44 strikeouts in 181 at-bats.
With improved health, Zavala’s numbers should see an increase in hitting-friendly Charlotte. The White Sox will have to protect him in the 40-man roster in order to avoid losing him in the Rule 5 Draft. Providing they hold on to Zavala, he should spent time with Zack Collins behind the plate at Charlotte, but should get plenty of at-bats at first base and/or DH as well. Zavala threw out 32.7% of attempted base stealers in 2018.