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2019 South Side Sox Prospect Vote: Round 18

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Steele Walker earns a convincing win as our No. 17 prospect. Now, who is the 18th-best prospect in the White Sox system?

Ready to hit: Walker [left] has all-out approach to the field that has impressed the SSS electorate.
Tiffany Wintz (@TiffW96)/South Side Sox

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.

Here’s how last year’s prospect vote wrangled out — all 42 picks, with an archive of every article in the 2018 series.

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 17

Steele Walker romped to a big win, earning more than half of the vote to become the No. 17 prospect with 87 of 171 votes (50.9%). Zavala also finished No. 16 in last year’s vote.

Note on the table below: “Rounds” refers to the number of ballots on which a player has appeared.


2019 South Side Sox Prospect Vote Winners


2019 South Side Sox Prospect Vote Center Fielders


More information on our polling.

Poll

Who is the 18th-best prospect in the White Sox system?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Tyler Johnson
    (55 votes)
  • 16%
    Jimmy Lambert
    (33 votes)
  • 12%
    Laz Rivera
    (25 votes)
  • 38%
    Gavin Sheets
    (78 votes)
  • 5%
    Jordan Stephens
    (11 votes)
202 votes total Vote Now

Tyler Johnson

Right-handed relief pitcher
Age 23
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.


Jimmy Lambert

Right-handed starting pitcher
Age 24
2018 SSS poll ranking N/R
2018 High Level Birmingham (AA)
Overall 2018 stats 8-8 ▪️ 18 starts ▪️ 95 23 IP ▪️ 3.67 ERA ▪️ 110 K ▪️ 27 BB ▪️ 1.087 WHIP

Lambert, brother of top Colorado Rockies prospect Peter Lambert, improved in each of this three years with the Fresno State Bulldogs. In 15 starts in his junior season totaling 97 2⁄3 innings, he posted a 3.13 ERA, 1.20 WHIP. In those innings, he allowed 98 hits (.280 OBA) and 19 free passes (1.75 BB/9) while striking out 78 (7.19 K/9). With his control and solid four-pitch repertoire, the White Sox drafted him in the fifth round in 2016, signing him to a $325,000 bonus.

Lambert struggled with the AZL Sox and Kannapolis in 2016, perhaps because he was battling some fatigue. That year in 37 2⁄3 innings, he posted a high 5.26 ERA and 1.51 WHIP; he relinquished 44 hits (.288 OBA) and 13 walks (3.11 BB/9) but stuck out 43 batters (10.27 K/9). In 2017, returning to Kannapolis, Lambert excelled with a 2.19 ERA and 1.19 WHIP; however, he struggled at Winston-Salem, with a 5.45 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. Combined with both teams last year in 150 innings, Lambert posted a 3.84 ERA and 1.35 WHIP — allowing 163 hits (.282 OBA) and 40 walks (2.40 BB/9) while striking out just 102 (6.12 K/9) overall.

In 2018, Lambert put it all together, and was much tougher to hit. In 18 starts with Winston-Salem and Birmingham covering 95 2⁄3 innings, Lambert posted a 3.67 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in allowing 77 hits (.222 OBA), walking 27 (2.54 BB/9), and striking out 110 (10.35 K/9). Unfortunately, Lambert’s last game was in late July, as he suffered a strained left oblique. It’s possible he could’ve returned in late August, but the Sox opted not to take any chances.

Lambert’s velocity improved this year, as he transitioned from a two-seamer to a four-seamer that peaks at 96 mph. Lambert also also throws an above-average slider and curveball. His changeup is consistent; he held lefties well at Winston-Salem but he had a .321 OBA against them in a short sample size in Birmingham. Lambert currently ranks 21st among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline, and is expected to return to Birmingham next year, since he only had five starts for the Barons in 2018.


Laz Rivera

Shortstop
Age 24
2018 SSS poll ranking 37
2018 High Level Winston-Salem (A+)
Overall 2018 stats 124 games ▪️ 13 HR ▪️ 61 RBI ▪️ .314/.361/.481 ▪️ 17-of-27 SB ▪️ 13 BB ▪️ 92 K

Rivera played for three different schools in his four-year college career: the University of Miami, Chipola JC (2015), and the Division II University of Tampa (2016-17). One thing is clear: The Miami resident excelled wherever he played. During that time, Rivera combined to slash .386/.442/.546 with 15 homers, 124 RBIs, 25 stolen bases, 40 walks (5.63%) and 66 strikeouts (9.28%) in 624 at-bats. After a typically successful season as a senior, Rivera wasn’t picked until the 28th round of the 2017 MLB draft.

His first assignment with the White Sox, upon receiving his $1,000 signing bonus, was with the AZL White Sox, and he didn’t disappoint. In 47 games (186 at-bats), Rivera slashed .296/.374/.446 with 12 doubles, five triples, two homers, 24 RBIs, eight walks (3.76%) and 26 strikeouts (12.21%). Of course, his 2017 success was taken with a grain of salt because Rivera was more than two years older than league average.

Rivera emerged as a true prospect in 2018 with Kannapolis, after slashing .346/.395/.502 in 237 at-bats with 15 doubles, two triples, six homers, 24 RBIs, seven stolen bases, six walks (2.26%) and 48 strikeouts (18.11%). After earning a promotion to Winston-Salem on July 21, Rivera held his own in 225 at-bats by slashing .280/325/.458 with 15 doubles, two triples, seven homers, 37 RBIs, 10 homers, seven walks (2.81%) and 44 strikeouts (17.67%). Thus, though his average dipped a bit in Winston-Salem, Rivera improved his power while marginally improving his walks and whiffs.

Rivera shot up the prospect charts last year and now ranks 28th among Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline. He’s given 50 grades in all categories except power, which earns a fairly low grade of 40. Rivera is an average defensive shortstop who committed 19 errors last year. I project Rivera to begin the 2019 season with the Birmingham Barons; how he’ll do in that difficult hitting environment will determine whether he’s best suited for a starting or utility role going forward.


Gavin Sheets

First Baseman
Age 22
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.


Jordan Stephens

Right-handed starting pitcher
Age 26
2018 SSS poll ranking 18
2018 High Level Charlotte (AAA)
Overall 2018 stats 8-10 ▪️ 28 starts ▪️ 146 23 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.