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Breaking down MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 White Sox prospects

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The risers and fallers in this year’s preseason rankings pack some surprises

MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago White Sox
Ready to launch: Eloy Jiménez is the obvious top prospect in the system. Is his past-due promotion coming soon?
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Many preseason prospect rankings are published during the offseason, but few are given as much credence as those annually produced by MLB Pipeline. Like most such ranking lists, it is certainly not infallible, as players are often overestimated or underestimated. With that said, let’s take a look a look at this year’s list.

And if you stick around until the end, I’ll provide a rather dour look at MLB Pipeline’s White Sox Top 10 from just five years ago.

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Players 1-10

(1) Eloy Jimenez—OF (No. 3 overall)
(2) Michael Kopech—RHSP (No. 18)
(3) Dylan Cease—RHSP (No. 21)
(4) Luis Robert—OF (No. 40)
(5) Nick Madrigal—2B (No. 47)
(6) Dane Dunning—RHSP (No. 80)
(7) Luis Basabe—OF
(8) Micker Adolfo—OF
(9) Blake Rutherford—OF
(10) Luis Gonzalez—OF

Since the top six players were ranked earlier in February among MLB’s top 100 prospects, we already knew their order prior to the expanded prospect listing made last week. Players No, 7-10 are all outfielders expected to begin in Birmingham this year, and it appears that they were ranked more on their ceilings than their floors. As a result, Basabe rose from ninth to seventh, Adolfo from 11th to eighth, and Gonzalez from 14th to 10th. Rutherford was the only member of the Top 10 who fell, as he was previously listed at No. 7.

I would’ve listed Cease over Kopech due to being more consistent, but they’re both so closely ranked that it’s a rather petty quibble. I Adolfo, Rutherford and González better than Basabe because they seemingly have higher floors, but Basabe was the only one who’d actually enjoyed AA experience prior to this year. And, of course, the rankings were likely produced prior to Basabe’s injury; if I were to re-rank this Top 10, this is what I would go with:

(1) Eloy Jimenez
(2) Dylan Cease
(3) Michael Kopech
(4) Luis Robert
(5) Nick Madrigal
(6) Dane Dunning
(7) Micker Adolfo
(8) Blake Rutherford
(9) Luis Gonzalez
(10) Luis Basabe

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Players 11-20

(11) Steele Walker (OF)
(12) Zack Collins (C)
(13) Jake Burger (3B)
(14) Ian Hamilton (RHRP)
(15) Alec Hansen (RHSP)
(16) Zack Burdi (RHRP)
(17) Laz Rivera (SS)
(18) Gavin Sheets (1B)
(19) Jimmy Lambert (RHSP)
(20) Konnor Pilkington (LHSP)

There really weren’t many surprises for this group, as most have enough flaws to prevent them from being in the Top 10, but enough potential to ascend to those lofty heights if things go well for them in 2019. The risers: Rivera has shot up 11 spots, Hamilton and Lambert two, Walker and Burdi one. The stand-patter: Burger. The fallers: Kodi Medeiros fell off the list entirely from 19th, Hansen dropped five spots, Collins, Sheets three and Pilkington two.

It was interesting that Burger stayed where he was despite missing the entire year due to injury, while Sheets fell despite having a solid offensive year in Winston-Salem; of course, the concern with Sheets is will he hit enough homers to justify his first base slot. Collins has fallen due to defensive concerns and a low batting average, Hansen had issues with arm health and control, and Pilkington struggled at Great Falls last year due to fatigue and a lack of velocity. I’m not sure why Rivera gained so rapidly, as he hardly ever walks and seems to fit the profile of a solid-hitting, utility infielder. Here’s the order I would rank this group of 10 as:

(11) Zack Collins
(12) Steele Walker
(13) Alec Hansen
(14) Gavin Sheets
(15) Jake Burger
(16) Ian Hamilton
(17) Zack Burdi
(18) Jimmy Lambert
(19) Laz Rivera
(20) Konnor Pilkington

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Players 21-30

(21) Bryce Bush (3B)
(22) Seby Zavala (C)
(23) Jose Ruiz (RHRP)
(24) Zach Thompson (RHRP)
(25) Caleb Frare (LHRP)
(26) Lincoln Henzman (RHSP)
(27) Jonathan Stiever (RHSP)
(28) Tyler Johnson (RHRP)
(29) Jordan Stephens (RHSP)
(30) Ryan Burr (RHRP)

Eight of the final 10 players on the Pipeline list are pitchers, which can be seen as a good or bad thing. It’s a good thing because it’s a sign that pitching help for 2019 and beyond should be on its way; however, it’s also a sign that there simply isn’t much offensive depth in the system. I really like Bush (he was one of my first ‘Under the Radar’ subjects last year), but I believe some of the pitchers above should be listed higher than him. Tyler Johnson, who absolutely dominated A+ ball last year, should be ranked much higher than he is. Risers: Bush, Thompson, Frare, and Burr all were previously unranked; Henzman rose four spots, Stiever two. Ruiz one. Zavala stood pat at 22nd. Bernardo Flores (No. 25), Spencer Adams (No. 26), and Luis Curbelo (No. 27) all fell off the list entirely; Stephens fell nine spots while Johnson fell four. This is how I would rank this final 10:

(21) Tyler Johnson
(22) Seby Zavala
(23) Bryce Bush
(24) Jose Ruiz
(25) Caleb Frare
(26) Ryan Burr
(27) Zach Thompson
(28) Lincoln Henzman
(29) Jonathan Stiever
(30) Jordan Stephens

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These lists always contain surprises. Four players were added to the list of 30: Bush, Thompson, Frare, and Burr. That means that four were subsequently removed: Medeiros, Flores, Adams, and Curbelo. Curbelo had a difficult 2018 with Kannapolis, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him fall off; Adams’ control fell off sharply with Charlotte, and control was supposed to be his strong suit — I wasn’t surprised to see him fall off either. I still like Medeiros’ ceiling, but I did expect to see a small drop for him due to struggles with Birmingham last year. Flores, however, pitched equally well for Winston-Salem and Birmingham last year; he apparently was dinged because his velocity dropped last year.

Which players could potentially insert themselves into the Top 30 when the MLB Pipeline midseason rankings come out? Not including 2019 draft picks, players like Amado Nuñez (2B), Corey Zangari (1B), Blake Battenfield (RHSP), and Lenyn Sosa (SS) would be strong possibilities, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find Medeiros and Flores back on the list as well.

As it is, it’s fun to look at these lists. Scouts and fans are a lot alike, in the fact that if given the same list of players, we’d come up with completely different rankings. That’s why it’s always difficult to take these things too seriously, beyond room for debate and conversation.

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Speaking of debate, here’s the list of MLB’s preseason Top 10 list for the White Sox from 2014:

(1) Erik Johnson
(2) Matt Davidson
(3) Tim Anderson
(4) Marcus Semien
(5) Micah Johnson
(6) Tyler Danish
(7) Courtney Hawkins
(8) Trayce Thompson
(9) Jacob May
(10) Chris Beck

Last year was a difficult year for these guys. Erik Johnson (supposedly the main player traded to San Diego for James Shields) spent all last season in AA and AAA, and is currently an unsigned free agent. Davidson was non-tendered after the 2018 season and signed a minor league contract with the Rangers. Anderson produced a 2.5 bWAR last season despite having an OBP of .281. Semien enjoyed a 4.3 bWAR last season for the Athletics as their starting shortstop. Micah Johnson hit just .198 for the Rays AAA squad and claims on his Twitter account to be retired and pursuing his art full-time. After a difficult campaign last year for the Sox, Tyler Danish signed a minor league deal with the Mariners in January. Hawkins was released by both the White Sox and Reds last year, and finished the year with the Independent League team Sugar Land. May was released last year by the Sox, and hasn’t signed with any other team. Beck struggled for the Sox and Mets last year, and signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals last November.