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NCAA Baseball: College World Series-NC State v Vanderbilt

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White Sox Deep Dive: Single-A Center Fielders

Speed, speed, speed and more speed: Plenty of athleticism but unproven results highlight this group.

Seen here after hitting a clutch homer in this year’s College World Series, Terrell Tatum posted by far the best season in this group of outfielders.
| Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Welcome to another year of Deep Dive, where we analyze the past, present and future for each position in the White Sox organization. Each position is broken into five parts:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Arizona)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on a White Sox player
  5. Free agent options

Center field, along with shortstop, is where you want you want your most athletic players on the diamond. While this is also true for the White Sox, only one prospect currently ranks among the team’s Top 30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline — Yoelqui Céspedes. There is certainly much raw unproven potential and speed to burn, so it will be exciting to see how the youngsters progress in the 2022 campaign.

Below are the organization’s center fielders who finished the season with Kannapolis (Low-A) or Winston-Salem (High-A).

Ages below are as of April 1, 2022

Winston-Salem Dash

Terrell Tatum
167 pounds
Age: 22
Bats/Throws: L/L
Other positions played: RF, LF

Tatum, whose father Terry played football for the Arkansas Razorbacks, dominated his senior season in 2017 with Houston High in Germantown, Tenn., as he hit .438 with a school-record 35 stolen bases. However, instead of playing college ball for his dad’s alma mater, Terrell opted to play instead for North Carolina State University. While he posted good results in his first three years with the Wolfpack, he really put it all together during his senior season this year, as he slashed .317/.419/.543 in 53 games with 12 homers, 36 RBIs, 16-of-18 stolen bases, 33 walks (14.73%) and 68 strikeouts (30.36%). Named First Team All-ACC for his efforts, Tatum was at his best in big games — as evidenced by hitting a game-winning homer versus Vanderbilt in this year’s College World Series. When Tatum was still available in the 16th round of this year’s MLB draft, the White Sox couldn’t resist selecting this athletic outfielder.

After receiving his signing bonus, Tatum got off to a terrific start in the ACL, where he slashed .265/.444/.426 in 22 games with eight doubles, one homer, 10 RBIs, three stolen bases, 21 walks (23.3%), 28 strikeouts (31.1%) and an impressive 141 wRC+. While his hitting wasn’t quite as an impressive during a four-game cup of coffee with the Winston-Salem Dash to end the year (skipping Kannapolis entirely), Tatum still showed off his other skills, with four stolen bases and four walks. His combined 23.8% and 32.4% walk and strikeout rates respectively are actually better than his 19.0% and 37.9% in college.

While short in physical stature, Tatum produces big results with his high walk rates and speed on the basepaths. He also played flawless defense at all three outfield positions this year, and has obviously shown a willingness to work the count. If not a leadoff hitter because of his high strikeout rate, he could serve as a ninth-place hitter as something of a second leadoff man once the lineup turns over.

Because of his short stay with the Dash, Tatum may return there to begin the season, but he’ll likely spend the majority of 2022 spanning the spacious grounds of Birmingham’s Regions Field.

Duke Ellis
180 pounds
Age: 24
Bats/Throws: L/L
Other positions played: LF, RF

Duke’s father, Robert, was a White Sox third-round selection from Panola College (Carthage, Tex.) in the third round of the 1990 MLB draft. Robert, a pitcher who was traded in 1996 to the Angels for catcher Pat Borders, ended up pitching parts of four years for four different major league squads before hanging up his cleats in 2005.

Fast forward to 2017, when Duke played for his dad’s alma mater Panola in 2017 and slashed .415/.491/.615 with 21 stolen bases in 53 games. After refusing to sign with the San Diego Padres upon being selected in the 20th round that year, he spent his remaining three years playing center field for the University of Texas Longhorns. Despite not wielding a powerful bat, Ellis still made his presence felt during his senior year as he slashed .302/.441/.377 with seven stolen bases during a 2020 season cut short by the pandemic. Oh, I forgot to mention that he finished his collegiate career with 32 consecutive stolen bases without getting caught! Because the 2020 draft went only five rounds, Ellis went unselected but opted to sign a minor-league deal with the White Sox. Before he even played a game, he was ranked the organization’s best defensive outfielder thanks to his stellar, highlight-reel plays while in college.

Due to the pandemic, Ellis didn’t partake in any minor league action in 2020. He was given an aggressive assignment with Winston-Salem to begin professional ball this year, however, and struggled offensively as a result. In 73 games totaling 290 at-bats, Ellis slashed just .200/.274/.277 with eight doubles, four homers, 18 RBIs, 23 walks (7.9%), 77 strikeouts (26.6%), 23-of-27 stolen bases and a 55 wRC+. While he played against competition typically the same age as he, his opponents’ experience in minor league play may have made a difference. Like Tatum, Ellis may end up returning to Winston-Salem to begin 2022, but could earn a promotion once he produces more results with the bat. If he shares time with Tatum on the diamond, Ellis likely will be the one to remain at center, as he exhibited a far better range factor this year.

Kannapolis Cannon Ballers

Caberea Weaver
180 pounds
Age: 23
Bats/Throws: R/R
Other positions played: RF, LF
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 54
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 67

Weaver was an amazing athlete out of South Gwinnett, Ga. In fact, Perfect Game ranked him as the 14th-best high school outfielder in the 2018 draft class in part due to his projectable bat and running the 60-yard dash in 6.27 seconds on a slow track.

Baseball America said of Weaver at the time of the draft, “He is an athletic, wiry outfielder with impressive athleticism that should allow him to become an above-average defender in center field. There is a lot of rawness in Weaver’s current game, both offensively and defensively. At the plate, Weaver has a whippy, quick bat and present strength that should continue to improve as he fills out.” The White Sox selected him in the seventh round, and it took a $226,200 signing bonus to pry Weaver from his commitment to the University of Georgia.

In 2018 with the AZL White Sox, Weaver slashed .248/.367/.342 in 50 games with five doubles, three triples, one homer, 11 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 18 walks (10.0%) and 52 strikeouts (28.9%). Moving to Great Falls in 2019, he posted similar numbers by slashing .254/.317/.377 in 62 games with 13 doubles, five triples, two homers, 18 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 18 walks (6.9%) and 85 strikeouts (32.6%). Like most minor leaguers, Weaver didn’t play in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Weaver played most of the 2021 season in Kannapolis, although he spent an uneventful four weeks with Winston-Salem for parts of August and September. He struggled with the Cannon Ballers in 80 games, as he slashed just .214/.302/.338 with 11 doubles, seven homers, 25 stolen bases, 31 walks, 117 strikeouts and 79 wRC+. Unfortunately, Weaver was simply overmatched with the Dash in 19 games, as he slashed just .177/.200/.274 with a homer, four stolen bases, one walk, 29 strikeouts and a 24 wRC+. For the year, Weaver combined to slash .207/.285/.327 with 12 doubles, three triples, eight homers, 29 stolen bases, 32 walks (8.1%) and 146 strikeouts (37.1%).

This was the first year Weaver hit more fly balls than ground balls, so perhaps he may have been swinging more for the fences. Or perhaps he simply got off to a rough start and lost his confidence as the season progressed. Or possibly, he lacks the pitch-recognition skills to make further advances in the organization. Whatever the reasons, Weaver clearly needs to produce better contact to succeed.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the young man — Weaver significantly improved his walk rate (at least he did with Kannapolis), produced a career high in homers, and swiped a boatload of bases considering his low OBP. He was also nearly two years younger on average than his competitors while at Winston-Salem, so perhaps another year will produce better results. After all, Weaver will be just turning 22 in just a couple of weeks. It seems likely that Weaver begins the 2022 season with Winston-Salem, although for his overall development, a return to Kannapolis where he can establish more success may actually be better.

James Beard
170 pounds
Age: 21
Bats/Throws: R/R
Other positions played: RF, LF
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 30
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 29

Beard dominated as an outfielder for Loyd Star High School in Brookhaven, Miss. in 2019. That year in 27 games, he slashed an impressive .429/.626/.1000 with eight doubles, one triple, 10 homers, 30 RBIs, 46 runs, 31 walks (29.0%) and 10 strikeouts (9.3%) while being perfect in 26 stolen base attempts. Flashing back to the East Pro Showcase before his senior year, Beard ran the 60-yard dash in a rapid 6.21 seconds. Beard’s future commitment was to Meridian Community College, so without the prospects of big-time university exposure to come, when the Sox selected him in the fourth round, he jumped at an under-slot bonus of $350,000. Baseball America said of him at the time of the draft, “He has a chance to develop into an average hitter thanks to his speed and solid swing. Beard does not project as a power hitter by any stretch, but he has shown he’s can run into 10-12 home runs in pro ball. Defensively, Beard outruns his mistakes for now, but he has potential to be an above-average center fielder with more experience to improve his routes and reads.”

With the AZL Sox in his pro debut, Beard struggled acclimating to the speed of the game. In 31 games totaling 127 at-bats, he hit just .213/.270/.307 with four doubles, two triples, one homer, 12 RBIs, nine stolen bases, eight walks (5.8%), 54 strikeouts (39.1%) and 61 wRC+. Beard played to his speed by hitting the ball on the ground (1.65 GO/FB), but he had difficulty hitting curveballs. MLB Pipeline ranks Beard 20th among all White Sox prospects and grades his running at 80, fielding at 55, and hitting, power and arm at 45. Unfortunately, he missed a year of development time due to the pandemic in 2020.

Although his numbers weren’t as he had hoped in 2021 for Kannapolis, Beard did show slight improvement against stiffer competition than he faced in 2019. Despite two stints on the injured list, Beard played in 73 games and slashed .192/.308/.286 for the Cannon Ballers with five doubles, one triple, five homers, 14 RBIs, nine stolen bases, 37 walks (13.6%), 107 strikeouts (39.2%) and a wRC+ of 72. While his strikeouts were still high, the K-rate remained stable while his walk rate more than doubled. As Beard continues to see more pitches, his rudimentary pitch-recognition skills will continue to improve. He did play against competition over a year older this year, so a return to Kannapolis to begin the 2022 season could help get Beard’s offensive numbers cooking before an eventual promotion to Winston-Salem.

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