After the draft, I wrote an article on the state of the White Sox system, my thoughts on their top prospects, and where the system was heading. Before the Top Prospect vote and Top 100 countdown begins tomorrow, I thought this would be a good time to do a quick update on my rankings, along with a snippet on what each prospect’s chances of being an MLB contributor are.
1. José Rodríguez
I was bullish on Rodríguez when he was posting a .766 OPS in Kannapolis, and am even more so now after he closed out the season two levels higher at Birmingham (with a stop in-between at Winston-Salem, where he absolutely obliterated the ball). While there are still questions about whether Popeye can stick at shortstop or will be forced to move to second or third base, the bat absolutely plays, and at 20 years old, he’s on an excellent timeline to make his MLB debut and adjust to the top level with options to spare.
MLB Odds High. Reaching the upper minors with several years of team control remaining gives the White Sox time to refine his overall game without having to shoehorn him onto the 40-man roster. Even if Birmingham stymies him in 2022, he’ll remain on an excellent track.
2. Norge Vera
My July ranking placed Vera ninth due to a complete lack of game data, and sketchy information on his health. Since making his debut in the DSL, Vera blew away even the highest of expectations. While the statistics of a 21-year-old pitching to teenagers in a foreign league have to be viewed with a healthy degree of skepticism, it’s impossible to ignore a spotless ERA across 19 innings of work, in addition to reports of his velocity hitting triple digits. Vera’s debut in affiliated ball will be even more anticipated than Jared Kelly’s was in 2021, and hopefully with much better results.
MLB Odds Moderate. Vera still has to prove himself against a higher level of competition, but the arsenal is one of the most legit we’ve ever seen, and the White Sox have historically been aggressive promoting pitchers who can contribute quickly out of the bullpen with the hope of converting them to a starting role. The 2022 season will see Vera build up some innings, but if he’s blowing away the competition, he won’t be held back.
3. Yoelqui Céspedes
I only knock Céspedes down a peg because Vera verified (Vera-fied?) his hype, and then some. While the international sensation is still ironing out the kinks in his approach, the physical tools are definitely MLB quality. Another season of reps against competition in the high minors will go a long way toward answering whether Céspedes’ approach will develop enough to allow the rest of his tools to play to full effect.
MLB Odds High. There is plenty of control remaining with Céspedes, so unlike with Micker Adolfo, time is still on his side, even if Céspedes started a bit older than a typical international prospect. His 2021 showed the possibilities of his talent as well as the need for refinement. While Céspedes will likely be in MLB at some point in the next two years, whether that takes the form of a star outfielder or a Nomar Mazara-type whose production never meets the talent remains to be seen.
4. Colson Montgomery
While the White Sox’s top pick of the 2021 draft didn’t blow anybody away, he did show a maturity in his approach that bodes well for what I assume will be an assignment to Kannapolis to open 2022. Though his ISO was a disappointing .075 and he failed to hit a home run in 111 plate appearances, Montgomery’s 11.7% walk rate and 19.8% K rate were very solid, hoisting him to an impressive .396 OBP.
MLB Odds Moderate. Montgomery should make his affiliated debut in his age-20 season, so a reasonable timeline is in store for him. His 6´4´´ frame is suited to producing power, and he has an advanced approach, but even the best amateur swings have proven wanting when tested against professional competition (re: Blake Rutherford). Nonetheless, the consensus seems to be that Montgomery will hit, and his value on a major league club will more be determined by his ability to stay at shortstop or if he fills out his long frame to a point it forces a shift to a corner.
5a. Jake Burger
I did not include Burger in my last rankings because I wanted to keep the focus on the White Sox players who had not yet made their MLB debuts, but given he has retained his rookie status and finished the year in Charlotte, I decided to include him here as an aside. I was shocked by how seamlessly Burger’s bat got back into the “swing” of things after so long a layoff from professional competition. It’s a testament to the sheer talent he had when drafted and a feather in the cap of White Sox scouts. While his plate discipline could use some refinement and his defense was understandably suspect, the power was on full display.
MLB Odds Certain. He’s already debuted, and is in the mix for 2022, though an excess of big-bodied first basemen being shoehorned into the roster does make Burger something of an odd man out for the moment — at least until he proves he can adequately man third base every day (and, even then, he’s more injury insurance for Yoán Moncada than anything else). Whether he’s held in reserve for emergencies or traded for another need, I expect Burger to get significant MLB playing time in 2022.
5b. Micker Adolfo
I moved Adolfo up a couple of spots partly because the pitchers who were ranked ahead of him did not do enough to maintain their stock, but also because he advanced to Triple-A and made a decent enough showing. While the high K rate and low BB rate are still concerns, the power remains elite, with 25 home runs in just fewer than 400 PAs.
MLB Odds High. As discussed several times, Adolfo is a bit of a victim of bad timing as far as the White Sox are concerned, though this is a problem mostly of their own making given how early they assigned him to their 40-man roster. The likelihood Adolfo makes the majors is a near certainty given his elite power and proximity to The Show, but the greater likelihood is he debuts on another team and spends several years ironing out the kinks in his game.
6. Wilfred Veras
As with Rodríguez, I’m a sucker for players who produce beyond their years against older, more experienced competition. In the case of Veras, at age 18 he dominated the Complex League at the plate, posting a whopping .322/.416/.533 triple slash while leading the team in games and plate appearances, leading me to include him comfortably on this list. Despite Veras’ young age (roughly two years younger than league average), he showed a solid approach and the ability to tap into his raw power, which was touted when he was signed for $200,000 off the international market. He’s an example of why trading a quarter million dollars of signing cap space to salary dump a reliever during a rebuild is perhaps not the smartest allocation of resources.
MLB Odds Moderate-Low. Veras is a year younger than Montgomery but significantly outperformed him in the same league. Nonetheless, given Montgomery currently resides at the top of the defensive spectrum while Veras barely even exists on it (he’s a fringe 3B and might be a question mark even at 1B), the path to an MLB roster for Veras is a lot shakier. Still, a bat is a bat, and Veras made a mockery of a league that confounded more heralded prospects such as Benyamín Bailey and Wes Kath.
7. Matthew Thompson
Though he struggled all season with command, consistency, and health, Thompson managed to end the season on a high note, with four relatively strong starts in his last five outings. Despite the setbacks, he did manage a solid strikeout rate and showed advances in that department as he ramped up his workload. While his stock has fallen, it hasn’t dropped off the table just yet.
MLB Odds Low-Moderate. Obviously Thompson now carries some injury concern, having only managed 73 2⁄3 innings in his shortened 2021. He has a hard road ahead, but if he can carry his late-season success into 2022, he should be in line for a quick promotion to Winston-Salem and on better footing for an MLB career down the line; his stuff should play in relief should he not manage to find consistency as a starter.
8. Bryan Ramos
The 19-year-old Ramos unexpectedly led the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers in basically every counting statistic, partially as a result of also leading the team in games played. Nonetheless, he put together an impressive 2021 campaign and outperformed most of his peers despite being the youngest player on the roster, making necessary adjustments to break his way out of slumps while many of his more heralded peers got demoted. While I expect him to start 2022 back in Kannapolis, don’t be shocked if the White Sox get aggressive and send him to Winston-Salem sooner rather than later.
MLB Odds Low-Moderate. Obviously, Ramos has a long way to go to get to the majors, and he still has to establish himself at a position (generally a third baseman, he played a lot at second base this season). Still, given the amount of time he has to make good on his power and contact skills, Ramos’ chances of contributing meaningfully in the majors remain solid.
9. Jared Kelley
I’ll be honest, I almost feel like I’m being a bit lazy, and including Kelley and Andrew Dalquist more out of a sense that I can’t afford to omit them than actual optimism about their odds. But given the lack of serious impact prospects otherwise outside of perhaps Yolbert Sánchez and Romy González (neither of whom I buy into as regulars), I’m forced to keep the two setback starters on the list. Kelley’s season could not have been more disastrous, and the player once presumed to be the top prospect-in-waiting will struggle just to re-establish himself as a player of interest. Kelley’s biggest concern is health, having endured two injury stints, the second of which ended his season. He averaged less than two innings per start on the season, but the fastball/changeup combination that earned him a large bonus is still there, keeping him relevant.
MLB Odds Low. History is not kind to starting pitchers who have the sort of health and command struggles that Kelley did in 2021. Obviously, with the quality of his pitches still flashing plus, the narrative can change in a hurry, and he does have some reliever upside if he can’t find the durability or consistency needed to stick as a starter.
10. Andrew Dalquist
While Dalquist got better results in a larger sample size, I place him a peg lower than Thompson and Kelley now simply because I don’t see a reliever path for him like with the others. More of a meat-and-potatoes pitcher than somebody who has a dominant offering, Dalquist mixed in some OK outings with some pretty bad ones, and never really put together a string that showed he was figuring things out. Arguably, Dalquist was simply lucky, as his home run rate was unsustainably low and was the only reason he didn’t pay an even higher price for his high walk rate. Like Thompson and Kelley, Dalquist will probably be repeating Kanny, though at a minimum he proved durable in a way those two did not.
MLB Odds Low. Without a clear relief path due to a lack of a true plus offering, Dalquist needs to firm up his command and go deeper into games to be a viable major league starter. Nonetheless, health is a skill, and he has at least managed that in a way his rotation mates in Kannapolis did not, leading the Cannon Ballers in starts and innings pitched.
Others of Note, to Fill Out the Top 20
Sean Burke The 2021 third round pick hasn’t received as much attention as others in the Kannapolis rotation, and as a collegiate pick he has experience and maturity they lack, but he acquitted himself well in seven starts between the ACL and Low-A, though command issues did linger after his promotion.
Luis Mieses The 21-year-old outfielder knocked an impressive 31 doubles between Low-A and High-A, getting himself back on track nicely after a critical development year lost to COVID.
Wes Kath 2021’s second round pick had one of the weirder batting lines in the ACL, notching three home runs and two triples, but not a single double. Obviously, Kath can’t keep striking out 36.5% of the time, but at 18 years old and fresh out of high school the rawness in his game should be expected.
Terrell Tatum The relatively unknown Tatum was a 16th round pick out of North Carolina State. His college career was unexceptional until his senior year, and he was outmatched during a brief stay in Winston-Salem, but he has proved more than capable of handling the Complex League. Tatum’s plate discipline makes him a player to watch, posting a .438 OBP and 23.8% BB rate on the season.
Romy González Knocked out of my Top 10 by Veras, González pleasantly surprised many in 2021. With the makings of a superutility player in the mold of Leury García (though likely with more suspect defense up the middle), González has a chance to stick on the MLB roster for a while, even if his bat never gets up to league average.
Carlos Pérez Arguably the only viable catcher in the organization that has yet to make his MLB debut, Pérez has a reputation as a solid defensive backstop with a sound, if unexceptional bat. Given the team’s depth behind Yasmani Grandal, and the status of Grandal’s knees, Pérez may become a key player in the near future.
Yolbert Sánchez The former big-bonus international prospect had a solid season at the plate, displaying solid contact skills while playing solid defense in the middle infield. He will be in line for a big league job in 2022 if Danny Mendick continues to struggle off the bench.
Emilio Vargas This Dominican was an under-the-radar waiver pickup from Arizona. The 24-year-old acquitted himself well in Birmingham, though Charlotte will prove a far sterner test for him next season.
Brooks Gosswein A fourth round pick and Illinois native, Gosswein set himself up nicely for 2022 with six credible starts split between the ACL and Low-A. His fastball sits anywhere from 90-95 mph, and the slider flashes plus. A full season in affiliated ball in 2022 will go a long way to showing what his trajectory is.
Tanner McDougal Though his results were not good, some of that could be attributed to injury that necessitated Tommy John surgery after the season. McDougal flashed some of the arsenal that made the White Sox stretch their budget to nab him in the fifth round of the 2021 draft. Armed with a low-mid 90s fastball and an arsenal that has plus spin rates across the board, look for him to be a fast mover if and when he can establish his command.