As the 2022 season kicked off, the White Sox farm system was universally considered the worst in the league, without a single talent managing to crack any of the various Top 100 lists published. An honest assessment suggests that when most publications consider your top prospect the 22nd overall pick in the most recent draft, it’s going to be an uphill battle.
But despair not, for a month into the season (20+ games and counting) there are signs of hope! Unlike in 2021, when heir apparent Jared Kelly went out and laid an absolute egg on the rare occasions he appeared, this season some of the more intriguing players have shown moxie out of the gate.
While it’s still quite early, if some of these guys can maintain or slightly improve on their current trajectories we could see a name or two pop up on a list or two when the midseason Top 100 refreshes happen. Perhaps even earlier, as players graduate from the lists.
So let’s take a look at some of the players who are on a collision course for some national recognition, and what they need to do to ensure getting there.
What more can be said about Ramos at this point? FanGraphs was a bit late to the party, ranking him first in the White Sox system after he spent the first 10 games raking in Winston-Salem, but Dan Szymborski’s preseason projections had pegged big things for Ramos well before that.
Despite being one of the youngest players in High-A, Ramos leads the South Atlantic League in hits and batting average and is Top 10 in OPS (third), slugging (fifth), and OBP (seventh). The relatively low-key Cuban signing has blossomed into an under-the radar star, and it’s unlikely he’s going to remain in stealth mode for long. He’s probably playing his way into Double-A pretty soon.
What he needs to do: While Ramos was generally considered safely in the organizational Top 10 by people who closely follow the team (I had him No. 8, SSS ranked him 10th), some publications didn’t even grant him that minor recognition. However, if he’s still posting an OPS of better than 1.000 into June (especially if it’s in Birmingham), everybody is going to take notice, and Top 50 placement will not be out of the question.
Pegged as the best prospect in the organization by most publications (I had him fourth, SSS placed him fifth), Montgomery has not experienced a breakout that will catapult him into anybody’s Top 100, but don’t count him out just yet. The massive shortstop still has very good all-around skills, and is posting a strikeout rate of 20.5% against a 13.8% walk rate, both respectable in any context but excellent for a player in his affiliated debut who is a bit younger than league average.
What he needs to do: Assuming he doesn’t spend too much time on the shelf (he’s been absent from the lineup for a week now), Colson is poised to make waves. The fundamental skills are there, but the only thing that has yet to arrive is his power, something that’s expected to materialize when you’re a 6´4´´ shortstop. He’s convincing observers he can stick at shortstop, but if he can add about 50+ points onto his .146 ISO by July he’ll be flashing the sort of offensive ceiling the White Sox dreamed of when they drafted him, and that will cause the listmakers to take notice.
Something of a wild card before the season began, though he is not the “Cuban Ohtani” as originally advertised there is still a potential impact player here. Perhaps most surprising has been his positioning in center field, as he was not considered much of a runner and more suited to a corner. That the reports of his range in center are suggesting he doesn’t look out of place only adds to his hype, though a .301/.363/.480 triple-slash helps also.
What’s hurting Colás right now more than anything is his late start. At 23 years old, he’s a bit long in the tooth for a player making his affiliated debut, and having played in professional foreign leagues, he’s expected to be a fast mover. Starting the season a year older than the average Sally League hitter isn’t doing his reputation any favors.
What he needs to do: To be clear, Colás isn’t doing anything wrong, but he’s not exactly posting numbers that are eye-popping in a way that will propel him into a Top 100, especially when he’s being somewhat overshadowed by younger teammates like Ramos and Luis Mieses. Colás needs to post these numbers against players who are closer to his peers talent/age-wise in Birmingham, a difficult offensive environment but a much more appropriate test of his mettle.
After his disastrous 2021 season in Kannapolis, the promising Thompson had a long road to make good on his former hype. The White Sox challenged him with an aggressive assignment to Winston-Salem in 2022 despite his struggles, and in his first four starts he has delivered to the tune of a 2.94 ERA over 18 1⁄3 innings. Thus far Thompson has arguably been a bit on the lucky side on balls in play, but he’s lowered his walk rate by almost 2% and has managed to stay effective in the zone.
What he needs to do: In a nutshell, generate more strikeouts. Thompson’s K-rate has dropped twice as much as his walk rate compared to 2021. While his command has helped keep his WHIP and ERA down compared to the intriguing Sean Burke, he’ll need to match Burke’s swing-and-miss numbers to gain Top 100 momentum. Regardless, at 21 Thompson remains one of the youngest pitchers in High-A, so his success is being measured against some pretty advanced competition for him. Unlike Colás (and, to a lesser extent, Burke), Thompson’s numbers mean a lot more in context.
Kelley still rates a plus fastball and one of the best changeups at any level of the minors. Though his 2021 season could not have been more of a debacle between health and results, the stuff is still there, and he’s managed to get a bit of momentum going that he never tasted last season.
What he needs to do: It’s lazy analysis, but Kelley needs to dominate. Three starts into the season, he still has flashed some red flags (a terrible 1.2 IP/3 ER second start) but sandwiched that with some promising performances (3 IP/1 ER first start, 4 IP 4 SO in his third). When Kelley is on, he is efficient and almost dominant. As he ramps up his pitch counts, he can get deeper into games and start padding his stat line with some positive numbers. If he can embarrass Low-A hitters enough to make his way to Winston-Salem by midseason, a few writers may take notice based on his previous hype.
The big-bonus Cuban has been largely disregarded by most pundits, and only just recently began to crack a few organizational Top 10 lists, but the way he’s played over the last season-plus is going to be difficult to keep ignoring. Sure, nobody expected the .508 OBP he was posting in Birmingham to hold up after his promotion, but the “drop” to .484 in Charlotte hasn’t exactly slowed his ascent.
Sánchez has an approach typical of so many White Sox players: hyper-aggressive, high-contact, low walk rate. His bat-to-ball skills, however, have proven far better than most scouts gave him credit for, and at 25 years old with plenty of polish from his days in the Cuban League and a steady ascent up the affiliates, Sánchez’s bat is looking as MLB-ready as his glove was always touted to be.
What he needs to do: Sánchez’s aggressiveness is serving him well thus far in the minors, but this sort of approach rarely works at the highest level. Sure, Tim Anderson is making it work, but Timmay is also a statistical anomaly in that regard, and has better power and speed tools than Yolbert can bring to bear. If Sánchez is going to break into a Top 100 list (or, more importantly, be a contributor in the majors this season), he’s going to need to start working counts and looking for more favorable pitches to barrel up, lest his lack of game power (.026 ISO in Charlotte!) undermine everything else.
Because no list where I talk about White Sox prospects would be complete without a nod to Popeye, it saddens me to say that his train to Top 100 territory is still boarding at the station. After an 0-for-12 start to the season, Rodríguez turned on the heat with a 10-game hitting streak, posting a .303/.343/.515 line in that stretch. Unfortunately, in the seven games since he went on that tear, he’s posted a .544 OPS and remains offensively underwater on the season.
Birmingham is a notoriously difficult offensive environment, especially for a player still almost two weeks from his 21st birthday. That, along with the lower offensive bar for middle infielders, keeps Rodríguez in the conversation and just another good hitting streak away from relevance in Top 100 conversations.
What he needs to do: In a nutshell, Popeye needs to start crushing lefties. While he isn’t getting overwhelmed by them (only five strikeouts in 31 PAs against), his characteristic impatience (zero walks) and lack of quality contact has resulted in a horrendous .452 OPS against southpaws in the early going (his .698 OPS against RHP is at least respectable). While Rodríguez has typically posted decent numbers against both righties and lefties, and an even higher average and OBP against righties, his power production has historically come more against lefties. The contact is still there, so if he can start barreling up lefties as he has previously, the sky is the limit.
Broadly speaking, of the players with a real shot at Top 100 status, only Yolbert Sánchez is looking like he can be a direct contributor to the team this season, based on his proximity and current level of performance. Yoelqui Céspedes seems to be stalled out in Birmingham and still struggling to overcome the inadequacies of his approach, and the team is bereft of other impact talent in the top of the system that is liable to achieve such recognition.
However, just because players like Ramos, Kelley, and Rodríguez aren’t liable to be playing on the South Side this season doesn’t mean they can’t be major contributors. When July rolls around, you can bet Rick Hahn will be on the phone attempting to fill in roster holes, whether due to injury or poor performance. Having players in the lower rungs of the farm on Top 100 trajectories will give him a lot more capital to play with to add impact players via trade without having to gut his 26-man roster to do so. And sure, rankings are entirely subjective, but as a measure of worth within the system it can matter come the trade deadline.