Historically, like “Pops” (Gold 5) from Star Wars: A New Hope, we keep admonishing White Sox prospects to stay on target, and like “Dutch” (Gold Leader) they keep getting blown up before getting to the end of the trench. Thankfully, 2022 saw a bit of a shift towards the positive that should make all thermal exhaust ports wary moving forward, even if they are smaller than a typical womprat.
Several important prospects took huge steps forward last season, and there were even a few unexpected surprises along the way. Though some of the secondary prospects continued to scuffle, it was probably the most promising overall development we’ve seen from the White Sox system since the early stages of the rebuild, and arguably the best coming from entirely homegrown talents this millennium.
In an effort to keep this developmental gravy train from going off the rails, let’s set some good benchmarks for their more prominent prospects in 2023. Whether they’ll add to the roster depth or be valuable trade chits come the deadline, what happens in the minors could be a major factor in determining if the White Sox are a contender or pretender by October.
Colson Montgomery: Stick at shortstop
Some might want to see more power out of Montgomery, but I can’t say I find any fault in a guy who posted the offensive numbers he did in 2022. With many publications forecasting a move to third base, Montgomery would dramatically increase his stock if he shows that he can hack it up the middle.
Bryan Ramos: ISO better than .200
The darling of the advanced metrics crowd, Ramos has posted peripherals that suggest more to come from his bat, which has been impressive regardless. If he can put a little more power on display at Birmingham (he had a .196 ISO in Winston-Salem) it will help keep the accolades pouring in.
Oscar Colás: Avoid demotion
Colás looks like the Opening Day right fielder, so expectations are going to be sky-high for the young Cuban hype machine. I don’t think Colás needs to be dominant, or even necessarily good, but he has to avoid having a train wreck start that forces the team to send him to Charlotte by May.
Lenyn Sosa: Selectiveness
Sosa was a revelation in 2022, but his bat got exposed in his cup of coffee in the big leagues. With Elvis Andrus on board, Sosa will have the opportunity to hone his game in Charlotte by improving his selectiveness at the plate and hopefully learning to lay off breaking pitches off the plate.
Christian Mena: Improve the changeup
Mena has a nicely-developing fastball and a solid curveball, but his rapid rise will start to hit serious barricades if he can’t develop a third pitch to adequacy. His changeup lags behind the other two pitches significantly, and how it improves will go a long way to determining where he fits in a future rotation, if at all.
Noah Schultz: 75 innings
Despite an insane talent ceiling, Schultz remains a massive wild card in the system. Prep pitchers are always enormous risks, so just seeing Schultz get a comparatively complete season and a good launching point for his career would be a plus. This modest total suggests a roughly 20 start season averaging 3-4 innings a start; cautious but still ambitious for a 19-year old in Low-A.
José Rodríguez: 8% walk rate
Despite a disastrous start to 2022, Popeye put everything together and went on an absolute tear before ending the season on the IL. Always swing-happy in his approach, he posted a decent 7.9% BB rate in Birmingham that he should be trying to improve upon in Charlotte, especially given his aggressiveness on the bases.
Sean Burke: Improve command
I refer to Burke as Lucas Giolito without the spin rates. He has the same pitch mix and similar velocity to his offerings, just without the same movement. Like Giolito at this stage, Burke has difficulty locating his pitches, leading to an elevated walk rate and some unacceptably hard contact. Ethan Katz, work your magic, good sir.
Norge Vera: Throw the damn ball
We’ve been teased by the promise of what Vera could be but have seen little to none of it in practice. The Cuban fireballer needs to free himself from the litany of injuries and show he can take the ball every fifth day, lest he get relegated to the bullpen.
Payton Pallette: Regain the arsenal
Before going down for Tommy John surgery, Pallette looked like a sure-fire first round pick and was even more highly-regarded than Schultz by many. Now well removed from his injury, Pallette needs to focus on regaining all of the velocity and quality in his pitches that made him such a hot collegiate prospect.
Yoelquis Céspedes: Take a damn pitch
My assessment of Céspedes is that on physical attributes alone he’s one of the best prospects in all of baseball, but his inability/unwillingness to be selective at the plate undermines the other substantial tools he brings to the workbench. How his plate approach improves (or doesn’t) this season will probably determine if he’s a potential starter or a career fourth or fifth outfielder.
Jonathan Cannon: Ground ball rate better than 55%
On pure stuff alone Cannon is no world beater, but he has a cutter/sinker in his pitch mix that needs to be the focal point of his development. Cannon may have a name that implies a hard-throwing ace, but his efforts should be centered on improving his cutter to generate soft contact from opposing hitters.
Kohl Simas: Maintain velocity through the season
Simas had a decent start to 2022, but wore down so badly he ended it in the bullpen. For an undrafted free agent, Simas obliterated all expectations, but he’s set much higher ones for 2023.
Wilfred Veras: 25+ home runs
There is a distinct possibility that the White Sox decide to be aggressive with the 20-year-old Veras and start him in Birmingham, a notorious pitchers’ park. Still, the goal remains the same: Go all-in on the raw power that will be the carrying tool for this DH-only.
Yolbert Sánchez: Drive the ball
If you only looked at the first two-thirds of Yolbert’s triple-slash you might wonder why he never got the call in 2022 when the White Sox were wanting for any sort of offensive spark. Well, when you’re posting a miniscule .061 ISO in a notorious hitters’ haven like Charlotte, the answer is pretty simple. If Sánchez can’t show at least some sort of gap power, he’ll struggle to make any real impact on the 26-man roster.
Jared Kelley: Pound the strike zone
Kelley showed vast improvement in 2022 after his 2021 season was riddled with injuries and ineffectiveness, but the walk rate remained absurdly high and his FIP suggests his pleasant ERA was a bit of a mirage. Until his walk rate gets in the 10% range or less, his ability to remain a starter will remain doubtful.
Wes Kath: Fewer whiffs
The 2021 second round pick has been the polar opposite of Montgomery, the man chosen one round ahead of him. On the surface, Kath’s wRC+ of 109 in Low-A as a 19-year-old is pretty decent. Unfortunately, striking out a third of the time with little power on display is not a harbinger of good things to come, and sure enough, Project Birmingham ate him alive. Kath has excellent plate discipline, but unless he is able to more consistently punish pitches in the zone his ceiling will be hit in the minors.
Carlos Pérez: Be an actual catcher
This may be asking too much of the noodle-armed Perez, who opponents will run on with little reservation, but Zack Collins showed that even a “fine for a catcher” bat doesn’t count for much if you’re one of the worst defensive catchers in the league.
Matthew Thompson: 25% K rate
The 2019 second-rounder has held the line in his slow ascent through the minors, but never really impressed. This year he needs to harness the athleticism the White Sox were banking on and start adding some punchouts to his stat line.
Andrew Dalquist: Develop an out pitch
I’ve just about given up on Dalquist as a prospect, but he’s still young enough that a sudden surge isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The bottom line is his entire arsenal is average or worse, and until he develops a plus offering of some sort, he’s not going to be able to hang around even as a reliever.
Tanner McDougal: Re-establish command
The former fifth-rounder was heavily hyped for his top-of-the-charts spin rates before ultimately going down for Tommy John surgery shortly after his professional debut. Command and control are typically the hardest things for pitchers to regain after TJS, especially somebody with as much movement in his pitches as McDougal.
Loidell Chapelli Jr.: Punch up
Chapelli had an outstanding season in the Dominican Summer League, but being far older and more experienced than the competition calls the stat line into question. The tiny second baseman needs to prove he can punch up as well as punch down when he makes his stateside debut.
Luis Mieses: Get the ball over the fence
Despite a 2022 season that saw him hit more doubles than any player in the White Sox organization not named José Abreu, Mieses was nonetheless only a slightly above average hitter during his stints in Birmingham and Charlotte. Part of this is because he rarely draws walks, but the other part is his middling home run power. Mieses probably is what he is in the plate discipline department at this point, but if he can get a few of those doubles over the fence, that could be a major league bat.