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When top White Sox prospects are top prospects

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Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito came at a cost, but they’ll be there regardless

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of things that are different about this winter, and the most tangible aspects are a bummer. Other teams get to add players and wins and gauge how they stack up against divisional opponents. The White Sox’ major-league hopes, however, are now on delay after years of being denied, and Sox fans are left to cross their fingers that the front office won’t kneecap its own efforts again.

The other side of the ledger has benefits, even if they’re more distant and hollow. One example: MLB top prospect lists are actually relevant reading to White Sox fans now.

Top-100 prospect lists really have been a more a matter of quantity than quality. Looking back at White Sox prospects since the franchise’s last postseason appearance, Carlos Rodon (No. 15) and Gordon Beckham (No. 20) received a universal kind of acclaim during their collegiate days, and they couldn’t crack the top 10.

That’s partially a byproduct of the White Sox’ fast track. Had Beckham, Rodon or Chris Sale -- a No. 20 prospect himself — been able to ply their trades longer in the minors, they would’ve been able to ramp up the hype. Instead, they reached the majors by the time they were first of use, never to return. Without those kinds of minor-league stars, the top-100 lists mainly showed us whether outsiders found the White Sox’ better prospects interesting.

That’s not the case with the guys the White Sox have acquired. Yoan Moncada was signed out of Cuba at age 19 while Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech were first-day selections out of high school. There has been plenty of time for scouts to get acquainted with them. In the cases of Moncada and Giolito, they’ve been around long enough for third parties to start noticing the warts.

The top-whatever lists aren’t out yet, but we have a couple teases to work with. John Manuel, editor in chief at Baseball America, wrote a year-end article summing up the discussions for the latest edition of the Prospect Handbook. He calls the list a “snapshot,” and both Moncada and Giolito -- top-five prospects before the season -- took a hit based on their last impressions.

One key aspect to remember about any prospect ranking, however, is that it’s just a moment in time. Players can change, and a player’s value can change. Just in 2016, Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito illustrate this point as well as any players. Moncada, our Minor League Player of the Year, lost a bit of luster with his September big league callup.

Twelve strikeouts in 20 plate appearances tends to do that, even in a small sample size. Giolito’s debut also was ugly, as his fastball velocity dipped and big leaguers teed off on the pitch.

Both players—now White Sox after Winter Meetings trades—were elite prospects, with Moncada ranked No. 1 on our Midseason Top 100 in July and Giolito ranked fourth. By the fall, though, we’d ranked Andrew Benintendi ahead of Moncada in the Red Sox Top 10. Giolito was not going to be No. 1 on the Nationals’ list; in fact we were debating whether he would be No. 2 or No. 3, behind Reynaldo Lopez, when he was traded to the White Sox.

On the other hand, friend of the podcast Jim Callis wasn’t particularly moved by Moncada’s awful first 20 plate appearances, because the new White Sox prospect will still remain atop the upcoming MLB.com list:

The clear top three guys for me are White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada, Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres and Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi, in that order ... I listed only five pitchers in my top 32, starting with Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes at No. 9 ... prospects not on the current Top 100 (remember, we put it together in July) who made my top 50: Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (No. 31) and Cardinals catcher Carson Kelly (No. 49) ... next on my list at No. 51 would be Dodgers right-hander Yadier Alvarez, whom I suspect could rank significantly higher than that by the end of 2017.

While that’s a thumbs-up for Moncada, it’s again a bit of blow to Giolito, who was ranked No. 3 on MLB.com’s list last year. Simple deductive reasoning says he won’t be higher than 10th, but hey, even that would be good enough to be the White Sox’ most-hyped prospect of the century. Moncada ensures they’ll have a new title-holder no matter how far Giolito drops. These are the kinds of victories that’ll have to keep you warm, because actual wins could be in very short supply.