|Original Published Date: October 22, 2019|
Living in Charlotte North Carolina, I see a lot of White Sox minor league baseball. The Triple-A affiliate is a mile from my home, the Low-A affiliate is 30 minutes away and Winston Salem, home of the High-A affiliate is a little over an hour away. I’ve seen most players on this list multiple times and therefore, I have a good idea of the strength and weaknesses of the organization.
It’s a Top 10 system in all of baseball with impact players at the top and decent depth through at least the Top 20 players. They’ve been bitten by the Tommy John bug as three of their Top 15 prospects are recovering from the procedure. Assuming, they all come back healthy, the system will be even that much better. Of course, the sexy name is the number one prospect – Luis Robert. I saw him several times in Charlotte and he is fun to watch. Power, speed and tons of athleticism. I’m not sure how much he’ll eventually hit, but if he can keep his strikeouts under control and stop expanding the strike zone, he has star potential.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Luis Robert
- Biggest Mover: Luis Gonzalez
- Emerging Prospect: Yolbert Sanchez – He’s not listed but is a stud defensive shortstop from Cuba with good speed. If he can hit, he could provide some fantasy value. If not, he’s a utility player at the highest level.
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1. Luis Robert (OF)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 Player
- Tools Summary: 30-30 potential but aggressive approach could cause some frustration for fantasy owners, particularly early in his career.
In my travels, I kept missing Luis Robert. I missed him during his brief stay in Kannapolis last year. He was hurt when I attended the AFL last Fall and it rained on the day, I was going to see him in Winston Salem. Once he arrived in Charlotte, I had a chance to see him multiple times, but his debut on July 11th was one of the highlights of his season.
I lazily compared Robert to Yoan Moncada and while there are some hit-tool comparisons, they are not physically similar. Moncada looks like a running back, shorter and broader but Robert is built more like a lean wide receiver. While I didn’t get a chance to time him down to first, he clearly has plus speed and can cover significant ground in the outfield quickly. The bat speed is impressive with the strength coming from his wrist and forearms. He hit two home runs during his debut, and it was easy power. Just a quick swing resulting in extremely hard contact. The Knights reported the first blast (grand slam) was hit 409 feet with an exit velocity of 110 MPH. The second shot was hit 428 feet. Again, with little effort.
The swing is simple and clean and definitely works, but the approach is aggressive. He’s up there looking to swing the pole and in his five at-bats, he saw 11 pitches. His stat line supports the approach as he is posting a 5.2% walk rate. Plus, there will be some swing and miss due to his aggressive approach as he will expand the strike zone. However, the tools are elite, and the ceiling could be very special. How special? There is 30-30 potential with a chance to hit .260 with a .320 OBP. Also, through the magic of BABIP and how hard he hits the ball, there will likely be some variance in his batting average which in some years could put his batting average 20 to 30 points higher.
2. Andrew Vaughn (1B)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 1B
- Tools Summary: Plus hit tool with good power. At 5-foot-10, there is a concern on how much power he will eventually have.
If you like your first baseman to look like Albert Pujols, Andrew Vaughn is not your guy. While he’s listed at 6-feet, he’s likely a couple of inches shorter than that. But he can hit. He hit in college and in his first foray into professional ball, he hit. In 55 games, he hit .278 with a .384 OBP. He also walked nearly as much as he struck out while striking out only 15.5% of the time.
After seeing him twice this season, the swing really works. He has a compact swing and just doesn’t expand the strike zone. However, the swing is built more for contact and while there is good bat speed, he doesn’t get the kind of bat speed you like to see in players of his size. In other words, there is an open issue for me as to how much eventual over-the-fence power he will have. It might be more doubles-power.
If you add it all up, the ceiling is a .300/.400/.450 first baseman with 15 to 20 home runs. That’s a really good player but might be a little light for some fantasy owners who like to see 30+ home runs out of their corner positions. Instead, focus on his average, on-base and the runs and RBIs he will collect and get the extra 10 home runs somewhere else.
3. Michael Kopech (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Fantasy Ace
- Tools Summary: He has number one potential, but has yet to pitch coming after TJ Surgery.
We all saw it in his brief stay in the big leagues. His fastball sat 96 to 98 and touched higher with a plus slider and a workable change-up. But as happens far too often, he felt the twinge in his elbow and was done.
The timing for Kopech’s surgery was both a positive and a curse. He had surgery in September of 2018 which should give him nearly 18 months of recovery time before facing batters in a game. This is good as history shows that rushing pitchers back from TJ Surgery benefits nobody in the long run. On the negative side, it would be very optimistic to think he could start the season in the rotation. There’s likely going to be setbacks and rust that must be worked through. In fact, control has never been a given with Kopech as it took him most of the 2018 season for him to throw consistent strikes.
That said, he’s got ace potential and you can’t say that about many young pitchers. Fantasy owners need to be patient in 2020 and prepare for some highs and lows. Plus, he’ll likely be limited in his innings to 150 to 160.
4. Nick Madrigal (2B)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 2B
- Tools Summary: Elite contact, plus speed, but no power makes him a very difficult player to evaluate.
When Nick Madrigal was selected number four overall by the White Sox in the 2018 MLB draft, it was a curious pick. There was no doubt he could hit as he posted a .361 batting average in three years at Oregon State, walking 1.6 as many times as he struck out. That’s not a misprint, he walked more than 50% more than he struck out. He also has plus speed and he showed that by stealing 39 bases in 151 games in college. The problem is he has no power. His swing lacks any loft and it’s more of a slap and run approach.
He’s now played in 165 games in the minor leagues and it’s more of the same. In those 165 games, he’s struck out only 21 times and walked 52 times. He’s also stolen 46 bases but has three home runs. Without any power, there’s a lot of skepticism on whether the bat will play enough at the highest level. You can argue he’s Willians Astudillo 2.0, but Astudillo does have a little power.
The profile is unique, to say the least, and therefore, the ceiling is hard to pinpoint. You can argue that he won’t make enough solid contact to even be a viable big leaguer. Or, you can argue that he’ll add strength like Freddy Patek did and have enough strength to be an all-star (Patek was an all-star three times). But that was in the ’70s when the game was different. Power was down and speed and contact were more important. Could Patek thrive today? Can Madrigal thrive? It’s a question and one that we just don’t know the answer.
5. Dane Dunning (RHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
- Tools Summary: Returning from Tommy John Surgery. If he returns to his prior form, there is mid-rotation upside.
I have several shares in Dane Dunning in my Dynasty Leagues and was understandably bummed when he went on the shelf in July of 2018 with an elbow sprain. “Uh oh” turned into “Oh no” when on March 18th he had Tommy John Surgery and was lost for the season.
He should be back by mid-season in 2020 and assuming he comes back as good as new, there is mid-rotation upside. He has a plus fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH with heavy sink and a solid slider and change-up to complete the arsenal. He’s always shown the ability to throw strikes.
6. Matthew Thompson (RHP)
- Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP with risk
- Tools Summary: Raw athletic talent with excellent size and arm strength.
There was talk of Matthew Thompson going in the first round in last June’s draft, but after an inconsistent senior year in High School, the White Sox were able to grab him in the second round (pick #45). Don’t feel too bad for him. He signed for $2.1 million dollars which was back-of-the-first-round money.
At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Thompson is the type of young pitcher teams like to acquire. He’s athletic, projectable and is already showing plenty of arm strength. He also shows the ability to spin a breaking pitch. He’s a project for sure and one that could take four or more years for him to hit the upper minors, not to mention the Major Leagues. However, if it all comes together, he could be a mid-rotation starter or even more.
7. Luis Basabe (OF)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: He still has enticing tools, but the strikeouts are becoming a limiting problem.
I’ve seen Luis Basabe play several times including in the Fall League this past September. First, there’s a lot to like about him. He’s a plus runner, has excellent bat speed and has proven he can take a walk. Unfortunately, his swing and miss tendency isn’t allowing him to effectively get to both his speed and power.
In analyzing the swing, there is a definitive hitch. While this is a problem, his bigger problem is just how hard he swings. It looks like he’s trying to hit the baseball 500 feet on each pitch. To me, he needs to work on his approach, particularly when he gets two strikes. He’s getting his walks, but the strikeout rate is nearly 30% and that just will not work.
For fantasy owners, the equation is simple. If he cuts down on his strikeouts, he could be a 15=15 performer with upside in both categories. If not, he’s a part-time player. The good news is he only turned 23 in August and still has time to improve the approach and cut down on his strikeouts.
8. Steele Walker (OF)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: A little bit of power and a little bit of speed. He might be a fourth outfielder for a contender, but in the right situation, he could be a fantasy contributor.
Steele Walker was drafted in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft based on the impressive .352/.441/.606 stat line he produced in his junior year at Oklahoma. I had a chance to see him twice in Kannapolis this season and he was clearly too advanced for the league. He made solid contact to all fields and showed well above-average speed on the bases and in center field. He also showed some pop in batting practice but did not hit anything out of the park in his 20 games in the Sally League.
After being promoted, he initially struggled but started to put together things in June. He even started showing some in-game over-the-fence power.
Walker has tools, plays the game with enthusiasm and has started to control the strike zone better. However, in the end, I see him as a second-division starter at the highest level or a fourth outfielder on a contender. He could develop 15 home run power with high single-digit stolen bases. Whether he should be owned in a fantasy league will depend on how well he’ll hits.
9. Blake Rutherford (OF)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
- Tools Summary: Has never lived up to his draft hype. He has a little speed and pop but needs to cut down on his strikeouts to have impact.
Drafted 18th overall by the Yankees in the 2016 MLB Draft, Blake Rutherford has not torn up the minor leagues. In parts of four years, he’s hit .282 with a .339 OBP and a .403 SLG. This year, it’s been more of the same with a decent batting average but with little power and speed.
I do believe Rutherford will be a big leaguer and that opportunity might come as early as 2020. But I don’t see an impact performer. There will be a little speed (10 to 12 stolen bases) and once he starts using the major league baseball, he could also hit double-digit home runs. However, he needs to cut down on his strikeouts and show more plate patience. Until then, he’s a marginal add in a dynasty league. That said, I’m not giving up on him as I still love the athleticism and I’m still holding out hope that he’ll be a late bloomer.
10. Luis Gonzalez (OF)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
- Tools Summary: He’s not an impact player but has good speed with a little pop and makes very good contact. There could be something there.
Luis Gonzalez gets buried in a very deep White Sox organization and while I don’t see star potential, I think he has a chance to at least see time in the Major Leagues in 2020. With some better luck, he could even get regular at-bats.
He spent the entire 2019 in Double-A where he hit .247 with nine home runs and 17 stolen bases. He made very good contact with a strikeout rate of 16.6% but only produced a .281 BABIP and that kept his average and OBP depressed. He’s a good runner with average power. If you add it all up, he could be a .270/.330/.425 player with 10 to 12 home runs and 15 plus stolen bases.
He’s already 24 and should see time in Chicago at some point in 2020. He’s an interesting player to add in a draft-and-hold league as he could come up in an injury replacement scenario and contribute.
11. Zack Collins (C)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 Catcher
- Tools Summary: Average power with a lot of swing and miss in his bat. He’s always walked at a high rate.
Zack Collins enjoyed playing in Charlotte. In 86 games, he slashed .283/.403/.545 with 18 home runs. However, before we anoint him as the next Johnny Bench, the combination of a juiced ball and the hitter’s paradise of BB&T Stadium in Charlotte likely had a lot to do with the year he had. Regardless, the effort led to his big-league call-up. He didn’t play particularly well, but he now can call himself a Major League baseball player.
I’m torn as to whether Collins can be a full-time regular. He has solid-average power and should be able to hit 12 to 15 home runs, perhaps more with the juiced ball. He’s a patient hitter and will get his walks. However, there is a hitch in his swing and that is leading to a lot of strikeouts. The swing will just be exposed more once he gets full-time at-bats in Chicago. The upside is a .220/.320/.450 hitter with 15 to 18 home runs. While there will be pressure on his batting average, in OBP Leagues, it will not hurt nearly as much.
12. Micker Adolfo (OF/DH)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: Big and strong with tremendous raw power. Injuries have hampered his progression, but he still has Jorge Soler type of upside.
Just when Micker Adolfo was starting to make meaningful progress, he blew out his elbow in July of 2018 which required TJ Surgery to repair. He was back and appeared fully healthy to begin the 2019 season, only to have a second elbow surgery in May. He did return in August and played the final two weeks of the season in the AZL.
Despite his health concerns, there is still hope that Adolfo will eventually launch his 80-grade power on the Major Leagues. While the production has never totally surfaced, he has the size (6-foot-4 and 250 pounds), bat speed and raw strength to hit a ball out of any ballpark. Sure, the approach and contact need work, but that’s what stinks about his recent struggles with his elbow. He was making progress. His strikeouts were down, and he was learning to be more patient.
The good news is he’s still only 23 and should be able to make up for lost time quickly. The ceiling is still very wide. He could become a Jorge Soler 40 plus home run threat with a modest average and OBP or might not hit enough to be a regular. The bottom line is he needs to get back on the field to get regular at-bats in order to work on his hit-tool.
13. Jonathan Stiever (RHP)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Athletic pitcher that was given well over-slot money in the third round last June.
The best pitcher in the White Sox minor league system was Jonathan Stiever. Granted Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning were hurt, but Stiever pitched extremely well and showed that he has big-league stuff and potential.
He split his time between Low and High-A and pitched well in both spots. He stuck out over a batter an inning and walked less than two per nine and was consistent over both starts. His one blemish is he was homer prone. In 26 starts, he gave up 17 home runs and in Low-A was also very hittable. The upside is a number four starter but with his strike-throwing ability, he could even do a little more than that.
14. Andrew Dalquist (RHP)
- Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
- Tools Summary: Athletic pitcher that was given well over-slot money in the third round last June.
The White Sox went well over slot to grab Andrew Dalquist in the third round in last June’s draft. At 6-foot-1, Dalquist doesn’t have the size you want to see in a top of the rotation starter, but he has solid present stuff with the ability to throw strikes. While I like Matthew Thompson’s upside more, Dalquist could move faster given his more refined arsenal.
If it all comes together, Dalquist ceiling is a mid-rotation starter with plenty of strikeouts. Given his size, he could be homer-prone which will drive his ERA higher this his arsenal and peripherals might suggest.
15. Gavin Sheets (1B)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 1B
- Tools Summary: On-base skills but at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he hasn’t shown much power yet.
Drafted in the second round of 2017 by the White Sox, Gavin Sheets, son of former big leaguer Larry Sheets has shown solid on-base skills but has demonstrated very little power. As a 6-foot-4, 230-pound first baseman, that has made very little sense.
The White Sox assigned him to Double-A to begin the 2019 season and he got off to a very slow start. As the season progressed, he picked things up, hitting .266 for the year with 16 home runs. Even with the 16 home runs, he only posted a .407 SLG. Like his father, he’s a 30-grade runner, so speed will not be part of the equation.