|Original Published Date: October 23, 2018|
The White Sox organization is stacked. They have high-end, impact prospects that are in the high minors and ready to start contributing, other impact players further away and then a ton of depth. One thing that is odd and candidly concerning is the number of elbow injuries that the organization has had. Michael Kopech and Micker Adolfo have already gone under the knife and Dane Dunning is a likely candidate.
Things should get fun on the south side of Chicago as soon as next season when uber-prospect Eloy Jimenez gets the call. While Vlad Jr. is the higher ranked prospect, the difference might not be as great as many think. Nick Madrigal won’t be that far behind as he has an elite hit tool and nothing has stopped the diminutive second baseman yet.
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1. Eloy Jimenez (OF)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 5 OF
Living in Charlotte North Carolina, I’ve had a chance to see Eloy Jimenez a number of times in 2018. The first thing you notice when laying eyes on him is just his sheer size. At 6-foot-4 and a listed 205 pounds, he looks more like a tight end than an outfielder. I had seen him play over the past couple of years and could attest to the double-plus power which has been very real again this year.
What impressed me the most this year was his much-improved approach. His strikeout rate in 228 plate appearance for the Knights is 13.2%. If he can do that at the next level, he’s not that far off from Vlad Jr. In other words, you’re looking at a Miguel Cabrera starter kit. While I’m not convinced that the upside is a .300 hitter if you told me he would hit .270 with 40 home runs annually that would not surprise me in the least.
It’ll be interesting to see where Jimenez goes in fantasy drafts next year. He’ll likely get the call in late April after the White Sox can be assured of seven years of team control. While Vlad Jr. likely goes in the second or third round, don’t be surprised if Jimenez goes in sixth or seventh.
2. Michael Kopech (RHP)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: Fantasy Ace
I’ve been all over the map with Michael Kopech. I saw him in the 2017 season and clocked his 80-grade fastball at 102.2 MPH and got really excited. I saw the athleticism and drooled. I also saw 30-grade control and knew he had some work to do. I even speculated that unless his secondary pitches improved and more importantly, his control improved, he might be bound for the bullpen. I reiterated that again this year as I’ve had a chance to see him pitch twice in Charlotte.
Midway through the season, things started to click. He let off on his fastball, hitting 97 MPH (plenty fast) and in turn, he developed better control. The secondary pitches are better but still need work. But in seven starts since July 1st, he struck out 56 and walked eight.
That led to an August promotion and three impressive outings; although two were cut short by rain delays. Then on September 5th, he struggled badly against the Tigers and shortly after the game, it was announced he was being put on the 60-day disabled list with a sprained elbow UCL. He had Tommy John surgery two weeks later.
For owners who have patiently waited for Kopech to develop will likely have to wait another season and a half before accumulating stats in the major leagues.
3. Nick Madrigal (2B)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 2B
Much like Nick Senzel in 2017 and Alex Bregman in 2016, Nick Madrigal was the best college hitter in last June’s draft. Don’t misunderstand, Madrigal is a different player than his two predecessors but he could nonetheless be an impact player. You usually don’t associate impact player with a 5-foot-7 second baseman with 30-grade power, but his ability to get on base and disrupt could be similar to another small second baseman, again, minus the power.
I had a chance to lay eyes on Madrigal this summer and there is no denying his ability to make contact. In 155 at-bats in his professional debut, he struck out five times. He only had a .348 slugging but I think he hits enough doubles, where some turn into triples to push a slugging of .400. He has the kind of natural hand-eye-coordination that he could easily be an annual .300 hitter. He also has the speed to sport a high BABIP to push that even higher.
From a fantasy standpoint, it’s the speed that will make Madrigal a valuable property. He could easily steal 40 plus bases and hitting at the top of what should be a very good White Sox lineup, he could easily score 100 plus runs annually. But, is that enough? Can you have a player that brings all the goodness he has with 3 to 5 home runs? That’s the question fantasy owners will have to ask themselves at the draft table. For me, the three hardest stats to accumulate is runs, stolen bases, and BA/OBP, so I’m buying. Plus, given how everyone hits home runs, maybe he’ll surprise with more than I think.
4. Luis Robert (OF)
Highest Level: HIgh-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
If you liked Yoan Moncada, you’re going to like Luis Robert. Yes, I’m being a little lazy by comparing him to another Cuban, but the physicality, bat speed, and double-plus speed are very similar. One thing that is different, Moncada has been pretty healthy since becoming a pro, but the same can’t be said about Robert. Over the past two years, he’s played in 78 games – 50 games in 2018. In those 50 games, he hit .269 with a 25% strikeout rate and a 6% walk rate. He did steal 15 bases but did not go yard.
The profile of Robert is indeed exciting. He could be a 40 stolen base threat with 15 to 20 home runs, perhaps even more. The hit-tool, as with many Cuban émigré’s is uber-aggressive with a lot of swing and miss. So with the power and speed upside comes downside with the batting average and on-base percentage. While they might hurt a category in fantasy, it could also drop him in the order and that will limit his upside with stolen bases and scoring runs. But the upside is there and he only just turned 21, so he has time on his side to make the necessary adjustments.
5. Dylan Cease (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
After Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease has the best chance to pitch at the top of the rotation for the White Sox. He has two premium pitches in his upper-90s fastball and plus curveball. He also shows a feel for a change-up, but it’s definitely his third pitch. At 6-foot-2, he doesn’t get the great plane on his pitches but has quality mechanics that allows him to repeat his delivery.
In analyzing players, you get the most excited when the stats match the scouting report. Cease had one of the best performance of any pitcher in the minor leagues. In 124 innings across Low and High-A, he pitched to a 2.40 ERA with an impressive 11.6 strikeout rate but did walk too many (3.6 per nine).
Cease has a ceiling of a number two pitcher and with a hot start, could see some time in Chicago next season. I think it’s more likely he makes his major league debut in 2020, but the White Sox might surprise next season (think Braves and Phillies) and that could accelerate his timeline.
6. Micker Adolfo (OF)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
The White Sox inked Micker Adolfo to a $1.6 million dollars signing bonus in 2014 with the hopes that his double-plus raw power would eventually translate to in-game production as he matured as a hitter. It looked like that was starting to happen this season in High-A as both his contact and walk rates had taken a step forward without losing any of his power. Unfortunately, he hurt his arm and missed the second half of the 2018 campaign recovering for Tommy John surgery. It was his fourth significant injury since he signed. At some point, he does have to prove he can stay healthy.
The scouting report remains the same for Adolfo. He has the big-time raw power that should translate into in-game power as his hit tool improves. The ceiling is a classic corner outfielder with 30 home run potential with a .250/.330 hit tool.
7. Alec Hansen (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
Alec Hansen did not have a very good 2018 season. He started the year on the disabled list with a forearm strain and once he got to game action, he struggled. In nine starts in Double-A, he walked more batters than he struck out pitching to a 6.56 ERA. In August, he was demoted back to High-A, where things did not get any better.
Hansen has always had good control, so to completely lose the ability to find the plate would suggest that there is still a lingering injury. Forearm strains can sometimes lead to a more serious elbow problem, but hopefully, that is not what Hansen is dealing with.
For now, I’m still bullish on Hansen. He has a dynamic fastball that can touch the upper 90’s with secondary skills that can miss bats. Remember, he struck out 191 batters last season and showed the type of mound presence that gives him a ceiling of a number two starter.
8. Luis Alexander Basabe (OF)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
After spending parts of three seasons in High-A, Luis Alexander Basabe finally made his way to Double-A. It was a nice overall season for the 21-year-old outfielder slashing .258/.354/.445 with 15 home runs and 16 stolen bases, although he was caught 12 times.
There are plenty of average to above-average tools on Basabe’s scouting card. He was plenty of bat speed, is a plus runner with a strong arm who can play all three outfield positions. He still needs to make better contact as his strikeout rate spike upon his promotion to Double-A to 28%. But, he’s also shown the ability to work a walk and that should help neutralize some of the swing and miss. If he can improve his strikeout rate to the low-20% as he demonstrated in 2017, he has a ceiling of a 20/20 performer in the big leagues. I’m bullish and believe he can.
9. Dane Dunning (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Dane Dunning was having another terrific season when he sprained his elbow in a June start and did not pitch the rest of the season. The recommendation was the phrase that makes your heart sink, “rest and rehab”. Not to be Mr. Downer, but how many times have we heard that phrase just to find out that Tommy John reconstructive surgery follows. Hopefully, that will not be the case, but for fantasy players, you have to consider that option and plan accordingly.
When healthy, Dunning has the stuff and control to be a solid mid-rotation starter with a chance to be more. 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.
10. Zack Collins (C)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 C
Since being selected in the first round in 2016, Zack Collins has consistently produced similar stats at each level. He’s a high strikeout, high walk performer with plus power and no speed (I know he stole five bases in 2018, but he’s a 30-grade runner, so don’t get too excited about that).
If you take out the nearly 20% walk rate, he very much looks like a catcher. But the ability to walk at an elite level help negates his low batting average and in fantasy leagues that use on-base percentage, Collins could be a significant asset. While evaluators have waffled on his catching ability, I see a plus arm and good, but not great receiving skills. While I didn’t see him early in his career, I’ve been told by those who have, that his receiving skills have improved meaningfully over his career.
If it all comes together, he’s a Top 15 catcher in a traditional batting average league. However, in an on-base percentage league, Collins could be a Top 10, maybe even a Top 5 performer.
11. Luis Gonzalez (OF)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
Luis Gonzalez is one of a number of under-the-radar prospects in the White Sox organization. Across Low and High-A, he slashed .307/.368/.498 with 14 home runs and 10 stolen bases. He also made good contact (19% strikeout rate) while walking 9% of the time.
He doesn’t have any true carrying tool but the sum of the parts are indeed intriguing. The ceiling is 20 home runs, 15 stolen bases, and a .270/.330 hit tool. That’s not a star, but somebody who should be on the radar of fantasy owners.
12. Zack Burdi (RHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
The White Sox drafted Zack Burdi in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft with the hope that he would work through the minor league system quickly and provide some immediate depth in the big league bullpen. Things were going to plan as he pitched in Triple-A during his draft year, but in 2017 he blew out his elbow and spent the remainder of the season on the disabled list.
He returned to action late in 2018 and looked good. His fastball was touching the upper nineties and his plus slider was missing bats. He’s never had elite control and struggled with that in return. Once the White Sox are convinced he’s healthy, he should once again get on the fast train to Chicago with a good chance to make his big league debut in the second half of next season. The upside is still a dominant closer, with a few too many walks.
13. Ian Hamilton (RHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
As with Zack Burdi, Ian Hamilton was also drafted in 2016. Unlike Burdi, he was not drafted in the first round but 10 rounds later. However, as Burdi was rehabbing from TJ surgery, Hamilton was pitching in the big leagues after closing games at Birmingham and Charlotte.
Hamilton has two plus pitches in his fastball and slider with his fastball sitting 96 to 97 and touch higher. He has a quick arm with some violence in his delivery. In general, he throws strikes but can have bouts of wildness. It’s the profile of a late-inning bullpen arm who will get save opportunities.
14. Steele Walker (OF)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
Steele Walker is a double-plus name…no question.
He was drafted this past June in the second round on the back of an impressive .352/.441/.606 stat line he produced in his junior year at Oklahoma. Based on that stat line, I was anxious to see him live to see if the skills match. Batting practice was impressive. He made hard contact and showed power to all fields. In-game was a different story. In four plate appearances, he didn’t do much, striking out twice on curveballs outside of the strike zone.
He’s toolsy for sure and plays the game with enthusiasm, but I’m not sure how much he will hit. His .186 average in Low-A was fueled by a .214 BABIP, but he also demonstrated a very anxious approach at the plate – popping up a ton of balls. For the moment, I’m cautiously optimistic that Walker develops into a full-time regular with 15 to 20 home run pop and stealing low double-digit bases.
15. Blake Rutherford (OF)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
I was very high on Blake Rutherford when the Yankees took him with the 18th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. While he was an older high school draftee, I saw a kid that could hit that would develop at least average power with above-average speed. Unfortunately, he just has not developed like I thought he would.
While he showed a bit more pop this year in High-A slugging .436, most of that damage was done in Winston Salem, which is a nice ballpark in which to hit. His road splits show a .388 SLG with only two of his two home runs hit outside of Winston Salem. He did steal 15 bases but was caught eight times. He did show a decent contact rate with an 18.5% strikeout rate. But, if you add it all up, it’s the profile of a fourth outfielder in the major leagues. If you’re an owner in a Dynasty League, I think you need to reset your expectations unless he starts to show the ability to drive pitches with more authority.