February 6, 2017
Chicago White Sox Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: We’re just happy the White Sox got all those deals done before we submitted the org rankings for the Annual.
The Top Ten
The Big Question: Is the White Sox pitching development team magical?
We could have copy-pasted “Not sure if all these guys can hit their ceilings” for the sole analysis of every system and been technically correct, and probably would not even lose our entire subscription base in the process. But in pulling off two of the biggest trades of the entire offseason for a surfeit of high-ceiling prospects, surely the White Sox have achieved some small measure of uniqueness in the raft of arms they have acquired; whose ability to utilize their potentially electric stuff out of the starting rotation is dependent on how they respond to the next one or two years of instruction under the helm of Don Cooper & Co.
The Sox are not flush with natural competitive advantages, but what they have is well defined: they can develop home-grown arms and they can keep them healthy. Cooper and newly named pitching coordinator Richard Dotson (entering his 16th year in the organization), have a well-worn formula for cleaning up deliveries, keeping pitchers upright through their throwing motion and emphasizing extension. The results are not universal—Jeff Samardzija certainly wasn’t much for the tweaks—but they have fueled the strength of the organization for over the last decade. Given the accomplishment of the White Sox over that span, this has proven to not be quite enough of an organizational hallmark to cover for other warts, but there’s no point in abandoning the well now, as they try to build a larger, deeper core.
But even for a franchise that rode to the 2005 World Series title on the shoulders of a dominant starting rotation, never has the pitching development staff been responsible for overseeing such a collection of young, high-octane arms. Moreover, never have they been staked with fortifying the foundation of a rebuild of this scale and scope. Turn Lopez, Kopech, Hansen and Fulmer into reliable major-league starters and they have the most enviable slate of young arms in the league, already in their organization less than a year after beginning their harrowing sell-off. Yet a more realistic scenario is where all four of them are relievers, and the White Sox rebuild becomes one of those five-year slogs built slowly from the draft.
Lopez, the highest-rated of this group, even Cooper has readily acknowledged could end up in the pen, Kopech has a head whack to rival the early days of Carlos Rodon, Hansen was acknowledged as a reclamation project on the day he was drafted after a disastrous final season at Oklahoma, and his forward momentum with the Sox has brought him just to the height of “major conference college pitcher dominating Low-A.” Fulmer is at the back of this group after a difficult first-full season in the organization, where he struggled to adapt the Sox adjustments to his game on their typical accelerated timeline for advanced college arms. In this high-wire act, Lucas Giolito, the former future ace coming off a down year, becomes the most predictable pitching prospect of the bunch, with the Sox only having to complete the reasonable goal of tossing aside his mechanical adjustments from 2016 and overcoming early indications that his fastball lacks the life and spin rate to be a swing-and-miss offering. There’s a ton of talent here, but the White Sox have staked the first step of their future on the idea that they can conquer the risk and difficulties present.
And they very much have to. The White Sox are not the team that will look to win the Bryce Harper sweepstakes in the future, they would not even dream of incurring a penalty for an aggressive international amateur free agency spending spree to stack their talent coffers, if they even could, given the David Wilder-shaped crater their international scouts have been dutifully climbing out of for a decade.
This is their path, this is the strength the Sox will rest their fate on 100 times out of 100. The big question is whether it’s merely good, or whether its franchise-altering, and whether it should change how we conceive of the pitchers on this list while they remain in the Sox tow. That’s probably not the case, since we’re pretty good at this prospect analysis thing after all, but those are the stakes on which the Sox are testing their pitching development. If they are wrong, they are just another rebuilding club. —James Fegan
1. Yoan Moncada, 2B
The Good: He might have the best body in baseball. He is one of the best overall athletes in baseball. He’s got a good idea of what he wants to do at the plate and recognizes pitches very well for his age/level. He swings the bat quite hard from both sides of the plate. He has at least plus raw power from both sides of the plate. He’s a 70 runner. He has a strong arm.
The Bad: I thought Moncada was capable of being an average second baseman, but he wasn’t there yet
The Irrelevant: With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement capping bonuses at a small fraction of his, Moncada’s record $31.5 million bonus for a July 2nd international free agent is going to stand for a very, very, very long time.
OFP 70—Perennial All-Star 2B or 3B
The Risks: Is Moncada destined to be traded to a team that can develop him as a second baseman? [ed. Note: yes] If he stays in Boston [ed. Note: nope], he could end up much further right on the defensive spectrum than anyone thinks, and with those positions comes greater offensive responsibility [ed. Note: probably’ll be fine]. There’s some downside potential for the takes too many borderline strikes/swings through too many hittable pitches profile combination that can lead to an inordinate number of strikeouts at the major-league level.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016 —Jarrett Seidler
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Sure, Moncada has some warts, but he’s still the top overall dynasty prospect in the game. His eventual upside is as a five-category monster and potential top-10 pick, but when he gets to the Majors he’ll be interesting right away thanks to his speed and ability to hit for average. Factor in the likelihood that he’ll play in the infield and his relatively short lead time and there’s quite a bit to like. A future with a .280-plus average, 30-plus steals and 15-20 homers from 2B is very much in play. His floor might look something like Ian Kinsler’s career, which has been plenty rewarding to fantasy players. His ceiling might be something closer to Starling Marte, but on the dirt. He’s extra valuable in leagues that count Tom Verducci meltdowns as a stat.
2. Lucas Giolito, RHP
The Good: Giolito’s curveball, on raw stuff alone, is one of the most promising pitches in prospectdom, a potential 80 grade pitch. His fastball has touched triple-digits and will sometimes comfortably sit in the mid-90s with tremendous downward plane. The change flashes as more than a show-me pitch. He has a good idea of what he wants to do on the mound. There’s a lot of past history and previous looks supporting the idea that he’s a potential ace.
The Bad: Oh command, where art thou? Command was never the strength of his profile, but it disappeared for him in 2016, leading to huge struggles in the majors. He couldn’t spot his fastball very well, leaving both too many balls and too many hittable strikes. He could only throw the curve as a chase pitch, which meant that better hitters just laid off it. Early in the 2016 season, media reports indicated these struggles were the result of overworked mechanics, but it didn’t get a whole lot better after Giolito was reported to have gotten past that issue. Just to top it off a bit, his fastball velocity was noticeably down pretty much all season compared to earlier pro looks.
The Irrelevant: Giolito is still eligible for this list, but should be out of prospectdom by the time his uncle’s reboot of Twin Peaks hits the air in the second quarter of 2017. Hopefully the central mystery of Season 3 won’t be his nephew’s missing fastball command.
OFP 70—Possible top-of-the-rotation starter
The Risks: The command might never come around, or it could take years and years and a bunch of teams and pitching coaches. The fastball/curve combination should give him a pretty good relief fallback, at least. As a Tommy John survivor, there’s always that little extra bit of risk, too. Also, he’s a pitcher. —Jarrett Seidler
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley's Fantasy Take: Giolito is still the second-best dynasty pitching prospect in my book (I’ve been talked into Alex Reyes). The aforementioned command issues are worrisome, but there simply isn’t another arm in the minors who comes close to matching Giolito’s upside and proximity to the Majors. He might kill your WHIP at first, and the whispers of a future move to the bullpen are scary, but there’s also a meaningful chance that he’s a true SP1 with 225-plus strikeouts. His median fantasy outcome is Chris Archer, which makes his ceiling pretty special.
3. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP
The Good: Lopez rode a post-April hot streak in Double-A to Triple-A and eventually an August-September major league residency. That residency included a 9 strikeout debut performance against the Dodgers and an 11 strikeout game versus the Braves. His plus arm speed generates a plus-plus fastball, an upper-70s to low-80s curveball that flashes plus, and feel for a potentially average cambio.
The Bad: The walk rate spiked and strike throwing consistency diminished after the promotion. The fastball tends to stay straight. The curveball, its shape and use in the zone, is quite volatile. The changeup can get hard and lose effectiveness. The pitch inefficiency and fastball reliance could limit Lopez to a relief role.
The Irrelevant: Lopez threw his fastest pitch of the year, a 99.7 mph heater, against the Mets on September 12th.
OFP 60—No. 3 starter
The Risks: If the minor league walk rates and efficiency can follow Lopez to the majors, there’s still middle of the rotation potential to be realized. The fallback of being a power reliever who can miss bats isn’t a terrible fate either. The fate of being a pitcher though, always makes things a bit more cloudy. —Adam Hayes
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley's Fantasy Take: Lopez may have a fairly low chance of actualizing as a no. 3 starter thanks to his size and command issues, but his strikeout potential and MLB ETA (of, you know, now) are too good for fantasy owners to pass up. Don’t pencil Lopez into your long-term rotation plans, but hope he turns into a 200-strikeout, high-WHIP no. 4 fantasy starter. A potential future at the back of a bullpen sooner rather than later gives him a lovely additional path to fantasy value, too.
4. Michael Kopech, RHP
The Good: There aren’t much better places to start as a pitching prospect than with a fastball that can touch triple digits. Kopech sits there. He’d be the hardest throwing starter in the majors if he makes it to the majors a starter. He’s no one-trick pony either, as the slider shows sharp, two-plane break and the change improved in 2016. He has an ideal starter’s build
The Bad: But he’s unlikely to stay a starter. There is effort in the delivery with a head whack and there is a reason no starter in baseball sits 99-100. The command profile is fringy, and the fastball lacks wiggle, which granted you care less about when there are three digits in the velocity. The change is improving but needs further improvement. We’ve already bemoaned vague makeup concerns dogging a player, but breaking your pitching hand punching a teammate is suboptimal.
The Irrelevant: It’s not exactly Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, but Kopech’s girlfriend, Bravo Reality TV bit player Brielle Biermann, does have him beat in the fame department. At least for now.
OFP 60—No. 3 starter or fireballing closer
The Risks: A 100-mph fastball with cover a multitude of sins, chemical or criminal. It is worth noting that the only starter who throws roughly as hard as Kopech is Noah Syndergaard, who has had a series of arm scares over the last 24 months. The fastball/slider combo gives him a pretty high major-league floor even in a pen role, but he is after all, a pitcher (who probably throws harder than man was meant to).
Major league ETA: Late 2018, but faster with a pen move
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Kopech is one of the better sell-high prospects I can think of right now. Everyone is drooling over his stuff, he’s likely to post some gaudy numbers in High-A and triple-digit fastballs have seduced many a dynasty enthusiast. See if someone will give you a good MLBer now for Kopech, but don’t sell him just to sell. Sure, he might be a reliever, but if he is he’ll probably be a closer in time, and if he’s not he could strikeout 200-plus batters as a starter. That’s three (3) whole pitchers in a row I’m not advocating you avoid at all costs!
5. Zack Collins, C
The Good: Collins is a potential 25-home-run catcher. There was, uh, one of those last year in baseball. He’s a big, strong kid, with above-average bat speed and enough loft to send the ball over the fence from foul pole to foul pole. There’s some length as he uncoils to get the plus power, but he has enough of an idea at plate and enough barrel control to have project average hit tool as well. He’s got enough arm strength to stick behind the plate, and...well framing is a somewhat teachable skill?
The Bad: During our list-making process, it was very difficult to find people that think Collins can stick behind the plate long term. He can be stiff and unathletic behind the plate and his receiving skills are below-average. The bat can survive a move to first base, but he’d be more of a three true outcomes, second-division starter there due to the swing-and-miss issues.
The Irrelevant: Collins knocked 69 base hits his junior season at Miami.
OFP 60—Bat-first, first-division catcher
The Risks: It’s a very big fall down the defensive spectrum if Collins can’t stick behind the dish. It’s also possible the length and loft in the swing get exposed against better professional arms and he’s more of a .240 hitter that doesn’t get all of the raw pop into games.
Major league ETA: Late 2018/Early 2019 depending on where he ends up defensively
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Collins is a much better fantasy prospect than IRL prospect because we don’t care if he’s good behind the plate, he just needs to be good enough to log 20-or-so games a year there. Even if he wasn’t a backstop, Collins would be a top-100 prospect thanks to his bat. He wouldn’t be altogether special at first, but he’d be better than, like, C.J. Cron. Put that type of production behind the plate and you get a potential top-3 fantasy catcher for years, though Collins isn’t the type of guy who’s going to catch into his 30s.
6. Alec Hansen, RHP
The Good: Hansen’s stuff well outpaces your average second-round college pick’s. His fastball sits comfortably in the plus velocity band, and he can run it up into the high 90s at times. The pitch shows sink and run as well, coming from a high release point (and a very tall hombre). There’s two potential plus breaking balls here. The slider was the party piece as an amateur, but he had more feel for the curve as a pro, a big 11-5 breaker that sits in the upper 70s.
The Bad: Hansen was a second-round pick because he completely forgot how to throw strikes during his junior season. The White Sox and he seem to have remedied that issue somewhat, but given his height and the crossfire and effort in his delivery, the command profile is never going to get much past average. The curveball can flatten out and sit high, the mid-80s slider is a glove-side chase pitch at present, and the change has only made sporadic appearances as a pro.
The Irrelevant: If Hansen had gone 1:1 in this year’s draft, he’d be the first Sooner to do so. Bobby Witt and Jon Gray currently hold the record for highest drafted Oklahoma alum. Both went third overall.
OFP 55—Mid-rotation power arm
The Risks: Hansen looked like a candidate to go at the top of the draft in January. By the end of the minor league season, he looked like a guy who did go at the top of the draft. In between was kind of a disaster though, so he’s riskier than even your average pitching prospect—which he is, by the way.
Major league ETA: 2019 I guess?
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Hansen should definitely be in your watch list as he’s not far removed from showing stuff that might’ve made him an early pick in the 2016 draft. But until he shows that stuff consistently, he belongs on waivers.
7. Carson Fulmer, RHP
The Good: Among prospect arms that don’t throw in the upper 90s—although he can run it up close—you could make a case Fulmer has one of the best fastballs. It’s 93-95 with explosive arm-side run that can almost mimic screwball action. His curveball flashes plus with hard, late break. I’d call it explosive as well, but you shouldn’t repeat adjectives like that. Google suggests “incendiary” as an adjective. This is—without a doubt—#thegoodstuff .
The Bad: Fulmer has a high-effort, up-tempo delivery with head violence. The number of walks in the stat line above are not an accident. He struggles to throw strikes consistently with the fastball and the curve. His changeup lags behind the other two pitches. He’s added a cutter—as you do with the White Sox—which is a promising pitch, but still a work in progress.
The Irrelevant: Are there any fun facts about Vanderbilt left at this point in list season?
OFP 60—Major-league closer
The Risks: Fulmer’s probably a reliever in the near-term, and he hasn’t thrown enough strikes in the recent past. He’s also an undersized pitcher.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Fulmer is still a top-100 dynasty prospect thanks to his proximity to the majors and his upside, but there’s no doubt that his star has faded considerably. Understand that he might be a reliever, but feel free to value him just as you would, oh, Robert Stephenson. A potential future as a high-strikeout SP5 is still within reach, but I wouldn’t bet those odds.
8. Luis Alexander Basabe, OF
The Good: Basabe is a premium athlete with potential above-average grades on four tools. He’s an above-average runner with a good second gear. There’s above-average raw in the frame, even as a teenager, although it only plays in games from the left side at present. There’s enough arm for any spot in the outfield, but the athleticism and improving instincts make him a potentially above-average center fielder. We are quickly veering into Lake Wobegon territory now.
The Bad: Basabe has some interesting tools on both sides of the ball, but he is also still quite raw on both sides as well. The approach is aggressive from both sides and there’s swing-and-miss against A-ball spin from both sides too. The right-handed offensive tools are less developed, not uncommon for a young switch hitter. The defensive skills still need refinement.
The Irrelevant: Multiple times while discussing Basabe internally I referred to the wrong Basabe. At least they are on other teams now.
OFP 60—Above-average everyday outfielder
The Risks: Basabe is still a high-risk prospect. 2017 could be a big breakout year, or he could suffer through a summer swoon against more advanced arms in Double-A. There is not one clear carrying tool for the profile yet—admittedly a lot to ask of teenager—so the development path may be bumpier in the future than it was in 2016.
Major league ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: This is your last chance to buy lowish on Basabe. He comes with his fair share of risk, but gambling on power/speed guys in the mid-minors is a tried-and-true dynasty strategy. In a down year for dynasty prospects, there’s a chance Basabe sneaks onto the back of our top-100 list, and if not he’d almost certainly be top-125.
9. Zack Burdi, RHP
The Good: I generally bristle at the idea of drafting a reliever in the first round—perhaps a function of being a Mets fan during the Omar Minaya years—but if you are going to draft a no-doubt reliever early in the Rule 4, picking the guy that touches 100 and has a present plus slider is the one to take. Burdi checks both those boxes, The heater isn’t arrow-straight either, as he gets some hard arm-side run from his low-three-quarters slot. The slider is a potential plus-plus wipeout offering with additional refinement.
The Bad: Burdi’s never going to have the world’s finest command and control. The delivery is high-effort with a whirlwind of torque. Lower arm slot gives lefties a long look, and while he has a better changeup than you’d expect from this profile, it isn’t going to be a meaningful part of his late-inning arsenal. He might be a bit of a tightrope act as a reliever against major-league hitters.
The Irrelevant: Burdi cites Buca de Beppo, a family-style Italian chain with a location in Louisville, as his favorite restaurant. He does looks like a man who likes his carbs, but we encourage him to check out Ricobene’s once he hits the South Side.
OFP 55—Good late-inning arm
The Risks: He’s just about major-league-ready. He was always going to be a reliever all the way, so really there isn’t anything to men...oh right, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Friends don’t let friends draft reliever prospects.
10. Dane Dunning, RHP
The Good: Shows strikeout potential, reliable command of his low to mid-90s fastball with late life. Clean mechanics paired with a deceptive delivery created by a late break in his hands pair well with his effective changeup.
The Bad: Having pitched out of the bullpen due the Florida Gators’ overstocked pool of arms, there are legitimate questions as to how Dunning will hold up as a starter. His 11-5 curveball hasn’t shown the promise of his other pitches, and failing to get a handle on it could force a permanent relocation to the pen.
The Irrelevant: Dunning will often pitch wearing those strange hybrid glasses/goggles. Word is still out on his bespectacled splits.
OFP 50—Fourth starter or set-up man
The Risks: Without much starting experience, Dunning may have trouble pitching deep into games. Failing to command his curveball would limit him to a fastball/change repertoire that would function fine out of the bullpen but likely prevent him from starting. Also, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2018 —Will Haines
Ben Carsley's Fantasy Take: Think of all the other things you could do with a roster spot instead of wasting it on a potential back-end starter who’s several years away. You could hold on to a sleeper closer candidate. Maybe stash a speedster who can pad your SB totals when your starters are sitting. Heck, you could get really crazy and even use it to stream a back-end starter who could help you right now, rather than one who might help you years down the line. You can pass on Dunning.
Others of note:
Spencer Adams, RHP
The tools merchant
Micker Adolfo, OF
The parade of ex-2016 Top Ten White Sox continues
Trey Michalczewski, 3B
The factor on the farm
Jake Peter, IF/OF
Courtney Hawkins, OF
Carlos Rodon was so feted coming into his junior year of college that once he struggled with his velocity and command he was suddenly considered a disappointment and slid to the White Sox at third overall in the 2014 draft. Then he blitzed through High-A and Triple-A, skipping Birmingham altogether, overwhelming batters with raw stuff in the form of his mid-90s velocity from the left side and his infamous slider. He has now pitched over 300 innings in the majors against only 38 in the minors, for his career. Thus, Rodon went from perceived underachiever on draft day straight to a major leaguer learning on the job, skipping time to build up hype in the minors.
On the surface, it didn’t look like Rodon improved from 2015 to 2016, as he gave up more home runs, was more hittable, and his ERA rose from 3.75 to 4.04. If you look deeper, however, he also shaved his walk percentage from 11.7 to 7.6 while posting a cFIP of 87 in the majors to go with a 3.44 DRA. That cFIP was ahead of Rick Porcello’s and Madison Bumgarner’s, while virtually tied with Cole Hamels and Masahiro Tanaka. Rodon was also a victim of the White Sox’ ghastly pitch framing, and some attributed his strong second half to switching from Dioner Navarro’s butchery to Omar Narvaez’s mediocre competence, as well as heavier use of an improving change. Rodon himself credited Narvaez for helping him backdoor his slider for called strikes instead of its utility being limited to swinging strikes out of the zone. Barely 24-years-old, Rodon is developing into the frontline starter he was long expected to be—he’s just done it very quietly.
There are arguments to put Moncada ahead of Tim Anderson, and even Rodon, as his power potential and batting eye give him a huge edge in terms of offensive ceiling. Still, despite Anderson’s troubling lack of control of the zone, he held his own in 431 major-league plate appearances while continuing to progress defensively at shortstop such that it looks like he will be able to stick there after all.
Not the physical specimen Moncada is, Anderson is still a freak athlete in his own right—with plus speed—who plays a more valuable position defensively. He has also demonstrated an ability to improve his control of the zone after being given time to adjust to new levels in the minors, despite aggressive promotions. This gives hope to the idea that he will be a batting average and speed-fueled asset on offense as well. And for now—unlike Moncada—Anderson has performed in the majors. —Nick Schaefer