A good problem - too many A-ball outfield prospects

Chris Getz and his player development staff are facing a logistical conundrum. They are surely happy with the deep farm system the club has rapidly built, and one can only imagine their excitement to get all those players back on the field this spring. After watching games on the back fields at Camelback Ranch in March and conferring with scouts and coaches, the brain trust will face tough decisions in assigning players to the affiliates, as they do every year. But this year there is one particular logjam which, barring the unexpected (i.e. injuries or trades), will force the White Sox to put some legitimate prospects in slots that are less than ideal for their development.

By my reckoning (there is some subjectivity involved at the back end) the team has a dozen outfielders who meet two criteria:

  • They are "prospects" in at least some definition where the team will want them to play every day
  • Their logical level for development is A-ball, with AA a long stretch and rookie leagues not a sufficient challenge

Even if both Winston-Salem and Kannapolis employ 4-man outfield rotations through the DH slot, that gives you eight slots getting roughly full time play in total. What to do with the other four? To which affiliate do you assign the eight you can?

The best way to play this out - and likely the way the White Sox will do so - is to work in order of prospect priority first, then tweak for other factors. That is to say, the prospects "ranked" or valued highest get first shot at the slot that best fits their needs. So let's fill the slots in a cascade and see how the simulation goes (ages below are on Opening Day 2018).

  • Luis Robert
    • Age: 20
    • 2017: DSL (28 games at level in career)
    • Analysis: Possibly the toughest call to make, Robert looks to be the 3rd or 4th-ranked overall prospect in the system headed into 2018 but is a wildcard in the extreme. He's yet to face any college or pro competition stateside, and his DSL numbers are not worth taking into account. He's only 20, but given his extreme talent and the Sox wanting him to get in lots of playing time, one suspects he starts 2018 in full season ball (though it's not impossible they hold him over in Extended Spring Training for a bit).
    • Assignment: Kannapolis (A)
  • Blake Rutherford
    • Age: 20
    • 2017: A (101 games at level)
    • Analysis: Rutherford came into 2017 as a consensus top 100 prospect, but a somewhat disappointing showing in Class A and his age conspire to make a promotion unlikely. He should repeat the level to get his feet under him. There is no need to rush the 20-year-old.
    • Assignment: Kannapolis (A)
  • Micker Adolfo
    • Age: 21
    • 2017: A (177 games at level)
    • Analysis: This may be the easiest assignment. Adolfo repeated at Kannapolis and improved across the board, not just statistically but in his plate approach and maturity, and even his physical conditioning. He's clearly ready for promotion.
    • Assignment: Winston-Salem (A+)
  • Luis Alexander Basabe
    • Age: 21
    • 2017: A+ (112 games at level)
    • Analysis: There was a lot of hype around Basabe coming into 2017, but he struggled with swing and miss. He also had a nagging knee injury that forced surgery after the season ended, which may have contributed to his struggles. Just 21 years old and pretty clearly not ready for AA pitching, Basabe almost assuredly repeats the level.
    • Assignment: Winston-Salem (A+)
  • Luis Gonzalez
    • Age: 22
    • 2017: Rk-GTF (4 games), A (63 games)
    • Analysis: This is a tough call, and as much on the fence as anyone. But taking into account that players like Call, Fisher and Booker (who we will address shortly) are not going to be demoted, and that Luis is a 2017 draftee with just a couple months of pro ball under his belt, it seems best not to promote him just yet.
    • Assignment: Kannapolis (A)
  • Alex Call
    • Age: 23
    • 2017:  Rk (rehab), A (84 games), A+ (10 games)
    • Analysis: Thanks to an intercostal rib strain that wiped out half of his season, 2017 was tough on this 3rd rounder. But as a 23-year-old with an advanced bat and most of a season's worth of games in Low-A (and a few in A+), he's best served in High-A this time around.
    • Assignment: Winston-Salem (A+)

At this point, we've allocated the six outfielders who are among the organization's current top 30 prospects (give or take), and we've filled both A-ball outfields. That leaves one more spot at each level, assuming they will go with a 4-man rota. Of the remaining six, only two make any sense for High-A:

  • Jameson Fisher
    • Age: 24
    • 2017: A (60 games), A+ (64 games)
    • Assignment: Birmingham (AA)
  • Joel Booker
    • Age: 24
    • 2017: A (71 games), A+ (52 games)
    • Assignment: Winston-Salem (A+)

Neither of these players will be demoted, after spending half the season in A+ and not entirely imploding. But it's not as easy as saying the higher-ranked guy should get the most developmentally appropriate spot here because of what the alternatives mean. Neither are going to the bench. So the only two other options are being promoted to AA, or switching positions. Fisher did play first base and catcher in college, but the presence of Gavin Sheets at first in Winston-Salem takes that out of play and there's no chance they put him back behind the plate.

That leaves a promotion to AA. Given Fisher's mediocre numbers with the Dash last year he's likely to be very challenged, but Booker's numbers were even less inspiring. As a 24-year-old who was drafted with a mature hit tool, by default Fisher makes the most sense. And this type of move is not without precedent. Danny Hayes, a college senior draftee with a mature approach who put up just OK numbers in Kannapolis, skipped High-A entirely to go to AA the following year. In Hayes' case, he had a bad 4-5 weeks to open the campaign, but then ended up hitting pretty well the rest of the way. The AA outfield outside of Fisher appears to be Eloy Jimenez, Tito Polo, then Courtney Hawkins and a few org soldiers. There's some room in there.

That leaves four outfielders to vie for just one spot in Kannapolis:

  • Craig Dedelow
    • Age: 23
    • 2017: Rk-GTF (60 games), A (5 games)
    • Assignment: Kannapolis (A)
  • Alex Destino
    • Age: 22
    • 2017: Rk-AZL (49 games)
    • Assignment: Ext ST, then Great Falls (Rk)
  • Logan Taylor
    • Age: 23
    • 2017: Rk-AZL (5 games), Rk-GTF (44 games)
    • Assignment: Ext ST, then Great Falls (Rk)
  • Tyler Frost
    • Age: 22
    • 2017: Rk-AZL (32 games)
    • Assignment: Ext ST, then Great Falls (Rk)

The nod here really has to go to Dedelow. A 9th round pick last year as a senior sign, he manhandled the Pioneer League (.321/.353/.574, 12 HR in just 60 games), and Great Falls is the typical stepping stone to full season ball. Craig even made a brief five game cameo in Kannapolis at the end of last season. So he rounds out the full season slots.

That's a shame because Destino in particular is not just some afterthought. Selected in the 14th round, he was paid a max $125,000 bonus (more in line with a 10th round pick) and Scouting Director Nick Hostetler has been raving about him being a sleeper since. His performance in the AZL was strong as well. Look for Alex to be the "next man up" as soon as an opportunity arises. It is possible he jumps past Dedelow for that job in Kanny, if he makes a strong showing in Spring Training.

Frost and Taylor, 15th and 16th round picks respectively, both showed well in their debuts in rookie ball. Taylor was recently named the fastest baserunner in the White Sox organization by Baseball America. These are the types of players who, in years past, would have been locks for opening at Kannapolis. Instead they likely stay in Arizona for Extended Spring Training before heading to Great Falls. The fact that they are on the outside looking in speaks to the current depth of talent in the system.

WILDCARDS

The above is mostly guesswork of course. I don't have some secret copy of the Big Board from 35th and Shields. Here's a quick list of the scenarios most likely to happen that differ from what I proposed:

  • Fisher to AA is kind of a default setting because nothing else made sense, but it's not impossible that Basabe could be the guy to move up instead.
  • Destino and Dedelow are nearly interchangeable, so don't be surprised if they might be flipped.
  • Robert is a huge wildcard. He could open in rookie ball, or skip to High-A. Kanny represents the middle of a range more than a definitive slot.

Feel free to bookmark this article and come back in April to remind me how far off my predictions were. Until then, let's appreciate how good a problem this is to have for the White Sox.

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    luis Robert is far too talented for kannapolis. He would be in the 40/40 club and hit around .400 with .500obp. The guy is fastest Ive seen out of the box in a long time. I think he starts at winston-salem and ends up with more at bats on the year at birmingham than anywhere else

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