One of the biggest stories coming out of Spring Training for the Chicago White Sox this year was the startling number of the injuries to top prospects. In late February, it was revealed that Micker Adolfo (10) had an injury to his ulnar collateral ligament and would be limited to a DH role, keeping his cannon for a right arm off the field. Subsequently, power-hitting third base prospect Jake Burger (8) went down with a season ending Achilles tear. Finally, after a mind-boggling start Cuban wunderkind Luis Robert (3) was ruled out until early May with a thumb injury.
As unfortunate as these injuries are it does give other players the opportunity to get more playing time that they wouldn’t have received otherwise. Sports are littered with such occurrences. For every Tom Brady, there’s a Drew Bledsoe, for every Wally Pipp (myth notwithstanding) there’s a Lou Gehrig. While it’s unlikely any of these replacements will become one of the transcendent players of their era, it’s worthwhile to take a look at who’s getting an opportunity that will quite possibly make or break their career.
The biggest benefactor in the early going has been Luis Alexander Basabe. With Robert sidelined and Adolfo limited to a DH role, Basabe has become the everyday center fielder for the Winston-Salem Dash. The “third piece” in the Chris Sale deal is highly-valued by the White Sox front office. Hard evidence of this was provided when the 21-year-old was placed on the 40 man roster in order to protect him in the Rule 5 draft. This was a head-scratcher for many as the rule stipulates that a player must remain on an MLB roster for an entire season or be returned to the original club. Given his youth (21), low-level minor league status, and an unimpressive 2017 campaign (.221/.320/.320) with 104 strikeouts in 435 plate appearances this was about as unlikely as a 6th round draft pick becoming the greatest quarterback of all time (oops). However, the White Sox were willing to put more MLB ready prospects at risk in order to shield Basabe from anyone looking to pluck him from their grasp.
Basabe has taken full advantage of his playing time slashing .339/.443/.627 with a whopping OPS of 1.070. Of his 20 hits, 10 have gone for extra bases with two of them launched into the stratosphere. He’s impressed a number of observers with his overall game and looks a player worthy of the value the organization has placed in him.
Another player who has caught the eye of the minor league development staff, Call was limited by injuries in 2017. The former Ball State standout has received the bulk of the playing time in right field, but so far hasn’t produced. He slashing .196/.354/.291 in 51 at-bats. He’s shown strong plate discipline with 13 walks. Observers feel his hitting will come around. After a rough start, he has shown signs of coming to life at the plate, including knocking one out of the park last week. A college pedigree, a solid 2016 season at low-A Kannapolis and the reputation as a “gamer” have earned Call patience, but with a crowded outfield situation someone could end up being the odd man out. That individual could be Call if he doesn’t continue his upward trajectory on offense.
If you hadn’t heard of the 22nd round draft pick out of Iowa before he ended up on nearly every major media outlet (with the aid of our own Matt Cassidy and Clinton Cole) with his walk-off extra-inning steal of home on April 12, you’re likely not alone. Given the number of prime outfield prospects in the organization Booker has been under, if not completely off the radar, however that changed last week.
Booker has been more than splash plays through 15 games. He’s got two home runs to go with a slash line of .377/.441/.566 and boasts a 1.007 OPS through 53 at-bats. A marked improvement over last year where Booker split time between between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem with a pedestrian .274/.329/.349 line and only five home runs. At his current pace, he’ll surpass his home run total before you can say “Luis Robert is back.” The 6’1” 190- pound outfielder is a premium athlete with speed and a plus arm, but his hit tool had been questioned. If he’s cleared that hurdle, he could inject himself into the mix in the crowded conversation.
Given the small sample, it’s premature to speculate what will happen when Robert is ready to take the field. But that would be absolutely no fun, so I’m going to go ahead anyway. With Blake Rutherford also in the mix and putting up impressive numbers as well (.364/.403/.491), it’s possible someone will be moved to another level of the minors. If Basabe can continue the torrid pace he’s set in the early going and having played more games at the level (107 in 2017) than anyone else, it’s logical that he will make the leap to Birmingham where the outfield situation is less muddled. The rest of the field has spent too little time in advanced-A to warrant a promotion. It’s also possible one of them goes back to Kannapolis if Basabe or Booker regress to the mean. A final option is that Adolfo opts for surgery and is on the shelf until 2019. This is likely to occur at some point this season regardless and may not preclude a player being moved to another level.
Heading into the season, the prevailing thought was that Zach Remillard would see the majority of the reps at third base, but Ti'Quan Forbes has received the bulk of the playing time with Remillard toggling between second and third base.
Forbes came to the organization from Texas in the Miguel Gonzalez deal last August. The 2014 second round draft pick out of Columbia, MS split time at both levels of Class A last year putting up unimpressive offensive numbers over the course of 500 at-bats. Tall and thin, Forbes features a capable arm with plus speed, but he hasn’t distinguished himself defensively at either position committing seven errors on the nascent season. His long strides suggest a possibility of being shifted to the outfield. Other than showing patience at the plate which has translated to nine walks in 15 games, Forbes numbers remain at his career level. Still, he has a number of tools that were impressive enough for the Rangers to use a second round pick on him at age 18 and the White Sox thought enough to use an asset to acquire him. At 21 the team is giving him a chance to develop now that Burger is lost for the season.
The 10th round pick out of Coastal Carolina has been in the organization since 2016 putting in time at Kannapolis in both campaigns. His past offensive totals fail to jump off the page, but he's but up solid numbers in the early going in 2018: .324/.444/.459 while adding a stolen base. To continue the recurring theme amongst the current crop of Dash players, he has taken his walks coaxing seven in 37 at-bats. Seems like new manager Omar Vizquel may be preaching patience at the plate. His pre-draft scouting report cites a strong arm, soft hands and raw power with a projection as a utility infielder. Perhaps the additional playing time will enable him to further develop.
Of course, it’s way too early in the season to write either of these players off, but it’ll be interesting to see if the White Sox continue to target the hot corner in the draft. Beefing up the talent level at third base should be on the radar given Burger’s injury and lack of other premium prospects in the organization. We'll have extensive draft coverage in the coming weeks, so stay here for information on which third baseman the organization may be targeting. Beyond the draft, there are some marquee free agents coming available at the MLB level over the next few years, but building organizational depth at the position should be on the table.
Do you see a Tom Brady or Lou Gehrig emerging amongst the players listed here? Is there someone else who may jump out of the pack to seize the opportunity that has presented itself? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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