As of this writing, the Winston-Salem Dash (Advanced-A) are probably the most prospect-laden squad in the White Sox system, certainly on the hitting side of things. That they’ve spent the last week not only winning games but doing it in improbable fashion multiple times (how about a straight steal of home to walk off with a win?) only adds to the story. And in that prodigious lineup, the deepest well of talent is among the outfielders.
The Dash have five outfielders on their roster, all of whom are starting-level talents, which presents a logistical problem. Things will get even more crowded when uber-prospect Luis Robert joins the corps, likely in May. The logjam presents a special challenge for new Manager Omar Vizquel but he doesn’t seem too worried about it:
“Ever since we got to Spring Training, the message was clear. Everybody was going to play, everybody’s going to have their opportunity to show what they got. Some guys are going to have priorities over others, but everybody has good tools to climb levels. As long as they keep sharp, and you let them know what their role is, everything is going to be OK. So far, so good.”
Let’s take a look at each of those five outfielders, whom I was fortunate enough to watch play a couple games recently (and some of whom I've watched play in previous years as well). Each capsule will provide some background, strengths and weaknesses, video and analysis.
Basics: Ranked 9th in White Sox system, 99th in MLB per Pipeline, 20 years old, possible CF but more likely corner OF
Strengths: Rutherford has a sweet swing from the left side of the plate, displays advanced bat-to-ball skills and will spray line drives all over the field. Above average or better arm will play at any slot, and above average speed. Possibility to stick in center field.
Gaps: Game power is lacking at present, though he’s projected to have more than he’s shown thus far. The slightly above average present speed that may slow with time could make center field a stretch long-term. He did struggle with the hit tool in Kannapolis late last season.
Open side mechanics ending in a single:
Analysis: Placing Rutherford at High-A, despite being just 20 and not exactly lighting the word on fire in Low-A last year (not to mention adding him to a packed group), was a surprise to many. But thus far he’s risen to the challenge and it shows in the early numbers. The raw power is in there, and he shows it in BP – he hit a couple especially long bombs in my viewings. But his approach tends to favor slicing and spraying line drives from center to left, while occasionally scalding to the pull side. The Sox feel that Blake’s struggles in 2017 were an aberration, and everything I saw supports their view.
Basics: Ranked 10th in White Sox system, 21 years old, relegated to DH for now due to pinhole UCL tear (likely RF long term)
Strengths: Plus raw power that has been gradually translating to games. Impressive physical frame and athleticism. Plus arm, though he can't use it in the field at the moment. Plate approach has been maturing and improving last season and this. Speed is slightly above average at present.
Gaps: While so far this year (in a very small sample size), even with recent improvements in approach he’s susceptible to substantial swing and miss. Glove and route work in the outfield is still a work in progress, and now that side of his development is on hold.
Base hit up the middle:
Works long at bat, then lined single, open side:
Analysis: Adolfo spent his first few years in the minors battling injuries and unsuccessful improvisation at the plate, but both factors improved noticeably last year and the trend seems to be continuing. He’s using all fields now with more frequency and authority, and working longer counts. BP displays are impressive both for home run power and roped line drives. He will likely never be a wizard with the glove and will probably strike out pretty often, but he’s now headed in a direction where the talent is blossoming and his batter’s eye is becoming a little more discerning.
Luis Alexander Basabe
Basics: Ranked 21st in White Sox system overall, 21 years old, current CF may move to corner
Strengths: Probably the ‘toolsiest’ of the group. Plus speed, above average arm and power that projects above average are all on tap. Some scouts feel he has the tools to be above average with the glove too, in time.
Gaps: His glove work in center is currently questionable and he could end up in a corner, but tools and time give him a shot to stick up the middle. The hit tool gets varying grades, and may only be average at ceiling.
As a RHB hitting a double:
As a LHB in BP:
Analysis: 2017 was not kind to Basabe statistically, though it’s important to put that performance in context. He was just 20 years old in High-A, and he was battling a knee injury most of the year that resulted in surgery after the season. Now, as his hitting coach Charlie Poe puts it, we have the “real Basabe”, and thus far in 2018 he’s been a renewed revelation. This is a player whose ceiling is a 20/20 center fielder and above average regular, and before 2017 he was considered by some as approaching MLB Top 100 levels. The two variables that will dictate whether he reaches that level are the hit tool and his defense in center. For now, that lofty ceiling is still in reach.
Basics: Ranked 27th in White Sox system overall, 23 years old, has played CF but is likely a corner guy
Strengths: Relatively mature hit tool and batter’s eye. Good defensive instincts and glove work at all outfield slots. Enough arm for all three slots, would play as above average in left. Speed currently a little above average based on clip times. “Off the charts” make-up according to the White Sox draft team.
Gaps: Power likely maxes at average or below. Not likely a full time center fielder long-term. Missed most of a year of development in 2017.
Fly-out center field (full at-bat):
Analysis: Call may be the toughest to evaluate of the bunch. He played college in a non-major conference program (Ball State), raked in his pro debut, but then missed much of his first full pro season and struggled to shake the rust on return. He doesn’t possess any elite tools like the others here, but lacks glaring weaknesses. Statistically he’s struggled to launch in 2018 at the plate (also unusual so far in this posse), but in my views and chatting with a scout, he looked pretty good and may just be a bad luck victim this early. In short, Alex likely stays in Winston-Salem for all of 2018, and we will have a much better idea of where he stands by August.
Basics: Unranked but was discussed for the T30, 24 years old, true center fielder
Strengths: Plus to double-plus speed. Strong route and glove work in the outfield. Will stick in center. Puts bat to ball consistently. High baseball IQ.
Gaps: Minimal power. Arm will play at any slot but would be fringy in right or center. Doesn’t draw many walks and hasn’t yet hit consistently at an age-appropriate level.
Booker steals home to win in 10th (seriously, you have to see this):
Analysis: Joel Booker is really fast. A scout got him at 4.13 home to first from the right side on a turn when I was in Winston-Salem, which is 70-grade or better. And he is impressive in tracking and catching everything in the outfield. Without much power though, Booker’s fortunes come down to one simple question – how often will he get on base? If he could do so at a major league average rate, even without the power that’s a major leaguer (probably 4th OF). But to get there he’ll need a slightly more discerning eye and to hit more consistently. So far in 2018 he’s doing both, and if he keeps it up he could be a candidate to go to AA before the year is out.
Having written about the White Sox minors for a decade now, it is hard to think of a time when there was even this much outfield talent in the entire system, let alone on one roster. White Sox and Dash fans should do everything they can to attend or watch some Winston-Salem games in the next few months. The Dash Five will eventually break up, but in the meantime, this sure is a fun group to watch.
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