Absolutely Go Into the Light: Eight White Sox bright spots

Welcome to June, a brand new month! A little-known Baseball Rule is that you’re allowed to totally forget your team’s performance for the preceding months when a new one begins, so everyone, congratulations on the 3-2 Chicago White Sox. 16 isn’t that many games back for the wild card, right?

In fact, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about the Sox right now, a sentence I never envisioned myself even thinking, let alone typing forth into reality. There’s been a flicker of hope ever since the first tall, skinny, jersey-knifing domino of the rebuild fell, and for maybe the first time, it feels like that flicker really could fan itself into a conflagration of hot, fresh baseball talent. And we’re here to witness it!

I understand if the product currently on the field in Chicago has turned you off of the team in general. In case you haven’t been following, here are some reasons to gargle the Sox hype juice.

#! (this was a typo that I refuse to correct): LUIS ROBERT IS BACK AND HE’S NEVER LEAVING US AGAIN.

Luis Robert Hitting Camp 2018

It’s probably been at least five minutes since you’ve read through the Luis Robert Story, so here’s a recap (with a full profile here). Robert was the #1 international prospect in baseball last season, and through an improbable series of events - about 26 million of them - he ended up signing with the White Sox.

Leading up to the signing, Robert spent his teenage years playing Cuban pro ball, mostly for Ciego de Ávila, but also with a stint on the Cuban national team. The age difference between Robert and, well, any league he played in is staggering, and the numbers he put up are equally staggering. In his age 17 season, 11 years younger than the league, Robert hit .305/.384/.413 over 68 games, with 32 walks and 46 strikeouts - not the kind of plate discipline teenagers are typically known for. His next season was even more astounding - a slash line of .401/.526/.687, with 12 each home runs and doubles, 11 stolen bases, 38 walks, and 30 strikeouts.

Those are the stats that made him an international prospect sensation, and in limited playing time last season in the Dominican Republic, he lived up to the marketing. Although he entered the league already outclassing it, talent-wise, it’s always nice to see a real live White Sox position player prospect put up wild numbers. Are we sick of looking at Robert’s numbers? No, they’re beautiful and my children. In 28 games in the DSL, he hit .310/.491/.536. He hit eight doubles, three home runs, and even squeezed in a triple. He stole 12 bases and was caught only three times. He walked 22 times, struck out 23. You can’t spell Elite Prospect without Luis… you can’t spell Elite Prosbuct without Luis Robert.

The excitement only grew during spring training, where - stat alert - Robert hit .300/.417/.600 in 12 plate appearances. The most notable of these was a game-winning, two-out grand slam in the 8th inning against the Reds, which officially pushed the hype-meter deep into the red (ha! like the team he destroyed), where it will likely remain forever. Unfortunately, in the same game, he sprained his thumb and had to sit out the start of the season... until right now, friends. The greatest living baseball player is back, and his name is Luis Robert, and he’s currently on the Intimidators roster but who knows when the Dash will receive their direly-needed 12th outfielder, and he walked in his first game back, and he hit a double and RBI single in his second game back, and maybe we should hold a special Hall of Fame vote right now. I think it’s clear he’s earned it.

#2: ELOY JIMENEZ IS… STILL ELOY JIMENEZ

Not much has changed in Birmingham, the Land of Eloy. He was just named the White Sox Position Player of the Month by the team AND Southern League Player of the Month for May, yawn. He’s hitting .324/.374/.591 on the season, ok. He’s second in the league for RBIs (40) and tied for second with home runs (10), a story we’ve all heard before. The fact that Eloy Jimenez is still in AA is a literal crime against humanity and I expect there to be a scathing documentary on Netflix about it one day, made by me.

#3: SEVEN KANNAPOLIS ALL-STARS. SEVEN OF THEM.

Eight, actually, if you include Youngest Manager in Pro Ball Justin Jirschele (I assume that, at 28, he’s still the youngest manager in pro ball). There are outfielders Luis Gonzalez and Craig Dedelow, both having crazy good years but especially Gonzalez, who’s hitting .318/.374/.523 with power. There's shortstop Laz Rivera, whose .345 batting average leads the league by 13 points, and his double-play partner Tate Blackman, who’s hitting .342 over his last 10 games. There’s starting pitcher Blake Battenfield, who was Eloy’s White Sox Pitcher of the Month counterpart for May, and relief pitchers Tyler Johnson and Jake Elliott.

Unsurprisingly, K-Town is in first place in their division with a record of 35-21. Meanwhile, a first-half division title would be Jirschele’s second in two years of managing, which is… a good sign. Talent speaks for itself, but talent still has to be managed.

#4: SPEAKING OF MANAGERS DID YOU KNOW THAT OMAR VIZQUEL IS MANAGING THE DASH?

Omar Vizquel is like the cool dad of baseball and I’m weirdly flattered that he chose to come back to the White Sox organization after his one year with the team. If you have a well-worth-it subscription to the Athletic, you can read Friend of FutureSox James Fegan’s excellent profile of him here.

It sounds like Vizquel is keeping the team loose and having fun, but in an educational way, not in a slacker way. He has some wildly talented kids to work with, and it already sounds like they’d do anything for each other. As James says, it’s impossible to say how long he’ll stick around, either in Winston-Salem alone or in the Sox organization in general, but it’s pretty great while it’s here.

#5: BACK TO ALL-STARS, THE BARONS HAVE FIVE ALL-STARS

Ian Hamilton delivers a pitch for Washington State (via WSU Athletic Communications)

Ian Hamilton delivers a pitch for Washington State (via WSU Athletic Communications)

It’s pitcher Ian Hamilton, #7 on last year’s Pitchface rankings, catchers (yes, plural) Zack Collins and Seby Zavala, shortstop Danny Mendick, and uuuh Eloy Jimenez. I just want to take a minute to reflect on what a great problem it is to have when not only do you have two extremely solid catching prospects, but they’re both named to the same All-Star Game while playing for the same team. If you’re into the Zack Collins OBP watch, it’s currently at .445, and he’s actually gotten his average up to .276 as well. Either of the two would be the best Sox catching prospect since freakin' Josh Phegley, and ideally, they will spend so much time playing together that eventually their bodies will meld and they will become one singular super-catching prospect.

#6: NICK MADRIGAL. WHO IS NICK MADRIGAL?!

Nick Madrigal a) has a great last name! Madrigal, that’s a great name, that cannot be disputed; and b) was the White Sox first-round draft pick just a few days ago, the fourth player drafted overall. Madrigal is wanted for crimes against baseballs by the NCAA (most notably batting .406/.470/.586); his hit tool is top-notch, his plate discipline is excellent, and also he was born in 1997 and that’s disgusting. FutureSox has a full writeup on the second baseman/shortstop/third baseman?? of the future(sox) here.

What’s going to happen with Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada? Who cares? The Dash are already experimenting with far more players than a field can fit, so I see no reason why the Sox can’t end up with eight infielders.

In fact, the entire draft is an injection of new talent into an already talented system, and I highly recommend reading the writeups that can be found right here on Future Sox Dot Com.

#7: THE DASH OUTFIELD IS A HORRENDOUS MONSTER AND IT’S AMAZING

As has been documented, there’s a bit of a crowded outfield at high-A. The current list is Joel Booker, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Alex Call, with Micker Adolfo currently relegated to DH with his elbow thing and Luis Robert relegated to Kannapolis until there’s room for him/he forces the issue. The entire outfield is no longer batting over .300, but they are still continuing to have impressive years, especially for how young they all are (Booker is the oldest at 24, followed by Call at 23 and the rest at 21). Rutherford especially is showing encouraging signs of becoming the elite hitter he’s capable of being, on pace for career bests in each extra-base-hit category. Adolfo is continuing to flash the power he really started showing off last year, so who knows what kind of things he can do with a healthy elbow.

#8: EVERYONE IN THE WORLD IS HAVING A GREAT YEAR

Seriously, the kids are killing it - it’s like the opposite of that Vampire Weekend song, only not really because minor leaguers are paid absolute dirt. These kids very much do stand a chance. We have top prospects explaining why they are top prospects - obviously Eloy, Kopech is dealing with some control issues that are probably the final barrier between him and the South Side, but he’s still struck out 70 in 53.1 IP, Collins is on base every time you turn around, Dane Dunning is already mowing them down in Birmingham, Jordan Stephens could be here any moment, Dylan Cease is maybe even better than we thought? We have mid-level prospects and relative unknowns doing absolute work - it’s not entirely inconceivable that Hamilton reaches the majors in September, Jose Ruiz has been out-of-control-but-in-control-if-you-know-what-I-mean good out of the bullpen in both Winston-Salem and Birmingham, Bernardo Flores both looks like Dane Dunning and is pitching almost as well, literally the entire Kannapolis Intimidators roster is performing out of their minds… on every level, there’s something to be excited about. And this is all without Zack Burdi or Alec Hansen throwing a pitch all year, or Jake Burger stepping on the field! It’s hard sometimes when the Sox are blowing yet another game in the 8th to remember the absurd talent on the way, but it’s there, incubating, and it will be worth the wait.

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