The prevailing thought in #WhiteSoxLand is that Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez will arrive at Guaranteed Rate Field before the end of the season. If not, they certainly should be on the roster come 2019.
But who's up next? There's plenty of talent in the pipeline but no clear-cut frontrunner to being MLB ready. Let's examine a few of the possibilities.
With depth issues at the catching position at the MLB level and his recent promotion to Triple-A, Zavala seems to be most likely to reach Chicago before the season is out. When Welington Castillo was suspended for 80 games on May 23rd, it left the team short on catchers. Current starter Kevan Smith was on the DL and there weren't many other viable options. With Zavala on the shelf himself, the team resorted to light-hitting backstop Alfredo Gonzalez who held a spot on the roster until Smith was ready to return. White Sox GM Rick Hahn mentioned Zavala as a candidate to serve as the backup at the time. Now, he's one disastrously placed foul tip from the majors.
Zavala's likelihood to join the big club goes beyond the default category. In 56 games at Birmingham, the 5'11", 215 pounder launched 11 balls into the seats (metaphorically only – most minor league stadiums don't have seating in the outfield) while slashing .271/.358/.472 with a respectable ops of .830. On the negative end, his nearly 33% strikeout rate needs to improve.
The question with Zavala has always been his defense. Observers have indicated improvement in his game this season. In his time at AA he only committed one error, but was charged with eight passed balls. With pitcher's having better stuff at AAA and MLB, he'll need to work on keeping pitches in front of him. He's done a decent job at limiting stolen bases nailing 13 runners, while only allowing 19 to advance safely. Beyond the measurables, working with a staff and calling a game are also important, particularly given the number of pitchers in Chicago in the development stage. In a conference call, Chicago White Sox Director of Player Development Chris Getz said of Zavala, "We're very comfortable in where he's at from a game calling standpoint, from a receiving standpoint, just from the defensive side."
Getz cited the team's comfort level with Zavala on defense and the fact that he's a year older as the reasons why Collins stayed in AA, while Zavala advanced. Other than OBP their offensive numbers are similar. That is not surprising given Collins' propensity for the free pass. With a mind-boggling 65 walks in 216 plate appearances, Collins is slashing .259/.427/.444 with an ops of .872. He's also sent 9 balls flying into the stratosphere. He also has a high strikeout rate with 82 in 66 games. Collins appears to be a candidate to become the poster child for lack of balls in play that is currently plaguing the game.
Behind the plate, he has five errors to go with eight passed balls which are comparable to the numbers Zavala has put up. He hasn’t fared as well at holding runners on, allowing 56 stolen bases while cutting down 18. So other than age, it appears Zavala has a slight edge in making contact and a discernable difference at cutting down base stealers.
With the trade deadline approaching the pitching situation is rather fluid. Contending teams heavily covet pitching for the stretch run and the White Sox have starters, relievers and swing men they'd like to convert into minor league prospects. With pitchers likely to move before the deadline here are a few that could join the major league roster yet this season. Much like the catching situation these promotions are as much based on merit as need.
There are some speculating that Jordan Stephens could be promoted before Kopech and that was before the fireballer's recent struggles. His June 25th start notwithstanding. And why not? Stephens is the total package. With four efficient and effective pitches, Stephens is the type of guy who doesn't get a lot of hype but does get a lot of hitters out. He's got a fastball, curveball, slider/cutter and change-up repertoire that gets hitters thinking and any pitcher will tell you when hitters think good things happen for them. Need hard evidence? In his last ten starts going back to AA, he has struck out 57 while walking only 17, including a season-high nine in his June 23rd start against Toledo.
He's stayed consistent even after leveling up to Triple-A. His above-average WHIP is 1.22 vs. 1.24 in Birmingham and he's struck out one more hitter with Charlotte in only five more innings pitched. He's lowered his opponent's batting average against to .246 and remained stingy on handing out free passes. The only negative is that he has given up four long balls in 44.1 innings at Charlotte while he allowed only one at the Double-A level. It's this level of consistency from level-to-level that has piqued the interest of White Sox fans. If he's not up after the trade deadline the team may take a look at him as a September call-up.
The second round draft pick from 2014 has brought his signature slider to Charlotte throwing 13 innings since coming up from Birmingham. Typically walk-averse he's issued six free passes to go with six strikeouts. The high amount of walks hasn't impacted his WHIP as it's sitting at 1.05 at AAA and opponents are only hitting .182 against him. Of the eight hits, he's allowed three have left the yard, so he still has some adjustments to make at the top level of the minor leagues.
The tall, thin right-hander added a curveball this season to go with a two-seamer and a four-seamer that hits the mid-90s. He also has a change-up giving him a complete package of pitches. Given that he just made the leap to Charlotte (and just turned 22 in April) it's hard to draw any real conclusions as to when he might be able to make it to Chicago. He's behind Stephens at this point, but he's widely considered to have staying power and should get be able to cross the threshold sooner than later.
Another recent promotion who's skyrocketed up the prospect list. He failed to make our rankings in 2017 and currently sits at 26, but he's moved quickly through the system since being taken in the 11th round in 2016 out of Washington State. Even though he's 6' and 200 pounds the right-hander out of Dover, New Hampshire can rush it to the plate in the high 90s. He adds a very hard slider (in the low 90's) to keep hitters off balance. It's safe to assume Hamilton will be much higher than 26th on our mid-season top prospects list, due in about a month.
In 21 relief appearances in Birmingham this season he notched 12 saves in 13 opportunities. Over the course of those outings, he struck out 34 while walking only 12 without giving up a single long ball. This is good for a WHIP of 1.26 and a .211 batting average against. In his first two outings at Charlotte, he's struck out five while allowing only one a hit in 2.1 innings. While it's too early to tell on Hamilton, he's got a solid reputation within the organization and given his current trajectory he may be in line for a September call-up.
Which of these candidates is your favorite to play in Chicago this season? Perhaps you have someone else in mind? Add your thoughts in the comments section below.
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