Prebuild Prospects: A dig through recent history

Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Michael Kopech - if we hadn’t been so scarred by years of desolation, it would almost be hard to remember a time before the Sox farm system was so deep. Madrigal, Basabe, Cease. Even the rest-of-season DL is stacked - Burger, Burdi, potentially Dunning. But remember the days when Brent Morel and Jordan Danks were among our top prospects? How far we’ve come.

It could be argued that the White Sox rebuild really began with the 2016 draft, which saw players like Zacks Collins and Burdi, Alec/Alex Hansen/Call, Jimmy Lambert, Bernardo Flores, Ian Hamilton, and more join the organization. Only time will tell if this draft class continues to be as interesting as it is, but there are several players having breakout seasons and eclipsing the peaks of previous drafts. After the season, of course, came the Chris Sale trade, and the status of the rebuild past that point can’t be disputed.

But we’re going to ignore those players for now, in favor of looking at the Mesoxoic Age. What happened to the prebuild top prospects? There are so many that have already faded from memory, if not from the actual system.

Hilariously, the FutureSox 2016 Preseason Top Prospect list begins by lamenting the loss of players like Micah Johnson, Tyler Saladino, Myles Jaye, and Junior Guerra, either to other teams or by losing prospect status (Guerra, at least, has turned out ok for the Brewers, and Saladino is off to a relatively hot start also with the Brewers this season). "This means the middle of the system took a pretty serious hit, and as a whole it's not as strong as it was at last read.” Yikes!

The list is still full of familiar names, as you’ll see, the most familiar of which is #1, Tim Anderson. At the time, Timmy was coming off a 2015 campaign in Double-A that featured a lot of strikeouts and very few walks. However, he hit well, and he stole a head-turning 49 bases, all while playing shortstop. Anderson was young for the league back then and he’s still young for the league now in the majors, where he definitely has improvements to make. So far, 2018 looks like it will outpace 2016 as Anderson’s best year yet - not so much on the batting average side, but in plenty of other categories (walks, home runs, and stolen bases come to mind).

Carson Fulmer delivers a pitch for the Knights, 2017 (Matt Cassidy / FutureSox)

Carson Fulmer delivers a pitch for the Knights, 2017 (Matt Cassidy / FutureSox)

Carson Fulmer is another name that, like Anderson, actually, occasionally makes Sox fans pull their hair out. Fulmer was called up astonishingly quickly, just a little over a year from when he was drafted in 2015, and he clearly was not ready. He was lights-out for Winston-Salem in limited time in 2015, was just ok in Birmingham in 2016 despite giving up an average of 5.3 walks per 9 innings, and performed a little better in a short sample size in Charlotte. And that was enough for the Sox, apparently, who called him up to the bigs, where he was immediately destroyed. Fulmer hasn’t really been the same since then, unfortunately. He limited the damage in 23.1 IP for the Sox in 2017, but since then, here are his ERAs by level: 2017 Charlotte, 5.79 (126 IP). 2018 White Sox, 8.07 (32.1 IP). 2018 Charlotte, 5.44 (51.1 IP).

Recently, Fulmer was moved to the bullpen in Charlotte, and that’s where he seems to be performing best. He’s appeared in six games since then, giving up just two earned runs and walking only three - a feat for someone whose BB/9 was over six on the year. Fulmer, at just 24 years old, isn’t done yet.

Spencer Adams hasn’t yet made his major league debut, but the way he’s pitching in Charlotte, it could come at any time. Adams is the third youngest player on the Charlotte roster at just 22, which makes it weird that he was drafted before the rebuild (2014! He had just turned 18!). It’s unclear where he fits in long term with the team, but so far he’s doing just fine.

Now we’re really getting into prebuild days - Trey Michalczewski is the #4 prospect here. Michalczewski has been around for a while, the Sox’ seventh round pick in 2013. Like Adams, he was drafted at 18 years of age. For quite a while, he was considered to be the Sox third baseman of the future, a list that nobody should be excited to be on. Michalczewski has never been a strong hitter, and his .267/.315/.406 line at Birmingham this year (his third go-through of the level) is one of his high water marks.

Tyler Danish has a story reminiscent of Fulmer’s. Danish was bewilderingly called up straight from Birmingham in 2016 for a start and got shelled. He hadn’t been having a great season before that and certainly didn’t afterwards, and struggled in Charlotte in 2017 as well. However, like Fulmer, he has now moved to the bullpen, where he is thriving. He appears to excel in long relief, and has not given up an earned run in his last six outings at the time of this writing, spanning 16 innings. Don’t be surprised to see him back in the bigs as a bullpen piece before too long.

Jordan Guerrero delivering a pitch while he was still with the Intimidators. (Ray Marsden / Kannapolis Intimidators)

Jordan Guerrero delivering a pitch while he was still with the Intimidators. (Ray Marsden / Kannapolis Intimidators)

Next up is Jordan Guerrero, who has been with the organization since the draft in 2012, but who only recently has appeared on most people’s radars. He’s been slogging his way up, repeating levels and running into and out of trouble, and finally, he seems to be on the cusp. He’s currently in Charlotte, where he has a 3.25 ERA as a starter over 27.2 IP. Like pretty much every other Sox starting pitcher in the entire system, he needs to work on control and keeping the walks down, but so far he’s limiting the damage.

Oh, Jacob May. May had a famously unsuccessful stint starting for the Sox at the beginning of 2017, where he batted .056/.150/.056 in 15 games. He’s probably not as terrible as that statline would suggest, but he probably is another Quad-A guy. Back with Charlotte this year, his third time at the level, he’s hitting .256/.304/.343. With about 20 true outfield prospects waiting, that’s most likely where he’ll remain, barring call-ups for injury.

Another prebuild outfielder whose time is limited is Adam Engel. Engel had a batting average of .218 with Charlotte in 2017, and is hitting .217 for the White Sox this season. With a sub-.300 OBP, it’s hard to see him sticking with the major league team for much longer.

Then there’s Courtney Hawkins, the 13th overall draft pick from 2012. Hawkins was released earlier this season before even making it to Triple-A in his career. He is now living his best life with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League, where he’s hitting .270/.331/.509 over 73 games. He’s backing that line up with 17 home runs and 13 doubles, and has walked 21 times to 63 strikeouts. He’s 24 years old and, at this pace, it seems nigh inconceivable that he won’t be picked up by an affiliated team again.

A Micker Adolfo sighting is next! Adolfo flew under the radar his first few years in the organization and has been a bright spot this season in a year full of bright spots. He finally gave into Tommy John surgery, so his 2018 is over, but it was a good one - he spent all year with Winston-Salem, playing in 78 games and slashing .283/.368/.466, all high-water marks. The power he flashed last season also made a return, with 11 home runs and 18 doubles. Adolfo obviously still has work to do, but his star is still on the rise.

After the top 10, you get a mix of familiar and relatively unfamiliar names - Chris Beck, whose time with the Sox came to an end with a waiver claim by the Mets (a 5.23 ERA in 10.1 IP with them so far); Corey Zangari, who missed all of 2017 due to Tommy John, then came back this June, ripped nine dongs in 17 games for the Great Falls Voyagers, including three in one game, then was called up to Kannapolis, where he was immediately hit by a pitch on the hand/wrist, most likely ending his 2018 season; Brian Clark, who did have a good 2016 but hasn’t impressed since then (currently sporting a 4.56 ERA with the Barons, although he gave up no hits in his 3.1 IP start Wednesday).

Eddy Alvarez hitting for the Knights, 2018 (Clinton Cole / FutureSox)

Eddy Alvarez hitting for the Knights, 2018 (Clinton Cole / FutureSox)

Eddy Alvarez - he of the Olympic speed skating silver medal - is a little behind his cohorts age-wise, which is understandable since he was busy, you know, becoming an Olympic speed skating silver medalist. Alvarez, now 28, is putting together a journeyman-type season in Charlotte. He’s currently on the disabled list. Johan Cruz - signed as a teenager from the Dominican Republic, Cruz is repeating Kannapolis after a difficult Winston-Salem stint last season. He is hitting .210 with a sub-.300 OBP. Jordan Stephens - another guy who’s burst into relevancy recently. The 2015 5th-round draft pick started in Birmingham and is now in Charlotte, where, minus one 7-run outing, has pitched very well.

Trade chip Jake Peter was somehow all the Sox gave up to get Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, and cash, and he is batting .230 with the Dodgers’ Triple-A club. Waiver loss Jason Coats was claimed by the Tampa Bay Rays, where he’s hitting .242 - both of these players, by the way, with a sub-.300 OBP.  Coats did go 1-4 with an RBI against Michael Kopech the other day, so… White Sox… lose the… waiver claim?

It feels like Yosmer Solorzano has been around forever, and he’s still just 21. He’s got an ERA of 5.31 over 57.2 IP for Kannapolis this season. Peter Tago, a compensation round pick from 2010, retired from the game in 2017 after electing free agency and signing with the Mariners.

seby-zavala-111617

Seby Zavala, underrated as always, was #21 on this list. Look for him to be at least a little higher, although most of the talent above him on this particular list has been replaced by much better players nowadays. Currently on Charlotte’s disabled list, Zavala has struggled since his promotion to Triple-A, but was on an upswing when the injury occurred.

Thaddius Lowry, a pretty great name, was released in April and has not caught on with another team. 20-year-old Maiker Feliz is hitting .224/.297/.379 for Great Falls this season. Carlos Perez, a catching prospect, has spent all year with Kannapolis, where he’s hitting .288/.299/.382 (you will notice that lower-level prospects can have a tendency to avoid walks).

At #25, we have a most familiar name - Omar Narvaez. The White Sox should be eternally grateful to Narvaez for handling a fairly quick call-up - developmentally-wise, anyway - as well as they could possibly have hoped. Omar is hitting .293/.362/.420 in 55 games with the big league club this year, and they need it.

Danny Hayes was an interesting name for a while, even participating in the Triple-A Home Run Derby in 2017, but other than hitting dongs he wasn’t what the Sox were looking for, and he was released before the 2018 season began.

A moment of silence for Landon Lassiter, another great name, who was released mid-season in 2017. Antonio Rodriguez was released just days later. Matt Cooper, second-to-last on the list, retired in the middle of the 2017 season to focus on fatherhood instead of baseball.

Matt Davidson fixes his batting gloves in a Spring Training at bat in March of 2017.

Matt Davidson fixes his batting gloves in a Spring Training at bat in March of 2017.

Matt Davidson completes the ranking at #30. You may know Davidson from feats such as hitting three home runs on Opening Day, or striking out 111 times already this year.

It’s a sign that the rankings were pretty close to spot-on when the top is full of players who either have had or could still have a major-league career, and the bottom is mostly full of players who are no longer in the game, Davidson and Narvaez being obvious exceptions. The 2018 mid-season FutureSox rankings should be out soon, and - spoilers - it’s a much deeper list. Looking back at these old rankings list is almost therapeutic - we had to scrape hope out of corners where its existence there was dubious, like the last prospectors to arrive in California for the gold rush. We’re prospectors of a different kind now, and the vein of talent is both present and abundant.

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