Welcome to a new offseason series here at FutureSox. We are asked regularly how we might rank prospects by position, and we are here to please.
Separate from our twice-annual Top 30 White Sox Prospects lists, we are going to list the top five or ten minor leaguers in the White Sox system at each position on the field. In some ways this may be more meaningful from an organizational depth perspective, both in identifying areas of strength and weakness, and seeing how the prospect pegs might fit into major league nodes in the future.
There will be nine of these articles. The lists were agreed upon by the writers as a group, though the individual articles will be written by a number of different authors.
This is the first article - the top five catchers currently in the White Sox minor leagues. It's a somewhat stilted group, with two significant prospects at the top, followed by an interchangeable pile-up of about seven players who show some promise but are currently well below the leading pair.
1. Zack Collins - Ranked 6th overall, last level AA
There wasn't much doubt here, although some of our writers feel that the gap between Collins and the second-ranked catcher is narrowing pretty quickly. The team's first round selection in 2016 at first moved up rapidly, seen as having a highly refined hitting approach, big raw power and equally big questions about his ability to stick behind the plate. For the most part those themes have held, but concerns around the hit tool have cropped up in 2018. 15 home runs with a power-suppressing home park and an absurd 19% walk rate will play at any position, but a 29.7% K/PA and .234 AVG aren't ideal and helped keep him in AA the full year.
The Sox insist they believe Zack is a catcher and he's improved some in that area, but almost universally, scouting types are quoting his chances of staying there as no better than 50/50 (and in some cases well below). This puts him in the unenviable position of trying to make changes to his swing while also forcing a rapid climb in defensive capabilities at the most difficult position on the field. We ranked him 6th overall in the summer but he might be a slot or two lower at this point. The needle is falling back a bit for Collins, but there is still a lot to like here and ample reason to keep trying him as a backstop in 2019.
2. Seby Zavala - Ranked 17th overall, last level AAA
Seby has the arrow pointing up nowadays, and in fact he's sort of passed Collins in the pure leveled depth chart sense going to AAA Charlotte during the season. The Sox front office said they felt Zavala's overall defensive game was more polished and ready for AAA, an opinion echoed by scouts, thus he won the ticket East in logjam relief. In terms of that defense, Zavala's got a fringe-average arm and decent pop times, works well with the pitchers, moves athletically, but has struggled with pitch blocking (Rick Hahn specifically cited improvement in this area though). Offensively, Zavala has shown almost as much power as Collins and has generally hit well at each level after a brief adjustment period. But like Collins he does have some swing-and-miss in his game (25.7% K/PA across AA and AAA) and while his walk rate is 7.8%, it can't touch Zack's.
A 12th round pick in 2015, Zavala has taken a different path, having to defy expectations as he progressed. So far he's done that with aplomb. After an offseason to get his twitchy wrist healed up, if Zavala shows well early in AAA, he might be in the majors during the 2019 season.
3. Carlos Perez - Unranked, last level A
Here's where things get a lot fuzzier. The top two catchers in the system are pretty much slam dunks, but after that lies a clutch of backstops much further from the center of the prospect radar.
Carlos Perez currently stands atop the pile. The Venezuelan has shown advanced feel for the defensive side of the game and an average arm, to go along with some unusual tendencies at the plate. The good news is he's very hard to strike out, consistently among the best in the organization in contact rate (10.7% K/PA this year). The bad news is he seems allergic to walks - he drew just four free passes in 286 plate appearances this year. His numbers trended up as the season went on, hitting a scorching .353 from July through September as a 21-year-old with Kannapolis.
Perez figures to open 2019 at Winston-Salem where he should get more playing time than he did in the three-catcher split the Intimidators ran out this year. His balance of defensive prowess and bat-to-ball skills make for a potentially intriguing package.
4. Gunnar Troutwine - Unranked, last level Rk
The team's 9th round pick this past June, Troutwine was a senior sign out of Wichita State who posted some pretty numbers in the areas of plate discipline (34:38 BB:K in the spring) and power (7 HR). Those zone control skills continued in his pro debut with Great Falls where he posted a .316/.412/.419 line and walked (19) nearly as often as he struck out (20). Early reports on his defense are mixed, but it's hard to garner much this early.
Gunnar probably goes to Kannapolis to open 2019 in what seems likely to be a split starter arrangement, and we should get a much better indication of where he stands on both sides of the ball in Class A.
5-tie. Jhoandro Alfaro - Unranked, last level Rk
5-tie. Ty Greene - Unranked, last level Rk
I realize it looks like we cheated here, but we really did come to a tie in our votes on this pair and couldn't settle on one or the other. So let's discuss both players.
Signed in the same 2014 international class as Perez, Alfaro was paid a much larger bonus ($750k vs $50k) and has been consistently praised for his defensive skills and strong arm behind the plate. He's spent four seasons across the three rookie affiliates and generally he's been in split-time arrangements so he's only played in 126 games as a pro. Offensive results have been lacking, though he did post his best year yet in 2018 (.250/.298/.385, 17% K/PA, 3 HR in 28 games) with Great Falls. Still just 20, Jhoandro may end up repeating with the Voyagers.
Ty Greene was the second catcher selected by the Sox in the 2018 draft (16th round), but he was actually paid a higher bonus than Troutwine and was ranked the #244 overall draft prospect according to Baseball America (a 7th to 8th round grade). He showed an advanced feel for the strike zone as a hitter at Cal (.409 career OBP), but no power to speak of. Defensively that same BA report said he had a chance to be an average defender and has a good arm. His pro debut in the AZL showed much of the same as his college numbers, as he hit .313, walking 17 times against 14 strikeouts in 149 plate appearances. Whether Greene ends up in Great Falls or going to full season ball to begin 2019 is an open question.
Next up: Third Basemen
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