Welcome to the last entry in this new offseason article series here at FutureSox. Separate from our twice-annual Top 30 White Sox Prospects lists, we list the top five or ten minor leaguers in the White Sox system at each position on the field.
Like the starting pitchers edition, this list ranks the top ten outfielders in the White Sox system. With the top 7 players on this list all included the overall top 15 in our mid-season rankings, this is the strongest position group the White Sox have assembled so naturally we saved the best for last.
*Matt Cassidy contributed the #6-10 capsules to this article*
1. Eloy Jimenez - Ranked 1st overall, last level AAA
Eloy is a monster. If there was any doubt before, it's gone now after a 2018 season where he obliterated AA and then AAA pitching to the tune of a ridiculous .337/.384/.577 slash line. In case you think he padded those stats in Birmingham, Jimenez actually improved his numbers across the board since his June 21st promotion to Charlotte. His success ignited a hotly contested debate ranging from the apparently broken free agency system to the ethical treatment of 21 year old Dominicans who hit baseballs really hard. Despite the outrage, the White Sox front office held fast and trotted out excuses for why they were imprisoning him in the minor leagues. Expect Eloy to "fail" to break camp with the big league club out of Spring Training, but become miraculously ready sometime about mid-April.
2. Luis Robert - Ranked 3rd overall, last level A+
This ranking is nearly all about potential for this tooled up Cuban defector who has the physique of a linebacker more so than a outfielder. We have only seemingly seen glimpses of Robert since he signed a huge international amateur deal last May. 28 games in the Dominican Summer League in 2017, then just 50 injury-punctuated games in 2018 between Arizona, Kannapolis and Winston-Salem with no stateside home runs have left many wanting. The Sox sent Robert to the Arizona Fall League, hoping to showcase his skills, but an injured hamstring has him currently on the trainers table and not on the field. A little more patience may be required for the immense ceiling to be reached. Depending on how the rest of his AFL goes, I would expect Robert to start 2019 in either Winston-Salem or Birmingham.
3. Micker Adolfo - Ranked 9th overall, last level A+
On the subject of immense potential, Micker Adolfo finally starting tapping into his ceiling recently. After several injury-filled and frustrating seasons with rookie level Arizona, Adolfo put together a healthy and productive 2017 in Kannapolis and was crushing Carolina League pitching (.282/.369/.464) in Winston-Salem over 79 games before being shut down for the season for Tommy John Surgery. It was a disappointing end for what looked like a breakout campaign, but Adolfo should be fully healthy entering 2019 either back conservatively in Winston-Salem or being pushed full steam ahead to Birmingham.
4. Luis Alexander Basabe - Ranked 10th overall, last level AA
Like Robert and Adolfo, Basabe is another raw and toolsy player who has gotten better and better as he has advanced through the system. Acquired in the infamous Chris Sale deal with Boston, Basabe struggled through a 2017 season in Winston-Salem while he was dealing with a nagging knee injury. Repeating the level in 2018, Basabe came out swinging, slashing .266/.370/.502 over 58 games to earn a promotion to Birmingham. He was more challenged there, hitting .251/.340/.394, but still flashing some premium tools along the way. Basabe is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League with (sometimes) Robert and should start 2019 hoping to improve his numbers at Birmingham.
5. Blake Rutherford - Ranked 11th overall, last level A+
After a midseason trade that left his head spinning and a 2017 season that was lacking power numbers, Rutherford's 2018 campaign silenced many of his critics, at least for now. Blake smacked 7 home runs and slashed .293/.345/.436 while anchoring the high powered Winston-Salem Dash's lineup. The former 2016 first round pick of the Yankees has added strength to his lanky frame and has seen immediate dividends. He was one of the rare top prospects to spend an entire season at one affiliate and because of his age (21 until May) there is reason for patience. Rutherford will almost certainly start 2019 patrolling the Birmingham Barons outfield.
6. Luis Gonzalez - Ranked 13th overall, last level A+
We are now in the back half of the outfielders list, and yet still among the top fifteen overall prospects in the system, in case you were wondering just how steeped in talent this unit is. When he was taken in the 3rd round in 2017 out of New Mexico, Gonzalez was described by more than one source as a first round talent who fell due to some immaterial non-baseball missteps. So far he sure looks that part. How did he do in 2018? Let's revisit this quote he gave our Matt Cassidy back in April, while at Kannapolis:
I want to finish off the year in AA, somewhere high. Get myself in good position to be in the big leagues by next year. Other than that, just staying within myself, staying consistent at the plate and putting up good numbers. I want to hit .300, and just let the home runs come. But also just have fun with the game and let it come to me.
That seemed like quite a stretch, and yet he did in fact hit .307/.368/.498 with 14 home runs, an organization-leading 40 doubles, a solid contact rate (18.9% K/PA) and stole ten bags to boot across both levels of A-ball. His numbers were actually a little better at the higher level too, and defensively he looks comfortable in center field and can likely stick there. If the Dash hadn't been a playoff team, Gonzalez may indeed have ended the year at AA. At this point really the only mark against Luis is that he opened at Kannapolis at 22 years old, but his performance at the higher and more age-appropriate level seems to mitigate that. Look for Gonzalez to potentially open 2018 with AA Birmingham, though a short trip back to Winston-Salem is possible depending on the crowding situation.
7. Steele Walker - Ranked 15th overall, last level A
We've reached our first (and only) 2018 draft pick among this group, in 2nd rounder Steele Walker. Pre-draft reports highlighted an advanced hit tool and very few holes in his game in any facet, though those same reports didn't see much power projection and talked about a likely corner profile. The Sox on the other hand feel that Walker can be a center fielder, which certainly would raise his profile.
Walker's pro debut across both rookie affiliates and Kannapolis didn't result in any standout numbers (.209/.271/.342 in 44 games), but as with any draft pick in their debut year those numbers should not be looked into too deeply after a full collegiate spring season. One thing he did show was a big personality, as seen in this video interview. 2019 will be a much more useful tell. Steele will start in A-ball, but it's not entirely clear which level.
8. Alex Call - Ranked 29th overall, last level AA
Alex has been a tough prospect to call in his pro career thus far. His selection in the 3rd round in 2016 was seen in the industry as a bit of a stretch, but he bolted out of the gate in his pro debut, slicing up pitchers across the Pioneer and South Atlantic Leagues. Then early in 2017 he went down with an intercostal muscle injury that nagged him most of the year, he missed half the season and under-performed in the other half. 2018 opened with Call skidding in Winston-Salem (hit .224 in April) before going on a tear (.848 OPS) from May through his promotion in mid-June. In AA Birmingham he started afire (.298/.381/.496 thru July) before falling back again to end the season (.585 OPS in August and September).
The calling card here has generally been the mature hit tool and proclivity to draw walks. But the results around the former have not always been there as a pro. Defensively he is likely a corner guy if playing every day, though he has played some center and can work there as a 4th OF in the long run. He hit 12 home runs in 2018 as well and he could project to average power. Look for Alex to return to Birmingham in the spring for his age 24 season.
9. Ryan Cordell - Ranked 25th overall, last level MLB
Going into this past season, Cordell was seen as having a decent chance to break camp with the Sox and perhaps even find a starting role with the club during the season. That wasn't to be. He did well in Spring Training but then came out of the gate slowly in Charlotte, then broke his collar bone hitting the outfield wall. After missing a few months of play, he eventually made his way back to Charlotte and hit well enough to get a September call-up. He hit just .108 and struck out 15 times in 40 PA in his MLB debut stint. It was a rough year for Ryan.
That all said, he's still on the radar thanks to an intriguing power-speed combo profile that includes the ability to play some center field, making him perhaps a strong 4th OF candidate or even starting for a team in transition (and the Sox OF going into 2019 looks pretty open). 2019 is probably a make-or-break year for Cordell's MLB career possibilities (he will turn 27 just before Opening Day). He will need to show well in the spring in Arizona, and if necessary back in Charlotte again.
10. Joel Booker - Unranked, last level AA
We made it all the way to 10th among the outfielders before coming to a non-Top 30 overall prospect, and Joel Booker only just missed that list. Taken in the 22nd round as a senior sign in 2016, the speedster has forced his way onto the radar. This season he made easy work of Carolina League pitching in High-A and was promoted to AA Birmingham. There his numbers fell back pretty hard, but he's still a guy to watch.
The positives? Big time speed - exemplified in stealing home for a walk-off win in April, as seen in this video. His glove work in center field is good as well, and at times he's gotten on base at the high clips you'd want a player of his type to do. Joel even showed a little power in 2018 with 7 home runs. The concerns? He didn't hit terribly well in AA as a 24-year-old, and scouts grade out the hit and power tools below average. If Booker can get on base at a league-average clip (his walk rates have been decent but unspectacular so far), with his speed and defense, he's a prospect. So that's his key. Look for the Iowa product to open 2019 back in Birmingham, with a chance to get to Charlotte if he adjusts well in AA first.
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