Welcome to another entry in a new offseason article series here at FutureSox. 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.
We continue our positional rankings with right-handed relief pitchers. This group could have a large impact on the future success of the club due to the fact that there are plenty of bullpen slots available, relievers are constantly in demand and command high prices, and as recent years have shown us - a lockdown bullpen is worth its weight in gold come playoff time.
1. Zack Burdi - Ranked 12th overall, last level AAA
Zack Burdi was drafted as a near-MLB-ready reliever with the 26th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, which the Sox received as compensation for losing Jeff Samardzija. After being drafted, Burdi sat as high as #4 on the FutureSox prospect rankings (pre-rebuild) and delivered elite strikeout numbers on the field. He struck out over 13 batters per nine innings in both Birmingham and Charlotte across 2016 and 2017. Then, midway through the 2017 season, Burdi tore his UCL and required Tommy John surgery.
Burdi came back at the end of 2018 to pitch 6.1 innings in the AZL and is now playing fall ball in the AFL. He remains atop this list because when fully healthy, he sports a triple digit fastball that gets 80 grades with few exceptions. Right now, that fastball is sitting in the mid-90s as Burdi works his way back from injury and focuses on developing his slider and change-up, both of which also got big grades before his surgery. If Burdi returns to form, the Downer's Grove native could be the next lock-down closer for the White Sox and justify his place as FanGraph's only reliever ranked in their Top 125 prospects.
2. Ian Hamilton - Ranked 19th overall, last level MLB
To what might be the surprise of many, Hamilton almost overtook Burdi the top spot in this ranking and some of our writers feel they should be flipped. Taken in the 11th round of the 2016 Draft, the same class as Burdi, Hamilton has had a slower, but steadier, ascent through the minors. He posted decent numbers in his 2016 debut, good numbers in 2017 and then video game numbers in AA and AAA in 2018: a 1.75 ERA, 10.8/K9 to only 2.8 BB/9, and only 2 homers allowed in 51.2 innings.
Hamilton's debut earned him a call-up the MLB roster, where is numbers took a hit in a small 8 inning sample size, but at 23 it has to be taken with a grain of salt. Hamilton's primary pitch is a mid-to-upper 90s fastball that he compliments with a upper-80s slider that will brush 90 and has wicked late snap when it's working. If he's able to refine his command even more to keep the strikeouts and walks down, he could very well be the future Sox closer, especially since he might have a first crack at the role before Burdi due to the latter's injury.
3. Tyler Johnson - Ranked 24th overall, last level A+
Johnson was taken in the 5th round of the 2017 draft as a starter out of South Carolina but he has been used exclusively as a reliever for the White Sox. Johnson had a great debut at Great Falls before he was quickly humbled in Kannapolis, with a WHIP approaching 2 following his promotion.
2018 was a different story for Johnson, with his whip plummeting from 1.979 to 0.963, his walks dropping from 6.9/9 to 3.3/9 and finally, his gaudy 13 K/9 jumped to an even gaudier 15.3. Once he was promoted to Winston-Salem, Johnson's numbers got even better with an even lower WHIP and less walks, though he did see a slight drop in his insane strikeout numbers.
Johnson accomplished this all with a four pitch mix that includes a four-seam fastball that flirts with triple digits. Complimenting his fastball are a change-up, slider, and two-seamer. The key to his improvement has been refinement and consistency around his delivery. If he keeps on his current path he'll start next season in Birmingham and could put himself in position for a September call-up.
4. Ryan Burr - unranked, last level MLB
Yes, the White Sox have two relievers that have spent a lot of time together in the system with the last names
Hamilton and Burr. They hear those jokes a lot, as chronicled by James Fegan of The Athletic, and will likely hear them a lot more as the two friends have made their way to Chicago.
Burr was essentially bought from the D-backs in exchange for international cap space - something Rick Hahn couldn't use after signing Luis Robert. The 6'4", 225 lb. reliever has had a good Sox career so far with dominant, albeit short, stints in Winst0n-Salem and Charlotte, and a good AA performance in between. Burr's short stay in Charlotte was due to the fact that he was the first reliever on this list to make the majors.
Burr comes with the traditional fastball-slider combo that is found in so many relievers. What separates him from Burdi, Hamilton and Johnson is that his ceiling is most likely that of a setup man vs. a closer, with Burr showing a mid-90's heater to go with a tight slider.
5. Jose Ruiz- unranked, last level MLB
Jose Ruiz joined the White Sox this season after making his 1-inning major league debut last season for the Padres. Ruiz, a former catcher turned pitcher by the Padres, was designated for assignment to make room on San Diego's 40-Man roster and was promptly snatched up. The White Sox assigned him to Winston-Salem, which was the highest level Ruiz had pitched at prior to his one inning cup of coffee.
Ruiz turned in a good season for the Dash and Barons, to the tune of a 3.38 ERA and 11.8 K/9 across both levels, before he was called up to Chicago at the end of the season. Like Hamilton and Burr, Ruiz had a rough go-around in Chicago but there is promise there. Ruiz' bread-and-butter is a mid-90s fastball, but if he gets necessary refinement at Charlotte he could prove to be another useful middle reliever for the future Sox teams.
Others who received top five votes from some of our writers: Thyago Vieira
Next up: Starting Pitchers
Want to know right away when we publish a new article? Type your email address in the box on the right-side bar (or at the bottom, if on a mobile device) and click the "create subscription" button. Our list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.