On the same afternoon White Sox starters Ervin Santana and Lucas Giolito allowed a combined 11 earned runs on 16 hits over eight miserable innings at Camelback Ranch, I was fortunate to avoid that factory of pain by venturing off to the back fields for Minor League camp.
It may be a chore to stomach the early part of the White Sox season, but recent news of Eloy Jimenez’s contract indicates the No. 3 rated prospect in baseball will be at Guaranteed Rate Field come April 4th. Fans should also expect a healthy number of names to emerge from the farm this year, which is reason enough to clutch onto optimism no matter how grueling it gets for the Big League club to find wins.
Minor League camp was the place to be during my week in the Phoenix area. Before glazing over my experience at Big League camp, I should mention a few things.
Nicky Delmonico is having a tough time. His numbers this spring suggest it isn’t all bad, but the eye test tells a different story. Aside from the lack of production, Delmonico is also at a disadvantage as it pertains to the 25-man roster.
With Jon Jay and Daniel Palka slated as regulars who also bat left-handed, Delmonico was unfortunately left without a spot. Adam Engel looks to be getting another shot in centerfield, while Leury Garcia and Jose Rondon fill out the coveted utility roles. Oh, and of course there is Eloy.
Yoan Moncada had a huge spring and he looked even better in person. His transition to full-time third base duties figures to be seamless and his 1.141 OPS in nearly 60 spring plate appearances should offer enough positive juice for him to carry into Opening Day.
How ‘bout Caleb Frare? The 25-year-old left-hander, who was acquired from the Yankees for international bonus pool money, will break camp with a Major League club for the first time in his career. Now those are the stories I love to root for during Spring Training.
That’s about all I feel is worth mentioning from Camelback. Oh – I saw two more Yonder Alonso home runs. He led the Sox in that category with five this spring.
The backfields had my attention. With two fields separated by roughly 80 feet from one another, I managed to catch a glimpse of several top White Sox prospects.
A Zack Collins at-bat was the first thing that greeted me as I walked up near the chain linked fence and marveled at his effortless power. In the first pitch of the above video, Collins showcased an easy stroke and barreled a ball to deep center for a home run. He followed his offensive feat with a nice 2-3 putout from behind the dish. Collins managed another healthy hack in the next at-bat, driving a ball to the warning track in centerfield.
The White Sox 10th overall selection in 2016 is a Major League ready hitter but questions still remain regarding his catching ability. Some scouts suggest Collins translates better as a first baseman, but the Sox are hoping he can fine-tune his game behind the dish throughout the early portion of Charlotte’s Triple-A season this year.
Speaking of Charlotte, I managed to check out a Jordan Stephens outing in which he pitched at least five innings. I say "at least" because the teams do not keep score, managers usually call the shots and Minor League camp is essentially used so guys get an appropriate amount of work in. For example: Daniel Palka, who worked his way back from a minor injury, was first to hit in each half of the Sox inning all day on both fields. He was driven back-and-forth on a golf cart in between innings.
Anyway, it seemed like the righty was out there for a while that day. Stephens is a career minor leaguer and will be entering his fifth season in the White Sox farm system.
Stephens won’t blow you away with his stuff, but with healthy break and above average command, there is a reason the White Sox are keeping an eye on the 26-year-old. Last season, Jordan started a career-high 28 games and earned a promotion to Triple-A for the first time. He notched 107 of his total 146.2 innings pitched in Charlotte and struck out 99 compared to 42 walks. The former 5th rounder is a candidate for a spot start or two this season with the White Sox.
Dylan Cease was fun to watch live. His fastball has a ton of giddy-up along with a devastating hard slider to boot. His 6-2, 190-pound frame stands tall on the mound with an explosive, but controlled delivery.
The storyline coming into camp surrounding Cease was a matter of consistency. The numbers are important, as fans would like his career 4.2 BB/9 rate be improved, but finding results is a matter of greater importance for Cease.
A major point of emphasis for the 23-year-old this season is to work on getting all of his pitches over for strikes in any count. His fastball is his bread-and-butter, but Major League hitters can belt 99 mile-per-hour fastballs. Compliment an upper-90’s heater with a devastating hammer curveball, an upper-80’s slider and mid-to-upper 80’s changeup with consistency, then Cease will be with the White Sox in 2019.
Alec Hansen is huge. He fills out his 6-7, 235-pound body and can pump upper-90’s heat. Hansen is coming off a letdown season in 2018 where he struggled mightily with command. He also dealt with a serious forearm injury.
A homegrown prospect drafted in the second round of 2016, the White Sox are hoping Hansen returns to his 2017 form where he led the Minor Leagues with 191 strikeouts and totaled a 2.80 ERA in Kannapolis, Winston-Salem and Birmingham.
Health is priority number one for Hansen. This season figures to be a “we’ll see what happens” kind of deal for the hard throwing right-hander, as he clearly shows the promise of a future Big-League pitcher.
As it pertains to health and Big-League promise, look no further than to 21-year-old outfielder Luis Robert. The man is built. Massive. Ginormous. I saw him at SoxFest this winter and was amazed by his size, but then I saw him up close on the field and my jaw hit the floor.
You’ll get a couple swings out of Robert in the above video. His double to left field was a thing of beauty.
Robert fits the bill as a strong safety in the NFL. He possesses power, plus speed and a pretty good understanding of the strike zone. The 21-year-old figures to begin the year at Winston-Salem, but if he stays healthy throughout what will be his third full Minor League season, then we will be talking Major League debut at some point in 2020. At the moment, it doesn’t seem like he’s too far away.
The White Sox have a few international prospects to keep an eye on across their system. Robert is the most popular and could very well turn into the best prospect period. But 19-year-old Lenyn Sosa looks to be legit.
Signed out of Venezuela in 2016, Sosa played both middle infield spots as well as third base throughout his two seasons in the Sox system. The lanky infielder has room to fill out a lean frame, as he’s listed at 6-0, 180 pounds. As an 18-year-old in the Pioneer League last year, Sosa slashed .293/.317/.406 over 291 plate appearances.
I implore you to learn about Bryce Bush. A 33rd round draft pick out of De La Salle Collegiate High School, Bush compliments his impressive 6-0, 200-pound frame with a very balanced core. As I watched Bush take infield at third, as well as his swings in the above video, it seemed to me the 19-year-old owns a very steady center of gravity. Bush takes a mighty hack at about 0:18 seconds in the video where that’s the case.
After he was drafted and playing briefly in the AZL, Bush reported to Great Falls where he batted .250 with five doubles, one triple and two home runs in 24 games. In 14 Arizona League contests, he mashed a 1.143 OPS to accompany his .442 batting average. The late round draft pick has my attention, as Bush will begin his first full season in the Minor Leagues.
Here’s a guy you’ve probably heard of before. Nick Madrigal, the 4th overall draft pick in 2018, projects to be the White Sox second baseman of the future and potential top-of-the-order mainstay.
There is a lot going on in Madrigal’s swing, and a lot of his success is based on timing. Listed at 5-7, 165 pounds, the Oregon State alum implements a high leg kick that generates modest power. I was surprised to see the amount of movement in his swing. Going from standing straight up and down to a crouched athletic stance, Madrigal’s eye level changes dramatically as the pitch is being delivered. He seemed to have struggled with a couple breaking balls in the above video.
Madrigal hit .361 in his career as a Beaver. The man can rake. Throughout his first 43 professional games (A+-A-RK), the freshly turned 22-year-old slashed .303/.353/.348 with only five strikeouts in 173 plate appearances. The White Sox may begin Madrigal at Double-A Birmingham to start the Minor League season but Winston-Salem to start seems more likely.
The other half of the potential double-play combination in Birmingham could very well be Laz Rivera. A 28th round draft pick in 2017, Rivera has climbed the Sox system in two years. Last season in just about an equal split of 124 games between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, Rivera batted a healthy .314 with an .842 OPS.
Rivera played almost exclusively at shortstop and looks prime for a promotion to Double-A as he begins his age 24 season. A Rivera/Madrigal middle infield will be worth the price of admission for the folks out in Birmingham.
The double play turned in the above video was by Laz Rivera and Nick Madrigal.
Here’s a guy who I feel like is one season away from making his Major League debut. Bernardo Flores is a sneaky left-hander who had his best season as a professional last year. A seventh-round draft pick in 2016, Flores didn’t skip a beat following his promotion from Advanced-A Winston-Salem, to Double-A Birmingham.
A career starter, Flores started a career-best 25 games last season and totaled a 2.65 ERA in 156 innings. His 31 combined walks equal an outstanding 1.8 BB/9 ratio. Flores’ fastball sits in the low 90’s, but compliments it with a changeup that is graded the highest among his repertoire, a near 12-6 curveball and an average cutter.
The atmosphere was incredibly laid back at Camelback Ranch and I don’t think I’ll ever be as comfortable watching a baseball game again. Exploring the backfields, though, was what made the trip.
With Opening Day around the corner and little-to-no expectations surrounding the Chicago White Sox in 2019, the heavy number of prospects with potential to make an impact over the next couple seasons generates enough optimism for me to fight through a 90-plus loss Big-League summer.
The future is bright. Let’s not forget…the Sox have the third pick in this year’s draft.
Here are a few names who I did not mention:
Left-handed pitcher Kyle Kubat - warmups
Left-handed pitcher John Parke - warmups
Right-handed hitting outfielder Ian Dawkins - two plate appearances
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