Come mid-April, an interesting thing will happen in the White Sox organization. The majority of attention will turn from the farm system to the major league team. With Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Eloy Jimenez in the big leagues, the farm system will not be the main attraction of the organization for the first time since the rebuild began.
This does not mean there will be nothing to watch for on the farm. There are still plenty of prospects that will be looking to make their mark on the next contending White Sox team before it’s all said and done. Let’s take a look at some of the names to watch as the White Sox rebuild begins to slowly transition into what the team hopes is its competitive stage.
The biggest name for fans to watch in the system this year will be Andrew Vaughn. The Golden Spikes Award winner and third overall pick figures to fly through the Sox system much like Madrigal did. If Vaughn follows the Madrigal path, he will likely start the season at a low-level affiliate and finish the season in Charlotte.
The White Sox hope Vaughn cements himself as the heir apparent to Jose Abreu at first base and can showcase his plus power and plus hit tool at every level in 2020. If all goes according to plan, Vaughn should be in a position to break camp with the team in 2021 or be called up shortly after the service deadline in April.
Beyond Vaughn, the White Sox system offers plenty of intrigue. Dane Dunning and Jonathan Stiever highlight the next wave of pitching prospects who the Sox hope will be making major league contributions sooner rather than later.
Dunning appeared on the fast track to the bigs in 2018, striking out 100 batters in 86.1 innings across two leagues, but Tommy John surgery sidelined the promising pitcher in 2019. He posted his first bullpen video since the surgery on Monday, and a return to the mound in 2020 seems on track. The White Sox hope Dunning returns to his pre-injury form quickly and reestablishes himself as the next talented starter to join the big-league rotation.
Stiever presents another potential middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Sox and their fans to monitor in 2020. While Stiever has only pitched in high-A for the White Sox, his promising numbers across 12 starts are worth monitoring, and he could potentially position himself as the top pitching prospect in the entire system by season's end. Stiever is likely at least a year away from reaching the majors, but he is a name to watch in 2020 as fans look for the next wave of premier Sox pitching prospects.
In the field, the Sox farm system offers a crowded outfield picture that should begin to clear up in 2020. Steele Walker, the team’s second round pick in 2018, had an impressive campaign in 2019 and established himself as possibly the premier outfielder not from Cuba in the Sox system.
Walker may open the season in Birmingham and potentially knock on the door of the major league team towards the end of the year. He has a plus hit tool and strong intangibles which make him an intriguing prospect to watch closely in 2020. Walker has experience primarily in center, but has shown the versatility and instincts to play right field and his flexibility is something the team will consider when evaluating the 5'11, 195-pound left-handed hitter.
Behind Walker is a crowded outfield group featuring Luis Alexander Basabe, Blake Rutherford, Luis Gonzalez and Micker Adolfo. Rutherford is the outfielder in this group with the highest pedigree, being a former first round pick and crown jewel of the David Robertson Yankees trade in 2017.
However, Rutherford’s inability to unlock his natural power has caused him to lose his status as the most promising lower level outfielder in the system. Turning 22 in May, Rutherford still has time to translate to a big league talent, but at this point his future may lie as a trade piece around the deadline.
Basabe was the lottery ticket prospect acquired for Chris Sale, and has shown some promise since being acquired. The 23-year-old figures to be knocking on the door of the big-league club as soon as late 2020 and could find some time in the field at any of the three outfield positions for the White Sox. During an injury ridden season, Basabe slashed .246/.324/.336 in 69 games in Birmingham.
Adolfo, meanwhile, who signed as an international free agent in 2013, had his development set back by two elbow surgeries last year. But the 255-pound corner outfielder is still a name worth watching. His plus power has enticed the Sox since they signed him and will continue to allow him an opportunity at some of the organization's higher level affiliates.
Luis Gonzalez, despite some promising numbers and positional versatility, finds himself the odd man out of the equation. With average tools, the 2017 draft pick offers some intrigue from the left side of the plate.
While he won’t likely be fighting anyone for at bats this season, Gonzalez needs to take another step from the plate to compliment his ability to play all three outfield positions. Otherwise, Gonzalez likely slots as trade bait for organizational depth. But, he has shown some flashes of being an intriguing prospect and will have a say in the results of the outfield logjam in 2020.
So, while there is no doubt it’s time for fans to turn their attention back to the big-league club, the farm system is still as healthy as ever, and will be worth watching to see who emerges as the next top prospects in the organization.
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