State of the System: Outfield

Positional Overview:
Adam Eaton’s debut season on the south side was a great success. He showed himself to be an ideal leadoff hitter, batting .300 with a .362 BABIP, and his 2.9 WAR ranked 3rd amongst White Sox hitters, behind only Jose Abreu and Alexei Ramirez. Rick Hahn acted quickly to lock Eaton up long-term, so we can expect to see him leading off for the Sox for at least the next 5 years. Hahn also did a great job of improving the black hole that was Dayan Viciedo by signing Melky Cabrera to a very reasonable deal. Avisail Garcia remains a big question mark in RF (more on him below). This has the potential to be a solid MLB outfield, though it is unlikely to be anything special. In the Minors there’s a nice mix of corner outfielders and centre fielders, and a few guys with big potential, though they almost all have one thing in common; a lot of strikeouts.

Is Avisail Garcia ready to take the next step?
I asked the same question at this time last year, but after Avi got injured and missed the bulk of the season, we didn’t get an answer. Garcia has the look of a prototypical slugging corner outfielder, and scouts love his raw power potential, but this has yet to translate into in-game power. Over the course of his career, Garcia has posted high ground ball rates. As you would expect, hitting ground balls is going to reduce your ability to hit home runs. It doesn’t matter how much raw power you have, if you don’t lift the ball it will be very difficult to post high ISO numbers. Given the raw power that he possesses, if Garcia can start to elevate the ball more frequently then it should coincide with a large spike in home runs and power output. Avi is an aggressive, free swinger and unless he completely overhauls his approach at the plate then he’s probably not going to draw a lot of walks during his career. If you don’t walk or hit for much power it’s very difficult to be a productive hitter in the Major Leagues. On the plus side, Garcia’s high GB% and LD%, as well as high ability to hit to all fields, will lead to above average BABIP’s and the ability to hit for a good average, and this is shown in his MiLB numbers, as he owns a career .300 AVG and .365 BABIP. Defensively, UZR pegs Garcia as a significantly below average fielder, and he doesn’t look much better by the eye test. Going forward something needs to change. Corner outfielders that don’t walk, hit for power or play good defense have extremely limited value, and a career -0.8 WAR in 168 MLB games confirms that fact.

Top Prospect:
Courtney HawkinsHawkins spent the entire 2014 season repeating the level with High-A Winston-Salem, and he showed some signs of improvement. He continued to hit for plus power with a .200 ISO and 19 home runs, he greatly improved his strikeout rate from 37.6 K% to 27.8% and he was patient, increasing his walk rate from 6.8 BB% to 10.3%. Despite the improvement, it’s clear that Hawkins has trouble making consistent contact, and as a result he’s unlikely to ever hit for much average. Scouts have noted that Hawkins has improved his hitting mechanics, shortening his swing and making for a more direct path to the ball. This has helped Courtney to reduce his strikeouts, but he needs to continue the development in this part of his game. Defensively he has reportedly been working very hard in LF and he prides himself on his defensive ability. The upside with Hawkins is still terrific, and it’s easy to picture him as a run producing slugger in the Majors (especially when you see him launching HR’s off moving trains – see .gif below), but his floor is low and he has high bust potential.

Best of the Rest:
Micker AdolfoAdolfo was given an extremely aggressive 2014 assignment with the White Sox Arizona League team, and predictably he struggled. He displayed promising power with 5 home runs in just fewer than 200 PA’s (.162 ISO) as well as some ability to draw a walk (7.2 BB%), but his contact ability was miserable (42.9 K%). Reports coming out of instructs were more encouraging, with Kiley McDaniel noting “White Sox officials and rivals scouts [were] raving about his adjustments at the plate.” Scouts also continued to praise his raw power potential. Clearly Micker’s game still needs a lot of refinement, but his upside is as high as any in the system.

Jason Coats– Coats is not a highly regarded prospect due to tools that are fringy, but his production since being drafted by the Sox back in 2012 has been strong. He makes consistent contact (career 14.4 K%) and has decent pop (.162 ISO career, .196 ISO in 2014), though he could do with drawing a few more free passes (career 5.7 BB%). He’s always been old for his level, so you have to discount the performance a bit, and there’s probably not enough in Coats’ bat for him to be a factor at the Major League level, but he could surprise.

Adam EngelEngel is a phenomenal athlete with plus-plus speed, excellent range in CF, a decent arm and some raw power potential. The area in which he has struggled has been with hitting and making consistent contact (nothing new for White Sox prospects there). Last season Engel struck out in 24.25% of his plate appearances. If Engel can make more contact, and early signs from 2015 are positive, then he could be primed for a nice breakout season. Potential starting CF in the Majors, though backup outfielder is more likely.

Jacob MayI like Jacob May’s profile a lot. He has great speed, is a plus-plus runner, and an excellent base stealer. May is a switch hitter who can handle the bat from both sides of the plate, and his strike zone profile is good (career 8.5 BB%/16.4 K%). He has also flashed some pop, though power is probably not going to be a big part of his game, and he is an above average defensive CF with excellent range. If May continues to develop as hoped then he could become a leadoff hitting centre fielder at the Major League level. May doesn’t have the gaudy upside of some of the other players on this list, but he come with less risk than the likes of Hawkins and Adolfo.

Trayce ThompsonThompson has been in the organization for a long time now and he possesses some attractive tools, such as easy plus power, a strong arm, above average speed and good defense in the corners. Despite his strengths, Thompson’s stock is down. Last year he repeated the level at Double-A without showing any improvement. After six years in the system, Trayce is still dogged by contact issues and it’s unlikely that this will ever change. As a result, his ceiling is likely limited to a solid fourth outfielder and power threat from the bench.

One for the future:
Antonio Rodriguez– Rodriguez is raw, but he brings an intriguing power/speed combo to the table and is still very young. He spent 2014 with in the Arizona League, hitting .257/.291/.395 in 179 PA’s with 4 home runs and 4 stolen bases.

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