Next Wave: Position players who just missed our 2016 Top 30 Prospects list

After we publish each of our twice-annual Top Prospects lists, we publish a pair of follow-up articles we call the “Next Wave.” One covers position players (this one), the other covers pitchers (coming soon). These are prospects who didn’t make our most recent top 30, but who are nonetheless worth keeping an eye on.

You may be asking yourself, “Are there really prospects worth watching who aren’t even among a single team’s top thirty guys?” If you are, I’ll answer with an illustration.

Looking at position players, among the 9 we covered just six months ago, two thirds of them are now on the Top 30 list, and another two received Top 30 votes but just missed. In fact, just one of those nine players didn’t at least receive serious consideration for the current Top 30. And a handful of players from Next Wave lists in the last few years have made the majors. In other words, at any given time, there are a number of players in the system that aren’t on anyone’s top prospects list that show up on the radar as the year goes on, and some even end up helping the Major League club.

***NOTE: Big thanks to our own Kim Contreras, as well as writer Chris Kusiolek, for contributing their in-person notes on a number of these players.

Who will jump out from under the radar this time? Here are 11 possibilities, which fall into three categories (but not in any specific order in each section)…

New Kids on the Block

Let’s start with some picks from the 2015 draft. Despite not having a 2nd and 3rd round pick, the White Sox seemed to do pretty well in the June draft this year (though it’s still too early to get a truly solid read). All five of these players have a good shot at jumping onto the prospect radar during 2016, but for different reasons.

Outfielder Jackson Glines was taken in the 10th round but signed for a bonus more typical of players taken much later in the draft. He was All Big Ten his senior season though, showing a knack for bat to ball to go with good plate discipline and speed. Seen as fairly polished and at 23 years old his struggles in his pro debut with rookie affiliate Great Falls were a bit surprising, though he did make good contact so he may have been wrestling an angry BABIP monster. When asked about what players from the 2015 draft excite them going forward, two different White Sox front office personnel included Glines in their short lists. A true center fielder with good instincts, the Michigan product should be in Kannapolis to open 2016.

Frank Califano is another true center fielder, and split time at the position with Glines (Califano played his other games in left) after being drafted in the 19th round. In fact the two have many similarities beyond playing CF – speed, contact, not much power projection, left-handedness, strong reports on their defense from college and they’re even similar in build. Califano hit better at the same level while 2 years younger, but didn’t make contact as efficiently as Glines. It’s hard to say how these two outfielders, along with the likes of Antonio Rodriguez and Landon Lassiter, will squeeze into full season ball in 2016 as they all appear ready for it.

Danny Mendick was a younger senior sign (played all of 2015 at 21 years old) out of a small DI school (UMass-Lowell), but he was a finalist for the Brooks Wallace Award (for best college shortstop in the country) in his senior year. He played mostly shortstop with AZL in his pro debut, made good contact and drew some walks but didn’t hit for much an average. What wasn’t expected was his 5 home runs, second on his AZL club behind only Corey Zangari. Danny has relatively advanced defensive skills at short, plus speed (fun fact: stole 25 bases with UMass and was caught zero times) and displays a good feel for hitting. It’s not likely he displaces Johan Cruz at short in 2016, but Mendick could find significant starting time with Kannapolis at another position or in rotation of some kind.

5’8″ infielder Bradley Strong was drafted in the 28th round, from a smaller college program. But he did put up big numbers with Western Carolina in an all-conference senior season (including a .344 AVG and 10 HR in 51 games), and continued that with a strong debut in the AZL (.326/.389/.484, 12 SB, 20:18 BB:K in 210 PA) as a 22/23-year old. Strong played second base exclusively in 2015 and in his last two college seasons, though he was listed as a 3B by the Sox when he was drafted. It’s hard to say how much of the performance will translate to full season ball, but so far he’s done what you hope a lower round pick would do and the team will continue challenging him.

While 12th round pick Seby Zavala got the most attention for pro debuts among 2015 draftee catchers, don’t overlook 8th round pick Casey Schroeder. As a 21/22-year old he debuted in Great Falls (the higher level rookie league competition) and didn’t put up particularly good numbers (.236/.323/.371, 22.2% K/PA), but his strength is on defense where he has a very good arm to go with decent and improving receiving skills. He hit 13 home runs in 55 games in 2015 with Coastal Carolina so there is power potential there, but also some swing and miss in his game so the hit tool is the big development question. The power and arm combination make him potentially intriguing.

Tropic Thunder

After a roughly five year period from 2007 to 2012 where the White Sox had nearly no Latin American talent pipeline due to the Wilder scandal, the spigot finally opened and we’re starting to see waves of legitimate prospects hit the states. This is reflected in the six players among the most recent Top 30 prospects being amateur LatAm signees, and there are more beyond that with tantalizing tools. But as all we have to go on are limited reports on tools, these players are tougher to evaluate as well.

Franklin Reyes was signed in July to a $1.5M bonus, the second largest the team has ever paid out to an international amateur. He’s yet to play in organized ball and will be 17 for the 2016 season, but he’s been in the Sox camp in Arizona where Chris Kusiolek has gotten a look at him. Based on his reports as well as scouting reports from Baseball America, Reyes has stand out tools in power (60 to 70 FV) and arm strength (similarly high). But he’s not as athletic as Micker Adolfo, and he didn’t appear to be in great shape in camp. There’s big upside here, but body and condition concerns at this young an age can be red flags, albeit fixable ones.

Amado Nunez also received one of the largest bonuses the White Sox have given out ($900k) when he signed in 2014. He’s less extreme in tools than Reyes, as noted when he signed via Baseball America: smooth swing, hits to all fields, some power projection, above average speed, enough arm for any infield position. He skipped DSL to play in Arizona as a 17-year old this past season, where he struggled the way most 17-year olds do in that situation (.145/.207/.158 in just 82 PA). But local reports spoke well of his feel for hitting at that age and level, and he’s been credited as being an unusually smart ballplayer, which should aid in his chances of developing his tools.

Catcher Jhoandro Alfaro also skipped DSL to play AZL ball as a 17-year old in 2015, and struggled to hit in 28 games. We got reports on his hitting from Kusiolek as well as Kim Contreras from his time in AZ, and it sounds as if he’s still quite mechanical and rough, but you can see some raw power potential. When he was signed in 2014, reports from Baseball America indicated his bat had some raw power potential but was overall behind his defensive game. On that note, reports from Arizona indicate he’s got a very good arm, and raw but noticeably improving backstop work. He’s got a long way to go development-wise, but should be an interesting follow.

Fall Out Boys

Here are three players who were ranked in the Top 30 on one or both 2015 lists, have fallen off, but are still worth of keeping an eye on. All three have shown enough that one or two specific improvements could quickly put them back in the team picture.

Catcher Kevan Smith fell out of the Top 30 for the first time in a few years, as he hit some headwinds in AAA with the bat. More advanced pitching exposed the hitch in his swing (.699 OPS, 18.3% K/PA vs .813 % 15.1% in 2014 at AA). That said, he did get hot late in the season at the plate based on some hitting adjustments reported to us, reports on his defensive work were more positive, and he’s still got a strong reputation for pitcher handling. If he can smooth out his hitting issues, with both catchers in Chicago on 1-year deals, Smith still has a shot at a major league role. He’ll be back in AAA Charlotte as a 27-year old.

First baseman Keon Barnum has one loud carrying tool – plus raw power. But in four injury-shortened pro seasons thus far, that power simply hasn’t shown up much in games (25 HR in 306 career games), and he’s been plagued by persistently high strikeout rates. The 2012 supplemental first rounder premiered at 4th on our top prospect lists after he was drafted, and has gradually fallen since. Barnum still can and does put on a show in BP, and he did lower his K rate (30.6% in 2014 to 26.2% in 2015) repeating A+ Winston-Salem in 2015. He’s also missed enough time to a variety of relatively minor injuries that he’s only played just over two full minor league seasons’ worth of games. Barnum will probably be challenged with an assignment to AA Birmingham to open 2016, and if he can translate the power to game action he’ll be right back on the radar.

Nick Delmonico snuck into the back end of the 2015 Midseason Top 30 with plenty of mystery surrounding him after a strange exit from the Milwaukee organization. At one time a highly touted prospect, he spent time in extended ST and had a brief tune-up in Kannapolis before landing in Birmingham for 62 games. There he put up middling numbers (.238/.313/.386), but did show defensive ability at third that was better than advertised coming in. He also played in the AFL where he struggled mightily on the offensive side (hit .162 in 76 PA). Scouting reports are still enticing with experts still liking his swing and seeing unrealized power potential, but he’ll need to make it work in games in 2016 if he wants to be back on the radar.

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