Top White Sox Prospects, Preseason 2016: 16-30

Twice annually, the writers at Future Sox work together to produce a list of the top prospects in the White Sox system. We use a voting system among the staff, then argue out specific players and rankings, until we come to a final list. The list is then released in two parts.

This is the “teaser”, where we release the back half of the list with player capsules for prospects ranked 16-30. The full list of top 30 prospects, with a more detailed overview, capsules for 1-15, and a list of players who just missed the list, will be released tomorrow.

ELIGIBILITY: We consider a “prospect” any player in the White Sox organization who has not yet achieved MLB Rookie status.

HOW WE EVALUATE PROSPECTS: You can read this primer to get an idea of how we go about the sticky, subjective business of ranking prospects. Our writers saw every stateside affiliate live for multiple games in 2015, in addition to the back fields at Spring Training, fall instructs and the AFL.

STATE OF THE SYSTEM: The full list article will go into more detail on this, but here are a few key things to know. First, eight of the top thirty prospects from the midseason list (July) are no longer in the system due to trades, claims or “graduation” to the majors: Frankie Montas (ranked 3rd on previous list), Micah Johnson (5th), Trayce Thompson (10th), Tyler Saladino (13th), Zack Erwin (16th), Myles Jaye (17th), Jeffrey Wendelken (28th) and Junior Guerra (30th). That doesn’t include Yency Almonte, also traded away and likely to have made this new list. We’ll touch on this more with the full article, but suffice to say the middle of the system had a pretty big bite taken out of it in recent months.

FOR MORE DETAILS: If you click on the bolded player’s name, you’ll be taken to that player’s prospect profile, where you can find deeper details, links to videos and other content.

THE LIST (prospects ranked 16-30)

16. Jordan Stephens, RHP     [Previous: Unranked]

  • Drafted 5th Round in 2015

Stephens is a Tommy John surgery survivor who, thanks to the Sox losing 2nd and 3rd round picks and trading away a 4th rounder (Zack Erwin), is the second highest pick from the 2015 draft still in the system. The Texan, who hails from the same home town as Nolan Ryan, had a solid pro debut in limited innings across both rookie affiliates (AZL and Great Falls) and gave us a view of what he brings to the table. Stephens’ primary weapons are a 2-seam fastball and curveball that both show plus potential, and he also throws a 4-seamer and a change. As a 23-year-old and going into his second year post-surgery, Jordan could be a fast mover through the system. Our Kim Contreras wrote an in-depth post on his history and first pro season that is worth a read.

17. Jake Peter, INF     [Previous: 18th, +1]

  • Drafted 7th Round in 2014

When Peter was drafted, many assumed he’d go pro as a pitcher, but the White Sox elected to go the position player route and it has paid off. The Creighton product had a strong rookie campaign that saw him go to Advanced A ball in his draft year and vault him onto the prospect radar. 2015 wasn’t quite as kind to him performance-wise as he hit .260 with minimal power at Winston-Salem, though he did steal 23 bags in 26 tries. Peter has good zone judgment, puts bat to ball consistently and has a combination of athleticism, above average speed and plus arm that should allow him to play almost anywhere on the field. An effective Major League utility player is a probable floor here, with the chance to be a starting 2B if everything comes together.

18. Jason Coats, OF     [Previous: 21st, +3]

  • Drafted 29th Round in 2012

Coats might be summed up as a player with no stand-out tool, but who does nearly everything well. A knee injury that required surgery his senior college season knocked him down draft boards (he had been a round 6-10 name) meant he didn’t start his pro career until he was 23. But he hit his way up through A, A+, AA and to AAA in just 2 seasons plus a month. After some struggles adjusting to AAA in May and June of 2015 (.662 OPS), he gained traction and hit well the rest of the way (.840 OPS). Jason has an nice combination of consistent contact (K/PA rates in the 13% to 17% range as a pro) and power (15+ HR each of last three seasons), which comes from a quiet load and very quick hands. On the negative side he tends to expand the zone and doesn’t walk much, which could make him vulnerable to higher level pitching. He’s very good defensively on the corners with a strong arm and is playable in center, and he’s got above average speed. Coats is already likely a competent 4th outfielder in the majors, and could be more.

19. Yosmer Solorzano, RHP     [Previous: Unranked]

  • Signed from Dominican Republic in 2014 ($100,000)

Solorzano was signed at nearly 18 years old, older than most international FA signings, after the late bloomer showed a strength and velocity spike in workouts. He skipped DSL ball and came stateside for the 2015 season, where he handled the jump and AZL hitters effectively: 3.45 ERA, 16 BB, 43 K and a big 2.07 GO/AO rate in 62.2 IP as a starter. Drawing body and delivery comparisons to Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, this right-hander’s bread and butter is a heavy fastball that runs 89-92. He’s got a low effort delivery and calm demeanor on the mound, and showed surprisingly refined command for an 18-year-old rookie. The offspeed pitches are still under construction, but there is a good base to work from here.

20. Peter Tago, RHP     [Previous: Unranked]

  • Drafted 1st Round Supplemental (47th overall) in 2010 by Colorado

Tago was paid a mid-1st round level bonus in 2010, but he had major struggles with command in four rough seasons, never getting out of A-ball in the Rockies’ organization. Colorado was so willing to part with him that they not only left him off the 40-man roster, but didn’t even protect him on the minor league reserve list in December of 2014, allowing the Sox to grab him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The Sox essentially started over with Tago, making mechanical changes, dropping the curve in favor of a slider and making other tweaks. Now equipped with a lively mid-90’s fastball and two slider variants, Tago played in three levels in 2015, finishing at AA Birmingham. He missed plenty of bats (9.9 K/9, 6.6 H/9) and dramatically improved his control (3.8 BB/9), to where he’s now looking like a potential Major League reliever this year or next.

21. Seby Zavala, C     [Previous: Unranked]

  • Drafted 12th Round in 2015

Possibly the biggest surprise from this past year’s draft, Zavala mashed in the AZL (.326/.401/.628, more than half his hits for extra bases) in his pro debut as a 21-year-old. He’s got a track record of power in college (San Diego State) as well, and he made decent contact (18.4% K/PA) for a young power hitter. Zavala works long at bats and is a heady player, adding above average speed and notable athleticism to his foundation. Defensively he showed soft hands and a quick release, but fringy arm strength (he’s a TJS survivor) and typical hiccups for a first-year pro. His listed 6′ height is generous, but there’s a lot of strength there without being stocky. Catchers at this level are a tough read, but he’s probably the best overall backstop prospect in the White Sox minors at this time.

22. Thaddius Lowry, RHP     [Previous: 19th, -3]

  • Drafted 5th Round in 2013

This tall Texan is a prime example of where minor league stats need to be taken with a heaping pile of salt. Lowry was repeating Kannapolis in 2015 in his third pro year, where he posted so-so numbers (4.48 ERA, 9.4 H/9, 2.4 BB/9, 5.6 K/9) in 26 starts. Lowry struggled at first with changes recommended by his coaches, but as he adopted them he saw better results during the summer, before tailing off in his last couple outings (at which point he’d doubled his previous innings load). He brings a fastball in the low 90’s (sometimes mid-90’s) with significant tail, a slider that has improved from a show-me offering into a potential out pitch, and a change-up with the right arm speed but not yet the right action. Now stretched out to starter innings and headed in the right direction, he’s a good candidate to take a leap forward in 2016, as a 21-year-old.

23. Maiker Feliz, 3B     [Previous: Unranked]

  • Signed from Dominican Republic in 2013 ($450,000)

Feliz was signed for the second largest bonus the team gave out in the 2013 international signing period, behind Micker Adolfo. After a typically rough age 16 campaign in the DSL, the next year he turned it around in a big way: .349 AVG, .455 OBP, 31 BB and just 40 K in 211 PA. Stats in the DSL are extremely dicey, but he clearly showed good feel for the zone and the bat, and was promoted stateside to the AZL for nine games (hit .161). The fact that he was in the US at all at 17 is as good an indicator as any of his potential.

24. Carlos Perez, C     [Previous: Unranked]

  • Signed from Venezuela in 2014 ($50,000)

The brother of the Angels catching prospect with an identical name, this Perez wasn’t signed for much, but looks like a good value so far. Baseball America posted a very positive review of him after his DSL debut season in 2014, highlighting his advanced bat-to-ball skills, hitting approach and receiving skills behind the plate. In 2015 he repeated in the DSL (which was a mild surprise), where he dramatically increased his walk rate (22 BB in 191 PA) and posted an absurdly high contact rate even considering the league (5 K, good for a 2.6% K/PA). Perez should come to the US in 2016 as a 19-year-old, where we’ll get a better look at him, but the reports we have are encouraging.

25. Omar Narvaez, C     [Previous: Unranked]

  • Signed from Venezuela in 2008 by Tampa Bay (low six figure bonus, exact amount not found)

Narvaez was another minor league Rule 5 acquisition like Tago, and he’s been just outside of our Top 30 lists repeatedly. The stand-out skill here is impressive zone judgment, and he’s consistently had the best BB:K ratio in the system since joining it. In 2015 with Winston-Salem, Narvaez hit .274 with a .352 OBP, walking 40 times and whiffing just 31 in 385 PA. The former switch-hitter is now batting exclusively left-handed, and he has very good bat-to-ball skills. Defensively he’s a competent receiver with a strong arm, and he likes to throw behind runners at first regularly. There’s no power in his game and no speed, but his defensive skills and ability to get on base could give him a backup catching job in the majors down the line. He’ll be 24 and likely in Birmingham in 2016.

26. Danny Hayes, 1B     [Previous: Unranked]

  • Drafted 13th Round in 2013

If someone said a year ago that Hayes was going to make the next year’s Top 30 list, that person may have gotten some odd looks. But here we are, and it all started when the club unexpectedly double-promoted Hayes from A to AA (leapfrogging Keon Barnum in the club’s 1st base depth chart) to open 2015. His first month of play went about as expected (.153/.247/.222 in 20 games), but after that adjustment period he hit .267/.413/.387 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. Defensively he showed himself to be very good at the position as well, and that combo looks a lot like Rangel Ravelo‘s performance at the same level. Ravelo was two years younger, but also had three more years as a pro. Hayes does have power potential and shows it in BP, but it hasn’t translated much in games yet (7 HR in 2015). The road for a 1B without a ton of power is pretty tough, but he’s on the radar now and could open 2016 a step away from the majors in AAA as a 25-year-old.

27. Landon Lassiter, OF     [Previous: Unranked]

  • Drafted 21st Round in 2015

Like fellow outfielder Coats, the 20+ round pedigree is somewhat deceptive here. Lassiter was a Freshman All-American at UNC, but his numbers slid in each of his next two seasons there, and he was suspended from the team late this past spring. Lassiter’s carrying tools are his speed and on-base abilities, both of which he showed in his pro debut with Great Falls (.312/.420/.447, 6/7 SB). Lassiter has unusually strong zone judgment for someone at his level, and we’re told the team believes in his hit tool and athleticism. The North Carolina native should be playing near home in Kannapolis’ outfield in 2016.

28. Antonio Rodriguez, OF     [Previous: Unranked]

  • Signed from Dominican Republic in 2012 ($400,000)

When he was signed, Rodriguez was considered by some analysts the ‘toolsiest’ signing the Sox made in 2012. At signing time, he was noted for above average raw power potential, plus speed and a very strong arm. He first came to the States late in 2013 for a brief look at Bristol, then spent 2014 with the AZL club (.257 AVG, 4 HR, 9 BB, 47 K in 179 PA). In 2015, at advanced rookie affiliate Great Falls, Rodriguez hit 8 home runs and hit .260, stole six bases in seven attempts, and improved his contact rate significantly (54 K in 205 PA). The apparent bugaboo so far is a lack of patience, as he walked just 7 times this past season. He has played all three outfield slots in the past two years. Going into his age 20/21 season it is likely the 6’4″ outfielder gets his first full season league assignment, where that lack of selectivity will be put to the test and we can get a closer look at him.

29. Matt Cooper, RHP     [Previous: Unranked]

  • Drafted 16th Round in 2014

Taken as a senior sign in a deep round, even with strong college numbers in a D1 program and wiping the floor with Pioneer League hitters in his pro debut, Cooper didn’t get much attention in his draft year. But in 2015 he showed up in Kannapolis and put up dominant numbers (0.73 WHIP, 4.5 H/9, 2.1 BB/9, 13.1 K/9 in 39.2 IP), was promoted to Winston-Salem and didn’t have much trouble there either (12.2 IP, 11 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 12 K). Cooper achieves this with excellent command of a sinking fastball that runs in the low 90’s, and an unusual pairing of curve and change that have identical velocity, release point and look until they diverge in movement at the last moment. He’ll be 24 in 2016 and it’s hard to say if his unusual repertoire and extreme overhand delivery will work in the upper levels, but his performance doesn’t look like a purely age-driven illusion at this point.

30. Matt Davidson, 3B     [Previous: 15th, -15]

  • Drafted 1st Round Supplemental (35th overall) in 2009

Once seen as the third baseman of the future in Chicago, Davidson made his third turn at AAA in 2015 and saw only marginal improvement over his previous year’s core hitting results (.203 AVG in 2015) while still striking out at an alarming rate (31.7% K/PA). The power is still there (20+ HR each year at Charlotte), and he made significant strides defensively that could make him an average defender there. But the lack of contact is a killer and hasn’t changed a bit, leaving Davidson’s prospect stock hanging by a very thin thread. He’s still here because he’s just one weakness-managed away from being valuable again, but he needs to make that adjustment in 2016 or his chances at reaching the majors will disappear.


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