Adam Engel - Are we ready to call him a legitimate starting outfield prospect?

White Sox minor league outfielder Adam Engel made significant strides in 2015, as he put together a nice campaign in High-A for the Winston-Salem Dash. Engel had a solid slash line in his second full professional season, as he hit .251/.335/.369 in 608 plate appearances. His walk rate increased to a strong 10.2%, and his strikeout rate dropped to a less-concerning 21.7%. He also was a force on the base paths, successfully stealing 65 bases in 76 attempts. Engel was invited to play with top prospects throughout baseball (most of whom had played at higher levels than Adam) in the Arizona Fall League, where he took home MVP honors after displaying a very impressive performance including a .403 average and a 1.165 OPS. MLB Stars such as Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs took home the same hardware as Engel did in previous AFL seasons, so he is in some elite company.

After his performance in the AFL, Engel’s name began to be mentioned as one of the top prospects in the White Sox farm system. Though his 2015 numbers look awfully impressive, is it fair to say that Adam Engel is now a legitimate prospect and quite possibly a future starting player in the White Sox outfield?

Engel, a product of the University of Louisville, was selected by the White Sox in the 19th round of the 2013 MLB First Year Player Draft. But he signed for $100k, which is similar to what draftees get paid who were taken around the 10th round. With the White Sox paying him that kind of money as a middle round pick, they must have seen some tools on Engel that they really liked.

I was fortunate enough to see Engel play on a few occasions while he was at the University of Louisville. He hit leadoff and played centerfield for the Cardinals, and there were many tangibles that were quite noticeable. The first thing I noticed was that Engel really stood out from a physical standpoint, as he looked like a middle linebacker and not a baseball player (Not a surprise, he was a star high school football player in Ohio). I also got to see how athletic he was right away, as his defense in centerfield was quite impressive. He got really good reads on balls and was able to track them down with ease. At the first game I saw him live, he brought back what most thought was a sure home run and made it look easy. I was able to find some footage on it as well, which you can see here (from Cardinals Baseball):

Engel also displayed tremendous speed both in the outfield and on the base paths. Engel was no question a plus runner and a plus defender like many scouts said, but the one big question mark was whether he could improve at the plate, a concern I agreed with.

I was not impressed with his hitting abilities while at Louisville, as he really had a hard time with off-speed and did not have the greatest plate discipline in my opinion. In particular, Engel could not lay off low and away off-speed, as he would have been lucky to hit these pitches with a boat paddle.  Engel was able to get a fair amount of infield hits because of his speed, but most like myself assumed he would have a harder time beating out balls in pro-ball, as defenses are much improved. I did think there was some missing potential with the bat with Engel, but after a disappointing junior campaign at Louisville where he only hit .236 with one home run, I felt that he wouldn’t amount to much at the professional level and that his defense and athleticism would only take him so far.

Though I have not seen Engel live as a professional, it is evident that his hitting ability has drastically improved. After solid 2014 and 2015 campaigns and an awfully impressive AFL showing, most would assume Engel is the real deal. White Sox scouting director Nick Hostetler has raved about Engel’s work ethic and ability to improve at the plate, and noted that he has made significant changes in his swing since becoming a professional. He also detailed to us back in May what he’s done in changing his pitch recognition and hitting approach, and you can see statistically that he improved as the year went on. This past weekend at SoxFest, Hostetler said that Engel came into the White Sox organization as a very stiff hitter, and that they have really worked on him staying loose and more fluid with his swing, especially with his upper half. You can see in the video here from White Sox Hitting Mini-Camp in Glendale last month that Engel looks much more fluid and athletic with his swing (credit White Sox via South Side Sox):

And compare that to what we saw during the 2015 season, in May, prior to his late-season re-tooling (our own video):

I personally think there is still a bit more room for improvement, as I don’t like the little hitch he has in his backload even now, but his swing has much improved since his days at Louisville and even just during this past season.

Our recent Top 30 White Sox Prospects list shows Adam Engel as the 8th best prospect in the system, jumping from 22nd back in July. Fangraphs has him at 4th in their recent list (up from 21st a year ago), Baseball America has him at 7th and Baseball Prospectus has him 9th, so clearly many analysts are seeing things they like in his development.

Though Engel has been a solid professional as of late, I do think that the 2016 campaign will be a major test for him and will help us see whether he truly is a potential starting outfielder in the future for the White Sox. His AFL stint was impressive, but pitchers generally are coming off full professional seasons, which mean their arms could be tired and they could lack their best stuff. In addition, hitting in Arizona with the dry heat probably boosts offensive statistics a bit. And then of course there is the issue of sample size – 86 plate appearances shouldn’t be weighted too heavily. It would be crazy to assume he would put up similar numbers in a full season.

I am hopeful that he can build on this and continue to improve with the bat this season. I would like to see him continue to cut down on his strikeouts. Cutting down on the k’s will mean getting on base at a better clip given his speed, and he only becomes more dangerous as he is obviously a very strong threat on the base paths.

I am increasingly confident that the White Sox have found a late round gem in Adam Engel. Already a plus runner with a great glove and a good arm, it is normal for White Sox die-hards to be excited about him. With a tremendous work ethic and incredible athleticism, the sky is the limit for Engel. Future Sox’s own Will Siskel was able to see Engel live in May and noted that he will go as far as his hit tool can develop, which I couldn’t agree more with. Realistically, even if he could possess an average bat at the big league level, the White Sox would have a very nice player on their hands. In all likelihood, Engel will start 2016 with the Birmingham Barons in AA. If he can build off his 2015 season and put together another solid campaign, I then think Engel would be a legitimate potential starter prospect and one who we would see on the South Side in the near future.

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