With Opening Day for the major league team and the full-season affiliates less than a month away, the FutureSox staff convened and reflected on our pre-season rankings, made some bold predictions, and noted what they are looking out for this season. I was joined by Matt Cassidy, Brian Bilek, Will Siskel, and our newest writer, Matt Lynch.
The answers were deep enough that we had to split this into two articles. Here are the five of us, on the first two questions…
Prediction time: Who will be moving up the rankings from the pre-season list to the mid-season list?
Matt C: When people refer to sleepers or guys who could make the biggest jump, I think of players with the widest gaps between floor and ceiling. In other words, it means looking for raw, unrefined talent closest to seeing tools become skills. Looking at that list of players among the current Top 30 (or just outside of it), the guys who I think have the best shot at actualizing some substantial portion of their talents in 2016 are infielder Johan Cruz, pitcher Thad Lowry, and outfielders Micker Adolfo and Antonio Rodriguez. As the question technically wants one, I’ll go with Johan Cruz to make the biggest jump in 2016. He’s got very good defensive tools at a premium position (shortstop, where the club says he will play in 2016), speed that will play as-is, and not many prospects hit .312 in their first season state-side as a teenager. He didn’t walk much, but he showed some patience in the DSL and a local report from Great Falls indicated he did work counts well. He even showed a little power for a player not originally seen as having much. Cruz should be in full season ball in 2016, and I think he’s got a good shot at being very interesting.
Brian: Since Matt took my intial choice in infielder Johan Cruz, I’ll shed some light on another potential riser in Jordan Stephens. Coming in at #16 in our preseason list he doesn’t have that much room to rise, but this is a guy who is a better pitcher than his 5th round draft position would lead you to believe. Stephens suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament and had Tommy John Surgery early in his junior season in 2014. At that point, Stephens was the Friday night pitcher for a pitching factory in Rice University and the righty was considered a top 100 draft pick in 2014 by most outlets. Needless to say, his TJS came at an entirely inopportune time for a professional-to-be. Following the surgery, Stephens recovered quickly and even worked his way back into starting for Rice. Post-surgery he brought his velocity up to 94 and posted personal bests of 11.31 K/9 and 4.41 K/BB over 59.2 innings at Rice. His professional debut went swimmingly as the White Sox brought him along slowly. Stephens pitched 17.2 innings in the Arizona and Pioneer while only giving up one run and showing solid peripherals (21/3 K/BB). The former Rice ace impressed White Sox Scouting Director Nick Hostetler enough to put his talents right up there with first rounder Carson Fulmer. Stephens’ injury and lack of size opened the door for the White Sox to add a discounted combination of track record and physical tools that could lead to big 2016 for the 23-year-old.
Matt L: Though once a former top prospect in the White Sox system, I think Matt Davidson (FutureSox #30) will be a guy back on this rise this 2016 season. Acquired in 2013 for Addison Reed, Davidson came to the White Sox as the third-baseman of the future, but has failed to live up to expectations. During his two full seasons at Triple-A Charlotte, Davidson has shown major contact issues, along with lackluster (though improving) defense. One thing he has shown though is above average power. Still just 24 years old, I am not ready to count him out just yet. He showed some promise at the Major League level in 2013, where he had a cup of coffee with the Diamondbacks at just 22 years old. He mentioned that he focused on the mental side of things this offseason, as well as trying to move on from his disappointing two seasons with the Charlotte Knights. This may not be the sexiest pick, as many Sox fans know of Davidson already, but I still think he could be a major leaguer in due time. He is off to a very nice start in Spring Training, and I am hopeful that will carry into the upcoming season and potentially lead to more.
Will: Yosmer Solorzano impressed many in his stateside debut in the AZL. I envision that trend to continue into 2016, with Solorzano (entering his age-19 season) likely headed for Kannapolis. According to first-person reports and video, the young righthander features an advanced ability to pitch despite his age. His arsenal, which generates a ton of grounders, should prove sustainable as he embarks on the low-level affiliates. With fluid mechanics and room for improvement – in terms of stuff, physical frame, and mechanics – I expect Solorzano to further climb up our list and establish himself as a legitimate SP prospect in his second season.
Rob: As a byproduct of going last, I fear I’ll have to echo one of my fellow writers and say Jordan Stephens. Jordan Guerrero jumped eight spots from #14 on our 2015 post-season list to #6 on our 2016 pre-season list and I am predicting that Stephens will see a similar rise from his current spot at #16. Stephens has good command of a four mix arsenal that is highlighted by a two-seam fastball and a potentially plus curve. Stephens has shown a propensity for missing bats in college and the pros, and his advanced repertoire will be too much for lower affiliate hitters to handle. I expect Stephens to rack up the stats in stops at Kannapolis and Winston-Salem and shoot up our list.
Who is your favorite sleeper in the organization?
Matt C: I’m going to go with a guy here who I didn’t even put a Top 30 vote on in December – RHP Danny Dopico. He put up very good peripherals in relief work for Great Falls last season, and at 21 wasn’t overly old for rookie ball. As an 11th round pick, that’s usually a guy the club definitely wanted but couldn’t sign for an under-slot amount to sneak into the back end of Top 10 rounds, so that’s an indicator too. But the biggest reason is based on in-person reports I’ve received from multiple sources I trust. An MLB Pipeline writer and a blog scout we’ve worked with before both talked about a mid-90’s fastball with some nice action, and a slider that showed plus characteristics. He’s got a typical pitcher’s frame, repeats well, and put up very nice numbers in college. He just reads to me like the kind of guy who suddenly breaks onto the list with most people saying “wait, how did we miss this guy?” He’s a reliever so don’t look for him in the top 10, but he could move up the ladder very quickly and add value.
Brian: My favorite sleeper is catcher Carlos Perez, who comes in at #28 on our Top Prospects list. I ranked the catcher #20 overall and some of our writers even left him off of their top 30’s. Signed out of Venezuela in 2014 for a negligible $50,000, Perez represents a potential diamond in the rough for Marco Paddy. Perez is the brother of two professional catchers, one with the Angels, and both named Carlos as well. Perez has shown incredible bat-to-ball skills with a utterly ridiculous 2.6 K% in 2015 while playing in the Domincan Summer League (DSL). Other than that, Perez slashed a .333/.424/.438 line over 191 PAs in 2015 following up a strong 2014 in the same league. Perez has caught the eye of at least one principal international evaluator, with Baseball America’s Ben Badler singing his praises more than once. As a catcher, Badler has referred to Perez’s receiving as a strong suit with his arm figuring to be around average. Perez’s size leaves room to be desired but considering his position, it’s not atypical. With two strong summers in the DSL, there’s little left for the 19-year-old to show and it’s likely he makes his way stateside in 2016. His assignment in 2016 will be a big factor in how much he can improve his rank, but the recipe is there.
Matt L: For my sleeper, I am really going off the grid here, taking lefty first baseman Sikes Orvis as my pick. Orvis, 23, was selected by the White Sox in the 17th round in the 2015 First Year Player Draft out of Ole Miss. He is a big, strong kid, listed at 6’3” and 255 lbs.. He hit .231/.337/.354 in Great Falls last season, which was not promising by any means. But Orvis was a First Team All-SEC member in 2014 at Ole Miss, where he hit .294 with 14 home runs. He returned to school for his senior year, where he was .264 with 16 home runs. He may be a project right now, but I really like the power he displayed in the juggernaut SEC against some of the best college arms in the country. He has an issue with strikeouts though, as he struck out 44 times in 147 at bats at Great Falls. If he could cut those down and display the power he showed while at Ole Miss, the White Sox could have gotten a real steal drafting him in the 17th round.
Will: As recently as last year, Andre Wheeler was our #19 pre-season prospect. His slip in our rankings has less to do with results (he had a fine 2015 season), and more to do with his future projection. Going into 2015, Wheeler was thought of as a starter. Now though, Wheeler is most likely to see his major league future depend on his ability to come out of the ‘pen as a lefty reliever with a fastball/slider combo. Unless they display loud, high-leverage pitches, relief prospects don’t generate a ton of excitement. For Wheeler, however, it is his mound-presence, demeanor, and perspective that add to his above average stuff from the left side. I look forward to seeing the former collegiate outfielder advance in 2016, likely seeing time in AA Birmingham.
Rob: This is an easy answer for me since I am shocked Jhoandro Alfaro didn’t make our top 30 list. Alfaro was signed by the Sox for $750,000 in the 2014 July 2nd class as 16-year-old and was ranked as the 28th best prospect in the class. Overshadowed by his older brother Jorge, a top prospect in the Phillies organization, Alfaro is a switch-hitting catcher who is excellent defensively. Despite his age and relative rawness, the Sox felt so strongly about him that he debuted professionally state-side with the Arizona Rookie League squad. While he didn’t put up big numbers, Alfaro showed enough that he was ranked as the 15th best prospect in the organization by MLB.com this off-season. Alfaro is just 18-years-old and will undoubtedly repeat rookie ball so he is a long way away, but he is definitely one to keep an eye on as he progresses through the system.
***The round table will be continued in a following article, soon.***
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