Next Wave: Position players who just missed our midseason top prospects list

After we publish our twice-annual Top Prospects lists, we also post 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. We will only be considering position players not currently in the majors. So Omar Narvaez and, as he’s on the MLB DL, Matt Davidson, are not included but might have otherwise been.

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

Of the 17 position players we looked at on the last two lists in the past year, 7 have gone onto one of the two Top 30 Prospects lists posted since then. Two have even reached the majors. Another few are still right on the edge and appear on this list too. In other words, there are sometimes prospects waiting in the wings who you may not know today, but will know soon.

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

Recent draftees

Joel Booker was taken in the 22nd round as a senior sign out of Iowa, but there are indications he could provide more value than the typical player taken so deep in the draft. First, he’s got true plus speed, and you can see the results of that – he’s stolen 30 bases in 32 attempts so far this year in just 43 games. He’s been playing exclusively in center field, and according to local reports from his time in the AZL, has shown some excellent defensive play. Across the two rookie affiliates, Booker has a combined .303/.396/.411 line, and is striking out in only about 15% of his plate appearances. Usual caveats on rookie league stats apply, but when combined with the other information we have it’s at least a pleasant early surprise.

Another deep round outfielder taken in the 2016 draft, Aaron Schnurbusch has been even more impressive statistically in his pro debut. As of this writing, in 37 games with Great Falls, the 28th round pick has compiled an improbable .384/.487/.604 line and stolen 10 bases in 11 attempts to boot. He’s been playing a mix of right and center field, and the former college pitcher has legitimate arm strength. A local report indicated he defends his position well, though he does tend to get overly aggressive at times (not unusual for first year pros). As he has a somewhat high 23.8% K/PA rate and is sporting an unsustainable April Flowers-esque BABIP (.514), those numbers will likely fall back at some point. But in the meantime, he has our attention as well as the club’s.

Mike Hickman was originally selected by the White Sox in 2015 in the 36th round, knowing he was unlikely to sign (and he didn’t). The catcher was then taken again this year in the 13th round after a year at Chipola College as sort of an unofficial draft-and-follow and signed for $100,000 (a little higher than typical for that round). He was a 2nd team All American per Perfect Game out of high school with excellent defensive skills behind the plate, and at 19 he’ll be a player to follow as he progresses. The AZL catching field is crowded right now and he’s only played a dozen games so far, but he should get time in Fall Instructs and back with another rookie affiliate in 2017.

Latin American signees

Catcher Jhoandro Alfaro was ranked 28th among July 2 prospects for 2014 according to Baseball America, and was signed for a big $750,000 bonus. He was signed more for his defensive abilities than hitting, and reports from Arizona in 2015 indicated he has a strong arm and mechanical but improving work behind the plate. He made his pro debut in the AZL last year at 17, but was overwhelmed on the hitting side. In order to get his feet under him the team sent him to the DSL for 2016. There as a current 18-year old, he’s making good contact and getting on base (.402 OBP, 16 walks against 14 strikeouts in 119 PA), though DSL numbers aren’t worth a lot. The power isn’t showing much yet in games, but local prospect hounds from his time in Arizona feel there is some raw power potential there. He’s likely back in the AZL next year in his age 19 season.

Franklin Reyes signed a little over a year ago for $1.5M, the second highest bonus the White Sox have ever paid an amateur LatAm signee. He came to the system with reports of 60 to 70 grade raw power and a plus arm, though with questions about his mediocre speed and ability to make contact. Less than a year after signing, Reyes has made his pro debut in the AZL (skipping DSL), and the rawness of the 17-year old shows: he’s hitting .171 and has struck out 58 times in his first 156 plate appearances. It’s very early for the 17-year old who will almost assuredly repeat in Arizona at least once, and the raw tools give him a big ceiling.

Maiker Feliz rose to 23rd on our Preseason Top 30 Prospects list thanks to reports of a strong arm and defense at third base, and a very strong showing in the DSL in 2015 at the plate. Here in 2016 in the AZL as an 18-year old, Feliz isn’t hitting a ton but is making decent contact and walking a bunch. One problematic factor is that local looks this year showed a player who had put on some unathletic weight, which could be an issue if it’s happening already at age 18. But there are still some obvious hitting skills present here (though not much power projection), and if his defense at third can reach potential, his prospect stock could rise again.

Outfielder Antonio Rodriguez is the relative elder in this bunch, in his age 20/21 season, and playing his first year of full season ball with Kannapolis. In some ways he’s similar to Micker Adolfo – strong, athletic corner outfielder with a big arm and power potential (though Rodriguez does not have nearly Adolfo’s raw power), playing younger than his peers. Also similar is the raw nature and aggressive plate approach of both players. Rodriguez does win out on speed though, showing a solid 60 grade in that department, and he shows better bat control that results in a better contact rate (under 20% K/PA). His ceiling isn’t as high as Micker’s, but Antonio does have the tools in speed, athleticism and bat to ball skills that could lead to a leap up the ladder.

Close to the Majors

Danny Hayes hadn’t been on many (if any) radars, but got our attention last year. He went straight from Low-A to AA, a very unusual and difficult jump, and after a month’s struggles was able to put up decent numbers. Then in 2016, after opening in AAA 0-for-21, he posted a .289/.386/.566 line with 10 HR in just 46 games and was suddenly in the conversation for a potential major league job. Hayes has always gotten on base at a very high clip and plays strong defense, but until 2016 he had been a first baseman with minimal power. Having finally shown the game power that some had predicted was possible, he unfortunately went on the DL in mid-June and remains there now.

Nick Delmonico has had a wild ride as a pro, but the previously highly regarded prospect broke out this year with AA Birmingham (1.073 OPS including 10 HR in his first 38 games) and was promoted to AAA Charlotte. He’s got tantalizing tools at the plate with significant power, but he lacks a defensive home (he’s played 3B, 1B, and now corner OF this year). He missed some time to an injury and is just starting to hit in AAA, but he’s 24 and still would be to open next year so there’s time for him to catch up to the league. The White Sox are hoping he can be good enough defensively to field multiple positions.

Catcher Kevan Smith has taken a slow boat through the minors, and in his sixth professional season finally got his first call-up to the majors this past May. Sadly, he injured his back during pre-game warm-ups and didn’t see game action. After some missed time and rehab, he is now back in AAA Charlotte. The 28-year old may be down, but he’s not out. The White Sox like his pitcher handling, he’s got a decent arm behind the plate and has hit at each level of the minors. Smith has a good shot at being a September call-up this year, though whether or not he has a major league future for 2017 and beyond is an open question.

Mid-system breakout candidates

We recently discussed outfielder Mason Robbins in detail here. As he stands today, he’s not a highly ranked name in the system because in short, he swings at too many pitches out of the zone and his swing often gets him out of position for any power. But with some relatively small adjustments, adding in his significant speed, glove and arm tool grades, he suddenly looks like a legitimate major league prospect. Time will tell if he makes those adjustments, but keep an eye on Mason.

Another outfielder, Landon Lassiter made our January list at number 27, but was just off the list at Midseason. He was a highly considered draft prospect in his first couple years at UNC, but his performance fell off and he was removed from the team for non-baseball reasons before being drafted in the 21st round. His 2016 at Kannapolis saw him put up big numbers early, slump a bit, then recover and get promoted to Winston-Salem in July. Lassiter has a patient approach at the plate and draws walks at a good clip, is above average in foot speed, and shows strong work with the glove in left field. But there’s minimal power projection and his arm is fringe. It’s hard to know what to make of Lassiter’s total package, but the plate approach and speed make him a player who could help a major league club down the line.

*Watch for the pitching version of the Next Wave, coming in the next couple days*

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