2017 was a big year for the White Sox minor league system. They acquired a wave of highly considered prospects from other teams, rode some success from both the 2016 and 2017 drafts, and for the first time in many years the Latin American pipeline is starting to generate some success in the system. The confluence of those talent flows combined with not trading away any significant prospects propelled the Sox up to the top few teams in baseball in terms of prospect talent depth.
Talent is one thing, but how did they perform on the field? Statistical performance is not the same as prospect ranking, nor does it alone predict future performance in the majors or even subsequent minor league campaigns. Nonetheless, it is a tool in the bag, it’s tangible, and makes for some fun analysis. So let’s explore the statistical leaders in the Sox minors this past season, across a variety of measures both traditional and not, beginning with hitters. Pitchers will be in a separate, future article.
NOTES: These are stateside minor league regular season numbers only from 2017, for players who are both A) still in the organization and B) still have prospect status as of end of 2017 (have not achieved MLB rookie status). For batters, to make these lists they must have had a minimum of 200 plate appearances to be eligible (this captures full time players even from short season leagues). For players acquired during the season, this will include their full seasons even before acquisition, but we’ve eliminated players who did not suit up with a Sox affiliate at all (i.e. Ryan Cordell).
|Eloy Jimenez||A+, AA||369||.312|
|Tito Polo||A+, AA||402||.301|
|Seby Zavala||A, A+||435||.282|
|Jake Peter||AA, AAA||516||.279|
What probably jumps out here straight away is that six of the top ten in average were in rookie ball for 2017, and five of those six were 2017 draft picks in their pro debuts. Rookie leaguers dominating this list isn’t unusual – last year it was five of ten, before then it was seven, before then it was four. Also worth noting that those five true rookies were all collegiate pick-ups, though not all seniors; Yurchak was 20 years old for the season, Destino was 21.
In the 2017 draft, Scouting Director Nick Hostetler emphasized polished hitters with good plate discipline showings in college, so you’d expect the college players in the Pioneer and AZL to hit for a pretty high average. Yurchak was the leader in this and other categories (as you will see shortly) with his prolific showing, and he likely would have been promoted to Kannapolis if he wasn’t blocked by Jake Burger and Gavin Sheets.
Among the full season players, no surprise that uber-prospect Eloy Jimenez stood out in multiple offensive categories. With the graduation of Yoan Moncada, Jimenez is now the top prospect in the White Sox system and among the top prospects in all of baseball. Tito Polo didn’t get nearly that level of attention when he was acquired from the Yankees in July, but he’s seen by many as a speedy sleeper who could quickly climb the ladder. Seby Zavala has been on our radar since rookie ball, but his big performance at the plate in 2017 put him more firmly in view for others. And then there’s Jake Peter, who looks like a potential super-utility player who could see the Sox in 2018.
|Eloy Jimenez||A+, AA||210||.379|
|Zack Collins||A+, AA||471||.370|
|Gavin Sheets||Rk, A||235||.365|
|Tito Polo||A+, AA||402||.363|
Let’s talk about Anthony Villa here for a moment since he’s all over these lists. Selected in the 19th round in 2016, Villa played first base almost exclusively for Great Falls and posted pedestrian numbers in his pro debut, especially for a senior sign in the Pioneer League. Despite the injury to Corey Zangari, Villa was not promoted to full season ball, and repeating the level he’s shown he is far too advanced for the level. In fact he was named the league’s MVP for 2017, and it’s worth noting he played more third base than first base this season.
Zack Collins may be the least surprising name to appear on this list but not for average, as he walked 87 times to propel a .146 isolated OBP. Walks and power abounded for Collins in 2017.
Then there are the 2017 draftees, at it again – making up fully half this list. Yurchak walked in 16% of his plate appearances, on top of a .345 AVG to give him a gaudy OBP. Destino, Taylor and Rivera all rode high averages into this list as well, with the former two each walking about as often as they struck out. 2nd round pick Gavin Sheets also makes his first appearance here, and that was mostly with Kannapolis in Class A.
Mike Hickman was repeating in the AZL, but he played triple the number of games this time around. He’s also a catcher and still just 20 years old.
|Eloy Jimenez||A+, AA||369||.568|
|Seby Zavala||A, A+||435||.499|
|Zack Collins||A+, AA||471||.445|
|Tito Polo||A+, AA||402||.442|
Power usually improves with maturing bodies in the minors, not to mention maturing approaches, so no surprise that full season players appear more prominently here than in some other categories. Jimenez, Zavala and Polo appear here to land the trifecta of being in the top ten in all three slash line numbers. Collins and his plus power makes this list despite a .224 batting average.
Alex Destino and Laz Rivera were the only two 2017 draft picks to appear in all three of these lists so far. Destino signed for 10th round money in the 14th round and Hostetler remarked he was surprised the Sox were able to grab him that late in the draft. So while it may not have been entirely unexpected, it’s a nice validation for the 21-year-old outfielder. Rivera on the other hand was selected in the 28th round from a Division II school, and while he was a 22-year-old in the Fire League, his performance deserves some attention for effectiveness and a few oddities. He was hit by pitch 16 times and walked 8 times in 47 games. He also only struck out in 12.2% of his trips, and tripled five times (tied for 3rd in the org) in those scant 213 PA.
Two new names crop up here. One is Micker Adolfo, who experienced a renaissance of sorts in 2017, showing advancements in plate approach and managing to stay healthy for almost the entire season. A broken hand suffered off the field in late August stole his chance at some postseason play with the Intimidators, but there is no denying this was a big year for the 20-year-old. Matt Rose was part of the trade that brought Jimenez over from the Cubs in exchange for Jose Quintana. Rose is a 6’4″ first baseman with plus raw power and he’s been translating that into game power the last two seasons.
EXTRA BASE HITS – HR, 2B, 3B
|Seby Zavala||A, A+||21|
|Eloy Jimenez||A+, AA||19|
|Zack Collins||A+, AA||19|
|Keon Barnum||A+, AA||18|
|Brandon Dulin||A, A+||18|
|Jameson Fisher||A, A+||30|
|Toby Thomas||A+, AA||24|
|Danny Mendick||A+, AA||23|
|Tito Polo||A+, AA||9|
|Jameson Fisher||A, A+||6|
|Luis Alexander Basabe||A+||5|
|Aaron Schnurbusch||A, A+||5|
|Luis Gonzalez||Rk, A||4|
|Danny Mendick||A+, AA||4|
Big flies are on the rise on the White Sox farm. In 2015, a total of just six players who qualified for this list had double digits in home runs. In 2016, the number rose to nine. This year – 21 players with double digits in dongs. In 2015 there were only two players who hit more than 13; this year there were thirteen hitters in that category.
The list of the top totals for long balls is made up mostly of legitimate prospects as well, all but one in full season ball, and we’ve covered most of them already. Zavala’s breakout season was in part due to his power surge, and he tends to hit them a long way too – he wasn’t just experiencing help from BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem, where he hit only five of them.
Jameson Fisher had an odd year, finishing with a so-so .744 OPS across both levels of A-ball. He started in a funk, was red-hot for about six weeks in the spring to get a promotion to High-A, but couldn’t quite get it going there. Nevertheless, the 23-year-old led the farm in doubles and was second in triples. Blake Rutherford makes his lone appearance on the doubles list, despite his late season swoon. Zach Remillard was a rode a tear to open the season before falling back, but still put himself on the list here.
Triples are an exercise in oddity, never to find deep meaning. But it can sometimes provide background to other numbers. For example, Rivera had five three-baggers in just 213 PA, which did more to boost his SLG than the 2 home runs he hit. Generally, triples gravitate towards players with speed and gap power, and most of the list certainly matches up with that. Hickman making the list as a catcher, especially with just 49 games, is neat.
CONTACT RATES – Best, Worst
|Jake Burger||Rk, A||217||30||13.8%|
|Danny Mendick||A+, AA||470||67||14.3%|
|Gavin Sheets||Rk, A||235||34||14.5%|
|Nate Nolan||Rk, A||225||88||39.1%|
|Aaron Schnurbusch||A, A+||306||119||38.9%|
|Max Dutto||Rk, A||319||116||36.4%|
|Keon Barnum||A+, AA||449||151||33.6%|
|Courtney Hawkins||A, A+, AA||372||120||32.3%|
|Trey Michalczewski||A+, AA||495||144||29.1%|
|Zack Collins||A+, AA||471||129||27.4%|
It isn’t just home runs that are up on the farm – strikeouts are more commonplace too, just as they have been in the majors. But there are still plenty of prospects putting bat to ball consistently.
Mason Robbins led the White Sox minors in contact rate for qualified hitters last year, and he’s back again this year. He’s also an above average to plus defensive outfielder with plus speed. Unfortunately he’s also only walking 4% of the time (improved from 2.6% last year) and the raw power has yet to translate to game results. But a speedy outfielder with a strong arm who makes contact likely will keep getting looks.
Hostetler’s chase for polished plate approaches in the 2017 draft shows up here too, with six of the ten best in contact rate being from that draft class, led again by the ubiquitous Rivera. Danny Mendick’s emergence as a prospect this season relied in part on his consistent bat, and he was putting the ball in play with regularity.
On the flip side, the 2016 draft class had a little rougher go of it in their sophomore campaigns. The three highest whiff rates on the Sox farm are from that group, all striking out well above a third of the time. Then there are Courtney Hawkins and Keon Barnum, the two top picks from the 2012 draft, both of whom have seen their development sputter and stall around the AA level. As we work down the bad boy list, we start to see some hitters seen as still having a notably non-zero chance at the bigs, though all of them would need to tame the swing and miss a bit.
Before you get too alarmed by strikeout rates though, keep this in mind – Yoan Moncada struck out in 28.3% of his plate appearances in AAA this year before being promoted to the White Sox.
STOLEN BASES (all players with at least 10 stolen bases in 2017, ordered by SB total)
|Tito Polo||A+, AA||34||10||77.3%|
|Joel Booker||A, A+||23||8||74.2%|
|Luis Alexander Basabe||A+||17||6||79.0%|
|Danny Mendick||A+, AA||12||6||66.7%|
|Jake Peter||AA, AAA||11||5||68.8%|
Whereas home runs and strikeouts are on the rise on the White Sox farm, the art of stealing bases appears to be falling by the wayside. In 2015, there were 5 qualified players with 30 or more SB, 10 with 20 or more, and 21 with 10 or more. This year, two years later? One at 30+, two at 20+, and just seven at 10+. And the one that was above 30 this year, had most of his steals in another organization.
Some key graduations of players like Tim Anderson, Adam Engel and Jacob May, and the ends of the White Sox careers of Keenyn Walker, Micah Johnson and others took a big bite out. And some players who still have that speed, such as Eddy Alvarez, simply weren’t making the attempts in 2017. But such a precipitous drop seems to indicate at least some level of reluctance of current development and coaching staff to have players attempt steals with any regularity.
Tito Polo was far and away the leader in this category, but 27 of those 34 steals were achieved in the Yankees system. Joel Booker had the most steals actually recorded for a Sox affiliate at 23 thefts. The highest success rate belonged to Basabe, who had an erratic and injury-dented year but still made his presence known on the base paths. As a final note, among these leaders in swipes, only the top two are typically given speed grades or 70 or better. Most of the rest are average to above average in scouting reports for raw speed, with Jones perhaps plus.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Just for fun, below are some other statistical categories not covered directly or in large part by any of the above measures. None of them are predictive or evaluative to speak of, but some are a little surprising perhaps. So let’s end with the trivia:
- RBI: Seby Zavala (72), Jameson Fisher (68), Micker Adolfo (68), Danny Hayes (67), Eloy Jimenez (65)
- HBP: Laz Rivera (16), Joel Booker (14), Micker Adolfo (13)
- IBB: Eloy Jimenez (6), Matt Rose (4), Luis Alexander Basabe (4)
- SAC: Zach Remillard (13), Joel Booker (10), Mitch Roman (9)
- GIDP: Mitch Roman (21), Rymer Liriano (14), Casey Gillaspie (13)
Most of the top RBI totals were, not surprisingly, the top overall hitters in the system by core statistical output. Fisher is perhaps the exception here, so dare we say, he was “clutch”?
Pretty sure Rivera won’t maintain a 7.5% HBP rate going forward, but you never know.
Jimenez being walked intentionally more than anyone else should surprise no one.
Kannapolis sure did a lot bunting. Maybe we should call the leader here SAC Remillard.
Gillaspie being a slowish first baseman, you’d expect him to ground into a lot of double plays. But Roman is an average runner, and Liriano above average, so this was not an expected result.
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Filed under: News and notes
Tags: Aaron Schnurbusch, Alex Destino, Alfredo Gonzalez, Anthony Villa, Blake Rutherford, Brandon Dulin, Bryant Flete, courtney hawkins, Craig Dedelow, Danny Hayes, Danny Mendick, Eloy Jimenez, Franklin Reyes, Hunter Jones, Jake Peter, Jameson Fisher, Joel Booker, Jose Garcia, Justin Yurchak, Keon Barnum, Laz Rivera, Logan Taylor, Luis Alexander Basabe, Luis Gonzalez, Mason Robbins, Matt Rose, Max Dutto, Michael Hickman, Micker Adolfo, Mitch Roman, Nate Nolan, Nick Basto, Rymer Liriano, Seby Zavala, Tito Polo, Toby Thomas, Trey Michalczewski, Tyler Frost, Zach Remillard, Zack Collins