At first, we laughed. Ha ha, another prospect injury. Don’t worry, we have a million prospects! Who cares if a couple are injured? There are more where they came from. We’re ripe with prospects; we swim in them; they fall from the sky like manna. It’s the White Sox, with one of the deepest farm systems in baseball.
In the past, an injury to one top prospect, let alone eight of them, would cripple the season – I’m trying to reach back for an example here, but actually, let’s face it, the system has never been strong enough to have a top prospect good enough that an injury to them would ruin much of anything. But of course, things are different now. The farm can absorb a season-long loss with no problem; our top 10 could each headline most other teams’ lists, and if one falls victim to the disabled list, there are other players whose performance will make it easier to bear.
Unless, of course, they’re all injured! Which would never happen! Probably! Ha! Ha!
Spoiler alert for those of you who like to wait until the year is over to look back on the baseball season and find out what happened: many of them are injured. At first it was a bummer (Aaron Bummer is fine, worry not), and then it was almost funny in a morbid, we’re-White-Sox-fans kind of way, and now it’s kind of starting to feel like a curse.
If you want to the complete lowdown on Sox prospect injuries this season (and, in some cases, technically last season), check out this overview by James Fegan (if you don’t have a subscription to the Athletic, it’s worth it for his coverage). Here’s the basic conceptual TL;DR: going by FutureSox pre-season 2018 rankings, 3 of the top 5 Sox prospects have spent time on the DL this year. That goes up to 8 of the top 15 (9, if you include Spencer Adams missing some time during spring training) and 13 of the top 30.
Notably, this list does not yet include top draft picks Nick Madrigal or Steele Walker, both of whom are dealing with lingering injuries from their college seasons and both of whom should return to action shortly. Nor does it include players like Kade McClure (out for the rest of the season) who might have broken into the Top 30 in the next iteration. Hopefully that makes you feel better!
If not, take a deep breath and crawl out of the panic-hole that I assume everyone has in their basement. There are still reasons to live. 2018 was never going to be the season where these exciting new prospects really got to shine. Setbacks are disappointing and, in some cases, legitimately worrying, but many of these are minor. It’s just bad luck that they’re ALL HAPPENING AT THE SAME TIME. And a little bit frustrating!
So, first, some perspective: #1 prospect Eloy Jimenez is going to be fine. He strained his left adductor muscle on a swing back on July 1st and should be back sometime next week. Yes, it blows that he’s missing more time in a season that began with him on the shelf with a pectoral strain. No, this shouldn’t hamper him in the future. No, I’m not a medical professional and no, I have no idea what I’m talking about.
More perspective: think of all of the top prospects who HAVEN’T been injured this year. Michael Kopech isn’t having a great year, numbers-wise, and needs to get a handle on his control problems before he can think about a call-up, but he’s healthy! Walking about six guys per nine innings is certainly less than ideal, but it doesn’t qualify as a health problem (and if it did, a passable antidote would be his 12.1 strikeouts per nine).
There’s also Zack Collins, who, thankfully, has experienced no physical issues – encouraging for his chances of sticking at catcher, a position where small injuries can add up enough to push you to first base. His defense might still be questionable, but the knees are staying strong. His OBP is, of course, still over .400 (if you want to look at a weird slash line, here it is: .250/.412/.436 over 80 games), and it looks like he’s going to just about match or exceed by a little his power totals from last year.
And who needs Dane Dunning when you have Dylan Cease pitching the way he is (we do, we need Dane Dunning)? Cease, who is unbelievably still only 22 years old, is also pitching at AA. He’s about eight starts newer to the level than Dunning was at the time of Dunning’s elbow strain, but so far, the results have been similarly promising (minus an elbow strain).
FutureSox pre-season #9 prospect Blake Rutherford just pushed his average above .300 for the season and has shown no lingering signs of his foot injury from last year. The power is slowly starting to come through, with more home runs this season than his entire career output coming in, and his upward progression through the system should be smooth (excuse me while I throw my entire body through a solid wooden table).
So there’s hope even before we consider the other dozen or so currently-non-injured players (should we start saying pre-injured?) on the top 30 list, and in a twist, we’re able to go even deeper and find standout performances by players who didn’t even make the preseason cut. There’s ‘Lazomatic’ Laz Rivera, last year’s 28th-round draft pick, who has loudly burst onto the scene with his bat and made himself un-ignorable with a .335 batting average, 9 home runs, and 24 doubles between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem this year. There’s also 23-year-old Jimmy Lambert, recently promoted to the Barons, who has already produced one great start, one very decent start, and one forgettable start. It’s hard to say where Lambert shakes out, talent-wise, but he does have 80 strikeouts in 70.2 innings between Birmingham and Winston-Salem this year, which would indicate that he doesn’t shake down too far. Look for a FutureSox feature on Lambert soon, by the way.
This is why it’s good to have a strong farm system, she spelled out unnecessarily. There is an entire All Star team of talent currently on the DL, but guess what? There’s still an All-Star-to-Almost-Star roster of players down there that are having great years and have not even contracted rabies or whatever yet. It’s easy to see Eloy, Robert, Hansen, Burger, oh god I’m going to stop now all on the shelf or struggling in their return and write 2018 off as a total loss overall. But it’s not! Many prospects are making impressive strides forward or staying the path, and when the others return, it’ll just be reinforcements to an already formidable crop of players.
It would be dipping too deep into delusion to claim that it’s a delightful time to be a Sox fan, but it’s at least not a hopeless time. The rebuild isn’t a failure. The trades weren’t stupid. This isn’t the 2016 White Sox. Nothing ever goes according to plan in this dumb game, and we’re lucky enough to have enough talented players to be able to adapt to setbacks. So put down the knife, hang the jersey back up in the closet, and breathe. Everything might be just fine.
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