Roundtable: Four blogs discuss the state of the Sox minor leagues

Hearing a variety of perspectives on something as dynamic as the White Sox rebuild is valuable for fans. FutureSox has eight writers at present but we don’t have all the answers. There are dozens of blogs who write about the team, and in that world you can find myriad perspectives on individual prospects and the farm system generally. So why not bring some of those perspectives into the same room?

This is a roundtable discussion covering eight questions about the Sox minor leagues and the prospects within. The questions, and answers from each of the participating writers, are listed below. None of the eight questions got the same answer from every writer. The writers are:

Many thanks to that crew for participating. Let’s get to it.

1. What do you make of Zack Collins‘ 2018 season? What are your projections for him at this point?

Jim: It seems like something’s gotta give. Plate discipline isn’t a carrying tool in and of itself with a catcher’s speed, and he didn’t produce much with the hit/power tool outside of a massive May, and the Sox placed Zavala ahead of him defensively. The good news is that first base is wide open on the depth chart after Abreu, so I wouldn’t hesitate with a shift from behind the plate if it gives him a chance of reducing the amount of strain placed on his limitations. Narvaez bought the position some time.

Nick: I think Collins’ 2018 has to be viewed as a disappointment. For all that his Double-A teammates have said he’s improving on defense, I have not yet heard anything to change the consensus non-White Sox view that this guy is not really a catcher and if he does manage to squeak by it will be as a big minus defensively. His throwing arm will play, but as we’ve learned in recent years that’s only a fraction of what catchers are asked to do behind the plate. So, we’re left with his bat, which was supposed to be his calling card. In his second look at Double-A he hit .234/.382/.404 while striking out 29.8% of the time. For a guy who turns 24 in February, played in a major college conference, and whose bat needs to carry the profile, that’s really not what you want.

I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, as working as hard as he has on catcher defense can impede offensive development, but then again, at what point are the White Sox eroding his best traits trying to salvage his glove? Right now I’d still peg him as a solid/average 1B/DH with a little more upside and maybe a 5% chance he can catch a little bit. For comparison, Matt Thaiss was taken after Collins with a similar profile (college catcher who is likely a 1B, although Thaiss was always more contact than Collins’ patience/power game), only the Angels abandoned him as a catcher almost immediately and he has blitzed past Collins as a hitter and is knocking on the door to the majors.

David: Collins is a bit of a difficult case. His .234 batting average during his age 23 season at Double-A Birmingham is obviously a little discouraging. His 158 strikeouts are also not an overly encouraging sign. One shining light among what was not a great year for Collins is his .382 OBP. In other words, his eye will play at any level. The question with Collins will always be whether he can bring enough power to be an everyday option behind the plate at the major league level. The answer to that question really depends on who you ask. As far as my opinion goes, I think he will turn into a serviceable everyday catcher at the major league level. The organization remains very high on him, and I’m lukewarm. I think he could be an attractive trade option this year and beyond.

Matt: There really isn’t any doubt at this point around Collins’ power (which is plus) and strike zone judgment (which is elite). The questions are around hit tool and defense. On the former, I think he’s still not in a place mechanically where he will be able to keep up with high velocity pitches. But given the rest of his tools at the plate, and the adjustments he’s made before, I think he has a decent shot to get there. Defensively, I’m in the camp that he’s not likely to be a starter at catcher. But, the Sox should absolutely keep trying him there, and be open to a role where he catches part time and DH’s and/or plays first base the rest. And I do think he can be a valuable major leaguer in that role. I wouldn’t rush it though – let him start back in AA in 2019, then AAA, and not consider the majors until 2020.

2. What positions / roles do you see as current strengths, and weaknesses, in the system?

Jim: The outfield depth has really come along. Eloy and Robert are a tremendous frontline, but Basabe, Gonzalez and Rutherford all taking steps is the kind of thing that gives this rebuild the first hint of a self-sustaining depth. Adolfo, too, assuming he recovers OK from Tommy John. Corner infield is a major problem. Burger’s injury is a big blow to internal third-base hopes, and Gavin Sheets was out-homered by basically the entire Dash team. The pitching depth was also tested with only Cease having a certifiable upward trajectory of the big names. Dunning might be able to join him if he can pitch without requiring surgery.

Nick: This is fairly tough, because there may be some flux in terms of what positions players wind up at—for instance, Collins as discussed [above/below depending on sequencing], if Micker Adolfo can throw when he comes back, whether Luis Robert, Luis Alexander Basabe, or Luis Gonzalez can stick in center field, whether Yoan Moncada moves over to third for Nick Madrigal, etc. I suppose relief pitching looks quite strong at the moment, as in addition to Ian Hamilton and Ryan Burr, the White Sox have done a really good job finding relief arms for IFA money, minor trades, and late round draft picks. Tyler Johnson could be a bullpen weapon, Zack Burdi should be back in 2019, and there’s a whole host of current starting prospects who have good fallback positions as late inning options. Third base continues to look like an organizational weakness, as I didn’t think Jake Burger would stick there even before his ankle exploded. They also sure do seem to have a lot of players who project as OK first basemen.

David: Pitching remains the biggest strength in the White Sox minor league system. Despite the injuries for some, and regression from others, there are still many attractive options for both the bullpen and rotation in the system. The outfield is another very strong area for the system. Despite what appears to be a logjam at the lower levels of the system, as that begins to shake out, three above average outfielders could very well emerge from the hodgepodge of outfield talent. The White Sox do remain thin in talent at third base. Jake Burger’s injuries put his trajectory in doubt, and no one else emerged this year as a potential replacement. Third base will likely need to be addressed by outside acquisition before the team is ready to contend.

Matt: The outfield depth is the clear winner here for me. I’d even go so far as to say there are 10 outfielders in the system with a good shot to be major league contributors somewhere, at some point, and half of those have a shot to be starters. Relief arms come in second for me, followed by starting pitching, and shortstops (a group that I think is sneaky good). The weak spots appear to be first base (where there is Gavin Sheets and a bunch of very long shots) and third base, though Burger could still make that not matter so much if he can come all the way back.

3. Name one or two prospects you are higher on than others, and why.

Jim: Gonzalez is one. I was more excited about that pick than Burger or Sheets, perhaps because I was burned out on guys who would have to fight to stay off first base. Tyler Johnson feels a little bit slept-on to me, although keeping him in Kannapolis for the first half of the season contributed to that.

Nick: Dane Dunning would have been my answer before his injury now I don’t know what to make of him. Deeper down, I’ve always liked Bernardo Flores, who is another guy that should be a really good reliever if he’s not an innings eating option at the back of the rotation in 2020. Lefties with low walk rates tend to do well in this organization. Jimmy Lambert could be a guy who just keeps cruising along without much fanfare and all of a sudden he’s a useful major leaguer. Kade McClure was doing well before he hurt his knee, and I’m interested to see how he progresses. I like Tyler Frost because of his name, but he will never displace Baron Frost in my heart.

David: I think I’m higher on Nick Madrigal than most. It’s hard to gauge exactly how people feel about him, but the general consensus seems to be not overly enthusiastic. I think Madrigal has a chance to be a franchise-changing superstar. His low strikeout numbers and plus plus hit tool are rare. I think he has the possibility to be a Jose Altuve type hitter with maybe less power. He’s also a plus runner with a plus glove. Depending on what position he sticks at, he could have an immense impact on the league. I’m also very high Kodi Medeiros, who I think will grow up to be our version of Josh Hader. Love his stuff.

Matt: I could list 5 or 6 here, but will keep it to two. One is Jonathan Stiever, who just missed our recent Top 30. He was ranked 88th (MLB Pipeline) and 125th (Baseball America) in pre-draft rankings, making him more like a 3rd round pick in perceived value than the 5th he was taken in. Advanced feel, durability, athleticism, command and good building blocks stuff-wise, I believe he’ll do well in full season in 2019 and start appearing on lists. The other is Lenyn Sosa. Local reports peg him as a true shortstop with plenty of arm for any slot, he’s hit .285 with hints of power across 2 rookie leagues at ages 17 and 18, and makes a lot of contact (12.4% K/PA this year).

4. We (FutureSox) recently proposed the White Sox adding a 7th US minor league affiliate. Agree or disagree? If agree, at what level?

Jim: New York/Penn League. As long as the White Sox have college-heavy drafts, it’s a good place to start players. More to the point, I live in an NYPL town, so it serves my purposes.

Nick: I defer to FutureSox’ views on that generally, although I will highlight that on his podcast, Baseball Prospectus’ Jarrett Seidler has floated something to the effect that teams could sign as many $100,000 prep arms as they want each draft and stack as many rookie ball affiliates as they want, it’s just an issue of money, and the return on investment might very well be worth it.

David: While a good idea for the near term, it may not make sense long term. The logjams at various levels will work out within the next two years, at which point a 7th affiliate may be difficult to stock with talent. If one were to be added, it would likely be at the lower levels, which already sparsely produces top talent. Maybe a rental 7th affiliate for the next two years.

Matt: I mean, I wrote the proposing article, so yeah I think they should. A short season A-ball team provides the most flexibility, but if that proves impossible, a second AZL club works too.

5. Name something the White Sox could do to better promote and market the rebuild, going forward.

Jim: Credentialing reputable Sox bloggers at SoxFest would be cool. Self-interest aside, the #NextSox stuff got a tone-deaf at the end of the season when it came to Eloy Jimenez. Hopefully the Sox are to the point where they don’t have to manipulate service time so much, which will alleviate that concern, but it seems weird to dangle players they’re intentionally preventing customers from seeing for themselves.

Nick: This is tough, because you haven’t really had the breakout prospect arrival yet—Moncada has had his ups and downs, Kopech got hurt, etc. And at a certain point actions speak louder than words. If they invest in some free agents this winter I think that would say more about the organization’s belief in their current talent than any slogan or ad campaign.

David: Personally, I feel as though the team has done a fine job promoting the rebuild. It’s difficult to get fans to come to the park based on hope alone. But fans still come to see the latest big name call-up. I guess on social media they could do a better job sharing highlights from all levels of the system and such. But for the most part they do everything they can to sell fans on the future of the franchise and the direction they’re headed.

Matt: Improve the flow of information to the fan base. That can take many forms. The Brewers have social media dedicated just to the Player Development Department to disseminate game info, injury statuses, etc. But it’s also allowing the fans more direct access, for example at the back fields at Camelback where the Sox are notorious for providing the worst views and worst access to the goings-on. The more information available to everyone, the more engaged the fan base will be.

6. What is currently your biggest worry around the future success of the rebuild?

Jim: The front office’s track record. The faith in Rick Hahn still surprises me. The rebuilds always pointed to – the Cubs and Astros – came after dramatic overhauls of the front office. The Sox remain largely unchanged, especially if you don’t ascribe the failed first attempt to some kind of Kenny Williams shadow influence. It just requires hope that they learned from it all.

Nick: There are two really, from a macro perspective: 1) How many stars are in this group of prospects?; and 2) Will they spend enough and wisely to support whatever core emerges? Ironically, the White Sox went for years doing stars and scrubs and failing and now they’re just loaded with nice bench players, second division starters, or complementary contributors. Anderson and Moncada are present, solid major leaguers, but haven’t made the leap to stardom yet. Kopech got hurt. Eloy Jimenez should be an all-star type, but given his position will have to really mash to be exception instead of merely good. And for all that the 2012 and 2016 White Sox would have killed for 2017-2018 Yolmer Sanchez or Leury Garcia or 2018 Matt Davidson and Daniel Palka, those are all role 40-50 types. They certainly have players with the potential to be role 6s and 7s, but you can’t count on that manifesting until it does. The second point goes back to the 2016 team. You rebuild to get cheap stars. The 2016 team had them. They just didn’t have anything else and wouldn’t spend the money enough or on the right things, so that team couldn’t even crack .500. So even if the internal system spits out Chris Sale and Jose Abreu-caliber players, what’s different this time? I’m hopeful, but again, you can’t be sure until you see it.

David: I have two significant concerns surrounding the rebuild right now. The first is injuries, 2018 saw an abundance of them, and in all likelihood delayed the rebuild a year. While injuries are a part of any rebuild, the volume of them in 2018 was unique and shocking. If that keeps up, it will be obviously very difficult to overcome. My second big concern is the ability to develop talent at the major league level. We’ve seen that the Sox have the ability to get players through the minor league system well, but once they reach the major league level, does that development continue? Yet to be seen. It’s certainly been an issue in the past, at least pertaining to position players. But the strides Tim Anderson took this year, and the adjustments we’ve seen Yoan Moncada make in the last 40 games or so of 2018 is reason for hope. We obviously need to see more, but this is the most critical question of the rebuild for which we really have no answers yet.

Matt: Injuries, especially on the pitching staff. The Sox have done well acquiring a few high-ceiling talents, but keeping them healthy has been a challenge. If they have to lean heavy on free agency for starting pitching, that adds risk to final success.

7. Predictions for 2019 and going forward for these puzzling prospects: Alec Hansen, Jake Burger, Gavin Sheets, Seby Zavala.

Jim: I don’t have any 2019 expectations for Burger. Just hoping he return to the field at some point midseason and stay healthy throughout the end of it, after which a trajectory can actually be assessed. Zavala seems like he can fill the Kevan Smith role with a different shape (better arm and power, worse hit tool). I’ve mentally pegged Sheets as the Casey Rogowski of a new generation and hoping he changes my mind. Hansen is the big one, literally and figuratively. They fixed him once, so theoretically they can fix him again. The question is whether his mechanics are so high-maintenance that any hiccup in his health forces him to start over from step one.

Nick: Alec Hansen is a big pitcher who has struggled with his mechanics in the past. I think if he can start the year healthy and get into a rhythm he’s still the guy we saw in 2017, we just have to be cognizant of the fact he may get out of wack at any time. Jake Burger is someone our prospect team liked, as they thought his offense was actually meaningful even from the perspective of him moving to 1B. Achilles’ injuries are brutal, though, and any time a player is limited to 1B it’s really hard to get too excited. I don’t know enough about his recovery to make specific predictions about 2019 or what he’ll look like when he gets back, but between him, Fulmer, and Collins, the White Sox may have spent three first round picks in a rebuild in a row and get a couple okay first basemen and a reliever. Plenty of first rounders don’t even make the majors, as White Sox fans are well aware, but man would that be disappointing. As to Zavala, he doesn’t have Collins’ pedigree, but he outhit him in 2018 and his defense is certainly better at catcher. I can understand the skepticism, but I find it difficult to simultaneously believe in Collins and doubt Zavala. A scout I spoke to before 2018 put a 5 on Sheets in limited looks, and 2018 was certainly an okay year for him, but for college bat limited to 1B only, the power really needs to start showing up in games to think of him more than anything than a defensively limited bench bat.

David: I think Hansen is in trouble. He showed the same issues that killed his draft stock at Oklahoma. He seemed to right the ship a little in Winston Salem with their pitching coach, but I worry as soon as he leaves he goes back to his old ways. I’m worried about Alec Hansen. Jake Burger will start 2019 likely in Winston-Salem. I think he’ll take a while to adjust, but will finish the year in Birmingham. Hard to say how he’ll do. But I predict a 2019 for Burger that will ease some worry, but not exactly a rousing comeback. Sheets is an interesting prospect, but until he shows more power, which he likely won’t, he’s a non-prospect in my opinion. Zavala will break spring training with the team and be a platoon catcher with Omar Narvaez for the entire year. Looking forward to seeing him in 2019.

Matt: Hansen has previously made the exact changes he needs to again, so I feel somewhat confident he dials it back in. I think he can get back to nearly where he was in 2019. On Burger, all indications are he will heal up fine. But he’s lost a year of development and his corner defense was already in question, so I have some big concerns about where he ends up. Sheets is built like a brick shithouse and has plenty of raw power, but in games he’s profiling more like Ross Gload so far. That said, there is so much power potential I think he can still tap, so I have some moderate optimism he will find it. Zavala is a guy I’ve been higher on than most all along (see how I cheated on a previous question there?), and I believe in him as at least a backup/platoon major leaguer long-term, with a chance to even be a starter. his defense has progressed nicely.

8. Who should the Sox add to the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 protection deadline, among those not already on it?

Jim: Cease, Zavala, Medeiros. Stephens is the borderline candidate for me. He makes sense for immediate rotation depth now and bullpen later, but his second-half fade and lack of a September call-up makes me think the Sox could replace him if he’s taken, so I’m fine either way.

Nick: Dylan Cease, Jordan Stephens, and Spencer Adams seem like easy adds to me—they’d certainly survive on a major league roster next year given current huge bullpens and would be candidates to get popped in Rule V. I don’t think you trade for Kodi Medeiros if you don’t want to keep him either, and he could be a LOOGY immediately if you had to. Seby Zevala should be added as well, given how close he is to the majors. Eddy Alvarez is probably the closest to the line as I can see from the rest of the group. He hit pretty well at Charlotte and can play shortstop, although it may be tough to carry him and Jose Rondon, even if I think there’s a lot of dead weight to be cleared off the 40-man as it is. After that, I don’t think there’s anyone else you need to add. Jordan Guerrero and Tyler Danish couldn’t crack the 2018 White Sox pitching staff, and I don’t see anyone jumping Yrizzari or Forbes from High-A to the majors next year, as interesting as they are.*

*The Padres might because they’re crazy but I think they’ve added enough talent they don’t have room to do this anymore

David: The Sox have a bit of a 40-man crunch coming up. I think before the Rule 5, we should expect to see Dylan Cease, Seby Zavala, Jordan Stephens and Spencer Adams all added to the 40-man. Perhaps even Jordan Guerrero as well. I think Kodi Medeiros has an opportunity at the major league roster, but likely doesn’t make it until after spring training.

Matt: I see 4 guys they definitely should protect: Dylan Cease, Seby Zavala, Jordan Stephens and Kodi Medeiros. The two edge cases are Jordan Guerrero and Spencer Adams, with the former more likely to get picked up and the latter with a higher ceiling in my view. To make those slots available? Shields and Gonzalez will be gone, and a few guys like Scahill, LaMarre and Garneau can be designated or just let go. Plus the team might end up trading a player or two, probably will in fact, so there should be plenty of room. First 4 should be no-brainers, and the other two if they can.

Thanks to Jim, Nick, and David for joining us in this edition of the Bloggers Roundtable!

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    nteresting perspective from 4 different White Sox bloggers. I agree with most of their opinions, especially concerning the OF depth and lack of corner INF's. The pitching would also be a big plus if not for the inordinate amount of injuries.

    With this in mind it will be very interesting to see if the front office begins pursuing some of the younger impacting FA's this offseason like Manny Machado for 3B or RF Bryce Harper for his left-handed power. This team could use some star power and either would fit the bill.

    I do see LF Eloy Jimenez joining the ranks of elite MLB players and also believe that Nick Madrigal will be a great top of the order bat and provide Gold Glove defense at 2B. I also like CF Luis Robert's 5-tool potential which should begin manifesting itself in 2019 provided he can stay healthy. I do envision both Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease as top of the rotation studs and also believe the White Sox will have an elite bullpen with their stockpile of power arms. The catching position is a big question mark and one that may still need to be addressed in the upcoming June Draft, through free agency or in a trade. Hopefully, Yoan Moncada will be moved to 3B sooner rather than later if the organization whiffs on Machado this offseason.

  • In reply to Aaron Sapoznik:

    Thanks for reading, Aaron.

    I think it is possible the Sox make a run at a big name this offseason, but the bigger spending wave will really start 2019-2020, more likely. Just my guess.

    I think the catching position is better than most farms, believe it or not. Starting catching talent is very rare - look around at other teams trying to find one in their own minor leagues. You'll find that most farms do not have a Collins and Zavala, who are both flawed but have significant major league potential.

  • With an eye to 2020, What would you think about Moncada at first base? Target FA Arenado for third base and Madrigal at 2nd? With Eloy J in the outfield and the quality arms to start and close you cite, we could live with any of the current two catchers or prospects behind the plate.

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