Top White Sox Prospects by Position – First Base

Welcome to another entry in a new offseason article series here at FutureSox. Seperate from our twice-annual Top 30 White Sox Prospects lists, we are going to list the top five or ten minor leaguers in the White Sox system at each position on the field.

This article covers the top first basemen in the system, quite possibly the thinnest depth chart in the entire organization. This list is comprised of players that primarily played first base – some would argue that players like Jake Burger or Zack Collins have long-term homes at first, but until they officially change positions, they would not be counted as first basemen.

1. Gavin Sheets – Ranked 18th overall, last level A+

Sheets was a 2017 second round pick behind fellow slugger Jake Burger in an attempt to steer the team towards players that strike out less and garner higher OBPs. Sheets’ first full season with the team accomplished those goals with a slash line of .293/.368/.407 and an OPS of .776. He struck out 81 times while walking 52.  He won Baseball America’s Best Defensive 1st Baseman in the Carolina League for 2018. The left handed slugger seems to be offering everything you could want in a first baseman except, well, home runs.

Sheets only had 6 home runs for the Dash in 2018, a number that would be alarming for any first basemen. Sheets was given a 55 grade for power by MLB Pipeline leading into the draft and he can hit it a long way in BP, so the raw power is clearly there. It seems to be missing in games due to Sheets’ desire to focus on making contact and not striking out, as we previously covered in this feature. With that goal seemingly accomplished, Sheets will now need to look to translating his raw power into home runs to clear a path to the higher levels of the system.

2. Corey Zangari – Unranked, last level Rk

Zangari was drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 Draft as an over-slot signing – signing for $225,200 more than his slot allotment of $284,800. Signing so highly over-slot drew attention to Zangari in a draft where the White Sox were missing their second and third round picks, due to signing Melky Cabrera and David Robertson in the off-season.

Zangari had a successful debut with the team and shot up to #12 on the FutureSox rankings by slashing .316/.358/.481 primarily in the AZL (he did also play 6 with Great Falls). It was after Zangari got to Kannapolis in 2016 that things fell apart as he slashed a dismal .166/.247/.314, clubbed eight homers in 57 games, and struck out a mind boggling 43% of the time. After a demotion to Great Falls the over-matched 19-year-old found some footing again, with his numbers rebounding to respectable but not great results.

Zangari then missed the entire 2017 season due Tommy John surgery, which as James Fegan of The Athletic writes, could be the best or worst thing to happen to him:

Unable to hit, unable to throw, unable to do much of anything on the field, Zangari became very interested in what he could do with his lower body, like programs to strengthen his hips and agility exercises. Mostly, it was running. A lot of running, actually, between one to three hours worth per day. 

Zangari shed 50 pounds. He watched film and in his extremely limited 18-game stint in 2018, showed signs of getting back on the prospect radar. Zangari had nine homers, 22 RBIs in those 18 games, and trimmed his strikeout rate to a respectable 20%. But in just his second plate appearance back with Kannapolis after destroying the PIO, he suffered a broken wrist on a hit-by-pitch and missed the rest of the 2018 season. Corey is now playing in Fall Instructs, so he is back and healthy. Zangari is still young (21 until next May) so he’ll be age-appropriate to start his season at Kannapolis in 2019.

3. Justin Yurchak – Unranked, last level A

Selected in the 12th round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Justin Yurchak was a third baseman who just missed breaking into the FutureSox rankings following an insane debut where he slashed .345/.448/.520 in Great Falls. But Yurchak’s followup season in Kannapolis serves as a reminder to always take rookie ball numbers with a grain of salt.

Yurchak slashed .256/.348/.326 in Kannapolis and only managed one long ball all season. Equally important to his stock, he was moved across the diamond from third to first base, thus substantially increasing the pressure on his bat. Yurchak’s future as a prospect will rely on his numbers bouncing back. He could start at either A-ball team, depending on assignments across the org.

4. Casey Gillaspie – Unranked, last level AAA

The former Top 100 prospect and brother of former Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie, Casey was ranked as high as #14 in the White Sox organization after he was acquired in Rick Hahn’s Great Fire Sale. Hahn shipped out lefty reliever Dan Jennings in exchange for the buy-low Gillaspie who has had an extremely hard time finding his footing in the Charlotte Knights’ bandbox of a home stadium.

Gillaspie’s numbers have been down across the board – in 2018 he only managed three homers and a .285 OBP. Considering Gillaspie’s main tools coming into the league were his hit and power tools – its an alarming future in store for the switch hitting first baseman. He remains here due to a lack of depth at this position in the system and the small sliver if hope that Casey can find what he’s lost, a la Matt Davidson.

5. Sam Abbott – Unranked, last level Rk

Abbott brings a level of mystery and youth to the list. The 6’4″, 225 lb. former water polo phenom was a surprise pick in the eighth round of 2017 and even pulled down an over-slot bonus. In his first full season, Abbott slashed .225/.344/.275. His second year in the AZL, he increased his walk rate, reduced his strikeout rate and went from zero to three home runs… but his average cratered to .139.

Abbott has two things on his side – athleticism and youth. Hopefully he can turn in a better showing in what will likely be a third go around at Rookie ball. The Sox warned after the draft that Abbott was raw and would require a few years in rookie ball, and so far that’s proven true.

Others who received top five votes from some of our writers: Matt Rose, Franklin Reyes

Next Week: Outfielders, Starting Pitchers, RH Relievers and LH Relievers

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    If the White Sox need to have a weak position it might as well be 1B. As the article stated, two current higher ranking prospects than Gavin Sheets could eventually find their way to the position in Zack Collins and Jake Burger. Of course, the possibility still exists for Jose Abreu signing a contract extension where he could play 1B for a while and then transition to DH at the back end of any deal. With the apparent surplus of OF's, the White Sox might also find a potential first baseman from their ranks, particularly Eloy Jimenez as he continues to bulk up and slow down. His 6'4" height alone would be a qualification as a big target at 1B and as a former OF with a decent throwing arm his athleticism would also appear to above average in comparison to a typical player at the position.

    All this being said, Gavin Sheets looks to have a future as the core White Sox first baseman if he could only generate more power. The other hit tools look good as does his glove. He might also possess some other intangibles as the son of former MLB player Larry Sheets.

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