The Chicago White Sox are widely considered to have one of the strongest farm systems in baseball, though it’s fair to wonder if it’s one or two prospects skewing the outlook. There’s no question that the top of the system is stacked, but how good are things beyond those few names? Could they be more bust than boom? Let’s take a look:
1) Luis Robert – Outfielder
ETA – 2020
Grade – A-
Robert is widely considered one of the elite prospects in the game and the power/speed upside was on full display in ’19 as he played across three levels (High-A, Double-A and Triple-A), hitting .328 with 32 HR (as well as 31 doubles and 11 triples) and 36 SB. His contract extension has opened a path to the Majors immediately, though there are questions as to if he could struggle initially. Overall he posted a 23.4% strikeout rate and 5.1% walk rate, and the SwStr% regressed as he moved up in levels:
- High-A – 16.6%
- Double-A – 16.8%
- Triple-A – 21.1%
He also appeared to take a flyball-centric approach, with a 50.1% flyball rate, which could limit the ability to maintain an elevated BABIP. There needs to be growth/development for him to realize his full potential, but the upside is there.
2) Andrew Vaughn – First Baseman
ETA – 2021
Grade – B+
In many systems Vaughn would be considered the top prospect, but he takes a backseat to Robert in Chicago. Selected third overall in ’19, Vaughn reached High-A in short order and showed power (17 doubles and 6 HR over 245 PA) and a strong approach (12.2% walk rate, 9.3% SwStr%) along the way. Already 21-years old his ascent could continue to come quickly, with an arrival at some point in 2021 seemingly likely.
It’s not all positive, as there are going to be questions whether or not his power will translate given his size (he’s listed at 6’0”). As a first baseman/designated hitter type that’s going to loom large, but how the production translates this season (where he should reach Double-A, at least) will be telling to his long-term outlook.
3) Michael Kopech – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – B
Kopech was sidelined for all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, though expectations are that he’ll be ready for Opening Day. There’s no questioning the strikeout stuff, but there are questions regarding both his control and ability to keep the ball in the ballpark (career marks):
- Control – 4.41 BB/9
- Groundball Rate – 41.4%
With the missed time both of those things could become bigger issues in the short-term. It’s fair to wonder if a ticket back to Triple-A is in his 2020 future, and when he is on the mound how many innings will he be able to throw? There were going to be questions even if he hadn’t missed time.
4) Nick Madrigal – Second Baseman
ETA – 2020
Grade – B
Madrigal brings speed and an impressive approach, though his lack of power drags down his overall outlook. Over 532 PA split between High-A (218 PA), Double-A (180 PA) and Triple-A (134 PA) he hit .311 with 4 HR (36 total extra base hits) and 35 SB. Of course we’d like to see a few more walks (8.3% walk rate), but his ability to make consistent contact (2.2% SwStr%, 1.9% at Triple-A) is as impressive of a statistic as you’ll find.
The problem is that it’s impossible to anticipate power suddenly develop, considering he didn’t show it both in the minors or in college. In today’s game the unique speed only player isn’t seen as being as valuable, though with his ability to make contact he could overcome it.
5) Dane Dunning – Right Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2021
Grade – B-
He missed 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, and he will miss time early in 2020 as he continues to recover. In 230.1 innings between 2017 & 2018 Dunning showed all of the skills, with a 10.47 K/9, 2.50 BB/9 and 51.9% groundball rate, and prior to surgery there was a belief that he could ultimately prove to be the best pitcher the White Sox acquired from Washington (he was part of the trade that also netted Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez). There are questions as to how he will recover, as there is for any pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery, but if he shows it his stock will rise significantly.
The Next Five:
6) Matthew Thompson – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+) – Selected in the second round of 2019, he was seen as having first round talent but a poor senior year led to a drop in his stock. He has the size and stuff to develop into an impressive prospect, but he needs a lot of work and development to get there. Time will tell, but he leads a group of mid-level prospects with the potential to take the biggest step forward of the bunch.7
7) Jonathan Stiever – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+) – Stiever is a control artist who split time between Single-A (74.0 IP) and High-A (71.0 IP) in 2019. Overall he posted an impressive 9.56 K/9 and 1.68 BB/9, though the pure stuff isn’t as impressive as the numbers and you have to wonder if he’ll be able to get as many swings and misses against more advanced hitters (13.3% SwStr%). There also is the risk of home run issues (42.5% groundball rate) and if his secondary pitches don’t take a step forward he could shift to the bullpen.
8) Zack Collins – Catcher/Designated Hitter (Grade – C+) – It’s fair to wonder if some of his Triple-A production (.282 with 19 HR over 367 PA) came due to a favorable home ballpark and the general home run surge at the level. He wasn’t nearly as impressive in the Majors, .186 with 3 HR over 102 PA, and while he’s extremely patient and can take a walk he also is likely to continue struggling with strikeouts (13.8% SwStr% in the Majors). If he can cut down on the strikeouts there would be potential, but time will tell if he can get there.
9) Luis Alexander Basabe – Outfielder (Grade – C+) – Basabe brings an intriguing blend of power and speed, the question is whether or not he’ll be able to refine his approach. He posted a 29.2% strikeout rate spending most of his time at Double-A in ’19, after a variety of injuries limited him to a total of 315 PA. If he can prove that he’s healthy and cut down on the strikeouts the upside is there, but he ultimately could prove to be more of a fourth outfielder.
10) Micker Adolfo – Outfielder (Grade – C) – There is no question regarding his raw power, the questions are his health and if he can make enough contact to tap into it. Adolfo missed significant time in 2018 due to Tommy John surgery and was again limited in 2019 due to a follow-up surgery. Over the two years he’s totaled 419 AB over 115 games, so he’s missed a fair amount of development time. When healthy swings and misses have been a significant issue, including an 18.6% SwStr% at Single-A in 2017. The upside is there to make an impact, but these are two big questions that need to be answered.
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: