The White Sox’ top prospects have been talked about, fantasized over and projected into future major-league lineups so much, they’ve almost become household names, even for the casual Sox fan.
That’s going to happen when the big-league team is suffering through a 26-51 record as the halfway point of the season approaches. Outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert and right-hander Michael Kopech — all projected as future stars — probably would draw a bigger crowd of autograph hounds than most players on the current roster. With all due respect to today’s major-league Sox, so it goes for a rebuilding organization, marked by yearning for the next big thing.
For Chris Getz, the Sox’ director of player development, and general manager Rick Hahn, organizational depth — which the Sox have sorely lacked for much too long — is going to be as big in the long run as their premium prospects. And in that regard, the advancements made by a number of lower-level, under-the-radar players in the first few months of this season is just as encouraging as Jimenez’s fluid rise in the system. So was Class A Winston-Salem’s first-half championship.
“Absolutely,” Getz said. “There are lots of good things going on down below.”
With a fair amount of satisfaction running through the organization last week, the Sox promoted 16 minor-league prospects to higher levels. Eighteen prospects from their two Class A levels — low A Kannapolis in the South Atlantic League and high Winston-Salem and AA Birmingham in the Southern League — played in All-Star games last week. One of them, outfielder Joel Booker, was MVP of the Carolina League game.
“It shows there’s talent down there that’s performing up to expectations and getting recognized by others in the league,” Hahn said.
Some under-the-radar prospects Getz suggests keeping an eye on: Kannapolis shortstop Laz Rivera, Kannapolis second baseman Tate Blackman, Birmingham infielder Danny Mendick, Birmingham left-hander Bernardo Flores and Birmingham right-handers Zach Thompson and Matt Foster.
Through Monday, Rivera was batting .346/.395/.502; Mendick had 10 homers and a .250/.322/.436 hitting line; Flores had a strong first start at Birmingham after his promotion from Winston-Salem, where he posted a 2.55 ERA over 12 starts; Thompson pitched to a 1.78 ERA in 22 relief appearances at Winston-Salem, earning a promotion to Birmingham; and Foster did the same after posting a 2.57 ERA with seven saves, 40 strikeouts and seven walks in 28 innings at Winston-Salem.
Additionally, Birmingham outfielder Alex Call, Great Falls Rookie League shortstop Lenyn Sosa, Winston-Salem right-hander Tyler Johnson, Kannapolis shortstop Luis Curbelo and Kannapolis outfielder Craig Dedelow are forcing their way up prospect rankings. And Booker has graduated from under the radar to on it, joining an ample Sox crop of outfield prospects headlined by Jimenez and Robert but also including Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford, Luis Gonzalez and Luis Basabe.
As fans were waiting out a rain delay Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field before the Sox’ game against the Twins, they watched Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal, the team’s No. 4 overall pick in the draft two weeks ago, playing in the finals of the College World Series on the big stadium screen.
Meanwhile, at Rookie League Great Falls, fifth-round pick Jonathan Stiever, a right-hander from Indiana, got off to a good start. In two short starts covering six innings, he hasn’t allowed a hit and has struck out 12 while walking two.
During a year in which the farm system has taken numerous hits on the injury front, all good signs — both big and small — are welcome.
“A lot of checkpoints have been hit for a lot of these players,” Getz said. “It’s definitely an exciting time for the organization when you can move these guys forward.”