‘High school kids’ might be future of White Sox’ rotation

Jared Kelley, Matthew Thompson, Andrew Dalquist “want to get to the big leagues and help the big-league team.”

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Matthew Thompson throws at minor league camp.

Matthew Thompson throws at minor league camp.

Darren Georgia/Chicago White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Lance Lynn has two years left on his contract, Dallas Keuchel has one year left, Lucas Giolito is eligible for free agency in 2024 and Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech won’t be around forever, either.

That’s why drafting and developing starting pitching is key for the White Sox, whose rotation is made up of a free agent (Keuchel) and four pitchers acquired from other organizations.

And that’s why what’s going on now at the Sox’ training complex really matters. While the big-leaguers wait behind locked gates to get in, three recent draftees — right-handers Jared Kelley (second round, 2020), Matthew Thompson (second round, 2019) and Andrew Dalquist (third round, 2019) — are laying the groundwork for the day they get in, too.

Kelley (No. 5), Dalquist (No. 6) and Thompson (No. 7) are the highest-ranked pitching prospects in the organization, according to MLB Pipeline. All three were drafted out of high school, an unusual shift by an organization that historically has leaned toward college pitchers. The Sox spent $3 million on Kelley, $2.1 million on Thompson and $2 million on Dalquist in bonuses.

All three talk about graduating to the majors together.

“When all three of them have 10 years in the big leagues, we’ll still refer to them as the high school trio or the high school kids because they get lumped together,” Sox pitching coordinator Everett Teaford said. “Which is good. They push each other.”

“Most definitely,” Thompson said. “It’s something we all think about. We’re not here going through the motions. We want to get to the big leagues and help the big-league team.”

Going through the COVID-lost 2020 season together, pitching at the Sox’ alternate site in Schaumburg in 2020 and attending the same minicamps brought the three together naturally.

“We always feed off each other,” Dalquist said. “We share similar experiences and talk about them and relate in ways other people couldn’t. It’s good that we’re joined together and can move up the system. And it’s friendly competition. Thompson has a good game, I want to have a good game. It’s not a rivalry but a healthy competition.”

Teaford said Thompson was “electric” in his first simulated game at minor-league camp, and he struck out two in a scoreless inning in his second sim game Wednesday. Dalquist got behind counts but found his way through a scoreless inning in his first sim game. Kelley, who dealt with shoulder impingement at Low-A Kannapolis last summer, saw his offseason throwing program set back by a bout with COVID, so he is slightly behind in his progression.

All three are taking baby steps. At Kannapolis, Kelley posted a 6.86 ERA in 10 starts, Thompson had a 5.89 ERA in 19 starts, giving up two or fewer runs in four of his last five starts, and Dalquist posted a 4.99 ERA in 23 starts.

Teaford isn’t concerned with those numbers. The 6-3, 230-pound Kelley is 20 and was adapting to professional hitters while dealing with some soreness that has subsided, he said.

He brings easy heat.

“He throws mid- to upper 90s when he’s right, and it doesn’t look like he’s out of control,” Teaford said. “A lot of guys throwing that hard, the arms and legs are flailing and it looks kind of like chaos, but he does it much easier than most.”

Look for Kelley to start at Kannapolis when camp breaks, while Dalquist, 21, and Thompson, 21, will likely go to High-A Winston-Salem. Teaford wants them to learn the ebbs and flows of their games this summer.

“When to push the gas and when to soften up and land a breaking ball,” Teaford said. “That kind of game management because all the tools are there. Just learning the intricacies. There will be ups and downs, but they want to learn and get better.”

NOTE: Cuban right-hander Norge Vera, who signed a $1.5 million bonus in January, has a Grade 1 right lat strain. Vera is throwing but is behind and will not break camp with the others, Sox assistant general manager Chris Getz said.

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