For the majority of the last decade, the Chicago White Sox have been a disappointment to even the most optimistic of their fans. During this era they pieced together only two winning campaigns. Their high water mark was an 88 win season in 2010, while they bottomed out with a 62 win year in 2018. In 2013, the Sox proverbial cupboard was bare as their farm system looked like a barren wasteland of suspects rather than prospects. Their minor league lineups throughout the entire system were comprised of a long list of has-beens and never-weres. Their top 10 prospect list (as identified by Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook) looked as if it was authored by Rod Serling for a Twilight Zone episode about an alternate universe:
- Courtney Hawkins
- Trayce Thompson
- Carlos (Yolmer) Sanchez
- Erik Johnson
- Keenyn Walker
- Scott Snodgress
- Andre Rienzo
- Keon Barnum
- Jared Mitchell
- Chris Beck
Fortunately for South Side baseball fans, what a difference a decade makes. On December 6, 2016 the White Sox front office began aggressively retooling the talent pipeline by acquiring Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and Luis Alexander Basabe from the Red Sox. A day later, they added Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez from the Nationals. In May of 2017, the Pale Hose announced that they had signed Cuban phenom Luis Robert, and two months later, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease joined the fold, swapping their Cubs laundry for the White Sox black after being traded for Carlos Quintana. The 2018 and 2019 drafts saw the franchise utilize their high first-round picks to snatch up Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn. In 2020, there is a reason for optimism about the White Sox, and it’s plain to see; this is not the same team that your father spent the last decade lamenting about. With graduations to the big club, the farm system doesn’t sit atop the mountain among baseball’s best as it did in only a year ago, but there are several players that Sox fans need to know. I’m going to share with you ten names to keep on your radar. This article isn’t reserved to extol the virtues of guys like Luis Robert, Michael Kopech, Andrew Vaughn or Nick Madrigal. Unless you have spent the last two years trekking through Tibet trying to find yourself, you are likely already aware of these players and their prospect status. I would rather focus on some of the players you may not have heard of.
Jonathan Stiever, RHP – 6’2” 220 lb. right-handed starting pitcher, acquired from Indiana University in the fifth round #138 overall, of the 2018 MLB draft. MLB pipeline had him ranked #88 while Baseball America had him slotted #125. Stiever’s signing bonus was the full slot value of 386.8K.
After finishing his draft year season in rookie ball Stiever was assigned to full season Low-A Kannapolis in 2019. He pitched in 14 starts putting up middling numbers mostly due to the uneven nature of his good versus bad outings. It was clearly a tale of two Stievers. In his ten good starts he posted a 2.33 ERA. In the other four which can best be described as drubbings his ERA was a whopping 13.50. Obviously the deceptive stat line didn’t dissuade the White Sox as Stiever was promoted to Hi-A Winston-Salem in June. After uniting with pitching guru Matt Zaleski, Stiever didn’t look back. He found his way into more consistency and his velocity spiked, sitting comfortably in the mid-nineties while frequently flashing 97-98 mph. Stiever features a potential for three plus pitches (fastball, curveball, slider), what separates him from the crowd is his uncanny ability to throw strikes. Last season he threw 69% strikes while walking 1.7 hitters per nine innings. To put that number in perspective, Justin Verlander led all major league starting pitchers with a 69.3% strike rate in 2019.
What’s next: Stiever who was likely slated to pitch for AA Birmingham before the pandemic, is currently assigned to the White Sox major league taxi squad. I was fortunate enough to take deep dive on Stiever following his 2019 season. Please visit Southside Hitpen for my profile on the up and coming hurler Jonathan Stiever.
Luis Gonzalez, OF – 6’1” 185 lb. left-handed outfielder, acquired from the University of New Mexico in the third round of the 2017 MLB Draft #87 overall. Gonzalez was signed to a $517K bonus while the slot allocation for the pick was $635K.
Following the 2017 draft, a statistically bad first month spoiled Gonzalez debut season in the system. He stated that felt that he was pressing in an effort to justify his draft status. In 2018 he was a SAL all-star selection before being promoted to Hi-A Winston-Salem. His 40 doubles across both levels led the organization as he hit .307 with 14 HR and a .368 OBP. In 2019 Gonzalez was tested with a AA assignment to the offense suppressing Southern League. Statistically it was a down year as he hit only .247 with a .316 OBP. However, his K rate dropped from 19% to 16% and his walk rate remained unchanged at 8%. Although Gonzalez doesn’t have any eye popping standout tool, he is above average across the board. His hit tool has great potential and if he can start turning some of those gap doubles into home runs he could be a real diamond in the rough. In college he began as a two-way player so he possesses a strong throwing arm. Although a centerfielder by trade, he can play all three outfield positions. His quick first step and ability to track balls off the bat, makes him one of the best defensive outfielders in the system.
What’s next: Gonzalez would have likely started the season repeating at Birmingham or been promoted to AAA Charlotte where the use of the MLB baseball and high scoring nature of the league would have allowed Luis to separate himself from the 2019 season. Instead, he is currently assigned to the White Sox taxi squad. For a more detailed scouting report on Gonzalez please check out my report following his 2018 season. Prospect profile-Luis Gonzalez
Codi Heuer, RHP – 6’5” 195 lb. (listed weight) right-handed relief pitcher, acquired from Wichita State in the sixth round of the 2018 MLB Draft #168 overall. Heuer was signed to a $260K bonus while the slot allocation for the pick was $290.2K.
Heuer’s rise in the system can best be described as meteoric. He finished the 2018 season in rookie ball, but the Sox skipped him over Low-A, assigning him to the Hi-A Winston-Salem Dash for the 2019 season. With the Dash, Heuer struck out 10.1 hitters per 9 innings while fashioning a 2.82 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He was promoted to the pitching friendly Southern League where he lowered his ERA to a partially BABIP driven, but nonetheless sparkling 1.84. The only significant regression in his performance between the two levels was his strikeout percentage which dropped from 27% to 19%. Before COVID-19 induced closing of major league Spring Training camp, Heuer was really making a name for himself in the major league spring training camp by throwing five consecutive scoreless innings, striking out seven while walking only one batter. Heuer’s fastball frequently sits in 98-99 mph territory and has been clocked touching 103. He also features a slider and changeup.
What’s next: Heuer impressed Sox brass so much in camp that he was assigned to the big league club, and in the first couple weeks of the season he’s easing his way into the bullpen, with an eye toward working himself into a high leverage role. He’s the kind of player you want to steal off the waiver wire in your fantasy baseball league.
Micker Adolfo, OF – 6’4” 255 lb. right-handed, right fielder, acquired in 2013 as a 16 year-old international free agent from the Dominican Republic for $1.6 million.
Adolfo is a prospect to dream on. He has the body of a Greek god, light-tower power from the right side of the plate, and a throwing arm that was once called an 80 grade. He fell victim to the Tommy John curse in 2018 and spent an injury shortened 2019 season playing designated hitter, so it’s hard to assess whether or not his arm has bounced back without ill effects. Although he has been in the system for what feels like an eternity he is still shy of his 24th birthday. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of injuries, Adolfo is still somewhat of a project. Currently he is a fastball and mistake masher capable of generating Stantonesque exit velocities and majestic home runs. He has struggled with quality off speed offerings which is likely a result of the rust from the frequent visits to the disabled list and the disjointed nature of his minor league development path. He is in excellent physical condition so the injuries are not a result of any neglect on his part.
What’s next: Adolfo is currently assigned to the White Sox taxi squad. This should be a great opportunity for him to develop against advanced pitchers while having the benefit of not having to worry about the self-imposed pressures of authoring an impressive stat line. He absolutely needs to remain healthy and have an uninterrupted season to learn. Adolfo is a very exciting player and a tremendous boom or bust candidate with perhaps the biggest deviation between his floor to ceiling as anyone currently in the system, perhaps anyone in the minors.
Lenyn Sosa, SS – 6’0” 180 lb. right-handed, shortstop acquired as an international free agent from Venezuela in 2016 for $350K.
Sosa hit the ground running after signing with the Sox. He was aggressively assigned to rookie ball in 2017 as a 17-year-old after bypassing the Dominican Summer League. He didn’t falter and hit .270 in the Arizona League with a .338 OBP while doing so at an age nearly three years younger than par. Due to his precocious age he has advanced through the minors one rung at a time. In 2018 he played in the advanced rookie league with Great Falls, and in 2019 he joined the Low-A Kannapolis Intimidators for his first full season assignment. He has never stumbled, or looked overmatched at any level. As a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League where he was two and a half years younger than his average competitor, he exhibited solid bat-to-ball skills hitting .253 (league average was .240) with 35 doubles. Some factors that bode well for Sosa are that his ISO has increased in each of his three minor league stops and his 19% strikeout rate in the SAL was 6% lower than the league average. As the dog days of summer dragged on and others were hitting the rookie wall, he seemed to find an extra gear hitting .316 in August with a .360 OBP. in 121 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers he blistered them at a .368 clip. However, his hitting against same-sided pitchers which had previously never been an issue suddenly cratered. Sosa is gifted with quick hands which allow him to react late on breaking balls and foul them off while waiting for a pitch to drive. His achilles last season was over aggression early in counts, often times he would get himself out by making contact with a hurler’s best offering rather than force the pitcher into a hitter’s count where he could go fastball hunting. His defensive play at shortstop was among the best in the circuit.
What’s next: Sosa had no trouble acclimating himself to full season baseball in 2019. He was likely slated to join Winston-Salem in 2020, but will have to wait for a return to normalcy, hopefully in 2021.
Bryce Bush, OF – 6’0” 200 lb. right-handed, right fielder, acquired in the 33rd round of the 2018 MLB Draft #978 overall. Bush was signed to a $290K bonus which was $30K more than sixth rounder Codi Heuer.
Bush has practically been a baseball prodigy since birth. His 33rd round selection by the White Sox is likely to feel like a burr on the foot of the 29 big league general managers not named Rick Hahn in a few years. The kid can flat out rake and has immense power potential. The swing mechanics are somewhat unorthodox, but he has made solid contact everywhere he has played. Although his high school league had a rule that all hitters started with a 1-1 count, Bush hit .541 with 16 home runs and only 7 strikeouts. He also exhibits plus straight-line speed and natural athleticism. Although he isn’t tall, he could dunk a basketball as a high school freshman. 2019 was a year Bush would probably like to forget as he struggled in his first assignment with a full season affiliate. His campaign was marred by blurred vision which he brought to the attention of his coaches early in the schedule. His first prescription for corrective lenses didn’t solve the issues though. He said one day in batting practice he knew there was still a problem when he swung at a pitch that hit him. Coupled with the vision issues he also fouled a ball off of his ankle causing a deep bone bruise which he aggravated by hitting with another foul ball only days later. He also dealt with dehydration and allergies which created respiratory problems for the young slugger. Although he started the season at third base, he was transitioned to his preferred right-field during his team’s 16th game. In short, there were a lot of factors that prevented Sox fans from seeing the real Bryce Bush.
What’s next: Bush would have likely started the 2020 season repeating at Low-A Kannapolis where he still would have been one and a half years younger than the par age for the level. Although Covid has negatively impacted the growth of these prospects, Bush has the benefit of time on his side. He will look to wipe the slate clean in 2021 and hit the reset button on his very promising upside. For more details on Bryce Bush please visit the feature I wrote about him for South Side Sox. Bryce Bush-Driven to succeed
DJ Gladney, 3B – 6’3” 204 lb. right-handed, third basemen, acquired in the 16th round of the 2019 MLB Draft #470 overall. Gladney was signed to a $225K bonus which was $100K over the slot allocation for the pick.
Gladney elicited the same excitement among White Sox brass in 2019 that Bryce Bush did a year earlier. As a Midwest kid who hails from the Chicago suburbs, he was once part of the White Sox ACE program, which was designed to promote baseball opportunities for players in the inner city. Last year, in Gladney’s first minor league season, the youthful slugger had hammered five home runs before celebrating his 18th birthday. Often the last part of the development puzzle for young hitters is the ability to translate their raw power into in-game power. This was no problem for Gladney, nor was the adjustment to using wood bats with much smaller sweet spots than their aluminum or composite counterparts. He even managed to catch the eye of his organizational teammate Andrew Vaughn who shared, “The hometown kid is killing it down there [in the AZL] , he’s going to be something special. He’s got some special raw power.” Gladney is going to be nurtured slowly in the system as he has never seen the quality of pitching he will face on a nightly basis in the minor leagues as is evidenced by his 37% K rate. Gladney’s ability to develop his hit tool and recognize pitches will ultimately be the keys to unlocking his immense potential.
What’s next: Gladney was likely to be cutting his teeth with the advanced rookie league Great Falls in 2020. Great Falls is likely to be mothballed in 2021 as part of commissioner Rob Manfred’s minor-league baseball contraction initiative. So it remains up in the air where Gladney will see action in 2021. A full-season assignment may find the teen slugger experiencing some growing pains, but he has the talent and work ethic necessary to overcome them. For a closer look at Gladney feel free to visit. DJ Gladney-Turning heads for White Sox
Matthew Thompson, RHP – 6’3” 195 lb. right-handed starting pitcher, acquired in the 2nd round on the 2019 MLB Draft #45 overall. Thompson was signed to a 2.1 million dollar bonus which was 450K over the slot allocation for the pick.
The White Sox have a storied history of failure with prep pitchers, and Sox nation will be hoping that Thompson can help reverse that trend. The Texas high-school product features an arsenal that showcases a potential plus fastball and slider along with a developing changeup. His frame has room for more muscle which means his fastball, which already touches 96 may have additional upside.
What’s next: Thompson is very likely to get a chance at full season Minor League Baseball with Low-A Kannapolis in 2021.
Benyamin Bailey, OF – 6’5” 220 lb. right-handed outfielder, acquired from Panama as an international free agent for $35K.
As an obscure cheap international signee, Bailey turned heads in the Dominican Summer League as a 17-year old. His .324/.477/.454 batting line earned him recognition from Baseball America as one of the top 10 prospects in the league. Remarkably, the behemoth batsman took 52 walks while striking out only 40 times. Although he hit only two home runs, his frame suggests the power will come as he continues to develop.
What’s next: Bailey will make his stateside debut in 2021, most likely as a member of the short-season AZL White Sox affiliate.
Garrett Crochet, LHP – 6’6” 218 lb. left-handed starting pitcher, acquired in the 1st round of the 2020 MLB Draft #11 overall. Signed to a $4.5 million bonus.
Crochet is a tall, lanky lefty with a whip for an arm. He flirts with triple digits when throwing his fastball, and claims to have designed his slider to emulate White Sox great Chris Sale. Given their body types, left-handedness, and arsenal, it’s easy to see the origin of the Sale comparisons. Thankfully, Crochet’s more conventional arm slot should allow Sox fans and trainers to sleep at night following one of his outings.
What’s next: Crochet is assigned to the White Sox MLB taxi squad, given his status as an advanced college pitcher, his ascension through the minor league ranks could be rather accelerated. If for some reason Crochet falters in a starting role, he has the arsenal to be a high-leverage reliever.