Much like my impression of the current White Sox team, my feelings on Chicago’s minor league system are mixed. With the Sox, taking two of four from Houston thrills me but having Dylan Covey and Manny Banuelos still in the rotation brings me down. Similarly, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, Zach Collins, and Alec Hansen are exciting while the rest of the “Top 30” prospects have been disappointing thus far in 2019.
The season is indeed young. But over a month of games is nothing to scoff at, and so it’s fair to say that, thinking statistically, likely only one or two of Chicago’s second-tier farmhands will drastically turn their seasons around. Seriously, just look at some of these numbers:
- Nick Madrigal: .271/.342/.373 (.716 OPS) at High-A Winston-Salem
- Luis Gonzalez: .220/.271/.306 (.577 OPS) at Double-A Birmingham
- Micker Adolfo: Out for season (.632 OPS)
- Blake Rutherford: .182/.225/.294 (.519/Yikes OPS) at Double-A Birmingham
- Ian Hamilton: 16.1 IP, 9.92 ERA, 1.90 WHIP at Triple-A Charlotte
- Zack Burdi: 15.1 IP, 7.04 ERA, 1.89 WHIP between High-A Winston Salem/Double-A Birmingham
With multiple key graduations in their Top 30, the once proud, deep Chicago White Sox system is thinning out before our eyes.
Before we turn to our (prospect) knights in shining armor, a few good-but-not-great prospects are worth mentioning. Unlike most of his fellow arms in the system, lefty Bernardo Flores is impressing with a 3.17 ERA complementing a 1.03 WHIP. Steele Walker and Konnor Pilkington have cooled down significantly since being called up to Class A+ Winston-Salem, but are sporting good numbers overall. Luis Basabe is the inverse–starting poorly but absolutely raking the past week. Off the Pipeline Top 30 List, Danny Mendick and Matt Skole are looking like potential major league additions, as our Jordan Lazowski has explored here. Everyone else though? Not so good.
Enough of the gloom. Let’s dive into the success of the headline players, starting with Dylan Cease. On the surface, Cease’s numbers aren’t entirely all that wonderful. The 23-year-old righty has a 3.38 ERA (3.44 FIP) and 1.38 WHIP in 40 innings. Something seemed wrong at first glance, though, because Cease hasn’t allowed many homers and is walking less batters than ever before. That’s when it hit me: BABIP! Sure enough, opponents are rocking a .370 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against Cease, which should normalize and fall. In addition, Cease is getting more ground balls, less line drives, and less fly balls in 2019, which proves that the hits against him thus far are pretty fluky. Cease’s WHIP and ERA appear significantly inflated, and the right-hander is actually having another great year on the mound.
This is welcome news for the rebuild. With all the pitching injuries throughout the organization combined with the struggles of Reynaldo Lopez, the White Sox could really use a healthy and sharp Dylan Cease.
Speaking of staying healthy, let’s take a moment to appreciate Luis Robert. This year, the premier center field prospect has managed to avoid any significant injuries, and consequently has enjoyed a spectacular campaign in the minors. While he’s cooled down a bit at Class AA Birmingham with an .821 OPS in 19 games there, the Cuban slugger demolished the Class A+ Carolina League with an OPS north of 1.400 on the Dash. It’s worth mentioning that the Barons play in a heavy pitcher-favoring park, so Robert’s numbers there are solid. His overall line this year: .361/.421/.697 with 10 homers in 155 ABs. He also leads the Barons with 10 doubles despite only spending half the season there.
Next, I’d like to establish that Zack Collins is having a fantastic season for Class AAA Charlotte, despite spending some time on the IL. After two-and-a-half good years in the minors, the powerful catcher has taken his game to a new level this season. Through 29 games with the Knights, Collins is slashing .255/.381/.541 for a .922 OPS. While the 7 dingers and high OPS are great, my favorite part is the .255 average. Collins hit .363 with the Miami Hurricanes in college but has relied on walks (.234 career average) to maintain a high OBP since turning pro. That’s changed a bit this year, as the former first-rounder is doing more work with the bat than the eyes in 2019. It might seem like a small improvement, but think about it — a hit with a runner in scoring position is miles better than a walk. Hopefully we’ll see Collins not long after the All-Star Break.
I would argue the biggest prospect surprise of 2019 thus far has been Alec Hansen. The former #46 prospect pitched horribly in 2018 after recovering from forearm soreness and dropped far in prospect rankings. Coming out of the bullpen with Winston-Salem and Birmingham this season though, Hansen has weathered command problems to pitch to a 1.93 ERA (2.56 FIP) and 0.96 WHIP. Imagine his numbers if he didn’t walk a batter every four outs or so! Mirroring Cease, Hansen’s line drive and fly ball percentage are noticeably down, so I think his success will be sustained over the 2019 campaign. While I would love to see Hansen regain his dominance as a starter, I would gladly take a career as a prominent bullpen arm from the second-round pick. Regardless of his role, Hansen will be a force to be reckoned with if he even slightly improves his command.
Death, taxes, and volatile prospects are the only certain things in this world. For our sake, let us hope guys like Cease stay on target while the big changes come to the struggling majority of the Sox system.
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Featured Photo: Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights