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White Sox Preseason Top 30 Prospects: 1-15

Ranking the top prospects in the White Sox system, some of whom have earned top recognition across all of baseball.
Photo: Freek Bouw/European Baseball Magazine

Photo: Freek Bouw/European Baseball Magazine

Yesterday, I unveiled the back half of this list and a couple of guys who just missed for me. Today, we go through some of the best young talents in the whole game, including possible future All-Stars and hopeful MVP candidates.

15. RHP Matthew Thompson

Thompson began the Sox youth movement in the 2019 draft, being selected 45th overall as the organization's second-round pick behind Andrew Vaughn. Thompson has a plus fastball and decent curve but lacks command and control with his pitches. His long and lanky 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame concerns me that he’ll lack the muscle needed to continue development and he’ll lack the ability to repeat his delivery. He gets the 15th spot due to his high ceiling as a mid-rotation starter with possible power stuff. He’ll probably see the Arizona League or Great Falls this year depending on Chris Getz’s plan for him this summer. Thompson will be an interesting prospect to keep your eye on this season as his development gets underway.

14. LHP Konnor Pilkington

This former third rounder’s projectability got him the 14th spot on this list. Like Lambert, Pilkington doesn’t have one standout pitch or attribute, but he also has no glaring weak spot. With him being left-handed and the lack of injury concerns that Lambert now has, Pilkington also comes in with more of a track record that lands him above Matthew Thompson as well. The only knock on Pilkington is when he got promoted to High-A this past season, he got lit up. His fastball needs added movement or velocity, and with no stand-out stuff, he needs to keep his pitches down in the zone and can’t afford mistakes. Overall, being left-handed and harboring projectability to be a durable back-end rotation arm earns him the 14th spot.

13. RHP Andrew Dalquist

I’m higher than most on Dalquist, I’ll admit, but for good reason. The team's 2019 third-round pick has an athletic 6-foot-1 frame that should allow him to repeat his delivery consistently. This ranking depends mostly on his growth and body maturation, as Dalquist does need to build the necessary strength to gain velocity on his pitches and take on a professional workload. The wonderful part about Dalquist, and the one that separates him from those above, is while he’s still projectable (barring injury), Dalquist still has a decently high ceiling that has him at a mid- to a top-of-the-rotation starter. Eyes will be on this 19-year-old as he enters his first professional season after only throwing three innings in the Arizona League.

12. 1B Gavin Sheets

18 doubles, 16 home runs, and 83 RBIs in an offense-suppressing park in Birmingham is impressive. For Larry Sheets’ son, it was a much-needed season to impress scouts and the front office after a lackluster power performance in Winston-Salem in 2018. Many fans were concerned that Sheets’ power was not what the Sox thought it was after taking him in the second round of the 2017 draft. Gavin’s a big guy, limited to first base and DH, but if he continues to show the power in an offense-friendly International League this year in Triple-A, Sheets may give himself an opportunity to showcase his talents in Chicago sometime late this year or early next season. The major league team still needs some left-handed pop other than Moncada, the newly acquired Nomar Mazara, and Yasmani Grandal, and Sheets may be the answer if he can show he can hit against advanced pitching.

11. C/1B/DH Zack Collins

Remember that left-handed pop we need? Collins could be that guy too. The above tweet from Sean Williams of FutureSox shows how positively Collins ended his season. The 24-year-old has lost a lot of fans over the past season and a half due to his hit tool losing some of its shine thanks to a pile-up of strikeouts at higher levels. During a brief cameo in the big leagues last season, Collins looked supremely overmatched against major league pitching. After being sent back down, he then resurfaced with a much better approach and looked much more comfortable facing big-league pitchers. He torched the International League when he was sent down, and many think he’ll man the new 26th roster spot when the team breaks camp to head north for Chicago. Collins isn’t out of the woods yet, however. He’ll have to battle for all of his at-bats with two All-Star catchers on the roster, the ever-consistent Jose Abreu returning, and the newly acquired Edwin Encarnacion manning the DH spot for most of the season. Collins’ defensive deficiencies worry me and put him back at number 11 for me.

10. OF Luis Gonzalez

Gonzalez is a gamer who is coming off of a disappointing season, like many of the Sox young outfielders at Birmingham are. Gonzalez’s ceiling isn’t as high as some of his teammates, but his floor is that of a decent fourth outfielder with a modest bat. He’s a natural centerfielder with enough arm to man right field, but he would lack the offensive profile there. He’s fighting age a little bit as he's already 24 years of age and hasn't seen a pitch above Double-A, but he could start at Triple-A this year depending on how Chris Getz sees fit. The talent is there, the attitude is there, Luis just has to put it all together for me to regain confidence in his ceiling rather than relying on his floor.

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9. OF Micker Adolfo

I feel like we’ve been talking about Micker Adolfo for a decade now. The funny thing is that Adolfo is still just 23 years old and his ceiling is still massive. The above tweet from April of 2017 shows you just how talented of a player Adolfo can be. He has a proverbial cannon for an arm and plenty of raw power to boot. The problem is and always has been Adolfo staying on the field to show those tools. Recently, Tommy John surgery was the latest ailment to slow him down, and a mediocre showing in an Arizona Fall League has people doubting if Adolfo will ever stay healthy. Once again, I’m playing on his ceiling here; hopefully we’ll see Adolfo bashing baseballs and throwing people out from the fence in Chicago sometime soon.

8. OF Luis Alexander Basabe

I’m lower on Basabe than most are, but facts are facts. This guy has standout tools just waiting to be unleashed: speed, power, strong arm, switch hitter. Basabe has true five-tool potential if he can just stay healthy. He can definitely be a future center fielder, and his bat would make him a double plus there if he can refine his ability to hit pitching more consistently. Like Adolfo, Basabe has injury concerns after breaking the Hamate bone in his hand. However, he also has age on his side, as he's only 23 and already has seen Birmingham. Strikeouts usually aren’t an issue for Basabe, but he hasn’t yet taken the steps necessary to break out at the plate as we all were hoped he would. Last year at Birmingham, he posted an underwhelming .246/.324/.336 slash line that needs to be improved upon this season for him to stay above others on this list.

7. OF Blake Rutherford

Rutherford is a peculiar case for me. It seems like many people are no longer high on his abilities. Yes, he struggled. But so did every other outfielder that was placed in Birmingham. I do think people hold Blake to a higher standard since he was the headlining prospect and is now the last man standing from the trade that sent Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle to the Yankees. Rutherford had a better season than most at Birmingham, especially with him playing a full season, unlike his teammates. A .265/.319/.365 slash line doesn’t scream superstar, but it also shows there’s a base to improve on. He’s a prototypical left fielder when it’s all said and done, he has solid tools across the board with his power ability and arm strength lagging a bit behind. At 22, Rutherford could start at Birmingham again this year, giving way to his older teammates moving ahead of him to prevent further outfield logjams.

6. RHP Dane Dunning

Dunning was one of the most projectable starters in all of the minors before he went down with Tommy John surgery. Rick Hahn is always one to mention Dunning when talking about internal pitching options for the upcoming seasons, and for good reason. In a recent interview at SoxFest, he said he’d be throwing to live hitters in a couple of weeks, which is encouraging. All of Dunning’s pitches are polished and he has good command of most of them. He lives in the bottom of the zone, where all of his pitches excel due to their natural sink. He was on the verge of seeing time in Chicago last year before the surgery, but if his rehab continues well, he could be an option in the White Sox starting rotation sometime late in the 2020 season.

5. RHP Jonathan Stiever

Stiever had the biggest breakout season of any prospect in the White Sox system last year. The former fifth-rounder set the Carolina League on fire last year in 71 innings, pitching to a 2.15 ERA with a paltry .216 batting average against. His plus fastball, curveball, and slider combination allowed him to dominate hitters in High-A, where he struck out 77 in those 71 innings. Stiever is now borderline Top-100 prospect material to me, but he needs to follow up his strong campaign with another one just like it to cement himself as one of the more impressive right-handed starting prospects out there. The 22-year-old looks like the biggest steal of the 2018 draft as of now, and he could begin 2020 in Birmingham if the organization believes his 2019 campaign was the norm for him. Stiever is definitely worthy of the fifth spot on this list.

4. RHP Michael Kopech

Here’s the biggest shakeup in the top four for me. Kopech is still wildly talented with an immense ceiling most of us can’t even fathom. Top-of-the-line stuff, a competitor’s attitude, and consistent success are all traits of the very talented Kopech. However, after his Tommy John surgery and recent opening up about his mental health issues may detract a bit from his on-field performance. This is a precautious rank, as I expect Kopech to be a huge part of this organization moving forward, but the length of the absence (almost 18 months) makes me uneasy regarding the right-hander's initial return. I fully support Michael's mental health journey, as I do with everyone, I'm just hoping he can remain effective on the field. Hopefully he’ll come back with that same power fastball and curveball in addition to an improved command of his pitches.

3. 2B Nick Madrigal

Arguably possessing the highest floor of any major league prospect, Madrigal represents a style of player that is very rare in today's game of “all-or-nothing” play. Madrigal never strikes out, ever. A 3% strikeout rate is unheard of, and many are hoping Madrigal has enough power to make pitchers respect him at the plate. The soon-to-be 23-year-old will undoubtedly be in Chicago sooner rather than later, presumably after the team gains another year of control over him. His defense is fantastic as well, where his average to below-average arm plays up. Many believe the White Sox have found themselves a future Gold Glove winner here, and Madrigal's floor is an everyday second baseman with fantastic defensive abilities and a light bat. I'll take that all day. He gets the third spot on this list due to his high floor and the fact we’ll likely see him in Chicago during this year’s wave of prospects.

2. 1B Andrew Vaughn

There’s not much to say about Vaughn other than this: he's one hell of a hitter. His swing is eerily reminiscent of newly signed Twins' third baseman, Josh Donaldson. White Sox fans can only hope Vaughn has the offensive career Donaldson has. If he's on that track, Vaughn is the unanimous heir to the first base throne once Jose Abreu moves to designated hitter. Vaughn most likely won’t see Chicago this season, but he's in line to see it early in 2021 if he stays healthy. Vaughn could also be the next in line for a White Sox minor-league player extension, allowing the team to bring him up to the show earlier than expected. Vaughn’s ceiling is enormous and filled with Silver Slugger awards. He takes his walks, hits home runs, and doesn’t strike out a ton — a perfect eventual addition to a lineup that will absolutely welcome him.

1. OF Luis Robert

There's no controversy here, you know who number one is. Luis Robert is undoubtedly the best prospect in the White Sox system and is a Top 3 prospect in all of baseball, according to numerous publications. He’s a true five-tool talent with speed, power, hitting ability, good defense, and a strong arm, so it’s obvious why the organization felt it necessary to sign him to a six-year extension worth $50 million dollars with two club options. The organization and the fanbase are ecstatic to watch this physical phenomenon patrol center field for the greater part of the next decade. After a cumulative .328/.376/.624 slash line with 32 home runs, who could blame them?