The Chicago White Sox made a series of roster moves on Tuesday afternoon, effectively sending down all of their top-prospects attending this spring’s major-league camp, with the exception of reliever Zack Burdi.
On the heels of the big announcement of the long-term extension with second-year shortstop Tim Anderson, the White Sox reassigned second-baseman Yoan Moncada, and starting pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Carson Fulmer to Triple-A Charlotte, while reassigning starting pitcher Michael Kopech to minor-league camp. No word yet on where Kopech will begin his minor league career with the White Sox, although it will presumably be with the Single-A Winston-Salem Dash.
The White Sox opted to keep Zack Burdi, the team’s 26th overall selection in the 2016 MLB Draft this past June, with the major-league club for the time being.
The White Sox top-prospects got a healthy amount of playing time over the first month of White Sox camp, and while evaluating Cactus League performances should always be taken with a grain of salt, it’s definitely an excellent opportunity to examine the individual performances for takeaways on what we can expect in the upcoming season and beyond, and more importantly, what kind of track their development is on.
That being said, I decided to breakdown their performances and pass out some player grades for the youngsters in their first spring with the White Sox.
The White Sox 26th selection in last June’s MLB Draft got his first taste of major-league action this spring, and picked up right where he left off in 2016 when he blazed his way through the White Sox minor league system in a matter of months.
The flame-throwing reliever from Downers Grove has been just short of perfect this spring, literally. Burdi has made nine appearances this spring, and recorded scoreless outings in eight of them. In seven of those nine outings, Burdi did not surrender a single hit to opposing hitters.
Burdi has logged 10.0 innings this spring and allowed only three runs on four hits, with three of those runs and two of those hits coming in his lone poor outing of the spring against the Seattle Mariners on March 12. During that span Burdi has struck out 12 and walked four, while holding opposing hitters to a remarkable .118 batting average against, and an even more impressive 0.80 WHIP. A testament to his ability to command the strike zone with his high-heat stuff, Burdi has thrown 62 of 83 pitches for strikes thus far.
Cactus League Grade: A
Lopez, 22, came to the White Sox this past winter in the Adam Eaton deal, and I’ve said many times since then that Lopez looks like he has the potential to be the best pitcher acquired by the Sox this past winter. Despite getting shelled in his first look back in February, Lopez has looked strong this spring, culminating with a stellar performance on Monday against the Giants.
Lopez allowed five runs on four hits and a walk in just 1.1 innings of work in his first start of the spring against the Cincinnati Reds on February 28. Since then, Lopez has allowed only three runs over his last 18.0 innings pitched.
Lopez has recorded 19.1 innings this spring, the most of the crop of White Sox top pitching prospects, and has logged 14 strikeouts and just five walks over that span, holding opposing hitters to an impressive .197 batting average against, and a 0.93 WHIP.
On Monday at Camelback Ranch Lopez out-dueled All-Star starting pitcher, Johnny Cueto, firing six scoreless innings against a lineup that featured plenty of major-league hitters. Lopez allowed two hits, and even retired 11 consecutive Giants hitters at one point in his outing, while striking out four and walking none. Lopez showed an excellent mix of three solid pitches including his fastball, curveball, and a straight changeup on the afternoon, getting ahead of the majority of Giants hitters.
Lopez finished the month of March with a 1.50 ERA over the course of his four starts.
Cactus League Grade: B
The White Sox top overall prospect, the headliner in the package from the Boston Red Sox in return for the former staff ace Chris Sale, Yoan Moncada got off to a slow start this spring. Just as that false fear that Moncada was less talented than advertised began to settle in among a small portion of the White Sox fan-base, Moncada erased those doubts by heating up over the last two weeks.
In 17 games this spring, Moncada has racked up 13 hits in 41 at-bats, including three home runs, two doubles, and 13 runs driven in for the White Sox, good for a .317 batting average with a slash line of .391/.683/ 1.074. A big concern heading into camp, was Moncada’s strikeout rate, and while Moncada struck out 14 times this spring, he only logged three games with more than one strikeout.
Moncada will head to minor league camp, and begin his White Sox journey with the Charlotte Knights, just as expected when he was acquired this winter. While Moncada certainly needs to continue to work on his pitch selection, and reducing his strikeout rate, he most certainly showed us many of his tools this spring, and reinforced what we knew before camp opened.
Moncada will join Tim Anderson as the middle-infield duo for the White Sox at some point in the near future, one that will surely rival any tandem in baseball.
Cactus League Grade: B
One of the more talked about story-lines this spring has been the discussion of the White Sox top rated pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito, and whether or not working with White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper would allow him to return to form mechanically after a less than stellar stint at the major-league level with the Washington Nationals in 2016. (You can read more about the difference in mechanics, a breakdown of the numbers with the two respective deliveries, and his progress thus far on video in an analysis piece that I did earlier this month, here.)
At first glance, Giolito’s spring numbers are less than desirable to say the least, but if you take away his final outing of the spring against the Seattle Mariners on March 14, the numbers tell a more optimistic story.
Outside of the March 14 start in which he allowed four runs on four hits, and failed to make it out of the first inning against the Mariners, Giolito only allowed a pair of runs over his previous nine innings pitched. In that same span, Giolito struck out six, while walking four hitters, while allowing opposing hitters to hit .297 against him.
Here’s the deal with Giolito’s spring in a nutshell – He made four starts, two were real good, one was average, and one was bad. So in a spring in which Giolito is working on overhauling his mechanics to his mechanics of old, he performed inconsistently. Showing flashes of his excellent stuff, while also struggling to find consistency.
Giolito will head to Triple-A to continue to work on his delivery and mechanics, but have no fear Sox fans, this kid is going to be very good.
Cactus League Grade: C
Michael Kopech, acquired from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale trade this past December, was limited to only three appearances this spring with the White Sox. The youngest, and least experienced of the White Sox top pitching prospects acquired this winter, Kopech made a pair of starts this spring and made one appearance out of the bullpen.
In his two starts this spring Kopech turned in mixed results, being tagged for four runs in one inning of work against the Seattle Mariners on February 28, before being relegated to working in simulated games and bullpen work until his next start on March 12 versus the Texas Rangers.
Kopech was better the second time around, giving up only one run on three hits, while striking out four over the course of 3.0 innings pitched.
Kopech made his final appearance of the spring for the White Sox last Friday, when he dominated the Cubs, tossing 2.0 scoreless innings, striking out five hitters, and allowing only one hit on the afternoon. Kopech was clocked at 102 miles per hour during his outing against the Cubs on March 17.
It’s hard to grade the 20-year-old on just three appearances this spring, but given the fact that he is expected to start his White Sox tenure at the Single-A level this season, and he pitched relatively well outside of his first start this spring, Kopech earned himself some higher than expected marks this time around.
His outing against the Cubs saw him strike out Jason Heyward, Matt Szczur, Willson Contreras, and top-prospects Ian Happ and Jeimer Candelario, giving us a glimpse of what we can expect from Kopech in a year or two.
Cactus League Grade: C
Carson Fulmer entered camp looking to show that his September stretch with the Charlotte Knights wasn’t a fluke, and he most certainly failed to do so this spring. Fulmer looked more like the Fulmer who posted a plus-eight ERA in his brief stint with the White Sox last summer in his five Cactus League appearances.
Fulmer allowed 10 runs on 18 hits over the course of 14.2 innings pitched in four starts and one relief appearance this spring for the White Sox. Opposing hitters hit .290 against Fulmer, and he struggled to turn in clean innings of work in each of his outings.
There are two positive takeaways from Fulmer’s spring performance however. The first being that despite his inability to get outs, when he did, they were via the strikeout. Fulmer struck out 15 hitters while walking just five this spring. The second positive is that the brunt of his struggles came in his second or third inning of work in each respective outing, meaning that Fulmer may actually be destined for the White Sox bullpen in the not so distant future.
A role that I have said before that Fulmer would flourish in, working as a fireman type reliever, entering the game in high-leverage situations and creating a bridge to the presumptive eventual closer, Zack Burdi. You can read more about that scenario, here.