I’ve speculated about the decent chance the White Sox have of making a playoff run in 2019 with an influx of prospects, but 2020 is probably the first year I would favor the White Sox to win the AL pennant. Most of the core players will be entering the year with at least half of a season under their belt. Carlos Rodon should be an ace by that time, and Yoan Moncada, as much as it sounds weird now, is in prime position to be a young leader of the ball club, probably under the guidance of a true captain, Jose Abreu.
But what’s integral to the 2020 equation is the last batch of prospects debuting that are presently in the lower levels of the farm system. Headlined by Luis Robert and Blake Rutherford, this group of intriguing prospects project to come up early in the season and add to a season-long powerhouse.
Fans of the south siders knew trades would be coming as part of the rebuild. But an international signing of a top-30 prospect? That was a huge sign of how dedicated and aggressive White Sox management is towards this rebuild. Robert, a 20 year-old outfielder with four above-average tools (contact given just a 50 grade by MLB Pipeline), is the crown jewel of the latter half of the call-up years. Sure, my 2019 group has some nice farmhands, but none of them come close to Robert’s 26th ranking in MLB Pipeline’s overall list.
Though he’s battled through a couple minor injuries this season, Robert managed to put up a stellar slash line of .310/.491./.536 through 28 games in the Dominican Summer League. The on-base percentage is completely unsustainable hovering below .500, but it’s sandwiched by two realistic hitting figures, given Robert’s powerful bat. At this early stage, it’s hard to map out Robert’s development, but 2018 should see him start with Class A Kannapolis and end with Class A+ Winston-Salem. Similarly, barring unbelievably good or awful numbers, Robert will start at Class AA Birmingham before spending a couple months at Class AAA Charlotte in 2019. In order to get an extra year of control, Rick Hahn will delay his arrival in Chicago, but that shouldn’t be a prolonged hold-up.
Prediction: April 21
I’m not going to mince words. Rutherford, the #45 prospect in baseball according to Pipeline, has been a disappointment during this 2017 campaign. After lighting up rookie ball in the Yankees system, Rick Hahn went all in for him this June. Yes, his numbers are uncharacteristically low with Kannapolis, but even before that he was underwhelming at the plate (.265/.330/.356 for the whole year). But enough with the negative. Rutherford possesses a great hit tool already, and adequate fielding to back it up. Twenty-five doubles and two home runs on the season point to warning track power that needs extra loft or muscle. It may take some time, but his power should improve from dismal to at least average.
A tad young for Class A at 20 years old, the Sox will be lenient with his timetable given the slugging issues. Though it seems normal to project a top prospect on the Intimidators to reach the MLB early in 2020, I say the Sox stretch it out a bit to ensure his power comes along. Consequently, I see him ending 2018 with Winston-Salem and 2019 with a short stint at Charlotte. Then he tidies things up with the Knights in 2020 before coming up in the heat of a division race.
Prediction: July 18
Still need some evidence to diminish your Rutherford concern? The proof is in the pudding. That pudding being Micker Adolfo, a perfect example of why not to give up on a struggling yet talented athlete. After three years of disappointment, the former #2 international prospect turned his career around in 2017. Maybe he ate some magic pudding. Whatever the cause, Sox fans should be jovial over Adolfo’s .784 OPS this year, a vastly superior mark to his 2016 number of .627.
Still just 20 years old, the right-fielder hailing from the Dominican Republic has years to build on his progress. If he can keep up the good work, he should debut with Chicago around the time Robert sets foot in the Windy City. After spending so much time with the Intimidators, I wouldn’t be surprised if he spends four months with Winston-Salem next year. Following his time with the Dash, expect a near identical path to Robert’s culminating in an early 2020 call-up. I’ll go so far as to say Hahn calls them both up together and replaces two-thirds of his outfield in one crazy day.
Prediction: April 21
Basabe has personified the word ‘streaky’ this season in Winston-Salem, but unfortunately his bad periods were a lot worse than his good periods. He started fine in April, but it’s been a mostly downhill rollercoaster from there. A good way to display this is his OPS: .787 in April, .562 in May, .525 in June, .736 in July, .671 in August. Rather than assuming Basabe’s outlook is bleak after looking at his season stats, it’s far more accurate to notice his streakiness and retain some hope for his future. That rings especially true when considering his OPS for the 2016 campaign was .780 in the same Carolina League he’s competing in currently. 2017 might just be a bumpy year for the 21 year-old.
With plus wheels and a solid glove in the outfield, Basabe would be a very exciting prospect if he can muster an average bat. It’s reasonable to expect him not to come to fruition, but also reasonable to have faith in him. Chances are he won’t even reach the majors if he continues to be subpar, so I’ll assume he plays fine for his progression map. 2018 might see him find consistency towards the end of the summer, and he tastes Birmingham. Life goes on, he reaches Charlotte by the end of 2019, and makes the big leagues as a fourth outfielder.
Prediction: June 7
This being his first year playing professionally , it’s slightly harder to get a read on Sheets than the previous four profiles. Drafted in the second round of this year’s amateur draft, Sheets is getting on base but isn’t delivering fully on his power hitter label, with a .372 slugging percentage and three home runs through 50 games with Kannapolis. I think Sheets hits his groove quickly with the Intimidators next season before undergoing a slow adjustment to the Dash like he did this season after being drafted. Then, the pattern continues before he’s finally shown progress with the Knights by midseason 2020. His role with that team is super unclear now, but a possible forecast is him accepting a bench or platoon 1B/DH role with a 33 year-old Jose Abreu.
Prediction: August 2