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After acquiring Eloy Jimenez from the Cubs, the farm system is still just as strong this year.
The top of the system is among the best in the game, with outfielder Eloy Jimenez, righthander Michael Kopech and Cuban import Luis Robert each having extremely high ceilings. The rest of their Top 10 is very talented as well, and could be further improved with strong first full seasons for their top picks from the 2017 draft, third baseman Jake Burger and first baseman Gavin Sheets.
Once you get past the top 15 prospects, the list drops off quickly into players with more marginal futures. Those same players, however, could significantly raise their stock with rebounds from injuries or tough seasons. Outfielders Luis Alexander Basabe and Alex Call, for example, battled injuries for most of the season and could rise on next year’s version of the list with strong 2018 seasons.
Notable Graduations: 2B Yoan Moncada (1), RHP Lucas Giolito (2), RHP Reynaldo Lopez (3) and C Omar Narvaez (30).
The Cubs signed two of the best prospects in the 2013 international class in Jimenez and shortstop Gleyber Torres. Four years later, both have been traded away. The Cubs dealt Torres to the Yankees at the 2016 trade deadline in a package for closer Aroldis Chapman. Jimenez, who signed for $2.8 million, was sent to the White Sox in 2017 as the grand prize in a four-player package for lefthander Jose Quintana. Jimenez showed standout tools at every stop with the Cubs, played in two consecutive Futures Games and went viral on Twitter last season with a home run in the Carolina League all-star game home run derby that blasted a light tower in left field, a la Roy Hobbs in “The Natural.” As far as games that counted, Jimenez missed time with shoulder and hamstring injuries at high Class A Beach but returned to star form after the mid-July trade to the White Sox. Scouts who saw Jimenez last season used words like “manchild,” “mutant” and “Superman.” More specifically, Jimenez is an intimidating, strong-bodied prospect with a whip-quick bat capable of massive home runs. More than his raw power, which is borderline top of the scale, Jimenez is a diligent, dedicated worker. One manager recalled seeing Jimenez strike out multiple times during a game, then seeing him on the field early the next day for tracking drills. Rival managers lamented not being able to find many holes in his swing, even when they'd pitch him backward. And here's the scary part: He might not be done developing physically. Jimenez played all season at 20 years old, and still has room to sculpt his body and add more strength, possibly becoming a perennial 40-home run threat. Defensively, he's spent his career flopping back and forth between right and left field, with left his likely eventually home because of his below-average arm. He's also a tick below-average runner. Defense and speed were never expected to be selling points of his game, however. Jimenez is a hitter, period, with mix of power and the ability to get to it to change a game. Jimenez will likely begin 2018 back at Double-A Birmingham. With a rare mix of above-average hitting ability, massive power potential and the work ethic to make it all click, Jimenez projects as foundational hitter in the middle of the White Sox's order for years to come.
Kopech has long reigned as one of the hardest-throwing starters in the minors, and the White Sox acquired him as part of the trade for Chris Sale at the 2016 Winter Meetings. Kopech had a couple of extracurricular incidents mar his development--a 50-game suspension for amphetamines and a broken hand sustained in a fight with a teammate--but he's still become an elite prospect and finished a dominant 2017 at Triple-A Charlotte. Kopech's calling card is his top-of-the-scale fastball, which sits in the upper-90s and regularly touches 100 mph with armside run and downhill plane. It's an elite pitch, but he will overthrow it at times. The White Sox asked Kopech to add a two-seam fastball to induce more grounders and help teach him not to overthrow. Kopech boasts a slider that projects as a future plus pitch, as well as an average, low-90s changeup the White Sox encouraged him to throw more. Kopech still needs to iron out some inconsistencies in his delivery--particularly a tendency to fall off the rubber--in order to improve his below-average command and control. Kopech is likely to begin 2018 back at Triple-A, with a good shot of making his major league debut during the year. If he can tame his arsenal a bit more, he can be a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Considered a candidate to go first overall in the 2016 draft, Hansen had a disastrous junior season at Oklahoma and got bumped from the starting rotation as well as the first round. The White Sox snatched him up in the second round and signed him for $1.2 million. They started Hansen in Rookie-ball after signing to regain his confidence against less experienced hitters, and he came out in 2017 and finished second in the minors with 191 strikeouts, finishing in Double-A. Hansen starts his arsenal with a hard mid-90s fastball that peaks at 98 mph. He gets downward plane on the pitch, and the White Sox made mechanical tweaks--namely keeping his shoulders even throughout his delivery--to help keep his fastball life consistent. Hansen couples the pitch with a hard curveball that flashes plus potential. He's improved his changeup from a show-me pitch at Oklahoma to one with heavy sink and average potential. He's also working to develop a slider. Hansen's imposing size at 6-foot-7, 235 pounds gives him an intimidation factor on the mound, but also contributes to inconsistent command and control. Hansen will return to Double-A to begin 2018. He has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter if everything clicks.
Robert built an impressive track record in Cuba, including posting an .895 OPS as a 15-year-old against older competition in the island's national 18U league. Robert had heaps of international success as well and signed with the White Sox for $26 million in May, a franchise record for an international signee. Robert began in the Dominican Summer League and impressed despite missing time with a few nagging injuries. The White Sox's top prospect, Eloy Jimenez, is farther along, but Robert's tools are just as impressive. He boasts a strong, lean frame at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. His swing is compact and simple, and he produces well above-average bat speed. He's got plus raw power and slugged three homers in limited time in the DSL. He does swing and miss on elevated fastballs, but it's not a huge ding on his record. Robert was rated as a 55-60-grade runner as an amateur, but he has gotten faster as he matured and now earns plus-plus grades for his speed. Defensively the White Sox believe Robert will be able to maintain enough speed and range to stay in center field long-term. If that doesn't work out, his bat will more than play in a corner. After spending the summer in the DSL mainly for tax purposes, Robert is likely to join a crowded outfield in high Class A Winston-Salem in 2018.
The Florida Gators produce pro-ready pitchers at a prodigious rate. Dunning is yet another example of the team's pitching proclivity. He was used as a valuable reliever by the Gators, but was long targeted by pro scouts as a quality starting pitching prospect--he made more starts in 2017 in pro ball than he made in three seasons at Florida. The White Sox targeted Dunning in the 2016 draft, but the Nationals took him at the end of the first round before they had a chance to grab him. Six months later, the White Sox acquired Dunning along with Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito for Adam Eaton from the Nationals. Dunning cruised through the Class A levels in his first full season, posting a combined 2.94 ERA. Dunning operates primarily with a sinker and a slider, and has a changeup as well. He sits in the low-to-mid-90s, peaking at 96 mph. When his delivery is clicking, Dunning features heavy sink and will coax hitters into beating the ball into the ground. He struggled at times to get out over his front side, which had a flattening effect on his stuff and resulted in an elevated--and out of character--home run rate at high Class A Winston-Salem. Dunning's slider and changeup, both thrown in the low-to-mid-80s, have above-average or plus potential. To maintain consistency and crispness on his pitches, the White Sox have stressed to Dunning the need to stay tall through his delivery. Dunning will likely join Alec Hansen atop a very talented rotation at Double-A Birmingham in 2018. With three quality pitches and a clean, repeatable delivery, he has a mid-rotation ceiling moving forward.
Collins earned a reputation as one of the best offensive catchers in the country at Miami and was drafted ninth overall by the White Sox in 2016. He signed for $3,380,600 and moved quickly in his first full season, reporting straight to high Class A Winston-Salem and finishing the year at Double-A Birmingham, posting a combined .816 OPS. Collins is divisive, but everybody sees his nearly unmatched batting eye and pole-to-pole power. It's an excellent starting point, but not everyone is convinced he'll hit for average, especially after he hit .224 in his debut year. Collins has a bat tip at the beginning of his swing, which diminishes his ability to get to hard fastballs. He re-tooled his swing in the instructional league, making it quieter to get in a better position to hit. Collins worked diligently on his defense throughout the season and needs to continue. He struggles with velocity and presents pitches poorly, turning strikes into balls. He's improved with blocking but has work to do with his agility. Collins' arm ranges from average to plus on throws to second, and improved footwork would make his arm play up. Collins will return to Double-A to start 2018 and continue working to improve his contact skills and defense. If it all comes together, he could be an offensive-minded everyday catcher.
Burger raked for three years at Missouri State and emerged as the top power prospect in the 2017 draft. He swatted 47 home runs his sophomore and junior seasons and while never batting below .328, earned a spot on the US Collegiate National Team and was First Team All-America as a junior. The White Sox jumped on Burger with the 11th overall pick and signed him for $3.7 million. Burger's power is prodigious, and his leadership-oriented makeup is legendary, but scouts have concerns about his body. At 6-foot-2 and a thick, bottom-heavy 210 pounds, Burger stayed in Arizona over the winter to have access to the White Sox's complex and work on his conditioning. Scouts see a solid-average hitter with above-average power potential, and the plate discipline to get to it in games as a pro. Burger's body opens the door for questions about his defense, but he's worked hard to improve his footwork and range to stay at third base. He has more than enough arm strength to stay at the position and the power to profile there long-term. He's a well below-average runner. Burger will head to high Class A Winston-Salem in 2018, where he'll get to show off his power in the hitter-friendly confines of BB&T Ballpark.
The Yankees were ecstatic Rutherford fell to them at No. 18 in the 2016 draft and signed him for $3.282 million. But after a middling start to his first full professional season at low Class A Charleston, the Yankees traded Rutherford in mid-July to the White Sox as the headliner of a four-player package for relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle and third baseman Todd Frazier. Rutherford's sweet lefthanded swing, disciplined approach and the sound the ball makes off his bat makes scouts believe he'll be an above-average hitter in the future, but questions about his power potential have yet to be answered, especially after he hit just two homers in his full-season debut. Rutherford is likely to move off of center field, so the emergence of power will be key to his profile as a big leaguer. Evaluators with both of his employers saw average power potential so long as he works to add muscle, which was one of his goals this season. Because of his below-average footspeed and arm, Rutherford is likely to settle into left field. Rutherford is likely to be part of a crowded outfield picture in high Class A Winston-Salem in 2018. He'll rotate between center and left field, and whether his power starts to play in games will be a key storyline.
The son of former Orioles slugger Larry Sheets, Gavin Sheets hit 11 home runs combined during his first two seasons at Wake Forest but erupted for 21 homers as a junior in 2017. His power burst carried the Demon Deacons to the Super Regionals, and the White Sox grabbed him with their second-round pick, No. 49 overall, and signed him for $2 million. After a long college season Sheets was a bit fatigued when he made his pro debut, mostly with low Class A Kannapolis, but still showed impressive hitting ability. Sheets has a leveraged swing with plus raw power, but evaluators note he will have to be more selective with pitches in the zone as a pro to find ways to do damage. He rarely chases out of the zone and posts promising strikeout-to-walk marks for a power hitter. Defensively, Sheets moves well for a big man and is a solid defender at first base with average range and an average throwing arm. Some scouts see Sheets as a hitter in the mold of a Lucas Duda at the highest level. He will move to high Class A Winston-Salem in 2018 and try to continue slugging in one of the better hitters' parks in the country.
Cease had Tommy John surgery as a senior in high school, but the Cubs saw enough in his younger years to draft him in the sixth round in 2014 and sign him for $1.5 million. After he spent a year recovering, Cease debuted in 2015 and was steadily moving up the Cubs system when he was traded to the White Sox in July with Eloy Jimenez, Matt Rose and Bryant Flete for Jose Quintana. Cease's best pitch is a hard, mid-90s fastball that reaches 98 mph and has tickled triple-digits in the past. It's elite velocity plays up with sink as well. Cease couples his fastball with a hard, 12-to-6 curveball that he uses to get swings-and-misses, and projects as a plus pitch. His changeup has made progress, but it's still a distant third pitch. Cease's below-average command and control have improved some, but he still walked 4.2 batters-per-nine innings across the Class A levels the past year. There's some thought, because of his two dominant pitches, Cease might have more success as a high-leverage reliever. It's too early for that move now and the White Sox will continue developing him as a starter. Cease will head high Class A Winston-Salem in 2018. His main goals will be to sharpen his command and improve his secondary pitches.
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