This article is part one of a two part series examining the extrema of the White Sox rebuild.
When the news of a Chris Sale trade broke in December, there were mixed feelings among fans. There was naturally some excitement about the talent the White Sox got in return. In Yoan Moncada, Chicago got one of the highest nationally regarded prospects to ever reside in their farm. Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe, and even Victor Diaz were nothing to scoff at either. On the other hand, White Sox fans saw one of the best pitchers to ever wear the black and white leave at the ripe age of 26. What the Sale trade signified more than anything was a transition into full rebuild mode. Sale’s trade was followed quickly by what some have considered a heist from the Washington Nationals. The White Sox received Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning from Washington in exchange for Adam Eaton.
Thus began the White Sox rebuild. Those two trades alone allowed the White Sox to shoot up organizational prospect rankings from the bottom third to near the top. With such an influx of talent, the Sox also saw their previous top prospects pushed down to a much more comfortable place in the middle to end of their top 10. All systems were a go in the rebuild.
However, one defining characteristic of the White Sox talent is risk. This risk could easily see the White Sox rebuild reach a dichotomy between utter failure and utter success. Here, we examine what exactly the worst possible outcome would be.
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The White Sox farm system is full of arms with high upside and lots of volatility. This volatility manifests itself both in injury risk (as is the case with any pitcher) and uncertainty about whether each of the top prospects will reside in the bullpen or the rotation. There’s a legitimate chance that each one of Giolito, Lopez, Kopech, Zack Burdi, Carson Fulmer, and Alec Hansen end up relievers.
If all six of these top prospects get moved to the bullpen, it will be because their stuff plays up better in that situation. The assumption is then that each of them would be very good in relief. Each has the stuff to start, but lacks either the command or repeatability to keep a rotation spot. When those type of players get moved to the bullpen they can become the Andrew Millers, Zach Brittons, and Wade Davises of the baseball world. As it turns out, those players are currently highly valuable both on the free agent market and via trade.
There’s no guarantee that any of the six pitchers could reach the level of dominance that both Miller and Britton saw last season, but each one of them certainly has the stuff to have a chance. Perhaps the White Sox could use that to their advantage and trade away one or two of their abundance of relievers, in that scenario. The alternative is having a shutdown bullpen, which in itself could be highly valuable. We’ve certainly seen that model contribute to success with the Royals and Indians both going deep into the postseason in recent years.
In the rotation, the White Sox would still have Carlos Rodon and Jose Quintana (assuming that Quintana is not traded.) If they find a diamond in the rough in Derek Holland, perhaps he sticks around, and Miguel Gonzalez would be a solid pitcher to keep in the fold as well. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it could possibly suffice.
On the position player side, the White Sox remain very shallow. Despite Moncada being a consensus top 10 prospect, he has significant bust potential. His power is undeniable, but the swing and miss in his bat is something that should concern White Sox fans for two reasons. The first being that the profile is one that Chicago hasn’t excelled at developing in the recent past. The second reason is that failing to make contact is one of the easiest ways for a prospect to flop once he reaches the big leagues.
Outside of Moncada, the positional prospect cupboard is bare. Tyler Saladino is, at best, a utility infielder that only shows any semblance of power in short spurts. He’s also, despite just 573 big league plate appearances to his credit, already 27. Tim Anderson could easily see himself turn into a speedy, defensively mediocre shortstop that strikes out too often and doesn’t get on base enough to make up for it. If Trey Michalczweski, Jacob May, and Adam Engel are forced to become regulars, the offense will be sorely lacking. Zack Collins has given us plenty of reasons to believe that he won’t be able to stick behind the plate, making him a first baseman or designated hitter that may not even develop enough power to reach 25 home runs in a season. Perhaps one of Alex Call, Jameson Fisher, or Basabe could become a major league regular, but they could all reasonably be, at the very best, fourth outfielder types.
That was a lot of piling on about the horrors of White Sox position prospects, but the plain truth is that the players at the top of the rankings have a ton of risk involved in their profile. There is also a considerable drop off in talent following the top three positional players in the system. If absolutely everything goes wrong, the White Sox outfield will look like it belongs in Double-A. The infield could salvage enough to be league average overall in a league with increasingly more impressive infield cores.
As promising as the start to the rebuild has been, there are clear risks in the direction they have decided to go. The pitching staff could manage to stay competitive with the rest of the league. The rotation would be average to below average while the bullpen would be among the best in the league. However, the offense and positional talent would once again be holding the team back. In fact, the White Sox might not even see themselves surpass the marks set by the teams from 2013-2016 despite having traded away both Sale and Eaton. That would truly be a miserable failure of a rebuild, which could send an already on-the-edge White Sox fanbase over that ledge into leaving the team behind.
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