Despite the first half of the season passing a couple weeks ago, the All-Star break tends to serve as a convenient dividing line between the first and second halves of the season. Because it’s midseason, Baseball Prospectus recently unveiled their Top 50 prospects list. Four White Sox prospects, and an honorable mention to Luis Robert, made the list. That’s a testament to the talent that exists in the system. However, a lot of that top end talent hasn’t really impressed this season. While that’s disappointing, there isn’t reason to be overly concerned just yet.
Coming into the season Baseball Prospectus had six different White Sox prospects on their Top 101. Those six players were Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez, Zack Collins, and Alec Hansen in that order. At least half of those players haven’t been up to snuff this season. Add in an unimpressive season from Carson Fulmer so far and you get a truly tumultuous season for the young talent in the Chicago system. Let’s examine just what has gone wrong and right for each of those top prospects.
Yoan Moncada: Moncada entered the season a top 5 global prospect on every list out there. Some even had him the number one overall. In the first two months of the season, he lived up to every bit of that potential as he dominated Triple-A. His dominance was so obvious that it had some pushing for him to be called up. Then injury struck, and he was away from action for awhile. That rust, along with the natural recovery process of a hand injury, led to a poor stretch where his average and power both dipped. He’s recently come out of that stretch and is now hitting .282/.380/.451 with 16 stolen bases. He’s hitting for average while flashing the power. The one problem that remains, which was his biggest fault a year ago, is the strikeouts. He’s still striking out at a 27.8 percent clip. That’s essentially the only thing keeping him out of the majors, but he might take the step to the next level in the near future despite it.
Lucas Giolito: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. A year ago Giolito was the best pitching prospect in baseball. Then he made his pro debut, failed, and saw his velocity dip as the season went on. The Nationals were quietly shopping him over the winter and ultimately included him in a package for Adam Eaton. The White Sox claimed they saw mechanical flaws and would fix his problems. We are yet to see the results of that as he’s posted a 4.98 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and an unimpressive 14.4 percent K-BB percentage. He’s had bad starts coupled with good starts, but the inconsistency has been clear as he struggles his way through the muck of mechanical changes with a new organization.
Michael Kopech: Kopech has had a good season in Birmingham, but he’s also shown that the concerns that have always existed about him are real. He’s struck a ton of batters out (30.3 percent), but he’s also walked a ton of batters (15.9 percent). Perhaps some of that is not lack of control as much as it’s hitters leaving their bat on their shoulder, but the concern still remains. That many walks don’t happen by chance. On the other hand, Kopech has maintained his velocity for some long starts while also working on a changeup and a two-seam fastball. Add on his powerful slider and he’s putting together quite an arsenal. Whether he can harness that remains to be seen. His career-high in innings pitched at the break is also a concern, which may keep him from making the jump to the next level this season. With that said, he has the highest upside of any pitcher in the White Sox organization right now.
Reynaldo Lopez: Lopez hasn’t had an overly disappointing season yet, but he also hasn’t done much to push away the concerns about his future as a starter. He’s walked 9.1 percent of batters while striking out just 22.0 percent and giving up 1.16 home runs per nine innings pitched. Those numbers, combined with concerns about his delivery, seem to tell evaluators that he’s destined for the bullpen.
Zack Collins: First thing’s first, catchers are weird. They develop differently from any other position player because they’re forced to focus so heavily on their defensive game to even stick at the position. That is even more true for a player like Collins, who has garnered serious doubts about his ability to be a catcher longterm. He has likely been focusing on defense, leading to much kinder reports about his chances of staying behind the plate. Unfortunately, that has led to his offense cratering. He’s hitting .214/.369/.411 with 11 home runs. The great eye is as advertised with his 19.4 percent walk rate, but the 27.4 percent strikeout rate is at a concerning level. While Collins claims that the batting average doesn’t define him, he certainly has more work to do in the rest of his game.
Alec Hansen: Hansen is best known for the fact that he was a 1-1 talent about 18 months to two years ago. He then fell in the draft due to a poor college season, and the White Sox pounced on him with the 49th overall pick. Since then he’s been on a tear while admittedly facing lower levels of competition. The team has moved him slowly due to mechanical concerns, but he’s done well to produce a 2.73 ERA and 28.7 strikeout rate in two levels of A-ball. His time in Winston-Salem hasn’t been as successful, but he’s done pretty well this season. Most importantly, he’s walked just 7.9 percent of the batters he’s faced.
Honorable mentions: Carson Fulmer has had ups and downs to form an aggregate 5.55 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, and measly 5.9 percent K-BB percentage. Dane Dunning has proven why he’s a dark horse candidate to land in the future White Sox rotation with his 2.24 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. Micker Adolfo has broken out with a .277/.339/.495 slash
It’s easy to see that the bright and shiny prospects in the White Sox system have failed to impress. The standout failures have been Giolito, Collins, Lopez, and Fulmer. Three of those players have been ranked among the best 100 prospects in baseball. Fulmer was a first-round pick. All of those things have happened for a reason. The tools are certainly there for all of them. What they do with those tools is what will matter in the end.
Giolito once had all the potential in the world, but he has fallen to earth. Despite his declining velocity, he still has the talent to become a good starter. It will, however, be a lengthy process as he changes the way he pitches. Collins is a catcher. Catchers are weird. His glove is improving, but his bat has fallen behind. When he puts the two parts of his game together, he should rise through the minor leagues. Lopez has walked batters, given up fly balls, and seen too many balls leave the ballpark. But his impressive fastball and good secondary offerings remain. Fulmer continues to look destined for the bullpen, but he too is struggling with mechanical changes. These things take time.
The White Sox are certainly not pleased with the way the top prospects have performed. They do, however, recognize the time and effort it takes for tools to turn into actual skills. If there’s anything that can be learned from recent team past, it’s that there’s no need to rush players with unpolished tools to the big leagues. Patience is a hard quality to have, but with these prospects it will be key. It’s far too early to call any of these players a bust, and within due time surely they will be back to the level we expect.
*All stats are as of July 9*
Photo courtesy of USA Today and Steve Mitchell