For all of the positive developments in the organization of late, 2018 has been a harsh reminder of the realities of relying on prospects. It’s so easy to look at a minor leaguer and imagine them hitting their ceiling, shoring up their weaknesses, and filling out future lineup cards riddled with homegrown All Stars. Much as Dylan Covey bouncing back from injuries and massive ineffectiveness to suddenly look like an ace is the positive, unforeseen bolt of lightning, more often than not, prospects will disappoint you.
Indeed, I’ve joked that you can fake being a good prospect analyst by assuming they will all fail. Multibillion dollar corporations compete to draft the best players every year, with dozens of professionals whose full time job is to evaluate amateur talent scouring the country and coming to a consensus. Still, in recent history we’ve seen our share of first overall picks fail pretty spectacularly for a wide variety of reasons–Bryan Bullington, Delmon Young, Matt Bush, Luke Hochevar, Tim Beckham, Mark Appel, Mickey Moniak…Go further down the first round and the bust rates get higher.
Pro prospects are more predictable than amateur ones, but that’s a low bar to clear. Just pulling up, say, the BP 101 from 2012, you don’t have to go far to find extremely highly regarded players who didn’t work out–Matt Moore, Jurickson Profar, Jesus Montero, Jacob Turner, and Gary Brown all feature in the Top 20 although frankly it’s impressive how well our team did in hindsight overall. Feel free to go through any prospect rankings from the past and marvel at how many players fell short of their promise.
This brings us to Lucas Giolito. There’s obviously a Tommy John surgery between Giolito being the top ranked global pitching prospect, with a significant velocity drop to boot, and now. The White Sox knew about this when they traded for him. It was hardly a secret and the return for Adam Eaton reflected Giolito’s diminished repertoire. If he were still where, say, Michael Kopech is now you don’t also get Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. None of this is to say Giolito is doomed either, despite his 7.19 ERA and even higher DRA. He’s still a month shy of his 24th birthday, has had success in the majors, and boasts a very deep repertoire.
I’ve seen some criticism of White Sox fans and analysts who were excited about Giolito after a strong spring training. They correctly point out that spring training statistics are meaningless and you need a real change to a player’s profile before you start revising what you think of them. The thing is, there was a change to the profile. Giolito was hitting 95 on his fastball and throwing his curve for strikes. But clearly he hasn’t brought those improvements with him to Chicago, as his fastball is currently as slow as it has ever been–averaging below 92 now–and he’s walked more batters than he’s struck out. He’s also throwing his curveball less and less often as he can’t get ahead of hitters or show he can throw it for strikes so they won’t swing at it.
But what do the White Sox do about it?
It’s not really a problem from a results standpoint. 2018 was a lost season before it began competitively. He’s not taxing the bullpen too much either, as he’s generally making it five or six innings each game. Indeed, for a while, Giolito did not even stand out as particularly bad in the rotation as Carson Fulmer and the injured Miguel Gonzalez looked even less capable. But now it’s mid-June. Fulmer has been demoted, Gonzalez is on the DL, Carlos Rodon is back, James Shields hardly deserves to be booted from the rotation, and Dylan Covey is pitching like an ace. Michael Kopech has had some setbacks but he and Jordan Stephens are getting closer, and Spencer Adams has been promoted to Charlotte as well.
The frustrating answer here is I’m not sure. There are still enough reasons to give those three prospects more time to hold off making a move for another few weeks, and even despite giving up five runs on Saturday, Giolito continues to show pieces of a guy who maybe just needs some luck or a little more command to hold onto his spot. The White Sox are good at this sort of thing, and I’m sure Don Cooper or Richard Dotson could tell you what Giolito needs to do to harness his arsenal a little better.
But as much as I’m rooting for him, at a certain point one wonders if he just needs to take a month in Charlotte, throw his curveball a million times in games, and get a fresh start. The organization is going to need to get a look at some of these other arms and it’s going to be hard to tell them they have to wait for a guy who’s giving up almost a run per inning. I still think there’s a #3/4 starter in here, but I’m not sure if he’ll get there.
To end on a positive note, Dane Dunning is eviscerating Double-A now too and frankly, he may start squeezing Giolito sooner rather than later as well.
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