2021 Chicago White Sox Top 5 Prospectsby Carter LaCorte March 5, 2021 2 comments
The fun thing with the White Sox is that their top prospects are all MLB-ready. Some teams, like the Yankees, may have to wait years to see Jasson Dominguez, and the Mets have a few years before Francisco Alvarez, Matthew Allan, and Ronny Mauricio get to the big leagues. But not on the south side of Chicago. A few years of pain have paid off, as Lucas Giolito, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, and Tim Anderson have all developed from high-level prospects to MLB stars, or at the very least above-average players. Even after those four have graduated from the system, a plethora of young talent is still left in the system.
1. Andrew Vaughn, 1B
Scouting grades (20-80 scale)
An interesting thing about Chicago’s prospect development is their lack of hesitance towards calling up top prospects. Vaughn looks to be the next in line to make an example of that, as despite just being drafted 3rd overall in 2019, he is the favorite to start as the team’s designated hitter. Unfortunately, Vaughn will not be the starting first baseman for at least a few years, with 2020 AL MVP Jose Abreu occupying the position. But, that should not stop Vaughn from being a Rookie of the Year favorite, whenever that rookie year is.
Vaughn dominated in college, hitting 15 home runs with a 1.243 OPS in 52 games at the University of California in his draft year. Over his collegiate career, Vaughn hit 50 home runs with a .374 average and a 1.183 OPS in 745 Plate Appearances. Now you can understand why he was drafted so high. A right-handed bat, Vaughn played in three Arizona League games, 23 Single-A games, and 29 High-A games in 2019 after signing, and hit six home runs with a .278 average and a .832 OPS. Pretty good, but nothing crazy. 2021 will either see Vaughn start with the big club or in the high minors if he can’t make the team out of Spring Training.
2. Garrett Crochet, LHP
Personally, I am all aboard the Crochet hype train. Most people would call me crazy, but I seriously considered putting him above Vaughn. The White Sox selected the six-foot-six lefty 11th overall in 2020, and the decision is already paying dividends. A ballsy decision was made to promote Crochet to the big leagues in mid-September, but through six appearances, he has not allowed a run.
After striking out 149 batters in 132 innings at the University of Tennessee, Crochet punched out 10 in 6.2 MLB innings (including postseason), allowing just three batters to reach base, all on hits. He relies on three pitches, although the only one that we’ve got a good look at yet is his fastball, a pitch he threw 72 times out of his 85 pitches. Batters went 3-for-18 against the heater, which averaged, yes AVERAGED, 100.1 miles per hour. He already throws harder than just about anyone. His secondary pitch is a slider, which actually had an average spin rate lower than his fastball. He got one strikeout with the slider and one with the changeup, the latter only being thrown four times. The change-up averaged 92.5 mph, so the league is in for something.
Crochet should be a lock for the White Sox bullpen, along with Matt Foster and Codi Heuer, who just finished their rookie eligibility in 2020. Thanks to the signing of Liam Hendriks, do not expect him in the closer role soon. Also, do yourself a favor and watch this highlight reel of Crochet’s season.
3. Nick Madrigal, 2B
The top three prospects here make up the last three years of White Sox first-round picks, with Madrigal going fourth overall in 2018. He represents the old school, hit for average with speed and defense style of play. Madrigal was expected to start at second base for Chicago to start 2020, but good ol’ service time manipulation led to him debuting on July 31st. The five-foot-eight, 175-pound right-hander did what he does best in the big leagues, hitting .340, but with just a .745 OPS. Despite playing in just 29 games, Madrigal had two outs above average.
Madrigal’s 120 game MiLB season in 2019 perfectly shows his capabilities, as he split time between High-A, AA, and AAA. While hitting just four home runs, Madrigal swiped 35 bags with a .311 batting average. Oddly enough, his average was weighed down by his High-A numbers. He hit .341 in 42 AA games and .331 in 29 AAA games.
For 2021, he will start exactly where he left 2020 off, as the starting second baseman of the White Sox. On March 5, he will turn 24 years old, which is oddly only a year younger than his teammate in the infield, Yoan Moncada.
4. Michael Kopech, RHP
Speaking of Moncada, Kopech came over with him from Boston with outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and pitcher Victor Diaz in December 2016’s Chris Sale trade. The Red Sox drafted Kopech 33rd overall in 2014 with the compensatory pick acquired after Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the Yankees. If you want to feel old, this was two picks before the Indians picked up Justus Sheffield thanks to Ubaldo Jimenez signing with Baltimore. The Cardinals also got Jack Flaherty 34th overall because the Yankees got greedy and also signed Carlos Beltran.
Back to Kopech, he made his highly-anticipated MLB debut in 2018, allowing eight runs in 14 1/3 innings over four starts, while striking out 15. He also hit five batters. His mid-to-high 90s fastball allowed three home runs and a .333 batting average, but his slider did have a 40 percent whiff rate. But, Kopech missed the rest of 2018 and all of 2019 thanks to Tommy John surgery. He was supposed to debut in 2020, but he opted-out of the season. Now, Kopech should be back for 2021, but in the bullpen.
Kopech, who will turn 25 on April 30th, had a 3.70 ERA with 170 strikeouts in 126.1 innings at AAA Charlotte in 2018. He has a 3.05 ERA with 514 strikeouts in 395.2 innings for an outstanding 11.7 K/9 in his minor league career.
5. Jonathan Stiever, RHP
Outside of the top-4 is where things get a little bit murky. Stiever is the best option, but he isn’t the only one. Stiever had a 3.56 ERA over three seasons at Indiana, which got him selected in the 5th round of the 2018 draft. He split 2019 between Single-A and High-A and struck out 154 batters in 145 innings, plus a 3.48 ERA. His numbers were better at High-A Winston-Salem, with a 2.15 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 71 innings.
Stiever throws a low-90s fastball, and his control was impressive in the minors. He walked 27 batters in 2019, for a 1.7 BB/9. Despite never playing above High-A, Stiever got the call to the big leagues in 2020. He made two starts but allowed four home runs in 6 1/3 innings while walking four and striking out three. With an average exit velocity of 99.4 mph, his fastball got rocked.
Stiever will start 2021 where he should have been in 2020 – the high minors. He may start at the alternate training site before the AA or AAA season starts. I wouldn’t expect him to appear in the big leagues.
Prospects outside the top five
After picking Crochet, the Sox selected pitcher Jared Kelley in the second round, 47th overall. A 19-year-old out of Refugio High School in Texas, Kelley throws a mid-90s fastball that can tough the high-90s. A first-round pick in 2016, Zack Burdi debuted in 2020, striking out 11 in 7.1 innings, but also allowing 11 runs, nine earned. Burdi has 139 strikeouts in 100.1 career minor league innings. Power hitting RF/DH Micker Adolfo spent 2020 at the alternate training site and missed most of 2019 with elbow surgery. He has hit 40 home runs with a .733 OPS in 364 career minor league games.
Follow Carter LaCorte on Twitter @CarterHudBlog
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images