Zack Burdi

Top 10 storylines from the White Sox minor league season

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USA TODAY

Top 10 storylines from the White Sox minor league season

White Sox prospects received more attention from fans and media this year and on Sunday the White Sox minor league season concluded with rookie level Great Falls dropping the decisive game in the Pioneer League Championship.

Here's a look at some of the standout players, storylines and moments from the season that was, from Yoan to Eloy to Robert.

1. Yoan Moncada gets called up to make his White Sox debut after seven-player trade with Yankees

Yoan Moncada wasn't only the top White Sox prospect but the top prospect in baseball according to some, so when he was the first big prospect in the club's rebuild to get called up, it was a significant moment. Moncada mania began with a standing ovation from the home fans in his debut. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance and later said his White Sox debut had a similar feeling to his major league debut with the Red Sox.

2. Eloy Jimenez’s arrival and immediate hot streak

Trading Jose Quintana to the Cubs wasn't an easy pill for White Sox fans to swallow. With that in mind, it's a good thing that Eloy Jimenez quickly turned public perception of the trade in the White Sox favor. Jimenez had good, but not great numbers with the Cubs' Carolina League affiliate Myrtle Beach (.271/.351/.490) when he was traded. Jimenez had missed some time due to injury, but staying in the same league, he erupted with the Winston-Salem Dash. In 29 games with the Dash, Jimenez hit .345/.410/.682 and blasted eight home runs.

One of the highlights was when Jimenez told teammate Ian Clarkin, who arrived from the Yankees just days after the Quintana-Jimenez trade, that he was going to hit a home run. After Jimenez did in fact go yard that game, Clarkin shared Jimenez's prescient call on Twitter.

Jimenez provided more magic by blasting a home run in his first at-bat for Double-A Birmingham. In 18 games with the Barons, Jimenez hit .353/.397/.559 and solidified his spot as one of the best hitting prospects in the game. He has impressed the White Sox and Jimenez thinks he is ready to play in the majors.

3. The Luis Robert saga

With the major league team struggling on the field, the off the field moves attracted most of the attention. The chase for Cuban free agent Luis Robert riled up Sox fans, who were eating up the latest news and rumors about the then-teenage prospect.

When the Sox landed Robert, it was another big move for a quickly improving farm system. The outfielder has received high praise from around baseball.

After signing Robert played in the Dominican Summer League. He missed some time with minor injuries, but finished hitting .310/.491/.536.

4. Michael Kopech dominates in Double-A

Along with Moncada, Kopech was a big part of the Chris Sale trade. When the White Sox got him he was a hard-throwing 20-year-old who had plenty of strikeouts, but also plenty of walks.

After continuing that trend for the first three months of this season, something appeared to click for Kopech. The former first-round pick walked 11 batters in 44 1/3 innings in his final eights starts with Birmingham. He struck out a whopping 58 during that stretch and earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Charlotte.

When he was in Birmingham, Kopech created buzz the Barons hadn't seen since Michael Jordan. He finished tied for fifth in the minors with 172 strikeouts on the season, which impressed the White Sox front office and earned him Southern League Most Outstanding Pitcher.

5. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez make White Sox debuts

Moncada was the first major prospect to get promoted in the White Sox rebuild, but Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito represented the first pitching prospects to join the big league club. Both joined the White Sox in the Adam Eaton trade in the offseason, had major league experience and began the year in Triple-A.

Lopez's debut came first. After rolling off a hot July in which he posted a 2.10 ERA, Lopez pitched a quality start on Aug. 11 in his White Sox debut.

Meanwhile, Giolito waited a little bit longer after struggling for much of the year in Charlotte. He had a 5.40 ERA in his first 16 starts for the Knights, but found some consistency later in the year and drew rave reviews when he made his Sox debut on Aug. 22.

6. Breakout years for Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning

Lopez and Giolito received most of the attention in the Eaton trade, but in the early part of the season it was Dunning who was making the most noise in the minor leagues. The 2016 first-round pick utterly dominated the opposition in Single-A Kannapolis with a 0.35 ERA and 33 strikeouts against just two walks in 26 innings. Dunning got promoted to Winston-Salem and finished tied for 11th in all of the minors with 168 strikeouts, capping off a stellar first full season in pro ball.

Amazingly, Dunning may have been outshined by his own teammate. Alec Hansen, who the White Sox drafted in the second round last year, didn't get promoted out of Kannapolis as quickly, but dominated in Winston-Salem and finished the year in Birmingham. He ended up leading all of minor league baseball with 191 strikeouts and he thinks 2018 could be even better.

7. White Sox draft Jake Burger in the first round and he hits for a cycle

The White Sox will have a higher draft pick next year, but this year the Sox picked up Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger with the No. 11 pick.

Burger began his pro career hot by hitting .358 in Kannapolis, but slumped the rest of way. Burger hit .219 in August and September, but did hit for a cycle on Aug. 24.

8. Zack Collins struggles at the plate, but shows defensive improvements

When Zack Collins was drafted by the White Sox with the 10th pick in 2016, he was thought of as a sure-thing bat with question marks about his ability to play catcher. So naturally, his 2017 played out in exactly the opposite way.

He hit .223 in Winston-Salem while striking out 118 times in 426 plate appearances, but got promoted to Double-A Birmingham anyway. He got promoted the same day as Eloy Jimenez and both homered in their Birmingham debuts. Collins posted an .893 OPS in Birmingham, but still hit just .235.

Collins received better reviews about his defense, which he owes partially due to training with Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, a fellow University of Miami product.

9. Zack Burdi’s Tommy John Surgery

When Zack Burdi was with the White Sox in spring training, he was trying to act like he belonged in big league camp. The fire-balling relief prospect was in line to be the White Sox closer of the future.

After beginning the season in Triple-A Charlotte and producing uneven, but promising results, the White Sox learned in July that Burdi would need Tommy John Surgery. A look at the White Sox bullpen now shows a lot of young, unproven pitchers and Burdi likely would be among them had he stayed healthy.

Now, it's all about the recovery for the 22-year-old, whose upside combined with the lack of proven arms in the White Sox bullpen means he remains a potentially key part of the team's future.

10. Micker Adolfo flashes power potential

Micker Adolfo wasn't a high-profile prospect at the start of the year, but had a breakout season. The 21-year-old was a big international signing back in 2013, coming with a $1.6 million signing bonus.

He was named the White Sox minor league player of the month for both May and June. He began to show his power potential with Kannapolis and helped the team make it to the South Atlantic League Championship Series. Adolfo slowed in the second half, but finished with 16 home runs, tied for fifth in the league.

Bonus: Nicky Delmonico shines in short big league stint

It wasn't a big deal at the time, but Nicky Delmonico's promotion has looked like a potentially significant moment for the White Sox rebuild. He has had a breakout performance in the majors and has made a strong case that he could be a significant part of the team's future.

Zack Burdi’s possible Tommy John surgery a tough reminder that prospects aren’t guaranteed

Zack Burdi’s possible Tommy John surgery a tough reminder that prospects aren’t guaranteed

While Rick Hahn and the White Sox front office basked in the praise from their third rebuilding megadeal, they received some sobering news: Flamethrowing right-hander Zack Burdi, a 2016 first-round draft pick, likely will need Tommy John surgery.

Burdi was removed from Triple-A Charlotte’s game July 9 after feeling something in the back of his elbow, general manager Rick Hahn said. Burdi was in Chicago on Friday to have his arm examined by team doctors, and Hahn said the initial prognosis is that the Downers Grove native has a tear in the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his right arm. 

Burdi will visit Dr. James Andrews next week to confirm the prognosis, and if he does need Tommy John, his target return to the White Sox would be spring training of 2019. 

While Hahn framed Burdi’s injury as not necessarily affecting his timeline, that he struck out 33 percent of the batters he faced in Triple-A — a level he rose to shortly after being drafted out of Louisville — suggests he could’ve been ready for the major league bullpen before 2019. So while the White Sox are fully committed to a total rebuild, Hahn said Burdi’s injury is a reminder that not all prospects are guaranteed to work out. 

“That certainly crossed our mind around here today as we got that news,” Hahn said. “It shows you can make the best laid plans and sometimes the baseball gods laugh. 

“But certainly part of what we’re trying to accomplish here is accumulate as much talent as possible knowing that things happen. Players get hurt, some guys don’t develop quite as quickly or as well as you anticipate, and fortunately at the other end of the spectrum you get some pleasant surprises. So one way to insulate yourself against the unpleasant surprises is having a critical mass of options in the system and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

This is why volume often is so important to the success — or failure — of a rebuild. The White Sox, in acquiring Eloy Jimenez (No. 8) and Dylan Cease (No. 63), now have nine of MLB.com’s top 100 prospects (all, actually, are in the top 68). Burdi isn’t in that group, but is ranked by MLB.com as the 10th-best prospect in the White Sox system. 

It’s unlikely that every one of the White Sox top 10 prospects will pan out, given the nonlinear nature of player development. And there’s the idea of TINSTAAPP (There’s No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect), which was coined by Baseball Prospectus founder Gary Huckabay to illustrate the often difficult nature of developing pitchers. 

So for now, even with the Quintana trade, the White Sox are still in the mode of accumulating as much young talent as possible. And that Burdi looks likely to undergo major surgery serves as a stark reminder of why the White Sox can’t afford to stop stockpiling minor leaguers yet. 

“Once we get to a point where we start seeing some of the impact talent develop the way we anticipate or hope, and contributing at the higher levels of the minors, we’ll have a better sense about what a championship team will ultimately look like,” Hahn said. “They’ll be holes. We might not have found an answer at a specific position internally and will have to go out and either deal from a position of strength to acquire via trade or be aggressive in free agency when the time comes. But at this point, we’re still in the first stages of this process, and that’s talent accumulation.” 

20/20 vision: Dreaming of roster for White Sox next World Series contender

20/20 vision: Dreaming of roster for White Sox next World Series contender

Be afraid, baseball world. Be very afraid.

While "Winter is coming" in this weekend's Game of Thrones series opener, the White Sox version of the iconic phrase from one of television's most popular shows will be coming to a baseball diamond near you in a few years.

The White Sox farm system has gone from worst to first in the span of 15 months.

And it's only going to continue to get stronger as the White sox have a few more trade chips to sell off and they'll have a Top 5 draft pick in 2018. The organization will also have a few briefcases stuffed with cash to toss around to the loaded 2019 free agent class.

As most White Sox fans pick their jaws up from the floor when looking at MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospect list, we've done our best to construct the optimal White Sox lineup for the 2020 season.

LINEUP

1. Yoan Moncada (2B)

The top prospect in MLB is a five-tool talent who possesses the on-base skills (.385 in Triple-A) and speed (16 stolen bases in 2017) to set the table for the White Sox for the next decade.

2. Manny Machado (3B)

If the White Sox are going to throw big money at a free agent in 2019, Machado could be the guy. His age (27) when he hits the open market is right around the White Sox window of contention.

3. Eloy Jimenez (LF)

Some scouts believe Jimenez could be better than Moncada. His power and ability to hit for a high average make him an ideal candidate to hit No. 3 for the White Sox in 2020.

4. Jose Abreu (DH)

Abreu's leadership will still be imperative for the White Sox when they're ready to contend.

5. Luis Robert (CF)

Robert is the ultimate wild card in the White Sox system as he's yet to show off his skills in the United States. Another five-tool talent, Robert's upside is off the charts.

6. Avisail Garcia (RF)

Coming off his first All-Star appearance, Garcia could be an integral part of the White Sox future or the team could sell high on his 2017 season for more high-end young talent.

7. Zack Collins (C)

Collins low batting average (.220) and high strikeout numbers (90) in Single-A are alarming, but he's still only 22 years old, and his defensive abilities behind the plate have improved immensely since the White Sox drafted him. 

8. Jake Burger (1B)

Burger's advanced bat and power will have him moving up the pipeline. It wouldn't be surprising to see him shift from third base to first base by the time he's ready to join the majors.

9. Tim Anderson (SS)

The first piece of the rebuild has gotten off to a bad start in 2017, but he's still an important part of the young core.

BENCH

Nicky Delmonico (OF), Adam Engel (OF), Yolmer Sanchez (IF), Kevan Smith (C), Gavin Sheets (1B)

Engel is a must-have on the bench for the White Sox as he could be an important late-inning defensive replacement at any position in the outfield. Delmonico's left-handed bat and pop give him the nudge over a few other White Sox minor league outfielders. Sanchez can play all over the diamond and would be the perfect utility infielder for a contender. Smith and Sheets round out the rest of the White Sox bench.

ROTATION

1. Carlos Rodon

2. Michael Kopech 

3. Alec Hansen

4. Lucas Giolito

5. Dane Dunning

While he hasn't shown consistency thus far in the majors, Rodon — the only holdover from the current White Sox rotation — has the dynamite stuff to be the ace. Kopech, who has topped out at 105 MPH, has the highest upside of any pitching prospect in the minors and if his command continues to improve he could challenge Rodon for the top spot in the rotation. The last three spots in the rotation could be a toss up because the White Sox have about 15 arms that are worthy of a starting spot. No matter how it shakes out, the White Sox project to have a strong starting five. Hansen, Giolito and Dunning — our projected No. 3, 4 and 5 starters for the 2020 South Siders — have the upside of being No. 2 starters if they were on a handful of other clubs. 

BULLPEN

Zack Burdi (closer), Andrew Miller (SU), Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, Carson Fulmer, Bernardo Flores

Burdi possesses an 80-grade fastball (the highest possible rating) and a potential wipeout slider. If Burdi can bounce back from potential Tommy John Surgery, he'll likely still be the White Sox closer of the future. Instead of inserting one of their young pitchers in the setup role, the White Sox will throw some money at the best reliever in baseball, Andrew Miller, because why the hell not? Lopez' fastball which can reach 100 and plus-curveball would be devastating in a 7th inning role before the White Sox turn the ball over to Miller and Burdi. Cease and Fulmer round things out.