If you’ve been following the prospects in the stacked White Sox minor league farm system, you’ve probably heard all about Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, and Luis Robert. If you know those guys, then chances are you’re also aware of Dane Dunning, Dylan Cease, Micker Adolfo, Alec Hansen, Blake Rutherford, Zack Collins and Luis Basabe.
There’s so much talent to speak of, White Sox fans are salivating at the chances of all of them (or most of them) reaching the major leagues in the not-so-distant future.
Each one are headline players--either high draft picks, important international signings or big pieces from trades--who are expected to arrive in the majors like surfers, hitting Chicago in waves.
However, there’s one player not mentioned above who’s been hanging ten in Class-A. He’s a 22nd round pick of the White Sox from 2016 who’s raising eyebrows and expectations at the top of the lineup for the Winston-Salem Dash.
His name is Joel Booker. If you’re looking for the most underrated player currently in the White Sox farm system, it might be him. At the very least, he’s definitely one of the most underrated.
“I think it’s safe to say that,” White Sox director of player development Chris Getz said about Booker. “He’s certainly not asked about as much as some of these other guys. He hasn’t been getting the attention, but he’s a guy who certainly can move up the ladder based on his speed factor.”
Booker has speed (seven stolen bases in nine attempts) but what’s really been standing out for the 24-year-old outfielder this year is his bat. Booker finished the month of April with a slash line of .353/.421/.515. That .353 batting average leads the Carolina League (Rutherford is second at .338). If you ask opposing teams about Booker, they’d likely recommend the same thing: promote him to Double-A immediately just so they get him out of their hair.
“When he gets on the basepaths, he wreaks havoc,” Getz said. “He gets in the heads of pitchers. Even when he stands in the box, he puts stress on the defense and certainly on the pitcher as well, knowing that all this guy needs to do is make contact and he’s a threat to score a run.”
How many players can you name who have ever stolen home to win a game?
Booker did it on April 12, dashing safely for home with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tie game to beat the Carolina Mudcats.
“He’s got a tool that plays in the major leagues and that’s obviously his speed and he has some contact ability,” Getz said. “He’s certainly on a pretty good offensive team that creates situations for him to utilize his speed. (Winston-Salem manager) Omar (Vizquel) has done a really great job using him with a crowded outfield and he’s really answered the bell.”
The Winston-Salem outfield that Getz mentions is so cramped it’s borderline humorous. There’s Booker, Rutherford, Basabe and 2016 3rd round pick Alex Call. Micker Adolfo is also an outfielder, being used as a full-time DH while he deals with a sprained UCL and strained flexor tendon in his throwing arm. Then there’s prized outfield prospect Luis Robert who will begin his minor league career with the Dash once his sprained thumb heals, likely sometime in May.
Could this create a logjam in the White Sox outfield if all of them are ready for the majors around the same time?
“I certainly hope so. The optimist in me will say yes that’s going to happen,” Getz said. “Each guy has a different skill set. Some guys have power, some guys have speed, some guys have really good hitting ability, and some have defense, so from an organization standpoint, it’s a great place to be in because you can pick and choose what the major league team needs at a certain juncture.”
As for Booker, it will be interesting to see if his splashy start to the season has some staying power. He doesn’t have to match those gaudy April numbers, but after slashing .233/.284/.296 in 208 plate appearances for Winston-Salem last season, something seems to have clicked this time around.
“If he continues to do what he’s doing, and I don’t mean put up a slash line that he’s been doing, he’s going to find himself knocking on the door of the big leagues, just based on the fact that his speed plus the consistent at-bats that he’s given us,” Getz said. “If he does that, then he’s got a chance to be a major league baseball player, one that is attractive to every team in baseball because of what he’s capable of doing and how hard they are to find.”
You don’t have to look hard to find Booker. His name is pasted at the top of the Dash batting order every night. Maybe not for long.
How about a few other underrated White Sox prospects to watch:
Ryan Burr: The 24-year-old right-handed reliever has a 2.89 ERA with eight strikeouts in 9.1 innings for Birmingham. Last season with three Class-A teams he combined for a 1.65 ERA with 88 strikeouts and 26 walks in 65.1 IP. Stats say one thing. Watching him pitch says another. High velocity with late life. If he can effectively throw his slider, he could move up fast. White Sox acquired him from Arizona in August for internationals signing bonus pool money.
Matt Rose: An easily overlooked player in the Jose Quintana blockbuster with the Cubs, Rose may not have the upside of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, but he’s got some pop in that bat of his. Monday against Biloxi, Rose went 3-for-5 with two home runs and a career-high 6 RBIs. In 23 games, the 6-4 corner infielder is .282/.330/.494 with five home runs and 14 RBI.
Laz Rivera: He’s a 23-year-old infielder chosen in the 28th round by the White Sox in 2017. That doesn’t exactly jump off the page, but he’s a gamer. So far with Class-A Kannapolis, he’s .333/.356./.471 with two home runs and 9 RBI.
A scout for Baseball Census might have summed Rivera up perfectly when he saw him play in the Arizona League last summer: “Seemed to be in the middle of everything the AZL White Sox did in multiple viewings this summer; rally starter, table setter, defensive leader, etc. Consensus top AZL prospects aside, Laz Rivera is my pick for an under-the-radar guy I liked the most this summer in Arizona; grew on me more each time I saw him.”