Luis Basabe

State of the White Sox: Right field


State of the White Sox: Right field

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The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re moving on to right field.

What happened in 2019

In a word, disappointment. The guys who were supposed to man the position at the big league level barely did.

Daniel Palka went from a 27-homer rookie season to 0-for-his-first-32 and then to Triple-A Charlotte after picking up his first hit of the season. He briefly returned for an 0-for-10 stint in the middle of the summer and then went 8-for-his-last-39 as a September call-up. Even if his defense in the outfield was a huge question mark heading into the season, his bat wasn’t supposed to be. But after his breakout rookie year, he fizzled and ended up being a non-factor in 2019.

The same status befell Jon Jay, one of the team’s veteran offseason additions who was, at the very least, supposed to bring a strong presence to the clubhouse and better on-base skills to the lineup. But an injury suffered in spring training kept him from even entering a major league game until late June. He played in 47 games, with an underwhelming .267/.311/.315 slash line, before hitting the injured list again at the end of August, undergoing season-ending surgery on his hip.

All that led to a rotating cast of right fielders, few of whom produced in any significant way at the plate. Ryan Cordell and his .221/.290/.355 slash line played by far the most games out there, 72. Leury Garcia’s trip around the outfield included 45 games in right. Jay played 33 out there, Charlie Tilson played 30 and Palka played 23.

And so at season’s end, it was unsurprising to see some horrific numbers from the position: a .220/.277/.288 slash line, numbers that ranked 23rd, 29th and 30th, respectively, among baseball’s 30 teams.

As bad as that was, though, the even more concerning developments for the long-term fortunes of the team took place at the minor league level. The White Sox future in right field was always less certain than elsewhere on the field, but until this season that was because of the sheer volume of possibilities to emerge from a promising second tier of prospects.

Nearly all those outfield prospects — save Luis Robert, of course, who’s ticketed for center field — fell victim to an organization-wide rash of injuries and under-performance, leaving few promising options left standing:

— Luis Basabe broke his hamate bone in spring training and slashed .246/.324/.336 at Double-A Birmingham.

— Blake Rutherford slashed .265/.319/.365 at Birmingham, big dips in all three averages from his strong 2018 campaign at Class A Winston-Salem.

— Micker Adolfo had Tommy John surgery in 2018, only to have another season-ending surgery in 2019, this one arthroscopic surgery on his elbow.

— Luis Gonzalez went from a batting average north of .300, an on-base percentage north of .360 and a slugging percentage around .500 in 2018 to a .247/.316/.359 line at Birmingham in 2019.

The only one to emerge relatively unscathed was Steele Walker, who slashed .284/.361/.451 with 36 doubles in 120 games split between Class A squads in Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. But success in A-ball won’t put Walker on a track to help the big league team anytime soon, leaving the cupboard relatively bare in right field for the time being.

What will happen this offseason

So it’s no shock that Rick Hahn has right field as one of the biggest items on his lengthy offseason to-do list.

The White Sox will almost certainly have an outside addition starting in right field when the 2020 season begins. The question now is just who it will be.

As that sampling of the fortunes of the second-tier prospects in the organization illustrates, it might be difficult for the White Sox to pull off a trade for a truly impact player at any position this winter, right field included. That leaves free agency as a more realistic option, and there are definitely some interesting names set to be a part of that market.

Nicholas Castellanos, Yasiel Puig and Marcell Ozuna make up kind of a “big three” in that department. All three would be big-time adds to the middle of the White Sox lineup. Castellanos was obviously excellent with the Cubs in the second half of the season after being acquired from the Detroit Tigers, with whom he made a habit of crushing White Sox pitching. Puig’s numbers were also good following his intra-state trade to the Cleveland Indians, slashing .297/.377/.423 in 49 games there. Ozuna had a down year by his standards, but his excellent performance in the NLDS is part of the reason the St. Louis Cardinals are still playing October baseball.

All three of those players have another thing in common besides their pending free agency, and that’s their right-handedness. The White Sox lineup of the present and future is almost exclusively right-handed, meaning Hahn might take the opportunity this winter to balance that out a bit by adding a left-handed bat. He talked about it at his end-of-season press conference, expressing a desire to do so while also saying getting good players regardless of where they stand at home plate is a bigger priority.

“Ideally, you'd like to balance that out and that would require adding some left-handed power,” Hahn said. “We don't want to get too hung up strictly on handedness in the end and sign an inferior, say, left-handed hitter when a better right-handed hitter is available and fits. But it's a consideration, and in an ideal world we would balance it out.”

If Hahn sees the hole in right field as his best opportunity to add that left-handed hitting, the best free-agent options available who fit such a description are Kole Calhoun, who hit 33 home runs for the Los Angeles Angels this season, and Corey Dickerson, who slugged .565 splitting time between the two Pennsylvania teams. Neither player really revs the engines like Castellanos, Puig or Ozuna would, but that shouldn’t override their potential usefulness. Either would probably look like a pretty solid addition if Hahn were to fill the hole at designated hitter with a star like J.D. Martinez.

And then there’s the trade market, which could also bear fruit if Hahn’s able to cobble together an attractive package. That list of candidates is a mile long, and we went through a number of possibilities on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

The bottom line is that this offseason will almost surely feature the White Sox acquiring a brand-new everyday right fielder.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

It’s hard to figure out what to expect next season before we know who the White Sox right fielder will be. You’d have to expect significant offensive improvement at the position as a whole simply because there’s nowhere to go but up.

If Hahn makes a splash in right by adding someone on the Castellanos/Puig/Ozuna level, even if it’s not one of those three guys, that would figure to be a longer-term solution. But a shorter-term fix is possible, too, with an eye kept on the minors to see who among that list of prospects could have an entirely plausible bounce-back campaign that thrusts their name back into those long-term projections.

In other words, the future in right field remains the mystery it’s been all along.

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MLB Pipeline unveils its refreshed list of the top 30 prospects in White Sox system

MLB Pipeline unveils its refreshed list of the top 30 prospects in White Sox system

MLB Pipeline has been rolling out its lists of each farm system's top 30 prospects, and they finally got around to the White Sox on Thursday.

The site ranked the White Sox system as the fourth best in baseball, with its top three to be unveiled Friday. We already knew how the top six guys in the White Sox system stacked up because they were all included on MLB Pipeline's list of the top 100 prospects in the game. Now we've got the full top 30. Here it is:

1. Eloy Jimenez, OF

2. Michael Kopech, RHP

3. Dylan Cease, RHP

4. Luis Robert, OF

5. Nick Madrigal, 2B

6. Dane Dunning, RHP

7. Luis Basabe, OF

8. Micker Adolfo, OF

9. Blake Rutherford, OF

10. Luis Gonzalez, OF

11. Steele Walker, OF

12. Zack Collins, C

13. Jake Burger, 3B

14. Ian Hamilton, RHP

15. Alec Hansen, RHP

16. Zack Burdi, RHP

17. Laz Rivera, SS

18. Gavin Sheets, 1B

19. Jimmy Lambert, RHP

20. Konnor Pilkington, LHP

21. Bryce Bush, 3B

22. Seby Zavala, C

23. Jose Ruiz, RHP

24. Zach Thompson, RHP

25. Caleb Frare, LHP

26. Lincoln Henzman, RHP

27. Jonathan Stiever, RHP

28. Tyler Johnson, RHP

29. Jordan Stephens, RHP

30. Ryan Burr, RHP

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White Sox Team of the Future: Right field

White Sox Team of the Future: Right field

What will the next championship-contending White Sox team look like?

That's what we're setting out to determine (or at least make a guess at) over the next few weeks. Ten members of our White Sox content team here at NBC Sports Chicago put our heads together to try to project what each position on the diamond would look like in one, two, three years. Basically, we posed the question: What will the White Sox starting lineup be the next time they're capable of playing in the World Series?

That question can have a bunch of different answers, too. We didn't limit ourselves to players currently a part of the organization. Think the White Sox are gonna make a big free-agent addition? Vote for that player. Think the White Sox are gonna pull off a huge trade? Vote for that player. We wanted to see some creativity.

Well, let's move on to right field, where things get a little nuts.

Our 10 voters submitted nine different names for their right fielder of the future, by far the most of any position. The winner, with two votes, is Micker Adolfo. More on the litany of other nominees in a bit.

First let's talk about Adolfo, who is not often mentioned when discussing the White Sox stockpile of minor league talent, passed up for bigger names like Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal. But he probably should be, commonly regarded as the guy with the best outfield arm in the organization and someone who showed, not even at full strength last season, that he can swing an impressive bat, too.

It started in spring training, when he was a part of that must-see batting-practice group that also included Jimenez and Robert. Adolfo held his own among those two highly rated young players and was part of the much-discussed "outfield of the future" in Glendale.

“We were just talking about how cool it would be to one day all three of us be part of the same outfield,” Adolfo told NBC Sports Chicago last February. “We were talking about hitting behind each other in the order and just envisioning ourselves winning championships and stuff like that. It’s awesome. I really envision myself in the outfield next to Eloy and Luis Robert.”

“Actually, just a few minutes ago when we were taking BP, we were talking about it,” Jimenez said at the same time. “Micker and Luis said, ‘Can you imagine if we had the opportunity one day to play together in the majors: right, left and center field? The three of us together and having the opportunity to bring a championship to this team?’ I think that’s a dream for us, and we’re trying to work hard for that.”

So perhaps it's no surprise that our vote turned out that way, with Jimenez, Adolfo and Robert in left, right and center.

Adolfo has his challenges to reach the majors, still on the mend from Tommy John surgery, with that arm injury restricting him to being only a designated hitter last season. He still put up strong numbers: a .282/.369/.464 slash line with 11 homers and 50 RBIs in just 79 games with Class A Winston-Salem. The need for surgery ended his season in early July.

Adolfo might not reach the majors as quickly as, certainly, Jimenez or, probably, Robert, as he's still yet to play above the Class A level. But he's got the talent and the potential to be the White Sox right fielder of the future.

Oh, but so do a lot of other guys.

Other vote-getters

Bryce Harper. Still one of the White Sox big free-agent targets this winter, Harper would most definitely be the right fielder of the future if he signed up to be the centerpiece of the final phase of the rebuilding project. He might command a decade-long deal, even though the White Sox reportedly won't go past seven. Harper is one of the best hitters in the game and would be a no-doubt fixture in right should the White Sox win that sweepstakes. But the way the wind is blowing lately makes them seem a far more likely landing spot for the other mega free agent, Manny Machado, and more of a long shot for Harper. Of course, both of those free agents still have the baseball world playing the waiting game.

Mookie Betts. If the White Sox don't win either the Machado or Harper derbies, the attention will turn to the next couple rounds of free agency. The headliner of the class of free agents following the 2020 season will be the reigning AL MVP, Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts, and one of our voters thinks that's when the White Sox will strike to add their "finishing piece." Betts will be 28 come that winter, a no-brainer of a long-term addition. While a lot of White Sox fans would be rather upset that in this scenario the South Siders miss out on Harper, Machado and 2020 free agents like Nolan Arenado, Betts would surely quell that anguish and team with Jimenez and Robert to make one heck of an outfield. Just some of Betts' other-worldly numbers from his MVP campaign: a .346/.438/.640 slash line with 32 homers, 47 doubles, 30 stolen bases and 81 walks.

Marcell Ozuna. A free agent a year earlier than Betts, here's another guy who could make a big splash in the event the White Sox miss out on Harper or Machado. Ozuna is already a two-time All Star from his days with the Miami Marlins and was a heck of a get for the St. Louis Cardinals last offseason. In his first year in Missouri, his numbers dipped significantly from a remarkable 2017 campaign that saw him drive in 124 runs and win both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. But he won't yet be 30 years old by the time he hits the free-agent market next winter and would be a tremendous upgrade for the White Sox, who would figure to be on the cusp of transitioning from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

Yoan Moncada. Someone's doing a little position switching here. Moncada is currently the White Sox starting second baseman, but there's been plenty of talk of the team potentially moving him to third base ahead of next season. That's still up in the air — signing Machado would figure to throw a wrench into the entire infield alignment — but could have a lot to do with what's coming. Madrigal, last year's first-round pick, is a defensive whiz as a middle infielder and moving quickly through the system. But Moncada in right? That hasn't been as common a prediction. Well, one of our voters thinks it'll happen, the White Sox searching for a place for Moncada, not too far removed from being baseball's top prospect, to keep getting at-bats. If Madrigal is destined for second and Machado is in the mix on the left side of the infield, the spots for Moncada to stick long term are getting snapped up. It's all speculation, but interesting speculation.

Luis Robert. Robert's one heck of an athlete — as his scoring a run from second base on a sacrifice fly indicated during the Arizona Fall League — and so center field would be the most logical spot for him long term. But perhaps another guy with a whole lot of athleticism bumps Robert to right. There was only one of our voters who had someone other than Robert as their center fielder of the future, and they picked Tim Anderson. So it's a good bet that in that universe where Robert is a right fielder, it's because Anderson is doing a heck of a job in center field.

Luis Basabe. A guy who could get crunched out of the outfield of the future, there's no reason Basabe can't keep elevating his game and give the White Sox one of those good problems to have: too many good, young outfielders. Basabe made a big leap in the first half of last season, slashing .283/.381/.538 with seven homers and 10 doubles in his first 39 games at Class A Winston-Salem. That hot start earned him a midseason promotion and a trip to the Futures Game, where he homered and showed just how deep the White Sox minor league outfield is. He cooled off at Double-A Birmingham but could still hit his way into the White Sox long-term plans.

Steele Walker. Walker was the White Sox second-round pick last summer and has a bright future after doing big things at the University of Oklahoma. His numbers at the end of the season at Class A Kannapolis weren't very good, but we'll find out a lot more about Walker in his first full season in the organization in 2019.

Daniel Palka. Along with Moncada, an infielder, Palka is the only guy on the White Sox current big league roster to get a vote as the right fielder of the future. While his 27 home runs as a rookie were mighty impressive in 2018, his defense left a lot to be desired, making him seem better suited as a designated hitter. That being said, he's very committed to changing that narrative, working on improving his defense before every game last season. Palka has other areas that need improvement, with a batting average under .250 and an on-base percentage under .300 jumping off the stat sheet. Working perhaps both for and against him is the offseason acquisition of Yonder Alonso, who will split time at first base and designated hitter with Jose Abreu in 2019. That will take at-bats away from Palka as a DH, but it could also force the White Sox to give him a greater opportunity in the outfield. If he can make some big strides, he could work himself into the conversation, as he started doing last season.

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