Steele Walker

Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal highlight White Sox minor league all-star team

Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal highlight White Sox minor league all-star team

Until the White Sox start winning at the big league level, the minor league system will continue to be of extra importance to the fanbase.

Even as Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease joined the White Sox in 2019, there was still some high-level talent in the minors. MiLB.com broke down each position to come up with a team of White Sox minor league all-stars.

These players were picked solely based on production and not prospect status, but a number of prospects still found their way on the team.

Catcher: Yermin Mercedes

First base: Gavin Sheets

Second base: Nick Madrigal

Shortstop: Zach Remillard

Third base: Danny Mendick

Outfield: Luis Robert, Steele Walker and Daniel Palka

Utility: Matt Skole

Left-handed starter: Avery Weems

Right-handed starter: Jorgan Cavanerio

Relief pitcher: Will Kincanon

The obvious standouts are Robert and Madrigal. Both played at three levels before finishing in Triple-A Charlotte. Overall, Robert had a 1.001 OPS and Madrigal hit .311, including a .331 mark in Charlotte.

Both players are expected to be up with the White Sox for most of 2020.

Walker and Sheets, both former second-round picks, are also noteworthy prospects. Sheets, drafted in 2017, led the Double-A Southern League in RBIs and Walker, drafted in 2018, was productive at both levels of A ball.

MiLB.com played some games with the rest of the infield a bit with Mendick being listed at third base. Mendick played more games at second (48) and shortstop (42) than third base (38) for Charlotte. He started at all three of those spots as a September call-up for the White Sox. His versatility will be valuable going forward in the majors.

Mercedes became a hot topic among White Sox fans for a scorching hot season. The 26-year-old catcher split the year between Double-A and Triple-A and put up especially big numbers for Charlotte. He hit .310/.386/.647 in 53 games for the Knights, which should be enough of a resume to give him a chance to impress during next spring training.

Palka and Skole have been with the White Sox for multiple years in the majors and were a part of a dangerous Charlotte lineup. Meanwhile, Remillard is a career minor leaguer who had a nice season with Birmingham and Single-A Winston-Salem.

On the pitching side, Jonathan Stiever may have gotten robbed. The right-hander had a 3.48 ERA in 26 starts between both levels of A ball, including a 2.15 ERA in 12 starts with Winston-Salem. However, Cavanerio, 25, got the nod with a 3.13 ERA with the Dash in 19 starts.

Regardless of his exclusion on this team, Stiever emerged as a breakout prospect in 2019 and will be one to watch in 2020 as he enters the higher levels of the minors.

Weems was a sixth-round pick out of Arizona in the 2019 draft. The left-hander pitched in both levels of rookie ball and finished with a 2.09 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 10 walks in 60 1/3 innings.

Kincanon is a local product from suburban Riverside-Brookfield High School. The 23-year-old had 71 strikeouts and a 1.86 ERA in 58 innings for Winston-Salem.

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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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Aaron Rowand heaps praise on special group of White Sox outfield prospects

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USA TODAY

Aaron Rowand heaps praise on special group of White Sox outfield prospects

They're coming.

We don't know when, but we do know this: They're coming.

They are a special group of White Sox minor league outfielders who are making their way to the big leagues. It's a train of prospects from Charlotte to Kannapolis chugging down the tracks dreaming about a one-way ticket to Chicago.

As the White Sox minor league outfield instructor, Aaron Rowand is a conductor on this train, doing whatever he can to make sure all of them reach the ultimate destination.

Unfortunately, there are only three starting spots in the White Sox major league outfield. That's a problem for another day.

In the meantime, Rowand's job is to get them ready for the bright lights of the big leagues. He's been up close and personal with all of these players, a group that includes seven of the White Sox top 14 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.

It's a dam that at some point might burst.

We might see select games, various video clips and statistics in a box score. What does Rowand see?

"As far as outfielders go, I challenge you to find another organization with as much talent in the outfield in their minor league system," Rowand said on the White Sox Talk Podcast.

In a 35-minute interview with myself and Ryan McGuffey, Rowand went in depth about many of the White Sox top outfielders, giving us keen insight into who they are as players and competitors. White Sox fans, you're going to like what you hear. But first, some of the highlights.

On Eloy Jimenez: "I asked him point blank, 'You're already a great hitter and I know you want to be better, but do you think you can elevate your outfield game?' And he said, 'I want to be a great outfielder.'

"And I said, 'That's what I wanted to hear.' He's got the talent level and the mental makeup and the maturity in his approach to be a superstar. He's got that in him. I'm not going to label him as anything or compare him to anybody because he still has to go and do it, but the talent level and the maturity of his at-bats and his makeup mentally is off the charts."

On Luis Robert: "I don't think people even know where his ceiling is yet. He has off-the-chart tools in every aspect: throwing, hitting, defense, hitting for power, speed. When people talk about a five-tool player, he's the epitome of that. He's another one like Eloy. They were really good for each other playing together this spring. They hung out together, talked a lot together. He's got that chip on that shoulder, that drive. He comes to work everyday and takes it seriously. He takes learning English very seriously. He comes out every day trying to prove that he's the best one out on that field. When he's healthy, it's pretty impressive to see what he can do."

On Steele Walker: "I think Chicago is going to fall in love with him when he gets there. His intensity on the field is second to none compared to anybody else that you would try to compare him with. He kind of has that flair to him.

"All of his teammates love him, all the instructors love him. I'm lucky enough to get to work with him every day. He's always got a smile on his face. He's out there to work, but he knows how to have a good time when the time is right. He brings a lot of laughter and excitement to all the drills and all the games that he's a part of."

On Luis Gonzalez: "He's come a long way (defensively). He communicates more out there. He runs the outfield defense from center field a lot better. He's in tune with the game more. He's reading swings and bat angles. His routes have gotten a ton better. He puts his head down and goes. Defensively, he's one of the top guys that we have in the organization, and that doesn't even speak to his offense. He's got something working right now. He's down here at Instructional League. Every time he goes to the plate, you feel like he's going to hit a rocket somewhere. He's an even-keeled kind of guy. He doesn't ride the emotional wave of making an 0-for or getting too high when he gets two hits one day. He's very level-headed and another guy who's very consistent."

Rowand also spoke about Blake Rutherford, Luis Basabe, Micker Adolfo, Alex Call and many others. We asked him what outfielder other than Jimenez could make it to the majors in 2019. Rowand's answer might surprise you.

Listen to the podcast here: