White Sox

Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

Focus shifting to major league White Sox, but they still have some of baseball's best prospects

White Sox fans suddenly have reason to stop focusing on the minor leagues.

Rick Hahn's front office has done an incredible amount of work this winter adding impact veterans to the team's young core, and because of it, there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side. The summer figures to be spent focusing on what Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease are doing at the major league level rather than what the potential stars of the future are doing in the minors.

In other words, the future is here.

But it's worth noting that the White Sox still have some of the best prospects in the game. It's true that a few of the biggest names among that group won't be prospects for much longer. Luis Robert just got a high-priced contract extension that clears the way for him to be in the lineup on Opening Day. While Michael Kopech will be limited in some fashion as the White Sox manage his workload in his return from Tommy John surgery, it's hardly out of the question that he could be a part of the 26-man group that leaves Glendale at the end of March. And Nick Madrigal, Hahn has said, figures to be the White Sox second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 campaign after he reached the doorstep of the majors last year.

The point is, however, that the White Sox core is not done growing. Moncada, Giolito, Anderson and Jimenez all broke out in big ways in 2019, and the veterans added to that group could push the team into contention mode as soon as this season. But Robert, Kopech, Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn are set to join that core, too, expanding it to one the White Sox hope will power championship contenders for years to come.

The Athletic's Jim Bowden ranked Robert as his No. 1 prospect in baseball, picking the 22-year-old center fielder to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. And that's no stretch after the way Robert lit the minor leagues on fire in 2019. Playing at three different levels, he slashed .328/.376/.624 with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 31 doubles, 108 runs scored and 36 stolen bases. He's a true five-tool threat who receives rave reviews that peg him as potentially the best of all the White Sox young talent. MLB Pipeline is in the middle of rolling out their rankings ahead of the 2020 season, and we'll learn where Robert ranks on the site's updated list next weekend during SoxFest. But most recently, Robert was the site's No. 3 prospect in the game.

Kopech still has prospect status despite the fact that he made his big league debut in August 2018. That Tommy John surgery limited his major league experience to this point to just four games, wiping out his 2019 season. Whether he'll be the same elite pitcher that was promised prior to his surgery is one of several important questions facing the 2020 White Sox, but it doesn't seem to be deterring the rankers. Bowden has Kopech as the No. 11 prospect in baseball, and MLB Pipeline ranked him as the No. 4 right-handed pitching prospect in the game. Kopech is said to still be capable of unleashing the blazing fastball that made him such a tantalizing prospect in the first place. The big question now is how often he'll be able to use it, with the White Sox planning to limit him in some capacity. We'll have to wait until spring to find out exactly what those limitations look like.

Madrigal might not spend a long time at Triple-A Charlotte, expected to be manning second base for the big league White Sox for the majority of the 2020 season. But like they did with Moncada, Jimenez and Robert before him, the White Sox have no plans to rush Madrigal to the majors. Bowden has him ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the game, and we'll find out soon where MLB Pipeline has him among second basemen. We already know they think the world of his glove — which was touted as Gold Glove caliber by the White Sox the night they drafted him in 2018 — naming him the second baseman on their all-defense team (he won a minor league Gold Glove for his work last season, too). MLB Pipeline also polled general managers, scouting directors and executives across all 30 teams, and Madrigal's name popped up often, voted to possess the third best hit tool, the third best glove and the highest baseball IQ among all of the game's prospects. The guy struck out just 16 times in 532 trips to the plate last season, so he's obviously doing something right.

Vaughn is receiving similarly rave reviews this winter. Bowden ranked him as the game's No. 35 prospect, and MLB Pipeline might end up putting the White Sox most recent first-round pick even higher, naming him the top first-base prospect in baseball. A slugger whose bat earned high praise when he came out of Cal last summer, Vaughn might not reach the South Side in 2020 like the rest of the guys discussed here. But he does figure to have a similar impact when he finally does. He played just 52 games between Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem after joining the organization, hitting a combined five homers at those stops. He's still swinging the bat that launched 50 homers and drove in 163 runs over three seasons in college. That aforementioned MLB Pipeline executive poll? In it, Vaughn was picked as having the second best hit tool in the game. The White Sox just gave Abreu a three-year contract extension that will keep him on the South Side through at least the 2022 campaign, but the 37-year-old Encarnacion could be here as briefly as one year (his contract has an option for 2021), potentially opening up a spot for Vaughn should everything go right in the minors.

And this is without even mentioning guys like Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever, who could all wind up playing important roles on the pitching staff.

So while there is plenty of reason for your minor league interest to wane — because meaningful baseball is expected to be happening at the major league level in 2020 — know that the White Sox farm system (at least the tippy top of it) is still worth salivating over. These guys should be on the South Side soon, only adding fuel to the fire Hahn has built this winter.

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White Sox say Carlos Rodon is a long-term starter, but his 2020 role is far less certain

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USA TODAY

White Sox say Carlos Rodon is a long-term starter, but his 2020 role is far less certain

Carlos Rodon does not want to move to the bullpen.

“In my heart, I think I’m a starter,” Rodon told MLB.com’s Scott Merkin earlier this month. “I’m not a bullpen arm.”

In the long term, his team very much agrees with him. The White Sox view Rodon as a member of their rotation in 2021, the next season in which he’s scheduled to pitch a full complement of games, after his recovery from Tommy John surgery is complete sometime in the middle of this season.

“We view Carlos, long term, as a starter,” Rick Hahn said last week. “Certainly a year from right now, I expect to be talking about him as one of the five guys in the rotation.”

But what does that mean for Rodon in 2020?

“Over the course of this season, let him finish up his rehab, let us see where we’re at as a starting rotation, let us see where he is from a stamina and endurance standpoint and how we project him the rest of the year, and then we’ll figure out how to best bring him back to the big leagues,” Hahn said. “Long term, Carlos Rodon’s a starter. Let’s get him through his rehab, and then we’ll talk about his role for the balance of the 2020 season.

“I also know Carlos has said repeatedly, whatever we want him to do to help the team win, he’s there for. So long term, starter. Short term, we’ll figure out once he’s healthy where he’s at.”

Rodon won’t be back from his recovery until summer, so don’t worry about trying to wedge him into the rotation for the first few months of the campaign. The Opening Day starting five seems well set, even while Lucas Giolito and Gio Gonzalez work their way back from nagging springtime issues: Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gonzalez.

Michael Kopech will be waiting in the wings, the White Sox opting to slow-play his return to a big league mound after his own Tommy John recovery. He hasn’t pitched in any game above instructional league since September 2018, and logic points to him starting this season at Triple-A Charlotte until he’s ready to return to the bigs in a way that allows him to pitch meaningful games in September.

That’s when the White Sox hope to be in the middle — or, in a perfect situation, far out in front of — a playoff race. And Rodon could certainly factor into the chase for the first bout of October baseball on the South Side in more than a decade.

“I don’t know what’s in store,” Rodon told Our Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “I’m just trying to be ready by whenever they need me ready. There’s a lot of things that go into making a move. Make a move for me, you’ve still got to take somebody off the 40-man, send someone down. There’s a whole lot of correlating moves to that. What the timing is for that, I don’t know. Maybe the guys are doing well and I’m not needed yet.

“Whatever it may be. I don’t know what it is. But when it’s my time, I’ll be ready to go, I know that.”

Rodon can throw pretty darn hard, something that intrigues those wanting to stick him in the ‘pen and call on him to get a few batters out rather than soldier through six or seven innings. But White Sox fans are plenty familiar with what he can be when he’s healthy and at his best, the kind of starter who can mow down opposing lineups.

Either role would be a valuable midseason addition for a team in the playoff hunt. You’d have to figure that this is a bridge the White Sox will cross when they come to it, meaning that Rodon will likely be deployed in whatever area he’s needed.

A wrinkle in all this is that Rodon is not under the same kind of long-term team control as many of his teammates. He’s slated to hit free agency after the 2021 season, giving him a shorter amount of time to show he deserves to be part of the White Sox long-term planning.

Though with the team that drafted him on the verge of making the transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode, Rodon said he wants to be a part of the glory days after living through the darkest days of the rebuild.

“I definitely don’t want to go anywhere,” he said. “I’ve gone through the losses. It’d be so rewarding to chip away slowly, maybe make a playoff game, make a wild card game, who knows. I don’t know what’s in store for our future. But start there. It would be super rewarding for me.”

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Zack Burdi feeling positive after making second return from a major injury

Zack Burdi feeling positive after making second return from a major injury

When Zack Burdi was drafted, he was expected to be a fast riser in the White Sox system, but injuries have derailed that.

Burdi made it to Triple-A in 2016, just a couple months after he was drafted, and held his own in nine appearances for the Charlotte Knights. He returned to Charlotte in 2017, but Tommy John surgery ended his season and cost him almost all of 2018.

Last year, he returned, this time reaching Double-A Birmingham before a knee injury ended his season in June. Burdi last pitched in a competitive game on June 20.

On Tuesday, he pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants in a spring training game. Burdi’s return to the mound included a first-pitch flyout and two groundouts to second. He talked to reporters on Wednesday about his outing.

“To go out there and have a good Day 1 was huge,” Burdi said. “The last thing you want is to go out there after eight months and not do well and kind of double check yourself and all the work you’ve been putting in. To go out there and to have success and to see all that work come to light was truly good.”


Reports from Arizona had Burdi in the mid 90s, which is a bit off his previous consistent fastball velocity in the high 90s and reaching 100 mph. His velocity was down last year when he returned, but seeing it in the mid 90s in his first outing back this time around is reasonable.


Burdi also showed off his wicker slider, getting a couple swinging strikes on Kean Wong.

The White Sox will likely stay conservative with the 24-year-old right-handed reliever to start the year. If he is healthy and ready to go, he could be a midseason addition to the bullpen.

“My first outing in eight months there was a lot of nerves coming back for sure and I was anxious in the bullpen,” Burdi told reporters in Arizona. “I was walking around a lot, but I was excited. I’ve been working really hard the last couple months on mechanics and trying to get that right for the season so to go out there and see that be put to work was really nice for sure.”


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