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.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

A bowling-ball minor leaguer nobody's talking about could be the White Sox 26th man

0220_yermin_mercedes.jpg
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

A bowling-ball minor leaguer nobody's talking about could be the White Sox 26th man

GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a White Sox clubhouse filled with big-name prospects like Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn sits an under-the-radar minor leaguer who can flat out rake.

His last name is Mercedes, but this isn’t a sports car we’re talking about. Yermin Mercedes is built like a Mack Truck.

He plays the game like one, too.

“I like the homers. I have a hard swing. I like to swing,” said the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Mercedes, who when he settles into the batter’s box looks like the second coming of Juan Uribe.

“Yeah, I’m good with that,” Mercedes said, smiling when asked about the Uribe comparison. “I’m feeling great with that.”

Chris Getz sees the resemblance, too.

“Juan could certainly do some damage when he went into the box, and he went in there fearlessly. I think that attitude that (Mercedes) plays with, Juan did that,” said Getz, the White Sox director of player development who was a teammate of Uribe’s. “He played with fun and enjoyed the game.”

That joy was certainly on display during Thursday’s workout, when Mercedes celebrated a home run with a bat flip — during batting practice. Uribe would be proud.


“I have fun every day,” Mercedes said. “Everyone likes it when I smile or joke or play with my teammates. They like that.”

How Mercedes got here is a story in itself.

He logged three years in the Dominican Summer League with the Washington Nationals before being released in 2014. He spent time in the Pecos League, a remote independent league filled with baseball lifers. He ended up with the White Sox after they selected him in the minor league phase of the 2017 Rule 5 Draft.

Mercedes has been blowing through red lights and stop signs every step of the way in his all-out quest to make it to the majors.

And now, he’s got another road block ahead of him.

Though he’s got a spot on the White Sox 40-man roster, the 27-year-old catcher is buried on the depth chart behind Yasmani Grandal, James McCann and Zack Collins.

So this is probably a good time to ask two important questions: How is Mercedes going to make it to the majors in 2020, and why is he someone White Sox fans should really be watching this spring?

Let’s start with what Mercedes did last season when he was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte and compare him with one of his Knights teammates, the guy who will likely be the big league team's Opening Day center fielder:

— Mercedes: .310/.386/.647 in 53 games

— Luis Robert: .297/.341/.634 in 47 games

Impressive.

Then there’s Mercedes’ confidence. Spring training games haven’t even started yet, but when the regular season begins on March 26, Mercedes plans on being in a White Sox uniform. His message to general manager Rick Hahn:

“I’ll be there. I’m the 26th man. Yes, of course. I promise you,” Mercedes said emphatically.

Speak with his teammates from last season in Charlotte, and they wouldn’t be surprised if this charismatic bowling ball of a baseball player is knocking opposing pitchers out of games from the get-go in the big leagues.

“When I saw Yermin for the first time, I thought that he was going to have to tone it down a little bit, but he proved me wrong, just by being ready to hit and having the intent to hit the ball and do damage,” first baseman Matt Skole said. “As long as he continues to build off what he did last year, he’s definitely going to make an impact at the big league level at some point.”

And don’t limit Mercedes as an all-or-nothing hitter. He’s more than that.

“He’s a guy who can hit a fastball. He can hit it to all fields. He’s a good two-strike hitter, meaning he’s good at off-speed and fastballs,” Getz explained. “He can put together an at-bat. He’s an offensive force. You put on top of that that he’s a catcher that can do those types of things, it’s impressive.”

Then there’s the clutch competitor that thrives in the big moments. That’s Mercedes.

“You like playing with him, and you don’t want to play against him that’s for sure,” infielder Danny Mendick said. “When he gets in there, he knows what he’s doing. He’s got great eye-hand coordination. When you need a clutch hit, he’ll give it you.”

So if it’s the late innings, and the game is on the line, maybe Mercedes’ ticket to the big leagues is being that fearless hitter who can come off the bench as the 26th man, who doesn’t give a crap about pressure and deliver the big hit.

“Everybody wants me to come in and pinch hit, because I do the job. I get the base hit. I hit the homer to win the game,” Mercedes said confidently.

What do the White Sox think?

“For him to get (major league) at-bats, to get that opportunity, he needs to continue to perform, show us what he’s capable of doing both offensively and defensively,” Getz said. “Rosters have expanded to 26. That’s another opportunity because he does bring some things to the table. If you look at lineup construction and filling out and maximizing a roster, I think he comes into the conversation. If he stays on this track, he will get an opportunity.”

Then there’s Mercedes' catching, which has always lagged behind his hitting. However, last season there was a surprising shift in his metrics, specifically with his pitch-framing.

“From the catching side, I’ve worked with him quite a bit and like what he does back there,” pitcher Carson Fulmer said. “I think his game-calling got a lot better. There’s an adjustment between Double-A to Triple-A just with experienced hitters. He got on the same page with a lot of us, which is really useful.

“He has a great arm. He can hold a runner close to the bag, which is nice. With his framing, as well, he’s able sell some strikes for us. Most importantly, what really stood out for me was his ability to call a game. He’s definitely matured quite a bit.”

On paper, Mercedes might be a longshot to break with the team when it heads back to Chicago, but the Dominican spark plug has made a career out of defying the odds.

This is no different.

“I’m going to surprise a lot of people. A lot of people need me. They say, ‘Where’s Mercedes? Where’s Mercedes? Why isn’t he here?' I take my time. So when the team gives me the opportunity, I take it.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Talkin' lineups: Rick Renteria hints at how he'll stack up White Sox hitters

0820_rick_renteria.jpg
USA TODAY

Talkin' lineups: Rick Renteria hints at how he'll stack up White Sox hitters

GLENDALE, Ariz. — There is far too much attention paid to lineups. The idea should be simple: have nine good hitters that can all do damage at any time. Obviously, that's easier said than done. But the point is that who the hitters are is of far more important than where they hit.

Still, there are few things that cause more fan consternation than how a manager sorts his hitters on a daily basis.

Rick Renteria is often resistant to discuss how he's planning to line guys up, especially this far out from Opening Day. But Thursday at Camelback Ranch, the skipper provided plenty of insight into certain elements of his lineup construction, perhaps as good a sign as any that things have entered a different mode for the White Sox.

Nothing was concrete, of course, but Renteria made it clear that Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada will occupy the first and second spots in the order.

"I still consider Timmy Anderson or Moncada a possibility at the top of the order, one or the other in vice-versa positions," Renteria said. "I want to see them and I want to be able to see beyond that with some of the youngsters that we have in camp."

That makes perfect sense after the huge seasons Anderson and Moncada each had in 2019. Anderson won a big league batting title by lifting his average nearly .100 points from where it was a season prior. Moncada emerged as the best all-around hitter on the team a year after striking out 217 times. Having them in front of big boppers like Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion and Eloy Jimenez shouldn't be a controversial topic.

But it is, at least in certain corners of White Sox Twitter. The historically high BABIPs posted by Anderson and Moncada — in other words, they hit into a statistically significant amount of good fortune — have triggered questions of how they'll be able to repeat their production. The pair’s successes in 2019 came from their aggressive approaches at the plate. That also meant few walks. And there's an argument to be made that if you're not walking, you shouldn't be batting at the top of a lineup.

Renteria, on the other hand, doesn't care how players get on base, as long as they get on.

"I think it would be safe to say if you're getting on base, whether by walk or by hit, at a pretty high rate, it's probably kind of a wash," Renteria said. "The difference would be simply that maybe some individuals take a pitcher deeper into a count in a particular at-bat. But even those guys that are high average guys that may not prototypically fit your on-base percentage profile. They end up probably fouling off a lot of pitches, as well, so they end up still driving that pitch count up."

I don’t know if that will soothe the concerns of worriers, but it doesn’t sound like protests will prevent Renteria from putting Anderson and Moncada first when he writes makes lineup for the opener on March 26.

Related: What's the deal with second base at Sox camp?

One player who won't be there: Luis Robert.

"I wouldn't consider Robert right now, as we're standing here today, to be the leadoff hitter," Renteria said. "I think we have enough guys that allow him to transition in the lower part of the order right now.

"See where he starts to develop and if he starts to evolve into somebody that shows us he's also, at the major league level now — and I expect and I anticipate that somewhere in the near future we will see that, that he is another guy that develops into being anyone that can hit between one and five.

"I think his skill set lends itself to being able to be potentially a leadoff-type guy, but with the power he has, the on-base and slugging he has, he can filter into the middle, as well."

That makes sense, even if Robert seems like someone whose endless tools would make him a prime top-of-the-order candidate. Robert will get his first taste of the major leagues when the 2020 season begins and dialing down the pressure by keeping him out of that leadoff glare would certainly have its benefits.

One more thing from Renteria that ought to be of interest: consistency. The skipper said he's planning to go with a set lineup (for the most part) throughout the season, something that stems from the White Sox new-look group of position players. With Encarnacion, Robert, Yasmani Grandal, Nomar Mazara and eventually Nick Madrigal joining Anderson, Moncada, Abreu and Jimenez, the puzzle pieces just seem to fit together a little easier.

That means far fewer lineup changes from one day to the next during the season. Good news for those who grew tired of the 143 different combinations the White Sox trotted out in 2019.

"I’ll be honest, I’d like to say that I feel more comfortable this year in telling you that there’s probably going to be a more consistent set of guys, one through nine," Renteria said. "Will there be a tweak here or there? Yeah, absolutely. I’m not going to hold myself to not making adjustments as the season is going on and what the guys are doing in a particular moment in time. It would be foolish for me to lock myself into doing something that’s not conducive to helping us put together a lineup on a particular day.

"But I think we’re getting to a point where it’s some consistency and hopefully, that’ll give us the ability to allow you guys to see the same guys in maybe the same slots throughout the course of a season.

"It stems from the fact that now the cast members have changed. And so it extends the lineup a little bit more and gives you more depth. ... It gives you the luxury of being able to slot them in a particular place on a consistent basis. That, coupled with the fact that our young players have grown and developed and have started to flourish, it gives me comfort in knowing and believing that they can slot into certain areas consistently over the course of a season."

And there's the big takeaway. Not that Renteria was happy to be rouletting his way through lineups last season but that a collection of more talented, more entrenched players gives him the luxury of being consistent. The players are better and more established, and the White Sox are more likely to win because of it. That will also manifest itself in a more consistent lineup.

A lot can and will happen over the course of 2020 to shake up Renteria's February plans. But right now, he's eyeing consistency at the top of and throughout his batting order. You'll have to wait until March 26 to see the whole thing. Until then, you can start filling in the blanks.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.