When talking about the future of first base for the White Sox, Jose Abreu, Andrew Vaughn and perhaps even Zack Collins dominate the discussion.
However, another prospect with MLB pedigree is having a productive season at first base. Gavin Sheets, the White Sox second-round pick in 2017, leads the Double-A Southern League with 81 RBIs as part of a breakout second half of the season.
Sheets will also headline the prospects the White Sox are sending to the Arizona Fall League after the minor league season ends. Sheets will be joined by outfielder Blake Rutherford and pitchers Bernardo Flores, Tyler Johnson, Vince Arobio and Bennett Sousa. The Athletic’s James Fegan said outfielder Micker Adolfo is “likely” the seventh player the White Sox will be sending to Arizona. Adolfo has played just 115 games the past two years due to injuries so he could use the extra games.
Blake Rutherford, Gavin Sheets, Bernardo Flores, Tyler Johnson, Bennett Sousa and Vince Arobio announced as White Sox prospects going to the Arizona Fall League. There is a TBA White Sox outfielder listed as well, likely Micker Adolfo— James Fegan (@JRFegan) August 28, 2019
The AFL is a prospect-heavy league and draws plenty of attention from scouts. It is a good test and a showcase for the players involved. This year, 20 of MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects are set to play in the six-team league. Last year, Pete Alonso, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and White Sox prospect Luis Robert were among the headline talent in the league. For Robert, a solid showing in the AFL was a springboard to a monster 2019 season.
The White Sox prospects will play at the team’s spring training home of Camelback Ranch for the Glendale Desert Dogs along with players from the Reds, Dodgers, Brewers and Cardinals. The schedule for the league has been moved forward this year and the teams will begin play on Sept. 18, about two weeks after the end of the minor league regular season.
For Sheets, it’s a big chance to prove he can be a long-term part of the White Sox future. After a rough first couple months, the 23-year-old has been a solid bat in the Birmingham lineup. He entered Thursday hitting .307/.386/.507 in 58 games since the all-star break.
If Abreu re-signs with the White Sox this offseason, first base could be locked down for at least a couple more years. On top of that, Zack Collins is on a roll in Triple-A Charlotte and could take some first base/DH at-bats in addition to some catching duty. Then there’s Vaughn, the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft, who is currently projected as the long-term future at that spot.
For now, Sheets is closer to the majors than Vaughn though. Vaughn is still getting settled into pro ball and is in Single-A. Sheets appears to have cleared the Double-A hurdle and could start 2020 in Triple-A, meaning he might not be far from reaching the majors.
The AFL gives him an opportunity to show he might be ready to contribute earlier rather than later in 2020. It’s also a showcase for other teams to see him if the White Sox think Sheets is an expendable trade piece who also has some value.
Rutherford is actually the highest-ranked prospect of the group. Like Sheets, the outfielder got off to a poor start for Double-A Birmingham. Also like Sheets, he has shown improvement as the season has gone on, but his overall numbers (.259/.305/.359) are not as impressive. Rutherford is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this offseason so the White Sox will have to add him to the 40-man roster or risk losing him.
Of the pitchers, Johnson is the most intriguing name. He comes in at No. 19 in MLB Pipeline’s White Sox prospect rankings. The 2017 fifth-round pick was out until mid-June with a lat strain, but has been a strikeout machine out of the bullpen with healthy. He has made 10 appearances in Double-A and has a decent shot to make the White Sox bullpen at some point in 2020.