White Sox fans have been thrilled by the big numbers put up by top prospects like Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez this season. But two other stars of the rebuild have yet to even play a minor league game in 2018.
Luis Robert (the No. 3 prospect in the White Sox system and the No. 26 prospect in baseball) and Alec Hansen (No. 4 in the White Sox system, No. 50 in baseball) are still working their way back from spring injuries, and as of Thursday neither had played in extended spring training games — though they soon might.
General manager Rick Hahn gave a lengthy list of medical updates on injured players throughout the farm system, and Robert and Hansen were at the top of the list.
Robert, who has yet to play a game of minor league baseball in the United States, tore a ligament in his thumb sliding into second base during a Cactus League game — a Cactus League game, by the way, in which he later hit a home run — and has been sidelined ever since. He’s expected to join Class A Winston-Salem eventually, with Hahn pointing to the beginning of June.
“Luis is ramping up baseball activity in extended (spring training),” Hahn said. “We expect him to participate in extended spring training games by the end of the month and soon thereafter join an affiliate. It likely will be early June before he actually joins the affiliate, once extended is over. Though we expected he will spend the bulk of the season at Winston-Salem — once he’s officially ready to go, he’ll be at Winston-Salem — it depends how many extended games he gets in before the end of extended in determining where he goes first once he leaves Phoenix.
“But he’s progressing. He’s hitting in cages, he’s doing defensive drills, and hopefully he’ll be playing in games down there by the end of the month.”
Hansen, however, might not be quite as close as Robert. Last year’s minor league strikeout leader, Hansen, who's expected to join Double-A Birmingham when healthy, has been dealing with a forearm injury since spring training, and while he’s been talked about as progressing toward game action, there was no real update from Hahn on Thursday.
“He continues to progress, he’s throwing bullpens. I believe he had one today, might be tomorrow. On a throwing program,” Hahn said. “On a guy like that, similar to (recovering starting pitcher Carlos) Rodon, we’ll let you know when he starts making starts in extended and when he goes on a rehab assignment. Right now, it’s just building.”
The injuries to Robert and Hansen — as well as the season-ending Achilles tear suffered by last year’s first-round pick, Jake Burger — show that this rebuilding process, which has seen a fleet of highly ranked prospects join the White Sox system in recent years, won’t be without its speed bumps. While penciling all these guys into the 2020 lineup was and remains a fun pastime for South Side baseball fans, there’s a reason those names are written in pencil and not pen. Whether it be because of performance, injuries or other developmental reasons, not all of these prospects will hit the bigs in a rapid amount of time, nor is it likely will they all pan out.
It’s not to suggest in the slightest that these specific prospects won’t pan out, but it’s worth questioning how their developments will be affected by missing significant time.
“It depends on the player,” Hahn said when asked that very question. “Not beating around the bush, but Jake Burger missing more than a year is a shame, it’s a real shame. You look at Jake, he’s got a short enough swing and an easy enough swing that he’s able to just pick up with it and not really lose much offensively in terms of his development.
“But there is an element of playing everyday and being used to playing ball and working your way up the chain and getting more challenges that he’s going to miss a year on. That’s a negative.
“Luis Robert missing a couple months, none of it’s ideal ever but he’s going to be back out there this season, there’s still going to be plenty of chances for him to get ABs over the course of the summer and even opportunities for him to play in the fall, as well. The injury that he had certainly didn’t seem to have any long-term implications for him, and it’s a matter of making up for development time over the course of 2018, which he’ll be able to do.”
Time will tell whether or not months on the shelf will negatively impact the developments of Robert or Hansen. The good news for the White Sox is that they’re advancing toward their respective returns, good news because those are two guys who figure to have very large roles to play in the rebuild.