The White Sox have some of the most highly regarded prospects in the game. But their overall system is not what it was a few months ago, or so say the folks over at MLB Pipeline.
The site released its updated organizational rankings, with the White Sox farm system barely ranking among the top 10, coming in at No. 9 in baseball. That's down five spots from where the South Siders were before the season started, when the site had them at No. 4.
This isn't exactly a shocking development, though obviously time will tell whether it was a warranted one.
MLB Pipeline's Jim Callis called the White Sox system "the most top-heavy system in the game," and that's a difficult point to argue at this exact moment in time. The organization's top five prospects — outfielder Luis Robert, starting pitcher Michael Kopech, first baseman Andrew Vaughn, starting pitcher Dylan Cease and second baseman Nick Madrigal — all figure to be incredibly important core pieces when the White Sox plan to make their transition from rebuilding to contending in the near future. Combining that group (two of which have already made their major league debuts) with former top prospects outfielder Eloy Jimenez, starting pitcher Lucas Giolito, third baseman Yoan Moncada and shortstop Tim Anderson figures to make for a formidable core to a championship-caliber roster.
But beyond that top five, things get a little murkier — at least a lot murkier than they seemed just a few months back. That's thanks to a boatload of injuries and underperformance among the so-called "second tier" of White Sox prospects.
The guys in the top five have provided a ton of reason for excitement. Robert and Madrigal have torn up the minor leagues this season and both are playing at Triple-A Charlotte right now. Kopech and Cease have already made their way to the big leagues. And Vaughn has shown off his power bat in just a handful of games as a professional.
But injuries have devastated the rest of the top-30 list. Starting pitchers Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert are both in recovery mode from Tommy John surgery. Reliever Zack Burdi, third baseman Jake Burger, outfielder Micker Adolfo and reliever Ian Hamilton are all out for the season with their own significant injuries.
Meanwhile, even the healthy prospects fans have been following for multiple years haven't performed well enough to keep themselves firmly in the discussion for spots on the contending rosters of the future. One-time top-10 White Sox prospect Alec Hansen has an ERA north of 5.00 in his second consecutive disappointing campaign following a stellar 2017 season. Performance is down for much of the system's supposed depth in the outfield, with down years for Luis Basabe (slugging .100 points lower than he did in 2018), Blake Rutherford (an on-base percentage south of .300) and Luis Gonzalez (slashing .247/.309/.365 after slashing .307/.368/.498 in 2018). Seby Zavala, currently on the major league roster while Welington Castillo is away from the team, is batting just .218 with Charlotte.
There have been bright spots. First baseman Gavin Sheets, outfielder Steele Walker and starting pitcher Jonathan Stiever have been among the better performers outside of that upper echelon this season. But that trio pales in comparison to the volume of guys who haven't been able to impress the same way they did a season ago.
And that's a big deal for more than one reason.
First off, the White Sox could use depth in the farm system just to have backup plans and fill-in possibilities should something happen to the players they have mapped out to be a part of their core moving forward. As promising as the futures of Robert and Madrigal and Vaughn and Kopech appear to be, their major league experience totals four pitching appearances by Kopech before he went down with Tommy John surgery last September. It'd be nice to have players who could take their place if need be.
And then there's simply the bulk of players needed in case of injuries at the major league level. Just ask the Cubs on the other side of town, who have suddenly found themselves in need of a catcher with the injury to Willson Contreras, That type of misfortune befalls contenders on a regular basis, and the White Sox don't want to be in a position in the future where they're forced to scramble in the event of a late-season injury.
But the White Sox have another reason to lament a sudden dip in the perception of their systemic depth. They'll be attempting to acquire some big-time pieces from outside the organization as soon as this winter, and if they end up the perennial contender they hope to be, they'll be looking to add at the trade deadline on a regular basis. Without depth in the minor league system, it will be mighty difficult to acquire that outside help via trade if they don't have any expendable prospects that other teams want.
For example, there were opportunities, though limited, to add a big-time talent with multiple years of team control at the just-passed trade deadline. Who knows if any of those players interested the White Sox, but it's easy to see teams being unwilling to part with such assets for a package of prospects who have had mostly disappointing seasons. That could be a reality come this winter, too, because the White Sox certainly should not part with Robert or Madrigal or Vaughn or Kopech or Cease. So are teams going to be intrigued by packages headlined by one of the guys lower down in the rankings?
The White Sox are not blind to these concerns, obviously, even if they're nowhere close to giving up on any of the aforementioned players. General manager Rick Hahn often discusses the organization's desire to add more depth.
But right now, if MLB Pipeline's rankings are any indication, the reputation is one of top-heaviness. And while it's certainly possible that the big names are all that are needed to craft a contender, there's no scenario in which increased depth would not be extremely valuable.
One more note from the MLB Pipeline organizational rankings that underscores that importance: The White Sox have the ninth best system in the game but just the third best system in the division, with the rebuilding Detroit Tigers sixth and the division-leading Minnesota Twins eighth. The Cleveland Indians aren't far behind at No. 12.
So the competition could be fierce as the future moves closer. It might be time to get a bit deeper.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.