Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Chicago White Sox

Other clubs: Braves, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Orioles, Red Sox.

The White Sox have seen their lowly regarded farm system weakened by the Todd Frazier deal, but they still have a few guys at the top who could be impact players. This system’s biggest strength is in its depth of depth pieces, including a lot of bullpen arms and bench players that still have some upside if things break right. Perhaps the most interesting quality is how unique some of their prospects are. Many are gifted athletes who seem to have atypical looks on the field, or just unique stories. Watch Tyler Danish on the mound and how his delivery works, with possibly surprising success, depending on who you ask. Or take Eddy Alvarez, who previously won a silver medal in speed skating before coming back to baseball.

Though I don’t think this system will churn out a bunch of surprise superstars, the scouting department has done a good job bringing in gifted yet undeveloped players in at the lower levels. Give their Rookie-level players a year to develop and we may have three or four of them high on this list next year.

I think you’ll find the top three players here to be the same three as most evaluators would say, though my order is a little different. As fun as Carson Fulmer is to watch, his delivery makes it harder to project the necessary improvements to reach his upside, so I actually think Spencer Adams and Tim Anderson have a brighter future. Adams is more potential than reality in some ways, but his athleticism and easy actions are too good not to see him fully progressing. It may be a year early for most to feel comfortable with Adams’ grades, but I’m going to trust the potential.

Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:

Scouting Grades in Context: Hitters
Grade Tool Is Called Batting Average HR ISO Baserunning Runs Fielding Runs
80 80 0.320 40 0.300 12 30
75 0.310 35-40 0.275 10 25
70 Plus Plus 0.300 30-35 0.250 8 20
65 0.290 27-30 0.225 6 15
60 Plus 0.280 23-27 0.200 4 10
55 Above Average 0.270 19-22 0.175 2 5
50 Average 0.260 15-18 0.150 0 0
45 Below Average 0.250 12-15 0.125 -2 -5
40 0.240 8-12 0.100 -4 -10
35 0.230 5-8 0.075 -6 -15
30 0.220 3-5 0.050 -8 -20

As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:

Scouting Grades in Context: Overall
Grade Hitter Starting Pitcher Relief Pitcher WAR
80 Top 1-2 #1 Starter —- 7
75 Top 2-3 #1 —- 6
70 Top 5 #1/2 —- 5
65 All-Star #2/3 —- 4
60 Plus #3 High Closer 3
55 Above Avg #3/4 Mid Closer 2.5
50 Avg Regular #4 Low CL/High SU 2
45 Platoon/Util #5 Low Setup 1.5
40 Bench Swing/Spot SP Middle RP 1
35 Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up 0
30 *Organizational *Organizational *Organizational -1

One other difference in the way I’ll be communicating scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels.

In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list. Next up will be the Cincinnati Reds.

Organizational Overview
The White Sox are the quintessential stars-and-scrubs organization, a mix of high-level performers whose contributions could not overcome the deficiencies around them. Not wanting to waste the peak of an elite ace in Chris Sale, the team is pushing to win in the short-term, making significant additions to bolster the second-line players on the roster this winter. But like a few other teams in similar positions, the White Sox are also taking a risk on getting trapped in the middle, stopping short of putting a team on the field that should expect to win its division, but also putting enough emphasis on the present that the longer-term future is somewhat questionable as well. If the organization can improve the weak links of their roster, there is the chance for the team to make a significant push for a playoff spot, but they should not settle for a roster that could result in another lost season like 2015. The upgrades made this winter will help, and this team can win in 2016, but there is more work to be done to justify the short-term moves that have already been made.

50+ FV Prospects

Video courtesy of Baseball America
1. Spencer Adams, RHP
Current Level/Age: A+/20.0, 6’3/171, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 44th overall (2nd round) in 2014 out of Georgia HS by CHW for $1.2827 million bonus
Previous Rank: 4

Adams stormed through A-ball hitters in 2015, capping off an excellent year in terms of performance and ending up in High-A Winston-Salem. Across 171 innings in pro ball, he has only walked 22 batters with a low homer rate — and with enough strikeouts to make him a high-interest guy to follow. His arsenal requires sharpening and he needs to develop strength to project as a starter, but there is plenty to like about his future.

For a pitcher his age, he is already showing a superb ability to pound the strike zone. It’s an even more impressive feat when you look at his build. Having a thin frame, his pitch effectiveness gets a little off when his lower half gets unstable, though there is an ease to his actions that is really exceptional for his age. He has great direction to his movements, but added lower body mass will help keep his velocity steady and allow his athleticism to play up.

His fastball sat mostly in the low-90s in 2015, but he can reach up to 97. At points in the last two years, Adams has shown plus potential on all of his secondary pitches, though the slider is the best usable pitch currently. He can spin a tight curveball that is tough to hit even in the zone, and his changeup shows sharp splitter movement with good arm action. The combination of athleticism, early results and future physical development give me a lot of faith in him ending up with at least one plus offering to pair with his fastball.

The 2016 season will only be the second in which Adams has focused solely on baseball, being a former basketball (VIDEO) and football player as well. He has all the ingredients you expect to see in a developing frontline pitcher. He has shown he can run his fastball up into plus-plus range, he throws strikes while also showing impressive command, and he has feel for his collection of offspeed pitches. Adams will need to put on some muscle and get more consistent action on his curve and changeup, improvements that could put him in the top tier of all prospects by next offseason.

Fastball: 55/60/70 Curveball: 45/55/60 Slider: 50/60/65 Changeup: 40/50/60 Command: 45/55/65
Overall: 45/55/70

Video courtesy of FutureSox
2. Tim Anderson, SS
Current Level/Age: AA/22.8, 6’1/180, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 17th overall (1st round) in 2013 out of East Central CC by CHW for $2.164 million bonus
Previous Rank: 2

Anderson is an excellent all-around athlete, with quick-twitch actions on both sides of his game that teams dream of having in a middle infielder. His 2015 went a long way toward solidifying his status as a premium prospect, improving both his defense at shortstop and his strikeout avoidance. Though there are still questions about whether he remains at the position long-term, his offensive abilities will earn him a starting role wherever his defensive home ends up.

Watching him at the plate, his hands are the first thing that jump out. He has a real loose, athletic look to his upper body with a quick bat. Combined with great contact skills, Anderson has the ceiling of a plus or better hit tool, with a slight hedge due to his lack of walks. His hands often push out in front of his body before his hips can create enough force to tap into his raw power, though he projects to have at least league-average overall production at the plate.

His aggressive approach has worked so far, though his low walk rate and climbing strikeout rate may become issues against better pitching. Major-league hurlers will take advantage of his approach with tougher chase pitches until he shows improved selectivity. His swing and hand-eye coordination give him enough room for error that even a small improvement in approach will be enough to project as a starter.

The most impressive figure on his stat sheet this year was the 49 stolen bases. Anderson has always had the speed to be an imposing base-running threat, and this year he made big strides learning to take advantage of opposing batteries. He still has work to do for it to translate to the majors, but the big jump in effectiveness this year is a hugely positive sign he can be an impact when he comes up.

Defensively, the tools have never been in question, with great range, quick feet, and plus arm strength. While he remains slightly raw, most evaluators agree that he made huge gains this year on his footwork and positioning, drastically reducing the number of errors he committed. I see him sticking at the position with continued focus on improving his technique this year, though he may need 2016 and 2017 to be fully qualified as a trusted defender at short.

I feel more confident in Anderson developing into a shortstop, despite likely starting in Triple-A with a fair amount of work to do. Anderson gets some leeway on the finer points of his game for being a multi-sport athlete, a sentiment with which I strongly agree. He has shown the aptitude to carry his practice improvements into games, and the tools give him plenty of chances for development. He may end up earning a big-league roster spot before his defense and approach have been conquered, but Anderson has a very bright future.

Hit: 50/55+/65 Power: 30/40/40+ Run: 60/65/75 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 55/60/65
Overall: 45/55/65

3. Carson Fulmer, RHP
Current Level/Age: A+/22.3, 6’1/190, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 8th overall (1st round) in 2015 out of Vanderbilt by CHW for $3.47 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA

Fulmer capped his junior year at Vanderbilt with a high draft bonus and 23 professional innings, all but one thrown at High-A Winston-Salem. He is a fun pitcher to watch, with a fast delivery and an incredible fastball/curveball combo that will challenge any hitter he faces. His stuff will let him move fast enough that he could see big league time in 2016, with the plan to keep him in the rotation despite future concerns regarding his delivery.

His fastball sits in the mid-90s, touching 97 with excellent life, with a release that is very difficult to pick up. The curveball has at least a plus ceiling, though with both offerings he will need to improve his command to beat major-league hitters consistently. His changeup may end up being average, but in my view it looks like a below-average pitch, often with a noticeably slowed down arm and not much fade.

On his delivery, he has a quick tempo with a lot of momentum toward the plate. His arm action is muscled rather than a loose rotation, finishing differently each pitch with some rough deceleration at times. His follow through looks stilted and his arm has a lot of recoil, especially when he tries to reach peak velocity or break on his pitches.

Even with the good drive from his legs, I worry how much his arm will be able to take as his innings pile up, unless he can loosen up his shoulder motion. It’s important to note he hasn’t had arm issues in the past, and I’m not saying he will. However, maintaining his stuff and developing his command may be tough without learning to throw with some more efficiency.

Going for Fulmer are the raves about his makeup and competitiveness, and the stuff is good enough that he could dial it back a bit while still being very effective. He has three areas for improvement as I see it: enhancing his command, developing his changeup into at least an average pitch, and lessening the stress in his delivery.

Because of his fastball/curveball filthiness, he probably only needs one of those things to happen to be a number-three starter. I think he ends up reaching his ceiling as a closer before a starter, though he could still be a 55 rotation guy without much more development. He likely will join the majors in short order, possibly as soon as this year, with his present stuff. We should see early in 2016 what advances he will be able to make before facing major-league hitters.

Fastball: 55/60/70 Curveball: 55/60/70 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 45/55/65

Video courtesy of Moore Baseball
4. Adam Engel, OF
Current Level/Age: High-A/24.3, 6’1/215, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 573rd overall (19th round) in 2013 out of Louisville by CHW for $100,000 bonus
Previous Rank: 21

Engel had a solid year in the Carolina League, hitting for above-average offense and stealing 65 bases in 76 attempts. Then he went to the Arizona Fall League, where he unveiled a new swing that helped propel him to winning the league MVP award. Always possessing excellent defense and base-running value, if Engel can build off the changes he made going into the fall season, the White Sox may have a real monster on their hands.

Though there aren’t any long drives in the embedded video above, you can really see the differences in his cuts that would help him be more effective at the plate. Compare them to these swings from earlier in the year:

Video courtesy of FutureSox

Gone is the late step with the rush off his back leg. He picks up his foot and takes a true stride with his head and hips staying together, rather than reaching out and getting uphill with his posture. Instead of the quick push back with his hands as he stepped, now he has a much more athletic and rhythmic move down, which helps to keep his hands in motion and in a better spot to stay connected with the rest of his swing.

And finally, his swing path has leveled out considerably, unlike the chop down to the ball he had during the regular season. He’s always had a quick-twitch lower half, but his poor swing plane and tendency to force the barrel around his hands made his swing look disjointed and long to the ball. You will still see him get anxious to let the barrel go early, but he’s in a much better spot to swing with some looseness, the lack of which was a big source of his troubles adjusting to movements and speeds previously.

The changes in posture and bat path put him in position to drive balls into the outfield rather than filleting balls that dump over the infielders’ heads. He hit more fly balls than ground balls for the first time in his professional career, combining with his solid raw strength to produce 12 extra-base hits in 19 games.

It’s near impossible that Engel has actually cut his true-talent strikeout rate in half and will continue hitting for a .200+ ISO, but if his swing looks the same as it did in the AFL or even improves going into the spring, I expect his offense to really take off. I’m projecting him based on how he looked in the fall, since it’s too obvious he made conscious changes that are unlikely to revert totally. Even if he goes back to striking out close to his career rates, Engel looks like a good bet for at least an average hit tool with power approaching that level if he progresses.

With the defensive skills to capably handle center field and the base-running ability to be at least a plus runner, Engel becomes a very exciting prospect. He still may never be an average hitter overall; he just has to hit enough to keep him on the field so his speed and defense can carry his profile. I can’t help but hedge a little bit to account for possible regression, but his new approach now makes him look like one of the better prospects in the system.

The team sources with whom I spoke all had Engel a bit lower than this, believing he needs to work on a few more things offensively. I agree totally with it not being there yet, but I see a brighter future in his reach. Those same sources praised him for being a tremendous worker, and even hinted that his defense may be underrated despite the acclaim it receives.

Hit: 40/50/55 Power: 40/45/50 Run: 60/65/70 Field: 55/60/65 Throw: 45/50/55
Overall: 45/50+/60

Video courtesty of Minor League Baseball
5. Jordan Guerrero, LHP
Current Level/Age: A+/21.8, 6’3/190, L/L
Acquired: Drafted 471st overall (15th round) in 2012 out of California HS by CHW for $100,000 bonus
Previous Rank: NA

Guerrero picked apart the Carolina League after showing he outclassed South Atlantic League in his first nine starts. Between the two, he threw a personal high 149 innings with 148 strikeouts against 31 walks and only seven homers. His changeup is one of the best pitches of its kind in the minor leagues, and his command should allow the rest of his arsenal to play in the majors with mid-rotation potential.

The lefty closes himself off as he picks up his stride leg, but he gets himself going to the plate with good momentum and balance that provides some deception without taking away from his stuff. He throws from true overhand slot without compromising his balance side to side, exhibiting good arm action. He can show some effort on his fastball at that angle, which may worry some considering his 2013 shoulder injury. He has done well to put on muscle since then, and seems to have better shoulder-blade movement to support his arm than he had back then.

Guerrero’s fastball sits around 90 mph and touches 93-94 with some cut and sink, commanding it well down in the zone and to both sides of the plate. He doesn’t have consistently above-average heat, so he will need to raise his fastball effectiveness to at least an above-average level through movement and/or command to be reach his ceiling, and to let his changeup play to its full potential.

The change is a swing-and-miss pitch with excellent fade, backed up by a great sell out of the hand. He has a developing curveball and slider that are successful currently due to his release consistent with his fastball, though they need to show improvements in break to be better than average. His curve sits slightly ahead of his slider at present.

There are plenty of pitchers who tear up the low minors with control and a good changeup, yet struggle to continue that success against higher level hitters. I think Guerrero separates himself from that type in a number of ways. His being left-handed helps, for sure, with the changeup being his equalizer against right-handed hitters. He only has to develop one of his breaking balls to the point he can keep lefties off balance, rather than both sides.

He also locates the ball very well at a young age, with athleticism and strength projections pointing toward growth into true command rather than just throwing strikes. I’m cautiously buying his potential as a mid-rotation starter, but seeing a consistently average breaking ball or an extra mile per hour or two would make him a lock. Guerrero has a nice base to build from while being able to develop under the radar due to his average fastball velocity.

Fastball: 45/55/60 Slider: 35/40/45 Curveball: 40/45/50 Changeup: 50/60/65 Command: 50/55/60
Overall: 40/50/60

45+ FV Prospects

6. Tyler Danish, RHP, VIDEO

Danish turned a lot of heads in 2014 spending the year in the rotation, where filled up the strike zone and gave up only seven homers in nearly 130 innings pitched. He also turns heads with an extremely aggressive side-arm delivery that led many to believe he would be a bullpen piece in the future. His 2015 season may have rekindled the sentiment, as his ratios regressed and he finally looked human on a professional mound.

He has a real talent for making hitters feel uncomfortable with the movement on his offerings, as well as the conviction he pitches with on the mound. Danish is widely reported to have elite makeup, and just reading some of his interviews supports those claims if you haven’t seen his competitiveness on the field.

His arsenal consists of a fastball in the low-90s with exceptional ground-ball potential, complemented by a slider and changeup. The slider comes in at two different speeds, with the higher velocity pitch acting more like a cutter. Both versions have plus potential, but can often get flat depending on how well he stays on top of his release. His changeup is less consistent, but also could be an above-average offering with time. All of his pitches rely on him keeping his release under control, not leaving them in the heart of the zone when he loses it.

Despite his low release angle, it must be recognized how well he uses his hips and core to set up his upper body rotationally. He creates a ton of torque with his body rather than just slinging his arm through. The worry is how much strain his motion puts on his elbow in particular, and what it could mean if it led to decreased velocity, or worse. He has worked to raise his release point and stay within himself on the mound, though he remains a work in progress as he faces advanced hitters in the high minors.

His delivery reminds some of Chris Sale, due to the arm slot and general misgivings from pitching mechanics experts. While a natural comparison, I think his development may end up more similar to Justin Masterson’s, assuming his arm stays intact. He has a high floor as a valuable reliever, especially against righties. If his changeup and command take steps forward, there’s no reason he can’t be a mid-rotation starter. I think he is more likely to be a back-end starter or reliever, though with real upside in either role if he can improve his feel.

Fastball: 55/55/60 Slider: 45/55/60 Changeup: 40/45/55 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 40/45+/55

7. Jacob May, OF, VIDEO

May’s biggest asset on the field is his elite speed, using it to steal bases and cover a ton of ground in center field. He projects as a plus defensive outfielder with speed and contact. The 2015 season was a good development year for May even with time missed after a bad collision in June. He didn’t hit for much power, but showed he can hit for a decent average against pitchers with better command.

His defense has come along nicely with improved reads and routes compared to past years. His arm is a liability, but his speed should allow him to more than make up for it by chasing down more hits than most. He is still learning how to play the running game optimally, having some work to do on picking spots and reading pitchers. There is enough aptitude here to expect plus-plus base running at the big-league level.

May is overall a better hitter from the left side of the plate, but may end up hitting for more power from his right. Both swings are geared toward low line drives, with his lefty cuts getting too choppy at times, even for a guy with his speed. Though he has some bat speed, it’s unreasonable to expect any more than below-average power.

I have heard concerns over his contact ability, but he made above-average contact relative to his league in 2015. May has a good eye at the plate, which will be tested as pitchers challenge him in the zone without the fear of serving up a dinger. His batted-ball profile will be littered with ground balls, opening his average up to some highs and lows as the BABIP gods see fit. In all he should be a better than average hitter.

Hit: 45/55/60 Power: 30/35-40/40 Run: 60/70/75 Field: 60/60/65 Throw: 40/40/40
Overall: 40/45/55

8. Chris Beck, RHP, VIDEO

Beck has a great pitcher’s body with strong legs and a thick yet athletic core. The first three months of the season were a great success for Beck, culminating in his big-league debut against the Orioles. A few Triple-A starts later, he went down with an elbow injury that hinted at Tommy John surgery in his future, but instead he underwent ulnar nerve transposition surgery to take the stress off the important nerve. He is on track to be ready for spring training with his normal throwing progression, and is hopeful for minor-league opening day.

He has yet to put concerns over his upside to rest as he searches for a breaking ball that can generate whiffs to complement his worm-burning ways. Both his fastball and changeup have the movement to produce ground balls at a high rate, with his fastball getting into the mid-90s. He mixes in a slider and a seldom-used curveball, both of which are likely to remain below-average offerings.

Beck has a fairly simple, clean delivery with good use of his lower-half strength. His balance can waver laterally on occasion, but his arm path is direct and has plenty of room for deceleration. Despite his lack of a strikeout pitch, Beck should succeed in the walk and home run categories with his solid-average to above command and good movement on his primary pitches. At this point, there’s not much chance for him to add swings and misses to his game, but his strengths put him solidly in the back end of a rotation.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Slider: 40/45/50 Curveball: 40/40/45 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 50+/55/60
Overall: 45/45-50/50

9. Corey Zangari, 1B, VIDEO

Drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 draft, Zangar demonstrated excellent power potential in his first season over two rookie levels. There are some concerns about his contact rate, with a propensity for swinging and missing at pitches that may limit his hit tool in the future. His long swing and bat path give him little room for error with a defensive profile that leaves at first base for the long haul, but there are some encouraging qualities at the plate that hint at positive future developments.

Right now, everything with Zangari’s swing looks geared toward chopping down on the ball, making it difficult to lift pitches below his belt. It also forces him to have a short contact window out in front of the plate, resulting in pull-side power with higher pitches being more in his wheelhouse, where his swing path is automatically leveled out. I like his strong base and the sequencing of his arms and hands, but he will have to level out his swing plane to get to his raw power against better pitching.

Nearly drafted as a pitcher due to his mid-90s fastball, Zangari has both a strong arm and a fallback option on the mound if his development were to stagnate. I see more potential in his bat, especially if he can improve his swing plane, though his current and likely future grades are what I expect from him if he doesn’t make changes. He’s an interesting young slugger, but with a lot of risk in reaching his ceiling.

Hit: 25/35/40 Power: 35/50/60 Run: 25/30/35 Field: 35/40/40 Throw: 55/60/65
Overall: 30/45/55

10. Trey Michalczewski, 3B, VIDEO

Michalczewski has an easy-going swing from both sides of the plate, with scouts waiting for his power to develop as he gets stronger. Though he has played both second and third base as a professional, he seems destined to settle at third with his strong arm and developing defense. None of his tools stand out, but there is still hope that he can develop into a big-league regular.

Watching him at the plate, he has the look of an above-average hitter with smooth actions, though he has some swing-and-miss tendencies on pitches in the zone. He shows a good eye at the plate, with enough power to make pitchers want to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. He may not reach average power production, though he already has the strength and swing path to provide solid doubles totals.

Added strength will be the best help for his home run power, though it’s tough to imagine a ton of growth there due to his contact-oriented approach and effort level. So far in his career, he has demonstrated the ability to drive the ball to the fence across the entire field, but his homer power is mostly to his pull side. Mechanically he could try to get more use out of his legs, though his more likely path is developing muscle to turn his singles into doubles, and doubles into homers.

At third base, he has improved his footwork over the last couple years, but has about an average ceiling at the hot corner. His arm strength covers up some of his shortcomings on the technical side. Stealing bases isn’t his forte, although he shows good reads for taking extra bases to provide close to average value overall.

I hate player comps, but I couldn’t help thinking about Chase Headley when grading out Michalczewski’s ceiling. He projects as a fringe starter for now, but with the ability to approximate average value across the board, it won’t take much improvement for him to be a solid regular at third. In all, he has the skills to contribute off the bench, but adding average-level power to his game would go a long way toward strengthening his case for a full-time role.

Hit: 45/50/50+ Power: 40/45/50 Run: 40/40/45 Field: 45/45/50 Throw: 50/55/55
Overall: 40/45/50

11. Eddy Alvarez, SS, VIDEO

It’s hard to have a more unique background than Alvarez does, only two years removed from receiving a silver medal in speed skating before being signed by the White Sox, and a long time off from the game prior to that. Despite his advanced age compared to his level, Alvarez has the tools to be a legitimate big-league shortstop if he continues improving over the next two years. What he’s done in his first two seasons has been nothing short of amazing.

His run, hit and fielding tools all flash plus, but each are understandably raw to the point where they could look well below average on a given play. His work at shortstop is serviceable, though he’s likely a better fit at second despite his fast improvement. His raw tools at short are excellent, giving him the ability to make plays beyond where many others can. But he also struggles with the routine plays at times, lacking the comfort level, and the repetitions, to let his tools work for him. One team source admitted he probably isn’t an everyday shortstop, but he hasn’t played himself off the position yet.

His arm may not be an impact tool, but he won’t embarrass himself with long throws in the 5/6 hole. Alvarez has plus-plus running speed, and is improving his aptitude in the running game (53 SB to 15 CS in 2015), though he still has room to go for it to be a plus asset against big-league batteries.

At the plate, Alvarez has the bat speed but not the efficiency or exit angles to project for power. He will turn on a few pitches up or on the inside half, but expecting better than a handful of homers and a .100 ISO is probably a reach. His speed and contact will result in more extra-base hits than hitting true drives past the outfielders. He also has a ground-ball-heavy profile that may hinder both the hit and power tools at higher levels.

His approach centers around seeing a lot of pitches, and being able to fall back on his contact when he’s deep in the count. As he advances, he will need to take a more aggressive stance early in the count to keep better pitchers from putting him in the hole to start every at-bat. His eye is good enough that it shouldn’t be a terribly difficult adjustment, but his walk totals may go down as he approaches the big leagues.

It’s tough projecting a guy who still is relatively young to professional baseball, yet will be pressured to move quickly at his age. Alvarez is unlikely to blossom into a starting option, but his tools alone make him project as a bench player at worst in my opinion. Some contacts with whom I spoke see him as a minor-league depth piece and nothing more, so it’s important to keep perspective on where he is at currently. However, if he has another development year like his last two, we could see him pushing for a starting job. Exposure to Double-A and Triple-A pitching will round up the adjustments he has to make very quickly.

Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 30/35/40 Run: 55/60/70 Field: 50/55/60 Throw: 50/50/55
Overall: 35/45/50

12. Jhoandro Alfaro, C, VIDEO

Alfaro had an inconspicuous start to his professional career with 95 uneventful plate appearances in the rookie Arizona League. The younger brother of Phillies’ prospect Jorge Alfaro, Jhoandro is an exciting catcher with tons of potential on both offense and defense. His throwing ability is his calling card, with at least plus arm strength that scouts think will be a shutdown tool as he matures.

On the offensive side, it’s still very early to figure out what he could be. He has an easy-going stroke with good athletic actions, and looks like he could profile into some power down the road. I think I like his chances of being a solid line-drive hitter more than power guy, but I can see where the optimism comes from. Alfaro shows more of a line-drive swing path, but it wouldn’t take much of a change or strength gains to see him approaching average power in the future. One team contact believes he could have plus hit and power tools if everything comes together.

His swing can get a little long by letting his barrel get disconnected early in his swing, which likely contributed to his issues facing professional pitching for the first time. He looks like he’ll make enough contact that it won’t be a huge issue, though. For what it’s worth, he maintained a decent strikeout rate in his Arizona at-bats (15.8%).

For now, Alfaro the younger can only be projected as a bench guy or fringe starter, but only because he’s so young and his offense is still raw. Unlike most teenage professional hitters, he has the makings of a decent swing that should put him in line as an above-average big-league catcher should his defense live up to its billing. Another shot at the Arizona League this year after extended spring training will help provide more information about his skills and likelihood of contributing to the major-league team.

Hit: 25/40/50 Power: 25/40/45 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 55/60/65
Overall: 30/45/55

13. Jordan Stephens, RHP, VIDEO

Stephens has the potential for 3-4 average to above-average pitches, running his fastball up to the mid-90s with decent control. His future is a bit unsure as he builds up innings after having Tommy John surgery in 2014, but he has the arsenal and control to challenge for the top 10 if he stays healthy. One team contact can see him reaching the major leagues by 2017. He likely starts in the rotation this year, but his highest upside is on the relief side.

His delivery is simple and direct, though his motion does put extra stress on his elbow. It seems best for him to work out of the bullpen, both so his pitches can play up and to prevent overuse of his reconstructed arm. I want to see how his command develops this year before bumping his grades up too high, but there’s reasonable optimism he could be another late-inning reliever coming out of the system.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 45/55/60 Slider: 40/45/50 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 40/45/50

14. Courtney Hawkins, OF, VIDEO

It’s hard to close the book on Hawkins despite another disappointing season. He still has tools in every part of the game, but at this point you really have to squint to see his potential turning to reality. His power numbers dipped, but more concerning was the strikeout rate climbing back over 30%. Missing time due to plantar fasciitis certainly hurt his numbers before going on the disabled list, and the injury prevented him from participating in the Arizona Fall League. He’s going through maintenance treatment and will be ready for spring training.

Hawkins still has around average base-running ability, which was obviously limited by his foot issues this year. He may not steal many bases as he continues maturing, but he should still be able to make contributions with his speed. He has the physical tools to play as an above-average outfielder, though his skills need work for him to contribute at that level consistently.

In the box, he still suffers from discipline issues, chasing pitches out of the zone and having trouble swinging through some in the zone. He has done well to get a more consistent base under him, though he remains a boom-or-bust hitter due to his contact. His swing gets long early as his hands get away from him, so most of the time he’s wrapping his bat around the pitch and yanking it to his pull side. Good breaking balls will still get him off his legs, and I’m not sure there is much room for growth without really continuing to improve his approach.

He still has a ways to go to be a valuable bat in a big-league setting, but he has good qualities in the other parts of his game that will make him useful. He projects as a fringe starter or platoon bat until he figures out his approach or somehow makes more contact.

Hit: 30/35/40 Power: 40/55/60 Run: 45/45/50 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 50/50/55
Overall: 35/45/50

15. Brian Clark, LHP, VIDEO

Clark has split his time between relieving and starting as a professional, though it hasn’t been because of lack of results. He will continue pitching in the rotation in Double-A this season, where at least one team source believes he could be a number-three or -four starter. Others agree he is probably a reliever down the road, a notion that I also share.

It is not a problem with his stuff, as he throws a low-90s fastball he can locate and a potential above-average slider. His changeup isn’t anything special, but the White Sox are hoping he can turn it into close to an average pitch. He has a very rigid upper back that puts a kink in his motion, that I think sheds doubt on him amassing a full starter’s workload across an entire season. It also tempers my expectations for how much better his stuff can get, particularly with finding a useful changeup. Even still, his slider will make him a weapon against lefties, and his ability to command the baseball give him a realistic future as a later inning reliever.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 35/40/40Command: 50/50/55
Overall: 40/45/45+

16. Jason Coats, OF, VIDEO

Coats has produced at a steady level since being taken in the 29th round of the 2012 draft. He projects to make decent contact, hit for low double-digits power, and steal a few bags despite below-average raw speed. With lingering questions about his plate discipline and barrel control, he is a good candidate for a platoon or fourth outfielder role.

His swing gets stiff and forces him to be jammed on occasion. He generates almost all of his power to the pull side, and may not have the adjustability at the plate to face pitchers who show the ball late or have good movement. Regardless, he has shown enough ability at each level to warrant a chance in the big leagues, and he’s primed to get it this season.

Hit: 40/45/45 Power: 40/45/45 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 40/45/45

40+ FV Prospects

17. Brandon Brennan, RHP, VIDEO

The 2016 campaign will be Brennan’s first full season in a while, after he missed parts of 2013-14 with Tommy John surgery and the beginning of 2016 with a neck injury. He has a fast arm that produces mid-90s heat with good sink, and has a good slider with a well below-average changeup. He has some pitchability and can throw strikes, enough that some believe he could be a fourth or fifth starter. The strikeouts haven’t been there yet, as he is still finding his command and doesn’t have great feel for his secondary pitches in my opinion.

His arm action is quick but moderately labored, and he truncates his finish without letting everything finish naturally. He babies his changeup by slowing down his arm and feeling through his release, both signs that he won’t develop it any time soon. His overall grades here reflect more what I think he could be in the bullpen. Both his fastball and slider look like pitches that would work best in short outings, and have a higher potential with an extra half grade possible on each.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 40/45/50 Changeup: 30/35/40 Command: 40/40/45+
Overall: 40/40+/50

18. Micker Adolfo, OF, VIDEO

Adolfo had an unfortunate season in 2015, being limited by a hamstring injury, followed by a broken fibula that required surgery. He is reportedly going to be ready for the start of 2016, with the organization hoping to see a continued effort to improve his approach and contact in the low minors. He is an exciting player to dream on, with impact arm strength and potential plus power, but the utility of his bat is held down by swings and misses at his young stage.

He shows the ability to tap into his power in batting practice, with explosive lower-half movements and good lift in his hands. He gets really long to the ball at times, letting his barrel get away from his body and come around the ball, which pulls him out of his strong base. Though his approach is the main focus for his development, I see a bigger issue in him swinging through a lot of pitches in the zone, something that will be much more difficult to improve.

I believe he is most likely a future bench bat at this point until he quells his contact issues, though his power potential and age give him a lot of leeway and upside. Getting a chance in full-season ball should really help put his future in the right perspective.

Hit: 20/35/40 Power: 40/55/60 Run: 45/40/45 Field: 45/50/50 Throw: 55/60/65
Overall: 25/40/55

19. Jake Peter, 2B/SS/OF, VIDEO

Peter had an excellent 2015 season between his steady performance in High-A and a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. He has some versatility as an infielder who can play up the middle or in the outfield, though his strengths are more apparent at second base. Not possessing any power, Peter needs to really sharpen his hit tool to profile as more than a bench player.

He has average speed at best, but has shown the base-running chops to possibly parlay it into above-average to plus value on the bases. Though he handles the bat well and makes a lot of contact, his swing is choppy and comes across ball without much lift. He has poor barrel awareness with a lot of balls hit weakly off his bat. He looks like he’ll be a slave to the BABIP gods unless he can hit line drives with more frequency.

Despite some tools on defense and the bases, his hit tool looks like it will limit him to a part-time role. He has made enough contact in his minor-league career to suggest he could reach the plus level with the bat, which would put him in the conversation for a starting role, but he will likely settle in as versatile bench piece who won’t kill you at the plate.

Hit: 40/50/60 Power: 25/30/35 Run: 50/55/60 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 55/55/60
Overall: 35/40/50

20. Andre Wheeler, LHP, VIDEO

Wheeler throws hard and has shown an ability to get lefties out in the bullpen, though he may have more upside than just being a situational guy. He has had some success spot starting, mostly relying on his 90-95 mph fastball and decent slider to keep hitters off balance. I saw him in the Arizona Fall League, and was surprised by his changeup arm speed and fade, giving him a possible weapon against righty hitters as well.

He’s still mostly a two-pitch guy, and his command needs to improve a tick or so to profile as more than a middle reliever. The combination of present ability athleticism give him a good chance of making improvements, and I like his chances of becoming a seventh-inning bullpen guy who can get hitters out on both sides of the plate, though lefties will still have a tougher time.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 40/45/45
Overall: 35/40/45

21. Jace Fry, LHP, VIDEO

Fry is now the recipient of two replacement ligaments, having undergone his second Tommy John surgery after ten starts in 2015. His move to the bullpen was probably inevitable to begin with, but it’s likely assured now to help protect his arm. He could end up with four average or better pitches, with his slider continuing to show the most promise.

With a chance for average command if he can come back in normal form, Fry has the stuff to stay in the rotation. His delivery is extremely taxing on his arm, with very stiff actions and an abbreviated finish that doesn’t utilize his body to protect his arm. I worry about how his elbow holds up even in the bullpen without making some changes, but he has the ability to be a useful seventh- or eighth-inning guy in a best case scenario.

Fastball: 50/50/50 Slider: 45/50/55 Curveball: 40/45/50 Changeup: 40/40/45 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 35/40/45

22. Robin Leyer, RHP, VIDEO

Leyer has one of the strongest arms in the system, with a fastball that can touch the upper-90s and sits comfortably a few ticks below. The numbers haven’t been where you would expect with his arm strength, though he has maintained a decent strikeout rate into Double-A. He has below-average deception and doesn’t hide his secondary pitches well, leaving him with a lot of work to do to stay in the rotation.

Even with the hard velocity, it’s hard to project his fastball to be more than average without added movement, command or masking his release better. Batters see the ball well at release with his overhand angle and shoulders squared up to the plate. His tempo often telegraphs what pitch he’s throwing, which advanced hitters will take advantage of unless they have trouble handling velocity. His changeup has a chance of developing into an average pitch with good depth, but it also suffers from poor release at present.

Leyer may keep getting a shot in the rotation, but the Sox see his best chance to help will be in the bullpen. Giving him shorter outings where he can live off in the upper range of his velocity may allow him to project as a decent matchup option. Focusing on the development of one offspeed pitch should also help him get big-league hitters out, but he still has many adjustments to make before getting to that level.

Fastball: 45/50/60 Slider: 35/40/45 Changeup: 35/40/50 Command: 40/45/45
Overall: 35/40/45

23. Thad Lowry, RHP, VIDEO

Lowry is still figuring out how to pitch as a relatively recent convert to the mound, but he shows promise as a strike thrower with a good fastball and strong frame. Though he doesn’t walk many hitters, his command looks to remain below average at the moment, especially of his slider and changeup. His physical maturity may end up working against him, with only so much room for growth expected before he reaches his maximum ability level.

His fastball usually runs up to 93, though he has thrown mid-90s at points in the past. He projects to have around average command of his heater. It features decent arm-side run and is his best pitch now and in the future, with his secondary pitches slowly developing in both movement and command. His slider has shown flashes of being a consistent above-average pitch, but getting to that level will take a lot of work, as his feel for both of his offspeed pitches is still below average.

The White Sox knew they were getting a project with Lowry, and he is progressing well enough to keep him in the rotation as he progresses. They hope to see him develop into a fourth or fifth starter eventually. Sharpening his slider will help him get mid-level minor-league hitters out, while the changeup likely needs to reach its ceiling for him to stay in the rotation long-term. Look for how consistent his delivery and feel for his slider and change improve this year as indicators of his future role and likelihood of reaching the big leagues.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 40/45/55 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 40/45/45+
Overall: 35/40/45

Quick Hits

RHP Danny Dopico registered 56 strikeouts in 35 Arizona League innings in 2015, and reportedly finished well in instructionals after  tweaking his pitches a bit. One source put 60 to 70 grades on his fastball and breaking ball. He’ll move quickly if his stuff holds up and his command fares well against better hitters, with the same source saying he will be in the team’s top 10 this time next year.

SS Johan Cruz is tall and thin-bodied player that team sources say has enough tools to stick at shortstop. His offensive turnaround was widely praised by all the contacts with whom I spoke. SS Amado Nunez (VIDEOis an athletic young player with good hands and instincts at his position. He has some contact potential but has a long way to go from a strength standpoint. 3B Nick Delmonico (VIDEOdoesn’t project for much power against big-league pitching, and with defensive question marks and no speed, he’s likely a stretch for a big-league role. 3B Matt Davidson (VIDEO) is what he is at this point. He has the strength to hit as many homers as the times he can connect with the ball. The problem is he doesn’t connect often enough due to poor bat-to-ball skills and a swing path that is too choppy to have any room for error. 1B Keon Barnum (VIDEO) is a first baseman with a downward swing plane, contact issues and injury concerns, Barnum has the BP power to keep getting a chance but is unlikely to do much at the big-league level.

RHP Nolan Sanburn has a power arm that could earn him a bullpen spot, but his breaking ball comes up short and he has to throw more strikes. RHP Luis Martinez will hopefully be enjoying his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. He has to be more aggressive throwing strikes, but he has some upside with projectabale stuff. RHP Blake Hickman is another strong arm that will be back from TJ surgery in August of this year. RHP David Trexler may end up a decent bullpen arm, but he hasn’t been able to put a run of good performances together yet. RHP Zach Thompson is a big strong righty that needs to improve his command, though one source lamented that he just hasn’t gotten better since signing. RHP Michael Ynoa is healthy now and showing some ability to throw strikes with his live arm, but he still has a lot of approach and mechanical things to work on before reaching his ceiling as a seventh-inning guy at best.

Cistulli’s Guy
Note: it has recently come to Carson Cistulli’s attention that Junior Guerra is now a member of the Brewers, which club claimed Guerra on waivers this offseason. Rather than dwell on Cistulli’s shortcomings (i.e. that he lacks the basic sense to have confirmed Guerra’s employer) let’s instead use this oversight as a platform to applaud the Milwaukee front office for their shrewd acquisition. Well played, the Brewers!

Junior Guerra, RHP

Guerra was a fixture this year among the Fringe Five, the author’s weekly attempt to identify rookie-eligible players who’ve been excluded from top-prospect lists but who neverthless exhibit some combination of tools and skills such as to render them candidates for future success.

The White Sox signed the right-hander to a minor-league deal last offseason out of the Italian League — this after he’d made previous stops as a professional in both Spain and Wichita, as well. Guerra was immediately effective, earning a promotion to Charlotte after producing one of the top strikeout- and walk-rate differentials among all Double-A pitchers. He made his major-league debut not long after that, as well.

While the 31-year-old Guerra worked mostly in relief towards the end of the season, it’s not out of the question that he could start. He reached the mid-90s in that capacity last year and also featured a split-change to help neutralize lefties, two examples of which pitch are featured in the video below.

Dan is Fangraphs Lead Prospect Analyst, living in New York City. He played baseball for four years at Franklin & Marshall College before attending medical school. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DWFarnsworth.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

Junior Guerra is a Brewer.

Carson Cistullimember
8 years ago
Reply to  larry1sss

Carson Cistulli is an idiot.

Jorge Fabregasmember
8 years ago

I suggest Carlos Perez (rookie ball catcher) as Cistulli’s new guy, but good luck finding the right Carlos Perez.