Scouting the White Sox’ Monster Return for Chris Sale

In what will probably be the blockbuster deal of the entire offseason, the White Sox sent LHP Chris Sale to Boston this afternoon in exchange for two of the highest-upside prospects in baseball, Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, as well as tools-goof outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and arm-strength lottery ticket Victor Diaz. Below are my scouting reports on the prospects involved. I’ll update the White Sox prospect list with these reports later this evening. Moncada will be No. 1 and Kopech No. 2, with Basabe slotting in toward the back of the org’s top 10 and Diaz falling toward the bottom of the 40 FV section.

It’s strange that one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the minor leagues is involved in this deal and yet somehow not its headliner. Such is the prodigious talent of Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada, who I believe to be the best prospect in all of baseball despite his swing-and-miss issues. A generational talent who possesses one of the most robust collections of tools I’ve seen, Moncada has an SEC running back’s body at an athletic and strong 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. There are very few, if any, comparable physiques across baseball.

He’s also a plus-plus runner, both from home to first and on the bases, scattering large swaths of dirt behind him as he traverses the bases. I think Moncada is going to retain that speed for quite a while despite already appearing to have maxed out physically. Even if he does lose a step with age (and it will probably happen at some point), I expect Moncada to retain impact plus speed into his late 20s or early 30s, even if he’s no longer an elite runner at peak.

That speed is going to give Chicago some room to consider Moncada’s defensive options. His performance at second base was mixed throughout his tenure with Boston. He certainly has the physical capability to play the position easily. His range and arm strength (an easy 70 on the scouting scale) are both more than enough to play anywhere on the infield, but his work around the bag, general defensive footwork, and sometimes awkward arm action have all led to some inexcusable miscues that most scouts hope will be ironed out with time and reps.

Moncada is now 21 and some of those defensive hiccups were prevalent throughout his tenure in the Arizona Fall League, where Moncada continued his late-season transition to third base. I believe, with time and instruction, that he’ll be fine at either second or third, though some scouts are less enamored of his feel for the infield and would like to see him tried in center field, where he has the raw physical ability to be a plus defender.

Regardless of where Moncada ends up on the defensive spectrum, his offensive capabilities are going to profile there. He generates plus-plus bat speed from the left side and is able to hit for opposite-field power despite a swing geared for low-ball contact, something I don’t recall seeing from a prospect before. His bat control is mediocre right now, and I think this is part of why he has struck out so much (30% of the time at Triple-A, 60% in a short big-league stint) during his career. Moncada’s swing from the right side is more conservative, a bit more stiff than his cut from the left side, and lacks big extension. He’s more strength than bat speed as a right-handed hitter but still has plus raw power from that side.

Even with a worse-than-average strikeout rate factored into his hit tool’s grade, I think Moncada is a future plus hitter because, when he does connect, he’s vaporizing baseballs into play and his career-long BABIP and ISO are evidence of that. I think it’s reasonable to say Moncada’s career BABIP rate will rest, at the very least, comfortably above the league-average .300 mark when you factor in his speed and the quality of contact he makes when he does connect.

Moncada is not a finished product, but the raw material is the most impressive in baseball. I think with time he’ll be one of baseball’s best players.

The White Sox also acquired RHP Michael Kopech, he of the 105-mph-fastball lore and occasional off-field dust-up. I saw Kopech several times during the Arizona Fall League (to which he was sent after dealing with injuries this season), and he’s also an incredible physical specimen with some of the most exceptional raw talent in the minor leagues. During my looks at Kopech this fall, he sat 96-100, touching 101 with some of the most incredible arm acceleration I’ve ever seen from a pitching prospect. His arm action is explosive, though not always well timed, and his arm sometimes is finishing its part of the delivery before the rest of his body is.

The overall timing and inconsistent pacing of Kopech’s delivery are what I believe to be the chief cause of his strike-throwing inconsistency to this point, though he sometimes lands off line relative to the plate as well. Despite some effort to the delivery (he throws 100, there’s going to be some effort), there are no real mechanical red flags that indicate long-term strike-throwing issues, no overly violent delivery that seems impossible to iron out. Even if Kopech’s velocity backs down to the 94-98 range under a full-season workload, the fact that he could conceivably command that kind of velocity is kind of terrifying.

Kopech’s secondaries are raw but promising. He has poor feel for locating his slider right now, but the pitch flashes plus in the 86-90 mph range and has atypical two-plane movement for a pitch at that velocity when he’s locating down and to his glove side. It projects to plus. His changeup, 91-93 in my viewings, flashes above average despite essentially being an average fastball, because hitters are geared up for 96-plus and see arm speed that indicates that sort of velo out of Kopech’s hand. It also projects to plus and could end up being Kopech’s best pitch.

There’s obviously a non-zero chance that Kopech, despite his athleticism and young age, never throws enough strikes to start; many scouts with whom I’ve spoken think he ends up in a bullpen, where he’d be a high-octane freak. His off-field issues concern scouts, too. Kopech lost six weeks of his season after fracturing his hand in a March fight with a teammate and missed 50 games in 2015 due to an amphetamine suspension. He carries a bit more risk than a pitching prospect of this caliber otherwise would, which is already a substantial amount of risk due to the velo. I think the ceiling here is that of a No. 2 or 3 starter.

Arguably the most interesting prospect in this deal is OF Luis Alexander Basabe, who elicits a wide range of opinions from scouts — opinions that usually hinge on whether they think he’s going to hit. He’s undoubtedly tooled up, a 60 runner with a 60 arm and potentially above-average raw power. His feel for hitting, especially from the left side, is raw. Basabe has issues with timing, getting his weight forward, tracking, and swing length from the left side, though he showed some improvement in his balance and timing as the season progressed.

He’s more balanced and controlled from the right side and has better bat control, but there’s still excessive noise in the hands that leads to swing and miss. I’ve spoken with scouts who don’t like Basabe at all, but the defensive profile is favorable and, even if he doesn’t hit, it’s easy to envision Basabe as a fourth outfielder or even a low-end regular who hits at the bottom of the lineup. The upside is, realistically, that of an average everyday player if Basabe shows enough progression with the bat in the coming years. I’m skeptical.

Righty Victor Diaz will also touch 100, sit 94-98, and has very little feel for either of his secondaries with the slider flashing above average while consistently sitting a grade below it. He’s raw for a 22-year-old, both in his feel for secondaries and ability to throw strikes. He profiles as a relief arm whose effectiveness will be dictated by the progression of one of his secondary pitches. If the slider becomes consistently above average, he has a chance to be a setup man, but the control/command profile is probably too raw to hope for much more than that right now. As noted above, he’s an arm-strength lottery ticket.

We hoped you liked reading Scouting the White Sox’ Monster Return for Chris Sale by Eric Longenhagen!

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Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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Original Greaser Bob
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Original Greaser Bob

Rumor has it Moises Alou peed on his bat too.

Great write up Eric, love how you guys crank this stuff out so fast.

Bat
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Bat

This article by Eric certainly gave me a different perspective on the trade.

When you initially hear about Sale joining the Red Sox and more specifically the Red Sox rotation of Price, Porcello, etc. you start salivating over the Red Sox’s World Series chances over the next what…2/3 years, and forget all about the other side of the trade.

Or at least I did.

But then you read this article and some of Eric’s words therein:
(1) Moncada
-“A generational talent who possesses one of the most robust collections of tools I’ve seen…”
-“There are very few, if any, comparable physiques across baseball”
-“I think with time he’ll be one of baseball’s best players.”
(2) Kopech
-“[O]ne of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the minor leagues”
-“[H]e of the 105-mph-fastball lore.”
-“[H]e’s also an incredible physical specimen with some of the most exceptional raw talent in the minor leagues.”
-“During my looks at Kopech this fall, he sat 96-100, touching 101 with some of the most incredible arm acceleration I’ve ever seen from a pitching prospect.”
-“[The possibility that he could] command that kind of velocity is kind of terrifying.”

THEN, after talking about these two beasts, Eric proceeds to write:
(1) “Arguably the most interesting prospect in this deal is OF Luis Alexander Basabe.”

Arguably the most interesting prospect is a guy other than the dude who has “a physique comparable to few in baseball” and other than a guy who has been clocked at 105 MPH???

Wow!
Like, WTF wow!

And if those three weren’t enough, the White Sox also got some lottery ticket who throws 100 MPH.

You read this article, and you start thinking that the White Sox took a ridiculously huge rebuilding step with one single trade…and if Williams, Hahn, etc. are smart this is only the first domino to fall out of Quintana, Abreu, Robertson, etc. and they could conceivably create one of the next up and coming powerhouses. Obviously, that’s a rosy outlook after just one step in the rebuilding direction. But according to Eric’s article…boy, what a step!

jdbolick
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If you only look at the potential positives then I agree, it looks like the White Sox made a monster trade that sets their team up for years of contention in the future. This trade does have that kind of ceiling. But it should be noted that Moncada and Kopech also have greater than average risk and bust potential.

I’ve seen Moncada in person several times along with Kopech/Basabe once. Eric is spot on that if you removed the names and numbers from the jerseys, Moncada would immediately stand out due to his frame and musculature. He looks like a 26 year old major leaguer on a rehab assignment rather than a 21 year old prospect. As far as swing analysis goes, his lower body from the left side does almost exactly what you would want it to. His stride is under control, with a small leg kick and step forward for timing. His front leg is stiff and his front foot is slightly closed, allowing him to generate enormous torque on the swing. The upper body is where the issues crop up, as his hands begin above his back shoulder and when his front foot lands they are both higher and significantly behind his back shoulder, requiring an unnecessarily long path to the zone.

His swing is also fairly grooved, as he doesn’t adjust well to pitch location. That leaves his bat tilted at extreme angles in certain parts of the zone, limiting the surface area along the path of the pitch and thus reducing his chances of making sound contact. When he does barrel the ball, it launches with impressive velocity, so I agree that he’s going to run significantly above average BABIPs as a major leaguer. I think he is also going to run significantly below average contact rates, although better hand location would improve things over where he is now. Better hand location might also improve his launch angle, which is currently a significant concern. At Greenville he hit 52% more ground balls than fly balls, at Salem he hit 45% more ground balls than fly balls, and at Portland he hit 39% more ground balls than fly balls. Given that the very vast majority of his ground balls are pulled, his speed doesn’t help him much when batting from the left side. For a guy with this kind of power potential who also has contact issues, you really want to see him elevating the ball much more often. Carrying his hands lower and closer to his body on the stride could have that effect, so it is possible that he could make sudden improvement on this current flaw. I would also move him back off the plate a little bit to allow for more extension on his swing.

I’m also on board with the notion that he’s not a second baseman. He played there all the times I saw him, and his footwork was definitely an issue. I felt at the time that third would be a better fit, but the idea of him playing center field is pretty interesting as well. I also have concerns about Moncada’s demeanor on the field. He seems to zone out while playing the field and shows inconsistent effort, while at the plate he doesn’t run out singles or presumed outs on fly balls. The lack of hustle was consistent every time I saw him, so it is something I’m concerned about.

On Kopech, pitchers change so much from outing to outing that my one view is in no way definitive, but I’ll relate what I did see in the playoffs against Myrtle Beach. His fastball command was extremely inconsistent, sometimes hitting his spot perfectly but most often forcing the catcher to adjust significantly and frequently ending up outside the strike zone. It did have a nice tailing action in addition to the velocity, especially on pitches to the third base side of the plate. His release is pretty high and early with no deception. That allowed the Myrtle Beach hitters to avoid chasing out of the zone and to make hard contact on ones inside the zone. Of the sliders he threw, one was a beauty over the outside edge for a called third strike, another was a hanger up, and the rest were so far out of the zone down and away that hitters didn’t chase. He also appeared to get visibly frustrated as Myrtle Beach got to him in that third inning.

Then the two things about Basabe that stood out were his passivity early in the count and his tendency to pull off the ball when swinging. The reason I said passivity instead of patience is that a lot of the pitches he took in this game were strikes, which put him behind in the count. Regarding the latter, his hips would open up early, which caused his front knee and butt to swing out towards first base, leaving his bat lagging behind. I only saw him hit from the left side, so I can’t comment on his swing as a right-handed batter.

Basically what I’m getting at is that all three of these guys had significant warts that mean a larger than normal chance of disappointing as prospects. That’s why I keep characterizing this return as high risk in addition to high reward. There is a significant chance that Moncada doesn’t have a true defensive position and doesn’t elevate the ball frequently enough to offset his strikeouts. There is an even more significant chance in my opinion that Kopech ends up being a high leverage reliever and not an especially dominant one at that. Then there is a significant chance that Basabe is nothing more than a fifth outfielder / defensive replacement. This trade could end up looking really great or really disappointing for the White Sox five years from now, and while it’s true that all prospects have considerable uncertainty due to the nature of their development, I’m suggesting that this return is more risky than most blockbuster deals. It’s entirely possible that Boston doesn’t end up missing any of these guys.

Rational Fan
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Rational Fan

Every time someone trades for prospects, it’s entirely possible they don’t end up missing them.

Your continual harping on this is just hilarious. The consensus #1 overall prospect in baseball somehow carries a higher bust rate, to you, than say Victor Robles. It just doesn’t make much sense. He has other tools; you have already pigeonholed him as a player, and as a defender.

Most everyone around baseball has said the White Sox got a lot more from the Red Sox than anyone else was offering. Most all GM’s, scouts and talent evaluators around baseball think this was a really good deal for both teams but the White Sox got quite a haul in return.

No offense to your in person scouting of a couple games, but I think we’re better off trusting the endless pool of scouts, GM’s and data that disagrees with your assessment.

jdbolick
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Robles is a safer prospect, despite being farther away, because he has superior bat control and is viewed as a future plus defender in center field. Moncada’s upside is obviously significantly higher than Robles, but his flaws also make him more risky. This is a fair return for Chris Sale, but it is also a high variance return.

Compare it to the Shelby Miller trade, if that helps. Swanson is probably never going to be an elite player but he is viewed as having a very high chance of being an above average regular. Inciarte may never be an All-Star but he is a plus defender while competent at the plate. Blair won’t be anyone’s choice to start a playoff game, but he is likely to be a mediocre innings eater at the back of the rotation. Moncada has more upside than Swanson and Kopech has more upside than Blair, but Moncada also has more downside than Swanson and Kopech may or may not be able to stick in a rotation. There is a lot of risk in this return, even more than usual for a deal of this type.