Scouting the White Sox’ Return for Adam Eaton

The White Sox continued adding to their suddenly robust farm system yesterday, acquiring a trio of pitching prospects from Washington in exchange for star outfielder Adam Eaton. Below are my scouting reports on the prospects involved. Lucas Giolito (60 Future Value) will slot in behind Yoan Moncada on the next revision of the White Sox prospect list, the completions of which I might delay until Rick Hahn’s purge of the major-league roster appears complete. Reynaldo Lopez will slot between Michael Kopech and Zack Collins as a 55 FV, while Dane Dunning will be the top 45 FV on the list.

The once Prodigious Lucas Giolito has more recently become the Enigmatic Lucas Giolito. While he remains one of baseball’s best pitching prospects after an inconsistent 2016, Giolito is no longer head-and-shoulders the game’s best. The opinions of scouts who saw Giolito this year make for an interesting collage of hope, fear, tempered expectations and patience, but all agree that front-end starter upside is still extant, if a bit less likely.

That kind of upside has been apparent since Giolito’s days at Harvard-Westlake, where, before suffering a season-ending elbow injury that would later require Tommy John surgery, he was generating potential 1-1 buzz and had a legitimate chance to become the first right-handed high-school pitcher ever taken with the draft’s first pick.

Giolito was bumping 100 with his fastball at the time. Of course, many high-school pitchers lose velocity in pro ball after being subjected to increased season-long workloads and fewer off days. Despite the occasional 98-plus from Giolito, he generally sat 93-97 in pro looks before the end of 2016 when, even out of the bullpen, he was sitting 92-94 and merely touching 96.

That’s still plus velocity, and some scouts who saw Giolito later in the year noted an increase in sink/run on his fastball and thought that maybe an increased usage of the two-seamer had led to a minor dip in velo. However, Giolito’s big-league fastball spin rate (a below-average 2000 rpm) showed almost no change between his mid-year debut and his September appearances.

It would make sense for Washington to have explored some fastball variation because, even in the minors, Giolito’s heater wasn’t missing many bats. It has grounder-inducing plane, a product of Giolito’s functionally vertical arm slot, but lacks consistent horizontal movement, only showing it regularly when Giolito is running the ball off the hip of left-handed hitters. Giolito’s tendency to work up in the zone with a fastball that features very little spin has been detrimental. If he can more readily work down in the zone (this could unlocked with a mechanical tweak, something for which some have advocated even without this in mind, because they don’t love the delivery from a health standpoint, especially given the medical history here), the fastball will play as plus.

Giolito’s out pitch is his curveball, a low-80s hammer with more depth than Jacques Cousteau could handle. It’s easily a plus pitch right now and is frequently a 70 on the scouting scale. You could argue it projects to an 80 if Giolito learns how to locate it just beneath the strike zone with regularity and can throw it for strikes without sacrificing arm speed (he decelerates when he’s getting the curve over for strikes right now). Despite a pretty long arm action, Giolito has a solid changeup. He sells it with his fastball’s arm speed, and he has decent feel for movement. It’s consistently average right now and projects above. I think there’s less changeup projection here than there would be with other arms this talented and young (Giolito is only 22) because of the length of the arm action.

Late in the year, Giolito was also working with a below-average slider in the 83-85 range that had very inconsistent shape and bite. It’s hard to say if we’ll see the slider next year, as many — correctly, it would seem — think Chicago should prioritize the development of Giolito’s command rather than have him worrying about a fourth pitch.

Indeed the control/command profile is the most impactful variable associated with Giolito’s future. When locating, Giolito is positively lethal. He often isn’t locating, however, and we’ll need to see a full grade’s worth of progression on the command/control if Giolito is to even remain a starter. Of course, if the command ever comes — especially if it supersedes my projection and allows his stuff to play — then will be a top-of-the-rotation arm. The medical history, drop in velo and command all contribute to the risk profile.

Also included in the deal is fireballing righty Reynaldo Lopez, who has also touched 100 with his fastball during his pro career. (This is the fourth time I’m writing about a 100 mph fastball in the last 48 hours, by the way.) Lopez’s viability as a starter has also been questioned due to his size, delivery and command. I think he has a decent chance to remain a starter. Despite measuring in at an even 6-feet, he’s built well, especially in the torso, and has made a concerted effort to stay strong after losing almost all of his 2013 season to a dead arm. He has great arm acceleration and fairly safe arm action, especially for an undersized pitcher with a fastball in the 94-98 range. There’s some skepticism about the lower half’s strength and its involvement in Lopez’s delivery. His finish can be unbalanced, and his delivery is more driven by his hips than a combination of rotation and push off the mound, which causes him to throw across his body.

Some scouts don’t like the way the delivery impacts the command and others think it’s a harbinger of medical doom. Lopez doesn’t operate like four seaming surgeon but at least lives in and around the strike zone and his stuff is good enough to allow for some margin of error when he misses his spots. I’m less concerned about him throwing an acceptable number of strikes (he’s never had a high walk rate) than I am about his future ability to stay healthy, though I’ll acknowledge scouting deliveries and trying gauge injury likelihood is an exercise in futility.

Lopez’s stuff plays as a starter, too. His curveball, a slurvy 78-81 mph offering, is above average and projects to plus — though it was a 45/50 for me at the Futures Game, where Lopez wasn’t really getting on top of it very well — and Lopez can consistently locate it to his glove side, away from where hitters can touch it. He’s already using it effectively as a weapon down and in against left-handed hitters.

His upper-80s changeup has barely been worked into his repertoire and is below average. I have it projected aggressively to average because of Lopez’s arm speed, though you could argue the arm action limits it to a half grade short of that.

I think Lopez has No. 3-starter upside and, having already debuted in the majors, a relatively modest risk profile despite some dissent about his viability as a starter. That risk profile includes the concerns about the delivery that, coupled with a chance the MLB hitters adjust to his somewhat wild approach to pitching, might limit his ability to eat innings and accumulate value.

The final piece of the deal is RHP Dane Dunning, who mostly pitched in relief at Florida this year because the Gators had superior rotation options in A.J. Puk, Logan Shore and Alex Faedo (a potential 1-1 candidate for the 2017 draft). But Dunning has a starter’s build, delivery, athleticism and stuff, running his sinking heater up to 95 and pitching with an above-average, vertically breaking, mid-80s slider.

Because Dunning’s college innings and reps were limited by his role, his entire repertoire, including his below-average changeup, have significant projection. He had some success in longer stints this year, including a 10-strikeout outing in March. He profiles as a solid No. 4 starter for me and, especially when considering how aggressively the White Sox have pushed their prospects of late, there’s a chance he could sniff Double-A in 2017 and reach the South Side the following year.





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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ChippersJonesing
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ChippersJonesing

I know you don’t typically answer these comments, but if you get bored and notice can you explain what made scouts put as much as a 70-grade on Giolito’s fastball? Is it mostly velocity, which as you note is good to really good, but not great? Or is there something about its movement that isn’t picked up by PITCHf/x (which points to the movement being pretty close to average)?

Bip
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Bip

My understanding is fastball grade is almost entirely based on velocity.