The White Sox’ Big Bets On Risk

On Tuesday, the White Sox completed their latest trade, sending Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle to New York for a trio of prospects and Tyler Clippard, who was included as a salary offset. In the span of four major trades, the team added 15 minor leaguers, including most of their best-ranked prospects now. And when you look at where these guys rank on the Baseball America mid-season Top 100, it’s easy to see why White Sox fans are excited about the organization’s now-bright future.

CHW’s Recently Acquired Prospects
BA Rank Pre-Season Rank Player Position
1 1 Yoan Moncada 2B
5 11 Eloy Jimenez OF
20 24 Michael Kopech SP
36 37 Blake Rutherford OF
59 23 Reynaldo Lopez SP
75 40 Lucas Giolito SP
83 90 Dylan Cease SP

That’s seven Top 100 guys, and by BA’s pre-season rankings, seven top 40 guys. The Braves are the only other team to even put seven guys in the top 100, much less trading for seven top 100 guys in the span of eight months. And we’re not even including international signing Luis Robert, who BA ranked 45th. Throw him into the mix and the White Sox basically created an elite farm system from scratch in less than a year.

Rick Hahn deserves a lot of credit for the moves he’s made in rebuilding the White Sox, and the team certainly has a brighter future now than they did at the end of last year. That said, there’s also a pretty clear pattern emerging among the guys the White Sox have acquired; the perceived upside outstrips the actual performance record right now. Put simply, the White Sox have repeatedly bet on guys whose hype isn’t quite yet supported by actual performance.

Let’s take a look at those same prospects again, only instead of looking at BA’s rankings, let’s look at how they rate by Chris Mitchell’s KATOH system, which is based solely on a player’s performance record. We’ll also include their KATOH+ ratings, which adds in BA’s rankings for an attempt at a holistic stats-and-scouting blend.

KATOH’s View of New CHW Prospects
Player KATOH KATOH Top 100 KATOH+ KATOH+ Top 100
Yoan Moncada 8.6 20 15.6 3
Eloy Jimenez 4.7 87 11.5 12
Michael Kopech 3.2 5.1 60
Lucas Giolito 3.8 4.3 80
Dylan Cease 2.2 2.7
Blake Rutherford 1.0 2.7
Reynaldo Lopez 2.1 2.6

For every one of the main pieces returned in the team’s four big trades, the stats-only version of KATOH is lower than the KATOH+ version, which incorporates BA’s rankings. And not in small ways. Based solely on their performance data to this point, Moncada and Jimenez project to produce about half of the value compared to when you include their BA rankings. And Rutherford stands out as the biggest outlier of all, ranking as a top-tier prospect in both the pre-season and mid-season BA lists, but grading out as a fringe prospect at best by his actual performance record to this point.

Of course, stats-only models are ignoring hugely important factors in a player’s development, and no one should look at KATOH’s numbers and think those are the right ones. Performance record is important, but it’s definitely not everything, and you’re always better off including as much good information as you can, which is why KATOH+ will do a better job of projecting players than the stats-only model.

But it’s also not a coincidence that these were the guys who weren’t off limits in negotiations. While it’s not like the Red Sox were eager to give up Yoan Moncada, his performance — specifically his contact rate — raised some red flags, and made him a bit more of an offensive question mark that the usual type of players who are rated as the best overall prospect in the game. The upside is obvious, but as Chris Mitchell noted this morning, the bust potential here is also high enough that KATOH isn’t quite as high on him as everyone else.

The same is true of Jimenez and Rutherford, both of whom project as corner outfielders, and will have to hit really well to be legitimate stars in the big leagues. Jimenez is doing actual damage against low-minors pitchers, but Rutherford isn’t yet showing much power, and both of these guys are basically nothing if they don’t hit. And the history of guys who have to hit in order to be valuable big leaguers is strewn with top prospects who didn’t pan out. Again, plenty of risk here.

Then there are the arms. Michael Kopech still has serious control problems. Reynoldo Lopez still doesn’t miss as many bats as you’d like from a guy with his stuff. Giolito has started getting strikeouts lately, but his walk rate is too high, and he’s still giving up home runs. Thanks to Tommy John surgery slowing down his career, Cease is still in low-A ball at 21, and like all these other guys, walks too many hitters right now.

These seven guys all have really impressive physical tools, but they also each have pretty significant flaws at the moment, most of them revolving around the strike zone. Certainly, these guys can improve from what they currently are, but part of the reason the White Sox were able to acquire all these guys is that their development is anything but guaranteed. Rick Hahn prioritized upside in his acquisitions, and while he’s done a great job picking up guys that have obviously high ceilings, we also shouldn’t be surprised when most of these guys don’t make it.

Obviously, there are risks with every prospect, and saying that a bunch of them are going to fail isn’t breaking news. But it’s notable that the White Sox have landed risky prospects even by prospect standards, and the performance records of the guys Hahn has been acquiring don’t yet match up with their prospect rankings. For these deals to work out as well as the White Sox hope, their player development system is going to have to take some raw materials and turn them into polished big leaguers.

The White Sox system is now very strong, and their future is bright. But it’s pretty clear that Hahn has targeted upside over performance in trades, and that means he’s had to accept a lot of risk to get these returns. Pretty soon, the White Sox might want to start adding some guys who have a bit lower ceilings but better chances of turning into Major Leaguers, because as this teardown shows, having a few stars surrounded by a bunch of busts doesn’t really equal a winner.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Rational Fan
Member

All prospects are risky, and I think looking for the elite level talents is just as safe as looking for high floor/low ceiling players.

As for as the pitching goes; I feel the organization is confident in their ability to develop arms and keep them healthy which leads to the stuff vs non-stuff argument for their trades.

edit: I also think their big acquisitions get a little more publicity but someone like Dunning and Hansen are more revered in the organization than out of it. Hansen has elite stuff and the Sox have greatly helped his command in one season in the organization and Dunning might be the steal of the Eaton trade. I also think someone like Mendick might be a solid big leaguer without all the fanfare, and Guerrero can be a consistent back of the rotation arm. They have a few safer bets in their system, they just rank behind the guys with star potential.

Bobby Ayala
Member

It’s a well-established fact that the White Sox are amazing at developing pitching and preventing injury.

Rational Fan
Member

Posted by another guy in this comment chain, but will bump it to the top because you refuse to accept that they keep arms healthier with their pitching program:

http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/01/chicago-white-sox-mlb-injury-prevention-disabled-list-days

“Here’s what we know: Since 2005, teams have seen at least four members of their pitching rotations make 30 starts apiece in a single season a total of 30 times. Twelve organizations have never done it at all in that span. Of the remaining 18 Major League teams, only one franchise has had four starting pitchers remain healthy and effective enough to stay in its rotation more than twice since 2005: The Chicago White Sox, who have done it five times.

And there’s way more. In a must-read post to The Hardball Times last month, Jeff Zimmermann looked at every team’s total days spent on the disabled list. Not only did White Sox players miss by far the least time with injury in the 2015 campaign — 353, more than 1,500 fewer than the league-leading Rangers — but dating back to 2001, the South Side club has seen its players miss about 3,000 fewer games than the next healthiest club. Take a look at Zimmermann’s chart here. It’s nuts.”

But you’re right, they don’t keep anyone healthier and they shouldn’t gamble more on injury risk arms because they have no history of keeping those guys healthier and on track…

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

Why was the sarcastic last paragraph necessary? Nothing you said contradicted what the commenter who you replied to said.

Rational Fan
Member

Because the comment by him was sarcastic based on a prior discussion we had in which he said the White Sox were not strong in developing arms.

Here is the link:
http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/instagraphs/cubs-and-white-sox-pull-off-jose-quintana-blockbuster/

And his comment:

Bobby Ayala:
Why do the Sox deserve the benefit of the doubt with developing pitching? I’m having a hard time finding a franchise that’s worse at it.

Bobby Ayala
Member

Beside the fact that you’re linking to a USA Today article that links to SB Nation articles and White Sox fanboy blogs, you are continuing to attribute 100% of success of any White Sox pitcher to their miraculous “development,” which is a flawed premise.

I imagine if Giolito or Kopech turns into anything you will say it’s another miracle of development. The irony of your name grows…

Krisco
Member
Krisco

Not for nothing, but I’m pretty sure this is the same “Rational Fan” who a few years ago was making the case that Conor Gillaspie was better than Kris Bryant.

Krisco
Member
Krisco

Here’s “Rational Fan” posting 2 years ago:
“Kris Bryant is a TWO TOOL player at best. How is his floor higher? My goodness. The hype surrounding this guy is atrocious.

“A 5 tool player – Buxton – is going to have a higher floor than a 2 tool player. If Bryant doesn’t make contact enough to hit for average (which is entirely possible) then his only + tool will be power. He’s slow footed, with a poor glove and an average arm. I’ve never seen a two tool player have so many people drooling over him.”

1. Bryant wins ROY that year.
2. Bryant wins MVP the following year.
3. Rational Fan continues yapping, undaunted.

Never change, Rational Fan.

Rational Fan
Member

Yes, I was wrong about Bryant; he has been excellent. This year he has been a below average defender and base runner, but his first two years in the league he was exceptional in all aspects of the game. His contact issues which plagued him in the minors and the first year in the big leagues have disappeared as he has adjusted. These are the same concerns people see in Moncada and I understand them.

Yes, I still have opinions despite being incorrect about Kris Bryant. I am sure you have never been incorrect about players or prospects before. That’s a tough burden to carry.

Here’s Dave Cameron questioning Kris Bryant’s ceiling and ability to play 3rd base; eventually being forced to the OF.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/kris-bryant-and-floor-versus-ceiling/

I guess Dave Cameron should stop giving his baseball opinion as well according to Krisco.

Krisco
Member
Krisco

But that WAS you posting about how you’d take Gillaspie over Bryant, right Rational Fan? I haven’t been able to find that one, but it seared into my brain at the time.

It’s okay to admit it—I give you props about admitting how wrong you were about Bryant. (Not that you care a whit about what I think. I understand that.)

Rational Fan
Member

I don’t ever recall saying Gillaspie was better. I do recall being critical of Bryant because of his elevated k-rate; similarly to how people have been critical of Moncada due to contact issues.

I also was rather confused in regards to the hype surrounding Schwarber as I viewed him as a left handed Mike Napoli as a comp and not some elite untradeable bat.

You get some right, you get some wrong. That’s the nature of making opinions on volatile prospects.

zachhh
Member
zachhh

Definitely should stop giving his baseball opinion!

Dudes a effing tool. Dave said he would not trade Devers for Machado? When the Sox are trying to win THIS year! He has clear favoritism for certain teams– Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Da Dodgers. Dude likes his big market teams. Then he is Clearly biased against others like the Astros.. he’s been saying for years Altuve is not good and over performing lol. Now it’s he’s good because the ball is juiced. Also obviously dislikes the orioles(5 years straight saying they would suck), Jays, Indians etc.

Stat people treat him like he’s a messiah.. what a joke

Otter
Member
Member
Otter

That was pretty spot on at the time. I don’t think anyone saw Bryant’s glove becoming plus (most scouting analysts, iirc, thought he’d be in left sooner rather than later). Few saw Bryant cutting his K rate by 10 points. Just goes to show that prospects can, you know, improve.

Fromubaktome
Member
Member
Fromubaktome

Yeah, Rodon looked strong for the first half of this season.

feslenraster
Member
feslenraster

Yup, crapshoot. But the more the better, probability wise, one might succeed.