Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008.
If you were perusing this series back in 2017 you would have read:
The ’16 Draft Pick: Zack Collins (C): The Sox currently appear ready to open 2017 with Kevan Smith and Omar Narvaez behind the plate — with a combined 41 games of big league experience between them. So, yeah, catching depth in the system isn’t great… and could be why the Sox targeted Collins – a solid college catcher – with the 10th overall selection in the 2016 draft. The jury is still out on his ability to stick behind the plate but he can hit. In his debut, he walked 33 times (next to 39 Ks) in 36 games and went deep six times. The bar for catchers’ offence is very low and Collins could exceed average. He should split 2017 between high-A and double-A, although his defensive work could slow down his ascent to The Show.
Now on to the new stuff:
First Taste of The Show: Daniel Palka, 1B: This new era of baseball is turning quad-A sluggers and Japanese exports into big leaguers. Case in point: Palka. He has 30 home run potential but it also comes with a 30-35% strikeout rate. Palka walked just 6.7% of the time but consistently showed 10-12% rates in the minors so there is hope here that he can offset the putrid batting average with a mildly respectable on-base rate with some more walks as an MLB sophomore in 2019. With the signing of Yonder Alonso and the presence of Jose Abreu, Palka’s only real path to playing time is probably in left field, which isn’t ideal.
The Draft Pick: Nick Madrigal, 2B: Considered by many as the top hitter in the entire draft class last year, Madrigal had those skills on full display during his pro debut in 2018. After a five-game conditioning stint at the rookie level, he moved on to play at two A-ball levels and hit more than .300 at both stops while producing a BB-K of 6-5. He’s even received some playing time in the Sox’s MLB camp this spring and is again hitting above .300. The young second baseman isn’t going to need much more seasoning in the minors and it likely the real reason Yoan Moncada has already been shifted over to the hot corner. The downside with Madrigal is that he produces almost no pop given his contact-first approach, and he also doesn’t walk a ton… because of his outstanding bat-to-ball skills.
The Riser: Luis Gonzalez, OF: Most of the hype around outfield prospects in the White Sox system revolves around Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert — and rightfully so. Gonzalez, though, is quietly building an impressive resume of his own. The Mexico native, who played college ball at New Mexico, was a third-round selection in 2017 and split his first full pro year between two A-ball levels. He hit more than .300 at both levels due to his willingness to use the entire field and doesn’t sell out to produce power. And while he hit just 14 home runs, he slugged 40 doubles. And doubles in the minor leagues are often a precursor to the development of over-the-fence pop as hitters mature. Gonzalez has room to get stronger and he also has a tendency to roll over off-speed stuff down and away so he’ll have some work to do at the Double-A level in 2019 as he looks to continue his upward trajectory.
The Fallen: Jake Burger, 3B: I feel really bad for Burger. Selected well ahead of Luiz Gonzalez at 11th overall in 2017, he’s appeared in just 51 pro games after blowing out his Achilles tendon. And worst yet, he tore it again while rehabbing from the original surgery in 2018 and could miss a significant chunk of 2019, as well. The lost development time definitely hurts Burger. And conditioning was not one of his strong suits prior to getting hurt so he’ll have to work really hard now to stay in optimum baseball shape.
The 2019 Contributor: Eloy Jimenez, OF: This young, talented outfielder has already been sent down and will open the year in the minors but we all know it’s more about service time manipulation than anything else. With that said, Jimenez probably could have come into the spring a little more prepared and he hardly set the world on fire with just four hits and a BB-K of 0-9. Once he gets refocused, Jimenez should earn his way back before the summer as he’s already laid waste to both Double-A and Triple-A. The slugger may never take a ton of walks but he also keeps the strikeouts at a reasonable level due to strong contact skills given his age (22) and the ability to produce above-average pop. Even more frightening, he has yet to fully tap into his raw power potential despite slugging 22 homers last year. Jimenez has a chance to both hit .300 and slug 30 homers.
The 2019 Sleeper: Anderson Comas, OF: This teenaged Dominican has done nothing but hit since turning pro. He had a very aggressive approach in his debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2017 when he produced a BB-K of 8-45 in 63 games. Comas then moved over to the Arizona rookie league in 2018 where he made excellent adjustments despite maintaining an aggressive style at the plate. He hit more than .300 while keeping his strikeout rate at 15%. Comas is slowly chipping away at a high ground-ball rate and has the frame and bat speed to produce above-average pop as he matures as a hitter. He’ll likely open the year in extended spring training and spend another year in short-season ball but the Sox are also known for being aggressive with their prospects.
The 2019 Lottery Ticket: Bryce Bush, 3B: Bush is raw but I really like what I’ve seen early on. He’s a high-waisted kid that’s all legs. He has a wide, well-balanced stance at the plate and uses that lower half to help generate pop. Bush also has an exceptionally quick bat that should help him have above-average pop as he matures. The downside to Bush is that he might need a solid number of at-bats to sharpen his eye and improve against breaking balls. He also has limited projection at third base at may eventually move to left field or first base. Still, I really like his potential.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.