With a 10-5 loss to the last-place Royals Wednesday, the White Sox fell to 37-70 on the year, third-worst in the league. Their lineup is filled with players that you’ve never heard of, like Adam Engel with a .586 OPS. The bullpen is even less well-known after trading away closer Joakim Soria, while the rotation has struggled the whole year. The team is clearly not going anywhere soon. So when will the future arrive?
“There are still boxes to check,” said White Sox GM Rick Hahn said about his top prospects.
The future is in the form of the slugging outfielder Eloy Jimenez and fireballer Michael Kopech, both of whom are currently at Triple-A Charlotte. Hahn’s decision to tear down the White Sox and start a rebuild after multiple failed attempts to restock the roster brought those two top prospects to Chicago.
Kopech joined the system in December of 2016 after the White Sox traded away ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox. Second baseman Yoan Moncada, formerly the No. 1 prospect in baseball, also came to Chicago with Kopech and OF Luis Alexander Basabe. A few days later, the Nationals offered two top pitching prospects, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, along with Dane Dunning for outfielder Adam Eaton. Jimenez and Dylan Cease crossed town when Hahn dealt lefty Jose Quintana in July of 2017, and both have bloomed into stars at their respective levels.
Jimenez has set the minor-league world on fire since being called up to the Knights on June 21. On Tuesday, his ten-game hitting streak was snapped, but he is still slugging .693 in the level right below the majors. With eight homers, 17 RBI and a .376 average in 27 games, it seems like he’s been making an impact every night. He has the ability to be a better version of Kyle Schwarber, a power-hitting left fielder without a plus glove. According to MLB.com, Jimenez is the third-best prospect in baseball.
— Ryan Mensch ® (@RMensch53) July 26, 2018
Kopech hasn’t done as well at Charlotte, but his strikeout numbers are making White Sox fans salivate. He strikes out 12.1 AAA hitters per nine innings, which would put him fourth best in the majors, just behind Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Kopech, the No. 13 MLB.com prospect, is a fireballer similar to the Yankees’ Luis Severino in his ability to hit triple digits as a starting pitcher.
The White Sox outfield has been a carousel this year, with Avisail Garcia and Nicky Delmonico injured for months. Jimenez could bring some stability and a power bat in the middle of the lineup.
As for the rotation, the South Siders currently have the worst ERA in the league from starters. Fellow prospects Lopez and Giolito have struggled mightily, with Giolito owning the worst qualified ERA in baseball. Pitching coach Don Cooper will have to work some magic to help the rotation with a bright future.
Along with the struggles of the former Nationals prospects, Moncada is tied for the league lead in strikeouts. He has shown some solid stretches but is still a below-average hitter for the MLB. Carson Fulmer, another starter drafted No. 8 out of Vanderbilt, was terrible in eight starts this season, posting an 8.07 ERA in eight starts before being sent back down.
Michael Kopech makes this look so easy. pic.twitter.com/twBkCskAtc
— Josh Nelson (@soxmachine_josh) May 19, 2018
The rookie struggles might provide a tale of caution for Hahn in deciding when to bring Jimenez and Kopech up. Another issue is the rookie status. If Hahn were to bring up Jimenez and Kopech 15 days into the league year next year, the White Sox will have an extra year of control over those two players. This has been done quite a few times before, most notably with the Cubs efforts to control Kris Bryant a few years ago. Then again, two months of MLB action might just be the experience needed to jump-start their careers.
Rick Hahn is hoping the White Sox can contend for the playoffs in 2020 and be a World Series favorite a few years after that. With seven top-100 prospects currently and some talent in Chicago already, that is definitely a possibility.
As for the struggles of the three prospects currently in the majors, Hahn said, “It’s almost like when you’re investing in the stock market: if you watch where [they] are every day, some days you’re going to be happy, some days you’re not going to be … Take a step back, let the [stats] go up and down, up and down, and then you check back after an extended period of time.”
With Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu currently leading the offense and probably here to stay, Hahn and his team are hoping that the prospects will improve and confirm the White Sox solid foundation for the future.
Speculation is brewing that Jimenez could be on his way up in the opener against the Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field Monday. The game was recently moved to ESPN, and ticket prices are soaring. Has he checked all the boxes? Fans with tickets in left field for Monday hope so.