CHICAGO -- The White Sox no longer have any players ranked on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospect list. Their Minor League system also isn’t rated in the top half of baseball.
This change certainly is understandable and expected when a team moves from a full-on rebuild to the second year of playoff contention, with players such as Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Dylan Cease developing from highly-touted prospects to significant big league contributors. But the organization still had a number of young players adding on to the 2021 American League Central title run and has more potential assistance coming in the not-too-distant future.
“It's certainly different than what we've seen in the past from a ranking standpoint, but as you work through your own internal prospect list, there's plenty to be encouraged by,” said White Sox assistant general manager/player development Chris Getz during a late-season interview. “Pretty happy as a whole with the players we have, and we can certainly dream on some impact Major League players within our system.”
Here’s a few individuals who made an impact this past season and could figure prominently in the upcoming plans:
Three players who forced their way on to the radar this year
Gavin Sheets, 1B/DH/OF (graduated)
Sheets started the 2021 season as the No. 9 White Sox prospect, but basically had not played competitive baseball for a full season after being left off the roster for the 2020 alternate training site in Schaumburg, Ill. But instead of getting angry over the omission, Sheets simply got better.
The second-round pick in the 2017 Draft possesses true left-handed power, hitting 11 home runs with eight doubles over 179 plate appearances as a rookie while also driving in 34 runs. Sheets then added two of the team’s six total extra-base hits over their four-game Division Series loss to the Astros with a homer and double in Game 4.
There’s clearly room for Sheets even though the White Sox lineup is pretty complete. He could factor in at designated hitter and thanks to his work put in prior to the start of ’21, could also capably handle right field. Sheets produced a .268/.344/.556 slash line vs. right-handers but was just 2-for-18 with eight strikeouts when facing southpaws.
Jake Burger, 3B (No. 3 White Sox prospect)
Burger drew attention prior to this season, but the focus fell upon his injury battles, keeping the team’s top pick in the 2017 Draft out of action since that 2017 season. To invoke a sports cliché, Burger entered Spring Training in the best shape of his life, and quickly reached the Majors with two hits on July 2 in Detroit. Burger definitely has a Major League bat, knocking out five extra-base hits in 42 plate appearances after posting an .845 OPS with 18 homers and 16 doubles in his first Triple-A experience at Charlotte. The third baseman even played five games at second for the Knights.
“A year ago, we were in instructs together,” said Sheets of the road traveled with Burger during a playoff interview. “It’s cool to see us go full circle. Credit to him for all his hard work, but it’s what we’ve been talking about for a long time.”
Romy Gonzalez, IF (No. 20 prospect)
In just 10 games with the White Sox, Gonzalez played every defensive spot but first base, catcher and center field. The 18th-round pick in the 2018 Draft broke out over stops with Charlotte and Double-A Birmingham via a combined .896 OPS, 24 homers, 24 stolen bases and 17 doubles and could move into the 2022 role held this season by Leury García if García leaves through free agency.
Two possible breakout players to watch in 2022
Norge Vera, RHP (No. 8)
Keep an eye on Vera, who earned rave reviews even before the White Sox officially agreed to terms with the right-hander including a $1.5 million signing bonus. Vera struck out 34 and walked five over 19 innings pitched without allowing an earned run for the DSL White Sox. He’s only 21 and should start with High-A Winston-Salem or Low- A Kannapolis in ’22, but could be a fast riser.
Jose Rodriguez, SS (No. 9)
Rodriguez’s breakout actually began in ’21, as detailed recently by MLB Pipeline's Sam Dykstra during Rodriguez’s current Arizona Fall League stint. The talented shortstop, who also has seen time at second, third and right field, had not played since 2019 with the Arizona Rookie League squad but finished ’21 with a slash line of .301/.338/.469 across stops with Kannapolis, Winston-Salem and Birmingham. He knocked out 14 homers to go with 27 doubles and 30 stolen bases, making the 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic an important middle-infield cog moving forward.
One big question for next season
Can Yoelqui Céspedes become the White Sox 2022 right fielder?
Céspedes discussed a goal of reaching the Majors in ’21 when talking to MLB.com during Spring Training, but his Minor League start was delayed by visa issues. The White Sox also have Sheets for right field, as mentioned above, and Adam Engel, along with any offseason outfield additions. The No. 2 White Sox prospect, who received a $2.05 million signing bonus, showed his high talent level with eight homers, 20 doubles and 27 RBIs over 72 games with Winston-Salem and Birmingham in 2021, but will only benefit from more at-bats as MLB.com's Jim Callis recently wrote from the AFL.