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White Sox prospects ready to take the next step

@JonathanMayo
March 14, 2019

GLENDALE, Ariz. – One of the best things about Spring Training is welcoming back a group of players or a team that had success the previous year. Getting them back in camp to see if they’re ready to take the next step is one of the joys of player development.

GLENDALE, Ariz. – One of the best things about Spring Training is welcoming back a group of players or a team that had success the previous year. Getting them back in camp to see if they’re ready to take the next step is one of the joys of player development.

The Winston-Salem Dash was the best team in the White Sox organization in 2018, finishing with the best overall record in the Class A Advanced Carolina League, winning the first half outright and tying for first in their division in the second half. There was talent on the Dash roster from start to finish, even as guys played their way up to Double-A, with their replacements stepping up to the Carolina League to contribute as the year wore on.

Top 30 Prospects | Prospects' Spring Training stats

“We had a good, solid group that is moving on to a higher level because they earned it, which is a good sign,” White Sox farm director Chris Getz said.

There’s a long list of players who took steps forward who spent at least part of last year in Winston-Salem, with 16 of the team's Top 30 Prospects, including eight of the top 10, having donned the Dash uniform in 2018. The organization’s outfield depth was certainly on display, with No. 4 Luis Robert, No. 7 Luis Alexander Basabe and No. 9 Blake Rutherford all contributing to the success of the team. Robert and Rutherford, along with No. 10 prospect Luis Gonzalez, who reached Winston-Salem in the second half last year, all got non-roster invitations to big league camp this spring.

“Rutherford had a very solid year last year in Winston-Salem,” Getz said. “He’s starting to fill out. His natural man strength is coming and he’s worked really hard this offseason. We like the hit tool. He started to hit for a little more power last year. He’s starting to drive the ball to the middle of the field, out of the ballpark, in his work. We like where he’s at.

“Basabe went back to Winston-Salem last year and was one of the best players in the league,” Getz continued, though he pointed out Basabe will be slowed at the start of this year because of a fractured hamate. “We moved him on to [Double-A] Birmingham, so he took a step forward. What he can do defensively, plus the run, and now we’re starting to see a little bit more with the bat, he can get on base. He can impact the game in a lot of ways.”

Pitching has White Sox excited

While what will be a stacked Birmingham outfield in 2019 is impressive, Getz made sure to point out the pitchers who came through Winston-Salem and helped that staff finish with the fourth-best ERA in the league. That’s important given that the overall pitching depth of the system is temporarily thinned because of Michael Kopech’s recovery from Tommy John surgery and Dane Dunning dealing with elbow issues.

But reinforcements are on the way, led of course by Dylan Cease, MLB Pipeline’s Pitcher of the Year who started the year in the Dash rotation and was promoted midseason. More unheralded Jimmy Lambert (No. 19) also pitched his way to Double-A along with lefty Bernardo Flores, while No. 26 prospect Lincoln Henzman joined the Dash in the second half. Reliever Tyler Johnson also pitched his way to Winston-Salem in 2018, in some ways replacing fellow relief pitcher Zach Thompson, who moved up to Double-A. Thompson, Lambert and Flores all got non-roster invites to big league camp.

“You never feel you can have enough pitching,” Getz said. “We do feel we made some strides last year. But we need to continue to push on that front so we can provide as much depth as possible. It’s going to take more than just five starting pitchers to take us where we want to go. We need to provide a deeper pool to dip into. It’s a focus, but it’s always a focus.”

Adolfo on the mend

One of the outfielders who didn’t see the outfield in Winston-Salem in 2018 was No. 8 prospect Micker Adolfo. The talented hitter did get close to 300 at-bats as a designated hitter as he battled an elbow injury that eventually led to Tommy John surgery. This spring, he’s slowly working his way back to being the all-around player he’s shown glimpses of.

“We didn’t feel it was a lost season at all, especially because he performed well,” Getz said. “Now we’re getting much closer to getting the bat back with the defense. He’s going to start his throwing progression. All the signs point to a corner outfielder now, not just a DH; that’s been very encouraging.”

Camp standout

A third-round pick in 2017 out of the University of New Mexico, Luis Gonzalez was a two-way player for the Lobos. There was consensus he would be a hitter as a professional, but there was less certainty about how his skills would translate, especially considering New Mexico is such a hitting-friendly environment, and others from the program haven’t always fared that well.

Gonzalez answered many of those questions in his first full year with the White Sox. After a .300/.358/.491 line in the South Atlantic League, he moved up to yes, you guessed it, Winston-Salem, and was even better (.313/.376/.504). He’s continued to open eyes this spring.

“He’s another guy who’s made a very strong impression with the Major League club,” Getz said. “He’s an advanced hitter, can get on base, he has some power in there, he can play all three outfield spots. He’s a guy I look forward to see what he can do in that Birmingham outfield.”

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.