CHICAGO -- Outfielder Luis Robert went into the 2019 season considered one of the most talented Minor Leaguers in baseball, let alone within the White Sox system.
Right-handed pitcher Jonathan Stiever fell more into the category of projectable talent after posting a 4.18 ERA over 13 starts for Rookie-level Great Falls in 2018 as a fifth-round pick in that same year’s Draft. But they both ended this current campaign in basically the same place, as the White Sox Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year, respectively.
“We had plenty of really, really good stories in Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, Jonathan Stiever, guys that really took steps forward, kind of separated themselves,” White Sox director of player development Chris Getz said. “All things considered, as a PD head, I feel pretty good about that.”
Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list.
Robert had a season also worthy of the MLB Pipeline’s Hitter of the Year honor for the entire Minor Leagues. The No. 5 prospect overall and No. 1 White Sox prospect produced a .328/.376/.624 slash line between stops with Class A Advanced Winston-Salem, Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. The 22-year-old finished with 32 home runs, 31 doubles, 11 triples, 108 runs scored, 92 RBIs and 36 stolen bases.
Remember, these impressive numbers follow up an injury-plagued 2018 campaign where Robert was limited to 50 games, hit .269 and did not hit a home run. His 2019 season ended short of a big league callup, but his 2020 campaign will feature Robert’s Major League arrival.
“He’s still going to be in need of fine tuning as we go forward,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “He’s not a finished product but he’s an extraordinarily impressive 22-year-old given what he has already accomplished.”
Some of that fine tuning comes from refining decisions at the plate, per Getz.
“We know when you get up here that pitchers are going to attack you a little bit different and see if you'll chase pitches out of the zone or swing at pitches that you prefer not to,” Getz said. “But he's a young player who can square up a lot of different types of pitches and drive it a long way, so I certainly get the excitement when he walks to the box.”
Stiever, 22, had a 10-10 record with a 3.48 over 26 starts between Class A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. The No. 7 White Sox prospect fanned 154 during a career-high 145 innings and posted a 2.15 ERA in 12 starts after being promoted to the Dash.
Having played high school baseball in Wisconsin and having played collegiately in Indiana in the colder Midwest environs, Stiever never had thrown more than 128 innings (combined between Indiana and Great Falls in ’18). The White Sox believed the development would come with the experience.
“He was throwing 85 to 88 in high school in Wisconsin, a northern kid that just needed the innings, needed time,” said Nick Hostetler, who is now a special assistant to Hahn, but was the team’s director of amateur scouting when Stiever was selected. “He was a guy that as the season wore on, it’s when he started to progress. We were kind of hoping there was more in the tank.
“I don’t think we were overly shocked he had the success he did. Touched some 98s, pitching more 95. The velo might have spiked a little bit higher than what we expected but overall I think this was the jump we were kind of hoping and why you have scouts that project.”
The changeup is a real key for Stiever, a pitch developing well during the past season per Hostetler. He has a three-pitch mix making Stiever a projected part of future White Sox rotations along with Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning, to name a few options.
They join a player such as Robert in what hopefully adds up to title projections at the conclusion of the White Sox rebuild.