Cuban contingent headlines White Sox system

March 26th, 2022

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The White Sox have a rich history of Cuban players. Hall of Famer Minnie Minoso starred for them in the 1950s, while José Contreras and Orlando Hernandez were integral parts of the franchise's most recent World Series championship in 2005.

Chicago really became a magnet for Cubans after José Abreu signed in October 2013, receiving a $64 million contract that has proven to be a bargain. Abreu contributed to a recruiting video that helped the club land Luis Robert, and he helped shepherd Robert and Yoán Moncada when they arrived in the Majors. Those three and free-agent acquisition Yasmani Grandal give the White Sox four Cubans in their starting lineup.

The farm system has a heavy Cuban flavor as well. Outfielders Oscar Colas and Yoelqui Céspedes are the best power prospects, and both waited an extra year for the team to clear international bonus pool money so they could sign with Chicago. Norge Vera is the top pitching prospect, while infielders Bryan Ramos and Yolbert Sanchez are two of the more promising young hitters.

"Having José Abreu with that type of leadership and affinity for the organization has helped land some of the Cubans we have," White Sox farm director Chris Getz said. "Those grassroots connections certainly have supported our Major League club and our farm system.

"They definitely have a fraternity. With Luis Robert and José being such great guys and such great ballplayers, the younger guys gravitate toward them. José and Luis take a lot of pride in helping them and they've acclimated a little bit quicker."

The latest Cuban addition is Colas, who spent time with Japan's Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks before signing for $2.7 million in January. He has the most usable power and one of the strongest arms in the system, giving him the potential to blossom into a 30-homer right fielder. He made an instant impression in camp this spring by tripling in his first intrasquad game.

"He's a confident kid," Getz said. "Without question, he has serious power. I had him in a work group on our back field that has Camelback Road running behind it and he was putting balls on the street. I almost had to move him to a different field to protect the citizens."

The younger brother of two-time All-Star Yoenis Céspedes, Yoelqui signed for $2.05 million in January 2021. Compared to Colas, he has similar power and more athleticism but less natural hitting ability. After Céspedes batted .285/.350/.463 with eight homers and 18 steals in 72 games between High-A and Double-A during his pro debut, Getz said he looks more comfortable during his second Spring Training.

"We've identified some things to work on," Getz said. "He's tightening up his bat path some, getting under control to put his body in a good position to get to the barrel.

"He was very professional last year. He had a plan. We were getting to know him and he was getting to know us. Fast forward to today and he's in a much better place."

Vera has been slowed this spring by a minor lat strain and the White Sox will be cautious with him as he prepares to make his U.S. debut. Signed for $1.5 million in February 2021, he's the son of former Cuban star pitcher Norge Luis Vera. The younger Vera touched 100 mph with his fastball in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League last year, and he also flashed a plus curveball and promising changeup.

Camp standout: Colson Montgomery
The White Sox obviously bought into Montgomery's talent when they drafted him 22nd overall last July and signed him for $3,027,000. As a 6-foot-4, lefty-swinging shortstop with impressive hitting ability and raw power, he draws constant comparisons to Corey Seager. But the 20-year-old Indiana prep product also stands out with his professionalism.

"Colson is so under control," Getz said. "It's his first Spring Training, and it's like talking to a veteran. There's just no panic in his work, how he goes about his at-bats and his defense. He's got some pretty good indicators that he's going to be a good player."

Breakout potential: Wilber Sanchez
A lower-profile international signing, Sanchez turned pro out of Venezuela for $80,000 in February 2019. He showed off his plus-plus speed during his U.S. debut last year, stealing 17 bases in 18 attempts in 53 games while batting .228/.278/.358 between Rookie ball and Single-A. He also may be the system's best shortstop defender.

"Wilber is a very active and instinctive player who plays above-average defense," Getz said. "It's just a matter of building strength in his frame so he can deliver the barrel with authority. He's got the speed to steal bases and is an all-around player. Strength is going to be the catalyst for him."

Something to prove: Jared Kelley
Gatorade's 2020 national baseball player of the year, Kelley was one of the best prep right-handers available in his class and signed for $3 million as a second-rounder. He didn't fare well in his pro debut last summer while dealing with shoulder fatigue, forearm tightness and conditioning issues. He posted a 7.61 ERA with 26 walks in 23 2/3 innings between Rookie ball and Single-A, though his fastball hit 98 mph and his changeup remained an advanced weapon.

"Jared has lost weight," Getz said. "He's worked very hard, focusing on core stability, shoulder strength and his lower half. He's working on throwing his changeup more and his slider has been looking good. He's in a very, very good spot. The foundation is there for a very good year."