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Chicago White Sox farm system already evolving

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As the fourth month of the 2018 season winds to a close, the Chicago White Sox are about where they were expected to be heading towards the trade deadline.

Sure, you might have hoped to see a few more wins, but the actual win total was always going to be arbitrary in a season like this. The majority of the White Sox’s assets reside in the farm system, and despite struggles from the first wave of young talent to hit the Major League roster, the organization remains patient with their top prospects.

Eloy Jimenez proves that he could make an impact in Chicago seemingly every time he has picked up a bat in Birmingham and Charlotte this summer. The White Sox also could have easily justified calling up Michael Kopech earlier in the season. However, both have remained in the minors and been tasked with making detail-oriented adjustments.

With Kopech in particular, that’s turned out to be a wise choice as he continues to battle through occasional control issues. And chances are Kopech will be the case-in-point example of why they need to remain patient with all the other talent in the system.

Because we’re already seeing prospects evolving in different ways throughout the organization.

In the majors, Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito have been slower to come around than fans would have hoped while Carson Fulmer had to be sent down and. moved to the bullpen after starting the year in the big league rotation. Reynaldo Lopez has been solid, but he’s seeing his numbers level off after an incredible start.

Even with Fulmer wandering onto thin ice, these players remain important pieces of the rebuild moving forward. But we’ve reasonably arrived at the point where people are understandably concerned. Learning on the fly at the highest level is always challenging so the only thing anyone can do is remain patient.

Of course, more well-trained eyes have been focused elsewhere, and Winston-Salem (high-A), Birmingham (double-A) and Charlotte (triple-A) games have attracted an audience on NBC Sports Chicago this summer. Because the development that we’re seeing throughout the farm system is more pronounced.

Jimenez has been the constant, but we’ve seen a number of prospects changing their fortunes for better or worse over the last four months. Kopech remains the top-billed pitching prospect, but there’s slightly more concern surrounding his ability to find the strike zone consistently. There also has been quite a bit of turbulence behind Kopech among the available arms.

Alec Hansen began the season as a top-50 overall prospect in baseball and was the No. 2 arm in the system behind Kopech, but injury and a disastrous start in Birmingham have driven him out of the top 100. Hansen is now the No. 4 pitching prospect and No. 10 overall prospect in the organization according to MLB.com. The good news is Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning have both been very good, climbing the charts to bolster the overall pitching depth in the system.

Cease threw seven innings of one-hit ball with 12 strikeouts against the Chicago Cubs’ double-A affiliate on Wednesday night, and he’s been dominant at both Winston-Salem and Birmingham thus far. He still has to prove that he can handle a Major League workload with such a big arm, but that level of dominance to cross the 100-inning threshold for the first time in late-July is a nice first step.

Dunning is currently on the disabled list with an elbow sprain, but he’s looked like the easiest arm to project of all when healthy. While his stuff doesn’t stack up against Kopech, Cease and Hansen (although it’s still very good), he has the most repeatable delivery of them all that allows him to relentlessly pound the strike zone.

Elsewhere among pitching prospects, Jordan Stephens, Jimmy Lambert and Bernardo Flores have all been excellent as starters and help provide quality depth with some upside. Meanwhile, Ian Hamilton, Tyler Johnson and Jose Ruiz all look like they could provide value out of the bullpen in the next couple seasons.

For position players, there haven’t been any major disappointments outside of Jake Burger’s unfortunate Achilles injury in the spring that cost him the 2018 season and a thumb injury that shelved Luis Robert for a lot of time. Robert is healthy now and has looked good in low-A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, although he hasn’t shown much power yet.

What’s most encouraging might be all the depth we’re seeing develop throughout the system for position players.

In the outfield, guys like Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez have all played their way into the conversation with strong 2018 seasons. In the infield, there’s still work to be done to round out the depth (don’t forget Tim Anderson and Moncada are already in the big leagues), but there are still encouraging signs.

Zack Collins and Seby Zavala look they could combine to make an offensively dominant battery pairing at some point, and Laz Rivera has already crawled into the organization’s top-30 prospects list (No. 27) after signing for just $1,000 last season. He’s slashing .327/.373/.500 with 10 home runs and 14 stolen bases while playing a solid shortstop between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem.

And then there’s also the additions of the 2018 MLB Draft. No. 4 overall pick Nick Madrigal is already the No. 4 prospect in the organization and No. 33 overall prospect in baseball, per MLB.com. Other draft choices like Walker Steele, Konnor Pilkington and Jonathan Stiever have all cracked the White Sox’s top 30 already.

There was also Thursday’s trade of closer Joakim Soria to the Milwaukee Brewers, which yielded two intriguing prospects. Left-handed pitching prospect Kodi Medeiros was the No. 12 overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, and Wilber Perez is an international prospect who hasn’t pitched stateside yet. Medeiros has finally started finding his way this summer in double-A. Even if command concerns prevent him from being a starter, his low three-quarters left-handed delivery and big slider should help him provide long-term value out of the pen.

All of these factors have combined to lift the White Sox from No. 3 in the organizational farm rankings to No. 2. The rerank was prior to the Medeiros trade, though that likely wouldn’t impact things much. While that’s all largely decorative in the grand scheme of things, it’s representative of a system with enough depth and overall talent to fuel a rebuild over the next several seasons.

We know the White Sox aren’t going to strike it rich with every name on their top-30 list. Even if we focus on their extremely talented top 10, we know they’ll be lucky to have five of those players make meaningful impacts at the next level.

However, the mark of a good organization is that when prospects inevitably falter, they’ve got another wave of talent in place to carry the overall optimism forward. It’s too early to judge the whole of this rebuild for obvious reasons, but seeing the farm system evolve like this is an encouraging sign.

Ryan Wooden is a full-time sports writer based in the Chicago suburbs. In addition to co-founding The Chicago Sports Column, he is a weekend editor for BetChicago and covers prep sports in DuPage County for the Daily Herald and Shaw Media. Find him away from the computer (or don't) on some body of water or some golf course somewhere.