As nice as it would have been for the organization to land Manny Machado this offseason, the Chicago White Sox were always going to be rebuilders again entering the 2019 season. It’s been a lengthy process and will continue to be a lengthy process, and the White Sox 2018 draft class will eventually have a big role to play in it all.
The White Sox haven’t had a lot of draft success yet during this rebuild. Their top prospects are largely the product of trades and international signing success. Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon are the most advanced homegrown drafted players on the roster, but both were selected in earnest before the rebuild actually began.
The 2017 draft class was the first after the organization made the decision to shift gears. While that class still has some promise, an injury and positional concern for Jake Burger and the sluggish power development of Gavin Sheets puts the White Sox a little behind where they’d like to be after taking advanced college sluggers with their top two picks.
Luckily, the 2018 draft class got off to a little better start and there are several players poised to rise through the farm system rapidly entering 2019. So let’s take a look at a few White Sox draft picks from 2018 who are off and running professionally and who could earn a promotion or two this summer.
White Sox 2B/SS Nick Madrigal (No. 4 overall pick)
Nick Madrigal was viewed by many as the safest pick available in last year’s draft. He was a collegiate star on a College World Series team at Oregon State with great speed, solid hands defensively, an advanced plate approach and exceptional bat control.
Most scouts felt incredibly comfortable projecting him to be a starting-caliber second baseman with the upside to make All-Star teams if he eventually starts generating more lift while maintaining the high average. He’s 43 games (and two promotions) into his professional career now and nobody is changing their tune.
Madrigal hit .303 and struck out just five times in 173 plate appearances after signing while stealing eight bases. He only walked seven times, but he was able to supplement his OBP by getting hit by seven pitches and the expectation is that his walk rate will climb as he rises through the ranks.
Defensively, the White Sox experimented for a game with him at shortstop and there’s the potential that he could work there some more. But Yoan Moncada’s move to third base really paves the way for him to stick to second base where he made just one error last season.
Expect Madrigal to start the year in Winston-Salem, but he should be in Birmingham before long and could even finish the season in Charlotte. It’s possible the No. 47 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline could even make it to the majors. Given the organization’s patience with Eloy Jimenez and where they expect to be in 2019, it just seems unlikely.
White Sox RHP Jonathan Stiever (No. 138 overall pick)
Jonathan Stiever is a great athlete and the first line of his MLB Pipeline profile makes that clear by bringing up his background as an all-state wide receiver in Wisconsin. However, the polish he showed in Great Falls (rookie league) after signing out of Indiana as a fifth-round pick is infinitely more intriguing.
He struck out 39 in 28 innings while walking just nine and only gave up three home runs to finish with a 4.18 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He was only making short starts after throwing more than 100 innings during his collegiate season at Indiana, but given that he has three solid offerings and better-than-expected command, it was an encouraging debut.
Stiever sits in the low-90s with his fastball and can touch 96, but you wonder if there isn’t more there for the White Sox to unlock given his athleticism and a 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame. Even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in Winston-Salem or even Birmingham by year’s end and he could be a top 10 organizational prospect when it’s all said and done if he does.
White Sox LHP Andrew Perez (No. 228 overall pick)
The White Sox have a fairly deep pool of relief pitching prospects at the moment, so you won’t find Andrew Perez on organizational top prospects lists just yet. However, if he keeps pitching like he did in his first professional season he’ll be on them before long as a lefty who runs it up in the mid-90s with a decent curveball and a changeup that could be useful in time.
Perez signed out of South Florida as an eighth-round pick and was promoted from Great Falls to Kannapolis after just four games. Against the advanced competition, the 21-year-old didn’t seem phased, posting a 2.88 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 25 innings.
With the coming rule change requiring that relief pitchers face at least three batters beginning in 2020, the fact that Perez wasn’t treated as a LOOGY should enhance his value. He was significantly better (understandably) against lefties, allowing them to hit just .184, but right-handers only hit .230 against them and close to two-thirds of the hitters he faced were righties.
With improved control (13 walks in his 25 innings in Kannapolis), he could jump to Birmingham by season’s end and begin inserting himself into that conversation as a potential building block in the bullpen.
White Sox LHP Bennett Sousa (No. 288 overall pick)
After signing out of Virginia as a 10th-round pick, Bennett Sousa made a surprisingly dominant debut after putting up a 5.50 ERA during four seasons in Virginia. But the White Sox liked his repertoire and felt like they could make tweaks that would lead to more production and they look like they might be on to something.
Sousa started the season in Great Falls and gave up just four hits over 13 innings while striking out 18 and walking none. He didn’t give up a single earned run and converted all four of his save opportunities before being promoted to Kannapolis on July 15.
The numbers were more reasonable in single-A, but they were still quite good. Sousa pitched 22.1 innings and struck out 24 while walking just seven. His ERA was 2.01 and he added another save.
Sousa’s fastball sits in the low-90s, so he won’t overpower people but the heavy sink helped him avoid giving up a home run in 2018. His hard slider helped him destroy lefties, who hit just .079 and had just a .204 OPS against him. At the same time, a tailing changeup helped him against righties who hit just .247 against him. And his early experience pitching in high-leverage situations is encouraging.
He doesn’t throw as hard as Perez, but he’s got more funk and if the White Sox have truly unlocked his potential after a disappointing career at Virginia, he’s going to rise quickly. Birmingham could be within reach if his control holds up.
White Sox 3B Bryce Bush (No. 978 overall pick)
No offense to Madrigal, but this could wind up being the White Sox’s best pick of the draft when it’s all said and done. Bush was considered a top-200 talent entering the 2018 MLB Amateur Entry Draft but a commitment to play for Mississippi State scared most teams off.
When the White Sox got to the 33rd round, they took a chance and were able to sign him for sixth-round money ($290,000). By the time he’d spent a week in Arizona playing rookie ball, it was clear that the White Sox had gotten a steal.
Bush slashed .442/.538/.605 in his first 14 games as a professional and was quickly promoted to Great Falls. Things were more of a struggle at the advanced level, as Bush’s OPS dropped to .713. But he still had eight extra-base hits and walked 10 times in 108 plate appearances and even swiped three bases to show more speed than anticipated.
After playing shortstop in high school, he’s still learning to play third base. As a 19-year-old, obviously everything is a work in progress, but the leverage in his swing suggests power will come sooner rather than later and he’s already showing impressive discipline. So if the defense comes along quickly, he should be moved along correspondingly.
Members of the White Sox’s 2018 draft class who weren’t mentioned
The White Sox made 40 picks and signed 34 players from last year’s class and they’d obviously love to have contributions from as many as possible. The organization is justifiably still high on OF Steele Walker and LHP Konnor Pilkington after taking them in the second and third rounds last year while catcher Gunnar Troutwine hit the ball well in Great Falls.
All of those players could rise through the system quickly. That’s true of almost anybody signed last season since this is their first full season as a professional. However, Walker and Pilkington struggled in their debuts so they’ll have to prove last season was an anomaly while Troutwine may be the victim of a system crowded with catchers who can hit but maybe not catch all that well.
At the same time, the guys we’ve listed could easily hit snags this season and get caught at a level for a season or two — if not get demoted altogether. But these are the players who are in position to rise and do it quickly based on their early results, their scouting profiles and organizational needs.