Silver & Black Linings Part 3 – Two More Top 100 OFs!

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Outfielder Luis Robert. (WGN Radio)

In my last post, I gave Eloy single billing because he’s already generated enough interest and excitement to justify a full entry, even though he’s all of 21 years old and hasn’t been in the organization for 12 months.

But that’s not to say that the rest of the Sox outfield prospects aren’t worthy of plenty of attention themselves. This post touches on two more OFs listed among the Top 100 prospects in the game.

There was a time (like 18 months ago!) when any Sox prospect in the Top 100 was pretty much our very best guy, the hope of our future. Now we’ve got seven players appearing on those lists (and maybe another when they factor in the latest draft picks), including three in the outfield.

Unlike Eloy, these two OFs below still have a lot of time and development to show before they’re even sniffing the bigs. But they’re both really exciting, and as I’ll continue to stress with prospects – it is always a numbers game. They won’t all turn out, so you need as many guys with as much upside as possible to ultimately be able to build that contending core from within. Certainly these two are doing a lot to help the Sox talent ledger.

Luis Robert

The ChiSox uncharacteristically broke the bank last season when signing the Cuban mega-prospect Robert. So even if he never turns into anything of note as a ballplayer, at the very least this move showed the club may be serious about spending money on this rebuild when opportunity presents itself.

There’s a spotty track record of that on the Southside. Since Reinsdorf took over in 1981, there have been many periods when the Sox really did spend to get or retain the talent to win. Writing him and his front office off as cheap is unfair to his track record. However, there certainly have been times that tight purse strings meant key guys departed or the Sox weren’t willing to invest what seemed necessary for a real shot at contention.

Winning the bidding for Robert was just one move, but it was a real big financial investment relative to international signings, and that suggests we’re entering another one of those spend-enough-to-win eras.

As for the player himself, it’s kinda hard to speak with any real confidence, as Robert has only just recently taken his first real minor league ABs thanks to a Spring Training injury. However, the scouts saw enough of what they liked in his Cuban League days (when he was all of 15 to 18-years-old!), work-outs, the Dominican League (where he played last season after signing with the Sox), and Spring Training to make him one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball.

It’ll disappoint my brother to learn that his closest comp might be Yoan Moncada, a similarly raw 5-tooled prospect with an impressive mix of elite athleticism and impressive baseball skills. Though I am a little leery of that comparison just because sports people can’t help but only find comps in ethnically similar players (both Moncada and Robert are Cuban).

The comparison does hold up in that both youngsters can flash real skills in all aspects of the game, but feature a bit more swing-and-miss than you’d like (I think that’s where my brother’s Moncada angst comes from). Both have also shown impressive maturity and production at a young age, especially in their ability to draw walks.

However, the comparison breaks down elsewhere. While Moncada is a switch-hitting IF, Robert is righty all the way and apparently blazing fast, meaning he should be able to stick in centerfield, even if he continues to fill out his already chiseled 20-year old frame.

Moncada also seemed to top out around .280-.300 even in his best stretches throughout the Cuban leagues and minors, whereas Robert hit freakin .400 his last season in the Cuban League, alongside .300+ averages in his other stops so far.

So it’ll be interesting to see what the still 20-year-old Robert does in A ball the rest of the year. Injuries – mostly small ones – have robbed him of playing time on multiple occasions since he signed with the Sox, but hopefully that’s past him and we’ll see him destroy low and high A ball this season, matching Moncada in a fairly quick rise through the minors.

Blake Rutherford

The gem of the Robertson/Kahnle/Frasier Yankees deal last season, Rutherford has been a consistent Top 100 prospect in baseball the last few seasons. He was viewed as a relatively polished high schooler when drafted, with good but not great skills in just about every category. A guy you’d like to see stick in centerfield and help you with a solid enough average, OBA, and even a bit of power while also moving well around the bases.

Rutherford started his pro career by immediately destroying rookie ball, which brought with it the top prospect hype. But last season was tough, as the power evaporated in his first shot at low A, both for the Yanks’ affiliate and the ChiSox’. Given that his average, OBA, speed, and defense were nothing special (if not downright iffy for stretches), some skepticism has started to creep in.

This year has been a little different. After starting red hot in April, but still without power, Rutherford cooled off a bit in May, but suddenly his power stroke returned. In high A, where he’s still young for the league, he’s got a perfectly respectable average, slightly low OBA, solid K rate, decent pop, and enough speed.

The dream is another Christian Yelich, an obvious comp not just because of a similar do-it-all-well make-up, but also because they know each other from growing up in the same town. More realistic might be an OF version of what Yolmer Sanchez seems to have become – a glue guy who can handle the bat at the major league level while covering proficiently multiple positions.

This kid is a real baseball lifer type – a guy who worked to give himself every advantage in developing and getting drafted. At 21-years-old, there’s plenty of reason to think a plus 4th outfielder is more of a reasonably expected floor (though far from a guaranteed one), while legit plus OF starter is certainly within reach. But the Sox will be patient with Rutherford. Expect a slow, steady progression through the system, with ups and downs like most any prospect.

Sure the dream is these two break into the bigs within a season or so of Eloy, making up a dominant 5-tool outfield for up near a decade. The reality is you hope you end up with one real plus guy and one capable guy out of this elite group. That’d be a win as far as development percentages go.

Especially because unlike years past, these guys don’t represent the end of the legit line of OF prospects in the org. As I’ll touch on in my next post, there are plenty of mid-level youngsters in the Sox system who could take that next big step, suddenly find themselves in Top 100 or better range.

It certainly is a new and exciting era of White Sox baseball!

Brian Pollina is a second generation White Sox fan proudly raising a third generation on the North Side.  When not busy trying to get a Sox Mt. Rushmore of Big Frank, Harold, Uribe, and Don Cooper commissioned, he works in the radio industry.

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