Silver & Black Linings Part 4 – Outfielders Galore!

White Sox

Micker Adolfo #77 of the Chicago White Sox poses during MLB Photo Day on February 21, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

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It’s hard to believe that after already whipping through three incredible talents in the Sox system, there are still plenty more outfield prospects who could make a big league impact in the years to come.

Now you do have to qualify all talk of prospects with a heavy dose of uncertainty given how few of them actually become productive big leaguers. But the principle works the other way as well – stars don’t only come from the lists of mega-hyped prospects.

As you’ll hear over and over with this Sox rebuild – volume is key. You want to give yourself as much quality in your pipeline as possible and then hope you don’t drastically underperform the development percentages.

So credit to Hahn and his staff, as they’ve done a great job lining up a slew of talented outfielders. I’ve already written up Eloy, Robert, and Rutherford, the guys who’ve made their way into the Top 100 lists. But the wealth of outfield talent doesn’t end there. Here are a few more Sox prospects worth keeping an eye on, in the hopes that one or two develop into major leaguers someday.

Micker Adolfo

I’m going to go ahead and blow your mind by comparing the Dominican Adolfo to the American Carlos Quentin. Yep – I’m defying all sports talk logic by going with a non-ethnically-aligned comp.

I think for good reasons: both have good pop, great arms, and an inconsistent average. And both have a nice history of injuries getting in the way of otherwise promising performances. Heck, what really got me thinking of the connection was how Quentin and Micker both had a fit of anger end what was a career best season.

But in both that anger seems to stem from an absolute commitment to the game, an obsession even. Quentin was notoriously intense and ornery in his pursuit of his best baseball self. Adolfo, with the Sox since he signed as a 16-year old, has always been an absolute sponge for instruction.

I read recently about how when the roving hitting instructor comes into town, Adolfo is like a little kid excited about his parent coming home, bouncing around repeatedly asking when they can get in the cage together.

His reaction to yet another possibly devastating injury this Spring Training was similarly telling. Adolfo battled to keep playing, delaying his surgery until after the season while serving strictly as a DH so he could continue his development as a hitter.

If Micker can give us just one playoff-generating MVP-caliber season like Quentin did in 2008, you have to consider his career a success. That said, watching the clearly talented Quentin never quite manage to keep his body and mind right long enough to replicate that magical year was pretty frustrating.

So hopefully that’s not where we’re going here. Adolfo has moved up to High A and continued the perfectly solid hitting performance he showed last year. Power is down a little, but his average, walks, and k-rate are all improved. Still just 21, there’s plenty of time to reveal the upside that has made him one of the Sox Top 10 prospects.

Now let’s just hope that Micker can show some sustained health the next few seasons to allow that potential to play out.

Luis Alexander Basabe

Apparently you need to list this guy’s middle name because he’s got a twin brother who’s also named Luis. Thus for differentiation purposes, they are Luis Alexander and Luis Alejandro. Man, some parents are so weird about how they name their kids…

But I digress. Basabe came over in the Sale trade as the third piece – not a headliner like Moncada or Kopech, but certainly no afterthought either. He’s a Top 15 prospect in the system, which for one of the best systems in baseball is saying something. A legit centerfielder with a shot at 5-tool status, the main question seems to be whether the youngster will develop the hitting skills necessary to complement a nice set of defensive talents.

Basabe is 21 and in High A, so on a good trajectory. He struggled at this level last year, but Basabe was still pretty young for the level. So when he came out and delivered a .315/.400/.615 April, it seemed like he had finally announced him presence with authority.

Unfortunately Basabe has played nowhere near that level since, but when you begin parsing monthlong performances of kids this age, you’re going to see a lot of deviation. It was great that he was able to flash that talent – now you’ve got to hope that Basabe can steady himself enough in June and July that he’ll get a late-season bump to AA.

Not that there’s any need to rush his development, but with over 650 plate appearances at High A already, Basabe needs to prove both capable and consistent, then move on to the next challenge. As he’s already displayed with his up-and-down seasons throughout the minors, there is quite a range of possibilities with this kid – from quick wash-out to multi-tooled impact big leaguer.

Luis Gonzalez

A third rounder last season, Gonzalez was a collegiate monster, solid as both a pitcher and hitter. He’s a heck of an athlete (and clearly has an arm, if he can pass muster as an NCAA SP for a big program), capable of sticking in CF where his lack of pop wouldn’t be a big deterrent.

Because this guy knows his way around the batters box. In college Gonzalez walked much more than he struck out, and even in his first year in Low A the strike-outs didn’t outpace the walks by that much. Unfortunately, that was about all that Gonzalez was doing well offensively last season.

This year it’s different. He definitely is striking out more than walking (which is the norm), but he’s hitting well over .300 and has shown some very good power. At 22, Gonzalez is older than average for the league, but not by much. So with two-plus months of that kind or production, a promotion might be in order. Of course that requires open playing time at the next level, something the ChiSox wealth of outfield talent might not allow right now.

Whatever his path, Gonzalez seems like he might be one of those guys who gets lost due to not being as sexy as the big hitters or power arms, only to end up being a productive big leaguer because he knows how to play the game.

It’s early still, he’s got a ways to go, but I’m gonna enjoy watching and seeing if Gonzalez isn’t a surprise producer down the road.

Steele Walker

I swear I didn’t just make that name up to see if you’re paying attention. He was the Sox 2nd Round pick this year, 46th overall. That’s still in the range of pretty touted draft choice.

Walker’s another sort of tweener OF – they’re hoping he can prove to be a centerfielder, but he does look good in either right or left also. He was a real plus bat in college this year (.350/.440/.605) and has apparently played well with Team USA and in wooden bat leagues, which suggest those college numbers are relatively legit.

He did K a bit more than you’d like to see in college, but otherwise Walker continues the trend of do-it-all types who are more accomplished as ballplayers than the athletic-only prospects the Sox repeatedly swung and missed on in the recent past.

With his college season over, he should be in rookie ball shortly. It’ll be interesting to see what Walker can do in his first taste of pro ball.

Tito Polo

We’re really getting into the deep cuts here, but some of why you haven’t heard of this kid is because he, like Basabe, was the lesser part of a trade (last year from the Yankees). That doesn’t mean Polo can’t have worth – you could argue both Arietta and Hendricks were the secondary pieces of their trades to the Cubs.

Polo will be 24 later this Summer, but he’s still young for AA, where he also spent most of last season. The issue is that after raking in the Yanks system in 2016 and early 2017, since coming over to the Sox Polo has seen his respectable power levels evaporate. And now he’s not even keeping his average up.

Polo does have fewer than 200 plate appearances on the year, so plenty of time for him to get back on track. Because there’s talent here. Polo once stole over 40 bases in a season, has previously hit for a good average, keeps his K-rate down, and shown respectable walks and pop. That’s a nice make-up for a centerfielder, which is where the Sox have had him this season in AA.

While you won’t find Polo on any of the Sox best prospects lists, even some of the longer ones, there’s a little something here worth watching.

Ryan Cordell

The above guys are pretty young, longterm prospects… which is what the Sox should be loading up with, given that 2020 is the optimistic opening of their window of contention. I am also not gonna touch on anybody who’s already played in the bigs – e.g. Delmonico, Palka, Tillson, Engel – in this exercise.

That leaves just a single guy of note in-between – Cordell, a player who turned 26 around Opening Day. Time is running out on the development part of his career, though he probably was one of the last players cut out of Spring Training.

Unfortunately since that strong March, Cordell’s season has been a disaster of injuries and just unspeakably poor play. But as Davidson continues to prove, a late-development backslide can definitely be overcome.

And there’s reason for that hope here. Last year, before coming over from the Brewers system for Swarzak, Cordell was raking for their AAA affiliate in Colorado. Previously he had made a nice upward go of it in the Texas system – always some good power, pretty nice speed, and respectable AVG/OBA numbers as he moved between all three OF slots.

This season he’s only played in 10 games, all bad, so Cordell needs to get and stay healthy, then produce like he has his whole minor league career. He is missing a great opportunity to take outfield ABs while Avi, Leury, and Delmonico are hurt, but if Cordell gets back to hitting like he should, the Sox will find an opening to see what he can do in the majors.

I think your ceiling for Cordell is fourth OF, but a fourth OF who can do a bit of everything and play a number of spots in the field (he did play some 1B and 3B in the minors last season). That would have value to the Sox – if just to avoid us having to watch any more of the iffy Thompson or starting multiple glove-only guys like Engel and Tillson in the same lineup.

I can’t say it enough – the odds are stacked against any one of these guys making it. But viewed together (including Eloy, Robert, and Rutherford), you can start to feel confident that a few of these Sox OF prospects will come through as legit starters, while maybe another role player and a solid trade piece or two also awaits.

At the very least, we’ll have something else to watch for as we slog through one of the most difficult Sox seasons in a long, long time.

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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