Deep pool of talented outfield prospects give White Sox needed hope for future
At this time a year ago, White Sox fans were generally pleased with the club's direction and still willing to be patient.
That no longer seems to be the case.
Failing to sign star free-agent Manny Machado rankled the base, and a second miss on Bryce Harper caused even more outrage for followers of a Sox team that lost 100 games last season and hasn't been to the playoffs since 2008.
The White Sox did fortify their bullpen this offseason, acquiring closer Alex Colome in a trade from the Mariners and signing proven setup man Kelvin Herrera.
They also added Yonder Alonso, Jon Jay, Ivan Nova and James McCann, but without Machado -- or Harper -- it looks like a seventh straight losing season is very possible.
Cutting through a pretty thick layer of gloom and doom, the Sox still have one of the top minor league systems in baseball, and they are loaded at one position in particular.
"Amazing," said Omar Vizquel, who is going to manage Class AA Birmingham this season after filling the same role with high A Winston-Salem in 2018. "I've never seen such young talent in the minor leagues in some time. When I played in the minor leagues, you saw three or four prospects per team but now you see almost the whole lineup is pretty good. I believe these guys will be here soon and it will be fun to see them."
First up is Eloy Jimenez, one of baseball's top prospects.
If the 22-year-old outfielder can stay healthy, he should make an instant impact. Due to service time issues, Jimenez is not expected to join the White Sox's roster until late April.
"We're going to see a fair amount of Eloy over the course of this summer," Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "That's going to be a lot of fun for everybody."
Since signing with the Cubs in 2014 at the age of 17, Jimenez has hit at every minor league level.
Last season, the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder combined to bat .337/.384/.577 with 22 home runs and 75 RBI in 108 games with Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Jimenez was slowed by pectoral and hip injuries.
While he is poised to join the White Sox's roster first, Jimenez won't be the last outfielder in the system to reach the major leagues.
Jimenez is Baseball America's No. 1 Sox prospect and Luis Robert (5), Micker Adolfo (6), Blake Rutherford (8), Luis Gonzalez (9) and Steele Walker (10) are also in the Top 10.
Luis Basabe would likely be on the list, but he's out until May after breaking the hamate bone in his left hand early in spring training.
Vizquel is also high on outfielder Joel Booker, who slashed .279/.360/.399 with 7 homers, 38 RBI and 26 stolen bases last season with Winston-Salem and Birmingham.
Like Jimenez, good health is the biggest key for Robert and Adolfo this year. Last season, Robert was limited to 50 games due to a left thumb injury.
Adolfo hurt his elbow last spring and played 79 games with Winston-Salem before having Tommy John surgery.
"I didn't perform the way that I like because of the injury," Robert said through a translator. "It was a learning experience and I think I'm in a better position to have success this year."
Keep an eye on Gonzalez, who tends to get overlooked in the White Sox's deep outfield mix.
"I don't let that get in my head," Gonzalez said. "Just go out there and compete the best that I can and perform as best I can. Let the results do the talking. I'm not here to compare myself to other people. When people are saying good stuff about you, it absolutely feels good.
"When they're not, it just makes you want to prove them even more wrong. Just a little sense of motivation for me and keep doing what I've been doing."
A third-round draft pick in 2017 out of the University of New Mexico, Gonzalez combined to hit .307/.368/.498 with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem last year. His 40 doubles were the most in the organization.