Next wave of Chicago White Sox prospects to keep an eye on

 
 
Updated 4/5/2018 6:19 AM
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  • White Sox prospects Eloy Jimenez, left, and Luis Robert are two key figures in the team's rebuilding project.

      White Sox prospects Eloy Jimenez, left, and Luis Robert are two key figures in the team's rebuilding project. SCOT GREGOR | Staff Photographer

The Chicago White Sox's top four minor-league teams -- Class AAA Charlotte, AA Birmingham, high A Winston-Salem and low A Kannapolis -- begin their seasons Thursday.

In years past, decades actually, Sox fans typically paid attention to the farm system for only one reason and that was assessing young players who were inevitably going to be traded for veterans.

That changed in 2017, the first full year of the White Sox's rebuild.

With top prospects such as Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Zack Burdi on the same roster last season, Charlotte was the team to watch.

Moncada, Giolito and Lopez all have advanced to the Sox's 25-man roster, and Burdi is expected to miss the entire season after having Tommy John surgery in July.

Top pitching prospect Michael Kopech is definitely worth keeping an eye on at Triple-A this season, and outfielders Ryan Cordell and Charlie Tilson could have future spots with the White Sox.

As far as a team to watch, it's Winston-Salem.

When his injured left thumb heals and he's ready to make his minor-league debut in the United States, center fielder Luis Robert is going to garner plenty of attention.

After signing for $26 million last May as a 19-year-old, Robert played 28 games for the Dominican League Sox and hit .310/.491/.536 with 3 home runs, 14 RBI and 12 stolen bases.

Robert hit a game-winning grand slam in a March 7 Cactus League game against the Cincinnati Reds, even after earlier hurting his thumb sliding into second base. Robert could be playing for Winston-Salem in mid-May.

Dane Dunning is the Dash's top starting pitcher, and he should soon be joined by curveball specialist Dylan Cease, who is opening the season in Kannapolis.

Hall of Fame candidate Omar Vizquel, who played for the White Sox in 2010-11, is in his first year as Winston-Salem's manager.

"I'm going to try to throw at them everything that helped me out to be successful, play the game the right way, create good habits, in every aspect of the game," Vizquel told the Winston-Salem Journal. "It doesn't matter how much talent you've got; talent alone is not going to make you get to the big leagues. You have to know how to play the game."

Like Winston-Salem, Birmingham is waiting for its top hitter, Eloy Jimenez, to get healthy.

The 21-year-old outfielder missed more than two weeks of spring training with a sore left knee, and he's expected to miss another week or two with a strained pectoral muscle.

Starter Alec Hansen (right forearm soreness) also is trying to get healthy after missing much of spring training. The Sox aren't worried, and Hansen will again throw to catcher Zack Collins when he gets back on the mound.

Cease isn't expected to spend much time at Kannapolis after making a strong impression on the White Sox in spring training.

Blake Rutherford is the key player to watch with the Intimidators. The outfielder was acquired from the Yankees last July in the trade that sent David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier to New York.

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