Next wave of prospects give Chicago White Sox needed depth
In just less than a month, manager Rick Renteria is going to be on the field at Camelback Ranch when the White Sox report for spring training.
Renteria has been in Glendale, Arizona, this week evaluating some of the Sox's top hitting prospects, including first-round draft picks Nick Madrigal, Andrew Vaughn and Zack Collins.
He likes what he's been seeing.
"All of our guys in the organization are prospects, obviously," Renteria said. "Some of the guys in the upper tier that we feel are getting much closer, it's getting them together to be with a lot of the men they're going to be working alongside.
"It's getting the messaging and the work done so they can transition into the spring and get into the season having a really good feel of how they want to be able to proceed and do the things they're going to need to do to help them prove themselves as they continue to develop in their careers."
Danny Mendick, Blake Rutherford, Micker Adolfo and Luis Alexander Basabe are among the other young hitters in Arizona this week. New catcher Yasmani Grandal is also at the minicamp.
As the White Sox move from a rebuilding team to a probable contender this season, established players such as Grandal, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson and Dallas Keuchel are going to do much of the heavy lifting.
But the Sox need depth to get to where they want to go, and the glaring lack of capable replacements was the main reason general manager Rick Hahn decided to quit patching the roster together with iffy veterans.
Sliding out of contention in early June 2016, Hahn acquired James Shields in a trade from the San Diego Padres. He was desperately needed to replace holes in the starting rotation left by the ineffective Mat Latos and injured Miguel Gonzalez.
The White Sox didn't have any major-league ready starters in the minors, so getting Shields cost them top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., who has blossomed into one of the best young players in baseball.
Shields gave his best effort and was a great presence in the clubhouse, but the right-hander was 16-35 with a 5.31 ERA in his three seasons with the Sox.
When the 2016 season ended, Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were traded for prospects and the rebuild was on.
Three years later, the White Sox now have proven players up and down the roster and plenty of high-end hitting and pitching prospects in the minor leagues in case something goes wrong.
With Luis Robert now under contract for the next six seasons, Madrigal is on deck and waiting his turn. He should be with the Sox well before the all-star break.
The second baseman was drafted with the No. 4 overall pick in 2018 following an All-American career at Oregon State.
Last season, Madrigal combined to hit .311/.377/.414 in 120 games with high Class A Winston-Salem, AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte. Remarkably, he struck out only 16 times in 532 plate appearances.
"Wow," Renteria said of Madrigal on Wednesday. "Watching him swing the bat yesterday, I'm amazed at his bat-to-ball skills. It's incredible. He's actually filling out a little bit more. All these guys, we've seen them for the last four years, they're growing up, and even though Magic (Madrigal) just joined us last year, you can see a difference in him, physically speaking.
"I think his skill set in terms of his bat-to-ball skills, as he continues to develop you may see a ball leave the ballpark here and there. But the fact he can put the bat on the ball and manage the barrel as well as he does, he'll be able to find holes."
Edwin Enacarnacion is the White Sox's new designated hitter, but he's 37 and on a one-year contract with a club option for 2021.
If Encarnacion slows down or sustains an injury like he did last year (broken wrist, oblique strain), Vaughn will only be a phone call away.
The No. 3 overall pick in last year's draft, Vaughn combined to slash .278/.384/.449 with 6 home runs and 36 RBI over 55 games in his first professional season, which ended at Winston-Salem.
Collins, the No. 10 overall pick in 2016, played in 26 games with the Sox last season. Surviving a 2-for-26 start and demotion to Charlotte, he came back in September and was 14-for-60 (.233) with 2 home runs and 9 RBI. Collins gives the White Sox depth at catcher, first base and DH.
"He looks really good," Renteria said. "He is fit. In talking to him a little bit, he's been working hard. His swing looks really good. I still believe he's going to hit. The kid is going to hit.
"The question now is to continue to develop his catching skills. He's been working on that."