The White Sox invited some gray clouds when they fired Rick Renteria to bring in Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, who was treated by the media as Drunken Old School Baseball Man, for reasons almost entirely of La Russa’s own design.
But as a young Cubs fan during La Russa’s spirited (heh) reign in St. Louis, I think some of the dismissal is shortsighted. This guy put power bats in the two-hole back when it was called the two-hole because everyone thought the only logical baseball move was to put your best bunter slash worst hitter there. The second spot in the batting order was referred to as a hole when La Russa was taking criticism for using good hitters there. I know I’m being redundant, but it’s been weird to see the Twitterverse speculate the guy who oversaw the bash brothers would throw a hissy fit about bat flips. Maybe he won’t love it. Maybe he’ll say something stupid. Maybe he’ll debilitate an up-and-coming clubhouse. And maybe he hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. But to characterize him as some groupthink fossil who’s never done a single smart thing in the game is the sort of internet sunshine of the spotless mind that gets my neurons firing. He inherits a system with immediate help at the top and not much to dream on beyond that.
Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/2021 | Highest level played | ETA
1. 1B Andrew Vaughn | 23 | A+ | 2021
You’ve probably read or heard some scout-laze lingo like “can flat out hit.” Such was created for players like Andrew Vaughn, about whom there’s not much more to say. He controls the strike zone incredibly well, a skill that’s aided by his six-foot frame and strong wrists. It’s not uncommon to see him fight off a pitch inside and wind up driving it to right center field for a double or even home run. True to his last name, Vaughn just looks good doing what he does, and like the Wild Thing before him, he’s in position to humiliate AL Central opponents for years to come.
2. 2B Nick Madrigal | 24 | MLB | 2020
Nimble Nick the quick with the slapdick stick is a popular pick in fantasy leagues despite undergoing shoulder surgery in October. I’m a little worried the speed won’t translate to the majors, at least not in the 30-steal sense his dynasty investors might be hoping to get, but I have to think he’s a good fit with new manager Tony La Russa. Madrigal was going to have a long leash as a former fourth overall pick regardless of the manager, but I have a feeling he’ll wind up at the top of the lineup a lot this year, which would be huge for his profile in that it takes him from a potential two-category player (AVG and SB) to a three category player (Runs).
3. LHP Garrett Crochet | 21 | MLB | 2020
It’s Christmas time and I can’t stop thinking about Ferrero Rocher this week as I map out my rundowns. I blame this guy. Also I blame that ad campaign that had a weird sexified dude voice trying to seduce me into eating this chocolate, which, I mean come on, man, it’s chocolate; you do not have to try this hard to make us want to eat it. Just keep showing the chocolate and shut up for a minute while we watch it and think about where we might find some similar (if lesser chocolate) of our own.
You don’t care about any of this, probably. Or didn’t when you came here, anyway. You might’ve come here specifically to read about the smooth sexual chocolate that is Garret Crochet on a pitcher’s mound. If so, you have come to the right place. Crochet is born from only the best ingredients: the lithe 6’6” 218 lb lefty generates deception from a three-quarters arm slot that pairs spicily with his upper nineties heat and salty slider.
The real questions for fantasy come down to where you might take him in a first-year-player draft and whether or not he’s an option for draft and hold leagues.
To the first question, I say top ten, probably in the 5-8 range.
To the second, I say yes, for sure. I doubt he would win himself a full share of a closer job there, but doubt is part of my day to day, and Crochet, as we’ve discussed, is made of chocolate, and we all believe in chocolate. Plus there’s the chance he becomes a starter and dominates there. All I am saying is big league arms the world’s best hitters struggle to see or touch are rare and sort of break our molds for what we expect. It’s easy to mention Hader in a Crochet blurb, but that’s because the comps for a guy like Crochet are hard to find. Might as well throw in a Chris Sale and an Andrew Miller while we’re here. It’s fun.
4. RHP Michael Kopech | 25 | MLB | 2018
I’ll mention something about high school righties in the Jared Kelley blurb, which has made me wonder in hindsight if Kopech is pretty close to an ideal outcome. Boston selected him 33rd overall in 2014 and developed him through 2016, a season he finished by striking out 82 High A hitters in 52 innings (40 percent of batters faced). The Sox were able to flip the 20-year-old Kopech along with Yoan Moncada for Chris Sale, without whom Boston probably doesn’t win the 2018 World Series. From a fantasy standpoint, that didn’t help us at all, of course, but it was ideal outcome for Boston. (I prefer to avoid thoughts of Jose Fernandez due to the sadness, but he’s the real ideal outcome, sadness notwithstanding).
Anyway, we’ve been hype and ready to see Kopech for quite some time, but I think he was wise to sit out 2020. A Tommy John returnee on that wild COVID ride seems like a recipe for trouble. Trouble everywhere anyway I suppose, but I think it enhances his appeal headed into 2021, even if we’d feel a little more confident investing if we’d seen him hit 100 just once. He seemed to find some command just before the elbow popped, and it really all comes down to whether or not he can find it again. Pitching is a mental marathon. Kopech is a risky play in many ways but well worth a flier in just about every redraft league.
5. 2B Jose Rodriguez | 19 | R Ariz | 2023
Here comes that awkward part of this gig where I hope nobody in my dynasty leagues is reading my work today . . .
Get one every few teams, I think. Just a guy who, for any number of reasons, despite obvious physical gifts and big fantasy upside, is totally under the radar in fantasy baseball. Hip torque comes naturally to Rodriguez, and he generates easy power with a compact swing. His lower half remains balanced throughout and allows him to watch, wait and fire late. He’s been aggressive to this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big walk rate in his future when he faces upper level and/or familiar opponents who know how much he can hurt them. One thing that has Rodriguez so high on this list is I think he can play just about anywhere on defense, which will allow his bat to hit the gas on his promotion schedule. A lot of Sox prospects (Benyamin Bailey, Yermin Mercedes, Micker Adolfo, Zach Collins, Jake Burger, Vaughn) have defensive limitations, so in this org more than most, the ability to play defense could open the door to some aggressive promotions.
6. OF Benyamin Bailey | 19 | R DSL | 2024
Bailey showed outstanding plate skills during Dominican Summer League in 2019, carrying a 21.4/16.5 K/BB rate across 243 plate appearances. His .477 on base percentage isn’t something wild in the DSL like it would be stateside. He was a man among boys at that level and will need some reps against high-spin arms who aren’t afraid to challenge a 6’4” 215 lb power bat for us to have a better idea of how his frame might ultimately look in the big leagues. He did get to play in the pitching-thick fall instructional league this year, so that helps. Bailey’s a buy for me at his current perceived value, which I think is somewhere just above free agency in most dynasty leagues. I wouldn’t want to pay much at this point, but I will be monitoring his progress early in whatever minor league season we get.
7. RHP Jared Kelley | 19 | HS | 2025
High school righties rarely lead teams to the promised land in dynasty baseball, and if they do, that’s an incredibly long trek. Kelley’s best pitch is his plus-plus change up—a borderline Bugs Bunny time-warper that’s exceedingly rare in such a young pitcher, let alone one with premium velocity. As we’ve seen a little with Chris Paddack, the arm slots that make a change up great don’t always match up in a neat, natural way with the arm slots that make a breaking ball great. Kelley will likely cruise through the minors if he can command his fastball, changeup combination, but the ultimate decider of his fate comes down to whatever the rest of his arsenal looks like a few years from now.
8. C Yermin Mercedes | 28 | MLB | 2020
It’s starting to look like we’ll never get fully Yerminated, and that makes me sad. His body has always been a potential problem and looks worse this week in winter ball, or maybe I just forgot how jiggly he looks alongside professional athletes. He’s listed at 5’11” 225 lbs but looks more like three bills, so it’s just hard to imagine him catching more than a few emergency starts a year, and even harder to imagine him running the bases day after day. He remains on the list until he’s no longer eligible due to his ultimate potential as a 60-hit, 60-power part-time catcher full-time DH dreamboat for fantasy baseball.
9. OF James Beard | 20 | R | 2024
Among the fastest amateur players ever timed in a public 60-yard dash, Beard brings obvious upside for our game. I like his hands in the box quite a bit more than a typical slapstick burner. It’ll take him a long time to climb the minors, but he’ll almost certainly stick in centerfield, giving him a nice floor to prop up his prospect stock if the bat scuffles here and there along the way.
10. SS Elijah Tatis | 18 | NA | 2025
All we really have so far is blood and words, but the words were good (senior said Elijah has more natural pop than Fernando), and the blood is so elite it’s a little strange he signed for about a half mill.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.