Someone wins the off-season every winter. The baseball calendar invites us to imagine how a power bat like Edwin Encarnacion and a high OBP catcher like Yasmani Grandal will impact a lineup. It’s math we can do more easily than we can measure the addition of a great left tackle to a football team. We can plug Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez into Chicago’s rotation and add up their wins above replacement. It’s all very earnest and joyful and helps us push through the expanding darkness.
Course, someone wins summer in football, too, but it feels very different. Football has no WAR, ironically enough, and while I think that’s at least as flawed a statistic as batting average, WAR is currently treated with reverence due to the shorthand evaluative powers it grants the baseball world.
While it’s efficacy can be debated, WAR dominates our world, and there can be no doubt the White Sox have gone to WAR this winter. The people are singing songs of freedom and glory—not just for these winter wins but also for the prospect waterfall coming this Spring.
And who doesn’t love to see a slow-cooked recipe come together, especially during the holiday season?
1. OF Luis Robert | 22 | AAA | Early 2020
Lou Bob is his own tier. He’s the best rookie. A lot of people—all the humans I’ve heard discuss the matter so far—are predicting early struggles. I’m not sure what they mean as every context is different, but Steamer has him slashing .273/.318/.494 with 22 home runs and 19 stolen bases in 117 games. If you’re here often, you might be thinking I’ve never cited Steamer, and I haven’t. Whole concept’s not especially my jam. But they’re conservative on prospects, and they think Robert is Starling Marte on a rate basis. Not Starling-lite. Diesel. A 2nd rounder masquerading as an 8th because people fear the unknown.
2. 1B Andrew Vaughn | 22 | A+ | Mid 2021
Something of a forgotten man in the early discussions around 2020 first-year-player drafts, Andrew Vaughn will make some people very happy to see him still available on their turn. First base is a position in flux. Depending on your source, you might detect a tremor of panic around the first base scarcity situation. I think it’s partly seasonal like everything, but I think it’s even more an outcome of the path first baseman walk to become an every day player combined with the declining cost of corner-only players. Every prospect with the potential to avoid that label works hard to do so, making the position something of a run-off collector–an island of misfit toys. Few would have predicted long-buried Christian Walker to lock down that job heading into 2020, but that was a fairly bankable possibility given his history of good production despite having almost no prospect profile. I’m struggling to articulate my thoughts here except to say I don’t want to put a premium on first base prospects just because it currently seems shallow at the major league level.
3. 2B Nick Madrigal | 23 | AAA | Early 2020
4. RHP Michael Kopech | 24 | MLB | Early 2020
I’m not super confident Nick Madrigal is on the express train to a starting job because there’s more second base options on the market than there are center fielders. Still, he should get a chance early, make a lot of contact when he does, and steal a lot of bases if he’s making enough impact on contact to reach.
I almost put Michael Kopech in his own tier below because this is a fantasy-focused list, and Madrigal steals bases while Kopech is a young pitcher rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. I changed my mind because his stuff was top-of-the-scale before injury, and he might come back throwing 100 with relative ease. Might even have some idea where it’s going. I’m betting he continues that pre-injury trend of trading velocity for command and comes back strong. Can’t pay retail in this instance, but If you can buy at a discount, he’s somebody you’re going to want.
5. RHP Jonathan Stiever | 22 | A+ | Late 2020
6. OF James Beard | 19 | R | 2024
Like Veruca Salt before me, I could not fight the Stiever. I wanted to put him below Beard because I love the speed like an eighth grader who can’t remember life before his adderall prescription, but Jonathan Stiever was too dominant at high-A to spend long in AA if he’s good there. As a pitch mix guy with solid command, he has the feel of an under-the-radar type people don’t start banging the drum about until he’s getting outs in the majors.
The James Beard Awards are given annually to humans who excel in their field.
Mostly for food and entertainment.
James Beard the White Sock has won none of these awards with his name on it, but he was widely regarded as the fastest man in the 2019 draft class. The Sox picked him in the 4th round hoping his athleticism would translate to the batters’ box with time and coaching. If so, Beard could be a category-winning stolen base threat.
7. OF Micker Adolfo | 23 | AA | Mid 2021
8. RHP Andrew Dalquist | 19 | R | 2022
9. RHP Dane Dunning | 25 | AA | Mid 2020
10. RHP Matthew Thompson | 19 | R | 2023
Injuries have been the story of Micker Adolfo’s last couple years, but he also made some key gains in his plate skills during a 79-game stretch at high A in 2018, unlocking some of his double-plus raw power in games. He’s gotten a little lost in the shuffle and might be available in most dynasty leagues. Feels like a solid sleeper prospect to me.
Andrew Dalquist looks like a fast mover to me as a five-pitch high schooler who enjoyed a velocity bump in his senior year and landed a $2 million bonus: a first-round price that puts his talent into clearer context than his 3rd round draft slot.
I’m interested to see how the club handles the return of Dane Dunning. Before a recent rash of injuries, Chicago had enjoyed the best pitching health in baseball, so I’m especially curious how they handle a high-octane potential ace in Kopech and a mid-rotation command type in Dunning. Both could help a lot in 2020.
The 45th overall pick in this June’s draft, Matthew Thompson signed for an over-slot $2.1 million in his own right and features explosive heat with inviting upside and athleticism.
Thanks for reading!
Meet me in Cleveland on Wednesday?