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Wrangling 2023 White Sox Prospects: Onward and upward
So far this Prospect Week, we’ve started our tour of the farm system by assessing the injured White Sox prospects, and the ones who entered the system in 2022.
Here’s where we take a break for some unbridled optimism. The five prospects on this list may not appear in order on my White Sox top 10 later this week, but regardless of where they end up, they couldn’t have been asked to make last season any more productive. If only they had more company.
Generally speaking, you’re on the right track if you’re drawing comparisons to Corey Seager after your first full professional season.
Besides behind a tall left-handed shortstop, Montgomery hit .274/.381/.429 with 30 extra-base hits and 54 walks against 83 strikeouts over 96 games. He bounced back from a bruised hand early with a 50-game on-base streak that stretched from Kannapolis to Winston-Salem. The ability to draw a walk or take one for the team (10 HBPs) largely buoyed him from slumping.
His production only started easing up in late August. Under most circumstances, he might’ve been allowed to coast to the finish line in High-A. Instead, even though he went 0-for-14 over his last four games with the Dash, the White Sox still promoted him to Birmingham, where his bat didn’t quite look up to the challenge. He did hit a couple of homers, including a grand slam I was in attendance for, which is always appreciated.
Montgomery will be able to buy alcohol himself later this month, and while there’s a sense that his 6-foot-4-inch frame isn’t destined to stay at shortstop as he ventures toward his mid-20s, there’s no pressing urge to move him from the position right now.
There isn’t a particular reason to be skeptical of Montgomery at this stage in his career, which isn’t to say that he’s a sure thing. Maybe his production will always lag against lefties. Maybe his his power still stall out at 15-20 homers. Maybe he’ll lose the speed to supplement ordinary pop in an exciting fashion. Maybe he’s more of a third baseman than an up-the-middle guy. All of these are very real possibilities, but one year in, he’s doing everything you’d want to see from him, and that’s plenty great for now.
Speaking of production against lefties, that’s what most encouraged me about Colás’ reintroduction to professional baseball after missing the last two full seasons due to the pandemic and defection from Cuba. He hit .362/.417/.533 over 115 plate appearances against same-sided pitching. There’s less power and a bigger gap in his walk-to-strikeout rate, but he looked intent on staying closed on pitches breaking away from him, even if it might result in singles the opposite way.
The damage against righties was very satisfying, too. He hit .301/.358/.521 with 20 of his 23 homers against righties, with his power emerging the further he distanced himself from an early-season wrist injury.
Colás hit just four homers over the first two months of the season. Over his final 90 games, he hit . 333/.386/.551 while progressing from Winston-Salem to Birmingham to Charlotte. He played more center than corner, probably more to push his athleticism than anything else. He should be fine in right field, with a strong arm to save some bases when his ability or inexperience give them up.
The biggest question is whether he’ll need weeks, months or years to temper his aggression against the world’s best pitching. Given that he possesses the only right field skill set on the 40-man roster, the Sox are hoping for sooner than later. Ideally somebody like Colás would make his debut when a team is a year away from contention, with any breakout accelerating the process, rather than being absolutely necessary to the endeavor. Alas.
In 2022, Sosa set a career high in homers for the fifth straight year, but this was the first time it was impressive:
- 2017: 2
- 2018: 4
- 2019: 7
- 2021: 11
- 2022: 23
That power outburst wasn’t the only new ground. He set a career high in walks while slashing his strikeout rate significantly, and combination of these elements along with setbacks and injuries above him allowed him to make his MLB debut well before anybody expected him to.
A guy who reliably struggled in his first month at a new level, Sosa had the benefit of opening 2022 by returning to Double-A, and he responded by hitting .315/.369/.511 over 62 games. He looked far stronger in the box, and while he’s still an aggressive hitter, he no longer looked like he was afraid of deep counts.
A tough couple cups of coffee with the White Sox showed the reasons to restrain enthusiasm. He went just 4-for-35 with 12 strikeouts against just one walk, his defensive tools work better at second base than anywhere else, and the fact that his power stroke is geared toward right center might mean that MLB homers will be harder to come by with the current baseball (although he did sock his first career homer well out to left).
MLB pitching proved a little too ambitious, but otherwise, Sosa’s 2022 season was a tremendous age-22 season, and he should be afforded at least one more season of development time to see how well he can close the remaining gaps before anybody decides his destiny. The hope is that people won’t grow impatient with Sosa solely because the White Sox didn’t find a better second-base solution above him.
After surviving a full season at Kannapolis during his age-19 season in 2021, Ramos made all the developments you’d want to see over the following year. He turned a lot of doubles into homers, he cut his strikeout rate while keeping his walk rate largely intact, and after a shoulder issue limited him to DH and second base for a lot of 2021, he had no such restrictions in 2022, resulting in 96 games at third base.
The rub is that he can lose his way for stretches, whether it’s a .180/.260/.326 May or a challenging stretch at Project Birmingham for his Double-A debut. His contact ability means he doesn’t look overwhelmed or out of sorts if you catch him a game at a time, but while he can pull the ball in the air with relative ease, sometimes he is too intent in doing so.
These are mild criticisms of a $300,000 who has handled every young-for-level challenge with aplomb. He should open the season at Birmingham shortly after turning 21 the month before, so if he encounters his first real struggles at a level, he’ll have time on his side.
While Norge Vera generated the most preseason excitement among the White Sox’s lower-level pitching prospects, Mena emerged with the season’s best pound-for-pound pitching performance, and nobody really came close.
Mena went from an 18-year-old with a 7.82 ERA in the Arizona Complex League in 2021 to throwing 104 innings across three levels one year later. The peripherals that made him intriguing in spite of the poor results made the jump to full-season ball, as he racked up 126 strikeouts against 38 walks.
He’s another guy who would’ve ordinarily been allowed to settle for two levels of excellence. Five of his 11 starts with Kannapolis were scoreless, and he had similar outbursts of dominance with Winston-Salem, even if they were accompanied by more laborious outings. They eased up on his workload as he approached the second half of August, but they also promoted him to Birmingham, where hMene reverted to his ACL form of “the guy who missed bats unless he didn’t.”
Ideally, Mena’s velocity will continue to tick upward as he turns 20. He already spins a curveball with confidence, which gives the impression that he could get a shot at holding down a rotation spot in the major leagues even if he sits 92-93, but if his modest 6-foot-2-inch frame can only offer so much fastball effectiveness, strides with his slider or changeup could get him there, too.
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