The 2023 minor league season has come to an end for all levels, so it is time to look back and evaluate how the top minor leaguers in the White Sox farm system performed this past season.
Overall, the White Sox farm system is trending in the right direction. After coming into this season universally thought of as one of the worst farm systems in the MLB, the White Sox saw breakouts from several prospects and added more talent through the draft and trades that have bolstered them closer to middle-of-the-pack consideration. While there is still plenty of room for improvement, the arrow is pointing up for this collection of young talent, and with a probable top-five pick and plenty more breakout candidates, the Sox should feel good about the potential next core of this franchise.
You can’t talk about this team’s minor league season without mentioning the breakout of 2022 first-round pick Noah Schultz. Although he was on a strict pitch count and his season ended prematurely due to a shoulder injury, Schultz in his brief debut showed the massive upside that caused the Sox to take him 26th overall last year. In 27 innings at the Low-A level, Schultz posted a minuscule 1.33 ERA with 38 punchouts and just six walks. His stuff was filthy, but his command of his pitching arsenal to limit free passes is what was most impressive, especially considering his lengthy 6’9 frame. He has firmly cemented himself as one of the top 100 prospects in all of baseball, and he will look to build off a successful debut season in 2024 as he looks for a larger workload.
Two prospects who haven’t received the same national attention but still had wildly successful 2023 campaigns are Wilfred Veras and Terrell Tatum. Veras came into this season as a solid hitting prospect with no defensive home. While he still has an overly aggressive approach at the plate, Veras took his hitting production to another level despite being significantly younger than the competition. At just 20 years old, Veras produced 17 home runs on the season between High-A and Double-A and held a 129 wRC+ in 162 plate appearances at the Double-A level. He also made a successful defensive transition to the corner outfield, where he looks to be a passable defender.
Tatum on the other hand proved to be an on-base machine in 2023. Also splitting the season between High-A and Double-A, Tatum drew an 18% walk rate and was a problem for opposing teams on the basepaths with 47 stolen bases. While his strikeout rate can be cut down and he had less success hitting after his promotion, Tatum still proved to be a positive hitter who can impact the game in many different ways.
After the top three, other prospects who impressed this season were Jacob Burke, Eric Adler, Tim Elko, Shane Murphy, and Mason Adams. Burke slashed .294/.392/.439 and posted a 135 wRC+ between Low-A and High-A this season. Adler posted a 2.87 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 31.1 relief innings and showcased high-leverage reliever upside. Elko belted 28 home runs across three minor league levels this season and quickly became a fan favorite. Murphy spent the 2023 season in Low-A, where he held a 3.63 ERA and impressed with his control with a 4.26 K/BB rate. Finally, Murphy pitched well across three levels, ending his season in Double-A and finishing with a 3.14 ERA with 125 strikeouts in 109 innings on the season.
Unfortunately, 2023 was a season to forget for Sean Burke, who had high expectations placed on him. After a successful 2022 season that saw him reach Triple-A in his first full professional season, Burke struggled to stay on the field and battled control issues when he was medically cleared. The former third-round pick still has the talent to eventually join an MLB rotation, but he will need to stay healthy first before he can realize his potential.
Wes Kath, after showing some progress as the season went on in 2022, struggled mightily at the plate this past season. His strikeout rate ballooned up to over 40%, and he wasn’t able to eclipse a .200 batting average on the season. 2024 will be a big year for his development and his overall future outlook.
Many will remember Erick Hernandez as the 2nd best international signing prior to the 2022 season along with Oscar Colas. After signing for $1 million and receiving Juan Soto comps, his pro career has yet to take off the way many expected. The hit tool has not come around at all in the way many scouts expected it to, and he has yet to make an impact. He does showcase a patient approach at the plate and is still just 18 years old. So, time is still on his side and the talent is still there for him to turn his career around.
Who Had Mixed Results?
The Sox saw a trio of pitching prospects show flashes of impact ability on the mound but were unable to put together a full season’s worth of success. Jonathan Cannon had a very good first half that saw him represent the Sox in the All-Star Futures Game and a promotion to Double-A. Unfortunately, he hit a speed bump after his promotion and looked shaky at times at the more advanced level. Cristian Mena got off to a hot start that saw him gaining a lot of fans early in the season but cooled off after the first month of the season. He re-found his success later and pitched well enough to earn a promotion to Triple-A at just 20 years old, however, he got off to a rocky start at that level as well. At his young age, he still shows plenty of promise to be a future MLB mainstay. Finally, Matthew Thompson at times looked like he had found his stride and regained the talent that led him to be a second-round pick. He too, however, struggled to show that consistently. If he can’t find some consistency in 2024, he may benefit from a move to the bullpen where his stuff might play well.
At the plate, DJ Gladney looked like one of the biggest breakout prospects at times this season, but it seemed that he would go into a slump every other month. He ended the season strong with an OPS above 1.000 and seven home runs in August, but despite that held just a .783 OPS on the season. If he can find some consistency, he could be a future impact hitter.
How Did the Trade Acquisitions Fare?
At the trade deadline, the Sox bolstered their farm system through several trades. The biggest of all was receiving Edgar Quero and Ky Bush for Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. Quero was by far the best prospect added this season, and he had a rock-solid season at just 20 years old at the Double-A level. Quero held a .731 OPS this season, and both his strikeout and walk rates hovered right around 16% on the season. Aside from that, he appeared to impact the game behind the plate, showing a strong arm and earning the trust of the pitching staff. Ky Bush unfortunately had a rocky 2023 season as a whole, but he has shown the potential to be a back-end rotation piece in prior seasons and has the ability to get back on track next season.
Arguably the next most impactful trade was the acquisition of Nick Nastrini, Jordan Leasure, and Trayce Thompson for Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly. Nastrini held his own at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels after the trade and has put himself in the conversation as an option for the White Sox rotation in 2024. Leasure was promoted to Triple-A as soon as he was acquired, and although he had some struggles, he showcased fantastic strikeout stuff and the potential to be a high-leverage reliever in the near future.
Korey Lee, who was acquired for Kendall Graveman, has joined the White Sox MLB roster, where he has gotten off to a shaky start but still possesses plus power and a cannon of an arm. He should get an extended chance to show he belongs on the MLB roster in 2024. Juan Carela, who was acquired for Keynan Middleton, was an under-the-radar addition who put together a quietly successful 2023 season between the Yankees and the Sox organization, finishing with a 3.58 ERA in 23 starts.
Who has Unfinished Business?
The Sox are sending eight players to the Arizona Fall League this season, and for many of them, it is a chance to make up for time lost due to injuries on the season. Most notable in this group is top prospect Colson Montgomery, who only played in 64 games this season after missing the first couple of months due to injury. He was as good as advertised in the time he was healthy, destroying High-A pitching and earning a promotion to Double-A, where his OPS was .827.
Bryan Ramos also missed time to start the season due to a groin injury, which is why he will be at the AFL as well. He totaled 81 games this season, where at times he showed a disciplined approach and the ability to be an impact hitter. He spent most of the season in Double-A, where he hit 14 home runs and held a 122 wRC+.
Jake Eder, who was acquired for Jake Burger at the deadline, had a rough go of things this season, as he was coming back from missing 2022 due to Tommy John Surgery and had his start to the season delayed due to other nagging injuries. Because of this, he only logged 47 innings on the year and especially showed some struggles post-trade. When he is right, he has the stuff to be a number 2 or 3 starter in the MLB, and hopefully, some time spent in the AFL will do him some good.
Other names to keep an eye out for in the AFL are the previously mentioned Jacob Burke and Jordan Leasure, and Josamir Cousin, who left Cuba and was signed as a minor league free agent in the middle of the season.
Who to Watch Out For in 2024?
The White Sox had several standout performers this season in the Dominican Summer League, and these prospects are expected to make their stateside debuts in 2024. First is Abraham Nunez, who signed for $700,000 this past international signing period and showed an ability to impact the game in several different ways. Next is Stiven Flores, a 17-year-old catcher who hit .391 on the season and struck out in less than 5% of his plate appearances. Another hitter who impressed was infielder Javier Mogollon, who had double-digit home runs and stolen bases while holding a .315 batting average. Finally, Luis Reyes, who was the highest-ranked international signing in the Sox 2023 class, struggled initially but pitched very well as he adjusted to professional baseball throughout the season.
From the draft, first-round pick Jacob Gonzalez will look to bounce back after underwhelming in his pro debut. While he wasn’t able to light up the stat sheet, he did show a mature approach at the plate and has the hitting and power capabilities to develop into an impact hitter. After him, second-round pick Grant Taylor will look to make his professional debut in 2024 after rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery. Finally, many eyes will be on George Wolkow, who has one of the highest ceilings in the White Sox system as a well-over-slot seventh-round pick.
Overall, fans who are looking for reasons to be optimistic about the future of this franchise should look at the progress that has been made in the farm system. While it will not be ranked toward the top of the league, it is a solid farm system that possesses several prospects who have shown impact potential, and many others who have the talent to develop into notable players. The trajectory is clearly trending upward for this system, and while it still has room to grow, the frustration we have had all season with the White Sox major league team should not be carried over into what has been ultimately a successful minor league season for this franchise.
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