The Chicago White Sox entered the 2022 season widely regarded as having the worst farm system in the MLB. This came as no surprise to anyone, as just about all their former top prospects have since graduated from prospect status to contribute on the MLB roster. Still, it was easy to build up the farm system while trading away star players like Chris Sale and Jose Quintana for other teams’ top prospects, but how would this organization fare when being tasked with identifying and developing home grown talent?
The past two years have shown some promise, as the White Sox have brought in solid prospects such as Colson Montgomery, Oscar Colas, Norge Vera, and Yoelqui Cespedes. That isn’t enough to build up an entire farm system, however, so their ability to find rising prospects through the international signing period and later in the draft is proving to be crucial.
So far, it’s their international prospects who are bringing this farm system back to life. Last year, it was Jose Rodriguez who broke out in his 4th year in the organization after signing for a $50,000 signing bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2017. This year, the Sox have two prospects who are starting out the season as if they are ready to rise up the rankings: 3B Bryan Ramos and RHP Cristian Mena.
Part of the 2018-2019 international signing period, the White Sox signed Ramos for $300,000 as a 17-year-old out of Cuba. His combination of raw power and arm strength made him easily projectable as a high upside 3B prospect, although many thought he would eventually have to move to the outfield. In his first two professional seasons with the Sox, Ramos has been solid at the plate with a 110 wRC+ in 2019 and a 109 wRC+ in 2021. He has shown an ability to draw walks without striking out an overwhelming amount, however he wasn’t tapping into the raw power he was lauded for as much as some had hoped.
Through 21 games in the 2022 season ad High-A Winston-Salem, however, he has hit a new gear at the plate. He is hitting to an absurd .351 batting average with a 161 wRC+ and a .972 OPS, and has hit 11 extra base hits in 21 games (7 doubles and 4 home runs). He had previously spent his time in the field split between 2B and 3B in the field but has almost exclusively been relegated to the hot corner in 2022, with some time at designated hitter sprinkled in as well. Maybe allowing him to focus on one position is allowing him to tap into his offensive potential? He profiles better as a 3B long term anyways, where he can utilize his plus arm strength. His inflated .409 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) leads some speculation that he is due for a bit of regression, and he is walking slightly less than he has in previous years, however he has also cut his strike out rate down about 5% from the previous year and is making more solid contact that he ever has.
The White Sox should express patience with Ramos, as there is no need to rush him to the majors. However, if he keeps this up it will be difficult to keep him in the lower levels.
Another prospect out of the Dominican Republic, Cristian Mena was signed in July of 2019 for $250,000 in the same class as Yolbert Sanchez and Elijah Tatis. Not much was known initially about Mena, except for the fact that he was a right handed pitcher, that the Sox listed him at 6’2 170 lbs, and he wasn’t able to make his debut until a year and a half after he signed due to the pandemic causing the 2020 MiLB season to be cancelled. Despite all of that, the White Sox made a rather aggressive move by allowing him to skip the Dominican Summer League and make his professional debut with their Arizona Complex team.
His first season in the Sox organization did not go exactly according to plan, as he ended with a disappointing 7.82 ERA. He did, however, have some underlying stats that showed much more promise than his ERA dictated. His xFIP was a much more serviceable 4.46, and he struck out 62 batters in 48.1 innings while only walking 21. He also carried a BABIP against of .442, showing he may have run into a bit of bad luck along the way. Many (including myself) expected him to begin his second season at 19 years old back in Arizona, but the Sox continued to be aggressive with him by promoting him to Low-A Kannapolis to begin the year.
So far, Mena has rewarded this aggressive approach. Through 22 innings in 4 starts, Mena holds a 2.86 ERA with 31 Ks and only 5 walks. He is showing an elite ability to miss bats while also showing an unexpectedly impressive ability to limit walks and control his pitches. He currently tops out at 95 with his fastball, although he might be able to add some velocity as he matures and adds strength to his 170 lb frame. Most outlets agree that his best pitch is his curveball, which sits in the upper 70s and can be a potential plus offering from him. He also has the ability to mix in a changeup, although that is his 3rd best pitch of the three. He has a long way to go, but he is off to a great start in his young career and has the potential to eventually develop into a number 2 or 3 starting pitcher in the MLB.
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