By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Since the All-Star break, the White Sox have now promoted two high-profile prospects to the big leagues. Second baseman Yoan Moncada joined the club in the third week of July, while right-hander Reynaldo Lopez will make his debut for the White Sox on Friday.
The movement of key White Sox prospects from one level to the next is happening slowly but surely and now includes the big league level. The development of said prospects is the most important task for the White Sox, who added 18 prospects in a series of trades dating back to early last December.
The 22-year-old Moncada is showing signs of why he was the top-rated prospect in the game. He got off to a 4-of-40 start with the White Sox but had registered five hits in his past three games entering play Tuesday, when he recorded an RBI single in his first at-bat.
Lopez, 23, had done solid work at Triple-A Charlotte, including winning the International League Pitcher of the Month award for July. He had a 3.79 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 131 strikeouts in 121 innings at Triple-A this season.
Moncada and Lopez are the starting point in the wave of prospects who will be joining the White Sox in the coming seasons. Managment envisions 2019 as the earliest the team could start contending and perhaps more likely 2020.
Right-hander Michael Kopech, 21, has arguably been the most impressive pitcher in a White Sox farm system full of promising arms. He has a 3.04 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP and 145 strikeouts in 112 1/3 innings at Double-A Birmingham this season. He boasts a fastball that hits 100 miles per hour and a knee-buckling slider that’s opened eyes around the Southern League.
“Every player comes with his own individual player development plan,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “The two most important plans for Michael was the taking the ball every fifth day for the course of the entire season. That is something he had not done. The second part was being able to respond to the challenge of being a 20, 21-year- old and pitching in the Southern League. That is advanced placement. He has passed both of those challenges, knock on wood, with flying colors.
“Even though he went to his high in innings pitched, he appears to be even pitching better in recent starts. He has had a greater command of the fastball, the slider has been a plus pitch and is trusting the changeup. He is checking off boxes that were really even lower as for expectations from him this season.”
The likes of left-hander Carlos Rodon, right-hander Lucas Giolito (now at Triple-A), Lopez, Kopech and right-hander Dylan Cease (Class-A) project as future rotation hopefuls, with the bullpen as a fallback option too. They’ll all be closely monitored across various levels as this season finishes and spring training rolls around next February.
The manner in which the White Sox has since added young position-player talent after its initial influx of high-potential pitchers gives some reason to believe contention could come early that expected when looking at the big picture.
And as Hahn points out, the accumulation of so much young talent is the point, because he knows not every prospect will pan out.
“It is not about holding your breath that it works out,” Hahn said. “This is about people understanding that how one individual player performs does not mandate how the entire process is going.
“We really value Moncada. We think he will be a real impact player in the major leagues for a long time. How he does in his first 100 plate appearances doesn’t indicate what type of player he will be long term. It certainly doesn’t indicate how this rebuild is going. He is one piece of many we control in the organization. We will likely have to go outside of the organization to augment what group grows together, to be that type of impact players. Candidly, we will not know that for several years as this group comes together.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.