The transition from rebuilding to contending figures to come soon on the South Side. But the White Sox are still about that top-prospect life.
MLB Pipeline unveiled its updated list of the top 100 prospects in baseball Saturday, and the White Sox landed four guys in the top 40, including three in the top 20: Luis Robert was ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the game, with Andrew Vaughn at No. 16, Michael Kopech at No. 20 and Nick Madrigal at No. 40.
White Sox fans, thanks to an offseason full of free-agent signings, have shifted the bulk of their attention to the major league level. Rick Renteria is talking playoffs or bust, and it seems the team's long-awaited contention window could open as soon as Opening Day. And these youngsters are a big part of the reason why.
Three of the four - Robert, Kopech and Madrigal - are expected to make significant contributions to the 2020 team, and they'll likely all be off this list the next time it's updated, as they'll be full-fledged big leaguers and no longer prospects.
Robert, who tore up the minor leagues last season, is likely ticketed to be the White Sox starting center fielder on Opening Day, thanks to the big-money contract extension that wiped away any lingering service-time discussion. He became the second consecutive White Sox prospect to get such a contract before playing a single game in the majors, following Eloy Jimenez, who received his own big-money deal last spring.
Kopech has already reached the big leagues, though he was limited to just four appearances prior to requiring Tommy John surgery in September 2018. His recovery wiped out his entire 2019 season, so even though it seems like he jettisoned his prospect status a long time ago, he's still considered one with so little playing time under his belt. The White Sox might slow play his return to the major league mound, and it's possible he might not be on the Opening Day roster. But the team is waiting until spring training to finalize a plan for the 2020 season.
Regardless, the White Sox brass continues to describe Kopech as someone who will feature prominently in the starting rotation.
Madrigal is also expected to reach the big leagues in 2020 after making it all the way to Triple-A Charlotte last season. His ability to make consistent contact remains the most impressive part of his game, and he struck out just 16 times in 2019. But he also has a reputation as an elite defender at second base, and that's where he should be taking over on an everyday basis once he reaches the South Side. When that will be remains to be seen; it doesn't sound like Madrigal will be expected to make the Opening Day roster after he played in only 29 games at Charlotte last season. But Rick Hahn said it's possible Madrigal could impress enough in spring training to force the issue.
As for Vaughn, the 2019 first-round first baseman is a little further behind the other three players discussed here. But thanks to his powerful bat, he's caught the eye of plenty of evaluators, as evidenced by his high placement on MLB Pipeline's list. Jose Abreu isn't going anywhere for the next three seasons, though Edwin Encarnacion's claim to the White Sox everyday DH role could last as little as one year.
If Vaughn follows a similar path as Robert and Madrigal - who both rose from Class A to Triple-A during the 2019 season - perhaps he'll be discussed as being close to major league ready for the 2021 season. Heck, if the White Sox find themselves in a pennant race in 2020, perhaps Vaughn is considered as a September addition. But that will obviously depend on how he fares in the minors.
White Sox boast four top-40 prospects in MLB Pipeline's newest list originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago