Deep Dive: Charlotte and Birmingham third basemen

Faint praise: With a modest OPS of .660, Ti’Quan Forbes led all White Sox upper-level minor league third basemen. (@TiquanF).

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  5. Free agent options at that position

The third basemen who finished the year with Charlotte and Birmingham are a microcosm of the lack of depth in the White Sox system, as nobody seems primed to fill in any time soon at the major league level should any kind of injury befall Yoán Moncada. With the possible exception of Camilo Quinteiro, these guys appear to be only organizational depth pieces unless they bounce back in a big way in 2020.

(age as of April 1, 2020)

Charlotte Knights

Trey Michalczewski
220 pounds
B/T: S/R
Other positions played: First base, Second base
Age: 25

As a switch-hitting third baseman with power, Michalczewski was prepared to stay in his home state to play baseball for the University of Oklahoma. However, when the White Sox offered an over-slot bonus of $500,000 to pry him from his verbal commitment to the Sooners, the seventh round pick from 2013 opted to join the White Sox organization. He played his post-draft ball with the Bristol squad, where he struggled a bit with a .236/.324/.328 line with three homers in 56 games.

Michalczewski enjoyed an above-average year with Kannapolis in 2014, as he slashed .273/.348/.433 in 116 games with 25 doubles, seven triples, 10 homers and 70 RBIs in 116 games; however, he struggled in a 19-game stretch with Winston-Salem at the end of the season. Since then, Michalczewski has ever so slowly worked his way up the system’s proverbial ladder. His best power season came in 2017, which was split between Winston-Salem and Birmingham; that year, he combined to slash .243/.317/.388 with 13 homers. When he returned to the Barons in 2018, he slashed .253/.302/.377 in 126 games with 26 doubles, six triples, six homers, 65 RBIs, four stolen bases, 27 walks (5.4%) and 131 strikeouts (26.0%).

With his struggles, Michaelczewski was essentially a part-time player in 2019. In 48 games for Birmingham spanning 149 at-bats, he slashed just .208/.300/.309 with two homers. However, he received his long awaited call-up to Charlotte in late June but didn’t really run with it, as he slashed just .224/.327/.365 in 30 games with three homers. Thus, in a combined 78 games with Birmingham and Charlotte this year, Michalczewski slashed .214/.310/.329 with 12 doubles, five homers, 24 RBIs, one stolen base, 30 walks (11.2%) and 88 strikeouts (32.8%).

On the plus side, Michalczewski provides versatility as he has played all infield positions and left field throughout his minor league career; in addition, he does draw his fair share of walks. However, his inability to hit for a high average, along with his relative lack of game-power and high amount of strikeouts, have certainly limited his capability to latch onto a major league roster. Michalczewski is now a minor league free agent, so his return to the White Sox organization is in doubt.

Birmingham Barons

Ti’Quan Forbes
220 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Second base, First base
Age: 23

Michalczewski isn’t the only esteemed prep star who has failed to gain much traction in the minors. Forbes was a second-round pick out of Columbia, Miss. drafted by the Texas Rangers back in 2014. He slowly worked his way up the Rangers ladder, as he finished the 2016 season with Hickory (A). During the 2017 season, he received a mid-year promotion to Down East (AA), where he was slashing just .227/.280/.308 when he was traded to the White Sox that August 31 for Miguel González.

Forbes’ season with Winston-Salem in 2018 has been his best statistically to date, at least in the OPS department. In 119 games for the Dash, he slashed.273/.313/.391 with 21 doubles, six triples, six homers, 51 RBIs, four stolen bases, 21 walks (4.5%) and 74 strikeouts (16.0%). With Birmingham in 2019, Forbes slashed just .242/.333/.327 in116 games as he produced 18 doubles, three triples, three homers, 31 RBIs, four stolen bases, 45 walks (10.0%) and 106 strikeouts (23.6%).

For someone his size, you’d expect more power. While Forbes has played second base frequently throughout his minor league career, he profiles much better as a third baseman if he could begin hitting for power. On the positive side, Forbes more than doubled his walk total from the year before, so it’s possible he may be coming into his own. In the meantime, however, expect Forbes to return to Birmingham for 2020.

Camilo Quinteiro
180 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Second base, Shortstop
Age: 22

Quinteiro, a native Cuban, signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on September 2017. He began his professional ball not with the DSL Sox but with the AZL squad in 2018 and actually did quite well. In 46 games last year with the AZL Sox, he showed terrific plate discipline as he slashed .286/.436/.320 with two doubles, one homer, 11 RBIs, 11 stolen bases, 36 walks (18.9%) and 39 strikeouts (20.5%).

After a terrific 10 games with Great Falls to begin the 2019 season in which he slashed .361/.425/.389, Quinteiro struggled in his subsequent two stops with Kannapolis and Birmingham. Combined in 32 games with those two teams, he slashed just .170/.308/.210. Realistically, he should begin the 2020 season with Kannapolis but be granted an early opportunity for promotion to Winston-Salem if he gets off to a good start. Though Quinteiro has played more third base during his young minor league career, he really profiles more as a second baseman due to his smaller build, speed, and lack of power. He may still have a future with the White Sox as a utility infielder going forward.

Luis Valenzuela
179 pounds
B/T: L/R
Other positions played: Second base, Shortstop
Age: 26

Just weeks before the 2012 DSL was set to begin, the Dominican native Valenzuela received an international signing bonus from the Boston Red Sox. However, after less than three weeks with their DSL team, he was released after hitting just .133/.235/.267 in just nine games. The Royals signed the minor league free agent, and from 2013-15, he advanced through the ranks and reached as high as Lexington (A). Then, on Aug. 31, 2015, he was traded to the Braves for outfielder Johnny Gomes and cash.

Valenzuela played in the Braves system through Aug, 5, 2019, when he was unceremoniously released. Though he did spend 34 games with Triple-A Gwinnett in 2017, Valenzuela spent most of his time with Double-A Mississippi. His best year arguably was in 2018 which was split between Mississippi and Gwinnett, when he slashed .278/.321/.404 in a combined 78 games with 19 doubles, five triples, two homers, five stolen bases, 15 walks (5.0%) and 48 strikeouts (16.0%).

The White Sox signed Valenzuela to a minor league deal just four days after his release from Mississippi. In 17 games for Birmingham, he slashed .236/.276/.327 with two doubles, one homer, four RBIs, two stolen bases, three walks (5.2%) and 11 strikeouts (19.0%). Those modest numbers actually inflated his overall season’s totals to .202/.23/.291 over 96 games with 14 doubles, two triples, three homers, 28 RBIs, two stolen bases, 13 walks (4.1%) and 66 strikeouts (20.7%). With his ability to play the hot corner and both middle infield spots, Valenzuela appears to be organizational infield depth at best.

The defense doesn’t rest: an ode to Yolmer

Lady Justice is blindfolded: Too few Sox defenders play like they’re not.

He would have earned odes from Shakespeare and Holmer,

But there’s not a damned thing that rhymes with Yolmer.

Friends, Sox fans and roster planners, I come not to bury Yolmer, but to praise him …
noted baseball analyst Mark Antony, after others stuck knives in the back of the person in question

There is something rotten in dem marks made by fans crafting offseason plans for the White Sox. Well, maybe a lot rotten, and a lot more idle wishing, but one thing has stood out to me this time around — almost no one wants to tender Yolmer Sánchez.

I never embarrass myself by making one of those projections, because almost everyone who participates in Sox blogs is more knowledgeable than I, and because my list of critical non-tenders would start with Jerry Reinsdorf, then work its way through KennyRick, Don Cooper, and the entire scouting and player development departments. It wouldn’t even make it to players until page four.

Oh, a few want to non-tender Yolmer and then sign him for $15.95 and a couple of Kit Kat bars, but mostly it’s “let him go, Nick Madrigal will be Rogers Hornsby and Jackie Robinson all in one package.” Now, if the Sox can make a deal ahead of time with Sr. Sánchez and avoid the whole tendering thing, great, but taking a chance on losing him over a few bucks is, well, very White Soxy. That’s losing him with no gain. The smart move is to keep Yolmer until you find out Madrigal is all he’s advertised to be, and some contender will give up a nice prospect or two for a 27-year-old defensive wiz next summer. And even with Madrigal around, Yolmer could make a nice late-inning defensive replacement at short if the D there stays as it has been.

The Sánchez tender is at $6 million. That’s a whole bunch of money in real life, but the very lowest estimates have a point of WAR worth about $4 million, and Yolmer hasn’t been under 2.0 WAR since he was a part-timer in 2016. That’s serious value-added. If the Sox got that from everyone, we’d all be talking about how the World Series went.

As for Madrigal, there’s every reason to believe he’ll eventually be really good. But he’s not there yet, and he’s unlikely to even be on the roster when the 2020 season starts. In the meantime, do you really want to watch even worse schlock defense than the Sox already provide, or would you rather watch this?

Let’s face it — the White Sox are hard to watch when they’re at bat, but are truly unwatchable on defense. They have two players who are any good in the field — Golden Glover Yolmer and one-time Golden Glove finalist Adam Engel. Well, OK, James McCann came in at 1.4 dWAR, but catchers are like umpires: They squat, wear lots of padding, and when doing a really good job, you don’t even notice they’re there. So the watchable defenders are Sánchez and Engel.

(One thing it’s hard to blame KennyRick for is that the only two solid fielders who should come to the majors next year — Madrigal and Luis Robert — will replace the only two good fielders they already have. It may be the only thing it’s hard to blame them for.)

Yolmer is even more amazing when you consider he has a terrible fielder to his left, a very shaky one to his right, and apparently a fan picked at random before the game behind him. Without Yolmer, Tim Anderson would have run away with the Most Errors in MLB championship. Oh, wait — he did, anyway. Well, TA would have won it by a lot more.

(As for the inaction to his left, almost every offseason plan says the Sox are desperate for a DH. Fascinating, because the Sox already have two excellent DHs. They don’t need another — they need a first baseman and/or left fielder.)

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Yolmer ruled as his demesne;
Hall-of-Famer John Keats, “On Looking into Chapman’s Yolmer.” (Demesne is apparently an old English word for “Gatorader.”)

The Sox have plenty of money to spend — if the CMO (Cheapskate Miser Overlord) will part with it. If not, well, it won’t matter whether Yolmer can hit or not. And if they use it to put Nicholas Castellanos or some other stone-hand in right field, they’ll become even more unwatchable than now.

Besides his fielding prowess, Yolmer is the one guy on the Sox who looks like he actually enjoys the game.

Eloy Jiménez shows the spirit most of the time, and will probably eventually be the spirit leader. But on defense, we’re all just as amazed as he is when he actually catches a ball, so he has some way to go.

Yes, Yolmer is a weak hitter, even though his K-to-BB ratio of 2.66-to-1 is a little better than the MLB average, instead of the horrific worst-in-baseball White Sox level of 4.1-to-1. Lots of teams fare very well while carrying a good-field-not-much-hit middle infielder. Of course, those teams find solid hitters at other positions, which means either drafting well or developing well or coaching well or trading well or spending money or … well, something. But that’s not Yolmer’s fault.

Admittedly, I usually sit in the cheap seats, but did have the occasion to sit right next to the on-deck circle once, and can assuredly say that Yolmer is everything he’s cracked up to be in providing fun and spirit and boosting morale for both teammates and fans. And you all want to non-tender him when the cost is far below what his WAR is worth, not even considering the entertainment value? Shame on you.

“…as we advance in life these things fall off one by one, and I suspect we are left with Yolmer and Virgil, perhaps with only Yolmer alone.”
Former GM Thomas Jefferson, who picked up the free agent Louisiana Purchase for just $15 million


José Abreu takes QO, returns for 2020

El Capítan is back, ready to supercharge a stronger Chicago offense. (YouTube)

Though there were rumored extension talks leading up to Thursday’s 4 p.m. Central deadline, ultimately José Abreu took the simple and lucrative route, accepting a $17.8 million qualifying offer from the White Sox to return for the 2020 season.

It’s somewhat of a no-lose situation for the White Sox. While Abreu gets the biggest yearly salary of his career, the club is not locked in to a second or third year in case Abreu struggles at the plate in 2020. And even if Abreu duplicates his impressive 33-homer, 123-RBI 2019 campaign, the White Sox might be ready to hand the first-base keys over to Andrew Vaughn (or Gavin Sheets, or Zack Collins) in 2021.

Obviously, Abreu is betting hard on himself for 2020. If he is derailed by injury or even a prolonged slump, his already-tight market (as a DH in first baseman’s clothing, who must play the field to hit well) shrinks and drops offers well below any $10 million per year and up offers in the future.

In case Abreu wins his bet on himself and misfortune befalls the White Sox corps of future 1Bs, the South Siders could find themselves in a precarious position a year from now. With the club unable to make another qualifying offer, Abreu’s market will open up; opposing clubs averse to losing a draft pick for signing Abreu might open up the pocketbook a bit wider to snag him. It’s worth looking at offers to 2020 free agents like Yasmani Grandal or Hyun-Jin Ryu to detect any upticks in offers that come because a future first round pick is no longer in play.

However it plays from here, it’s great to have Abreu back for 2020. Here’s hoping he has the firepower in front of him to make a run at consecutive RBI titles!