Deep Dive: Charlotte and Birmingham center fielders

No. 1 with a bullet: Luis Robert, with a 30-30 season under his belt, is arguably the most exciting player in the White Sox organization. (@KnightsBaseball) 

“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

This list includes the three of the organization’s Top 12 prospects according to MLB Pipeline. Oddly enough, they all share the first name of Luis. Should we call this group “Tres Luises?” All have plus arms, good speed and decent power, although Luis Robert is the only one to consistently shine thus far. It’ll be fun to see how these three fare in 2020.

(age as of April 1, 2020)

Charlotte Knights

Luis Robert
185 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Right field, Left field

Age: 22

A native Cuban, Robert was easily the most sought-after player on the international market in 2017. After all, when playing for Ciego de Avila in the Cuban League earlier that year against players typically 10 years older, Robert slashed .401/.526/.687 with 12 doubles, 12 homers, 40 RBIs, 11 stolen bases, 38 walks (16.4%) and 30 strikeouts (12.9%) in just 53 games. When the White Sox ultimately signed him to a $26 million bonus (the second-highest in baseball history behind only Yoán Moncada), it sent shock waves throughout the country that the recently-minted White Sox rebuild was going full speed ahead. Was it the recruiting by the likes of José Abreu, Moncada and Ricky Renteria that won him over, or was it simply cash that was just slightly more than what the St. Louis Cardinals were offering? Perhaps a little of both. Robert did play for the DSL Sox that year for tax reasons, and did quite well (he missed significant time due to injury) in slashing .310/.491/.536 in 28 games with eight doubles, one triple, three homers, 14 RBIs, 12 stolen bases, 22 walks and 23 strikeouts.

The 2018 season was a difficult one for Robert. He was primarily hampered by thumb injuries during the year, and as most players can attest, it’s hard to do much damage when that’s the case. It’s not like Robert was atrocious; he just simply couldn’t hit with the power expected of him. For the year split between the AZL Sox, Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, he slashed .269/.333/.360 in 50 games with 11 doubles, three triples, no homers, 17 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 12 walks (7.2%) and 52 strikeouts (25.0%). On an encouraging note to end the year, he played exceptionally well for Glendale in the Arizona Fall League as he slashed .324/.367/.432 in 18 games with two doubles, two homers, 10 RBIs, and five stolen bases.

To put it mildly, Robert played out of his mind in 2019. All he did in 19 games with Winston-Salem was slash .453/.512/.920 with five doubles, three triples, eight homers, 24 RBIs, eight stolen bases, four walks (4.8%) and 20 strikeouts (23.8%). After earning a promotion to Birmingham on April 30, all he did for the Barons (with half his games in one of the best pitching parks in the minors) in 56 games was slash .314/.362/.518 with 16 doubles, three triples, eight homers, 29 RBIs, 21 stolen bases, 13 walks (5.3%) and 54 strikeouts (22.1%). After laying waste to Double-A pitching Robert received a promotion to Charlotte, where he slashed .297/.341/.634 in 47 games with 10 doubles, five triples, 16 homers, 39 RBIs, seven stolen bases, 11 walks (4.9%) and 55 strikeouts (24.7%).

Combined with all three teams, Robert slashed an amazing .328/.376/.624 in 122 games with 31 doubles, 11 triples, 32 homers, 92 RBIs and 36 stolen bases while making fantastic defensive plays on the diamond. The only minor quibble is he walked only 28 times while striking out 129, but it’s hard to argue with that when his production was otherwise outstanding. This was Robert’s longest season to date and he seemed to only be getting stronger as the season waned. He was one of just two minor leaguers with 30-30 seasons (joining Houston’s Kyle Tucker). While I mentioned plate discipline before, it’s OK if he doesn’t walk too much provided he finds himself in good hitting counts. After all, he did slash .398/.545/.892 when he was ahead in the count this year.    

Needless to say, Robert deserved plenty of fanfare after such a terrific season. Baseball America, MLB Pipeline and all named him this year’s Minor League Player of the Year, and he was named the Double-A All-Star Game MVP earlier in the year as well. Now ranked third on MLB Pipeline’s top prospect list (behind only Tampa’s Wander Franco and L.A.’s Gavin Lux), Robert has all the tools to succeed at the next level. MLB Pipeline grades his running at 65, power and arm at 60, fielding and hitting at 55. His only weakness may be a lack of patience at the plate, which could be exploited in the majors; with that said, Robert is likely be the preseason favorite for Rookie of the Year in 2020. Of course, he may be held back for three weeks in April in order for the Sox to control him an extra year, but perhaps a preseason extension may resolve that issue.  

Birmingham Barons

Luis Basabe
160 pounds
B/T: S/R
Other positions played: Left field, Right field
Age: 23

For his 16th birthday on Aug. 26, 2012,  he (along with his twin brother Luis Alejandro) received a signing bonus from the Boston Red Sox as his gift. Basabe’s first two seasons in that organization were spent in the DSL, where the Venezuelan posted decent but unspectacular numbers. After playing in the New York-Penn League in 2015, Basabe started moving up the prospect charts in 2016 with Salem (A) and Greenville as he combined to slash .264/.328/.452 in 110 games with 26 doubles, nine triples, 12 homers, 53 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. Then in December of that year, Basabe was traded along with Moncada, Michael Kopech and Victor Diaz for ace hurler Chris Sale in a blockbuster deal.

In Basabe’s first year in the White Sox organization, he struggled with Winston-Salem at .221/.320/.320 in 107 games with 12 doubles, five triples, five homers, 36 RBIs, 17 stolen bases, 49 walks (11.3%) and 104 strikeouts (23.9%); the struggles were due in large part to a torn meniscus. At the end of the season, Basabe was added to the 40-man roster to prevent him from being snatched from another squad via the Rule 5 draft. The 2018 season was Basabe’s most successful in the White Sox system, as he combined with Winston-Salem and Birmingham to slash .258/.354/.445 in 119 games with 21 doubles, eight triples, 15 homers, 56 RBIs, 16 stolen bases, 64 walks (12.4%) and 140 strikeouts (27.2%). 

Injuries (Basabe broke the hamate bone in his left hand during spring training and lost more at-bats to a recurring quadriceps injury during the season) greatly impacted Basabe in 2019. As a result, he slashed just .246/.324/.336 in 69 games for Birmingham with 12 doubles, one triple, three homers, 30 RBIs, nine stolen bases, 29 walks (10.0%) and 85 strikeouts (29.2%).

Basabe is still ranked eighth among all White Sox prospects by MLB Pipeline, based more on talent than production levels at this point. If healthy, he certainly has significant tools as his running and arm are both graded 60, fielding 55, power 50 and hitting 45. Despite his low homer output (likely due to that hamate injury), Basabe does indeed have 20-homer power as evidenced by his blast off a 102-mph fastball from Cincinnati’s Hunter Greene in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. The biggest concern is Basabe’s bat, as like earlier versions of  Moncada, he strikes out far too often after taking way too many called third strikes. Like fellow Barons outfielder Micker Adolfo, Basabe is now down to one option remaining, which means the Sox would like to see what he can do. Expect him to begin the season with Birmingham, though because of his few options left, Basabe could begin with Charlotte instead. Even if Robert is the long-term future at center, Basabe definitely has the sufficient arm to play right field. 

Luis González
195 pounds
B/T: L/L
Other positions played: Right field, Left field
Age: 24

Born in Mexico, González payed high school ball in Arizona before playing collegiately with the University of New Mexico. He was a solid and consistent performer for the Lobos during his three years, and enjoyed arguably his best year as a junior by slashing .361/.500/.589 in 55 games with 22 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 42 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, 58 walks (20.0%) and 32 strikeouts (11.0%). Due to his consistency and the fact that he did a lot of things well, González was selected in the third round of the 2017 draft by the White Sox. Combined with Great Falls and Kannapolis, he slashed .236/.351/.348 in 63 games with 14 doubles, four triples, two homers, 15 RBIs, two stolen bases, 42 walks (14.0%) and 53 strikeouts (17.7%).

González enjoyed an outstanding 2018 split evenly between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, as he combined to slash .307/.367/.498 in 117 games with 40 doubles, five triples, 14 homers, 71 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 48 walks (8.9%) and 103 strikeouts (19.0%). However, like many of the other highly-rated outfielders on the Birmingham roster to begin 2019, González struggled badly out of the gate. Prior to the All-Star break, he slashed just .230/.288/.324; he did improve a bit during the second half by slashing a more respectable .266/.345/.397. For the year, González slashed .247/.316/.359 in 126 games with Birmingham with 18 doubles, four triples, nine homers, 59 RBIs, 17 stolen bases, 47 walks (9.9%) and 89 strikeouts (18.8%). Likely nearly every hitter on the planet, González fared far better with a favorable count (.314/.479/.600) than when he was behind (.216/.220/.263). Unlike many lefties, he actually fared better against southpaws (.263/.342/.361) than versus righties (.241/.305/.359). 

Despite his struggles this year, Gonzalez still ranks 12th among the White Sox prospects by MLB Pipeline. His throwing arm (60 grade) is easily his best tool, and would work especially well in right field. González’s run, hit and field skills are all rated average while his power tool is weakest (40 grade) despite the fact he clubbed a respectable 14 homers in 2018. Like many of the Birmingham outfielders last year, González is a borderline choice to begin the season with Charlotte. Based in part because three of those outfielders (Basabe, Adolfo and Blake Rutherford) are now on the 40-man roster, that may mean González will be asked to repeat in Double-A. Regardless, he should get plenty of at-bats with Charlotte before the end of the year.  


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