Deep Dive: Rookie league center fielders

The Flash: James Beard, who ran the 60-yard-dash in just 6.21 seconds, may just be the fastest man in baseball. (@MLBPDP) 


“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

These four prospects have yet to reach drinking age. While James Beard may be the most highly touted of these guys due in large part to his blazing speed, the other three center fielders are emerging prospects as well. All are tremendous athletes with above-average speed.

(age as of April 1, 2020)


Great Falls Voyagers

Caberea Weaver
6´3´´
180 pounds
B/T: R/R
Age: 20

Weaver was an amazing athlete out of South Gwinnett, Ga. In fact, Perfect Game ranked him as the 14th-best high school outfielder in the 2018 draft class in part due to his projectable bat and running the 60-yard dash in 6.27 seconds on a slow track. Baseball America said of him at the time of the draft, “He is an athletic, wiry outfielder with impressive athleticism that should allow him to become an above-average defender in center field. There is a lot of rawness in Weaver’s current game, both offensively and defensively. At the plate, Weaver has a whippy, quick bat and present strength that should continue to improve as he fills out.” The White Sox selected him in the seventh round, and it took a $226,200 signing bonus to pry Weaver from his commitment to the University of Georgia. 

In 2018 with the AZL squad, Weaver slashed .248/.367/.342 in 50 games with five doubles, three triples, one homer, 11 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 18 walks (10.0%) and 52 strikeouts (28.9%). This year with Great Falls, he posted similar numbers as he slashed .254/.317/.377 in 62 games with 13 doubles, five triples, two homers, 18 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 18 walks (6.9%) and 85 strikeouts (32.6%). Weaver strikes out way too much, but it doesn’t appear he’s swinging for the fences, as he does hit the ball much more frequently on the ground. Instead, it seems he has way too many moving parts which causes his swing to get too long — this is common for someone of his build. Hopefully, with a little more experience and confidence, he can reduce his strikeouts and thereby get full use of his speed.

Weaver has shown good range in the outfield, with just two errors in professional ball thus far. He was nearly 17 months younger than his competitors in the Pioneer League, so it wouldn’t be out of the question if Weaver returned to Great Falls. However, it seems likelier that he’ll begin the 2020 season with Kannapolis instead. 


Arizona League White Sox

James Beard
5´10´´
170 pounds
B/T: R/R
Age: 19

Beard dominated as an outfielder for Loyd Star High School in Brookhaven, Miss. this year. In 27 games, he slashed an impressive .429/.626/.1000 with eight doubles, one triple, 10 homers, 30 RBIs, 46 runs, 31 walks (29.0%) and 10 strikeouts (9.3%) while being perfect in 26 stolen base attempts. Flashing back to the East Pro Showcase before his senior year, Beard ran the 60-yard dash in a rapid 6.21 seconds. He was verbally committed to Meridian Community College, so when the Sox selected him in the fourth round of this year’s draft, he actually received an under-slot bonus of $350,000. Baseball America said of him at the time of the draft, “He has a chance to develop into an average hitter thanks to his speed and solid swing. Beard does not project as a power hitter by any stretch, but he has shown he’s can run into 10-12 home runs in pro ball. Defensively, Beard outruns his mistakes for now, but he has potential to be an above-average center fielder with more experience to improve his routes and reads.”

With the AZL Sox this year, Beard struggled acclimating to the speed of the game. In 31 games totaling 127 at-bats, Beard slashed just .213/.270/.307 with four doubles, two triples, one homer, 12 RBIs, nine stolen bases, eight walks (5.8%) and 54 strikeouts (39.1%). He did hit the ball on the ground (1.65 GO/FB), but he had difficulty hitting curveballs. MLB Pipeline ranks Beard 20th among all White Sox prospects and grades his running at 80, fielding at 55, and hitting, power and arm at 45.

It may take a while for Beard to show what he can do on the diamond, as he likely didn’t face much competition in varsity ball. He’s a bit raw offensively, but he’s been compared favorably to Billy Hamilton at the same stage. Beard may be best served to continue his development with the AZL squad next year (he was about 16 months younger than league average), but he likely will begin in Great Falls instead.       

Misael Gonzalez
6´0´´

175 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Left field, Right field
Age: 18

Gonzalez was a relative unknown when he was selected in the 12th round of this year’s draft by the White Sox. Shortly after the draft, then-Amateur Scouting Director Nick Hostetler called him an 80-grade runner who showed power potential at his pre-draft workout at Guaranteed Rate Field. Gonzalez unsurprisingly scuffled in his first professional season as he slashed just .195/.246/.237 in 36 games with five doubles, six RBIs, one stolen base, eight walks (6.3%) and 52 strikeouts (40.9%). Of the four center fielders listed in this group, he’s the youngest and most raw. Expect to see him return to the AZL for the 2020 season. 


DSL White Sox

Johnabiell Laureno
6´0´´
180 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Left field, Right field
Age: 19

A native of San Pedro de Macris in the Dominican Republic, which is arguably the most famous baseball community in the world, Laureano received an international signing bonus from the White Sox in February 2018. In his first taste of baseball last year, at about nine months younger than his average competitor, Laureano slashed just .220/.329/.262 in 65 games with nine doubles, 13 RBIs, four stolen bases, 31 walks (12.3%) and 54 strikeouts (21.4%).

This year was a much different story in his return to the DSL, as he slashed an impressive .357/.437/.543 in 59 games with 15 doubles, three triples, six homers, 36 RBIs, six stolen bases, 28 walks (11.4%) and 43 strikeouts (17.5%). His OPS this year was better than everyone in the Sox organization not named Luis Robert, and he did it while performing in the shadow of the highly-esteemed Benyamin Bailey.

Certainly, there are some red flags as his strikeout-to-walk ratio will likely get worse with each new competition level he encounters. Also, he was a tad bit older (three months) than his competition this year, which doesn’t sound like much but it can make a big difference in how he’s viewed by scouts. It’s quite possible that, even though Laureano may not have the blazing speed of the three guys above, he may actually be a bit more polished. We should find out more next year, as he’s expected to begin the season with the AZL Sox.      


 

2019 AZL White Sox season recap

Young guns: It was an inspiring year for the AZL White Sox, in spite of a mediocre record. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)

The AZL is always a fun league to keep an eye on. It is filled with first-time professionals, first-timers living in the United States, and full of teenagers. So, pretty much sounds like the current federal government’s worse nightmare, but for normal folk, it is full of fun and future promise.

At 22-34, finishing 11-17 in both halves of the season, the AZL Sox were not as good a team as in 2018, but that doesn’t mean they were short on talent.

Not helping matters is that some talent started in Arizona, then left — with true promotions, not just rehab assignments. For example, Andrew Vaughn left after just a couple of games where he clobbered his first professional homer.

The other position players from the 2019 draft to get a promotion have come with much less fanfare, but it was still talent leaving Arizona for Montana. The eighth round selection, Ivan Gonzalez, left after a 1.113 OPS in 10 games. Another catcher, Jakob Goldfarb, also got a promotion, along with the a pair of draft picks from the last few rounds, Jonathan Allen and Tom Archer. Tyler Osik, the 27th round selection, received a much-deserved promotion, even skipping a level and currently still raking in Kannapolis.

On the pitching side, the big promotions were courtesy of Avery Weems and Caleb Freeman. Weems was an important promotion, because he was a sixth round selection and how well he has done in both rookie leagues. He left the AZL with a nice 0.69 ERA, and ended his rookie league season on Tuesday night with a 1.64 ERA in 49 1/3 innings.

Freeman, because of his overslot bonus, is notable. He is a reliever, which isn’t necessarily a great thing at this stage for a post-10th round selection, but the Sox paid up for him and he did well after signing. He left the AZL with a 2.63 ERA — and lowered it with Great Falls after not allowing a run in five appearances.

Other pitchers to receive promotions were Sammy Peralta (who ended the year with Great Falls); Hansen Butler (promoted twice and is still pitching in Kannapolis); Declan Cronin (still pitching in Kannapolis); and finally the catcher-turned-pitcher, Justin O’Conner, who was great in the AZL and is now with Kannapolis as he still transitions to pitching.

There were also several rehab assignments from MLB players to higher level MiLB players. There were two that finished the AZL season still on the roster in Bryce Bush and Micker Adolfo. Though they still could join another MiLB team, odds are both will be in the AFL, or their 2019 season is over.

Now, time to get to the guys that starter and ended their respective seasons with the AZL Sox.


The high-schoolers

The White Sox did a weird thing in this draft — well, weird for them. They selected quite a few high-schoolers, and gave them a whole lot of money. First, the pitchers, because they have the most draft and monetary capital. Matthew Thompson and Andrew Dalquist were selected in the second and third rounds, respectively, and didn’t play much in their first professional stints. Thompson appeared in two games and threw a couple of innings. Dalquist did just a bit more and pitched in three games, one inning apiece. There is not much to glean from them yet, but they are going to be top prospects going forward.

Already, Thompson is rated sixth on the White Sox by Baseball America, 13th by FanGraphs, and 14th by MLB Pipeline among prospects.

For Dalquist, he is rated seventh by Baseball America, 14th by FanGraphs, and 15th by MLB Pipeline.

For the hitters, there were quite a few high school draftees. DJ Gladney led the way, starting out as hot as hot one could be. Fans even started to clamor for a Bryce Bush-type promotion schedule during his opening 2018 season. However, Gladney did not end his first pro stint well, mostly because of some plate discipline issues. He struck out 37.3% of the time and didn’t walk enough to make up for it. He showed some pop with eight homers, but he will not be on the fast track anytime soon.

On the other side of value, monetary, James Beard led the way, though he was under-slot for the 110th selection. The speed is what people and scouts know about Beard — in fact, MLB Pipeline gives him an 80 grade for speed. Beard did show some speed, with nine stolen bases, but really was not successful besides that. He hit .213 and two homers in 138 plate appearances. He will probably be back in the AZL to start his 2020 season.

The other high school draftees received around the same bonus but obviously, some are known or more highly regarded than the other. Logan Glass and Chase Krogman are among the more well known, but they also did not play that often. Glass, who was the best hitter among the high-schoolers, only had 73 plate appearances while Krogman had 22. Catcher Victor Torres and another outfielder, Misael Gonzalez, round out the high school bats, and expect all four of these batters to be back in the AZL in 2020.

International free agents

The pitching end for the AZL Sox from the international pool is none other than a DSL recap highlight, Luis Rodriguez. As already stated, he deserved the promotion but did not do well in his first stint in the U.S. On the hitting side though, a couple players did very well, including Jose Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is around the same age as the high school draftees, so he is age appropriate for the AZL, and it was sort of a breakout campaign. He slashed .293/.328/.505. The average and walk rate was fairly similar to his time in the DSL last season, but Rodriguez’s power came out. He hit nine home runs and 19 total extra-base hits for a .213 ISO. Not only was this power breakout unexpected this season, it was not really ever expected from a middle infielder who stands 5´11´´ and 175 pounds. At the very least, he should be in the Pioneer League next season and hopefully he appears in full-season ball by the end of theyear. He still has a lot to prove, mostly in terms of showing that power again in 2020.

Bryan Ramos was the youngest player on the AZL roster, and even skipped time in the DSL in favor of Arizona. He was one of the better hitters on the AZL roster this season, and showed good bat-to-ball skills with a .277 batting average. He showed an advanced batter’s eye for his age (a shade younger than 17.5 years old). He had an 8.7% BB-rate and a not too terrible K-rate. He primarily played third base this season with a few games at first, but at this time it is impossible to tell what Ramos could be in the future. All said, his first pro-ball experience was a positive one.

Just one more rookie league to look back on, but the Great Falls Voyagers are the last MiLB team to finish up their regular season. So a bit more known and definitely older players will soon have their years dissected. Also, a special thanks to our Sean Williams for all the pictures and video.