Late blooming: Blake Rutherford, ranked eighth among White Sox prospects per MLB Pipeline, hit .307 for Birmingham after May 31.
“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:
- Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
- Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- Free agent options at that position
For various reasons, 2019 was a difficult season for these three outfielders. Daniel Palka scuffled after a surprisingly good rookie season in 2018, as he couldn’t slug his weight with the Sox this year and has been removed from the 40-man roster. Blake Rutherford continued to struggle in his attempt to match his top-prospect expectations, and Micker Adolfo played fewer than 40 games. All three have a lot to prove in 2020.
(age as of April 1, 2020)
Other positions played: Left field, First base
After smashing 24 homers in his first two seasons with Georgia Tech, Palka enjoyed his best collegiate season as a junior in 2013. That year, he slashed .324/.436/.637 for the Yellow Jackets in 62 games with 13 doubles, three triples, 17 homers, 66 RBIs, six stolen bases, 31 walks and 60 strikeouts. Trusting in his power stroke, the Minnesota Twins selected him in the third round of the MLB draft.
Palka gradually worked his way up the Twins farm system, ultimately making it to making it to Triple-A Rochester in 2016. That year, split between Double-A Chattanooga and Rochester, he slashed an impressive .254/.327/.521 in 133 games with 24 doubles, four triples, 34 homers, 90 RBIs, nine stolen bases, 56 walks (9.9%) and 186 strikeouts (32.7%). The following year was a disappointing one for Palka, as he spent much of the season on the injured list. That year in 84 games, he slashed .274/.329/.431 in 84 games with 13 doubles, three triples, 11 homers, 42 RBIs, one stolen base, 27 walks (7.5%) and 80 strikeouts (22.1%). On November 3, the White Sox claimed Palka off waivers.
After starting the 2018 season well with Charlotte, Palka received the call to Chicago in late April and fared much better than expected. In 124 games for the White Sox, he slashed .240/.294/.484 with 15 doubles, three triples, 27 homers, 67 RBIs, two stolen bases, 30 walks (6.7%) and 153 strikeouts (34.1%).
However, he struggled out of the gate in 2019 and never truly gained traction at the major league level despite three different stints with the club. In 30 games with the White Sox, he slashed just .107/.194/.179 with two homers, four RBIs, eight walks (8.6%) and 35 strikeouts (37.6%). For what it’s worth, Palka didn’t let his struggles in the majors affect his performance at Charlotte as he slashed a respectable .263/.374/.527 in 106 games with the Knights by hitting 23 doubles, 27 homers, 72 RBIs, 74 walks (15.3%) and 109 strikeouts (23.1%). Palka was outrighted off the 40-man roster in November, and because nobody claimed him, our favorite aerospace engineer likely will begin the 2020 season on the Charlotte roster. If an injury should occur to a corner outfielder or DH next season, Palka would likely be considered as an emergency call-up.
Other positions played: Left field, Center field
Baseball America noted that some scouts saw Blake Rutherford as a possible “power-hitting center fielder in the Jim Edmonds mold” prior to the 2016 MLB draft. At this point, the White Sox might be happy with Rutherford as a center fielder in the Jim Eisenreich mode.
Rutherford was selected in the first round (18th overall) by the Yankees. By 2017, the lefty was playing for the Yankees A-squad in Charleston when he was traded with Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo and Tyler Clippard to the White Sox for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier on July 31. That year, combined with Charleston and Kannapolis, he slashed .260/.326/.348 in 101 games with 25 doubles, two triples, two homers, 35 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 38 walks (8.6%) and 76 strikeouts (17.3%).
Rutherford enjoyed his best season to date in the Sox organization in 2018 with Winston-Salem, as he slashed a respectable .293/.345/.436 in 115 games with 25 doubles, nine triples, seven homers, 78 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 34 walks (7.0%) and 90 strikeouts (18.5%). However, in a far less favorable hitting environment in Birmingham in 2019, he slashed just .265/.319/.365 in 118 games with 17 doubles, three triples, seven homers, 49 RBIs, nine stolen bases, 37 walks (7.7%) and 118 strikeouts (24.6%). While those numbers admittedly weren’t all that good, it could’ve been much worse. Through the end of the May, he was slashing just .185/.228/.291. From June 1 on, something clicked and he hit a much more respectable .307/.370/.401. He did struggle versus strong competition in the Arizona Fall League this year, as he slashed .179/.281/.385 with four doubles, three triples and two homers in 21 games.
In order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, the White Sox added Rutherford to the 40-man roster in December. One thing to watch for in 2020 will be his splits, as he slashed .286/.337/.398 versus righties as opposed to just .216/.276/.291 against southpaws. He currently ranks eighth among White Sox prospects, and third among outfielders (behind only Luis Robert and Luis Basabe) per MLB Pipeline. That site gives him 50 grades in all tool categories (run, hit, fielding and arm) except power (45). In actuality, Rutherford has plenty of power; he just hits way too many balls on the ground. This year alone, he hit grounders 50.2% of the time, while hitting fly balls (30.3%) and line drives (19.6%) at much lower clips.
Rutherford will likely begin the 2020 season at Charlotte, and if he gets off to a great start, he could be considered for promotion due to his status on the 40-man roster if an outfield injury at the major league level should arise. He’s good enough defensively to play all three outfield positions.
Other positions played: None
Thanks in large part to his power bat and arm, Dominican native Adolfo received what was then the highest international signing bonus in White Sox history at $1.6 million on July 2, 2013. However, his professional career has had trouble gaining traction primarily due to his inability to stay on the field. As a result, Adolfo found himself playing for the team’s AZL squad for all of 2014 and 2015, finally earning a promotion to full-season Kannapolis in 2016. Of course, he missed significant time that year as he slashed just .219/.269/.340 in 65 games with 13 doubles, one triple, five homers, 21 RBIs, 14 walks (5.3%)and 88 strikeouts (33.2%). Adolfo played his most complete season to date (112 games) with Kannapolis in 2017 as he slashed .264/.331/.453 in 112 games with 28 doubles, two triples, 16 homers, 68 RBIs, 31 walks (6.6%) and 149 strikeouts (31.5%). To avoid the risk of losing him in the upcoming Rule 5 draft that year, the White Sox added him to the 40-man roster.
Due to elbow pain, Adolfo missed the first half of the 2018 season with Winston-Salem, and when he returned he was limited to DH duties. Despite his injury, he still posted a career-high .833 OPS by slashing .282/.369/.464 in 79 games with 18 doubles, one triple, 11 homers, 50 RBIs, 34 walks (10.1%) and 92 strikeouts (27.4%). After undergoing arthroscopic injury during the offseason, he was limited to just 36 combined games with Birmingham and AZL (rehab assignment) and produced subpar results as he tried to shake off the rust. Despite hitting four homers in 15 games in the Arizona Fall League this year, his results were still lacking as he slashed just .167/.262/.389.
Since Adolfo turned pro, he’s missed time due to injuries in each of his six seasons. Based upon his massive potential, however, he still finds himself ranked 10th among White Sox prospects per MLB Pipeline. Not including 2019 due to its small sample size, Adolfo had been gradually improving his walk and strikeout rates. It’s hard to believe, but he is still just 23. MLB Pipeline gives him an impressive 70 grade for arm, which makes him an ideal right fielder and is no doubt where he’ll play in 2020. His power is graded 55 as would be expected; his running and fielding are both graded 50, however, which is actually quite good considering his size. His weakest tool is a hit tool of 45, based in part to his large strikeout totals.
Due to only playing 23 games in Birmingham last year, Adolfo likely will begin the 2020 season there; however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him promoted to Charlotte fairly quickly due to his 40-man roster status.