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
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
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

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
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.