Zack Collins

Top 10 storylines from the White Sox minor league season

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USA TODAY

Top 10 storylines from the White Sox minor league season

White Sox prospects received more attention from fans and media this year and on Sunday the White Sox minor league season concluded with rookie level Great Falls dropping the decisive game in the Pioneer League Championship.

Here's a look at some of the standout players, storylines and moments from the season that was, from Yoan to Eloy to Robert.

1. Yoan Moncada gets called up to make his White Sox debut after seven-player trade with Yankees

Yoan Moncada wasn't only the top White Sox prospect but the top prospect in baseball according to some, so when he was the first big prospect in the club's rebuild to get called up, it was a significant moment. Moncada mania began with a standing ovation from the home fans in his debut. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance and later said his White Sox debut had a similar feeling to his major league debut with the Red Sox.

2. Eloy Jimenez’s arrival and immediate hot streak

Trading Jose Quintana to the Cubs wasn't an easy pill for White Sox fans to swallow. With that in mind, it's a good thing that Eloy Jimenez quickly turned public perception of the trade in the White Sox favor. Jimenez had good, but not great numbers with the Cubs' Carolina League affiliate Myrtle Beach (.271/.351/.490) when he was traded. Jimenez had missed some time due to injury, but staying in the same league, he erupted with the Winston-Salem Dash. In 29 games with the Dash, Jimenez hit .345/.410/.682 and blasted eight home runs.

One of the highlights was when Jimenez told teammate Ian Clarkin, who arrived from the Yankees just days after the Quintana-Jimenez trade, that he was going to hit a home run. After Jimenez did in fact go yard that game, Clarkin shared Jimenez's prescient call on Twitter.

Jimenez provided more magic by blasting a home run in his first at-bat for Double-A Birmingham. In 18 games with the Barons, Jimenez hit .353/.397/.559 and solidified his spot as one of the best hitting prospects in the game. He has impressed the White Sox and Jimenez thinks he is ready to play in the majors.

3. The Luis Robert saga

With the major league team struggling on the field, the off the field moves attracted most of the attention. The chase for Cuban free agent Luis Robert riled up Sox fans, who were eating up the latest news and rumors about the then-teenage prospect.

When the Sox landed Robert, it was another big move for a quickly improving farm system. The outfielder has received high praise from around baseball.

After signing Robert played in the Dominican Summer League. He missed some time with minor injuries, but finished hitting .310/.491/.536.

4. Michael Kopech dominates in Double-A

Along with Moncada, Kopech was a big part of the Chris Sale trade. When the White Sox got him he was a hard-throwing 20-year-old who had plenty of strikeouts, but also plenty of walks.

After continuing that trend for the first three months of this season, something appeared to click for Kopech. The former first-round pick walked 11 batters in 44 1/3 innings in his final eights starts with Birmingham. He struck out a whopping 58 during that stretch and earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Charlotte.

When he was in Birmingham, Kopech created buzz the Barons hadn't seen since Michael Jordan. He finished tied for fifth in the minors with 172 strikeouts on the season, which impressed the White Sox front office and earned him Southern League Most Outstanding Pitcher.

5. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez make White Sox debuts

Moncada was the first major prospect to get promoted in the White Sox rebuild, but Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito represented the first pitching prospects to join the big league club. Both joined the White Sox in the Adam Eaton trade in the offseason, had major league experience and began the year in Triple-A.

Lopez's debut came first. After rolling off a hot July in which he posted a 2.10 ERA, Lopez pitched a quality start on Aug. 11 in his White Sox debut.

Meanwhile, Giolito waited a little bit longer after struggling for much of the year in Charlotte. He had a 5.40 ERA in his first 16 starts for the Knights, but found some consistency later in the year and drew rave reviews when he made his Sox debut on Aug. 22.

6. Breakout years for Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning

Lopez and Giolito received most of the attention in the Eaton trade, but in the early part of the season it was Dunning who was making the most noise in the minor leagues. The 2016 first-round pick utterly dominated the opposition in Single-A Kannapolis with a 0.35 ERA and 33 strikeouts against just two walks in 26 innings. Dunning got promoted to Winston-Salem and finished tied for 11th in all of the minors with 168 strikeouts, capping off a stellar first full season in pro ball.

Amazingly, Dunning may have been outshined by his own teammate. Alec Hansen, who the White Sox drafted in the second round last year, didn't get promoted out of Kannapolis as quickly, but dominated in Winston-Salem and finished the year in Birmingham. He ended up leading all of minor league baseball with 191 strikeouts and he thinks 2018 could be even better.

7. White Sox draft Jake Burger in the first round and he hits for a cycle

The White Sox will have a higher draft pick next year, but this year the Sox picked up Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger with the No. 11 pick.

Burger began his pro career hot by hitting .358 in Kannapolis, but slumped the rest of way. Burger hit .219 in August and September, but did hit for a cycle on Aug. 24.

8. Zack Collins struggles at the plate, but shows defensive improvements

When Zack Collins was drafted by the White Sox with the 10th pick in 2016, he was thought of as a sure-thing bat with question marks about his ability to play catcher. So naturally, his 2017 played out in exactly the opposite way.

He hit .223 in Winston-Salem while striking out 118 times in 426 plate appearances, but got promoted to Double-A Birmingham anyway. He got promoted the same day as Eloy Jimenez and both homered in their Birmingham debuts. Collins posted an .893 OPS in Birmingham, but still hit just .235.

Collins received better reviews about his defense, which he owes partially due to training with Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, a fellow University of Miami product.

9. Zack Burdi’s Tommy John Surgery

When Zack Burdi was with the White Sox in spring training, he was trying to act like he belonged in big league camp. The fire-balling relief prospect was in line to be the White Sox closer of the future.

After beginning the season in Triple-A Charlotte and producing uneven, but promising results, the White Sox learned in July that Burdi would need Tommy John Surgery. A look at the White Sox bullpen now shows a lot of young, unproven pitchers and Burdi likely would be among them had he stayed healthy.

Now, it's all about the recovery for the 22-year-old, whose upside combined with the lack of proven arms in the White Sox bullpen means he remains a potentially key part of the team's future.

10. Micker Adolfo flashes power potential

Micker Adolfo wasn't a high-profile prospect at the start of the year, but had a breakout season. The 21-year-old was a big international signing back in 2013, coming with a $1.6 million signing bonus.

He was named the White Sox minor league player of the month for both May and June. He began to show his power potential with Kannapolis and helped the team make it to the South Atlantic League Championship Series. Adolfo slowed in the second half, but finished with 16 home runs, tied for fifth in the league.

Bonus: Nicky Delmonico shines in short big league stint

It wasn't a big deal at the time, but Nicky Delmonico's promotion has looked like a potentially significant moment for the White Sox rebuild. He has had a breakout performance in the majors and has made a strong case that he could be a significant part of the team's future.

World Series hero Willie Harris applies lessons from playing days to first managerial assignment

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AP

World Series hero Willie Harris applies lessons from playing days to first managerial assignment

Willie Harris is best remembered for his World Series heroics, but he thinks it’s what he recalls about playing that has helped make his transition to manager a smooth one.

Harris, who scored the only run in the Game 4 clincher of the 2005 World Series, is in his first season as the White Sox manager for the Single-A Winston-Salem affiliate. He’s only in his second season as a coach and isn’t far removed from his playing career, which ended in 2012. That potentially gives Harris, 39, an advantage as baseball’s up-and-down, unrelenting nature is still fresh in his mind.

“It’s been a pretty easy transition for me because I feel like I’m more of a players-type manager, I get it,” Harris said. “I understand the grind. I know what it’s like to strike out with a runner on third and less than two outs and I understand those things.

“I think what makes me feel good about myself is my players knowing that I have their back in all situations. Obviously, we want to see everyone do well. But in this game you’re not supposed to do well. We share those thoughts with each other and we try to make each other better.”

Harris didn’t wait long to jump into coaching after his 12-year playing career ended in 2012. He spent several seasons coaching a travel team in St. Augustine, Fla. and hoped to make a career of it. In 2015, Harris attended the team’s 10-year World Series reunion and spoke to Rick Hahn, Kenny Williams and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf about a potential coaching gig.

Several months later his phone rang with a job offer.

Harris has been taking care of his players since.

“He definitely knows what it’s like to play a full season and more being that he is a World Series champ,” said Double-A catcher Zack Collins, who was recently promoted after playing for Harris. “He made sure that all of his boys were feeling as good as possible going into the game and knows that half of the battle is just having confidence. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.”

While Harris wouldn’t mind having a winning record, it’s far from his priority as a manager. He realizes how critical development is for minor leaguers and wants to do everything he can to help players graduate to the next level. Helping a player reach the majors would have more meaning than any victories. It’s just another reason Harris knew he wanted to get back into baseball after retiring.  

“You definitely miss it,” Harris said. “The first two years was really hard for me just being at home and watching the game and seeing some guys play and you know in your heart, ‘Man, I could still be doing that.’ But at some point in this game your time is going to run out. No matter how good of a player you are, your time is going to run out. My time ran out and I came to terms with that and I understand that and now I just want to help others. I just want to give what I have to someone else and hopefully make their dreams come true and be big league ball players.”

White Sox prospects Eloy Jimenez, Zack Collins homer in Double-A debuts

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White Sox prospects Eloy Jimenez, Zack Collins homer in Double-A debuts

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Eloy Jimenez’s goal is to show the White Sox that his performance at Winston-Salem wasn’t a fluke.

At this rate the No. 7 prospect in baseball won’t need long to prove it.

The White Sox prospect celebrated his promotion to Double-A Birmingham on Wednesday night with a home run in his first at-bat and a double. Fellow prospect Zack Collins also homered in his first game with the Barons after both were promoted from Advanced-A Winston-Salem earlier in the day.

“It’s a big step for my career again,” Jimenez said. “I’m just focused more to show the White Sox I can do the same I did in Winston-Salem. Just keep working hard. That’s it.”

Both players learned of their impending promotion after Sunday’s game at Winston-Salem. They played in Monday’s 11-inning loss to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Cubs) with Collins doubling, tripling and walking and Jimenez going 0-for-5. Jimenez had also gone hitless in five at-bats on Sunday.

But the organization’s co-minor league player of the month for July got going immediately on Wednesday. He drove a 1-1 pitch down the right-field line in the first inning and snuck it inside the foul pole for an opposite-field home run, a 368-foot drive. His next time up, Jimenez doubled to deep center after he produced an exit velocity of 109 mph. Collins also drew a walk in his fourth plate appearance.

The White Sox player development department promoted both players to Double-A to prepare them for next season as this is where each is expected to start the 2018 campaign.

“It’s just to get their feet wet and to know what to expect,” Birmingham manager Julio Vinas said. “It’s a great philosophy because now they come into next year and they know already, this is what they do at this level. Even if they don’t do great here in the next couple of weeks, they know what to expect to now. Now they’ve got all offseason where they can work on certain things and come back and be ready for it. I think it’s a great experience that we give them and I really love the way we handle that.”

[MORE: Lucas Giolito feels as good as he has all season]

Collins wasn’t sure if he would be moved up. Originally, the plan was to keep him at Winston-Salem if the Dash was in the playoff hunt. Several losses erased that idea and Collins is appreciative of his new opportunity. The catcher struck out in his first two at-bats before he hammered one 420 feet for a solo home run in the fourth inning. The exit velo on Collins’ homer was 110 mph.

“(The promotion) means a ton to me,” Collins said. “Obviously, that’s the goal to keep on moving up and eventually to the big leagues. Just to get that next step in and get here and get my feet wet a little before the season ends is great.”

After he was acquired from the Cubs on July 13, Jimenez appeared in 29 games for Winston-Salem. He finished the month with 38 hits, including 11 doubles and eight home runs, 26 RBIs and 12 walks.

Jimenez produced a .345/.410/682 slash line for the Dash. He said he tried to avoid thinking about the promotion so he didn’t get distracted.

“Yes, (I was ready), but really, really I don’t think about it because when I think about it I struggle,” Jimenez said. “If God wants to take me here, whenever he feels I’m ready, I’m going to do my best job here. When they told me two days ago, I said ‘Ok. This is the time to keep working hard and just do whatever I’m going to do.’ ”