This is the third in a six-part Toolshed series that uses FanGraphs' Steamer600 projections to look at how prospects would fare over a full Major League season in 2019. The system bases its forecast on 600 plate appearances for position players, 450 plate appearances for catchers, 200 innings for starting pitchers and 65 innings for relievers -- taking into account age, past performance and previous Minor League levels, among other factors.
The rebuild might be over on Chicago's South Side, and the arrival of one very big prospect might be a big reason why.
The White Sox have been rumored this offseason to be pursuing the two mega free agents on the market -- Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. The whispers involving Machado, in particular, have picked up in recent days, and it hasn't hurt the organization's pitch that Machado's brother-in-law Yonder Alonso and friend Jon Jay were acquired. It shouldn't be odd for a team that hasn't reached the playoffs since 2008 to try to make a big signing to get it over the top, but coming off a 62-win season, such an approach goes against the modern convention of building internally first. Then again, that's because the club is ripe for that as well, in part because Eloy Jiménez is ready for The Show.
Acquired from the Cubs for Jose Quintana in July 2017, MLB.com's No. 3 overall prospect is one of the most exciting offensive young talents in the Minor Leagues with a plus hit tool and plus-plus power. He showed that last season when he batted .337/.399/.597 with 22 homers and 53 total extra-base hits over 108 games between Triple-A Charlotte and Double-A Birmingham. His 179 wRC+ at Triple-A was third-highest among batters with at least 200 plate appearances at the Minors' highest level, and he did that while striking out just 13.2 percent of the time, going against the trend of big power, big K rate.
Some might remember those numbers. Others might remember the prodigious home runs, like the one he hit off a light pole during the Carolina League Home Run Derby in 2017.
No matter what stands out most about Jimenez's five seasons in the Minors so far, Steamer600 thinks he's a strong contender to be one of the best rookie hitters in terms of both hit tool and power, should he play for the Pale Hose in 2019. This is where Jimenez ranks among those with rookie eligibility in projected average and home runs over 600 plate appearances:
Top 2019 rookies by average projection
Top 2019 rookies by home run projection
Jimenez ranks third in both categories, underscoring just how unique Steamer thinks he can be. He may not quite catch Isabel and Alonso -- who tied for the Minor League lead in homers in 2018 -- but he'll pick up a lot more other knocks along the way. He may simply breathe the same rarified air of the averages of Rockies prospects Yonathan Daza and Garrett Hampson, but he's also expected to do a much better job of picking up extra-base hits and homers, even without calling Coors Field home.
If Vladimir Guerrero Jr. didn't exist, Jimenez might be the most complete hitting prospect the game has going into 2019. Underscoring that is his wRC+ projection of 132. The stat is a good way of combining all types of hitting production into a single number that takes into account park effects and other offensive environments. It's a good way of comparing hitters regardless of era or home stadium. In that way, Jimenez's comparable hitters in the Majors -- at least in terms of wRC+ projection -- aren't rookies, they're some of the game's best hitters. Sandwiched around the right-handed slugger on the Steamer wRC+ leaderboard are players such as Aaron Judge (134), Jose Ramirez (134), José Altuve (130) and Miguel Cabrera (130). Given the nature of projections, that's on the conservative side for all involved -- Judge had a collective 162 wRC+ over the past two seasons -- and it also could be conservative for Jimenez.
Even if it's dead on, Jimenez is expected to be Chicago's best position player as soon as he's expected to arrive in late April. His 3.6 WAR projection over a full season nearly laps the field of his teammates, beating out established Major Leaguers Welington Castillo (2.2), Jose Abreu (2.1) and Yoán Moncada (2.1). That wouldn't be the case, of course, if the White Sox spend the amount of money it'd take to bring in Machado (projected 135 wRC+, 4.8 WAR) and/or Harper (projected 148 wRC+, 4.7), but it'd be enough to make Jimenez form one of the division's most feared hearts of the lineup, right next to Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. With the Indians already trending down and still looking to potentially move a star pitcher, this could be the time for the White Sox to strike and move right back into division contention.
Below are rookie projections for each of the five AL Central clubs. To be considered, a prospect must be ranked among MLB.com's top 30 in the organization and must have spent a significant portion of the 2018 season at Double-A or above or be on the 40-man roster. (Exceptions were made for some Top-100 overall prospects, consistently the subject of "When are they coming up?" questions.)
Chicago White Sox
Most ready: Jimenez
Give it time: Relievers don't get taken in the first round of the Draft unless they have closer potential, and No. 17 prospect Zack Burdi fit the bill when he went 26th overall out of Louisville in 2016. His triple-digit fastball always stood out, and his plus slider gave him the weapons to make it work at the back of any bullpen. Then he unfortunately underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017 and came back for only seven rehab appearances in the Arizona League last August. His double-digit K/9 certainly stands out, and he's only one of three potential White Sox relievers to receive a projection in that range next to Jace Fry (10.4) and Nate Jones (10.1), but Chicago will likely let Burdi show he's healthy before throwing his heat into the Major League kitchen. If he stays strong, he'll be one of the most promising relief prospects in 2019.
Wild cards: The Birmingham Barons knew this problem well in 2018, and the Major League club could know it soon if everything breaks right. Catchers Zack Collins and Seby Zavala should be in line for potential big league debuts this season after working as teammates at Double-A for much of last year. Steamer gives the advantage right away to Collins on the strength of his walk rate and overall OBP, which help him overcome a low average projection almost equal to Zavala's. However, Zavala was added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 protection and could be the first of the two to get a look should expected Major Leaguers Welington Castillo and James McCann get hurt or take a downturn in production. But Collins also will need Rule 5 protection next offseason, so the Sox might not be afraid to move him to the 40-man if he looks ready. The tiebreaker might end up being defense, which both backstops will have to improve if they're going to be long-term solutions behind the plate on the South Side.
Top 100 talent: The White Sox have dreams of Dylan Cease (No. 25 overall) and Dane Dunning (No. 59) taking up prominent spots in their Major League rotation, and after both impressed in 10-plus starts at Double-A Birmingham, there are reasons to believe that could happen as early as the back half of 2019. The two rank first and third in Steamer's WAR projection among potential White Sox starting pitchers. Michael Kopech ranks second, but isn't expected to pitch for the big club in 2019 following Tommy John surgery. Outside Jimenez, Steamer isn't nearly as high on Chicago's Top-100 position-player contingent. Blake Rutherford and Luis Robert would be well-below-replacement-level outfielders right away after spending much of 2018 with Class A Advanced Winston-Salem. First-rounder Nick Madrigal didn't receive a grand projection either, but could be a fast climber on account of his potentially plus-plus hit tool. Some power -- any power -- would kick that climb into high gear after only seven of his 47 hits last season went for extra bases -- all of those doubles.
Most ready: Steamer loves any pitcher who can fill up the zone with regularity, and along those lines, Aaron Civale might be ready to follow in the footsteps of Shane Bieber. The Tribe's No. 19 prospect issued only 21 walks in 106 1/3 innings with Double-A Akron in 2018 and has a career walk rate of just 1.3 BB/9 over three Minor League seasons. His other 2018 numbers (3.89 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.6 K/9) are more pedestrian, but by WAR projections, Steamer thinks the Northeastern product enters Spring Training as Cleveland's sixth-best starting option. It's still a big jump from his 1.2 WAR projection to Mike Clevinger's 2.9 in fifth place. Civale, whose only plus pitch is his slider, will need to miss more bats to make a Major League starting role a possibility, but if the Indians deal Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer this offseason, his timeline could be pushed up a bit.
Give it time: Bobby Bradley is projected to be tied with Francisco Lindor for the most home runs among Indians sluggers with 27, and that's in line with the No. 7 Indians prospect's strength. After all, he has hit 23 homers or more in each the past four seasons, including 27 on the button between the top two levels of the Minors in 2018. However, the 22-year-old first baseman needs to do more than hit for power, and Steamer doesn't see it right away. With 172 projected strikeouts, Bradley would fan in 28.7 percent of his plate appearances and hit just .229 with an OBP below .300. That's not going to cut it for a first baseman whose value is tied up in his bat. Cleveland's first-base situation is in a time of change with the club acquiring Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers this offseason while moving Yonder Alonso and Edwin Encarnación, so newly minted 40-man roster member Bradley could wiggle his way into the conversation. He'll have to continue to make offensive improvements, likely back in the International League first, to press the issue.
Wild cards: There was a time when the Indians had American League All-Star Yan Gomes in its system and No. 26 overall prospect Francisco Mejía waiting in the wings. That was last July. Mejia was moved to the Padres for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber while Gomes is a National after a late November trade. The path to Major League playing time is significantly clearer for No. 27 prospect Eric Haase, who appeared in nine games for the big club in September after playing 602 games over seven Minor League seasons. The 26-year-old backstop's breakout season came in 2017, when he hit 27 homers and put together a .930 OPS between Triple-A and Double-A, but he regressed a little with a .236/.288/.443 line, 20 homers and 143 strikeouts with Triple-A Columbus last season. Because of that downturn, Steamer sees him well below Cleveland's two other 40-man catchers -- Roberto Pérez and Kevin Plawecki, each of whom are projected to be worth 1.6 WAR over 450 plate appearances. However, there's a chance Haase could provide some more value through his arm, which threw out 48.5 percent of attempted base stealers in 2018. With only 32 innings behind the plate in the Majors, his defensive work could be undervalued by Steamer, making him even more of a wild card heading into 2019.
Top 100 talent: No. 38 Triston McKenzie easily has the highest ceiling of anyone in the Tribe system with his potential to show three above-average pitches with good control, and while it's tempting to want to see him next to the other strong arms in the Indians rotation, Steamer reminds us the 21-year-old is still at least half a season of Triple-A ball away. Also, he's only passed the 100-inning mark once in his first three full seasons, so there is some caution involved. No. 84 Nolan Jones has a chance to be above-average in both the hit and power tool departments, just not yet in the Majors as the Indians bring the 2016 second-rounder through the system on the slow road.
Most ready: Christin Stewart tied for the International League lead with 23 homers and placed fourth among qualifiers with an .844 OPS over 122 games with Triple-A Toledo. He worked that into a September callup, batting .267/.375/.417 with two dingers in 17 games for the big club. That was enough to make Steamer project him as an above-average hitter in the Majors come Opening Day. In fact, only Miguel Cabrera (130) and Nick Castellanos (119) have higher wRC+ projections among Tigers hitters than Stewart's 111, and Jimenez is the only other possible AL Central rookie with a projection above 100 for that stat. True to his scouting report, however, Stewart drops to fourth in WAR projection among Tigers after taking a hit for his defense. The 25-year-old posted a -4 Defensive Runs Saved in just 130 Major League innings in left field last year, and he'll need to be much better or else risk erasing a lot of the value he brings with the bat. He might be better off in a DH role down the line. Stewart remains the favorite to be Detroit's Opening Day left fielder, even with the glove issues.
Give it time: Isaac Paredes actually beats Stewart in WAR projection and is the only non-White Sox position player rookie to receive one above 2.0. That's a little bit of a head scratcher since he spent most of last season with Class A Advanced Lakeland and hit a combined .278/.359/.456 with 15 homers in 123 games between there and Double-A Erie. A big point in Paredes' favor is he did all of that at age 19; Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was the only 19-year-old to get more Eastern League plate appearances than Paredes in 2018. It also helps that he's a shortstop, which has a lower offensive threshold for WAR. With Steamer having no fielding data on Paredes, a 93 wRC+ projection might be below-average, but it's still worth two wins for a defensively average player. That's fun and exciting, but with experience at second and third under his belt, it's likely Paredes plays a different position when he reaches the Majors. The Mexico native is likely headed back to Erie to open 2019, and if he can carry his above-average bat to the upper levels, he could see the Majors by the end of his fourth Minor League season. It just won't be right away no matter what Steamer says.
Wild cards: The Tigers' affinity for right-handed pitching prospects will be noted below. In this spot, it's worth pointing out the club's low-key glut of middle-infield talent. Beyond Paredes, No. 10 Willi Castro and No. 15 Dawel Lugo are much closer to actual Major League readiness, with the latter playing 27 games with the big club in 2018. It's no surprise that Lugo is the readier of the two, both in terms of projection and actual readiness, but Castro has the higher ceiling with the potential to show above-average hit, run and arm tools. With Lugo moved over to second, it's more likely Castro will stick at short, where he'll have the lower offensive threshold for WAR purposes. Lugo likely will be with Detroit on Opening Day while Castro toils in Toledo, but it should be easier to compare the two when they play next to each other before long in the Motor City.
Top 100 talent: All five members of the Tigers' Top-100 contingent are right-handed pitchers -- No. 18 Casey Mize, No. 53 Matt Manning, No. 67 Franklin Perez, No. 79 Alex Faedo and No. 86 Beau Burrows. None of them have pitched above Double-A yet, with Burrows (210 1/3 career innings) sporting the most experience at that level. That lack of participation in the upper Minors affects the projections, and that goes doubly so for top overall pick Mize, who didn't receive a Steamer projection worth including here after throwing only 13 2/3 innings in the pros last summer. Everyone here also fits into the "Give it time" category.
Kansas City Royals
Most ready: It's not a real bumper crop of Major League-ready talent, but of the bunch, No. 7 prospect Nicky Lopez stands out and for good reason. The 2016 fifth-rounder out of Creighton is coming off his best offensive Minor League season, having batted .308/.382/.417 with nine homers, 15 stolen bases and a 52/60 K/BB ratio over 130 games between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. The left-handed hitter has a chance to show a real above-average hit tool, and even if Steamer doesn't think he'd be there right away, it still thinks he'll be close to a two-win player at shortstop over a full season. The problem: Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (3.0 WAR) has the highest projection among all Royals position players and second baseman Whit Merrifield (2.5) is tied for second. Even though Lopez ranks fourth -- ahead of more established Major Leaguers such as Billy Hamilton (1.6), Alex Gordon (1.2) and Chris Owings (1.0) -- there's no obvious fit for him early on. Lopez played third base as a freshman in college and his plus arm could work there, so that might be where he finds a spot in Kansas City, even if it places a higher emphasis on his need to hit.
Give it time: Khalil Lee certainly has the potential to feature in the Royals outfield for a long time with his plus arm and above-average grades on power, run and fielding in the outfield. His 13 homer/13 steal projection provides a small peek at that. But Steamer isn't quite ready to say 2019 will be Lee's season to take over the AL Central. The 20-year-old outfielder hit .263/.382/.390 with six homers and 16 steals in 100 games between Class A Advanced Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas, and that mix of results and distance from the Majors would make him a half-a-win player right now. The Royals don't need to push their 2016 third-rounder, especially after a humbling Arizona Fall League in which he batted .157 with a .468 OPS in 21 games, so a return to the Texas League is likely in order. Check back in a year to see whether Lee's tools have made enough of a jump to get Royals fans truly excited for 2020.
Wild cards: Kansas City had success in the Rule 5 Draft in 2018 with Brad Keller, who should be the club's third-best starter in 2019 according to Steamer, and it's going to try to do double duty this season with right-handers Sam McWilliams and Chris Ellis. Even when given a reliever projection, Steamer doesn't think either is even replacement-level at this stage. However, it's not like the Royals are swimming in quality bullpen arms, so it's possible both could be given long looks. Ellis, in particular, could be prepared to beat his projections with the way his mid-90s fastball might play up in shorter stints.
Top 100 talent: The Royals' only Top-100 prospect is No. 60 Brady Singer, who did not pitch in the Minors in 2018 and did not receive a Steamer600 projection.
Most ready: No. 15 Twins prospect Luis Arraez was protected from the Rule 5 Draft with a 40-man roster spot in November for many reasons that line up with what Steamer likes to see from prospects. He's been a solid hitter everywhere he's played, and that continued last year when he batted .310 over 108 games between Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Double-A Chattanooga. He rarely strikes out; his 8.9 percent K rate was third-lowest among all Twins Major and Minor Leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances in 2018. (No surprise, Willians Astudillo led the group at 3.2.) Because of that, Steamer believes Arraez would hit for the second-highest average among Twins batters -- Astudillo beats him at a projected .290 -- and would top any other Twins prospect by half a win. That's all well and good, but Arraez would still be a below-average hitter because of a complete lack of power and relatively few walks. The Twins will want to see Arraez at least another year removed from the ACL injury that knocked him out for all of 2017. If he can add a little more power, the Venezuela native -- who played second, short and third last season -- could work his way into some infield looks this summer.
Give it time: For years, Twins fans have been waiting for 2014 fifth overall pick Nick Gordon to become a franchise cornerstone, and while he could be set for a Major League debut in 2019, Steamer (and the rest of the prospect-watching community) doesn't think he'll hit that ceiling now. Gordon dropped out of MLB.com's Top-100 ranking this past season after batting just .212/.262/.283 with two homers in 99 games with Triple-A Rochester, and numbers like those never translate into impressive projections, if anyone thought those could be a saving grace based on Gordon's previous track record. The 23-year-old middle infielder made his way onto the 40-man partly because of his ability to play both short and second, but the bat will need to improve to push his way to the Majors. With another top-pick shortstop coming along, Gordon's future in Minnesota might be as a utilityman.
Wild cards: Taken fourth overall one year before Gordon, Kohl Stewart has been on his own roller-coaster for the past six years, and 2018 brought the most interesting turn yet. After struggling at Double-A (4.76 ERA in 68 innings) to begin the year, the 24-year-old right-hander posted better numbers at Triple-A (3.98 ERA in 40 2/3 innings) and the Majors (3.68 ERA in 36 2/3 innings) to the point in which he'll head to Spring Training with a legitimate shot at cracking the Minnesota rotation. Steamer might not like his odds right away with a 0.9 WAR projection over 200 innings that ranks sixth among potential Twins starters, and a lot of that has to do with control issues. But after walking only 33 in 108 2/3 frames in the Minors last year, there's hope on that front for Stewart. As he continues to miss more bats, his immediate and long-term future looks a little brighter than it did this time last year.
Top 100 talent: Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff both became top-10 overall prospects in 2018 -- a season in which they played together for much of the year at Class A Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers -- and the potential to see the pair together in the Twin Cities should have Minnesota fans salivating. Neither is a one-win player just yet, but after likely opening at Double-A Pensacola, their Major League rookie seasons should be the most highly anticipated of the 2020 season. Brusdar Graterol (No. 70 overall) could be the pitching equivalent if he builds on a strong 2018 season in which he posted a 2.74 ERA and struck out 107 in 102 innings at the same two levels as Lewis and Kirilloff.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.