TDG’S Triple Play: Chicago White Sox!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Andrew Vaughn, Age: 24, Position: OF/1B
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
The White Sox have been one of the most befuddling teams in 2022. The consensus favorite to win the AL Central before the season, they have needed to claw and scrape their way back just to get within 2.5 games of the Cleveland Guardians. The same Guardians team that has a younger roster than not just every other MLB team, but also every Triple-A team. Many things have gone wrong for the White Sox, including a litany of notable injuries, but they are also their own worst enemy with Tony LaRussa at the helm. While the team has wavered, there has been at least one consistent force in their lineup: Andrew Vaughn.
Vaughn has known nothing but success in baseball. He was a dominant two-way player in high school. He joined the University of California baseball team with high expectations and still surpassed them, tying the school record with 23 home runs in his sophomore year. After winning the Golden Spikes and Perfect Game/Rawlings Player of the Year Awards that year, he then went on to improve his on base percentage to a blistering .539 in his junior year before being taken as the third overall pick in the 2019 amateur draft. In his truncated professional debut following the draft that year, he performed very well at three levels (never mind that he was old for those leagues as a college draftee). All signs pointed to him getting shot out of a rocket when he made his major league debut to start the 2021 season.
An-Drew the Short Straw
With all of that hype and talent, nothing could stop Vaughn from hitting the ground running, right? …right? Turns out, LaRussa likes a good challenge, especially if that challenge involves hindering the development of rookies on his own team. The young slugger received inconsistent playing time and never really got going before eventually succumbing to a back injury that put him on the IL in September. He grinded his way to a .235 average with 15 home runs in 127 games. He was much better in the first half, though, with a .253 average and ten of those home runs. It’s possible that the longer season got to him and the back injury was an accumulation of playing time that his body just wasn’t used to.
It’s a fool’s errand to attempt to attribute any definitive amount of credit or discredit to a coaching staff, but it sure seems like the whole team is trending in the wrong direction this year. After hitting 190 home runs last year as a team, they are on pace for just 146 this season. They are also hitting the ball on the ground more than any other AL team, leading the league in ground outs. The old school, opposite field, ground ball approach has seemingly put a severe damper on the offensive output of an otherwise highly capable squad. One can only hope that there is a change in leadership heading into 2023 that can help amplify the talent on their roster.
South Side, Pull Side
Vaughn had a reputation for being an all-fields power hitter and was expected to be an on-base machine. Instead, he has been shockingly passive, and is looking to hit almost everything the other way relative to the best hitters in the game. Depending on the stats provider, Vaughn is either 3rd or 4th among qualified hitters in hard hits per plate appearance. So while it’s clear that he can absolutely demolish a baseball, he rarely does so to the pull side or in the air. And despite a zone contact rate over 90%, he is swinging at fewer than 60% of pitches in the zone, which makes him one of the worst qualified hitters with respect to that tendency. Combined with a roughly league average tendency to swing at pitches outside of the zone, he is falling well short of expectations with just a 5.5% walk rate this year.
But fear not! Vaughn is supremely talented and is still young enough to make a notable approach change. If he can add loft to his swing to the pull side, while simply swinging at more pitches in the zone, he will fully capitalize on his abilities and should vault himself into being a near-top 30 hitter in the league. He is positioned to be the perfect heir apparent to the legacy that José Abreu has built for the White Sox, and will be a mainstay in Chicago’s lineup and fantasy rosters for years to come.
Michael Kopech, Age: 26, Position: SP
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
The White Sox present an interesting conundrum when choosing one to write about. Dylan Cease has, rightfully so, been celebrated throughout fantasyland, providing top tier picturing at a fraction of the cost going into the season; almost as many posts have been written that something has not been right with Lucas Giolito this season. Also, up there at #3 is the resurgence of Johnny Cueto, one guy we’ve known about since forever; same with Lance Lynn. But I wanted to look at Michael Kopech this week, and what to do with him for Dynasty leagues.
The fantasy baseball community is very familiar with Kopech, who has been hyped since before he was a key piece (along with current Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada) in the Chris Sale to Boston deal way back in December 2016. Things were going well, as he started 2017 in Double-A and ended in Triple-A. In 2018 he made his big-league debut, but Tommy John Surgery that ended 2018 season prematurely, and kept him out until 2021 (though it’s possible without the Covid part of 2020 he might have debuted that season).
2021 was a really good year
Last season the team took it slow with him as well, but he impressed in 69 1/3 innings: 3.50 ERA, 13.37 K/9, and even better advanced stats with a 2.83 xERA and 2.97 FIP. But re-draft leagues were worried about his status as a reliever or starter; believing he would be the former, when he actually became the latter. Those who took him as the 60th overall pitcher, at pick 165 overall, in NFBC leagues, shows that. However, in dynasty leagues, those of us who had rostered him either since drafting him, or acquiring him since the Sale deal, have been waiting for this moment, ready to slot Kopech in as an SP2 and set and forget him in their lineups.
Sky’s the Limit
Things started out well enough in 2022. He was a starter out of the gate, and while he was handled with kid gloves early (it took Kopech until start number six go surpass five innings), he appeared to hit his stride; giving up zero runs in six of those first ten starts. He produced a great ERA of 1.94 and 51 Ks over 51 innings, albeit with only two wins, a rough 4.24 bb/9, along with higher 3.10 FIP and much worse 4.53 xFIP. Some said sell on that high ERA, but there was no necessary reason to.
Then he injured his right knee two batters in to a start June 12th against the Tigers; while the Sox held him out for the rest of that week, he started consistently until an 11-day break on July 15th. An abbreviated start against the Royals August 22nd, where he hurt his knee in warmups but still started the game, getting zero outs while giving up four earned runs, sent him to the IL with that same knee injury.
The White Sox are in the thick of a playoff run, so they need Kopech, but it does not appear that his knee is fully healthy. He pitched exactly 15 days after going on the IL last week at Seattle; a not helpful 3 2/3 innings giving up four earned runs. Kopech has not been the same since that knee injury first appeared; a putrid 5.31 ERA, 5.66 FIP, 7.32 k/9 and 4.74 bb/9 is not helping anyone, his real-life team or our fake ones.
Two trains leave the station at 9:30 AM, Train A is traveling at 101 MPH…
For those Dynasty managers out there, it is hard to know what to do with Kopech, with two trains of thought on what to do with him. Train A: he still has name value, and thus can bring back a better player(s) than someone with his stats and skill would at this juncture; or Train B: hold on, and see if an off-season of rest can get him back on track in 2023?
Well…do you believe the White Sox are handling this injury correctly (they haven’t)? Are they going to make changes in leadership necessary? If you do, Train B for you.
There are positives this season; he is building up arm strength, and he should finish the season with 120 IP, leading to more next season. Resting up the right knee all off-season is priority #1 and shouldn’t be an issue. Train A.
The other thing is do you believe he can get his walks under control? His minor league career number was over four; this season it is 4.49; and even in his breakout 2021 it was 3.12. If you believe he can, while matching that 12+ k/9 he showed in the minors, then stay on Train A.
Me? I am definitely putting him on the block in the off-season, to see if the name value and wish upon a star talent can bring back a top 100 player. Our recent Dynasty top-500 lists has Kopech at 148 (OBP) and 193 (AVG) respectively, so getting a top 100 player would be a prudent move, whether a veteran bat to help win now or an upside prospect.
Colson Montgomery, Age: 20, Position: SS, Level: Double A
Analysis by: Chris Knock
Who’s this Molson Montgomery?
Drafted 22nd overall in 2021, Colson Montgomery was an Indiana prep selected by the White Sox. While older than typical high school draftees, his lithe 6’4” frame showed plenty of potential in both the batter’s box and on defense. Entering the draft, scouts saw potential double plus power and plus hit. While he’s taller than the majority at the position, his athletic ability and excellent arm strength shows promise to be able to stick at short. So now with over 1 full professional year under Colson’s belt, let’s dive in to see what to expect.
Or is it Colton Montgomery?
Post draft, the White Sox org sent him to play at the complex which is typical for prep selections. In 26 games, he produced almost precisely as promised: hitting to the tune of a .287/.396/.362 line. Yeah, that SLG is correct and I did say ‘almost’ as promised. In 111 plate appearances in his draft year, he didn’t hit a single home run and only 7 extra-base hits (all doubles). Regardless of the negligible power, he still managed a 112 wRC+ and a promotion to Low-A to start the 2022 season.
This year Colson has flown through three minor league levels. Anytime you see that quick of a rise you have to pay attention, especially when it’s a teenager in his first professional season. In both levels of A ball, he hit better than league average including a 125 wRC+ at High-A when he was over 2 years younger than his competition. Combined between his two A stops, Montgomery walked in 14.1% of his plate appearances and kept his strikeouts minimized, with an 18.4% K-rate.
As I mentioned earlier, scouts loved his power potential coming into his draft cycle. Fangraphs tagged him with a 65 raw potential and a 60 in-game, which is particularly impressive in spite of their average hit tool grade. Other outlets even scouted him with a 70 raw. Regardless of how highly rated his potential is, he hasn’t lived up to that billing. In his 521 professional plate appearances, Montgomery has hit a total of TEN home runs. All ten have come this season, along with 17 more doubles to give him a MiLB career .414 SLG. What was his calling card, is becoming somewhat a yellow flag.
Ohhhhh Colson Montgomery!
But only a yellow flag. A raw power scouting grade can’t translate to in-game power without an average hit tool. And Colson’s hit tool has been sharper than advertised. His K rate in High A was excellent at 15.9%, and he actually matched it with his walk rate. Having this approach early and against advanced competition will let him flex his power naturally as he gains experience and muscle. He’s 6’4” but weighed just 205 pounds entering the year. His frame has plenty of space to add more muscle and therefore extra oomph to reach those lofty potential grades. More mass won’t slow him down on the basepaths either. Hard to steal less than Montgomery has so far with only one stolen base in two MiLB attempts.
Currently, the majority of prospect rankings have Colson in the back end of their top 100. In fact, your favorite prospect rankers listed him at #66 out of their top 200 earlier this month! Those who are more bearish on his OBP balloon and potential for in-game power may inch him higher. Regardless of our fantasy opinions, the White Sox are not hesitant to slow him down and wait for the power to show. If he continues to stick at short, maintain this approach, AND flash power consistently, we have ourselves a Corey Seager doppelganger – both in size and stats. If he needs to add bulk to reach those homer totals, he could be a viable third base option, although not as unique of a profile. A potential ‘worst’ case is a fantasy floor similar to current Alec Bohm, a third baseman with mid-teens pop and solid on-base skills. Colson hasn’t been getting much digital ink so far in his brief pro career. In any league with at least 100 prospects rostered double-check for his availability before your opponents start to remember his name.