Welcome to another entry in the off-season article series here at FutureSox. In this one, we’re looking at the White Sox third base prospects.
There were six players to choose from for our third base list, so compiling a top 5 should not be that difficult, right? Wrong. The contributing writers were all over the place in their top 3. DJ Gladney took the top spot three times, Jake Burger twice, and even Bryan Ramos snuck in there once. Despite not having voted for him during the third base voting round, we eventually decided to move Luis Curbelo from the middle-infield group to this one. This cost Johan Cruz his spot in the third base top 5.
Here is our top 5 of White Sox third base prospects.
1. DJ GLADNEY – RANKED 29th OVERALL. LAST LEVEL: ARIZONA (R)
One of the names that has been buzzing through White Sox prospect world, is Damon Junior ‘DJ’ Gladney. The White Sox used a 16th round draft pick on the product of Illiana Christan Academy in Lansing, Illinois. To lure him in, the organization offered an over-slot amount $225,000.
Gladney was one of four ACE (Amateur City Elite) players selected in the 2019 draft, and he’s certainly looking the part. The 6’3″, 200 pound third sacker smashed eight home runs in his first 32 games in pro ball. He displayed some serious power, dropping one home run about 456 feet from home plate; all that right before and right after his eighteenth birthday.
“He’s easy to like as soon as you lay eyes on him. He’s a good-looking athlete. He has a smooth, powerful stroke with plenty of whip. Drives the ball to all fields and is fearless on the field.”White Sox director of Player Development Chris Getz
BELIEVING THE HYPE
Needless to say, the hype surrounding Gladney is warranted. Despite battling competition about 2.5 years his senior in Arizona, Gladney put up a very respectable .264/.309/.428 line, with 5 doubles, 2 triples and 8 home runs in 200 at-bats. His .337 wOBA and 97 wRC+ show plenty of promise for the young infielder, despite an overly favorable .397 BABIP. As Getz mentioned, Gladney does spray the ball to all fields nicely, with a rounded up 40/30/30 percentage split to his pull/center/oppo sides.
His fielding needs some work, as evidenced by his .849 fielding percentage at third base. Those 11 errors in 26 games need to come down, but Sox fans are taking notice of the prospect’s skill set regardless.
Depending on how quickly the Sox want Gladney to ascend the ladder, he likely starts the season back in Arizona. If he shows up like he did in 2019, Great Falls shouldn’t be far away.
2. JAKE BURGER – RANKED 23rd OVERALL . LAST LEVEL: KANNAPOLIS (A)
The story on Jake Burger is mostly a ‘known unknown’ – if you missed it, catch up with the latest here. Despite not playing any affiliated baseball for almost two years, the hard-hitting third baseman is still our overall number two on this list. We have to be honest though: this is mostly based on the talent we saw in college and his first few months in pro ball. We have nothing to compare at this point. Still, talent is talent, and if Burger makes it back to affiliated baseball during the 2020 season — and he is/stays healthy — talent will always come out on top.
3. BRYAN RAMOS – UNRANKED IN 2019. LAST LEVEL: ARIZONA (R)
Ramos, a power-hitting corner infielder from Havana (Cuba), spent his 2019 season with the Arizona League White Sox, despite being only 17 years old at the time. It did not seem to bother him much that he was about 2.5 years younger than the competition, as he slashed .277/.353/.415, with 10 doubles, 2 triples, and 4 home runs in 188 at-bats. Ramos, a right-handed hitter, raked against left-handed pitching. He tuned up opposing southpaws and finished the year with a 1.090 OPS against them, hitting 7 of his 10 doubles in 100 fewer at-bats.
The Cuban, signed for $300k, thrived in the big spots, batting .389 with runners in scoring position. Ramos is a bit of a free swinger still, with a slight hitch in his swing that occasionally makes him lean forward too much to keep his balance. The free-swinging is something he needs to work on, as for him, it’s all about getting ahead in the count. With a whopping .875 average, a 3.088 OPS and no strikeouts when he’s ahead in the count, it’s clear Ramos can do some crazy damage in a favorable position.
The problem is: he doesn’t get in that position nearly enough. On a season with 188 at-bats, getting a hit while being ahead in the count only eight times is not nearly enough. On the opposite end of the spectrum, being behind in the count kills Ramos, as he struck out 43 times in the 45 situations he was behind in the count.
Still, everything comes back to the things Ramos does well. For a player who won’t turn 18 until Spring Training 2020, who skipped the Dominican Summer League and held his own in Arizona, the arrow is pointing up — maybe all the way to Great Falls in 2020.
4. TI’QUAN FORBES – UNRANKED IN 2019. LAST LEVEL: BIRMINGHAM (AA)
As a former second round pick, it’s strange that Edward Ti’Quan Forbes has gone relatively unnoticed in a White Sox system starving for third basemen. After being drafted (and given a $1.2 million signing bonus) by the Rangers in 2014, Forbes ended up with the White Sox in the Miguel Gonzalez trade from 2017.
After a solid — yet unspectacular — performance in Winston-Salem in 2018, Forbes moved up to Birmingham in 2019. The hitter unfriendly confines of Regions Field did not do the then-22-year-old any favors. His average, OBP, SLG, and OPS all dropped (the latter to an uncomfortable .660), and he struck out a lot more in fewer plate appearances than the year before. After K-ing only 16% of the time in 2018, that number rose to 23.6% in 2019. It’s still not a horrendous strikeout rate in today’s game, but a 7% rise from year to year is worrisome.
With only 21 XBH it was evident that Birmingham was not helping Forbes in any way. He finished the year with a troubling .084 ISO, despite a .324 BABIP. A 52% groundball rate certainly did not do Forbes any good either, though high groundball rates are common for him up to this point in his career. It was a frustrating development for a player who Perfect Game once referred to as a “high ceiling athletic talent with present tools and tons of projection.”
BACK TO BIRMINGHAM
Forbes did show his versatility again in 2019, playing second and (mostly) third base. That, however, will not be enough to keep the 23-year-old on this list. 2020 will prove to be an important year for Forbes. He is likely to re-do Birmingham, under the guidance of a different manager in Justin Jirschele.
5. LUIS CURBELO – UNRANKED IN 2019. LAST LEVEL: GREAT FALLS (R)
That brings us the fifth and final player in our positional third base ranking: Luis Curbelo. The 22-year old Puerto Rican originally was a member of our middle infield group. However, after playing 95 games at third base (and a mere 10 at second or short), we decided to move him to the hot corner as well. This also seems to be the spot where he’ll end up, given his strong arm and good hands.
It wasn’t the only move Curbelo made this year; he was the victim of a rare midseason demotion from Single-A to Rookie ball. After starting the year in Kannapolis — and slashing only .169/.216/.287 while posting a 46 wRC+ — the Sox sent him back to Rookie League Great Falls to figure things out. Things normalized a little for Curbelo in Idaho, as his ISO recovered from .118 to .204. Still, a demotion like this is quite the fall for a guy who once entered FutureSox’ rankings as the number seven prospect out of the 2016 draft.
Curbelo’s biggest issue has been (and remains) difficulty hitting breaking pitches, which leads to inflated strikeout percentages. The infielder K’d at a 41% clip in Kannapolis and still at a 32.3% clip in Great Falls, which is something he needs to work on. He will probably get a second go at Single-A in 2020.
Photo credit: Sean Williams/FutureSox
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