Ascending soon: Once Luis Robert joins the White Sox, Steele Walker will become the top-ranked outfielder in the White Sox system. (@WSDashBaseball)
“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:
- Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
- Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- Free agent options at that position
This list includes the organization’s second-ranked outfield prospect per MLB Pipeline (Steele Walker), as well as an outfielder who’s hit for a high average throughout his young collegiate and professional careers (Ian Dawkins). Both should receive promotions to begin the 2020 season.
(age as of April 1, 2020)
Other positions played: Right field
Walker kept improving in each of his three years with the University of Oklahoma. That’s not to say his freshman year was bad by any stretch — that year, he slashed a respectable .290/.352/.414 with three homers in 57 games. As a junior in 2018, however, he slashed .352/.441/.606 in 54 games for the Sooners with 14 doubles, 13 homers, 53 RBIs, seven stolen bases, 31 walks (12.2%) and 48 strikeouts (18.9%). Expected to be selected in the latter part of the first round that year, he was still available in the second round when the White Sox gladly snatched him up.
In his first year of professional ball, Walker slashed a combined .209/.271/.342 over 44 games with the AZL squad, Great Falls and Kannapolis with six doubles, five homers, 21 RBIs, six stolen bases, 10 walks (5.6%) and 37 strikeouts (20.9%). Obviously his numbers weren’t as good as he’d hoped they be, but that was in large part due to fatigue and playing through injuries suffered late in the season with Oklahoma.
Buoyed by a terrific start with Kannapolis (.365/.437/.581) in his first 20 games this year, Walker enjoyed a terrific bounce-back campaign in 2019. Combined with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, he slashed .284/.361/.451 in 120 games with 36 doubles, five triples, 10 homers, 62 RBIs, 13 stolen bases, 50 walks (9.5%) and 78 strikeouts (14.8%). While not quite Madrigalian in making contact, a strikeout rate under 15% with a walk rate hovering around 10% is actually quite impressive for a first full professional season.
It’s important to note that Walker’s numbers were far better against righties than they were against southpaws, although it’s way too early to consider him merely a platoon-type hitter. According to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, the bat is considered Walker’s one true plus tool (graded 55 by MLB Pipeline). That’s not to say he’s overly deficient in any one area (power, run and field tools are graded 50), except perhaps for his throwing arm (graded 45 by MLB Pipeline).
Interestingly, Walker didn’t play in left field this year though his arm is perhaps better suited for that position. Walker currently ranks sixth among White Sox prospects, and second among the system’s outfielders, by MLB Pipeline. He likely will begin the 2020 season with Birmingham, and should find his way to Charlotte by the end of the year. There’s always a possibility Walker could be traded to help reel in a high-profile hitter or pitcher during this offseason, but as the best outfield performer in full-season play last year not named Luis Robert, the Sox would prefer keeping Walker if they had their druthers.
Kannapolis Cannon Ballers
Other positions played: Left field
Dawkins played his first two seasons of college ball with Chabot Junior College in his hometown of Heyward, Calif., where he put up terrific numbers. He transferred to Sacramento State for his junior season and continued to hit, with his senior season being arguably the better of his two years with the Hornets as he slashed .359/.415/.528 in 58 games with 18 doubles, six homers, 33 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 22 walks (8.0%) and 41 strikeouts (14.9%).
In part due to lacking leverage as a college senior, and also in part to his lack of significant power, he slipped to the White Sox in the 27th round of the 2018 draft. Dawkins immediately paid dividends that year, as he slashed a combined .303/.351/.390 in 65 games with Great Falls and Kannapolis with 13 doubles, three triples, 21 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, 16 walks (5.9%) and 43 strikeouts (15.8%).
Even more surprising than Dawkins beginning the 2019 season with Kannapolis was that he actually spent the whole year there. In part, this had to do with the lack of movement from the Birmingham outfield contingent, which ultimately stalled advancement for the likes of Walker and Dawkins. However, it may actually have just as much to do with the fact that he simply may have neither the great speed you’d like to see in a center fielder (despite his stolen base numbers) nor the power you’d like to see out of a corner outfielder. Nonetheless, Dawkins still posted a rock-solid year despite a late-season slump causing his average to dip below .300. For the year, he slashed .298/.361/.396 in 131 games with Kannapolis with 38 doubles, one triple, four homers, 36 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, 37 walks and 95 strikeouts. Walker should begin the 2020 season with Winston-Salem.