Chicago White Sox Bolster Their Rotation with Two Top Prospects

By promoting top prospects Nick Nastrini and Jonathan Cannon, the Chicago White Sox have injected their rotation with youth for the future.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 15: Nick Nastrini #42 of the Chicago White Sox pitches during his MLB debut in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 15, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois. All players are wearing the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Many expected the White Sox to struggle out of the gate this season and that became even more likley with early season injuries to Luis Robert Jr., Eloy Jimenez, and Yoan Moncada. However, 2-13 through 15 games of the season was even more frustrating than imagined.

After the first few weeks of nothing but discouraging results, Chicago is making a shift with further emphasis on the youth within the steadily improving farm system. Rather than simply continuing on the current dim trajectory after 15 games, the organization turned to two pitching prospects, Nick Nastrini and Jonathan Cannon, to make their MLB debuts two nights in a row.

This decision separates the current regime in charge from the previous one that was consistently hesitant to elevate players quickly. The new White Sox front office led by General Manager Chris Getz appears ready to prioritize the young players with the understanding (whether they admit it publicly or not) that the team will not be competitive this season.

The offense is the worst in baseball right now, but the pitching staff just became much more fascinating with two pitchers that now have a chance to earn a role heading into 2025.

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Nick Nastrini Flashes Upside

Nastrini was projected to be the fifth starter out of the gate for the White Sox, but he dealt with a bout of a pneumonia and the signing of Mike Clevinger further put that into question. Now fully recovered, Nastrini was added to the 40-man roster and made his debut on Monday night.

It wasn’t perfect in all regards, but Nastrini flashed stuff that could quickly make him the second-best arm in Chicago sooner than later. He pitched nearly four perfect innings to start his MLB career.

Striking out Bobby Witt Jr. for a first career strikeout isn’t too bad either.

With significant ride on the heater, Nastrini was able to work outside corners effectively in the early innings with the fastball. Furthermore, the changeup stood out early in the game as it was the pitch that got Witt to punch out and he recorded another pair of strikeouts with it as well.

Consistently commanding that changeup is a big key to Nastrini’s game, which he has conveyed on multiple occasions.

While it wasn’t the best it can be on Monday, the slider still flashed sharp movement and garnered a few whiffs as well. On days where he can locate both his primary offspeed pitches, Nastrini has three plus offerings and can improve upon this strong debut.

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His only true mistake of the game came in the 4th inning on a 2-1 fastball down the middle to Vinnie Pasquantino, which was subsequently sent deep for the first hit and first run of the game for Kansas City. The Royals scored another run in the fifth on two little bloop singles, which aren’t anything to worry about.

Nastrini’s command began to fade in that inning, but he worked out of it and finished five full frames in his debut.

The first three innings were a true showcase of his ability and Nastrini clearly demonstrated that he belongs in the Chicago rotation for the rest of the season. The team already announced that Chris Flexen is set to shift to a bulk bullpen role for now, so Nastrini should be locked into the rotation regardless of Mike Clevinger’s arrival.

Jonathan Cannon Makes a Good First Impression

The second prospect elevated this week may have a bit more complicated path to remaining in the starting rotation, but ultimately could earn a spot if he performs at a high level.

After finishing the season in Double-A last year and largely struggling at that level, Jonathan Cannon starting the season in Triple-A caught me off guard to an extent. However, his high floor profile and deep arsenal made him likely to be quick riser through the system when he was initially drafted in 2022.

A promotion after just two starts in Triple-A though, was surprising to me and anyone that follows the team. However, Cannon made adjustments to his pitch mix this offseason and looked dialed in during his first starts of the season in Charlotte.

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Those adjustments shined in his MLB debut as Cannon tossed five innings of one-run ball with the singular run coming on a play that should have been made. While it was scored as an earned run, Cannon probably should have finished his five innings with a perfect 0.00 ERA.

Cannon worked effectively and efficiently early on as he threw just seven pitches in a 1-2-3 first inning and continued to locate very well throughout his start. After adjusting his arsenal this offseason to simplify his pitch mix and prioritize offerings that play well off each other, Cannon shined with the trio of his sinker, sweeper, and changeup.

He’s not the type of pitcher that will rack up tons of strikeouts, but Cannon’s ability to force soft contact and ground balls was on display early and often in this game. Cannon really did not get hit hard much in this one and the balls hit well were on the ground for the most part.

Cannon’s sinker was sharp throughout his start and he was able to use it in all parts of the zone against hitters on both sides of the plate. The sweeper will primarily be used against right-handed hitters, but it did look excellent when he was able to spot it like the pitch above to Salvador Perez.

The changeup was a bit less consistent but he threw a few rather impressive ones and it was a pitch he used frequently at times last season. Cannon utilized up to seven pitches last season, but it’s clear that his focus is on those three offerings as well as the cutter which was his go-to pitch for much of his Minor League career.

The changes made this offseason allowed for Cannon to succeed in his debut and should give him a good chance to stick around in the White Sox rotation if he continues to pitch this way.

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While the offense is still the worst in baseball and will likely remain around that range (Colson Montgomery’s arrival will help a bit though), the pitching staff got a lot more exciting this week.

Chicago has a few other top prospects on the way soon in the form of Drew Thorpe, Just Baseball’s 58th-ranked prospect, and Jairo Iriarte, Just Baseball’s 81st-ranked prospect. This rotation could be filled with all pitchers under 25 years by the end of the season.

Now, I’m not saying this season is going to get much better as this White Sox roster is still going to be one of the worst in baseball. But the future of the pitching staff looks bright right now and the organization will have ample money off the books this winter that can go towards improving the offense.

To many, this season is purely a depressing one on the South Side of Chicago. To me, this is an opportunity to figure out pieces that can be a part of the next generation in Chicago. I encourage fans to try to enjoy these two young pitchers and the other prospects that will follow soon.