The White Sox farm system gets beat up regularly, we’re all used to it for now. We get to read ratings and overviews from various publications and typically, it’s not terribly encouraging. Marc Hulet of Fangraphs has released his Top 15 Prospects for the White Sox and it appears the system has been upgraded from not terribly encouraging to somewhat encouraging if you squint a little.
There are two big factors in the perceived improvement. For starters, well, there weren’t many starters before. Most of the top Sox talent at the conclusion of the 2011 campaign were pitchers projected to land in the bullpen. There isn’t much imagination to be applied to players with ceilings that make them among the most interchangeable of all major league ballplayers. We saw a lot of those pitchers make some time in the ‘pen during the 2012 campaign, which at one point in the season consisted of all rookies save for Matt Thornton thanks to some injuries. The kids helped at times and at times the inexperience showed. Perhaps more importantly in the big picture, it got some guys out of the way and is allowing the spotlight to shine on some other young talent.
Which brings us to the other factor: legit young talent. Of the 15 players on this list, 11 are 22 years old or younger, with 3 yet to play beyond their teen years. Among the teens is Courtney Hawkins who at 18 years old during the season got himself all the way up to the top of the list by way of a strong professional debut across 3 levels. Hawkins is likely to top any White Sox prospect list having put up a .284/.324/.480 while he begins to learn how to really play the game. At that age, there is plenty of time for him to learn and no need to rush him, though if he continues progressing it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider him as an Alex Rios replacement for the 2015 season.
Carlos Sanchez is number 2 on the list, and a bit more familiar to fans as Gordon Beckham continues his offensive struggles. Sanchez started the season at single-A with Kannapolis and climbed the ladder all the way to AAA to finish the season. There are worries that he’ll be rushed in as a replacement, and that’s valid, but it’s nice to know that there is somebody with a chance to put in time at the position for the long term instead of Orlando Hudson/Ray Olmedo type plug-ins.
Rounding out the list:
3. Erik Johnson – Potential rotation help who is stated as a roster possibility in 2013.
4. Trayce Thompson – Playing a solid center field, showing power and “has a chance to be a special player both defensively and offensively.”
5. Keenyn Walker – Lots of speed, no power. He’s a ways off.
6. Scott Snodgress – KW’s Stanford love showing again. At 23 years old, he’ll have to move out of the low levels soon to reach his potential of 2nd or 3rd starter.
7. Andre Rienzo – Extra name recognition with drug suspension, appearances on Arizona Fall League, Venezuelan Winter League and World Baseball Classic rosters. Can throw mid 90’s and likely looking at a spot with Charlotte for 2013.
8. Christopher Beck – Looking to regain some lost velocity in the lower levels this season.
9. Keon Barnum – Big power, scouts have it graded at 65-70. With some luck he could step into 1B role once Dunn’s contract runs out for the 2015 season but just as likely that he’ll be a year or more behind that.
10. Joey Demichele – Brings a good bat but his value depends on becoming competent 2B.
11. Jared Mitchell – Another step back after failing to fix strikeout issues. “looks like a future fourth outfielder or possibly a platoon outfielder who’s shielded from tough left-handed pitching.”
12. Jake Petricka – A bit rough at High A and AA, eventual bullpen ceiling.
13. Sammy Ayala – The good news: a lefty hitting catcher. The bad news: he was only 17 last season. Going to take a while to see how he develops.
14. Andy Wilkins – Could be the stop-gap between Dunn and Barnum at first base, but has issues with lefties. “May end up as a platoon player or dangerous bat off the bench.”
15. Brandon Brennan – Starting in the lower levels right now but could make a move the bullpen eventually. Not an option any time soon.