The White Sox don’t have a lot of margin for error. Their drafts were lackluster for roughly a decade, and their former Latin America director is going to spend some time in jail. They have been righting the ship to an extent, but now that the minor league season is over, we can assess the season. Aside from Josh Phegley, Marcus Semien, and Micah Johnson, this has been an incredibly disappointing season for White Sox minor league bats. Maybe they just weren’t all that talented, but the White Sox rushed a ton of them, and it’s looking like it wound up doing quite a bit of harm.
Courtney Hawkins came in as the consensus #1 prospect in the system, and made a bunch of Top 100 lists in the offseason. Going straight from high school into pro ball – a huge jump – Hawkins flashed his plus power in 249 PAs across Rookie Ball, Low A, and High A – the organization hurried him to A+ to get him extra reps in the playoffs. Even though he held his own, it was clear that he had a lot to learn at these levels. Hawkins struck out 56 times to only 11 walks.
For whatever reason, the White Sox decided to ignore this huge red flag on a guy who was clearly raw even coming into the draft and started him at A+ this year. While Hawkins had turned 19 last November, he was being placed in a league where the median age is 23. He would still be ahead of schedule and plenty challenged at Low A with a median age of 22. Worst case scenario he would destroy Low A and you could just promote him later. Sadly, Hawkins has been overwhelmed at A+, hitting .174/.243/.382. The power is clearly still there, with 19 home runs and an IsoP of .208, but 160Ks to only 27BBs is just unplayable.
For reference Adam Dunn had a K:BB of 270:230 and a .304 batting average in the minors.
Age-wise, Jared Mitchell hadn’t been rushed that much. Then again in terms of baseball experience the guy was behind the usual college player as he had spent a lot of his time playing football instead. He then missed all of 2010 with an Achilles injury after only 139PAs in low A to his pro career. The White Sox brought him back in 2011 at A+ regardless, and after a full season where he was holding his own but hardly thriving – .222/.304/.377 – the front office decided he had learned all he needed to know there and started him at AA in 2012. Mitchell seemed to figure things out a bit and his line improved, but he was hardly blowing the league away with an .808 OPS before they promoted him to AAA. His OPS slipped back below .700 and then absolutely cratered at AAA this year. Now he’s functionally broken and can’t even hit in AA anymore.
Would Mitchell have torpedoed anyway if he was promoted more cautiously? Maybe. If you bet against every prospect you’ll usually be right. Still – what’s the hurry?
Carlos Sanchez had a tremendously exciting 2012, murdering A+ and AA and didn’t even turn 20 until the end of June. And yes, although he was hitting well in AA, it was only over the course of 133PAs. The White Sox, in their wisdom, decided 133 PAs was all he needed at AA, and started him at AAA in 2o13. More than half of the year Sanchez was 20-years old playing against a median age of 26 – former big leaguers, guys who cycle through as bench players on major league rosters, pitchers who have advanced breaking stuff, etc. Sanchez has collapsed, posting a .268/.290/294 line over the year.
These are just a few of the most notable examples. So why is this happening? Is it panic at how poorly the position players are doing in the majors? One theory is that the franchise places far too much importance on spring training, getting way too excited about 20-30PAs and their hustle or whatever in training camp. I am open to other suggestions.
The franchise really needs to reassess their promotion schedules. It can’t just be based on how many exclamation points Buddy Bell puts on his scouting reports. More skepticism is needed for small sample sizes, and the front office needs to look at the peripherals constituting the performance – strike zone judgment, etc. – not just the obvious numbers. As I said, if you start a guy at a level too low, he’ll let you know by destroying it. If you start the season with the player a level too high, you can’t really demote them without it being a serious blow to their confidence, and leaving them there may permanently break or damage their development.