Part of marketing yourself is highlighting things you got right and ignoring things that didn’t go so well. So here goes: back in September of 2012 I tagged Marcus Semien as a prospect alongside Trayce Thompson and Nestor Molina. At the time, Semien was a 6th round draft pick coming off of a pretty good season in A+, whereas Thompson and Molina were much more highly regarded. In January of 2012, Molina and Thompson ranked 2nd and 4th respectively in the White Sox system according to Baseball America, whereas Semien wasn’t in the Top Ten.
Then the 2013 season happened. Semien took his control of the zone to the next level and brought some power along with it on his way to the Southern League MVP. While his ceiling probably isn’t that high, he is now looking like a good utility player with some upside to be a solid-to-good regular infielder somewhere on the diamond. Thompson is still a work in progress, although the luster is fading, and Molina is looking like he may never crack a major league roster.
So this year, while Jose Abreu, Erik Johnson, and Tim Anderson top the White Sox’ current prospect list, I thought I’d take a second to flag another prospect outside the Top 10 for the coming season, and as you may have guessed I am choosing Chris Bassitt.
Bassitt was a 16th round pick out of the University of Akron, so right there we already have the makings of an underdog story. At 6’5” and 205 pounds, he certainly has the frame of a major league starting pitcher, and he has a lot of quirks that can help him buck the standard projection for 16th round draft picks. Bassitt can dial up legit mid-90s velocity, ticking into the 95-96 range from time to time, although sitting lower than that. He has a little bit of a herky jerky motion with some arm and leg chaos in the mix.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Bassitt gains deception, but it appears that his delivery may be tough to repeat, as he has posted high walk rates, allowing 4.0 per 9 in his brief minor league career.
Still, some of that wildness may also be attributed to the transition from relief to starting, which he did in 2012 while posting upwards of 5 walks per 9 innings. Last year he showed marked improvement, getting down to 3.7 per 9 at A+ in roughly 100 innings, and even further down to 3.2 per 9 in ~50 innings at AA as the year wore on.
Other than walking hitters, so far in the minor leagues he has limited hits, inducing lots of hesitant, awkward swings and weak contact in the infield. Bassitt has unremarkable home run and ground ball tendencies thus far, and struck out a solid 8.3 per 9. Check out some of the weak hacks you’ll see in this video courtesy of Nathaniel Stoltz.
Bassitt’s arsenal is also a bit quirky. His fastball has good horizontal motion, and oddly has some arm-side action, and he has a slider that looks like it could be an average-to-plus pitch. The problem is that after his first two pitches he has weaker offerings in the form of a slow, loopy curveball and a change up that needs a lot of work. Early in 2013, Bassitt cited the change as one of the areas that he was focusing on improving.
Given his arsenal and his low 3/4 delivery from the right side, Bassitt should be effective against right-handed hitters, but whether he is destined to start or relieve hinges upon his ability to get lefties out and to go through a lineup multiple times at advanced levels. I am also curious to see how he pitches out of the stretch, given his high leg kick out of the wind up.
Other factors to consider are that he has been consistently old for his level, as he just reached AA last season and he will turn 25 a week from Saturday. One has to imagine that his trajectory is to start the year in AA and see if he can pitch his way into AAA sooner rather than later, and possibly be ready for a spot starts in July or August or bullpen work in September. Projecting a big league arrival is complicated by the exigencies of the major league roster itself – who stays healthy, where the need is, etc.
Developing unusual, unheralded guys like Bassitt, and smoothing out pitching projects into quality bullpen arms or back end starters has been a huge organizational strength. See: Hector Santiago, Jose Quintana, Sergio Santos, Nate Jones, etc. It provides fodder for trades, and keeps the White Sox from going down the Twins and Royals road of vastly overpaying for 5th starters.
And, from a perspective that I often overlook, Bassitt comes across as a hardworking, extremely humble individual who is very easy to root for. And it is always nice to see those guys succeed.