Coming into 2012 it was widely agreed that the White Sox had the worst farm system of all thirty teams. Last week I briefly touched upon Courtney Hawkins, Keenyn Walker, and Carlos Sanchez and how their seasons have given reasons for optimism. Today I’ll take a look at three more guys – one disappointment, and then two more positive notes.
Nestor Molina was what the White Sox got out of a very valuable trade chip in Sergio Santos. After a great statistical 2011, Molina has struggled with the White Sox. As Jim Callis said of Molina’s repertoire in August of 2011, “It’s all solid: fastball, slider, changeup, occasional curveball. Not sure you’d call any of his offerings a plus pitch, but he mixes them well and moves the ball around the strike zone. Not the sexiest scouting report, but that’s the type of guy who winds up in the big leagues.” Last year he used his control of this arsenal strike out 148 batters and walk only 16 in 130 innings at A+/AA.
The danger with guys like that is that without a true out pitch they may have issues with more advanced hitters who are less likely to simply chase things out of the zone or get overmatched by a blend of decent pitches. This year AA/AAA has been much more of a challenge, seeing Molina’s strikeout rate drop precipitously from 10.2 to 6.3 per 9. His walk rate has also taken a step back, but is still pretty good. As a 23-year old who converted from being a position player there’s still room for some development, so despair not, but certainly scale back your expectations.
Marcus Semien has been a pleasant surprise. Drafted in the 6th round of 2011 out of Cal, Semien hit a bit poorly in Kannapolis with an OPS of only .696. A more optimistic way of looking at it is that Semien didn’t even get a look at rookie ball, was thrown right into Kannapolis, and wasn’t awful. Even better, he never really needed to hit all that much as scouting reports on him from college have him as a plus defender. While he doesn’t have great speed, he has good hands, instincts, and a legitimate arm for short. There were questions about his bat being enough to carry his good-but-not-great glove coming into this year, but so far he has hit .273/.362/.471 – a nice blend of contact, walks, and power. He has a long way to go, and it doesn’t sound as though he has athleticism to spare, but shortstop is a very weak position at the major league level and he might be a useful guy to have around in a few years.
Trayce Thompson has also had a positive year. Always in possession of plus bat speed and excellent power, Thompson also has enough speed and chops to hang in center. In addition, Thompson boasts a good throwing arm. The downside is that he came in from the draft raw and with tons of swing-and-miss in his game. Despite that, and despite being extremely young for his level, the White Sox have promoted him aggressively. Thompson has responded, putting on his best hitting performance yet at AA hitting .280/.379/.520, albeit only in 58 PA, as the organization immediately bumped him up to AAA. Across A+/AA/AAA as a 21-year old, Thompson has hit .253/.328/.482. It seems doubtful that Thompson will be ready next year, but he does have mammoth power, seems willing to take a walk, and has held his own despite playing against older, more experienced competition at every level.
Time will tell if Thompson can get over that magical tipping point of making enough contact in the majors to cash in on his ability to play a solid center with plus power, but if he does he could even be an occasional All Star.