Addison Reed of the Chicago White Sox pitches in the fourth inning during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on September 4, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Chicago White Sox Top 20 Prospects for 2012
REVISED JANUARY 18, 2012
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine of course. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.
A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Addison Reed, RHP, Grade B+: The best closer prospect in baseball thanks to superior command of 93-97 MPH fastball and devastating slider. One of my favorite prospects.
2) Nestor Molina, RHP, Grade B+: Acquired from the Blue Jays for Sergio Santos, and immediately became Chicago's first or second-best prospect. I think he can remain a starter. Molina was a big topic of discussion earlier this winter. I like him a lot.
3) Tyler Saladino, SS, Grade C+: 2010 seventh round pick out of Oral Roberts developed from draft sleeper into solid prospect. Good power for a middle infielder, and has some idea about the strike zone, scouts like his work ethic. Main issue now is if he can stick at shortstop, and I think he has a decent chance to do so.
4) Simon Castro, RHP, Grade C+: Acquired from the Padres for Carlos Quentin. Live fastball, but secondary pitches went backwards last year and will need to rebound if he wants to stay a starter. The change of scenery could help him.
5) Trayce Thompson, OF, Grade C+: Highest-ceiling bat in system, tapping into his power now and making good progress on defense. Kills lefties but has serious contact problems against right-handed pitching. Struck out 172 times while repeating Low-A. Has the tools to be a star slugger but also carries a high risk of failure.
6) Hector Santiago, LHP, Grade C+: Came out of nowhere to reach the majors (briefly) in 2011 thanks to development of a new screwball to go with 90-95 MPH fastball. Third pitch still needs work and it is unclear if he starts or relieves in the long run, although recent rumors indicate the Sox will continue to start him. Projects as number three/four starter if third pitch develops, or a power relief arm.
7) Jake Petricka, RHP, Grade C+: Power sinker in low-to-mid-90s, flashes a good breaking ball, changeup is mediocre. Awkward mechanics hamper his command and he's got an injury history. Like Santiago, sources outside the organization project him as a reliever but the Sox say he'll remain a starter. Considerable upside.
8) Kevan Smith, C, Grade C+: 23-year-old college senior from University of Pittsburgh destroyed Appy and Pioneer League pitching while showing better-than-expected defense. He was old for the levels, but he didn't play baseball full-time until 2009, having a football background, and he's shown surprising contact ability for a power hitter.
9) Dylan Axelrod, RHP, Grade C+: Picked off scrapheap after being released by the Padres, reached majors last year and has a chance to stay there as a fourth starter. Relies on sharp command of a nasty slider, average fastball and changeup.
10) Andre Rienzo, RHP, Grade C+: Live-armed right-hander from Brazil posts strong K/IP rates in A-ball but is still refining his command. Mid-rotation upside or possibly another power relief arm.
11) Erik Johnson, RHP, Grade C+: Big right-hander from University of California was drafted in second round. Could develop into mid-rotation workhorse if he shows better control than demonstrated in college.
12) Keenyn Walker, OF, Grade C: Extremely athletic supplemental first round pick from Central Arizona Junior College could be leadoff force with a strong glove. However, he's got serious contact problems, fanning 64 times in 162 at-bats in Low-A. High-risk/high-reward.
13) Jared Mitchell, OF, Grade C: Terribly disappointing season in High-A with massive strikeout problems. Upside that made him first-round pick in '09 is still here, but the serious '10 ankle injury set his progress as a hitter back severely. Still has a chance to develop but clock ticking is quite loudly.
14) Eduardo Escobar, SS, Grade C: Slick glove at shortstop got him to the majors, but weak on-base skills and below-average power will prevent him from starting for a first-division team.
15) Charlie Leesman, LHP, Grade C: Good sinker from the left side, but poor 113/83 K/BB in 152 innings in Double-A warns of command issues. Could be fourth starter if he throws strikes, but probably a relief arm in the future.
16) Gregory Infante, RHP, Grade C: Another bullpen candidate with a live arm, ready for significant trial in 2012 but will have to show better command to get a closing opportunity.
17) Nate Jones, RHP, Grade C: In the bullpen mix along with Infante. Performed well in Double-A and picked up 12 saves, but projects as middle reliever in the majors. Cross-body mechanics hamper command.
18) Jeff Soptic, RHP, Grade C: 2011 third-round pick from Johnson County Community College in Kansas can hit 100 MPH, but had only marginal success in college due to command problems and a below average slider.
19) Scott Snodgress, LHP, Grade C: Tall lefty with 90+ heat was mediocre at Stanford but more effective in the Pioneer League. Curveball and changeup have some promise. Could easily get into top 10 in this system next year.
21) Blair Walters, LHP, Grade C: 11th round pick from University of Hawaii relieved in college but moved to rotation in Pioneer League, showing 90+ fastball and better-than-expected slider. Like Snodgress, he could rank much higher next year once we get some full-season data.
OTHERS: Jon Bachanov, RHP, Chris Bassitt, RHP; Mike Blanke, C; Jordan Danks, OF; Mark Haddow, OF; Deunte Heath, RHP; ; Tyler Kuhn, UT; Jhan Marinez, RHP; Ozzie Martinez, SS; Rangel Ravelo, 3B; Marcus Semien, SS; Brandon Short OF; Juan Silverio, 3B; Andy Wilkins, 1B.
We'll start with the good stuff first. Both Nestor Molina and Addison Reed are personal favorites. I originally had Molina one spot ahead because I think he can start. Of course, I think Reed could probably start too, but given how well he pitched last year I can understand their desire to keep him in the bullpen. He should be ready to close sometime in 2012, perhaps out of spring training. I went back and forth on this but in the end I ranked Reed slightly ahead.
There are some interesting pitchers after the top pair, especially future relief arms. Santiago, Petricka, and Axelrod would be bullpen candidate for many teams, but given the circumstances I understand using them as starters as long as possible. Axelrod could end up being a key component of the 2012 staff, and if he maintains momentum from '11 he could be a darkhorse rookie of the year guy.
Infante, Leesman, Jones, plus hard-throwing right-handers with command problems Jhan Marinez and Deunte Heath could all receive bullpen trials in '12. Johnson and Rienzo could develop into workhorse starters if they show sufficient command. The three lefties at the bottom of the list all have a shot to be useful, although it says a lot about the system that a minor league free agent like Quintana became one of their better prospects right of the bat.
Hitting is much thinner. I like Saladino but he's probably more of a solid role player than a long-term regular. Thompson has thunder in his bat, but his contact issues are frightening. I like Kevan Smith but we need to see him at higher levels. Toolsy outfielders Walker and Mitchell have huge holes in their swings. Andy Wilkins (platoon first baseman) and Jordan Danks (reserve outfielder) in the "other" section have a chance to be useful role players but neither will be starters.
No organization is completely empty and there are some interesting guys here, but overall the White Sox have well-earned their reputation as the weakest farm system in the game.