Chicago White Sox Top 20 Prospects for 2013
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. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2013 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 reasonable 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. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) 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.
This list is current as of January 15, 2013
1) Courtney Hawkins, OF, Grade B+: Pushed very fast to High-A two months out of high school, but held his own. Enormous power, some speed, good arm, has contact issues but considering his age I think he did just fine. Grade may be a notch aggressive given lack of refinement, but upside is huge.
2) Carlos Sanchez, 2B-SS, Grade B: Popup prospect won Carolina League batting title while looking great with the glove at age 20. May not develop power but does everything else quite well.
3) Trayce Thompson, OF, Grade B-: Tremendous tools, good glove, ++power. Still strikes out too much, but has improved some and is still just 21/22.
4) Erik Johnson, RHP, Grade B-: They were careful with his workload after some minor arm issues, but he performed well in both Low-A and High-A, profiles as a number three starter with fastball/slider and improving changeup.
5) Scott Snodgress, LHP, Grade B-: Stanford lefty was much better in pro ball than in college after some mechanical tweaks. Still has some command issues but improving, like Johnson he looks like a mid-rotation starter with continued development.
6) Keenyn Walker, OF, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Very, very fast and will take a walk, good glove, but another guy who strikes out too much. I think he might develop some power at some point but I'm not sure anyone else thinks that.
7) Joey DeMichele, 2B, Grade C+: Arizona State product seems oddly overlooked, but showed good pop in pro ball (16 doubles, 10 triples, seven homers in 280 AB) and better than expected defense.
8) Andre Rienzo, RHP, Grade C+: Season marred by PED suspension but he pitched well in Double-A. Nice low-90s fastball, secondary stuff has improved, still working on command. Fourth starter or a relief option down the line. From Brazil.
9) Keon Barnum, 1B, Grade C+: Power masher from high school in Tampa. Can he be another Fred McGriff or Ryan Howard? Maybe. He's got that kind of raw power but has to prove that his hitting skills will carry forward. Could also turn into Brian Daubach or Ben Broussard or Mike Jacobs.
10) Chris Beck, RHP, Grade C+: Weight gain and mechanical issues dropped him to second round after first round buzz. Was OK but not great in the Pioneer League. Can he get his mid-90s fastball, slider, and changeup back to previous standards? Could be a bargain if he does.
11) Nestor Molina, RHP, Grade C+: I went out on a limb for this guy last year but got burned. A sore elbow was one factor and he wasn't as lucky, but I still think he can be a four/five starter or a useful reliever. Or maybe I'm just stubborn. FIP was a full run better than ERA, so maybe not.
12) Marcus Semien, SS, Grade C+: Another solid infielder, showed surprising pop in High-A and was very hot in the second half. Steady glove.
13) Kevan Smith, C, Grade C+: Strong, athletic catcher provides solid defense and moderate power in A-ball. Will get a chance to do the same in Double-A this year.
14) Jared Mitchell, OF, Grade C: He's not the same guy he was before the 2010 ankle injury. Still runs well, but not as well as before. He's got some power and draws walks, but is very streaky, can't hit lefties, and makes Trayce Thompson look like Tony Gwynn with his strikeouts. Makeup remains well-regarded. At this point, if he becomes a fourth outfielder I'll be happy.
15) Tyler Saladino, SS, Grade C: Lost all his power in Double-A transition, but his plate discipline actually got better. Used speed better, remained steady glove. I think he can still be a useful bench guy.
16) Jhan Marinez, RHP, Grade C: Hard-thrower looks ready for a bullpen job, although command needs to get better for him to close.
17) Simon Castro, RHP, Grade C: Former top prospect in Padres system showed some signs of life in Double-A/Triple-A. Another hard-thrower who can help in relief or back-end starting job if the command is there.
18) Charlie Leesman, LHP, Grade C: Ground ball specialist had a good year in Triple-A, not overpowering but can eat innings as a back-of-rotation guy.
19) Josh Phegley, C, Grade C: Not a great hitter, but excels at throwing our runners, 46% in Triple-A last year.
20) Brandon Brennan, RHP, Grade C: Power arm from 2012 draft showed strong ground ball tendency in Pioneer League (2.80 GO/AO). Needs better command and a long way off, but could develop into mid-rotation starter or bullpen asset.
OTHERS: Sammy Ayala, C; Michael Blanke, C; Jordan Danks, OF; Mark Haddow, OF; Kyle Hansen, RHP; Brandon Hardin, RHP; Deunte Heath, RHP; Rangel Ravelo, 3B; Santos Rodriguez, LHP; Brady Shoemaker, OF; Juan Silverio, 3B; Jeff Soptic, RHP; Blake Tekotte, OF; Kevin Vance, RHP; Andy Wilkins, 1B.
There is no mystery here: the White Sox farm system is one of the weakest in baseball. That's not to say that they can't find and develop players when they put the effort into it: Chris Sale, Addison Reed, Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, and Dayan Viciedo are all system products, and other prospects have been traded in recent years for veterans. But years of short-term thinking, cheapskate draft strategy, and lackluster Latin American investments have left the pipeline dry right now, with little immediate help on the horizon.
The obvious impact talent is Courtney Hawkins, but he was just drafted in 2012 and has to prove he can make sufficient contact at higher levels. Outfielder Trayce Thompson also has star-level tools but also has big strikeout issues. That seems a theme actually; Jared Mitchell. . .Keon Barnum. . .Keenyn Walker. . .all these guys whiff a lot. Toolsy outfield types seem a common theme as well, but players who balance tools with skills are rarer. There is some depth in the middle infield and behind the plate, but most of them look like role players, with Carlos Sanchez the main exception.
There are a couple of interesting starting pitching prospects in Johnson and Snodgress, and perhaps Rienzo and Beck, but none of them are sure-things or elite types. Relief arms abound, and burly hard-throwers are another consistent theme.
If the Sox continue investing money in the draft as they did in 2012, the new administration under Rick Hahn seems like it can turn things around. It will take time though.