Chicago White Sox Top 20 Prospects for 2014
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 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. The book has been delayed by my head injury, but it will come out eventually. Thank you for your patience and we still need pre-orders!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated 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.
1) Jose Abreu, 1B, Grade A-: Depending on who you believe, Abreu is either the greatest Cuban hitter since Tony Oliva or "just" an above-average slugger. I don’t pretend to know other than to assume he’ll be at least good in some way shape and form. We’ll know more after a few weeks of spring training I hope.
2) Erik Johnson, RHP, Grade B+: Borderline B. No secret that I like this guy a lot and think he is unfairly overlooked when top pitching prospects are discussed. I expect he’ll be a durable above-average starter and that has a lot of value even if he doesn’t go around winning Cy Young awards.
3) Matt Davidson, 3B, Grade B: Borderline B-. Still has contact issues but he’ll have more pop than Conor Gillaspie and has settled into decency as a defender. Like Johnson, he doesn’t have anything left to prove in the minors. I could see some initial batting average/OBP problems but in the long run he should produce good power and be a solid regular.
4) Marcus Semien, INF, Grade B: Borderline B-. I had him rated as a sleeper pick last year but I don’t think anyone expected 19 homers, 24 steals, and 98 walks. Might not hit for a high average but has a broad array of offensive skills and decent defense. He didn’t bring his plate discipline to the majors but overall I think he is for real and should have a very good career.
5) Tim Anderson, INF, Grade B-: Borderline B. Better pure tools than Semien and could end up producing similar broad-based numbers, with less power but more speed, as he matures. Went from junior college obscurity to 2013 first round pick in four months, then held his own after direct promotion to Low-A. I think that says something good about his makeup.
6) Micah Johnson, 2B, Grade B-: Blazing fast, although sharp slippage in overall production between Low-A and High-A was notable and his defense needs considerable work. There’s been some talk he could move to the outfield, which would make some sense if Semien and Anderson develop as expected.
7) Jacob May, OF, Grade B-: Another speedster, a third round pick last year from Coastal Carolina who, along with Anderson and Johnson, has at least 70-grade speed and knows how to use it. May showed more power than anticipated in Low-A and exceeded expectations in general, although we’ll have to see how his on-base abilities hold up.
8) Tyler Danish, RHP, Grade B-: Brilliant pro debut from 2013 second round pick (1.20 ERA, 28/5 K/BB in 30 innings, 17 hits, 3.36 GO/AO). Draws frequent Jake Peavy comparisons for delivery and stuff. Some scouts don’t seem wild about him perhaps due to being a smallish right-hander, raising questions about durability and long-term role. I think you can make a case to rank him as high as sixth, with more possible once we see more innings from him.
9) Chris Beck, RHP, Grade C+: I really don’t like the poor strikeout rate (just 57 whiffs in 119 innings in High-A) which disturbingly confirms reports of stuff slippage compared to his sophomore year of college. However, he pitched better late in the year after moving up to Double-A, with a higher strikeout rate (22 in 28 innings) and good pitching in Southern League playoffs. At this point I can see him as a plausible fourth starter or relief option.
10) Trayce Thompson, OF, Grade C+: Borderline C. I can’t shake the impression that this is one raw tools athlete who will figure it out someday, though that is more hope than analysis. Perhaps he can be something like Drew Stubbs, with power/speed/defense contributions combined with a poor batting average and mediocre OBP.
11) Courtney Hawkins, OF, Grade C+: Borderline C. Really tough to grade: the Sox let him flounder in High-A at age 19 (.178/.249/.384 with 19 homers, 160 strikeouts). Had no business at that level given his approach and it showed. Can he use this experience as a positive and make adjustments? Will it kill him or make him stronger? Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
12) Daniel Webb, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline C. What happens when you gain control of an upper-90s fastball? You go from completely ineffective in Low-A (5.81 ERA) to the major leagues in one year (1.87 ERA, 78/27 K/BB in 62 innings, then 11 solid innings in the majors). Seems like he will make a fine reliever.
13) Andrew Mitchell, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline C. Fourth round pick from TCU was erratic in college and mediocre in the Pioneer League (4.50 ERA, 47/30 K/BB in 56 innings) but has the velocity and movement on his pitches (including a nasty breaking ball) to follow in Webb’s footsteps and improve rapidly.
14) Keon Barnum, OF, Grade C+. Borderline C. High-ceiling power hitter had injury-plagued season in Low-A with .254/.315/.403 line in 56 games. Capable of much better, showed some of that during a two-week stretch in August when he hit .340/.414/.500. If he can avoid injury and sharpen his command of the zone he could take off quickly.
15) Chris Bassitt, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline C: Closer to the majors than Mitchell, stuff isn’t as good but he has possibilities as a fourth starter or (more probably) a long relief type. Was a 16th round pick in 2011 from the University of Akron.
16) Carlos Sanchez, INF, Grade C: Highly-disappointing season in Triple-A, hit just .241/.293/.296 (ugh) for Charlotte. He does have a good glove however, and he was much more effective in winter ball (.348/.428/.443 in Venezuela) giving hope that he still has a chance as a contact hitter/utility infielder.
From this point on you could make a case to slot several of the Grade C guys, but I picked out the ones I find most interesting for various reasons.
17) Eric Surkamp, LHP, Grade C: Forgotten Giants prospect claimed on waivers this winter, but he actually had a fine season after coming back from Tommy John surgery (2.78 ERA, 54/20 K/BB in 71 innings in Triple-A) despite getting blasted in one big league outing. Finesse type, possible fourth or fifth starter if he can locate his breaking ball effectively. Capable of a "Scott Diamond in 2012" type surprise season.
18) Scott Snodgress, LHP, Grade C: Big lefty with live arm, but results never seem to match the talent including 2013 with a 4.70 ERA, 90/59 K/BB in 144 innings in Double-A. No one will give up on 90+ left side heat but his secondary pitches still need a lot of work. Bullpen destiny?
19) Trey Michalczewski, 3B, Grade C: Seventh round pick bought away from Oklahoma scholarship with $500,000, has impressive switch-hitting potential. Did not hit well in rookie ball (.236/.324/.328) but he is young and scouts see 20-homer potential with a good glove. Will Middlebrooks path?
20) Micker Adolfo, OF, Grade C: Hot prospect signed for $1,600,000 out of the Dominican Republic as the Sox rebuild their Latin American operation. High-ceiling power hitter with a good throwing arm, but he’s only 17 and of course he hasn’t faced pro pitching yet. Upside stands out in this system.
OTHERS OF NOTE: Dan Black, 1B; Tony Bucciferro, RHP; Adam Engel, OF; Brad Goldberg, RHP; Charlie Leesman, LHP; Jared Mitchell, OF; Nestor Molina, RHP; Francellis Montas, RHP; Adrian Nieto, C; Jefferson Olacio, LHP; Braulio Ortiz, RHP; Jacob Petricka, RHP; Rangel Ravelo, 1B; Kevan Smith, C; Keenyn Walker, OF; Andy Wilkins, 1B: Cody Winiarski, RHP.
The big news of course is the signing of Cuban veteran Jose Abreu. At age 27 he is not the typical "prospect" in the normal sense and is a finished product, so this is less a case of player development and more an example of the Sox being willing to put money on the major league roster. More important from a developmental perspective is the signing of Micker Adolfo, who is years away from doing anything but shows commitment to building from within.
Strengths: the Sox have several good infield and leadoff options on the way up. You’d figure that some combination of Marcus Semien, Tim Anderson, and Micah Johnson will be manning the infield someday, hopefully getting on base and creating havoc in front of the big bats like Abreu. Jacob May is a bloodline player who didn’t thrive in college but has been much better as a pro. While there is no obvious future ace, Erik Johnson should be a solid starter and there are a variety of live arms who should provide bullpen depth.
Weaknesses: Toolsy outfielders who can’t make contact, including Courtney Hawkins, Trayce Thompson, Keenyn Walker, Jared Mitchell. . .there’s something wrong with the program there. Hopefully Adolfo and May will be different. Live arms like Snodgress plus A-ball fireballers Braulio Ortiz, Jefferson Olacio, and Francellis Montas tantalize with their talent but haven’t produced consistent results, though Webb’s rapid progress shows why teams don’t give up quickly on live arms.
I think the White Sox system has improved over the last year. The system is not outstanding, but it is getting better and several of the Grade C guys have the potential for higher ratings once we see more of them.