Chicago White Sox Top 20 Prospects for 2015
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 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS
Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least 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.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis 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) Carlos Rodon, LHP, Grade A/Borderline A-: Age 22, first round pick out of North Carolina State, posted 2.92 ERA with 38/13 K/BB in 25 innings in pro debut at three levels. He’s not perfect and his stuff was down at times before the draft, although he remained very effective and in my opinion was being nitpicked some. Top-of-the-rotation potential, power stuff from left side, just needs a bit more consistency with his command and (of course) has to stay healthy. Velocity was back in pro ball.
2) Tim Anderson, SS, Grade B/Borderline B+: Age 21, first round pick in 2013, hit .301/.327/.481 in 83 games at three levels, mostly in High-A. Outstanding physical tools, has stolen 34 bases in 43 attempts in 151 career games, unusual speed/power combination for a shortstop. Significant flaw is very impatient approach, posted a terrible 9/82 BB/K ratio in 345 at-bats last year. Defense is also very erratic and led Carolina League in errors. All-Star upside is clear but questions about long-term defensive home and over-aggressive offensive approach argue against over-hype at this time.
3) Tyler Danish, RHP, Grade B/Borderline B-: Age 20, second round pick in 2013, posted 2.08 ERA with 103/33 K/BB in 130 innings between Low-A and High-A, 2.24 GO/AO. Outstanding pitchability with heavy sinker and slider, low arm angle, rapidly-improving change-up. Doesn’t have the physical upside of Francellis Montas but is more polished, more likely to remain a starter.
4) Francellis Montas, RHP, Grade B-/Borderline B: Age 21, posted 1.60 ERA with 56/14 K/BB in 62 innings in High-A, season shortened by knee injuries. Mid/upper-90s heat, slider and change-up are inconsistent but promising, some scouts project him as more of a reliever due to command issues. Higher ceiling than Danish but higher risk too.
5) Spencer Adams, RHP, Grade B-/Borderline B. Age 18, second round pick in 2014 from Georgia high school and could be a steal, posted 3.67 ERA with 59/4 K/BB in 42 innings in rookie ball. Can hit 95, threw strikes easily in rookie ball, change-up needs work but should be able to develop it. Like Danish he could advance rapidly for a high school guy.
6) Micah Johnson, 2B, Grade B-: Age 24, hit .329/.414/.466 in 146 at-bats in Double-A, .275/.314/.370 in 273 at-bats in Triple-A, 22 steals total. Hamstring issues cost him some speed last year but when healthy he’s an 80 runner. Defense needs more polish, often needs adjustment time when reaching a new level.
7) Courtney Hawkins, OF, Grade C+: Age 21, hit .249/.331/.450 with 19 homers, 53 walks, 143 strikeouts in 440 at-bats in High-A. Much better than 2013 but whiff rate remains elevated, defense is rough, Double-A will be a stern test for his questionable pitch recognition skills.
8) Carlos Sanchez, INF, Grade C+: Age 22, hit .293/.341/.412 in Triple-A, .250/.269/.300 in the majors. Slick fielder, line drive hitter with little power, actually younger than Johnson but less likely to have a fantasy impact or end up with a long-term starting role.
9) Trey Micalczewski, 3B, Grade C+: Age 19, hit .273/.348/.433 with 10 homers, 45 walks, 140 strikeouts in 432 at-bats at Kannapolis, then .194/.291/.222 in 72 at-bats for Winston-Salem. Switch-hitter with raw power that is still often untapped, but young for his levels last year, needs polish with the glove as well.
10) Jacob May, OF, Grade C+: Age 22, hit .258/.326/.395 in High-A with 37 steals. Very fast, tools to be switch-hitting leadoff threat, athleticism is excellent but still developing feel for the game, especially on defense. Fourth outfielder?
11) Nolan Sanburn, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, acquired from Athletics for Adam Dunn, posted 3.28 ERA with 73/25 K/BB in 71 innings in High-A. On the statistical surface a non-descript reliever but there is more here than that: he has four quality pitches (low/mid-90s fastball, very good curve, solid slider and change-up) and usually throws them for strikes, arsenal diverse enough to start if not for history of shoulder soreness.
12) Kevan Smith, C, Grade C+: Age 26, older prospect but has college football background and needed development time, hit .290/.376/.437 in Double-A and .296/.374/.471 in his entire minor league career. Defense has improved to adequacy, doesn’t strike out much, has some pop.
13) Trayce Thompson, OF, Grade C+: Age 23, marvelous athlete still trying to figure out baseball, hit .237/.324/.419 with 16 homers, 20 steals, 65 walks, 151 strikeouts in 518 at-bats in Double-A. All the tools are here but execution remains the issue. Drew Stubbs type?
14) Jace Fry, LHP, Grade C+: Age 21, third round pick out of Oregon State in 2014, posted 2.79 ERA with 10/3 K/BB in 10 innings in Pioneer League. Throws four pitches for strikes, can start or relieve, could move quickly if used in pen or develop into a number four starter if they want to take a bit more time.
15) Andre Wheeler, LHP, Grade C+: Age 23, 15th round pick out of Texas Tech in 2013, strong season in Low-A with 2.84 ERA, 111/32 K/BB in 98 innings, 85 hits, particularly strong late in the season. Played outfield in college so gets slack with his age, fastball up to 94 helps too, good slider. Nice sleeper prospect.
The list is very murky past this point, with the Grade C prospects mostly interchangable with the players in the "others" section. I wrote these guys up because four of them are close to the majors and the fifth (Adolfo) was a major international signee.
16) Chris Beck, RHP, Grade C: Age 24, second round pick in 2012 out of Georgia Southern, posted 3.54 ERA with 85/44 K/BB in 150 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Throws strikes, eats innings, but low strikeout rate indicates lack of dominance potential. Chance as a back-end starter.
17) Matt Davidson, 3B, Grade C: Age 23, was supposed to replace Conor Gillaspie but that didn’t work out, Gillaspie getting off to a hot start, with Davidson cold and staying that way, hit just .199/.283/.362 in Triple-A albeit with 20 homers. Looks like park effects in Arizona system were masking genuine trouble with his approach. Too young to give up on and has improved with the glove.
18) Tyler Saladino, INF, Grade C: Age 25, hit .310/.367/.483 with nine homers in 82 games in Triple-A. Erratic hitter, hit poorly in ’12 and ’13 then exploded in ’14 although limited by injury. Versatile with glove, not bad at shortstop or third and very good at second base, even saw time in the outfield and first base. Could be fine utility player who sometimes hits well.
19) Micker Adolfo, OF, Grade C: Age 18, signed for $1,600,000 in 2013, debut in Arizona Rookie League was very poor, hit .218/.279/.380 with 85 strikeouts in 179 at-bats. Toosly as you would expect, big power potential and strong throwing arm but very raw as a hitter. On pure tools alone would rank much higher, but his debut exposed very serious contact issues. He has time to fix it, but expectations need to be cautious
20) Andy Wilkins, 1B, Grade C: Age 26, minor league slugger type, hit .293/.338/.558 with 30 homers, 34 walks, 91 strikeouts in 491 at-bats in Triple-A but struck out 22 times in 43 major league at-bats, hitting .140. Nothing left to prove in the minors and power is real, but so are the contact issues.
OTHERS: Eddy Alvarez, INF; Keon Barnum, 1B; Mark Blackmar, RHP; Brandon Brennan, RHP; James Dykstra, RHP; Adam Engel, OF; Onelki Garcia, LHP; Jordan Guerrero, LHP; Kyle Hansen, RHP; Adam Lopez, RHP; Andrew Mitchell, RHP; Jared Mitchell, OF; Jefferson Olacio, LHP; Jake Peter, INF; Mike Recchia, RHP; Cleuluis Rondon, SS; David Trexler, RHP; Michael Ynoa, RHP
This currently seems like a below-average aggregation of minor league talent, but the Sox system is not completely empty.
On the pitching side, the potential ace here is Carlos Rodon, who might actually end up being a steal with the third-overall pick in the 2014 draft considering what happened two spots ahead of him. He looked better in pro ball than he did during his last college season and it is not out of the realm of possibility for him to spend much (all?) of 2015 in the majors, perhaps repeating the Chris Sale pattern.
The pitching thins out after Rondon but there are some intriguing arms available. Francellis Montas, Tyler Danish, and Spencer Adams could all become solid rotation starters although all are at least a year away. As usual the Sox have several bullpen candidates to examine over the next year or two, including trade acquisition Nolan Sanburn (who I like a lot) and ground ball getters Mark Blackmar and Brandon Brennan.
The Sox do a good job mining the scrapheap of talent released by other teams, Jose Quintana being a terrific example of bargain hunting. Independent ball refugee Mike Recchia can’t be worse than Scott Carroll or Andre Rienzo were. Michael Ynoa is an interesting property and perhaps the change in organizations will revive his chances. Onelki Garcia was an astute waiver claim from the Dodgers system. Andre Wheeler is a live-armed lefty who bears close watching.
On the hitting side the key player is Tim Anderson, the 2013 first round pick with truly exciting tools on both offense and defense. He also has some holes in his game that need to be closed. How fast will the White Sox push him? Rushing matters didn’t work with Courtney Hawkins. Potential power hitters with high strikeout rates and questionable contact abilities are a persistent theme in the system. There is also the usual set of toolsy outfielders with serious bat questions: Thompson, speedy May, Adam Engel.
The human interest story to watch is Eddy Alvarez, an Olympic skater and former junior college player who decided to try baseball again at age 25. He hit .346/.433/.500 in his debut, granted he was beating up on younger competition in the Arizona and South Atlantic Leagues. We need to see him at higher levels but kudos to the White Sox for giving a guy with an unusual background a legitimate chance. He sure didn’t look rusty in his debut.
Overall, the system is rather thin but it is not boring. If you enjoy watching players with raw tools trying to refine them and appreciate players with unusual backgrounds, there are fun things to observe here.