Armed with a re-signed Paul Konerko and a newly-signed Adam Dunn, the outlook seemed bright for the White Sox, but Dunn cratered and few others decided to hit, leaving the White Sox in third place in a bad division. Along the way, they did introduce a few top prospects to the big leagues, and they, oddly enough, did fairly well. Chris Sale was awesome as a late-inning option, and it appears as though the White Sox will put him in the rotation, though I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good idea. Dayan Viciedo came up and showed an improved approach. And while Tyler Flowers and Brent Morel didn’t have good debuts, they have some potential left, and they could, at least, be role players.
But the White Sox have plenty of future role players in their system. Even the very top prospects in the system look to be role players in the future, though they do have the ability to be better. Most of the toolsy players they’ve drafted - Jordan Danks, Jared Mitchell, Jacob Petricka, Jeff Soptic, etc. - look more like guys who will fill needs along the fringes of a major-league roster. Addison Reed, probably the most well-known White Sox prospect, looks the part of a future closer, but again, a closer is still closer to the fringe of a roster than the core.
This may well be the worst farm system in the majors, and it is certainly the worst we’ve looked at so far. The prospects at the top are still a decent ways away, and considering the jump to AA is probably the hardest in the minors, they still have a lot to prove. Perhaps the worst part of that is there’s still a lot of risk without a similar amount of potential reward. They all have glaring weaknesses that could be long-term issues and keep them into solid regular territory. So while they do have some “Good” prospects, they aren’t the high-probability kind. There’s no significant help coming from here, so if the White Sox expect to win, they’ll need to hope that what they have gets better.
Nestor Molina SP
Talking about Molina might cause a bit of controversy among scouts. Some see the low-90s fastball along with a solid split and change, and they think big things. Others see a lack of a plus pitch and a pitcher who will get hit in the upper levels, despite good control. Here are some things not up for debate - he throws tons of strikes and he’s produced. Despite the excellent control (1.1 BB/9 over 130 innings last season), his delivery requires some effort, and he doesn’t seem to have much projection left. That being said, it’s hard to argue with his results, which have been outstanding.
Tyler Saladino SS
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Saladino can hit and with some pop, which is surprising for a shortstop of his size. While he can have some contact issues, he’s a solid hitter with significant secondary skills that will keep him as an above-average bat for his position, even if his average starts to drop. The next question is what position he’ll play in the majors. Saladino has above-average speed and a strong arm, but with Alexei Ramirez there, Saladino might have to move to second. Even if he does, however, his bat looks to provide enough value to make him a decent regular, but if he stays at short, he could be a bit better than that.
Erik Johnson SP
Johnson was the second pick in the most recent draft by the White Sox, but he might be the best one. A savvy right-hander, Johnson starts hitters off with a low-90s fastball and an above-average slider, and he adds a curveball and change-up that are both inconsistent. Johnson has the frame to hold up as a starter, and while he still needs to work on his control and command, he has plenty of time. The slider, if he makes it a consistently plus pitch, along with better secondary pitches could make him the surprise of the system.
Addison Reed RP
Projection: Relief Ace
Done as a starter, Reed has seen his value take a hit, but he still looks like a guy who will be feared in the back of the bullpen. Reed’s fastball has ticked up into the upper-90s out of the pen, and he adds a plus slider that will give him a strike out pitch. What could really make Reed excellent is his above-average control, and while he walks about 2 per 9, he also strikes out about 12 or 13 in the same time span. That’s dominant, but it’s hard to be really valuable only throwing 70 innings a year.
Keenyn Walker CF
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Drafted in 3 consecutive drafts, Walker has finally found a home in the White Sox organization. Walker is an excellent athlete that has above-average speed and enough of an arm to remain in center and be a valuable outfielder. His offense, however, leaves quite a bit to be desired as he strikes out entirely too much and has little to no power. His defense makes him a decent bench candidate, but if he doesn’t resolve those hitting issues, he may not even make it to the majors.
Eduardo Escobar SS
Age/Level: 22/AAA or MLB
Projection: 1-3 WAR
While he’s a solid shortstop, Escobar has never really offered much offensive potential, but because of the defense at shortstop, he’s a likely big-leaguer. Defensively, Escobar will get to most balls hit near him, but he doesn’t have a particularly strong or accurate arm. Offensively, he doesn’t make a ton of contact, and he doesn’t have the secondary skills to make up for it. Escobar could be a strong bench guy, but I wouldn’t count on much if pressed into regular duty.
Jordan Danks CF
Age/Level: 25/AAA or MLB
Projection: 1-3 WAR
With above-average to plus speed and a decent arm, Danks profiles as a fourth outfielder, though he did improve at the plate in his repeat season in AAA. Danks was supposed to be a power hitter when he was drafted, but he’s never lived up to that potential. He can draw some walks, though, but he strikes out an awful lot as well. As long as he can play defense in center field and not completely embarrass himself at the plate, someone’s bench has his name on it.
Trayce Thompson OF
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Thompson’s main asset is his plus power. Launching 60 extra-base hits in his repeat trip to Low-A Kannapolis, Thompson showed his power and made some improvements to his game, but his 170 strikeouts indicates his significant weakness - making contact (170 Ks in 137 games). Fortunately, he can take some walks to off-set the low batting average, but due to the fact that he may need to move to a corner, his bat will be crucial to his move through the system. Thompson remains in center and in good standing for now, but if he moves or continues to have such contact problems, his stock will dip.
Jared Mitchell CF
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Mitchell was always a tools guy that needed significant development, so when he missed all of 2010, it wasn’t a good sign. Moved on to High-A, Mitchell had a rough go of things, but it was his first full season. At the plate, he has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, but he did show an ability to draw walks and had more power than expected. Patrolling center field, he has above-average speed but a lousy arm, and he might have to eventually move. Mitchell will get one more season to rescue his prospect status, but if he doesn’t improve, he’s likely one of those lottery ticket types that you just tear up.
Jacob Petricka SP
Projection: 4/5, Middle Reliever
Petricka can throw a mid-90s fastball that has reportedly hit triple digits, and with his frame, he should fill out and hold that velocity. The thing is that the fastball is basically his only pitch, and he doesn’t have a great grasp of where it’s headed. His delivery isn’t particularly good, either, as he doesn’t get great extension or really finish his delivery. Petricka has a lot of work left to do to remain a starter, but he’ll likely head to the bullpen soon.
Jeff Soptic SP/RP
Projection: Middle Reliever
Basically the same as Petricka, Soptic throws a mid-90s fastball that has been clocked at or near 100, but he has no other usable pitch. Teams, however, will take chances getting a power arm like that. I wouldn’t expect the White Sox to use him as a starter. They’ll probably throw him in the bullpen, let him light up some radar guns, and try to work on that slider, which flashes above-average. If he doesn’t get a second pitch, though, it may not matter how hard he throws the ball.
Big Question - Any Plans to Invest?
Kenny Williams is one of the more trigger-happy GMs in the game, and he’s never afraid to mix up his roster. That being said, that often comes at the expense of the farm system in trades and when he loses picks for signing free-agents, and when he doesn’t really go big in the draft or in the international fray, the White Sox farm system isn’t likely to improve much. The question becomes whether or not they need a strong system in order to field a strong major-league team. The answer is no, but it becomes increasingly difficult to have prolonged success without growing your own star talent.
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