Games start Thursday. Preview starts now.
Charlotte Knights (AAA, International League)
In last year's preview I wrote "The Castle has long been barren of legitimate star power." Last season provided a bit of star power with top prospects Daniel Hudson and Tyler Flowers making their appearances late in the season (not to mention a cameo by some guy named Beckham). Both players will return to start the 2010 campaign.
Behind Hudson, the starting pitching is uninspiring, with RHP Carlos Torres biding his time as the 7th starter/reliever depth, RHP Jeff Marquez doing whatever Jeff Marquez does and RHP Lucas Harrell praying he doesn't hurt himself. The bullpen contains similarly uninspiring prospects like RHP Clevelan Santeliz, who needs to work on his control, along with AAAA depth like LHP Erick Threets and RHP Greg Aquino. It's good that the White Sox pitching looks solid because, other than Hudson, it's tough to see anyone who is ready to step into a major league role right now.
The other position players are a bit more interesting. 1B Dayan Viciedo, for some reason, is being pushed to AAA after a decidedly mediocre AA campaign. I thought he looked chubby and unathletic in spring training. That would be fine if he mashed. But he hasn't so far. He's going to need to start producing if he wants to justify his price tag. The breaking ball has been his downfall and he's going to see more of those in AAA. Jordan Danks will be manning centerfield. Buddy Bell thinks he's the best outfielder in the minors, something with which statistics don't quite agree. Like Viciedo, his time in Birmingham wasn't awe-inspiring but he at least had the excuse of hand and wrist injuries and can point to a good Arizona Fall League campaign. OF Alejandro de Aza and INF Brent Lillibridge are there as position player depth.
A Prospect to Watch: I've long been hyping INF C.J. Retherford. Not because I thought he was going to be a superstar - or even necessarily a starter - but because he's the type of player the White Sox simply have not developed and that has caused them to do things like overpay for mediocre fringe starters (Mark Teahen) and bench players (Pablo Ozuna). He's being projected as a "super-utility" player who can play multiple positions - even being tested at catcher during instructional league - and hit well enough to merit 100 games a year. The bat has thus far lived up to that billing. What's missing for me is the defense. He can't play shortstop. And he doesn't play second (or third) very well. Watch for reports on his defense.
Birmingham Barons (AA, Southern League)
Last season, the Barons were stacked. This season, there's quite a bit less about which to be excited. The pitching is unimpressive. RHP Jhonny Nunez is back in Birmingham to work with pitching coach J.R. Perdew, with whom he had success last season in developing his secondary pitches, and will be starting. Returning to the Barons rotation is sinkerballer RHP Charlie Shirek. RHP Kyle McCulloch returns for a third season in his role as first round bust, now appearing from the bullpen. RHP Santo Luis, a 26 year old who hasn't pitched above A ball, will continue to baffle us with why he is on the 40 man roster. The Barons are the poster child for the depressing lack of pitching depth in the organization.
3B Brent Morel leads the list of position players. He's impressed at every stop so far and I don't expect any issues in AA. His glove is superb and the dimensions of Regions Park won't affect a guy who isn't known for his home run stroke. UTIL John Shelby returns to the Barons and time is running out for the 24 year old to meet the super-utility promise with which he was once tagged. He improved his walk rate last season but the power disappeared.
A Prospect to Watch: 1B/OF Christian Marrero will need to keep hitting. While the White Sox continue to use him in the outfield corners, some think he can't hold down those positions defensively and he's only a first baseman. True or not - his arm is considered a plus tool - at any of those positions, he's going to need to match or better his .301/.340/.520 line from last season. Being left-handed certainly helps his prospect status.
Winston-Salem Dash (High A, Carolina League)
The Dash open their new downtown ballpark and it will be a proving ground for a group of pitchers who put up impressive numbers at Kannapolis. The rotation will include LHP Charlie Leesman, who Assistant GM Rick Hahn likes. RHP Stephen Sauer is a groundball machine. RHP Nevin Griffith, another injury bitten pitcher, will hope to fulfill the potential the White Sox saw in him when they made him a second round pick in 2007. Hard-throwing RHP Nathan Jones is reportedly being moved back to the rotation to work on his secondary offerings after spending last season in the bullpen. LHP Santos Rodriguez, another power pitcher, will likely be closing at some point.
The injury to 2009 first round pick CFJared MItchell leaves the club without a legitimate position prospect. The other 2009 first round pick, Josh Phegley, will be the catcher. I still don't buy him staying at the position and his bat doesn't play at first. SS Eduardo Escobar is constantly hyped. He's got a great glove but, in two years at low A, didn't post an OBP over .300. 3B Jon Gilmore is a similarly unimpressive offensive player getting a courtesy promotion after a couple seasons in the Sally. The difference from Escobar is that Gilmore is a butcher at third base.
A Prospect to Watch: RHP Dan Remenowsky will be looking to repeat his magic at Winston-Salem. Last season, he struck out 109 in 63.1 IP while walking only 16. The undrafted free agent does not have overwhelming stuff - the righty's fastball doesn't crack 90 MPH - and he's 24 this week so he's going to have to keep producing.
Kannapolis Intimidators (Low A, South Atlantic League)
Kanny once again hosts a majority of the picks from the early rounds of last year's draft. RHP Ryan Buch, RHP Justin Collop and RHP J.R. Ballinger will be leading the pitching staff and all will likely see time in the rotation at some point. RHP Kyle Bellamy, who is seen as a potentially fast-rising reliever and saw time in the Arizona Fall League, will showcase his sidearm delivery.
The position players are more interesting. SS Juan Silverio, of indeterminate age (listed at 19), spent last season with the DSL White Sox because he could not get a visa to return to the US. Overly hyped when he signed in 2007, his first taste of full season action should finally settle his prospect status. RF Brady Shoemaker, the college draft pick who tore up rookie ball, will seek to do the same in A ball so as to get himself to a more age appropriate league. LF Nick Ciolli will be manning the other corner spot; development of some power will be essential.
A Prospect to Watch: larry favorite Miguel Gonzalez will do the catching. The 19 year old Venezuelan ripped up the Appalachian League to the tune of .311/.385/.503 last year at Bristol - rather eye-popping numbers for a young catcher. Reports are that, while he's understandably raw behind the plate, he's likely to stick there.
The White Sox Minor League Update fanpost will be on the right rail all season long and provides daily updates of minor league games as well as news. The weekly post will appear on the weekends and summarizes the week that was in the White Sox minor leagues. Follow me on Twitter if you want even more coverage: http://twitter.com/SouthSidelarry.