Today I'll preview the names to follow from the White Sox Low A and High A affiliates. In tomorrow's Part Two, I'll look at the high minors. Games start Thursday.
Kannapolis Intimidators (Low A, South Atlantic League)
We'll start at the bottom of the full season affiliates. Kanny is where arguably the best White Sox pitching prospects will start their seasons. 2010 second round pick Jacob Petricka (follow him on Twitter) is a big right-hander who will be leading the Intimidators' rotation. He receives quite a bit of love from prospect watchers, even grabbing the last spot in Frankie Piliere's top 100 prospects, based on his mid-90s fastball and solid slider. Like most pitchers, it's the development of a third pitch - in his case, a changeup - which will determine whether he is a starter or reliever.
Joining Petricka in the rotation is 2010 third round pick Addison Reed (follow him, too). Reed is more polished than Petricka, with a more well-rounded three pitch arsenal. The reviews of Reed are also a bit more disparate, with some suggesting he lacks a plus pitch to survive as a starter. He's probably destined for a relief role long-term, where the added velocity on his fastball plays up that pitch.
Other notable pitchers are two guys who turned some heads last season at Bristol, RHP Matthew Heidenreich and LHP Spencer Arroyo (though the now 22 year old Arroyo was quite old for the level), and another guy, RHP Steven Upchurch, who has seen heads turn away as the promise of the 2007 second round pick continues to fade.
The crop of position players is thinner but headed by arguably the highest upside position player in the system, OF Trayce Thompson. The now 20 year old showed some offensive progress in his first tour with Kannapolis before a broken hand interrupted his 2010 season. He'll need to continue to cut his strikeouts (down to 33% last year), which should result in more and better contact.
A player to watch: C Mike Blanke (follow him) will look to build upon an impressive pro debut for Great Falls. While one should always be skeptical of experienced collegiates lighting up the Rookie Leagues, Blanke garnered favorable reviews from scouts. As with many catchers, the question was whether his defense was good enough to keep him at the position. He earned rave reviews with much better than expected skills behind the plate. His offense, which was considered his stronger attribute, also was a bit better than expected, resulting in a .329/.400/.508 line. He's looking like quite the steal for a 14th rounder.
Winston-Salem Dash (High A, Carolina League)
The headliner here is 2009 first round pick OF Jared Mitchell. Mitchell missed all of last season after tearing a tendon in his left ankle during spring training. He did make it back in time for the Arizona Fall League, where his .163/.239/.200 won him the prize of worst hitter in the league. Considering his time off and his lack of experience above Low A, struggles weren't unexpected; however, his overall lack of baseball experience means 2011 is a crucial development year for the 22 year old. The White Sox made mechanical changes to simplify and quicken his swing, so watch the strikeout rate in particular.
The other position players of note are OF Jose Martinez and SS Tyler Saladino. The injury-plagued Martinez came back last season after more than two years out with knee problems and posted a .242/.295/.347 for the Dash in 61 games. Like Mitchell, he was facing better competition than he ever had and after a long layoff. And like Mitchell, he needs to show that his impressive tools are being converted to skills. Saladino, oft-cited as a sleeper in prospect circles, broke his hand during spring training so he won't be ready for opening day. The 2010 seventh round pick will look to build on an impressive offensive debut for Kanny - .309/.397/.442 - and if he can handle the defensive demands at shortstop (as some think he can), he'll be shooting up prospect lists.
The pitching is less impressive, with only RHP Andre Rienzo being one of two actual prospects. Rienzo, long a larry-favorite, has received some attention as a sleeper. He'll be 23 in July, which is normally a red flag for a pitcher just reaching High A; however, Rienzo is Brazilian and thus isn't quite as experienced as his colleagues. Still, his low to mid 90s fastball is his only plus pitch and he'll need to develop his curve (some call it more of a slurve) and changeup to avoid a move to the bullpen. His fastball alone - which was considered one of the best in the Sally last season - should keep him on track for the majors.
A player to watch: LHP Santos Rodriguez came over in the Vazquez trade. He's got electric stuff, particularly for a lefty, but he's shown little ability to stay healthy. The resulting lack of repetitions means he hasn't been able to adequately address his main problem: lack of control. As the Matt Thornton of the Seattle Mariners can tell you, a mid-90s fastball doesn't help if you can't locate it. He managed to pitch in a career high 40.1 innings last year and struck out 13 batters per 9 - but he coupled that by walking 7 batters per 9. He's repeating the level, so the lefty-starved White Sox organization will hope some combination of experience and good health will result in better control.
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.