This Week In White Sox Minor League Baseball

This week:

The White Sox first drafted Jordan Danks out of Texas high school in the 19th round of the 2005 draft.  His talent/projection was of a player much better than that draft position; however, he had made it clear he was attending the University of Texas.  The club next drafted him in the 7th round of the 2008 draft.  Danks' collegiate career had been a disappointment on certain levels, particularly since the lefty hitter never developed the power scouts expected of him.  He had fallen to the second day of the draft because teams thought (and not without some justification) that Danks intended to return to Texas for his senior year.  The White Sox, perhaps taking advantage of some inside information, drafted him and signed him to an overslot bonus of $525,000.

I was a big fan of the pick.  In the 2008 mock draft over at Sickels' site, I took Danks in the 3rd round - which is about where his talent and potential dictated.  Because he was an overslot selection, he didn't officially sign until the mid-August deadline.  The organization sent him to Kannapolis, where he raked in 10 games: .325/.400/.625.  However, his major flaw also immediately became apparent with a 31% strikeout rate.  After an injury to Stefan Gartrell, Danks was sent to the Arizona Fall League as a replacement where, despite facing more advanced competition, he impressed with a .302/.413/.415 line.

Starting 2009 with Winston-Salem, his star continued to rise with a .322/.409/.525 battering of Carolina League pitching.  Danks was beginning to look like a steal, particularly as it appeared that he finally was developing the power scouts long thought he would.  After only 30 games, he found himself in Birmingham.  And, as is often the case with prospects, that's where the wheels began to fall off.

He started off very well.  While daily splits are not possible to obtain, on June 13, 2009, roughly a month after his promotion to AA, I wrote that his line was .314/.383/.449.  But the next week he was on the DL with wrist problems.  And his offense plummeted from there, ending the season at a .243/.337/.356.  Obviously noticeable was the collapse in the power numbers, which could have been attributed to his wrist issues.  And the strikeout rate remained high at 22%.

In the offseason, he found himself back in the Arizona Fall League, where he again put up good numbers: .343/.454/.505.  This put the hype machine back in full force, with some even suggesting he could be on the South Side early on in 2010.  This was pretty ridiculous, considering his continued struggle with strikeouts and poor showing in AA.  However, despite a weak spring training, the White Sox saw fit to send Danks to Charlotte to open the 2010 season - an aggressive assignment with which I disagreed.

And the season was a disaster for him.  His strikeout rate spiked to a totally unacceptable 30% and AAA showed that the power he flashed in 2009 had merely been a mirage.  His .245/.312/.373 line was well below average in the International League and caused him to free fall down the prospect lists in the offseason.  Sickels put him at #17, Baseball America slotted him at #18 and Kevin Goldstein had him at #20.  In most other organizations, he wouldn't have even been mentioned.

I was more charitable, dropping him only to #9 on my list.  And the reasoning was simple: plus defense at a premium position is one of the skills that can carry a player to the major leagues almost on its own.  I also allowed for the possibility that the aggressive placement at AAA was too much for him and a second go with Charlotte would result in less strikeouts and further development of his tools.  I essentially still thought there was enough of a chance for him to develop into a utility outfielder.

And it appears that my (limited) confidence in him was well-placed.  His offense is much improved this year: .258/.341/.452.  The power is improved, though still limited.  The walk rate has ticked up to 11%.  Most importantly, his strikeout rate is down to 25%.  He still has his most important skill - defense - and he has also been good on the basepaths at 15 for 18.  As those who dare to debate me about bench players know, that's getting pretty close to a prototypical fourth outfielder: hits left-handed, plays plus defense at multiple positions and is good on the basepaths.

Danks will almost certainly be a September call-up.  And, even with what is becoming a crowded White Sox outfield, he has a pretty good shot of making the club next season.  But he still has work to do.  A 22-23% strikeout rate in AAA generally translates to a 27% strikeout rate in the majors.  That's pretty much the outside limit for success, particularly when a player does not have much power.  Danks' AAA rate translates much higher than that and further improvement is essential.  But at least that half a million investment is looking like it may still payoff.

  • Zach Stewart will be getting a surprise start tonight against the Twins.  The righty made one appearance for Charlotte: 6.1 IP, 10 H, 0 BB, 5 K.  At least he threw strikes.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Is it back to a six man rotation, is it to the bullpen for Stewart after this start, or is it perhaps back to Charlotte for Stewart and an opening for a true bullpen arm, such as the man I'll talk about next.
  • Addison Reed over four levels: 62.2 IP, 36 H, 11 BB, 94 K.  The righty's stuff is excellent and should be on display for the White Sox rather soon.
  • Dayan Viciedo returned on Tuesday from his thumb problem.  The hits haven't been there in the four games back but he has shown some plate discipline.  It looks like a September call up for him - and an avoidance of Super Two status.

Programming note: This column will be off next week.

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