Today I'll preview the prospects 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 for Kannapolis and Friday for Winston-Salem.
Kannapolis Intimidators (Low-A, South Atlantic League)
As always, we'll start at the bottom of the full season affiliates. The most notable position player is the organization's top 2011 draft pick, OF Keenyn Walker. Walker is returning to Kannapolis after spending the latter part of last season there. It wasn't a particularly good showing: .228/.296/.259 line in 180 plate appearances. The switch hitter's primary problem was lack of contact. His first task will be to considerably reduce last year's 35.6% strikeout rate. After he's started to make more contact, he'll then need to start making hard contact and dramatically improve last year's .031 ISO.
C Kevan Smith will be looking to replicate his short season success from last year. And, hopefully, Smith will do better than 2010's catching phenom, Michael Blanke, who followed up his .329/.400/.508 Great Falls line with a .246/.306/.371 line across both A ball clubs. If it's any solace, Smith's numbers from Great Falls and Bristol were better than Blanke's: .355/.448/.626.
LHP Scott Snodgress will lead Kannapolis' starting rotation. Snodgress, a 2011 5th round pick out of Stanford, pitched well for Great Falls last season, mostly as a starter: 59.2 IP, 61 H, 17 BB, 68 K. He had terrible control in college but the White Sox seem to have ironed that out. He has a low 90s fastball, a 12-6 curveball and a changeup. At 6-5, 210 lbs he's a big guy. His changeup is his least developed pitch and, as a lefty, his progress will depend upon improving that pitch.
LHP Blair Walters was the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year after an impressive 74 IP, 72 H, 17 BB, 72 K pro debut. The 2011 11th round pick threw out of the bullpen for Hawaii but transitioned well to starting. He's got a 90 MPH sinker, a good slutter, a meh changeup and a meh curveball. He dominated lefties in both college and for Great Falls and his long-term home is probably in relief.
The most surprising assignment anywhere in the organization is LHP Jefferson Olacio to Low-A. The combination of having just turned 18, having no experience stateside and having no idea where the ball is going usually results in a few months in extended spring training and then on to the Appalachian League. But, in the White Sox organization, where they take aggressive assignments beyond the logical extreme, it means welcome to the Sally. Olacio signed with the White Sox for $125K out of the Dominican in 2010 and spent 2011 chucking the ball in the general direction of home plate for their Dominican Summer League affiliate, where he struck out 42 in 38 innings but also walked 38. He's big - 6-7, 230 lbs - and he's got an equally big fastball. He's working on developing a changeup and curveball. Unless he took a massive step forward in spring training, this could be a train wreck.
Winston-Salem Dash (High-A, Carolina League)
The best prospect here is OF Trayce Thompson, who continues to receive a long look with the major leaguers in spring training. Thompson's approach was much improved over this time last year but he still has large holes in his swing that even High A pitchers will be able to exploit. He's tall and athletic and has improved defensively to the point where he can be considered an asset in CF. However, the 21 year old is likely to fill out his frame and that may result in a move to a corner. The stadium in Winston-Salem is a power hitter's dream so Thompson may put up some gaudy counting stats. Don't be fooled because the contact rate is what's important for him.
2B/SS Carlos Sanchez had been following the path through the system of Venezuelan compatriot Eduardo Escobar. Like Escobar, he spent his age 17 and 18 seasons at White Sox overseas Rookie League affiliates. He also began his age 19 season stateside in Rookie League before quickly moving up to Kannapolis. Sanchez performed better offensively than Escobar did for the Intimidators and, unlike Escobar, won't be spending another year there. The switch-hitter was one of the youngest players in the Sally League and he'll again be one of the youngest in the Carolina League, as he doesn't turn 20 until June 29. He's considered a very good defender, with his long-term home at 2B. His .288/.341/.345 tells you what you need to know about his offensive profile.
RHP Jake Petricka is about the only instance of restraint by the White Sox in assignments. Petricka had some trouble at Winston-Salem after being promoted immediately following his return from a back injury. He stopped striking out hitters and that will always translate to a problem for him. The White Sox are intent on developing him as a starter for as long as possible, which will hopefully result in him improving his inconsistent slider and his below average changeup. His plus mid 90s two seam fastball will take him to the major leagues but he'll end up a reliever if he can't improve his mechanics.
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.