This was difficult. Painfully difficult. As has been noted by numerous commentators, the White Sox farm system is the worst in baseball. And it's not a close question. Colin argued this morning that the White Sox can't compete in 2012 without some significant luck. Another pillar to his argument could be that the they don't have any near-ready prospects that project to be of the impact variety. The farm system pretty much graduated anyone who could help - four of my top five prospects from last year's list are included in Colin's analysis, as well as Alejandra De Aza (who was not eligible for the list). Only Addison Reed is ready to play a prominent role in 2012. And that's as a reliever. It will be unlikely that the White Sox can absorb injury to a key contributor (or ineffectiveness), particularly on the position player side.
But the thinness of the system across all levels is the reason this list was difficult to write (and may be a further argument for trading away major leaguers in a rebuild). After Nestor Molina, it really becomes a toss-up. I had to whittle down from more than 20 names on my initial list - and that's because it's hard to tell the difference between such marginal prospects. In the upper minors, there's some maybe bench players, a couple maybe middle relievers and a couple maybe starters. In the lower minors, even if you squint real hard, it's difficult to find much more than a few lottery tickets and a guy whose upside is an average player. So if you don't see your favorite Marginal White Sox Prospect on this list, it's probably because I couldn't fit all the guys that I grade essentially the same into this numerically finite list, who is near sure bet for an above average major league reliever, and the newly acquired
Before we dive into this morass, I'd like to briefly consider what the farm system has produced in the last few years. While consistently ranked near the bottom, the club can point to some recent successes. In 2012, we will likely see pre-arbitration White Sox products starting at three positions: outfield (Dayan Viciedo), second base (Gordon Beckham) and third base (Brent Morel). spent most of his career with the Marlins but one could arguably add him to that list. Likely to be in supporting roles are Tyler Flowers and Brent Lillibridge (like De Aza, the White Sox finished the product but didn't develop him). On the pitching side, Chris Sale is moving to the rotation. Reed will be in the bullpen.
This is different than in recent years (I will let you decide whether it's better), particularly on the position player side where it was not unusual for there to be just one starter. Now on to the list.
1. Addison Reed, RHP
2011 MiLB line: 78.1 IP, 43 H, 14 BB, 111 K. Kannapolis/Winston-Salem/Birmingham/Charlotte.
Reed blew through all four full-season affiliates and was a September call-up, where he gave a cameo of what propelled his rise: lots of strikeouts and very few walks. The 2010 3rd round pick has a very good mid-90s fastball and a fantastic low-80s slider. He'll mix in a changeup on occasion as a show-me pitch.
His fastball-slider combination is the now classic late inning reliever repertoire and that's where he'll eventually find his home. Reed is an almost sure bet to make the opening day roster and, now that Sergio Santos has been traded, the closer position is there to be taken. The soon to be 23 year old has experience as a closer from his San Diego State days and I'd expect him to be the anointed one by June.
His repertoire is good enough to project him as a potentially elite reliever. His one weakness is a tendency to leave some pitches up in the zone and, in the major leagues, those pitches tend to get hit a long way. I think he will be prone to the long ball, at least initially. However, by limiting the walks, he can limit the damage. For me, he's the clear top prospect in the system. ETA: already arrived.
2. Nestor Molina, RHP
2011 MiLB line: 130.1 IP, 114 H, 16 BB, 148 K. Dunedin (High A)/New Hampshire (AA),
It's hard to find someone with a better strikeout to walk ratio than Reed. But the White Sox managed to find him in Molina. After being converted to a pitcher in 2008, the Blue Jays gradually built up his innings as a reliever. In 2011, they moved him to the starting rotation and it appears he took to it.
Molina has a few variants of his fastball, which tend to be in the 90-94 MPH range. The best is his sinker and he uses his pinpoint command to play up the pitch. His best overall pitch is his splitter, which is routinely described as a wipeout pitch. His slider is still a work in progress but Kenny Williams described it as plus so the club obviously feels the soon to be 23 year old will continue to develop as a starter. He'll also mix in a changeup. His repertoire suggests a groundball pitcher who would benefit from a strong infield defense.
His fastball-splitter combination makes his reasonable floor projection a set-up reliever. If he continues to develop his slider, his reasonable ceiling projection is a mid-rotation starter. He'll start the year at Birmingham. I'd expect the plan would be to move him up to Charlotte mid-season and have him taste the majors as a late season call-up. ETA: late 2012.
3. Tyler Saladino, SS
2011 MiLB line: .270/.363/.501; .381 wOBA. Winston-Salem.
While Saladino has above average power for a middle infielder, his numbers at Winston-Salem were a surprise. The start to his season was delayed by a broken hand suffered in a big league spring training game and he showed the lingering effects of that for the first three weeks or so after he returned. After that, however, he brought all his stats way up.
I had him pegged last year as a guy who could stick at shortstop, though many prospect mavens thought he'd end up at second base. This season, he seems to have changed some minds (perhaps the old "very good offense means better defensive scouting report" rearing its head). The 22 year old probably won't be an above-average defender there but he won't be a liability, either.
Saladino also took advantage of the weak White Sox system to get himself on the AFL roster. He acquitted himself very well with a .286/.341/.351 line. For a guy without high minors experience, I liked that he made good contact and kept his strikeout rate about in line with his career average of 20%. Going forward, he's pretty much going to need to keep that strikeout rate where it is (or, better, lower it), keep his walk rate about where it is (11%) and keep hitting for better than average power for his position. If he does that, he can be an average major leaguer. He'll start 2012 at Birmingham. ETA: late 2013.
4. Hector Santiago, LHP
2011 MiLB line: 127.1 IP, 109 H, 53 BB, 117 K. Winston-Salem/Birmingham.
Long a personal favorite, Santiago managed to make himself an organization favorite, too, by adding a screwball to his repertoire during the offseason. And after spending his entire pro career as a reliever, the White Sox made him a starter. The addition of a legitimate second pitch - his 92-94 MPH fastball has always been a plus pitch - makes this draft-and-follow from the 2006 30th round very interesting indeed. While it is debatable whether he will adequately develop either his slider or changeup to be a starter - both are below average offerings - he has seized the top lefty mantle and should have a major league future, at least in the bullpen.
Due to a bit of a roster crunch after John Danks went on the DL in June, Santiago was the guy highest on the depth chart who was immediately available to pitch. So he got a surprise call-up to the majors. While he spent most of his three weeks or so sitting in the bullpen, he did leave a favorable impression. After Phil Humber gave up six runs to the and was driven from a game in the 4th inning, Santiago came on and pitched 4.1 scoreless innings, giving up just one hit and one walk. While he only struck out one batter, he did feature both his 94 MPH fastball and his 76 MPH screwball, inducing plenty of grounders with both.
Ideally, Santiago will start the season in Charlotte and see if he can add an average mid-80s slider to his repertoire (and maybe reduce his walk rate a bit, too). He appeared to tire late in the season - not a surprise considering he basically doubled his previous highest innings total - and it will be interesting to see if the White Sox give him the time to develop as a starter or go with him as a bullpen arm. Kenny Williams recently mentioned Santiago as a future big league starter. ETA: late 2012.
5. Jake Petricka, RHP
2011 MiLB line: 113.1 IP, 114 H, 39 BB, 99 K. Bristol (rehab)/Kannapolis/Winston-Salem.
Petricka's first month and a half at Kannapolis were excellent. As a 23 year old with big college experience, as well as a cup of coffee for Kanny in 2010, that was expected. And then he injured his back/lat. He was out for a month and, after a brief rehab stint, he found himself promoted to Winston-Salem. Where he wasn't quite so impressive. He saw his K% drop from 28.4% for the Intimidators to 15.4% from the Dash. His BB% also ticked upwards slightly to 8.6%. This was probably the better competition combined with the lingering effects of the injury.
In part due to the time he missed with injury, and in part due to his quality, Petricka pitched in the Arizona Fall League. As he was without high minors experience, this was going to be a big step up in class. Pitching out of the bullpen, his line was 16.1 IP, 16 H, 10 BB, 18 K. So he managed to hold his own but had trouble with control.
And that's been the knock on Petricka: he has trouble repeating his mechanics, resulting in poor control. That is one of the reasons most expect the 2010 second round pick to end up in the bullpen. The other reason is that he lacks a third pitch. His plus fastball is low to mid 90s, his curveball is average-ish and his changeup is below average.
The White Sox are intent on keeping him as a starter, as well they should. Petricka arguably has the best upside (and likelihood of reaching it) of any pitcher not named Nestor. Like Santiago, Williams recently mentioned him as a projected major league starter saying "Petricka is going to be a good one." So the organization ostensibly highly rates him. I'd expect to see him start the season at Birmingham, though some more time at Winston-Salem would probably do him some good. 2012 will probably be the make-or-break season for whether he improves enough to stay on a starter's track. ETA: mid 2013.
6. Eduardo Escobar, SS
2011 MiLB line: .266/.303/.354; .294 wOBA. Charlotte.
That offensive line doesn't impress. I thought that Escobar should start the season back in Birmingham, where he spent just 49 games in 2010. Instead, the always aggressive White Sox pushed the switch-hitter to Charlotte. His already laughably low power plummeted back to where it was in 2009 at Kannapolis. His walk rate inched lower to 5% and his strikeout rate inched upward to 19.4%. It's safe to say that he was a bit over-matched - but for a player who was one of the youngest in the International League, that's not necessarily an insult,.
What gets him ranked this high is elite defense at a premium position. That pretty much gets him to the majors in a utility role. His instincts and range are superb but his arm is not plus and he'll occasionally get careless with his accuracy. His offense, just like I discussed last offseason, continues to be a work in progress. The power is always going to be Juan Pierre-esque, particularly since while he has good speed, it's not elite enough to steal bases regularly or stretch singles into doubles. I was encouraged that the soon to be 23 year old's offense didn't collapse at AAA. While there is discussion that Escobar may be in the mix for a bench role next season, I think that would be a big mistake. Hopefully, with the addition of Osvaldo Martinez, he'll get more time to consolidate at Charlotte.
He needs to make more contact. His strikeout rates have always been above 16% at his full season affiliate stops. To have any hope of being a starting shortstop in the majors, he needs to be able to maintain a rate close to that. The last time he repeated a level in 2009 at Kannapolis, he made marked improvements in his K rate. A repeat of that would hopefully result in more hits. ETA: mid 2012.
7. Trayce Thompson, CF
2011 MiLB line: .241/.329/.457; .351 wOBA. Kannapolis.
Thompson is the proverbial toolshed. I had hoped that, with a repeat at Kannapolis, the 2009 second rounder would have a breakout year. It didn't happen. His walk rate went down slightly from 10% to 9%, his strikeout rate pretty much held steady at 29% and his power (probably his best tool and skill) went from a .205 ISO to a .216. His batting average and on base percentage increases can pretty much be attributed to a slightly higher BABIP and getting hit by more pitches.
So we continue to wait. He'll still only be 21 years old next season and his basketball background means his baseball age is younger. Contact will determine whether he ever approaches his ceiling. He still has trouble recognizing breaking balls and that's why his strikeout rate is so high and his batting average is so low. He certainly can give a ride to anything with which he does make contact.
One positive from this season was that the scouting reports on his defense in centerfield were more favorable than in the past. Most had pegged him for a corner eventually but he reportedly has worked hard to improve, with tangible results. He'll begin the season at Winston-Salem. With more repetitions both at the plate and in the field, maybe this will be the breakout year. ETA: 2014.
8. Keenyn Walker, CF
2011 MiLB line: .257/.335/.320. Great Falls/Kannapolis.
The 2011 sandwich pick is also very much a work in progress. Unfortunately, in his age 20 season, he showed far less than Thompson. He signed quickly and had a promising start to his professional career at Great Falls: .333/.441/.483 and 11 for 16 in stolen bases. It appeared that he was too good for rookie ball so after 15 games the White Sox promoted him to Kannapolis. And it appears he wasn't good enough for Low A, as he put up a .228/.296/.259 line in 180 plate appearances.
As is often the case, the root problem was a lack of contact manifesting itself in a 35.6% strikeout rate. Considering how raw Walker is, this wasn't exactly a surprise. The .031 ISO, though, was. The fact that when he was making contact, it was really weak contact is a big disappointment.
But it was just his first professional season. The scouting report remains the same for the extremely raw switch hitter. Hits for better power from the right side. Hits for more contact from the left side. But has trouble making contact and that contact is often weak. His power projects as gap power. He's a plus plus runner, though he needs to learn the craft of base stealing. He has the tools to be a good defensive center fielder but needs to work on his routes. He's a guy who just needs to play more baseball and hopefully something clicks one day. He'll go back to Kannapolis where he's got a lot on his plate. ETA: 2014.
9. Brandon Short, OF
2011 MiLB line: .262/.318/.411; .330 wOBA. Birmingham.
I interrupt the parade of raw, toolsy outfielders for an outfielder who has managed to turn his (not nearly as good) tools into skills. But he has a lot of concerns. Short really cooled off in the second half of the season, for the second straight year. He's a hacker (6% walk rate). He strikes out a bit too much (21.5% strikeout rate). He doesn't have particularly impressive speed (21 for 30 in stolen bases). He's just a right-handed hitter. He doesn't have a good arm. But the biggest concern with Short is that he seems like a classic tweener. Not good enough to play centerfield, but doesn't hit enough to hold down a corner. I think there's a lot of truth to that concern.
The 2008 28th round pick does have a few things going for him. At 22, he was age appropriate for AA. While his regular season numbers didn't show it, I think he has enough skill as a hitter to make it at least at AAA. His peripherals - walk rate, strikeout rate, ISO - have stayed pretty steady throughout his climb up the ladder, suggesting he adjusts well to better competition. If he can manage to play an adequate centerfield, he's got a chance to be a competent fourth outfielder. He'll start the year in Charlotte, with an eye towards a September call-up. ETA: late 2012.
10. Jared Mitchell, CF
2011 MiLB line: .222/.304/.377; .311 wOBA. Winston-Salem.
That's right, I'm still holding out hope for the 2009 first round pick. His season was terrible. It followed a horrific Arizona Fall League campaign in 2010. Which followed him missing the entire 2010 regular season. His strikeout rate was 34%. His left-handed swing was reportedly a mess. He was just 14 for 20 in stolen bases, perhaps an indication that his ankle injury did indeed result in a loss of speed. The only tools that were kinda sorta there were his batting eye (10% walk rate) and power (.155 ISO).
Last year I said he had the upside of an elite CF with good power, plus speed, plus plate discipline and plus defense. That's probably still mostly true, perhaps with the exceptions of plus speed and/or defense, but the likelihood of him attaining that has become more remote. He's a raw, toolsy player and, as previously mentioned , those guys need repetitions and the hope is that one day things just click. He'll be 23 next season. It's probably his make-or-break season. I think he has to go back to Winston-Salem and show that he can hit. ETA: late 2013.
The others, in no particular order: Ozzie Martinez, Erik Johnson, Jhan Marinez, Gregory Infante, Charlie Leesman, Andre Rienzo, Jordan Danks, Jeff Soptic, Jose Quintana, Scott Snodgress, Andy Wilkins, Mike Blanke.