This was certainly a far more enjoyable process than in previous years, where I'd have to figure out which future AAA washout to put into the back of the list. Even without Jose Abreu (who I consider ineligible for a prospect list), there's a heck of a lot more depth than in the past and also more high-end talent.
Graduated from last year's list was #5 Andre Rienzo, who held his own in 56 MLB innings. Unranked Josh Phegley also debuted and, as expected, he was pretty bad. #6 Erik Johnson got a late season audition and #8 Simon Castro also got a cup of coffee, though he is no longer with the White Sox.
Given that 2013 was a rebuilding year, GM Rick Hahn also acquired a bunch of prospects, some of whom retain eligibility, while Avisail Garcia and Leury Garcia have not. A number of other minor leaguers also made their big league debuts (all of whom retain eligibility). I would expect more debuts from this year's list than last year's, in addition to more acquisitions from outside the organization. Having the #3 overall pick and more money to spend on the draft and internationally will also bolster the minor league talent during 2014. And the international amateur free agents signed since Marco Paddy arrived are also likely to begin moving up the rankings.
Overall, this is the best White Sox system in recent memory. While that's not saying much given the past, and it probably only garners a low 20s ranking in MLB, the trend that began last year continues to be extremely positive and a top half farm system for 2015 is a reasonable expectation.
Note that statistics include playoffs because it's really silly to pretend those don't exist.
1. Tim Anderson
2013 MiLB line: .248/.348/.363 in 301 plate appearances. 24 for 28 in stolen bases .7.6% BB%, 25.9% K%. Kannapolis. Last year's ranking: not in organization.
The 17th overall pick in last year's draft out of junior college, Anderson impressed in his pro debut. He's a plus plus runner, which translates both on the basepaths and in the field. While he's rough defensively at shortstop, he improved as the season went on. As a player without a ton of experience and instruction, some simple adjustments in positioning and basically learning to play the position helped. His arm is solid but is enough to play at shortstop. His abilities would translate well to center field if he can't make it work on the infield.
Offensively, the righty has good bat speed and his frame and swing suggest the potential for plus power and plus hit tools. He's got a lot of improvement to make, though, before that becomes a reality. In a dream future, he's a five-tool, well-above average shortstop. ETA: 2016. Future role: Starting shortstop.
2. Erik Johnson
2013 MLB line: 27.2 IP, 32 H, 18 K, 11 BB. MiLB line: 142 IP, 100 H, 131 K, 40 BB. Birmingham, Charlotte. Last year's ranking: #6.
Johnson has an overall average repertoire. The right-hander's four-seam fastball is low-to-mid 90s, while his two-seamer sits right at 90. His slider is a potential plus pitch and a real weapon against righties. He lacks an above-average pitch against lefties, with his curve rather pedestrian and a changeup that could become plus but is only average now. He made some significant advances with his command in 2013 and that helped him reach the majors for five late-season starts.
The 24-year-old's body and delivery suggest durability, though he had some minor shoulder issues in 2012 and a groin strain in 2013. I wouldn't expect him to be as much of a strikeout pitcher in the majors as he was in the minors, settling more into the range of an average strikeout rate. The fact that hitters will be making more contact off of him is problematic in the Cell but it shouldn't be an obstacle to big league success if he maintains his strike-throwing ways. Barring injury, he's secured a spot in the opening day rotation. ETA: Already arrived. Future role: Average to slightly above starting pitcher.
3. Courtney Hawkins
2013 MiLB line:.178/.249/.384 in 425 plate appearances. 6.4% BB%, 37.6% K%. Winston-Salem. Last year's ranking: #1
After being the consensus #1 prospect last year, Hawkins has found himself a more controversial prospect this year. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus has him #3 (and his former colleague Zach Mortimer called him an organizational player), while John Manuel of Baseball America has him #7. I lean much more towards Parks. There is no spinning Hawkins' 2013 season as anything but a failure. However, that failure is almost entirely attributable to an overly aggressive assignment to High-A. A 19-year-old with pitch recognition issues does not belong there. Period.
With that predicate, what do we know now about Hawkins that we didn't know a year ago? Essentially nothing, other than that he's a year older and he had a shoulder injury. We knew he had big right-handed power potential and his 19 home runs and .206 ISO doesn't change that. We knew he had pitch recognition issues and his 37.6% strikeout rate doesn't change that. He didn't really do anything that we wouldn't have predicted as the likely outcome given his situation.
What he has lost is a year of development. I'm sure he learned some things in 2013 but he probably would have learned more if he started the season in Low-A. But we should keep in mind that Hawkins ended the season as the youngest player in the Carolina League. Losing a year isn't good but he's not at an age where it's debilitating. He does need to show vast improvement in his return to the Dash in 2014. ETA: 2016. Future role: Starting corner outfielder.
4. Matt Davidson
2013 MLB line: .237/.333/.434 in 87 PA. MiLB line: .280/.350/.481 in 500 PA. Reno. Last year's ranking: not in organization.
Acquired in December for Addison Reed, Davidson immediately became the third baseman of the future. On the positive side of that projection, the soon-to-be 23-year-old has plus right-handed power that should be magnified in the Cell. On the negative side, there's certainly some question whether he'll have the chops to stay at third base, given his below average range. His offensive profile isn't likely to play across the diamond, though he does have experience at first base.
In between those two ends, there are some other realities. He's a below average runner. There's a good amount of swing-and-miss in his game. He does have an understanding of the strike zone and he's probably good for an 8% to 10% walk rate. He's certainly no sure thing. But he held up against major league pitching in a small sample size and that line is probably a decent guess for his immediate future. Considering the White Sox roster, he may not get on the opening day roster (mumbles something about service time, too), but he's got a better profile at third base than anyone else and he'll be in Chicago for sure by summer. ETA: Already arrived. Future role: Average starting third baseman.
5. Marcus Semien
2013 MLB line: .261/.268/.406 in 71 PA. 2013 MiLB line: .284/.401/.479 in 626 PA. 15.7% BB%, 14.4% K%. 24 for 29 in stolen bases. Birmingham/Charlotte. Last year's ranking: NR.
There's nothing flashy about Semien. His tools are average (at best) across the board, with the hit tool perhaps struggling to get there. He's got some pop, some on-base skills, likely good-enough contact. He runs well. He can be an average defender at second and third and can play shortstop in a pinch. The 23-year-old has at least the profile of a utility player. The question is whether he's anything more than that. One concern is that he's a right-handed hitter and and won't hit right-handed pitching well enough to merit a regular starting job. The other is the more general concern that his overall profile just won't be good enough.
Going into the offseason, Semien looked like he had a clear path to the opening day roster as the starting third baseman. With the acquisition of Davidson, his immediate future isn't clear. With only 142 PA with Charlotte, in addition to his September call-up, coupled with his poor showing in the AFL, he maybe could use some more seasoning. In any event, he's going to be getting it. I think he's just a guy who we just need to see regularly at the major league level to figure out what he'll be. I lean more towards "placeholder" starter/utility player but I wouldn't be surprised to see him exceed that. ETA: Already arrived but not for good until mid-2014. Future role: Long career as a utility player.