6. Matt Davidson
2014 MiLB line: .199/.283/.362. 9.1% BB rate, 30.4% K rate.
Last year's ranking: No. 4.
A player will get a lot of slack from me for a bad year when they have a proven track record. There isn't any sugarcoating of Davidson's 2014. It was awful. A lost year. The question that needs to be asked when such things happen is whether there's been a change in ability and/or a change in how teams attack a player.
The latter is difficult to answer for a minor leaguer, particularly one who wasn't previously in the organization. Maybe pitchers were taking a different approach. However, if they were, I think it would have been in reaction to what he was doing in 2014. His right-handed swing definitely changed; it's pretty easy to see when you compare. His bat was coming into the zone on a more downward plane, resulting in his bat being in the hitting zone for a shorter period of time (more whiffs), more groundballs (bad for slower guy who hits for power) and generally weaker contact (bad period). You can see the results of all this in his batted ball data, most notably in his contact rate and quite low .258 BABIP.
It's hard to know what caused this. Davidson and the organization seem to be on the "he was pressing" bandwagon. However, unless it was an injury, which it seems it was not, the cause doesn't really matter at this point. He needs to get his back shoulder and the rest of his body back to what he was doing pre-2014. It's certainly possible that he's mentally defeated beyond the point of repair but, physically, this issue can be fixed pretty easily with repetition. Presumably, he's been working on that this offseason.
I don't see much change in ability. The soon-to-be 24-year-old still has plus power and the defense is passable at third base. If he can get back to around his previous contact rates, he'll be fine. There's more risk associated with him now but role projection hasn't really changed.
ETA: 2015. Long-term role: Averageish starting third baseman.
The Top Five
The Top Five
7. Courtney Hawkins
2014 MiLB line: .249/.331/.450. 10.3% BB rate, 27.8% K rate. 11-for-14 in stolen bases.
Last year's ranking: No. 3.
Let's start with the good. His plus-plus power is still there. He transitioned well to left field. It looks like he'll be making that his permanent defensive home, so he will hopefully be able to focus even more on his offensive game. He cut his strikeout rate from a ridiculous 37.6 percent to a merely bad 27.8 percent. He increased his walk rate from 6.8 percent to a respectable-for-a-slugger 10.3 percent.
The real issue with Hawkins is his approach at the plate. The righty thinks he can hit everything. In 2014, he reined that in some. A change to his set-up -- a wider stance and lowered hands -- has helped his plate coverage. But he still isn't as selective as he needs to be, most particularly when it comes to breaking balls. I'm pretty sure he has no idea what they look like coming to the plate (yes, hyperbole). You can probably add changeups to that, too. This is best illustrated when he faces lefties, who throw even more junk in the low minors, against whom he batted .174/.271/.273. Becoming capable of laying off even a relatively small percentage of the pitches he can't hit would probably result in significant gains in production by getting him into hitter's counts.
I asked last year, "What do we know now (after 2013) about Hawkins that we didn't know last year (after 2012)?" This year, I think I actually have an answer: He is capable of making adjustments at the plate. And he made about the amount of adjustments I could have reasonably expected. The 21-year-old still has a long way to go but we do need to keep in mind that, despite 2014 being his second full year at High-A, he still ended the year as the 14th-youngest player in the league. There's still a whole lot of risk here, though.
ETA: 2016. Long-term role: Left fielder.
t-8. Carlos Sanchez
2014 MLB line: .250/.269/.300 in 104 PA. 2.9% BB rate, 24.0% K rate. 1-for-2 in stolen bases.
2014 MiLB line: .293/.349/.412 in 494 PA. 7.3% BB rate, 17.0% K rate. 16-for-20 in stolen bases.
Last year's ranking: No. 6.
Here's a guy who is an example for Davidson. Awful 2013. A lost year. But I kept the faith and he didn't disappoint. Of course, unlike Davidson, Sanchez had the easy excuse of an aggressive assignment to Triple-A.
The 22-year-old rebounded in Charlotte, as he returned to making good contact and also got an assist from BABIP regression. When Gordon Beckham was traded, and his primary competition of Micah Johnson and Tyler Saladino suffered season-ending injuries, Sanchez got an opportunity to establish himself at second base.
He didn't capitalize on it. Sure, he played good defense, the bat wasn't there. While the switch-hitter has a good batting eye, the advanced stuff of major league pitchers befuddled him. A 24 percent strikeout rate is unacceptable for a player who relies almost entirely on contact for offensive value. Coupled with the weak contact he made when he got the bat on the ball, he was a black hole.
Those 28 games, though, didn't change my assessment of him. The Venezuelan showed his defensive abilities and he will only get more consistent with additional major league reps. I think he's got the ability to adjust to pitchers and get his contact rate up to an acceptable level, where he can use his legs to reach base and stretch some hits into doubles. While there's allegedly a competition for opening day starting second baseman, I think it's really Sanchez's to lose. But I wouldn't expect he'll get too long of a leash. He'll eventually settle into a utility role this year or next.
ETA: Already arrived. Long-term role: Long career as a utility player.
t-8. Micah Johnson
2014 MiLB line: .294/.351/.403 in 472 PA. 7.8% BB rate, 14.6% K rate. 22 for 35 in stolen bases.
Last year's ranking: Not ranked.
Another guy I want to like more but I can't. Too many injuries. Too light of a bat. Too much question about his defense. While I think he has higher upside than Sanchez, he's got a lower floor.
The main problem is that he just doesn't look like he'll ever be adequate enough to play second base regularly. His hands are below average and his instincts are, too. The 24-year-old also has had three arm surgeries. While his arm is adequate for second base, I question whether it would translate to an outfield corner. Rick Hahn said that his past arm issues are one reason the White Sox would be hesitant to try him at another position. And, if he moves to the outfield, that will put more pressure on his bat.
And, offensively, there isn't a lot to write home about. The left-handed hitter does have at least 70 speed and is capable of wreaking havoc on the basepaths. Two episodes of left hamstring issues, which ultimately ended his season early, are a major concern. Without elite speed, he's nobody. He has the potential to make enough contact, have enough of an eye and have enough power to make himself into a good utility player or below average starter at second. But there are a lot of 'ifs' that need to be made realities for that to happen. An injury-free season would be a good start to accomplishing those.
ETA: 2015. Long-term role: Bench player.
10. Trey Michalczewski
2014 MiLB line: .262/.340/.403. 9.3% BB rate, 27.6% K rate. 7 for 10 in stolen bases.
Last year's ranking: Not ranked.
The 2013 seventh-round pick already looks like a potential steal. Trey doesn't have a standout tool. I'd probably put a 45 or 50 on everything across the board. He is still a work-in-progress at third base, having moved from shortstop after being drafted, but he seems to have the capability of approaching average as a defender. Offensively, the soon-to-be 20-year-old is a legitimate switch-hitter with a nice swing from both sides. While it doesn't really show up in his peripherals, his game is more aimed at contact than power.
His body is still maturing and he'll inevitably add some muscle and weight to his frame. This may help push him to above average power but also raises the specter of becoming too bulky for third base - and that would raise the expectations for his bat to a level he may not be able to reach.
ETA: 2018. Long-term role: Third baseman.
Others given strong consideration (in no particular order): Jacob May, Micker Adolfo.
Most of you know that I prefer groupings over numeric lists, which I think more accurately display the difference, or lack of difference, in value amongst players. If someone wants to re-order my numeric rankings while remaining within the same player grouping, I'm not going to argue with them. So here's that.
First group: Carlos Rodon. With the way he pitched as a pro, I don't think it's reasonable to suggest that anyone is in his class.
Second group: Tim Anderson. While I rate both Rodon and Anderson as top 50 prospects in baseball, the separation between the two is clear.
Third group: Frank Montas. Probably has a good argument for a place on a top 100 prospect list.
Fourth group: Tyler Danish, Spencer Adams, Matt Davidson and Courtney Hawkins. These are four very different players. I imagine the first two being put into a group with the latter two may upset some people. While I'm not as high on Adams as a lot of others are, my reasoning has more to do with rating Davidson and Hawkins higher than a lot of others.
Fifth group: Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson. Two players I view very similarly value-wise, both of whom are not likely to be better than average.
Sixth group: Trey Michalczewski and few others. High upside guys who are a ways off from the majors.
Overall, what I think you see with the White Sox farm this year as opposed to last is more elite and near-elite (let's just call it top 100 or so), more pretty good prospects, about the same number of average-ish ones and more high(er)-upside types in the low minors.
For those with questions about what I consider when doing my rankings, go here and read the two comments that are green and lengthy.