Continued from Part One ...
6. Jacob May
2015 MiLB line - Birmingham: .275/.329/.334 in 432 PA. .315 wOBA. 6.7% BB, 16.9% K. 37 for 54 in stolen bases.
Last year: NR Midseason: #8
May looked like he might be on his way to a potential breakout season before he had a horrible collision with Tim Anderson on June 2. The center fielder took the worst of it, suffering a concussion that kept him out of game action for six weeks and kept him out of much physical activity for a good portion of that time, too. When he came back, the 24-year-old looked a little off at the plate. Whether it was more attributable to rust or the after-effects of a brain injury, he just didn't look as sharp.
May's double-plus speed is his main tool and it informs the rest of his game. The switch-hitter has a contact-oriented approach that looked to be improving before he suffered the injury. Legging out his fair share of infield hits, he's also always a threat to take the extra base. He's a threat to steal bases but his technique could use improvement as his 69 percent conversion rate suggests. His well-below average power projects to remain so. He's not going to hit home runs and the lack of power means he's left turning singles into doubles instead of doubles into triples. While he has good-enough plate coverage to not strike out at a high rate, his tendency to chase outside the zone often results in weak contact. He seems to be pretty much the same hitter from either side of the plate, with whatever weakness he might have from his non-natural left side compensated by the shorter distance to first base and his ability to bunt.
In the field, the only thing preventing him from having the ceiling of an elite center fielder is a weak throwing arm. He's still learning to read hits, get jumps and run efficient routes but his elite speed more than compensates. He's already at least an average defender and making those improvements -- which he is likely to accomplish -- would make him above-average.
He'll start the season at Charlotte and, barring the unforeseen, he's going to end it in the majors. When he arrives, it will be an interesting thing to watch. Because of his speed and absence of pop, pitchers are likely going to challenge him more inside the strike zone, which is going to test his ability to make strong-enough contact to get it to the outfield. Since he won't have a high walk rate or slugging, that's really going to determine whether he's a 4th outfielder or a guy who can hit well enough to bat regularly at the bottom of the order. The defense and speed give him a major league floor.
ETA: Mid 2016. Long-term role: 4th outfielder.
7. Adam Engel
2015 MiLB line - Winston-Salem: .251/.335/.369 in 608 PA. .332 wOBA. 21.7% K,10.2% BB. 65 for 76 in stolen bases.
2015 AFL Line - Glendale: .403/.523/.642 in 86 PA.. 513 wOBA. 12.8% K, .18.6% BB.
Last year: NR Midseason: NR
Let's just get right to the point of contention with Engel. He's gotten a lot of publicity for his performance and "adjustments" in the Arizona Fall League and Dan Farnsworth, who knows a thing or two about swings, praised the improvements he saw from the 24-year-old there. As I said at the time, though, I didn't really see anything all that different in his swing. He's played around with his swing as a pro and it just looked like a continuation of what he was doing the second half of the season in High-A. That said, one does have to allow for the possibility that the proverbial something has clicked.
Even Farnsworth concedes that he's probably going to give back some of the gains he thinks Engel made. That 21.7 percent strikeout rate is probably much closer to the truth. And it'd be well done by him if he manages to keep even close to a double-digit walk rate as he moves up, as that would be a pretty solid rate for a hitter with his profile. He can get on base via the bunt, at which he is decent and improving.
All that said, Engel probably has more possible upside than May -- and he'll reach that if the AFL performance was more substance than mirage. Even without that, you can still see a major leaguer. He has plus-plus speed and he learned to use it to greater effect on the basepaths in 2015 (chalk another up for Vince Coleman?), swiping a superb 65 bases at an 86% success rate. Speed peaks early, and Engel is already comparatively old, but he's coming from such a high level that, coupled with his better approach while on base, it should remain a superb weapon for years to come. If only he could bat left-handed, he'd have a very good shot at being a MLB starter. Then again, if you want to look into the future, he could be an ideal caddy for Adam Eaton. Defensively, his speed alone makes him center fielder and it makes up for only average instincts. His arm is average-ish.
He'll open the year at Birmingham and we should get an idea early on if his improvements were real. I don't think he has to worry about May blocking him in center field at Charlotte because both will need to learn to play the corners. So he'll progress on the merit of his offense. I think he'll be seen in Chicago as a late season call-up. Like May, his defense and speed give him a major league floor.
ETA: Late 2016. Long-term role: Fourth outfielder.
8. Tyler Danish
2015 MiLB line - Birmingham:
Last year: #4 Midseason: #5
After rolling through his first couple pro seasons, the righty with the funky delivery and low arm slot hit a roadblock in Birmingham. Then 20 years old, he was the youngest starter in the Southern League and that context is certainly important here. However, I'm still dropping him quite a bit from the prior lists. This could be characterized as an overreaction to one bad season but I think that's inaccurate.
I think I did overreact ... but to his 2014 season. I failed to heed one of my basic scouting principles, in that soft-tossing, strike-throwing pitchers with deception often befuddle A-ball hitters but have trouble once they get to the advanced levels. And trouble he had throughout the season. Danish was just too hittable. And it wasn't just lefties that were squaring him up, as he didn't have a platoon split. When he tried to go outside the zone, hitters weren't chasing. He couldn't locate his changeup consistently, so lefties didn't have anything to worry about. When I saw him pitch, the slider was usually flat (hittable) or poorly located (leading to walks). That basically left his sinker, which is a good pitch, but one hitters could then sit on and force him to put it in the zone. Overall, I think his fastball and slider command took a step backward. He needed his inconsistent-but-good changeup to take a step up with him to Double-A, but there wasn't any progress there.
So he'll go back to Birmingham and try not to get obliterated again. While I mentioned last year his changeup was "his most inconsistent pitch and, without it, he's not going to have anything to trouble lefties who get a great look at him", I didn't weigh it properly. Without it, he can't be a starter, basically no matter how his other pitches develop. At 90 mph, he needs to be able to locate his sinker better, both on and off the plate. And he needs to get his slider back. He's got three pitches that can be above-average but he's got his work cut out for him to get the repertoire right to reasonably project as a starter.
ETA: Late 2016. Long-term role: Reliever or back-end starter.
9. Courtney Hawkins
2015 MiLB line - Birmingham: .243/.300/.410 in 330 PA. .329 wOBA. 30.3% K, 6.1% BB.
Last year: #7 Midseason: #7
After showing clear improvement in his repeat of High-A, Hawkins moved from the offensive-friendly Winston-Salem to power-sucking Birmingham. It went about as expected. The 22-year-old struggled mightily at home (.216/.258/.353) but found success on the road (.273/.344/.476). Yes, we're talking about small sample sizes here, particularly so since he missed time early in the season due to a finger injury and then had his season ended in July by plantar fasciitis in his left foot. However, I think there's enough smoke to say that one shouldn't be stat line scouting here.
But everyone already knows the trope with Hawkins: He doesn't really recognize breaking balls and he strikes out too much, meaning his lack of hit skill significantly plays down his plus power. To be a big leaguer, he needs to get his hit skill up from "bad" to "below average." That means modifying his approach from "swing because it might be a fastball I can hit the shit out of" to "get a fastball so I can hit the shit out of it."
This is important because, unlike, say, Trayce Thompson, Hawkins doesn't have any other standout skills. Though his foot injury limited him in 2015, he has useable speed on the basepaths but don't expect much of a base-stealer. Defensively, he's going to be limited to left field. After being a center fielder all his life, Hawkins is still learning how to read balls off the bat from his new vantage but he has the athleticism that, once he gets that down, he projects to be about average. A righty who can occasionally hit the ball really far but isn't fast and isn't a defensive asset doesn't even register as a potential 5th outfielder.
If it were up to me, I'd have Hawkins start the year back with the Barons. In part because he missed so many reps last season, but also because Regions Field at least leaves the possibility that he might make some of the needed approach improvements in response to the poor power environment. That may well be wishful thinking considering the White Sox' history of aggressive promotions -- though we have seen more talk, and actual action backing it up, to take a more measured timeline with non-collegiates. You have to squint really hard now to see Hawkins as a possible starting major leaguer but plus in-game power is a rare thing so he can still cling to the back-end of this weakened list.
ETA: Late 2016. Long-term role: Bench bat.
10. Jhoandro Alfaro
2015 MiLB line - AZL White Sox: .182/.232/.205 in 95 PA. .217 wOBA. 15.8% K, 4.2% BB.
Last year: NR Midseason: NR
The emptying out of the farm really opened up the tail end of this list to a whole slew of names. Out of those, this was the guy I wanted to write about. Alfaro is an 18-year-old catcher. Although he is Colombian, he was trained in the Dominican and played in the Dominican Prospect League. He signed in 2014 for $750,000. While he worked out at the club's Dominican Academy after signing, he made his pro debut in 2015 in the Arizona League. As you can see above, it's not a statistically scintillating one.
The reason he's here, though, is that, for an 18-year-old, he doesn't have nearly as much to do as you'd expect. Alfaro signed with an already good defensive reputation and he's lived up to that billing. He's got a plus arm and his still-improving receiving skills are already pretty good. On the offensive side, he has the speed (or lack thereof) one ordinarily assumes a catcher has. Alfaro also doesn't project for much power, though that's one tool that can appear late. He does, however, have a contact-seeking swing -- from both sides of the plate -- and he has an advanced for his age/development understanding of the strike zone. He also showed clear improvement over the course of the season. We're not talking about a really high upside with Alfaro but I like the projection for his bat and his defense. High risk, of course, but you can see the makings of a pretty high floor, too.
ETA: 2019. Long-term role: Catcher.
You guys know I love my tiers much more than the numerical rankings, as they more accurately reflect the difference (or lack thereof) between players. As a reminder, if you want to re-order player within a tier, you won't get much argument from me.
Tier 1: Anderson
Tier 2: Fulmer and Adams
Tier 3: Michalczewski, Guerrero, May, Engel and Danish
Tier 4: Hawkins, Alfaro and literally about 15 guys.
Overall, this is a system that has a clear top three and, after that, it gets pretty wide open. The top 10 doesn't look that much different in quality than it did a few years ago when the White Sox were taking up the rear in organization rankings. What's keeping them above that bottom five or so is that their #11-#30 is a whole lot better than it was then.