I’m covering the Nationals for DSE, and I love the Nats, but living on Chicago’s South Side in the heart of White Sox country, I was pumped to get this assignment. Under former GM Kenny Williams and his “hey, maybe we can win this year?!” attitude, the White Sox farm system was consistently one of the worst in the MLB. Thankfully, new Pale Hose GM Rick Hahn made some shrewd moves over the past 12 months and the Southsiders have some promising young talent in the pipe. I’m including write-ups for Jose Abreu, Matt Davidson, and Erik Johnson as prospects, even though all 3 are likely to see significant playing time with the big club out of spring training.
So sit back, relax, and strap it down…it’s time for the White Sox Top 10 Prospects
1. Jose Abreu – 1B
So the Sox big free agency splash this off-season was giving a 6-year, $68 million contract to Cuban power-hitter with tons of potential and 0 MLB ABs. Jose Abreu posted video game numbers during his career in Cuba, including a 1.515 OPS (!) in 2011, including 37 HR in 252 games. He also showed excellent plate patience in Cuba, posting a walk rate over 20% on 3 separate occasions. The 6’2″, 260 slugger has prodigious power to all fields, and his right-hand bat should play well in the hitter-friendly confines of the Cell. He’s got astounding strength and leverage in his swing. His defense and overall speed are poor, so he will be relegated to a 1B/DH role with the White Sox, but look for him to get plenty of at bats in 2014. He will be battling a fading Paul Konerko and a disastrous Adam Dunn for playing time in a strange 1B/DH platoon on the South Side, and I expect that Abreu will be an everyday player coming out of spring training.
The big question with Abreu is how will he adjust to life in the MLB? The White Sox have done very well with their Cuban imports over the years (Alexei Ramirez, Dayan Viciedo, Jose Contreras, Orlando Hernandez), and I’m sure the club has a plan to get their new slugger acclimated to life in the States. And as far as whether his eye-popping stats will translate? There will obviously be some correction, but Cuban baseball expert Peter Bjarkman has rated Abreu as the best pure hitter to come out of Cuba in the past decade which has seen breakout performances from Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig. If his power translates, look for big things from the White Sox top prospect in 2014.
2. Matt Davidson – 3B
It’s been a long, tough road for the White Sox hot corner since Joe Crede’s promising career succumbed to back injuries. However, the White Sox got a potential 3B of the future in a late season trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer when they moved young closer Addison Reed for Matt Davidson’s power bat. Davidson’s got got bat speed and a strong 6’2″, 225 lbs. frame, and has displayed excellent power numbers at each minor league stop. In 2011, he slugged .465 with a .189 ISO at High-A Visalia. In 2012, he had a very similar line at AA-Mobile, slugging .469 with an elite .208 ISO. Want to guess what he did in 2013 at AAA Reno? .481 SLG with a .201 ISO. His power translated into his brief MLB stint in the desert, slugging .434 with a .197 ISO in his 76 AB debut.
Davidson’s just shy of his 23rd birthday and has room to grow. The big knock on Davidson is his high K-rate, striking out in 27.6% of his ABs with Arizona last year. He’s also made progress defensively, but he’s not going to win a gold glove anytime soon. Nonetheless, Davidson has a good shot to win the starting 3B job out of the spring, and should see plenty of opportunity with the rebuilding White Sox in 2014.
3. Tim Anderson – SS/2B
Drafted with the 17th overall pick in 2013 out of East Central (Miss.) CC, Tim Anderson is an athletic middle infielder with tons of projectable upside. Right now his best skill is his plus speed, which he put to use in 267 ABs at Class A Kannapolis last summer, stealing 24 bags in 28 attempts. His speed and line-drive stroke should give him a solid BA foundation. Anderson also has a quick and compact swing, which could lead to double-digit homeruns once he develops to his full potential. This 21 year-old is all upside at this point, but he has the potential to develop into something great.
In spite of his athleticism, Anderson’s defensive footwork needs work and he will have to improve if he’s going to stick at SS in the majors. Anderson made 19 errors in only 63 games at Kannapolis last season, and scouts have noted that his weak arm could make him a more natural fit at 2B. That being said, Anderson is dead set on becoming the White Sox SS of the future, and with some developmental time (he’s had just under 300 minor league at-bats so far in his pro career), he might just live up to the role. I envision a 2016 call-up at the earliest for this athletic youngster.
4. Erik Johnson – RHP
A 2nd round pick by the White Sox in 2011, Erik Johnson has performed very-well at each minor-league stop in his short professional career. Johnson even got a 28-inning cup of coffee last summer with the Sox, and posted a strong 3.25 ERA. He’s a right-handed power pitcher with the upside of a middle-rotation innings eater in the MLB. His strongest pitch is a hard slider, but he’s also got a good fastball that can reach 95 m.p.h. Johnson is also working on perfecting his change and curveball to give him a nice pitch-mix.
Johnson posted a K-rate of 7.9 or above at each minor league stop thus far in his career. He’s also excellent at limiting HR, posting a sub 1.0 HR/9 rate throughout his minor league career. This is an essential skill to have in the Cell, where flyballs can leave the yard at an alarming rate. Johnson’s season at AAA Charlotte last year was outstanding, and he posted a 1.58 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, and a 3.0 K:BB ratio. He’s going to be battling with young Brazilian Andre Rienzo and Don Cooper’s new scrap-head project, Felipe Paulino, for a rotation spot out of the spring. Even if he doesn’t win the spring training battle, I’m banking on Johnson making plenty of big league starts for the Go-Gos in 2014.
5. Courtney Hawkins – OF
20 year-old Courtney Hawkins probably has the top raw potential out of any player in the White Sox system. Drafted by the White Sox in the 1st round in 2012 out of high school, Hawkins is an athletic 6’3″, 220 lb. corner outfield prospect. Hawkins displays fantastic bat speed and raw power, and is also a great runner with a very strong arm that makes him capable of playing LF, CF, or RF. Scouts love his toolsy profile, but his long swing and poor pitch recognition need work.
Hawkins 2013 at High-A Winston-Salem is a good capsule of what we can expect from him for the next few years. He was the youngest player in the Carolina League last year, and his 19 HRs were good enough to put him 3rd in the league in that category. Unfortunately, his 160 Ks (in only 383 ABs!) led the league. He’s got a long swing and poor pitch recognition, and he might not ever hit for a good BA. But his upside is undeniable, and he will be an exciting player to watch advance through the White Sox system. He’s likely blocked by the Sox current slate of young OF (Dayan Viciedo, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia), and I doubt he will be ready for a 2016 debut unless he really starts developing rapidly over the next couple of seasons.
6. Marcus Semien – 2B/3B/SS
Marcus Semien was a fantastic breakout performer in 2013 for the White Sox, advancing from AA Birmingham all the way to a 69 AB audition on the South Side. Drafted twice by Kenny Williams (2008 & 2011), Semien impressed with an eye-popping .415 OBP in 393 ABs at Birmingham, leading the Southern League in that category. Semien is a good athlete at 6’1″ and 190 lbs., and he does everything well. His strong plate control is evidenced by his double-digit BB-rate throughout his minor league career. Semien also has good pop in his bat and strong bat control. He’s more of a line-drive hitter, and likely won’t ever hit for big power, but he profiles as a very productive middle infielder who can do a little bit of everything.
Just now entering his age 23 season with a shot to make the Pale Hose out of spring training, Semien has plenty of room to grow. He’s got average speed and an average arm, but his range isn’t really good enough to stick at SS in the MLB. He could push former top-prospect Gordon Beckham for the 2B job soon, and if his power keeps developing, he could be a sneaky multi-category contributor for fantasy squads in the near future.
7. Trayce Thompson – OF
Another tall, athletic OF drafted by Kenny Williams? No way! Thompson’s got excellent genes. His brother Klay is currently the starting SG for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, and his dad Mychal Thompson was the #1 overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft, going on to win 2 NBA titles with the Lakers in his career. Trayce has been consistently rated on the top-10 prospects list for the White Sox for several years now due to his toolsy makeup, but so far he’s yet to live up to the hype. He’s got plus power and plus speed, and projects as a 20/20 threat if he can put it all together.
However, Thompson has really struggled with breaking pitches early on in his career, and this has been reflected in poor contact rates which rarely exceed 70%. He spent the entirety of 2013 at AA Birmingham, and posted some promising numbers in 507 ABs, including 15 HR and 25 SB. He’s still just entering his age 23 season, and with his natural athletic ability has room to grow if he can just rein in the strikeouts. With the abundance of athletic OF in the White Sox system 2016 seems like a generous ETA for this inconsistent prospect.
8. Tyler Danish – RHP
The White Sox went away from their normal draft preferences in 2013, selecting Florida high schooler Tyler Danish in the 2nd round. Danish has a strange and deceptive 3/4 delivery, which led some scouts to worry about injury potential. Danish is also undersized at 6’1″, 190 lbs. However, he was also rated the top prep pitcher in Florida during his senior season, and went on a 94-inning streak without giving up an earned run. His fastball sits in the 90-94 m.p.h range, and has late movement which induces lots of ground balls. He’s also got an above-average slider which he can use to generate Ks. However, his 3rd pitch, a changeup, is below average, and he will need to work on it to put together a starter-worthy repertoire.
My big question surrounding Danish is whether he can develop into a starter’s role. When you watch tape of his delivery, he looks destined to become a RH specialist out of the pen. However, if he can maintain a strong GB tilt with a heavy-sinking fastball, I think the middle of the rotation is well within reach for this 19-year old prospect. He should start the season at Class A Kannapolis and I would be surprised to see him pitching for the Go-Gos anytime before 2017.
9. Daniel Webb – RHP
A right-handed power pitcher, Daniel Webb got an 11-inning look in the White Sox bullpen last season. Webb converted to a relief pitcher in 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. He’s got big time power with a plus-fastball which can reach 98 m.p.h. on the gun. He’s not afraid to pound the zone with his fastball then mix in an above-average hard slider to generate swinging strikes. He never really developed a third offering, but seems to have the makeup of a late-innings guy down the road.
Webb pitched at High-A, AA, and AAA last season, and posted impressive K/9 rates across the board, including a 12.6 K/9 rate at AAA Charlotte. He’s prone to issuing walks, but his sub 1.0 HR/9 rate is perfect for the hitter-friendly confines of U.S. Cellular Field. I expect Webb to get another look in the White Sox pen this summer, and wouldn’t be surprised to see him progress to a setup role in the near future if his K rate sticks in the Show.
10. Jared Mitchell – OF
Another of Kenny Williams athletic OF picks, Jared Mitchell has failed to live up to the hype generated by his 1st round selection by the White Sox in 2009. Mitchell was a two-sport athlete during his college days at LSU, winning national titles in both football (2007) and baseball (2009). Now an old prospect at 25, Mitchell has failed to live up to his potential, experiencing a terrible 2013 in which he posted a .174/.292/.275 slash line at AA Birmingham and a miniscule .132 BA in 53 ABs at AAA Charlotte. However, Mitchell looked good in the Arizona Fall League, and is hoping that it will re-kindle his career.
Mitchell’s primary strength is his excellent athleticism. He’s a solid defender, has an above-average arm, and has enough speed and base-running instincts to post good SB numbers when given the green light. He’s flashed power potential in the past as well, posting an elite .201 ISO at AA Birmingham. Also, Mitchell has always displayed excellent plate patience, always posting double-digit BB rates in his career. His abysmal contact rate has kept him from being relevant in either real or fantasy baseball, but don’t sleep on Mitchell. I think his AFL bounce-back after a horrible 2013 campaign speaks to his overall character and make-up, and if he can ever figure out how to make contact there is a 20/20 threat with great OBP numbers lurking in here somewhere. However, he’s clearly running out of time to put it all together.