The 2011-2012 offseason has seen some significant changes for the White Sox and that certainly includes the minor league system. The changes haven’t been dramatic enough to turn a weak farm system into a strong one, but there are definitely some intriguing new players to watch. Pitching depth has improved markedly, but position player depth is still abysmal. Even a shallow system like the Sox have is not fully devoid of talent.
The system graduated two prospects to the big club, both of whom look to be major contributors this upcoming season: 2010 1st round pick Chris Sale will be transitioning back to a starting role and Cuban Dayan Viciedo will likely be starting in right field. We also saw pitching prospect Terry Doyle claimed in the Rule V draft by the Minnesota Twins after being inexplicably left off the 40 man roster. Replacing those players is a raft of new pitching-heavy talent acquired in various trades, including new top 25 prospects Nestor Molina, Simon Castro, Jhan Marinez, Pedro Hernandez and Ozzie Martinez. There are seven players new to the rankings and another 4 new names in the “others considered” section.
Without further delay, here is the FutureSox Top 25 Prospects…
1. Nestor Molina, RHP [NEW]
Signed in 2009 from Dominican Republic; acquired via trade from TOR in Dec. 2011
New to the system and our new top prospect, Molina was acquired from Toronto in the Sergio Santos trade. Molina had been rated among the top prospects in the Blue Jays’ system, and looks likely to stay a starter, though that is still an open question to some analysts. The converted infielder features a low 90s fastball, a decent slider and his out pitch is a splitter. In 2011 while splitting time between High A and AA, he posted outstanding peripherals (10.2 K/9, 1.1 BB/9). The main concern with him seems to be his overall lack of pitching experience (2011 was his first year with over 100 IP) and potential durability issues that may come with that. He will likely start 2012 at AAA Charlotte as a 23-year-old with a good chance to break into the Sox rotation in 2013 or even late 2012.
2. Addison Reed, RHP [Previous Rank: 2nd, no change]
Drafted 3rd Round in 2010
The Sox’ 3rd round pick of the 2010 draft has been rocketing through the system, catapulting from Low-A Kannapolis all the way to a brief September stint with the big club in 2011. A reliever who is likely the Sox closer of the future (or even of 2012), Reed has put up excellent numbers during his two years in the system, with a combined 111 strikeouts against just 14 walks in 78.1 innings this past season. Addison came into the system with a low 90s fastball that has since jumped to the mid 90s as a reliever, in addition to a plus slider and a developing change up. We had a tough time deciding if Reed or Molina should be No. 1 this time around, many see Reed as the top prospect in the system, but Molina got the edge because he projects as a starter. Mr. Reed will very likely be on the Sox Opening Day roster for 2012, either setting up or closing.
3. Simon Castro, RHP [NEW]
Signed in 2007 from Dominican Republic; acquired via trade from SD in Dec. 2011
Castro was the primary target for the Sox in the Carlos Quentin trade with San Diego. In 2009 and 2010 he was highly regarded as a prospect while mowing down hitters in High-A and AA at ages 21 and 22, with Baseball America ranking him the 57th best prospect in baseball going into 2010 and 58th entering 2011. His stock has dropped significantly after struggling against AAA hitters after promotions in both 2010 and 2011. Still, Simon does still bring some nice tools to the table, including fastball at 92-94 with good movement, a good slider and a decent change. His numbers through AA have been promising, showing good control and missing plenty of bats. At 23, Castro will likely be starting at Charlotte in 2012, though there is an outside chance he makes the bullpen for the Sox with a strong showing in the spring.
4. Tyler Saladino, SS [Previous: 9th, +5]
Drafted 7th Round in 2010
Saladino is looking more and more like a steal in the 7th round. Scouts and analysts weren’t blown away by his tools, but with the results he put up at Oral Roberts in his one year there (.381/.472/.651 with 17 HR, 16 2B and 16 SB), the Sox felt he was worth a shot. Offensively, he’s shown an ability to draw walks and displayed surprising power in 2011 at High-A Winston-Salem (16 HR, 26 2B and 9 3B in 397 AB). He does need to improve his contact rate (90 K). Defensively, he isn’t on the level of a guy like Eduardo Escobar, but with a plus arm and decent speed, reports are there is a good chance he can stick at shortstop. That combination makes him a potential starting Major League SS, or even 2B, which has a lot of value. He’ll be 22 to start 2012 and will likely be at AA Birmingham.
5. Trayce Thompson, OF [Previous: 3rd, -2]
Drafted 2nd Round in 2009
The story on Thompson hasn’t changed much. He’s a plus athlete and a veritable tool shed with possibly the highest ceiling of any position player in the system, and he is slowly translating those tools into baseball skills. His 2009 was a rough showing, emblematic of how raw he was at age 18, and his 2010 was interrupted by a broken thumb. 2011 saw him improve in almost every aspect of his offensive game, hitting 24 HR in 519 AB and upping his average, OBP and slugging from the previous year. Defensively, he can handle CF at this point and has a good arm and speed, but is likely a corner OF if he makes the majors. The continued glaring problem in his hitting game is strikeouts, of which he had 172 last season. His K% has gone down each season, but 28.8% is still too high. Trayce will likely be at Winston-Salem in 2012 at age 21.
6. Jacob Petricka, RHP [Previous: 4th, -2]
Drafted 2nd Round in 2010
Few pitchers in the Sox system elicit such varied projections as Petricka. He’s a fireballer with a mid 90s fastball that he can maintain late into games, has a decent curve and a change-up. His strikeout rates up through mid-2011 were consistently high, and it appears he has a decent chance to stay a starter. He appeared to take a step back at High-A in 2011 after a promotion, where his K/9 rate dropped from north of 10 to about 6 and his BB/9 went up to 3.5 (which is still decent). For a 23-year-old in A+ with an injury history, that could be a red flag, but the talent is still there. His delivery has gained consistency and he could be a fast-riser if he converts to relief work. Jake will likely be in Birmingham in 2012 at age 24, but it’s hard to say if he will be in the rotation or the bullpen. Either way, 2012 is an important year for him.
7. Hector Santiago, LHP [Previous: 16th, +9]
Drafted 30th Round in 2006
Santiago came out of nowhere in 2011 after developing a screwball. He had repeated High-A in 2010 and was barely on the prospect radar, but in 2011 he was moved from relief work to starting, promoted to AA, and then made a brief appearance with the White Sox. Hector struggled after heading back to the minors and his final peripherals didn’t indicate anything spectacular (8.0 K/9 vs 4.2 BB/9 in AA), but the organization obviously thinks very highly of him. He has a low 90s fastball, slider and change to go with the screwball. Santiago could be anywhere from Birmingham up to the big club in 2012.
8. Keenyn Walker, OF [Previous: 7th, -1]
Drafted 1st Round Supplemental in 2011
Like Thompson, Keenyn Walker was drafted as a plus athlete with serious tools, but very raw baseball skills. This switch hitter’s speed has been described as plus-plus, he draws some walks, has some gap power, and profiles very well defensively. He also, however, has a problem with strikeouts (35.6% K/9 in Low-A), and only 3 of his 37 hits at Kannapolis were of the extra-base variety. Given his raw talent, his draft year performance is less important than seeing if he can improve in 2012. He’ll be 21 and likely start in Kannapolis.
9. Eduardo Escobar, SS [Previous: 6th, -3]
Signed in 2006 from Venezuela
Escobar is a slick-fielding shortstop who has drawn comparisons to Ozzie Guillen and Omar Vizquel with the glove, and Baseball America has ranked him as the best defensive infielder in the Sox system for four straight years. Offense is another story. He has put up a career .666 OPS in the minors. Eduardo makes contact, bunts well and is showing signs of turning his speed into a base-stealing threat, but he has minimal power and doesn’t walk much. He was 22 at AAA Charlotte in 2011 (as well as a brief September call-up to the White Sox), so he’s certainly got a chance to develop further as a hitter. Having not repeated a level since 2008, Escobar may benefit from starting 2012 in AAA one more year, but there is a chance he gets a utility role behind Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham this upcoming season.
10. Dylan Axelrod, RHP [Previous: 19th, +9]
Drafted 30th Round in 2007 by SD; signed by White Sox in 2009
Dylan Axelrod may be the breakout player of the year in the Sox system. His profile didn’t exactly scream high ceiling: drafted low and released two years later by the Padres, signed by the Sox in 2009 and entered 2010 as a 24-year-old bouncing between starting and relieving in High-A. Then came 2011, when he used his great command (2.12 BB/9) to put up a solid first half in Birmingham and make the league’s all-star game. He was then promoted to AAA, where in 15 starts he put up a 2.27 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, along with good peripherals (2.1 BB/9, 7.4 K/9). His final stop was with the White Sox, where his control slid back a little (9 BB in 18.2 IP), but he put up a 2.89 ERA and struck out 19 batters. Opinions vary on where Dylan ultimately lands (starting or relieving), but 2012 could see him anywhere from the Charlotte rotation, to the Sox bullpen, or possibly even in the starting rotation on the South Side.
11. Jared Mitchell, OF [Previous: 5th, -6]
Drafted 1st Round in 2009
Mitchell is yet another high risk, high ceiling outfielder with plus athleticism and tools but very raw baseball skills, much like Thompson and Walker. After an ankle injury forced him to miss the entire 2010 season, Mitchell returned in 2011 at Winston-Salem, where he struggled mightily at the plate. His .222/.304/.377 line was disappointing, but the bigger red flag was his alarming 33.8% strikeout rate. He doesn’t have much power, but he does draw some walks and, if healthy, has plus speed. Mitchell has been quoted as saying he felt like his ankle wasn’t fully healed until sometime during the 2011 season, and there were positive reports about his continued strides defensively in CF. Unfortunately he’s going to be 23 in 2012 with no AA experience under his belt and he’ll need to substantially improve his contact rate to make it.
12. Andre Rienzo, RHP [Previous: 11th, -1]
Signed in 2006 from Brazil
Rienzo jumped onto the radar in 2010, putting up 125 K vs. 32 BB in 101 IP starting for Kananpolis as a 22-year-old. In 2011 at Winston-Salem he improved his ERA, saw a slight dip in strikeouts (9.2 K/9 vs. 11.1 K/9 in 2010), but also a big jump in walk rate to 5.1 BB/9 (was 2.9 in 2010). Andre features a low 90s fastball with good movement, a decent curve and some other developing offspeed stuff. Given his two-pitch main repertoire, he may end up as a reliever, but as he matures and develops the secondary pitches, the Sox will hope he can stick as a starter. He will likely be at Birmingham in 2012.
13. Jhan Marinez, RHP [NEW]
Signed in 2007 from Dominican Republic by FLA; acquired by White Sox as compensation for Ozzie Guillen in 2011
Marinez was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the Florida Marlins’ system going into 2011 by Baseball America, who also touted his fastball as the best in the system. The right-handed reliever features a 92-94 mph heater that occasionally flashes high 90s, as well as a two-seamer and a slider. There have been questions about his work ethic and his frame (6’1″, 165) withstanding the motion. After touching High-A, AA and the Major League roster with the Fish in 2010, he spent all of 2011 at AA as a 22-year-old. His strikeout rate there was as high as he has had (11.5 K/9), but he also walked nearly double the hitters he had the previous year at AA (6.5 BB/9). Jhan has a chance to make the bullpen with the Sox in 2012, but more likely he will be at AAA looking to improve his control.
14. Gregory Infante, RHP [Previous: 14th, no change]
Signed in 2006 from Venezuela
Gregory Infante jumped up the charts in 2010, when he put up impressive numbers at A+ and AA, on his way to a brief stint with the big boys late that season. Going into 2011, it appeared he was likely to become a mainstay in the Sox ‘pen in 2011 or 2012, and he did open 2011 by throwing 15.1 scoreless innings at Birmingham before being promoted to Charlotte. There, however, his numbers were decent at best: 1.47 WHIP, 7.5 K/9 vs 3.9 BB/9. Gregory’s best tool is a mid-high-90s fastball that occasionally touches 100, and he does induce ground balls well, but his control and secondary stuff need refinement. Infante could make the 2012 Sox bullpen, but closing in Charlotte is probably more likely.
15. Erik Johnson, RHP [Previous: 17th, +2]
Drafted 2nd Round in 2011
After signing relatively late, Johnson appeared only briefly with Great Falls (Rookie) in 2011. He was not seen as a huge upside pick, but instead a pitcher who is fairly polished and could move quickly through the system. Erik features a low 90s fastball that occasionally hits 95, a good slider, a change-up that shows potential and an inconsistent curve. He was primarily a starter in college and figures to stay one in the system. Johnson will be 22 in 2012 and will likely start at Kannapolis.
16. Charlie Leesman, LHP [Previous: 15th, -1]
Drafted 11th Round in 2008
Leesman is a guy who the Sox seem to like (based on multiple invites to Spring Training and an AFL appearance in 2010), but whose numbers and scouting data don’t indicate why. The lefty starter spent 2011 at Birmingham, where he finished in 2010, and put up uninspiring numbers for a 24-year-old at that level: 4.03 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 6.7 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9, along with 16 wild pitches. He throws from a 3/4 angle with a decent fastball (low 90s) and decent but inconsistent offspeed stuff. Charlie does induce ground balls nicely, and his frame suggests room for more strength projection. Leesman will likely be starting in Charlotte in 2012, though there is a chance he makes the Sox ‘pen as a lefty specialist, especially if Matt Thornton is traded.
17. Pedro Hernandez, LHP [NEW]
Signed in 2009 by SD from Venezuela; acquired by White Sox in the Carlos Quentin trade in Dec. 2011
Hernandez was the second piece in the Quentin trade, but some feel he has better potential that Simon Castro. In 2011, he put up strong numbers at A+ and AA (combined 3.03 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 87 K vs 16 BB in 98 IP), but struggled in a brief 4-game appearance at AAA. Pedro has shown excellent control throughout his time in the minors and misses plenty of bats, with the ability to throw 3 pitches for strikes. His fastball isn’t anything special at 88-91, but he adds a plus change-up, and a loopy curve. Hernandez will likely be starting at Charlotte in 2012.
18. Andy Wilkins, 1B [Previous: 13th, -5]
Drafted 5th Round in 2010
Wilkins is the only 1B prospect in the Sox system worth noting so his relative value to the Sox is probably higher than it would be to another ball club. After rookie ball in 2010, Wilkins was promoted to Winston-Salem for the 2011 season and put up a .278/.349/.485 line, including 23 home runs. He makes good contact for a power hitter (16.4% K rate) and has better athleticism than most 1Bs, which shows in his solid defense. He played third base at Great Falls, but he is more than likely sticking at first in the long run. Andy will likely be at Birmingham at age 23 in 2012, which will be a test for his power capabilities with Regions Park’s spacious outfield.
19. Scott Snodgress, LHP [Previous: UNR]
Drafted 5th Round in 2011
Scott Snodgress pitched mostly in relief while at Stanford, but was used as a starter at Great Falls in his debut season. His core results (3.34 ERA, 1.31 WHIP) and peripherals (10.3 K/9 vs 2.6 BB/9) were impressive given his lack of starting experience. Scott shows a 90-92 mph fastball, curve and change, and has good control, but was noted in college for some inconsistencies in his approach and motion. The results say he may be maturing past that. Snodgress will probably be starting at Kannapolis in 2012, but jumping to High-A isn’t out of the question.
20. Brandon Short, OF [Previous: 12th, -8]
Drafted 28th Round in 2008
Brandon Short was not a name anyone was tracking until 2010, when he broke out with a strong season at Winston-Salem (.316/.365/.491) that included a 26-game hitting streak. But in 2011 at Birmingham he came back down to earth (.262/.318/.411), which is odd when you note that his strikeout rate was nearly the same and his walk rate actually improved. His BABIP dropped 65 points to well below his previous years, which indicates a bounce back is certainly possible. One area he did improve on in 2011 was on the basepaths, where he stole 21 bags. Brandon has good speed and has played a lot of CF, but projects as a corner OF, where he will need to bring his 2010 bat with him if he plans to see the Majors. He is more likely to be a backup OF than a starter, but a strong showing at AAA Charlotte in 2012 might give him a shot to start somewhere.
21. Jeff Soptic, RHP [Previous: UNR]
Drafted 3rd Round in 2011
Soptic is a raw talent with just one trick, but that one trick is a fastball that was already consistently in the mid-90s and occasionally hitting the high 90’s. The fastball is straight though and his slider and change leave room for improvement, so he’s very likely a reliever as a pro. Jeff also has an injury history to watch out for, but his 6’6″ frame could fill in some as he matures. After a very brief appearance at Bristol (Rookie) in 2011, Soptic will likely be in Kannapolis’ bullpen in 2012 at age 21.
22. Kevan Smith, C [Previous: 24th, +2]
Drafted 7th Round in 2011
Smith looks like the biggest sleeper pick in the White Sox 2011 draft. Playing at Great Falls and Bristol, he destroyed opposing pitchers to the tune of a .355/.448/.626 line and almost identical strikeout (12.6%) and walk (11.7%) rates. Add in that his defense projects to be good enough to stay at catcher, and the athleticism of a football background (he was a QB at Pitt), and this seems like a winning pick. He is old for his level (turned 23 during the 2011 season), so don’t get too excited just yet, but he is worth keeping an eye on. He could make the jump to Winston-Salem to start 2012 and given his age and advanced skills, jumping to AA during the season is not out of the question.
23. Ozzie Martinez, SS/2B [NEW]
Drafted 11th Round in 2006 by FLA; acquired by White Sox as compensation for Ozzie Guillen in 2011
The Sox got this shortstop named Ozzie in exchange for the older, louder, former shortstop named Ozzie leaving to manage the Florida Marlins and their profiles are pretty similar. Martinez has decent speed and strong defensive skills, but other than a breakout 2010 campaign hasn’t been able to hit much and has very little power. His contact rate is good and he does draw some walks. After a strong 2010 season at AA that earned him an appearance with the Marlins, his numbers fell off a cliff in 2011 in the hitter-friendly AAA PCL: .245/.296/.322. His K rate went from 10.9% up to 15.4%. The new Ozzie has a chance to make the 2012 roster as a utility infielder, or he may end up at Charlotte trying to get his hitting back to where it was in 2010.
24. Ryan Buch, RHP [Previous: 18th, -6]
Drafted 8th Round in 2009
Buch was bouncing back and forth between starting and relieving as a pro in 2009 and 2010, with mostly good results. In 2011, all 22 of his appearances were starts, though he did miss some time due to injury. In Kannapolis, Ryan posted a 3.65 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, struck out more than a batter per inning and kept his walk rate reasonable (3.5 BB/9). However, in Winston-Salem the results were a little disappointing, including a 4.92 ERA, fewer strikeouts, more walks and a bunch of home runs given up. Ryan is a power pitcher with a low-mid-90’s fastball and a 12-6 curve, both considered plus pitches. His command needs some polishing, and if he can’t develop his change-up further or some other third pitch, he is likely a reliever in the bigs. It’s hard to say if the Sox will keep him starting or move him to the bullpen for 2012, but he will be 24 and be in High-A or possibly AA.
25. Michael Blanke, C [Previous: 32nd*, +7]
Drafted 14th Round in 2010
Blanke was an afterthought when he was drafted, until a big time performance at Great Falls (.329/.400/.508) in his draft year turned some heads and put him on the radar. Unfortunately, his numbers came back down to earth in 2011 while spending time at both levels of A-ball (combined .246/.306/.370, and a higher K rate). The good news with Michael is that his key skill set is on defense, where he is noted as moving well and has a plus arm. If he can put it back together with the bat, even just a bit, he’s got a decent shot at the Majors. At age 23 going into the 2012 season, Blanke will likely be in Winston-Salem or Birmingham depending on how the catching depth shakes out in the system.
OTHER PROSPECTS CONSIDERED: Tyler Kuhn, Myles Jaye, Juan Silverio, Jose Quintana, Nathan Jones, Blair Walters, Jordan Danks, Carlos Sanchez, Rangel Ravelo, Jose Martinez, Chris Bassitt, Dan Remenowsky, Nevin Griffith
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