With the White Sox in first place as we open July of 2012, one of the great story lines on this team is that 10 of the 25 players on the current active roster are rookies, including 5 in the bullpen and 2 in the starting rotation. That’s not including young players like Chris Sale in his first year as a starter, Dayan Viciedo in his first full season in the outfield, or leadoff hitter Alejandro De Aza. For a farm system that is often regarded among the weakest in baseball in terms of depth of talent, it has been pretty successful in producing young talent who can play at the major league level.
Five of those rookies are graduates from our Pre-Season Top Prospects List: closer Addison Reed (No. 2 on that list), reliever Hector Santiago (7), utility infielder Eduardo Escobar (8), starting pitcher Jose Quintana (28) and reliever Nathan Jones (30). Another five are still on the list, having not yet reached rookie eligibility: starter Dylan Axelrod, outfielder Jordan Danks, and relievers Leyson Septimo, Brian Omogrosso and Deunte Heath. With the 2012 draft completed last month and the top picks signed, needless to say, the new list has seen some changes.
Here are the FutureSox Midseason 2012 Top 25 Prospects…
1. Courtney Hawkins, OF [NEW]
- Drafted 1st Round (13th overall) in 2012
Courtney wasn’t the only one doing back flips after the Sox selected him with the 13th overall pick of the draft. The organization is very excited about the tools and maturity of this 18-year-old outfielder from Texas, who the MLB Network compared to Matt Kemp. While considered somewhat raw, he has plus power potential and great athleticism. Some scouting reports see 20/20 potential. He also pitched in high school, with a fastball that touches 90 and a sub-1 ERA. Sox officials have raved about his patience for a power hitter of his age and they feel that can help him make consistent contact. Hawkins races up our list to take the top spot, but don’t expect to see Courtney at The Cell too soon – he’ll need a few years of seasoning in the minors before donning a White Sox jersey full time. He’s at rookie-level Bristol for this season and has a .589 OPS in 77 at-bats.
2. Simon Castro, RHP [Previous Rank: 3, +1]
- Signed in 2007 by SD from Dominican Republic; acquired via trade in Dec. 2011
Castro was the primary piece for the Sox in the Carlos Quentin trade with San Diego. In 2009 and 2010 he was a highly regarded 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 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 a fastball at 92-94 with good movement, a good slider and a decent change. After posting solid numbers for AA Birmingham (3.60 ERA, 67 K, 16 BB in 85 IP), Simon was recently promoted to AAA Charlotte. After a rough first start there, he posted a gem in his second, and he looks like a leading contender for a spot in the 2013 rotation.
3. Jared Mitchell, OF [Previous: 11, +8]
- Drafted 1st Round (23rd overall) in 2009
Mitchell was drafted as a high risk, high ceiling outfielder with plus athleticism and tools but very raw baseball skills. He hasn’t shown a ton of power, but he does draw walks and, if healthy, has plus speed. After an ankle injury forced him to miss the entire 2010 season, Mitchell returned in 2011 at High-A Winston-Salem, where he struggled at the plate (.222/.304/.377, 33.8% K/PA). Despite the poor showing last year, the Sox promoted Jared to Birmingham for 2012, in hopes he could excel now that he’s fully recovered. A hot April didn’t disappoint, but his numbers have dropped off since. His current season stats are significantly improved over last year despite the level jump and moving to a pitchers’ park. This is an encouraging sign for a raw player, and while he is still striking out too often (29.3% K/PA), his improvements have propelled him back into discussion of him being in the Sox outfield around 2014.
4. Keon Barnum, 1B [NEW]
- Drafted 1st Round Supplemental (48th overall) in 2012
Barnum was the second straight high school pick by the Sox to open their 2012 draft, shocking the pundit world. The 18-year-old from Florida is a prototypical first base prospect (something the Sox haven’t drafted in the high rounds for some time), with big power potential and physical maturity. He’s 6’5” and somewhere north of 220 pounds, and was considered to be one of the best bats for power potential in the entire draft class. As with many power-hitting high school draft picks, the big questions about him are how well he can maintain contact and average as he advances in pro ball. Keon is with rookie-level Bristol for the 2012 season, and even under ideal circumstances won’t likely see the big club for at least a few years. He belted three homers in his first five games with Bristol until a shoulder injury sidelined him.
5. Nestor Molina, RHP [Previous: 1, -4]
- Signed in 2009 by TOR from Dominican Republic; acquired via trade in Dec. 2011
Molina was acquired in the Sergio Santos trade and he had been rated among the top prospects in Toronto’s system. The converted infielder features a low 90s fastball, a decent slider and a splitter as his out pitch. He has shown excellent control, but isn’t overpowering. In 2011 while splitting time between High-A and AA, he posted outstanding peripherals (10.2 K/9, 1.1 BB/9). His drop from No. 1 to 5 on our list reflects his 2012 performance at Birmingham. While Molina’s walk rate has been great (20 in 88 IP), his BAA has been over .300 every month. The topper was when his strikeout numbers tailed off in June. He’s now on the disabled list with tendonitis in his throwing elbow. Molina still has a lot of potential and if he can come back fresh from the injury he will remain a top prospect in the system. He was seen as a possible starter in 2012, but at this point 2013 might even be ambitious.
6. Dylan Axelrod, RHP [Previous: 10, +4]
- Drafted 30th Round by SD in 2007; signed by White Sox in 2009
Dylan Axelrod continues to add to his improbable story. 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 good 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 he put up a 2.89 ERA in 18.2 IP. Having just missed a spot on the active roster for 2012 Opening Day, Axelrod put up some solid numbers in Charlotte and was promoted again to the Sox to replace Phil Humber (DL) in the rotation. He’s taken advantage of his chance, putting up decent numbers including a very nice 7 inning, 2 run outing at Yankee Stadium. When Humber and/or Danks return Dylan could be sent back to AAA or go to the bullpen as the long man. He’s proven he has enough stuff to make it in the majors, likely as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
7. Trayce Thompson, OF [Previous: 5, -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. He is slowly translating those tools into baseball skills. Defensively, he can handle centerfield at this point and has good arm strength and speed, but is likely destined for a corner if he makes the majors. 2011 saw him improve in almost every aspect of his offensive game over the previous year, hitting 24 HR in 519 AB and upping his average, OBP and slugging. The continued glaring problem is strikeouts: his K/PA rate was 28.8% in 2011 in Low-A Kannapolis and so far in 2012 it is 29.6% in High-A. His power numbers are up this year, but the average and OBP are down. Still young and raw, he’s far away from seeing the bigs, but may never get there if his contact rate doesn’t improve.
8. Keenyn Walker, OF [Previous: 8]
- Drafted 1st Round Supplemental (47th overall) in 2011
Like Thompson and Mitchell, Keenyn Walker is a plus athlete with serious tools, but very raw baseball skills. The switch hitter’s speed has been described as plus-plus. He draws some walks, has some gap power and profiles very well defensively. However, Walker also has a problem with strikeouts (35.6% K/PA in 2011, 28.5% in 2012 repeating Low-A). The good news is that he has substantially improved in all aspects in 2012: his K rate has dropped, and his slash line has gone from .228/.296/.259 to .272/.391/.366. He’s also been improving each month. His OPS has gone from .675 to .716 and .894 in April-May-June and he’s swiped 39 bases in 67 games. The power isn’t there yet, though as mentioned he has improved in that area compared to last year. At 21 he’s got time to develop, and the improvement is encouraging. Look for Keenyn at High-A next year, but it will be a few more years before he has a shot to make the big club.
9. Pedro Hernandez, LHP [Previous: 17, +8]
- Signed in 2007 by SD from Venezuela; acquired via trade in Dec. 2011
Hernandez has shown excellent control throughout his time in the minors, 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. 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 four-game stint at AAA. The Sox started him in AA for 2012, and his core results (2.75 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP) were good enough to earn him a promotion to AAA. However, his strikeout rate has been lower (4.8 K/9). He needs to miss a few more bats to find his way onto the Sox in the next year or so, but his potential makes him worth keeping an eye on.
10. Carlos Sanchez, IF [Previous: 32*, +22]
- Signed in 2009 from Venezuela
It is hard not to like a strong defensive infielder who just turned 20 hitting over .300 in High-A in his first full season. Sanchez has played second base, shortstop and third at times. He is currently sporting a .322/.381/.399 line at Winston-Salem. As the high batting average indicates, the switch-hitter makes consistent contact (K/PA of 16.7% in 2011, 15.1% in 2012) and takes a few walks as well. Both are encouraging signs for him to continue improving with the bat. He’s got some speed, but very little power. Defensively, reports are that he is very good at 2B and 3B, which makes him profile a little bit like Eduardo Escobar, but with much better offensive results. He was the lone Sox representative to the Futures Game in 2012. Look for Carlos to hit AA in 2013 at age 20-21, and don’t be surprised if he moves further up this list.
11t. Charlie Leesman, LHP [Previous: 16, +5]
- Drafted 11th Round in 2008
Leesman is a guy who the Sox seem to like a lot, but he’s been up and down throughout his minor league career. He throws from a 3/4 arm angle with a good sinking fastball (low 90s) and decent but inconsistent offspeed stuff. 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. However, even after a poor April his 2012 AAA numbers are respectable: 2.61 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, .265 BAA, 3.5 BB/9, 6.9 K/9. Add that to his continued ability to induce ground balls and this 25-year-old is in the mix for a 2013 spot on the club.
11t. Josh Phegley, C [Previous: Unranked]
- Drafted 1st Round Supplemental (38th overall) in 2009
The first catcher on our list has had quite an adventurous path. Drafted as an offense-first catcher in 2009, he played only minimally in 2010 as he struggled with ITP, but still managed to work his way up to AA. In 2011 he split time between AA and AAA and spent more time on the DL (hand/wrist). This year he’s at AAA and finally appears healthy. He’s hitting .266 and has 19 doubles, but only one home run and an uninspiring .648 OPS, though reports on defensive improvements are encouraging. Contact rate is good (12.1% K/PA), but he draws few walks. Our opinions on Phegley’s value varied widely, with some seeing him as one more healthy season at AAA away from being starter material, and others doubting he will ever be more than a backup. Either way, he needs to stay healthy and add some power.
13t. Jordan Danks, OF [Previous: 31*, +18]
- Drafted 7th Round in 2008
Jordan Danks (brother of White Sox starter John Danks) came into the system with a lot of promise, signing for over slot in the 7th round and being among our top 10 prospects consistently from 2008 through 2010. He is a plus defensive outfielder and stellar athlete who showed a lot of promise with the bat in his first calendar year in the minors through High-A. However, once he reached AA in 2009 his major problem with strikeouts was exposed. He appeared to stall at AAA due to inflated K rates (30.1% in 2010 and 29% K/PA in ’11). On his third try in 2012 he made some significant strides, lowering his K/PA to 25.2%, nearly doubling his walk rate, and turning a .770 OPS into .934. That earned him a promotion to the big club, where he’s now the fourth outfielder. His current bench role is likely his ceiling, but even that role has value to the club.
13t. Chris Beck, RHP [NEW]
- Drafted 2nd Round in 2012
Chris Beck was at one time considered a potential top 10 talent after posting a strong season at Georgia Southern as a sophomore in 2011 (3.23 ERA, 109 K, 40 BB in 103 IP) and a very nice summer showing in the Cape Cod League (2.12 ERA, 41 K, 13 BB in 51 IP) where he was named the No. 2 prospect. His 2012 spring didn’t go as well (3.91 ERA, .288 BAA, 115 K, 29 BB in 103.2 IP). That allowed the 21-year-old to slide down the draft a bit until the Sox grabbed him in the 2nd round. Chris has a fastball that has been mid-90’s, but this spring dropped to closer to 90. He also has a cutter, slider and change-up. Beck is at advanced rookie-level Great Falls for 2012, working in relief as they minimize his innings after having pitched over 100 already this year.
15. Andre Rienzo, RHP [Previous: 12, -3]
- Signed in 2006 from Brazil
Rienzo’s 2012 has been very eventful, both good and bad. He made four very strong starts at Winston-Salem (25 IP, 17 H, 3 ER, 7 BB, 31 K), but was then suspended 50 games for violating the MiLB PED policy (Rienzo claims it was an OTC supplement he took in Brazil and didn’t know). After returning from the suspension he was promoted to Birmingham, where he’s posted mostly very good results (2.45 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .194 BAA, 9.2 K/9), but his walk rate is a little high (4.3 BB/9). Andre features a low 90s fastball with good movement, a decent curve and some other developing offspeed stuff. The PED suspension makes one wonder about his numbers a bit, but he’s looked good since returning, other than the walk rate. Lots of potential here and he could be in Charlotte in 2013.
16. Jacob Petricka, RHP [Previous: 6, -10]
- Drafted 2nd Round in 2010
Petricka was drafted highly out of Indiana State thanks to his plus fastball, but the rest of his arsenal hasn’t come around yet. As a result, Petricka has put up mediocre numbers in High A Winston-Salem. Control was a concern coming out of college and that has popped up in his two stints with the Dash so far. In 76.2 IP he has walked 42 with 78 strikeouts. The strikeout rate is good, but the ERA (5.28) isn’t. Unless something changes he looks destined for the bullpen, although he would make a nice relief prospect.
17. Tyler Saladino, SS [Previous: 4, -13]
- Drafted 7th Round in 2010
Saladino had been rocketing up the charts through last season, and even got an extended look in spring training, but he’s struggled at Birmingham. His .252/.383/.361 line shows a significant drop in power and there have been some negative reports on his defense and other aspects this year. There is some question about his ability to stay at shortstop, and his bat doesn’t project well if he’s a 3B. That all said, he walks a ton (second in the Southern League), has stolen 30 bases this season (tied for the league lead) and is still 22 at AA. If he can stick at SS or play 2B competently, there could be a future for him. He may repeat AA in 2013.
18. Erik Johnson, RHP [Previous: 15, -3]
- Drafted 2nd Round in 2011
Like Petricka a couple slots higher, Johnson was erratic with his control in college but was still able to succeed. Early into his pro career his control has improved. Johnson joined the Intimidators in June after dealing with elbow tendinitis at the start of the season. He has kept the walks in check (15 in 33.1 IP) so if he is healthy it would be nice to see him move up to Winston-Salem before the season is over considering he is 22. His low 90s fastball and good slider give him the stuff to be a top relief prospect as a backup plan.
19. Leyson Septimo, LHP [Previous: NR]
- Signed in 2003 by ARI from Dominican Republic; acquired by White Sox during 2011 season
Leyson Septimo had always missed plenty of bats, consistently striking out more than a batter an inning and surrendering very few hits in the minors. He was also walking anywhere from 6 to 15 batters per nine innings. After the Sox acquired him in 2011, playing in the same level and league (AA), his walk rate dropped from 7.6/9 to 5.5/9, his ERA dropped by 2+ runs and his strikeout rate doubled (to 13 K/9). This year in Charlotte, he was flat-out dominant, posting a 1.48 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 11.6 K/9 and a further-improved 4.7 BB/9. He was particularly vicious against LHB, who were hitting a miniscule .095 against him. Septimo, like Quintana, turned out to be a nice feather in the caps of the Sox scouting and development staff. He was rewarded with a promotion to the Sox in June and has shown he may stick around as a lefty specialist for some time.
20. Rangel Ravelo, 3B [Previous: 33*, +13]
- Drafted 6th Round in 2010
The value that Rangel Ravelo has to the Sox organization depends on two questions: can he stick at 3B (as opposed to moving to 1B) and can he develop some power? Ravelo just turned 20 and has been hitting around .300 at Low-A. His power numbers are lacking but have improved from last year at the same level and his contact rate has been good (K/PA 11.7%). On the flip side, he’s committed 15 errors already this season. If he has to move to 1B, his offensive abilities won’t be good enough. If he can settle in at 3B and/or if he can add that power he could have a nice future ahead of him.
21. Blair Walters, LHP [Previous: NR]
- Drafted 11th Round in 2011
Walters helped Great Falls take the Pioneer League crown last year with a 9-0 record off a 4.03 ERA in the offense-happy league. The California native has also handled the jump to A ball very well. In 13 starts with Kannapolis the former Hawaii-Manoa standout had a 2.88 ERA with 69 K and 18 BB in 72 IP to earn a promotion to Winston-Salem. At 22 he needed to move quickly through the lower levels so he might be a legitimate prospect, but he’s still a way off from being considered a future big leaguer.
22. Joey DeMichele, 2B [NEW]
- Drafted 3rd Round in 2012
This 21-year-old infielder isn’t considered super toolsy, but he led Arizona State in batting average the past two seasons (.386 and .336), and 26 of his 70 hits this spring went for extra bases. He didn’t walk much, but also didn’t strike out often (19 BB, 31 K in 239 PA). Defense isn’t considered his strength, but opinions are that he can stick at 2B. Joey has a reputation for working hard and getting the most out of the tools he does have and is thought to be very polished for his age. DeMichele was originally assigned to Bristol, but after posting a .348/.412/.696 line there was recently promoted to Kannapolis. He’s picked up where he left off, with 14 hits in his first 33 at-bats). Given his hot start he could continue to be a fast riser in the system.
23. Jhan Marinez, RHP [Previous: 13, -10]
- Signed in 2007 by FLA from Dominican Republic; acquired by White Sox as compensation for Ozzie Guillen in 2011
It’s hard to tell if the 2012 season has been a success or not for Marinez. Considering he dropped 10 spots in the rankings, take it as a bit of a disappointment so far. He put up K/9s of 13.7 and 11.5 each of the last two seasons so to see the number hover around nine this year isn’t ideal. His walk rate (4.5 BB/9) isn’t great, but that is an improvement. Armed with a mid 90s fastball (and a decent slider) he could fit right in with the White Sox bullpen if he can throw more strikes.
24. Kevan Smith, C [Previous: 22, -2]
- Drafted 7th Round in 2011
Smith came out of the draft hitting last season, posting a combined .355/.448/.626 line at Bristol and Great Falls. This was a pleasant surprise for a 7th round pick catcher. This year at Kannapolis, the just-turned-24-year-old has put up decent hitting numbers (.279/.350/.397) while maintaining a good contact rate. He hits a lot of doubles and could turn some of those into homers down the road. If his defense is as advanced as suggested, the Sox should look for opportunities to move him up to a more age appropriate level and see if his bat can keep up. How he hits at those higher levels will push him well up or down this list.
25. Jeff Soptic, RHP [Previous: 21, -4]
- Drafted 3rd Round in 2011
Soptic will remain a notable prospect for his fastball velocity alone. He reportedly hit 101 MPH on the gun this year for Kannapolis. The fireballer has to work on his control and his secondary pitches, even just one will do for a reliever throwing that hard. He joined Kanny in late May following a stint in extended spring training and has been wild. He hasn’t allowed a home run yet and opponents are hitting under .200 against him, but the walks are preventing him from dominating like he’s capable.
OTHER PROSPECTS CONSIDERED: Jefferson Olacio, Brian Omogrosso, Gregory Infante, Myles Jaye, Jose Barraza, Santos Rodriguez, Deunte Heath, Brandon Brennan, Marcus Semien, Kyle Hansen, Mark Haddow, Andy Wilkins, Scott Snodgress, Brady Shoemaker, Michael Earley, Ryan Kussmaul, Dan Remenowsky, Dan Black, Juan Silverio, Terance Marin, Kyle Bellamy, Matt Heidenreich, Sammy Ayala
DROPPED FROM PREVIOUS LIST: Addison Reed (2nd, graduated), Hector Santiago (7, graduated), Eduardo Escobar (9, graduated), Brandon Short (20), Ozzie Martinez (23), Ryan Buch (24), Michael Blanke (25).
Let us know what you think of the rankings! Should someone from the “Others” list be higher? Someone lower? Did we miss anyone you think should be considered? Post a comment and start a discussion…