We already published the 11-25 portion of the list, so for detailed write-ups on those players, click here. This is the full Top 25, including write-ups for the Top 10. Also we list the other prospects we considered for the list at the bottom…
The 2012 White Sox campaign was one of surpassing expectations, but without the happy ending. A team that played about a dozen rookies, including a long list of graduates from our 2012 Pre-Season and Mid-Season lists, fell just short of winning the AL Central. For a farm system that has been (often rightly) criticized for a lack of talent depth, last year was an accomplishment worth noting. The system is improving through more aggressive draft strategies, a recent boost in international spending, and changes to the MLB’s draft and signing rules that benefited the Sox.
Now, less than a month before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training… who will 2013’s emerging talent be? Since our Mid-Season list, three players have “graduated” to Major League rookie qualification: Dylan Axelrod (#6 from the previous list), Jordan Danks (#13) and Leyson Septimo (#19). Another three were traded: Pedro Hernandez (#9) was shipped off to Minnesota with Eduardo Escobar, while Blair Walters (#21) and Matt Heidenreich were sent to Houston in exchange for Brett Myers. That left some room for other prospects to move up the ladder.
1. Courtney Hawkins, OF [Previous Rank: 1, unchanged]
- Drafted 1st Round (13th overall) in 2012
Hawkins remains the consensus top prospect in the system, further solidifying his standing with a strong 2012 performance at just 18 years of age. Hawkins is an athletic, toolsy outfielder whose future potential has been compared to Matt Kemp. He has plus power, great athleticism, speed and strong defensive skills in the outfield. Last season, despite being just out of high school, Courtney jumped from Rookie level Bristol, to Low-A Kannapolis and all the way to High-A Winston-Salem. He posted a combined .284/.324/.480/.804 line among all three levels, including .982 and .882 OPS’s in A- and A+; he actually performed better at the higher levels. His strikeout rate was a bit high (22.4% overall, 21.1% in A-/A+), but for an 18-year-old in his first professional season it shouldn’t be too alarming yet. Scouting reports on his defense indicate he is likely a corner OF, but he’s improving in CF. He’ll likely be in High-A to start 2013, but this organization does have a history of being very aggressive with top talent.
2. Trayce Thompson, OF [Previous: 7, +5]
- Drafted 2nd Round in 2009
Thompson had a big 2012, starting the season in High-A and finishing in AAA Charlotte, followed by an Arizona Fall League appearance. He posted a .254/.325/.486/.811 line at Winston-Salem in 510 plate appearances, then had a short stint with Birmingham (.280/.379/.520/.899 in 58 PA), before ending with just six games at Charlotte. The big concern with Trayce has always been contact rate. He struck out 28.8% of the time in 2011, and lowered that only a little in 2012 to 28.2%, but the rate did go down as each month in A+ went on. Trayce has serious power (25 HR in 2012), speed (21-for-24 in SB attempts) and plus defensive skills. He will likely be in AA in 2013 at age 22, though it is possible he starts at AAA. Thompson is probably only a year away from the Majors at this point.
3. Simon Castro, RHP [Previous: 2, -1]
- Signed in 2007 by SD from Dominican Republic; acquired via trade in Dec. 2011
Castro is a tough pitcher to evaluate, and opinions will range from top 5 to barely top 20 in the system depending on who you ask. Among the best pitching prospects in the San Diego system in 2009 and 2010, he struggled badly in 2011 in the transition to AAA at age 23, before being traded to the White Sox. In 2012, he posted solid results at Birmingham (3.70 ERA, 2.22 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 7.2 K/9), but was only mediocre results-wise in five starts with Charlotte (4.32 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 5.8 K/9) at age 24. He’s shown excellent control throughout his career (BB/9 rates in the 2’s most full seasons), changes speeds, and adds decent breaking pitches to his 91-92 mph fastball. He seems to have all the right tools and presence to be a solid major league starter, but he doesn’t miss a ton of bats and has struggled getting to AAA. Castro will likely be in Charlotte’s rotation, where he needs to show the ability to put up good numbers to stay ranked this high. 2013 is his age 25 season; this is as close to a make-or-break season as a pitcher can have.
4. Erik Johnson, RHP [Previous: 18, +14]
- Drafted 2nd Round in 2011
Johnson makes one of the biggest jumps on our list, all the way from 18th. Drafted as a high talent pitcher who struggled with control in college, 2012 was his first full season of professional ball and he did a lot to shake off concerns about finding the strike zone. Johnson opened the season at Kannapolis, where he posted a 2.53 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9 and 8/2 K/9 in 9 starts, before being promoted to Winston-Salem where he lowered his walks considerably (1.8 BB/9), increased his strike outs (8.8 K/9) and put up an impressive 2.74 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. Erik has a low 90’s fastball that touches mid 90’s, a plus slider and emerging secondary stuff. He could be at A+ or AA or both in 2013.
5. Carlos Sanchez, IF [Previous: 10, +5]
- Signed in 2009 from Venezuela
Another fast mover on our list, Carlos Sanchez moves into the top five after a very strong 2012 campaign that started at Winston-Salem, went through Birmingham, ended with a brief appearance in Charlotte and an AFL berth. Carlos has a rare combination of tools for a young middle infielder: he’s rated by scouts as plus defensively at second base, hits for high average (.323 at three levels in 2012) and draws a fair number of walks (.378 OBP in 2012). He’s done this at age 20 at the higher levels of the system, against tougher competition in the AFL (.299 AVG and .367 OBP) and won’t turn 21 until midway through the 2013 season. Sanchez lacks power (1 HR last season), and has speed but may not be refined on the basepaths (26-for-41 in SB attempts). He can play shortstop and third base competently although second base is where scouts rate him best. If Carlos puts up numbers and defense in Charlotte in 2013 as he has at other levels so far, he could be knocking on the door for the Sox before the season is even finished.
6. Keon Barnum, 1B [Previous: 4, -2]
- Drafted 1st Round Supplemental (48th overall) in 2012
Barnum is a prototypical first base prospect, with big power potential that dropped more than a few jaws during his high school years. Last year at age 19 he opened the season at Bristol, but only got in limited playing time due to a minor shoulder injury. He posted a .279/.347/.512/.859 line in 49 plate appearances, striking out 13 times and drawing 5 walks. As is common with power-hitting prospects, the big question mark with Keon is contact rate as he moves up the system. While he’s big and physically mature (6’5″, 225 lb), he’s still going into 2013 as a relatively raw 20-year-old and will probably open the season with Kannapolis. The Sox system has very little prospect depth at 1B, so if he hits well, he could move up quickly.
7. Andre Rienzo, RHP [Previous: 15, +8]
- Signed in 2006 from Brazil
To say Rienzo had an adventurous 2012 would be an understatement. He started strong in four starts at Winston-Salem (25 IP, 17 H, 3 ER, 7 BB, 31 K), got suspended for violating MiLB PED policy (he claims it was an OTC supplement and didn’t know), returned and was promoted to Birmingham where he posted a solid second half in 13 starts: 3.27 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 9.0 K/9. He even made a start at Charlotte to end the regular season. His walk rate was a little high at AA, but he only gave up 7 hits per 9 innings to help offset that. Then he made an AFL appearance, posting good strikeout numbers (24 K in 24.2 IP) and keeping hitters off balance (.244 AvgA in a hitters’ league), but walked 15 batters and as a result posted a 4.24 ERA. He also pitched three games in the Venezuelan Winter League, trying to make up lost innings, and pitched a total of 135 for the season with five different clubs. Some scouts still project Rienzo as a reliever, due to a lack of refined secondary pitches. His fastball has good movement, he changes speeds with it (ranging from 90 to 95) and the Sox seem to feel his secondary pitches will improve enough for him to stick as a starter. Andre will likely open 2013 at age 24 in AAA as a starter.
8. Keenyn Walker, OF [Previous: 8, unchanged]
- Drafted 1st Round Supplemental (47th overall) in 2011
Walker is one of the crowd of athletic, toolsy and raw outfielders in the Sox system. He so far lacks the power of Thompson and Mitchell (4 HR in 740 professional plate appearances), but he gets on base at a very good clip (.378 combined OBP in A- and A+ in 2012) and shows plus speed (56 SB in ’12). The biggest concern is his high strike out rate (29.3%), which could be forgiven with more power if he had it. Walker was drafted very raw and hadn’t fully focused on baseball until midway through 2011 so this is somewhat expected. The ability to draw a lot of walks is encouraging in indicating a good batter’s eye, leaving hope for improvement in his contact rate. Reports on his defense indicate some good raw tools (speed and arm strength), but the need for refinement through practice. He’ll be 22 in 2013, starting at either A+ or AA, but he’s much younger in terms of development than his age indicates.
9. Scott Snodgress, LHP [Previous: 38*, +29]
- Drafted 5th Round in 2011
Snodgress makes the biggest leap on our list, from our “others receiving consideration” all the way to ninth. Much like his teammate Erik Johnson, Scott is a 2011 draft pick who started 2012 in Low-A posting good results (3.64 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 4.5 BB/9, 7.6 K/9 in 99 IP) and was then promoted to High A only to look even stronger at the next level (1.50 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, 9.4 K/9 in 42 IP). Snodgress is a big lefty with a low-mid 90’s fastball, along with a curve and change that are considered fairly polished. Scouting reports coming out of the draft indicated major concerns with a lack of control, some confidence/consistency issues, and questions about whether or not he could handle being a starter. His improvement going into Winston-Salem (particularly the lower walk rate) is encouraging in that he may be getting a better handle on that control, and he seemed to respond well to the increased workload (141 IP in 2012 from 59.1 IP in 2011). Snodgress could start 2012 at A+ or AA.
10. Chris Beck, RHP [Previous: 13, +3]
- Drafted 2nd Round in 2012
Beck was at one time considered a top 10 draft talent after 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), which some scouts attributed to his bulking up and losing flexibility. The 21-year-old’s drop-off allowed him to slide to the second round where the Sox grabbed him. C hris’ fastball had been mid-90’s, but this spring dropped to closer to 90. He also has a cutter, slider and change-up. In 2012 he pitched in limited work for Rookie level Great Falls (4.69 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 8.0 K/9 in 40.1 IP) since he had already pitched over 100 innings in the spring season. The Sox believe that with some conditioning work, they can return Beck to being that first round talent pitcher, and reports out of the offseason development camp in Arizona are encouraging in that regard.
For detailed write-ups on 11-25, click here.
11. Jared Mitchell, OF [Previous: 3, -8]
12. Nestor Molina, RHP [Previous: 5, -7]
13. Charlie Leesman, LHP [Previous: 11, -2]
14. Tyler Saladino, SS [Previous: 17, +3]
15. Josh Phegley, C [Previous: 11, -4]
16. Marcus Semien, SS [Previous: 34*, +17]
17. Santos Rodriguez, LHP [Previous: 31*, +15]
18. Jhan Marinez, RHP [Previous: 23, +5]
19. Joey DeMichele, 2B [Previous: 22, +3]
20. Brian Omogrosso, RHP [Previous: 27, +7]
21. Rangel Ravelo, 3B [Previous: 20, -1]
22. Jacob Petricka, RHP [Previous: 16, -6]
23. Jefferson Olacio, LHP [Previous: 26*, +1]
24. Jeff Soptic, RHP [Previous: 25, +1]
25. Kevan Smith, C [Previous: 24, -1]
OTHER PROSPECTS CONSIDERED: Deunte Heath, Brandon Brennan, Andy Wilkins, Ryan Kussmaul, Brady Shoemaker, Kyle Hansen, Sammy Ayala, Euclides Leyer, Mark Haddow, Brandon Short, Ryan Buch, Dan Remenowsky, Daniel Webb, Myles Jaye, Jason Coats
DROPPED FROM PREVIOUS LIST: Dylan Axelrod (6, graduated), Pedro Hernandez (9, traded), Jordan Danks (13, graduated), Leyson Septimo (19, graduated), Blair Walters (21, traded)
Let us know what you think of the rankings! Should someone be higher? Someone lower? Did we miss anyone you think should be considered? Post a comment and start a discussion.