The Chicago White Sox organization ranked 30th on the Top 30 minor league systems list entering 2012 but this is a much improved system after a couple of solid drafts and a number of prospects took big steps forward in their development. It’s an organization on the rise.
“He came out guns a blazing,” a talent evaluator said about Hawkins’ pro debut after being selected 13th overall in the 2012 amateur draft. The Texas teenager played at three levels and topped out in high-A ball, which is almost unprecedented for such an inexperienced player. I’m told even the White Sox underestimated how advanced he was and he should open 2013 back in the Carolina League (high-A). It wouldn’t be a shock if he ended up in double-A by the end of the season.
Despite all the excitement, Hawkins still has work to do at the plate. He needs to strengthen his pitch recognition, tighten his plate discipline and learn how to work counts. Standing 6’3” and weighing 220 lbs with good bat speed, Hawkins has plus power potential and is very athletic for his size, which should allow him to steal some bases.
The outfield prospect should be average or better in right field with a strong arm but, again, he’s still polishing his game and learning to take better routes to the ball. He played center field in high school and could fill in there at the big league level, if needed.
Hawkins is well known for doing a back flip on TV after being drafted by the White Sox but now it’s the organization that’s doing back flips over the young outfielder’s future in Chicago. As my contact stated, “Talent-wise, ability-wise, the sky is the limit for him.”
Just 20 years old, Sanchez seemingly came out of nowhere to zoom through the minor league system and reach triple-A despite his youth. In reality, though, the second baseman was in his fourth pro season and spent two years in the Dominican Summer League before making his North American debut in 2011.
A contact I spoke with about Sanchez said added experience helped the hitter become a better all-around player. “He had all the tools.” At the plate, he’s a switch-hitter who is more advanced from the left side. He has some speed and stole 26 bases in 2012 but he needs to become a smarter base runner.
Defensively, he showed good range to his right but made a few poor decisions that I chalked up to lack of experience and perhaps the game going a little faster than he was used to in A-ball. At the plate he showed a quick bat but was quite aggressive and certainly doesn’t like to leave the bat on his shoulder for too long. He laid down a solid sac bunt, which is encouraging since he profiles as a top-of-the-order — possibly No.2 — hitter.
Defensively, Sanchez is an instinctive player whom the contact said “has a knack of finding the baseball.” He’s athletic and does a nice job of putting himself into good positions to field the baseball. The Venezuela native could play some shortstop but looks much better at the keystone. “He has a chance to be a really good second baseman,” the talent evaluator said.
Although it’s perhaps an unfair comparison to make, watching Sanchez on the field reminded me of Yankee great Derek Jeter — not necessarily on defense or at the plate, but by the way the infield prospect carried himself on the field. Sanchez should open 2013 in triple-A and is a huge threat to incumbent big league second baseman Gord Beckham, who needs to show some life if he’s going to hold off the quick-charging prospect.
The White Sox system continues to be rejuvenated with a string of solid drafts over the past two seasons and Johnson, a 2011 second rounder, is another example of that. The organization loves large, strong pitchers and the right-hander stands 6’3” and weighs in at 240 lbs. He missed the start of the 2012 with an injury but made up for lost time, pitching well at both A-ball levels.
A talent evaluator I spoke with was not surprised with the success that Johnson has had to this point in pro ball. “We knew what he was capable of… He really, really throws the ball well,” he said. “He gets on the mound and he’s a bulldog, very focused and competitive.” That same contact stated that the key for Johnson’s success is improved fastball command and to tighten up his slider. “He has a live fastball, good slider, good curveball and is working on a changeup.”
Johnson, 23, split the 2012 season between two A-ball levels and probably showed enough in high-A ball to earn an assignment to double-A to begin the coming season. He has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter, depending on how well his repertoire rounds out. Johnson, a former second rounder, has a shot at reaching the majors in late 2013.
The first in a long line of athletic — but raw — outfielders in the White Sox system, Thompson was pushed aggressively through the system in 2012 and reached triple-A after beginning the season in high-A ball. A former second round pick out of a California high school, he’s still just 21 years old and has a lot of polishing to do on his overall game.
Thompson strikes out a lot (28% in high-A in 2012) and needs to shorten his stroke and improve his pitch recognition. A talent evaluator I spoke with feels the outfielder can be an impact player even if he has high strikeout totals because of his power to all fields. “His power numbers offset it a bit… There’s a chance he cuts down on the strikeouts if he gets more aggressive early in the counts,” he said. “He just needs to learn himself and slow things down.”
Defensively, Thompson shows outstanding range in center field thanks to his speed, jumps and strong routes. He also has a strong, accurate arm. “He has all the tools to be a really, really good outfielder,” the contact said.
I had the opportunity to watch Thompson play a few times during the season and I felt he was too bent over at the plate and was therefore susceptible to pitches on the inner half. He was also swinging around the ball rather than through it, which would shorten his swing. He displayed good range with smooth actions in centerfield.
Thompson ended the 2012 season by hitting .208 in 16 Arizona Fall League games and might best be served with an assignment to double-A to begin 2013 with an eye on challenging for a starting big league role in 2014. If everything clicks, he could be a fun player to watch. As my contact said, “He has a chance to be a special player both defensively and offensively.”
In some ways, Walker is similar to fellow former first rounder Jared Mitchell (found lower on this list). Selected in the supplemental first round of the 2011 amateur draft out of an Arizona community college, the outfielder is very athletic but he’s learning how to properly utilize his impressive tools on the baseball diamond. A talent evaluator stated, “He needs a ton of at-bats. He was a multi-sport athlete and he hasn’t played much baseball.”
Walker strikes out a lot but talks a lot of walks, has plus speed (56 steals in 71 tries in 2012) and plays very good defense. The center-fielder, though, has less power than Mitchell and needs to shorten his stroke and use the whole field. He also needs to learn to identify breaking balls and the switch-hitter needs to significantly improve from the right side of the plate. “I think he’s going to learn to trim the strikeouts and put the ball in play more,” my contact stated.
Walker spent most of the 2012 in the Southern League but also appeared in 37 games in the Carolina League (high-A). He should return to that level in 2013 but could see double-A by the end of the season. He has the makings of a impact base runner and defender with an average hit tool.
It seems like we’re seeing more and more interesting prospects come out of Stanford University and Snodgress is yet another example. Standing 6’5”, the left-hander is an imposing sight on the mound and he’s shown flashes of dominance. He started off 2012 a little slowly but improved as the year went on. “He came on strong this year,” a contact stated. “Coming into spring training he was a little out of whack… He made some adjustments in his arm action, got some more length, and really took off.”
Snodgress needs to learn to use his height to his advantage on a more consistent basis. His fastball wanders up in the zone too much at times and he needs to keep a good downward plane on his pitches to increase his ground-ball rate. The lefty didn’t log a ton of innings in college so he’s still learning to command the fastball and I’m told he needs to use his curveball earlier in the count. “He just needs to become more of a pitcher than a thrower,” my contact stated. “He’s a horse, though.”
Snodgress, 23, spent most of 2012 in the Southern League but also made seven starts in the Carolina League posting a 1.50 ERA. As a result, he may be ticketed for double-A in 2013 and will be challenged by the more advanced hitters. He has the makings of a No. 2 or 3 starter if he continues to make adjustments.
When I asked about the ceiling on Rienzo I was told that the organization is still trying to figure out exactly what it has with the right-hander from Brazil but as a contact stated, “We all know he has the capabilities of being a good pitcher.” The organization also feels he’ll be a successful big league starter, although there has been outside talk that he’s better suited to relieving.
Now 24, Rienzo spent five years in the low levels of the minors which is not a surprise considering how raw he was when he signed out of a country not known for developing baseball players. He really took off in 2012 and played in high-A, double-A and triple-A. He missed 50 games early in the season due to a suspension but made up for the lost innings by appearing in both the Arizona Fall League and the Venezuela Winter League.
Rienzo has a thin frame so there is some concern over his durability but the right-hander gets his heater up to 95 mph at times. He also features a good curveball and a developing cutter but he lacks a changeup. The contact I spoke with said the Brazilian has the mentality of a strikeout pitcher but he needs to limit his pitch count. “He’s learning to get more early contact.” He also needs to improve his fastball command. Rienzo will almost certainly open 2013 in triple-A but he could be in the majors by the end of the year.
When I saw Rienzo pitch I noticed he had a bit of a long arm action. His arm slot when throwing his curveball was higher than the arm slot for his fastball. His curveball had an inconsistent break to it and it got loopy at times. His slider was better in this game but he struggled to throw it for strikes.
Beck entered 2012 with the potential to be a first round selection but an inconsistent junior year at Georgia Southern caused him to slip to the second round (76th overall). Prior to 2012, the right-hander showed the ability to work in the mid-90s but he was mostly 87-91 (touching 93) mph this past season. A contact I spoke with said that Beck worked out in the weight room too much and he got too thick and heavy. His high-three-quarter arm slot fell to low-three-quarter.
I’m told Beck had an excellent fall instructional league with the White Sox and had his fastball back up to 95 mph. “He’s loosened up and his arm strength is back,” a talent evaluator stated. His slider is also becoming more consistent again. Beck also has a cutter and changeup. He could open 2013 in high-A ball if he has a strong spring training. His ceiling is that of an innings-eating middle-of-the-rotation arm.
Barnum was a surprise pick with the 48th overall selection of the 2012 draft and was considered by many to be a third-to-fifth-round option, especially given his commitment to the University of Miami. A talent evaluator I spoke with said the big first baseman is definitely talented but he was a difficult player to scout at times because of sporadic views of him since he did not appear in any of the major amateur showcases.
The prospect’s strongest tool is his power, which is a 65-70 grade. My contact stated that the ball has a different sound coming off of Barnum’s bat. “His raw power is something special. It’s a lot of fun to watch.” The rest of his game, though, is raw and I was told that it would take quite some time for him to develop. In the field, he could become a solid fielder at first base and even has the potential to play some left field thanks to a strong arm and 45-50 speed. “He is some kind of athlete,” the talent evaluator said. “He doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”
After signing, the left-handed hitter slugged three home runs in 13 games but also struck out 13 times. Two comps I received for Barnum were Cliff Floyd and Fred McGriff. I was also told that he had a very impressive fall instructional league for the White Sox. Barnum will probably open 2013 in extended spring training before being assigned to a short-season club in June.
From an offensive standpoint, DeMichele is very close to being ready for the Major Leagues. As one contact stated, “He’s probably the most advanced hitter [the White Sox] drafted… He can really swing the bat and has an uncanny ability to put the barrel on the ball.” He added that his defensive development will dictate just how quickly he reaches the big leagues.
While at Arizona State University, DeMichele spent most of his time at DH as a freshman before playing a lot of first base as a sophomore and then moving to second base as a junior. The 21-year-old infielder has a lot of polishing to do with his defense but he should develop into an average fielder at the position. If he’s unable to stick at the keystone, first base is not an option due to his lack of height (5’11”) and offensive profile. Left field would be an option but, again, he lacks the prototypical power that clubs seek from that position.
After signing in 2012 as a third round draft pick, the left-handed hitter spent most of his time in A-ball. He was a little worn down after a long year but still managed to hold his own and show good pop for his size. I was told that DeMichele will likely skip over high-A ball and open 2013 in double-A. If he doesn’t stick as a regular at second base he could end up as a Scott Spiezio type part-time contributor.
The 23rd overall selection of the 2009 amateur draft out of Louisiana State University, Mitchell hasn’t developed as hoped. A lost year due to an ankle injury in 2010 did not help and he hasn’t hit more than .240 since returning. Despite his inability to hit for average — tied mostly to his massive strikeout rates of more than 30% — Mitchell offers some power, speed and takes a large number of walks. He also plays good defense in center field.
I watched Mitchell this summer and he showed a more aggressive approach than I was expecting. He hit with a well-balanced, open stance but his swing was not exactly the smoothest. He pulled his hands back, stopped, and then started forward again after a pause rather than in one full sweeping motion. I was impressed with the pop off his bat, thanks to solid bat speed, and he showed opposite-field power with a double.
Still just 24, Mitchell should spend the entire year in triple-A working to improve his approach at the plate. He could stand to shorten his swing and he needs to become more aggressive early in the count. At this point Mitchell looks like a future fourth outfielder or possibly a platoon outfielder who’s shielded from tough left-handed pitching.
It wasn’t a pretty year for Petricka, whose ERA was more than 5.00 at two levels in 2012. His command completely deserted him at double-A and he posted a walk rate of 5.46 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of just 4.21 K/9 in 57.2 innings. Petricka, 24, has a mid-90s fastball, as well as a below-average slider and a changeup. He gets by with so-so secondary stuff because he induces a lot of ground balls.
When I watched Petricka pitch — who is tall and lanky with room to fill out — he showed the need for better balance on the mound through his delivery. He was falling forward too early during his delivery at times and dragged his arm behind him, which would help to explain the control issues he had in 2012. He definitely struggled with his fastball command and was getting behind in counts, which kept him from utilizing his secondary pitches. He became the victim of a big inning and completely fell apart, perhaps suggesting he needs to show a little more mental toughness on the mound.
With improved pitching depth in the system, Chicago doesn’t have to pin its hopes on Petricka developing into starting pitcher. His future is likely in the bullpen due to his lack of secondary pitches. He could return to double-A to open 2013 but should see triple-A at some point. Petricka has the ceiling of an eighth inning reliever.
Ayala was considered a third-to-fifth-round talent but slid to the White Sox in the 17th round and looked like he would follow through on his commitment to UC Santa Barbara but the club got him signed for just under $260,000. Some clubs questioned both his defense and his power potential but White Sox officials got a lot of looks at the California native and felt comfortable in his projection.
A left-handed hitting catcher and high school football player, the organization hopes his game will really take off as he focuses on baseball 24/7. Like a lot of young hitters, Ayala struggles against soft stuff and needs a game plan at the plate but a contact I spoke with saw a lot of potential. “He’s a big, strong guy… The bat will not be a question and there is some power in it.”
Ayala split time playing both the outfield and catcher in high school so his game behind the dish still needs a lot of polish but he could also play left field — or first base — in pro ball, if he cannot stick as a backstop. The contact I spoke with thinks the young player will stick as a catcher and just needs experience. I was told that Ayala has at least an average arm and needs to improve his foot work, which will help him throwing out runners. With a football physique, he’ll also have to make sure he doesn’t get too thick in the lower half and lose his mobility.
Still just 18, Ayala will open 2013 in extended spring training before being assigned to a short-season club in June. He’s a long-term project but could develop into a solid starting catcher or Ryan Doumit type contributor.
A former fifth round draft pick out of the University of Arkansas, Wilkins has swiftly risen through the system and reached double-A in his third pro season. He struggled a bit in 2012 in terms of hitting for average but he continued to show some impressive left-handed power while also taking his fair share of free passes.
Primarily a first baseman, Wilkins can also play a little third base. He’s not overly gifted defensively at either position but he has a strong arm, which helps him compensate for his shortcomings at the hot corner. Because he doesn’t hit southpaws well, Wilkins may end up as a platoon player or dangerous bat off the bench. He should move up to triple-A for 2013 and won’t unseat incumbent veteran first baseman Paul Konerko but could reach the majors in the coming season as an injury replacement.
Brennan was selected in the fourth round of the 2012 amateur draft and currently projects as an innings eater thanks to his big, strong frame — or possibly a high-leverage reliever. The right-hander generally works in the low-90s but he can touch the mid-90s and he may reach it on a more consistent basis with a permanent move to the ‘pen. He get a good downward plane on his fastball and induced a high number of ground-ball outs. Brennan, 21, needs to improve his slider and also work to develop a changeup.
The California native will work out of the starting rotation for now and will be assigned to A-ball to open 2013. He’s not quite as developed as fellow 2012 draft pick Chris Beck and could spend the entire year in A-ball. He’s probably two to three years from reaching the majors.
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