Minor League System Pays Dividends for White Sox

The Chicago White Sox organization has done an outstanding job of squeezing every ounce of value out of its prospects this season.

Back in March, four prospect analysts/publications (FanGraphs, Baseball America, Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein) all agreed – in separate rankings of the 30 organizations in baseball – that the White Sox club was indeed the weakest in all of Major League Baseball in terms of prospects.

The perceived lack of quality hasn’t stopped the club from trotting out 12 rookies this season – for a combined value of 3.1 WAR. The majority of the contributions have come from the pitching side. Only outfielder Jordan Danks and infielder Eduardo Escobar – since traded to the Minnesota Twins for Francisco Liriano – have played the field for the White Sox. Danks has managed to provide 0.2 WAR, while Escobar was in the negative prior to his departure.

Ten pitchers have stood on the bump in Chicago this year, led by Jose Quintana who has provided a surprising 1.9 WAR during his rookie campaign. Despite the lack of prospect depth in the system the left-hander did not make any top prospect lists for the organization. Only Addison Reed has come close to matching Quintana’s impact with 1.1 WAR of his own. Other key rookie hurlers to help out in the bullpen include Nate Jones, Dylan Axelrod, and Hector Santiago.

In total, the Chicago White Sox organization has received 148 plate appearances and 284.1 innings of work from rookies in 2012. Those numbers are not too shabby for the worst-ranked organization in baseball in terms of the quality of its minor league system.

In comparison, let’s look at the Top 3 organizations that entered 2012 with the highest ranked minor league systems in terms of overall quality: the San Diego Padres, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Tampa Bay Rays.

Ranked No. 1, the Padres organization has received 945 plate appearances and 298 innings of work from rookie players. The offense has been led by first baseman Yonder Alonso (1.1 WAR) and catcher Yasmani Grandal – both of whom came to the organization in a pre-2012 trade with the Cincinnati Reds for young pitcher Mat Latos. Anthony Bass (0.8) and Dale Thayer (0.4) have championed the pitching staff. In total, San Diego has accumulated 2.7 WAR from 17 rookies.

In Toronto, which entered 2012 with the second-best system in baseball, a flurry of injuries to key players has resulted in 16 rookies finding their way to the 25-man roster. The first-year players have compiled 393 plate appearances and 144.1 innings of work. The injury issues have been so bad that leading rookie hurler Drew Hutchison (0.6 WAR) succumbed to Tommy John surgery mid-season. Toronto has also received a surprisingly solid bullpen performance from Aaron Loup who has also remained healthy thus far.

The hitting side of things has not been as promising with none of the five hitters providing a plus WAR. Both outfielder Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra have maintained neutral WARs, while spring training star Yan Gomes (a utility player and catcher) has been unable to recreate his March magic (-0.3 WAR). In total, Toronto rookies have accumulated a -0.5 WAR.

The third best minor league system entering 2012 belonged to the Tampa Bay Rays. That organization has utilized the talents of just 10 rookie players but they’ve combined for 2.6 WAR to date (Aug. 20, 2012). The key contribution has come from first-year hurler Matt Moore (1.8 WAR) who entered the year as the highest ranked rookie in baseball – followed by Washington’s Bryce Harper and LA’s Mike Trout. Solid performances have also been enjoyed from fellow pitchers Jake McGee and Chris Archer, as well as catcher Jose Lobaton. In total, the Rays club has received 209 plate appearances and 211.1 innings of work from its rookies.

Chicago’s rookie performers like Quintana and Danks cannot boast anywhere near the future potential of the likes of Moore, Hutchison, and Alonso but the White Sox rookies have helped prove that even a weak minor league system – if used properly – can benefit a playoff caliber Major League Baseball club.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


36 Responses to “Minor League System Pays Dividends for White Sox”

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  1. byron says:

    Is 3.1 WAR from rookies good? I see 8 teams on the fangraphs leaderboards who have more than that just from either pitchers or hitters. I don’t have time to calculate how many have more combined. Is 3.1 WAR from 12 players good? You don’t actually demonstrate that it’s all that impressive to build the 19th ranked bullpen by WAR with lesser prospects. They’re 24th by xFIP. Congrats?

    All that said, the trades Kenny Williams have made this season have been armed robbery.

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    • illinibob says:

      like the brett myers deal? WE Houstonians think that was a good deal for us as well!

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    • Peter says:

      It’s not particularly good in an absolute sense but it is surprising that the worst ranked system has produced the most value from rookie players. it’s a surprising outcome; that’s the point of the article not that this amazing production from 12 players.

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      • byron says:

        They haven’t produced the most value from rookie players; they’ve produced no better than 9th, and potentially much lower.

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      • Peter says:

        Protip: read the first sentence of the article; it often contains the main point.

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      • Does this lend itself to the lack of credibility of major Baseball Websites Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus? Or even a constant East Coast bias?

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      • byron says:

        Peter, thank you for that helpful advice. Unfortunately, the author does nothing to substantiate the argument he makes in the first sentence. “They did a lot of this! Here’s how much they did, with absolutely no context that indicates that was actually a lot.”

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      • baty says:

        I don’t think so. I think it depends on how you look at it. For instance, with the White Sox, almost all of those rookies are role players with exception to Quintana. Right now, we’re talking about these guys providing tremendous depth to the bench this season. So it has a lot to do with how the rookies have been used. Quintana has been nice in a starting role so far, so he might turn the corner, but none of these guys were projected as having lasting careers in starting positions. It’s still too early to tell.

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      • baty says:

        sorry that was in reply to PSR

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  2. Peter says:

    you’re right; they just outperformed the top 3 orgs coming into the season.

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  3. Peter says:

    and no it doesn’t impugn the credibilty of any of those. one data point against does not render something meaningless when it has many many more data points in its favor. it shows that modeling production over a small sample is really difficult but we already knew that.

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    • jcxy says:

      while i agree with your point that judging these rankings over a small sample is dumb, you are missing a key element of bias intrisict to those rankings–the top systems are valued as such because they have the most *star* potential.

      there is, of course, nothing wrong with valuing potential stars more than sure-thing #3/4 starters/bullpen arms as star talent more often than not drives long-term team success. any system ranking that doesn’t have trout or harper/stras at the top isn’t worth anything.

      however, if you’re a team with ML talent picking 15-30 every year in the draft, it’s absolutely essential that you produce unexciting but nonetheless important roster depth. rather than going to the open market to find a 2WAR #4 starter–a joe blanton or carl pavano–if your organization can produce this, you’re netting yourself significant cost savings that can frankly be better allocated to other team needs.

      all of this to say–unexciting prospects can often be quite useful.

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    • jcxy says:

      i should be clearer– i’m not saying that the sox should have been ranked higher in the preseason– a bottom 1/5 ranking seems/seemed very fitting regardless of rookie crop performance. rather, there is something laudatory (as the article suggests) about maximizing your limited resources–turning scraps into a 123 OPS+ 3b is anthopoulian, right? and letting don cooper work his magic with roster filler…i mean, that’s not that surprising by now, is it?

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      • byron says:

        The trade for Youkilis was fantastic, but the article isn’t about that. The article in no way demonstrates that the White Sox “maximized” anything to do with their prospects. It says they did, then says how many WAR their rookies have accumulated, without providing any reasoning as to how that demonstrates “maximizing.” How do we know they shouldn’t have 4.5 WAR?

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      • jcxy says:

        fair point about the scope of the article and my use of “maximize”. i seem to have gone off tangentially.

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  4. Marc Hulet says:

    Peter nailed the point of the article. For more context, five rookie hitters and eight rookie pitchers have accumulated more than 2.0 WAR this year… so rookies (not named Mike Trout) have not made huge impacts in their rookie season and tend not to be huge difference makers right away…

    Really, I’d say teams would hope for rookies to be league average at worst during a rookie campaign.

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    • byron says:

      The White Sox rookies are 22nd in xFIP. Their pitching rookies are 5th in WAR. So they’ve gotten a lot of innings of above-replacement-but-not-good rookies. Is that good? Is that better than you’d expect? What’s your evidence backing up those assertions?

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  5. 81 says:

    Mike Trout has still out produced all of these team’s rookies combined.

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  6. Mike says:

    So the 3.1 WAR is 1.1 from Addison Reed, who all of the prospect rankers acknowledged was the one good prospect in the system. 1.9 from Jose Quintana, who was a free agent they picked up at the start of this year. And then 0.1 WAR from everyone else.

    I don’t really see the surprise here, other than Quintana (who they didn’t develop much, if at all) coming out of nowhere and providing the value he has. I’d say Quintana is more of a shrewd signing than a credit to their Minor League system.

    I think all the prospect guys would have said Addison Reed could possibly produce 1.1 WAR at this point in the season, and it’s not too impressive that the rest of the rookies have been replacement level. So where did BA/BP/Keith Law/Fangraphs go wrong in evaluating the White Sox system? Basically just Quintana, right?

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    • larry says:

      The White Sox/Don Cooper/Juan Nieves taught Quintana his cutter. Considering he was a minor league free agent in the offseason and now the cutter is basically the reason he’s a decent pitcher, the White Sox probably did have a lot to do with him developing into a major leaguer. Not all prospect development has to be in a slow cooker or something.

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  7. MikeS says:

    I’m not sure that this proves anything other than they have gotten more value than the very little that was expected. Using your own numbers, they have 3.1 WAR from 12 guys but 3.0 from Quintana and Reed, so 10 other guys combine for a whopping 0.1 WAR.

    This sort of sounds like the meatballs I hear on the score lately talking about what a great job KW has done. It’s true that he has managed to plug a lot of holes and acquire useful parts for very little and he is to be commended for that. However, he must also be held accountable for the fact that when he needed a third baseman (Youkilis), seventh starting pitcher (Liriano), right handed reliever (Meyers) and even a fourth outfielder (Wise) or utility infielder (Hudson) he had to go outside of the system to acquire them because they have nothing useful in the minors. He has been the GM more than long enough that every player in the organization is “his.” So basically he has done a good job covering up his own inadequacies. That is not a viable plan for long term success.

    Speaking of long term? Who’s playing third next year? Or filling out the rotation if Quintana turns back into a pumpkin, they trade Floyd, Danks doesn’t recover fast enough or Humber keeps being Humber? Who is catching? Who plays first when age finally catches up with Konerko? What if Rios or Dunn play like 2011 instead of 2012? What if Beckham continues to be Beckham? They really don’t have a single answer to any of these questions. Dan Johnson, Charlie Leesman and Dylan Axelrod are not answers and those are the best players in the minors.

    As a White Sox fan, this year has been a very pleasant surprise and I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts. I just don’t think that it really vindicates the farm system at all and I still dread the future.

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    • James says:

      Amen… althought you know Reinsdorf puts loyalty before accountability.

      Considering there seems to be no forethought, I would guess that next year they’ll move Viciedo back to 3B and trade Sale (I believe Kenny is obligated to trade at least one fan favorite per year) if they don’t move him back to the bullpen first.

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      • MikeS says:

        I was just thinking this morning that if they ever part ways with him, they would replace him with, I dunno, Darryl Boston?

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    • steex says:

      I would generally agree with this MikeS.

      I think Marc’s first sentence is really what drives the point here: “The Chicago White Sox organization has done an outstanding job of squeezing every ounce of value out of its prospects this season.” That’s probably true, but the sad thing is that “every ounce of value” essentially equates to a net of almost zero value from 10 guys. They’re getting nobody performances from a bunch of nobodies.

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      • Eriq Jaffe says:

        You may not be able to get blood from a turnip, but the White Sox have gotten as much blood as possible from said turnips.

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      • byron says:

        It’s probably true, but the author makes no attempt to demonstrate that it’s true, unless he’s elsewhere shown that system rankings usually correlate with same-year rookie WAR, and has determined what the expected same-year rookie WAR is typically for systems ranked last. That sounds like a study worth Fangraphs’ time, though my bet would be on the null hypothesis.

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      But they also traded a bunch of dudes for a bunch of valuable veterans. I would posit that trading a prospect for a guy that produces is the same thing as getting that production from the prospect.

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    • bearsoxfan says:

      So your stance is that Kenny Williams is not a good GM capable of maintaining long term success? You do realize that only 7 teams in all of baseball have better records than the White Sox in the 12 years he has been GM, right? Under his watch the White Sox have never suffered back to back losing seasons.
      You give him a back handed compliment on his in season acquisitions this year (which have been brilliant btw) saying other teams would get the same output from minor league call ups than the Sox have from these trades which is ridiculous. Please share with me the teams that have called up minor league players that have contributed to a contending team this year with the same impact the Sox have gotten out of these trades? Probably not going to find those teams/guys. There is a reason why so much activity happens before the trade deadline and why few are ever really blockbuster deals containing star players. Most are for replacement players for someone who is injured, an upgrade over what they have on their big league roster (or have down in the minors), or simply adding some depth to their bench.
      Kenny Williams is one of the best GM’s in all of baseball. His win-loss record is proof of that and honestly that is the ONLY thing that matters.

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  8. Antonio Bananas says:

    Farm system rankings shouldn’t reflect your rookie output. That doesn’t even make sense. I mean, it kind of does, but what team is going to trot out their top 5 rookies? Jurickson Profar, Julio Teheran, Dylan Bundy, these guys aren’t seeing much playing time.

    I guess from a “surprise” standpoint, as in, they have SOMETHING out of rookies it’s a good thinkg.

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  9. Prof550 says:

    This is kind of a silly article since rankings of farm systems are based on quality of prospects and depth of prospects throughout the organization’s system. Just because the Padres, Blue Jays and Rays systems were ranked higher than the White Sox doesn’t necessarily mean that they have more players ready to play in the majors in 2012 than the White Sox. There is no correlation and really should be no correlation between rookie WAR and farm system rankings. For instance the Jays system was highly ranked because of the incredible number of high ceiling pitching prospects they have in A-ball. Obviously these pitching prospects cannot help the Blue Jays with their injury problems in the current year. To me the reasoning in this article is very flawed.

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    • Anon says:

      There is no correlation and really should be no correlation between rookie WAR and farm system rankings.

      Making a statement like that really needs data to support it.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if it is a weak correlation, but I would be very surprised if no correlation exists.

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      • byron says:

        Gosh, if only there were an analytical baseball site around that could run some of that data, instead of throwing out completely unsupported assertions.

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      • byron says:

        I should be clearer: it’s the author of this post that started assuming there’s a link between rankings and same-year WAR, not Prof550.

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  10. Larry says:

    I just see the comments as not wanting to give KW any credit regardless of the success or outcome.

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  11. tj says:

    So how about that global warming?

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