There really is no point in sugarcoating things. The 2012 season will probably not be a pretty one on the south side of Chicago. The Detroit Tigers have put together a rather impressive, playoff-worthy team while the White Sox… have not.
Despite the dark clouds hanging over U.S. Cellular, there is a ray of sunshine for White Sox fans. The club appears set to open the season with four rookies on the 25-man roster; clearly fans would prefer to watch their team steamroll its way into the playoffs but watching young players develop should be a small consolation.
For the most part the wave of rookies in 2012 does not match up to the class of 2011, which included pitchers Chris Sale, Zach Stewart, catcher Tyler Flowers, infielder Brent Morel, and outfielder Dayan Viciedo. With that said three of the rookies made my pre-season Top 15 prospects list: Reed (1st overall), Escobar (8th) and Santiago (10th).
Both Reed and Santiago have the opportunity to see significant save opportunities in 2012 with the former the current favorite. Reed was a teammate of Stephen Strasburg’s in college and could quickly shake the title of “That other guy from San Diego State” thanks to his mid-to-upper-90s velocity and wipeout slider. It’s rare to see a rookie pitcher annointed closer – and actually handle the responsibility but Reed really is that good.
Santiago, a lefty, could also see time in the starting rotation if one of the current starters falters. He’s developed into a legit prospect just recently so he’s someone to watch to see just how good he can become. The third rookie in the bullpen is another late-bloomer in Jones. A right-hander, he has a solid pitcher’s frame and had a solid 2011 season at the double-A level and Jones has respectable stuff and induces a high number of ground-ball outs, which could make him a useful middle reliever.
Escobar, 23, is the kind of player that you have to watch play the field to really appreciate. He’s nothing special with the bat (wRC+ of just 77 at triple-A in ’11) but is the kind of player that could win a couple of gold gloves if he could hit well enough to play everyday. It appears, though, that he’ll serve as the utility man in 2012. It’s an interesting decision by the front office but they clearly feel his offense isn’t going to get any better with further development time.
Although I recently ranked the organization as having the worst minor league system in Major League Baseball heading into 2012, the White Sox have graduated enough prospects in the past couple of years to make things interesting. The young players should make an otherwise unspectacular season interesting.