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Top 15 Prospects: Chicago White Sox

Posted By Marc Hulet On December 16, 2011 @ 10:40 am In Minor Leagues,Top 15 Prospects,White Sox | 30 Comments

The Chicago White Sox system continues to be one of the weakest in the Majors. The front office and ownership cannot fault anyone but themselves for failing to invest in the amateur draft or the international market. On the plus side, the organization has lucked into a few interesting prospects like Addison Reed and Dylan Axelrod. Chicago doesn’t have a true No. 1 prospect, although Reed has value as a potential high-leverage reliever who is close to MLB ready – and the recently acquired Nestor Molina has a higher ceiling than most of the existing players in the Sox system.

1. Addison Reed, RHP
BORN: Dec. 27, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 3rd round, San Diego State University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: It was a whirlwind season for Reed, who opened the year as an obscure, yet intriguing, pitcher. A teammate of Stephen Strasburg‘s at San Diego State, you have to wonder if there’s something in the water there… as both pitchers went undrafted out of high school before seeing big-time velocity jumps in college. Reed pitches in the mid-90s with his fastball and can touch the upper-90s. He also has a slider that’s developing into a plus pitch.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Reed pitched at five levels in 2011, starting as low as low-A ball and ending in the Majors. It was a crazy ride for the pitcher that posted strikeout rates of 11.80 or higher at each stop. He also showed above-average control with walk rates below 2.00 BB/9 at each stop – save for one (2.61 BB/9 in 20.2 IP).

YEAR AHEAD: All told, Reed walked just 14 batters with 111 strikeouts in 78.1 innings in the minors. He basically has nothing left to prove in the minors and could very well be a key piece of the Sox bullpen in 2012. One thing he needs to watch out for, though, is the home run. He allowed just four all year but three came in triple-A and the Majors as his ground-ball rate diminished.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Reed has the demeanor to succeed as the go-to high-leverage reliever for Chicago and it was his emergence that likely lead to the trade of Sergio Santos to Toronto (for No. 2 prospect Nestor Molina). If Chicago so chooses, Reed and Molina could be a dominating late-game pair – although Molina has potential as a big league starter.

2. Nestor Molina, RHP
BORN: Jan. 9, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2006 non-drafted free agent (Toronto)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: I came very close to ranking Molina No. 1 overall in the White Sox system. As a Jay, he would have ranked in the six to eight range – which tells you a little bit about the depth of the two systems. Some online publications have referred to Molina as a “control pitcher” which has a negative connotation and implies that his stuff is below average. While the Venezuelan has plus control, his stuff is at least average – if not better. He has an 87-93 mph fastball and a potentially plus splitter that is his out-pitch. He also has a decent slider.

YEAR IN REVIEW: When his breaking ball improved to the point where the Jays organization felt it could be at least MLB average, Molina was moved into the starting rotation for good in 2011. He had a breakout season and reached double-A. The 22-year-old hurler spent the majority of the season in high-A where he posted a 2.45 FIP (2.58 ERA) in 108.1 innings. He showed his outstanding control by posting a walk rate of 1.16 BB/9. Molina also sent a large number of batters back to the dugout shaking their heads (9.55 K/9).

YEAR AHEAD: Molina received five late-season starts in double-A and showed that he was far from over-matched: 0.47 FIP, 0.82 BB/9, 13.50 K/9. He probably needs about half a season at double-A before moving up to triple-A and could be ready for the Majors by the end of the season. Chicago tends to be overly aggressive with some of its pitchers so I wouldn’t be shocked to see Molina in triple-A to begin 2012.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Molina has the makings of a No. 3 starter at the MLB level. The big question for him is his durability. Originally an outfielder, he was moved to the bump permanently in 2008 and has pitched more than 100 innings just once (2011). There is also some concern over his delivery and that, unless it gets smoothed out, he’ll be a high-leverage reliever at the MLB level.

3. Keenyn Walker, OF
BORN: Aug. 12, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 supplemental 1st round, Arizona JC
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: The Sox top amateur pick in 2011 with the 47th overall selection (supplemental 1st round), Walker is the type of toolsy athlete that always attracts the organization’s attention. He is very raw, though. Walker projects to develop into a plus defender with above-average speed but his hit tool is surrounded by question marks. He probably won’t develop more than gap power.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Walker hit well in Rookie ball but was rushed up to low-A and he struggled badly. The big knock on him has always been his lack of contact and he struck out at a rate of 35.6 K% in 162 low-A at-bats. He stole 21 bases in his debut, between the two levels, but he was also caught nine times.

YEAR AHEAD: Walker might benefit from a little extra time in extended spring training but he’ll probably receive an assignment to low-A ball. Expect him to struggle mightily with the bat, although his speed may help him receive some BABIP-aid. A switch-hitter, it might be in the organization’s best interests to have him hit just one way to allow accelerated development (He hit .206 vs RHPs, .273 vs LHP in ’11).

CAREER OUTLOOK: For good or bad, the outfielder reminds me of former No. 1 draft pick Jared Mitchell. While his career was derailed by injury, it remains to be seen if Walker can overcome the huge obstacles that he faces in realizing his full athletic potential on the baseball diamond.

4. Trayce Thompson, OF
BORN: March 15, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 2nd round, California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 9th

SCOUTING REPORT: Thompson is another typical Sox hitting prospect: Full of projection but short on ‘now-talent.’ The outfielder is a solid fielder but he’s expected to eventually slide from center field to one of the corner spots. As a hitter he has big-time power but struggles with breaking balls and lengthens his swing too much.

YEAR IN REVIEW: The 20-year-old returned to low-A in 2011 after missing much of ’10 due to a broken thumb. He slugged 24 home runs – good for third in the South Atlantic League – but he also struck out 172 times – 20 more times than anyone else in the league. On the plus side, he does take some walks (10.1 BB%).

YEAR AHEAD: Thompson will likely move up to high-A ball and will look to solve his nemesis: the breaking ball. Expect him to spend the entire year in high-A ball smoothing out the considerable number of rough edges in his game.

CAREER OUTLOOK: The former second round draft pick has a lot of work to do to reach his potential as a big league slugger who will provide at least average defense. Thompson will probably never hit for a high average and he will likely always rack up high strikeout totals.

5. Dylan Axelrod, RHP
BORN: July 30, 1985
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 30th round, U of California-Irvine (by San Diego)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: Axelrod will enter his rookie season in the Majors as an over-aged 26-year-old, but he’s come a long way from modest beginnings. Although he opened the year much higher than Addison Reed, Axelrod was even further removed from prospect legitimacy. The right-hander offers average-at-best fastball velocity but he commands a four-pitch repertoire.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Axelrod split the year between double-A and triple-A before receiving a late-season taste of Major League action. He succeeded in the Majors by keeping hitters off balance by commanding and working off the fastball.

YEAR AHEAD: The right-hander has a good shot at opening the year in the Sox’s starting rotation if the club trades John Danks or Gavin Floyd – likely as the fourth or fifth starter. He’s only been pitching out of the starting rotation for two seasons so durability is a bit of a question mark – especially after a big innings jump between 2010 and ’11 (~60 IP).

CAREER OUTLOOK: Axelrod has a modest ceiling but his four-pitch mix, control and pitchability should allow him to succeed as a No. 4 starter – especially on a second division team. He may eventually wind up in the bullpen as a middle reliever if he finds his way onto a playoff-caliber team.

6. Jacob Petricka, RHP
BORN: June 5, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 2nd round, Indiana State University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 6th

SCOUTING REPORT: Petricka is one of my favorite Sox prospects. He was a college reliever who has been given an opportunity to pitch in the starting rotation… with mixed results. He’s probably best-suited for relief work in the Majors. The right-hander has a three-pitch mix but his best pitch is far and away his low-to-mid-90s fastball. He also has a curveball and a changeup, though neither shows plus potential yet. Petricka’s heater plays up in the bullpen and has hit the upper-90s in the past.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Petricka threw very well in low-A ball to begin the year, posting a 1.83 FIP and 10.37 strikeout rate. However, he struggled upon promotion to high-A. His FIP rose to 3.70 and his strikeout rate plummeted to 6.12 as he failed to consistently command his pitches. Petricka moved to the bullpen for the Arizona Fall League but struggled a bit, allowing 16 hits and 10 walks in 16.1 innings of work.

YEAR AHEAD: Along with tantalizing fastball velo out of the ‘pen, Petricka also produces above-average ground-ball rates, making him even more attractive as a late-game reliever. He’ll likely move up to double-A in 2012 and the Sox will face a tough decision on his ultimate big league role.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Petricka could – and should – give the Sox one more dominating relief prospect to go with Addison Reed and potentially Nestor Molina (although he has more chance of sticking in the rotation than Petricka). If he begins the ’12 season pitching out of the bullpen, Petricka could reach the Majors by the end of August.

7. Tyler Saladino, SS
BORN: July 20, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 7th round, Oral Roberts U
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: Saladino is a player that you don’t hear much about but he’s got a lot of potential – which stands out in a weak system. He has just enough power to get himself in trouble by extending his swing (and strike zone) but not enough that he’s going to hit more than 15 homers at the MLB level. Saladino has good speed but does run much on the base paths. Defensively, he has a strong arm and good range so he should stick at shortstop.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Saladino spent the entire 2011 season in high-A ball and produced a solid .864 OPS, and showed an above-average power output with an ISO rate of .232. His walk rate of 11% was impressive and it was nice to see his strikeout rate dip below 20% for the first time in his career.

YEAR AHEAD: After a solid Arizona Fall League performance where he hit .286 with seven walks (but also 17 Ks) in 19 games, Saladino is surely headed for double-A in 2012. He’s kind of stuck between profiles right now; he needs to decide if he’s going to focus on the type of game plan that benefits a No. 2 hole hitter or he’s got to commit to punishing the ball for gap power as more of a No. 7 hole hitter.

CAREER OUTLOOK: As mentioned, Saladino’s future is up in the air a bit. It’s easy to see him playing in the big leagues but his profile could go a couple different ways.

8. Eduardo Escobar, SS
BORN: Sept. 9, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 28th round, Maryland CC
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: Escobar is a much different shortstop prospect in comparison to Saladino. Escobar is all glove at this point and is probably a future No. 9 hitter at the MLB level. He is a gifted fielder who uses his good speed and quickness to produce plus range. He has an average arm and could eventually move to second base, perhaps to make room for Saladino at short. A switch-hitter, he typically shows more from the left side.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Escobar held true to his scouting report at triple-A in 2011. He hit for a hollow average, showing no power (.088 ISO) and no patience (5% walk rate). He also received his first (brief) taste of MLB action but had just seven at-bats.

YEAR AHEAD: Escobar could probably play at the MLB level right now but he’s not going to start over Alexi Ramirez. As a result, he’ll either be pushed to a backup role for the Sox or, more likely, head back to triple-A and wait for an injury to occur.

CAREER OUTLOOK: There is no sign of an opportunity for Escobar to start at shortstop anytime soon in Chicago so he’ll either be trade bait or end up filling a utility role for the club. Either way he offers enough potential to put forth a respectable big league career.

9. Jared Mitchell, OF
BORN: Oct. 13, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round (23rd overall), Louisiana State University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

SCOUTING REPORT: Mitchell entered pro ball extremely raw for a college player and then he missed all of 2010 due to injury. He put forth a very disappointing season in ’11. When he’s right, Mitchell is solid defensive center fielder with good range, although his arm is below average. At the plate, he has gap power. He’s lost his feel for the strike zone.

YEAR IN REVIEW: At high-A ball, Mitchell failed to hit for average, he didn’t run much, he struck out at a rate of almost 34% and his defense took a step back. On the plus side he showed show gap power (.155 ISO) and took some walks (9.6%). Mitchell hit just .134 in 23 August games, so conditioning could have been an issue in ’11.

YEAR AHEAD: The 2012 season is going to be huge for the outfielder. He’ll likely head back to high-A and needs to get off to a hot start so he can reach double-A at some point in the second half. Mitchell just needs to stay healthy and get at-bats under his belt.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Time is running out for Mitchell, now 23. He’s going to be repeating high-A ball and remains raw. He has considerable athletic potential but the window is closing.

10. Hector Santiago, LHP
BORN: Dec. 16, 1987
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2006 30th round – Florida community college
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: It’s amazing the difference a pitch can make. Santiago added a rarely used screwball to his arsenal for the 2011 season and it gave him a much-needed, reliable off-speed pitch. He moved into the starting rotation for the first time in his career and flourished. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s and he also features an occasional slider.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Santiago began the season back in high-A for the third straight season but he convinced the minor league staff that a change needed to be made after eight starts. He then made another 15 starts at double-A and received a call to the Majors where he appeared in two games and allowed just one hit in 5.1 innings.

YEAR AHEAD: Santiago will probably head to triple-A for a bit but could challenge for a spot in the starting rotation in injuries occur in spring training. He’s a nice insurance policy for 2012 and he could use the time in triple-A to improve his slider.

CAREER OUTLOOK: The left-hander has the potential to develop into a No. 4 starter at the big league level – possibly as high as a No. 3 if he learns to rely on his breaking ball a little more.

The Next Five

11. Charlie Leesman, LHP: Leesman was one player I had my eye on in case the Sox left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft. He’s a personal favorite of mine as a left-hander with good velocity, solid control and above-average ground-ball rates. With a strong pitcher’s frame, he could develop into a reliable innings eater at the MLB level – especially if he can improve his control.

12. Brandon Short, OF: Short comes up a little… short as a potential big league regular but he could make a solid fourth outfielder in the Majors. He has some speed (but he doesn’t run well), a little power but his contact is inconsistent and his defense is not the best. He’s wilted in the second half of the year for two straight seasons so perhaps a part-time role will agree with him. If Short can continue to add polish to his game, though, he could be a useful big leaguer.

13. Gregory Infante, RHP: Infante has a bowling ball fastball that averages out around 95 mph, as well as a curveball and changeup. He needs to improve the command of his fastball, which will help his other pitches play up. The right-hander has the ceiling of an eighth-inning reliever – and possible closer if he makes the necessary adjustments. He has a chance to break camp with the big club in 2012.

14. Jhan Marinez, RHP: Marinez and Oswaldo Martinez (considered in 11-15 range) were both acquired in the Ozzie Guillen “trade.” Marinez is your typical White Sox pitcher in the sense that he’s a hard thrower… but doesn’t always know where the ball is going. He had a breakout season in 2010 but took a step back in ’11 when his control deserted him and he posted a walk rate of 6.52 BB/9. He has the potential to be an eighth-inning stalwart.

15. Scott Snodgress, LHP: With a solid pitcher’s frame, this Stanford alum has an above-average fastball for a lefty (go figure, for a Sox draft pick) but his velocity is inconsistent, ranging anywhere from 88-94 mph. He also has a curveball and a changeup – and both show potential. The lefty is raw for a college draft pick so the organization will have to be patient.

SLEEPER ALERT: Jeff Soptic, RHP: Selected in the third round of the 2011 draft out of a small Kansas community college, Soptic raises eyebrows with his (You guessed it…) outstanding fastball velocity that reportedly hits 100-101 mph. He also has an inconsistent slider. His command and control are both below average; Soptic is a massive project but one with a huge reward at the end if everything works out.


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