Thursday, December 3, 2009

TEAM #26 – Chicago White Sox

Expect Viciedo to be a lot closer to his 2nd half performance come 2010

While we don’t always see eye-to-eye with Kenny Williams’ decision making, the one thing that can’t be disputed, is that he is one of the best at dealing away his organization’s higher profile prospects before everyone else figures out they aren’t going to pan out. Sure he held onto Brian Anderson a bit too long, but whether it be Joe Borchard, Jeremy Reed, Chris Young, Fautino de Los Santos or Josh Fields—all one-time top prospects in the organization, Williams has managed to deal prospects at their peak value and acquire key Major League pieces in the process like no GM has since John Schuerholz was ‘pulling the wool over’ unsuspecting GMs in the 1990s. Once again, it looks like Williams did it last summer, in the trade that sent Aaron Poreda and a cast of marginal arms to the Padres for Jake Peavy. Perhaps we should be asking why their prospects don’t pan out in the first place? But that may be an issue of the past, as after years of following Scouting Director, Duane Shaffer through a string of bad drafts that typically produced low-ceiling college pitchers in the middle of the first round, Williams replaced Shaffer with Doug Laumann. Voila…low-ceiling college arms have been replaced with Gordon Beckham and Jared Mitchell in the two most recent drafts. Now Williams and Laumann must go about restocking one of Baseball’s barest cupboards. Fortunately, through a combination of solid drafts in 2008 and 2009, a couple of key International signings, and a couple of trades, there are at least a few pieces, but the depth dries out in this system very quickly.

Grade A –

1) Daniel Hudson, RHP (2009 – Dominance 78; Stamina 72; HRrate 50; Control 68)

Hudson’s performance was one of the most surprising performances of 2009, as the 5th round pick from 2008 sped through four Minor League levels before finishing the season with a September call-up to Chicago. His most dominating performance came in the Southern League (SOL), where in 56 innings he fanned 63, with a 1.60 ERA and a 0.834 WHIP. While we have no doubts that Hudson’s 2009 was ‘real’, as he possesses a low-90s fastball with decent late movement, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have concerns with the 22yo. They start with the fact that his 3rd offering is a mediocre Slider that he succeeded by avoiding in the lower Minors, but won’t be so fortunate with the Big League club. Add to that that we are always weary of right-handers that use their fastball to set up their Change as their dominant pitch. Finally, we don’t see a lot of additional projection left in his 6’4”, 220lb frame, which currently looks to be the projection of a mid-rotation starter. That said, Hudson looks like a good bet to secure a rotation spot with the White Sox some time during 2010—perhaps out of Spring Training, so the ‘floor’ is extremely high.

2) Dayan Viciedo, 3B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 50; First Base Rate 46; Discipline 59; Speed 50)

While choosing Hudson for the top spot was the safe pick, we admit to being tempted to choose Viciedo. In the end, Hudson’s ‘certainty’ out-weighed Viciedo’s considerable ‘ceiling.’ While the scrutiny one receives is substantial, when you sign a four-year $10 million contract as a 19yo, our perspective is that the critics paid more attention to the contract than to the overall performance. Viciedo played the entire season as a 20yo in AA, and posted, park-adjusted, League average numbers across the board. That was good enough to finish #13 in the League among hitters in our 2009 Performance rankings—despite it being his U.S. debut. But that only tells part of the story, as Viciedo posted a park-neutral OPS of .853 after mid-July. For a frame of reference, that was the same as Josh Bell’s SOL numbers in what was considered a breakout season, and Josh Bell is two and one-half years older. Don’t get us wrong, we expected more power than Viciedo showed, and he will have to learn to be more patient at the plate. There are still times when a good breaking ball will tie him in knots. And we aren’t commenting about the value of the contract that he signed. What we are saying is that we expect him to perform similar in 2010 to the second-half of 2009, and when you give him that half-year adjustment, his numbers put him in the Top 100 prospect range—which is a heckuva a lot better than his detractors would like you to believe. We would like to see him starting 2010 back at Birmingham, but with Morel likely moving there, our expectation is that he moves to AAA. We certainly believe that first base is his eventual destination, but despite what you might have heard elsewhere, Viciedo is still the prospect with the highest upside in the system.

3) Jared Mitchell, OF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 52; First Base Rate 78; Discipline 22; Speed 44)

We had Mitchell rated #36 entering June’s draft, primarily for one reason…he had too many questions surrounding his bat. So the White Sox sent him to full season A-ball and, in 115 ABs, he posted an .852 OPS. Mitchell, a wide receiver at LSU, is an incredibly talented athlete that could solve the White Sox long running problem, as a tremendous defensive CF. Next to Viciedo, no one in the organization has a higher a ‘ceiling’. However, Mitchell will have to cut down on his 29% strikeout rate if he stands any chance of reaching it. We had similar thoughts on Julio Borbon when the Rangers drafted him two years ago and that appears to be working out well for them. Mithcell is a big time ‘boom’ or ‘bust’ player that should start 2010 in Hi-A and possibly see Chicago sometime in 2011.

Grade B

4) Brent Morel, 3B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 68; First Base Rate 40; Discipline 74; Speed 76)

There is a big gap between #3 and #4 on this list, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t see Morel as one of the games more underrated prospects. We had Morel with a Top 40 grade entering the 2008 draft, when the White Sox took him in the 3rd round. He then posted the #26 Performance score in the SAL in a 172 AB debut. Assigned to the Carolina (CAR) League in 2009, he posted the #8 Performance score among hitters there. With some of the Minor League’s best plate discipline skills, Morel adds to that average power and at least average speed. He is also defensively solid, a rarity among 3B prospects in the Minors these days. Perhaps his greatest strength though is his heady, all-out, approach that makes one want to root for him. While you can never read too much into AZFL performances, Morel was one of the ‘surprising’ players there, finishing with the #11 Performance Score among hitters. The downside is, with only average power, his ceiling isn’t exceptionally high. We view him as a ‘high-floor’ guy who should become an average Big League thirdbaseman. Look for him to open 2010 at AA, and be battling Viciedo for the White Sox 3B job sometime in 2011.

5) Tyler Flowers, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 74; First Base Rate 65; Discipline 23; Speed 39)

The key piece that the White Sox received in the Javier Vazquez deal, Flowers has been tagged as A.J. Pierzynski’s eventual replacement in Chicago. His bat is his main skill, as he draws lots of walks and exhibits plus power. If he plays adequate backstop defense, and continues to hit as he has, we could see him with a Jason Varitek type upside. We have little doubt that he will get a shot at the Major Leagues. But that doesn’t mean we are sold on him either. Flowers made great defensive strides in 2009—but he had a steep hill to climb coming into the season, and doesn’t project to ever be more than adequate behind the plate. More concerning is his propensity to swing and miss, as his strikeout rate has increased from 20% to 25% to 28% over his last three levels. We reviewed J.P. Arencibia of the Blue Jays earlier, and we like Arencibia’s defense better, Arencibia’s power better, and they have the same plate discipline issues—and we are equally as guarded on Flower’s chances for Major League success. He should get his first taste of Chicago sometime in 2010.

6) Jordan Danks, OF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 58; First Base Rate 66; Discipline 31; Speed 56)

If you only get your information from the White Sox organization, then you can expect Danks to be roaming the White Sox outfield sometime in early-mid 2010, on his way to multiple all-star game appearances. Think of him as the 2010 version of Gordon Beckham. Puh-leeeze! The ‘believers’ will point to the .934 OPS that he posted in the CAR, before he was promoted to Birmingham. They will dismiss his .693 OPS AA performance, due to nagging injuries, and point to the .963 OPS that he posted in the AZFL. We on the other hand would like to offer some sanity to the discussion, and point out that his age-adjusted, park-neutral, performance scores ranked him #25 among hitters in the CAR, #53 among hitters in the SOL, and #24 among hitters in the AZFL. Folks, this isn’t elite prospect territory. The reality is that Danks ‘is what he is’, and that makes him an above average hitter that has an upside of an above average Major League CF, or an average to below corner OF as he ages. White Sox fans, do you remember Brian Anderson and Ryan Sweeny? Don’t get us wrong, the White Sox received excellent value by nabbing him in the 7th round of the 2008 draft, but his ceiling is limited. And before he can even reach that, he is going to have to improve upon that 26% strikeout rate. Don’t be surprised to see him open 2010 in Charlotte, and make an appearance in Chicago before season’s end...whatever that's worth.

7) Clevelan Santeliz, RP (2009 – Dominance 63; Stamina 26; HRrate 49; Control 25)

It’s a familiar refrain, but when you have Minor League relief pitchers dotting your top 10, your organization isn’t tremendously strong. Santeliz is a one-pitch pitcher…a fastball that typical sits in the mid-90s. The secondary offerings just aren’t likely to develop enough to make his upside any more than that of an 8th inning guy, and he still fights control issues from time-to-time. Nonetheless, the White Sox brass are high on him, and that should make the certainty that he gets a shot, fairly strong. We are far from sold on his longer term value, but when you compare the ‘certainty vs. ceiling’ matrix, he scores higher than anyone else left in the organization. He should begin the year in AAA and may see Chicago before the season is out.

8) Miguel Gonzalez, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 73; First Base Rate 58; Discipline 70; Speed 39)

Signed out of Venezuela as a 17yo, a year ago, Gonzalez posted the #4 Performance Score in the DSL in his debut. The White Sox brought him to the states in 2009 and had him make his U.S. debut as an 18yo in the APY. There, he once again posted the #4 Performance score in the league. With Gonzalez, you start with good defensive skills that should allow him to stay behind the plate. Add to that a bat that would play at most positions around the diamond. He has plus power potential, good contact skills, and very good plate discipline. If you were compiling this list on pure upside alone, he would likely rate #3 or #4. Unfortunately, we aren’t, and Gonzalez has only had 11 ABs in full season ball. We are very high on him, but will temper our enthusiasm until we see more. 2010 should give us a much clearer picture.

Grade B-

9) Josh Phegley, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 76; First Base Rate 23; Discipline 60; Speed 33)

As we get to the players that have more questions than answers, we find the White Sox supplemental 1st round pick from last June. We had him at #44 prior to the draft, and that was only a few slots behind where the white Sox selected him. Our book on him was that he had limited opportunity to stay behind the plate, but that his bat was strong enough to play elsewhere on the Diamond. If, by chance, he managed to stay behind the plate, he would offer tremendous value. The White Sox sent him to Full-Season A-ball for his debut, where he posted a somewhat disappointing .685 OPS. We’ll give him another shot in 2010, before getting overly concerned. Expect the White Sox to try to maximize their investment and keep him behind the plate as long as possible. Where he fits defensively remains the biggest question.

10) John Shelby, OF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 64; First Base Rate 37; Discipline 58; Speed 79)

After posting an .841 OPS in the CAR in 2008, Shelby lost considerable luster when posted a .725 OPS in Birmingham this past season. The good news for Shelby is that OPS is relatively insignificant in predicting future Major League success, and the underlying numbers that the 23yo produced, left him with the #23 age-adjusted, park-neutral, Performance Score among SOL hitters—higher than players like Jordan Danks, Greg Halman, and Gorkys Hernandez, to name a few. Shelby has the best combination of Power and Speed in the organization, and still posts decent plate discipline numbers. His downside last season was his ability to make contact. At only 5’10”, he won’t be given too many opportunities, so he will have to do better with them when they appear. He should spend most of 2010 in AAA, with an eye toward a Big League roster spot in 2011, and the eventual upside of an everyday OF.

11) C.J. Retherford, 2B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 69; First Base Rate 34; Discipline 68; Speed 39)

A ‘grinder’ in every sense of the word, Retherford is an over-achiever, lacking any plus tools. He is a solid hitter, with solid gap power and good plate discipline. His defense isn’t pretty, but he gets the job done. We’ll be honest, there isn’t a very high ceiling here, but Retherford continues to be a player that should get every ounce out of the limited skills he does possess. He’ll likely spend 2010 in AAA, with a shot to begin a career as a Major League utility player sometime in 2011.

12) David Holmberg, LHP (2009 – Dominance 52; Stamina 33; HRrate 47; Control 33)

The Sox believe they got a steal when they selected Holmberg in the 2nd round in June’s draft. My guess is that they see a lot of Mark Buherle in Holmberg, as they are both lefties, with similar body-types, and have excellent secondary pitches that are their calling cards. Had Holmberg had a fastball that was a few ticks higher than the Hi-80s that he typically throws, he would have been a top half of the first round talent. He has four pitches that he throws for strikes, and there is debate as to whether it is his Slider, Curve or Change that is his best pitch. In his APY debut, he finished with the #20 Performance Score. One always has to be concerned about a fastball that is ‘underwhelming’, but there is a lot of mid-rotation upside here. We’ll get our first full-season look at Holmberg in 2010.

13) Eduardo Escobar, SS (2009 Performance Scores – Power 31; First Base Rate 56; Discipline 63; Speed 75)

After posting a .602 and a .627 OPS in back-to-back SAL seasons, you won’t find too many continued believers in Escobar. But his glove is excellent, and he is just 20yo. While we don’t believe he will ever develop any power, and his speed is only average for the position, we do expect him to eventually be a good contact hitter, with above average plate discipline and a first rate glove. If he reaches his ceiling, he will likely be a bottom of the order hitter, in an everyday lineup with gold glove caliber defensive abilities. Despite his less than stellar offensive performance the last two seasons, he will likely find himself at Hi-A in 2010.

14) John Ely, RHP (2009 – Dominance 53; Stamina 73; HRrate 49; Control 62)

After underperforming to some degree the previous two seasons, Ely seemed to find his footing in Birmingham this year. The 23yo finished with the #13 Performance Score in the SOL. With the White Sox clearing of arms in the Peavy trade, Ely now finds himself as the organizations top right-handed starting pitching prospect behind Hudson. We find Ely to be of the low-ceiling college pitchers that the White Sox became famous for. Ely’s ‘stuff’ is average at best, and his upside appears to be little more than that of a back-of- the-rotation starter. Ely will find himself in AAA in 2010, with a chance to be called up to Chicago should one of their starters go down.

15) Jhonny Nunez, RP (2009 – Dominance 79; Stamina 29; HRrate 48; Control 43)

Usually when a player has been with four different organizations in four seasons, it isn’t a good thing. Not so in Nunez’s case, as every team has always talked about his live arm and mid-90s fastball. With two potentially plus pitches (Slider) and a big time fastball, one naturally thinks closer. Unfortunately Nunez has struggled against left-handed batters, and is likely destined to an 8th inning role. He has a shot to earn a bullpen slot in Spring Training. If not, he should see Chicago at sometime during 2010, so his ‘certainty’ quotient is rather high. Unfortunately, we don’t see a big-time upside here.

Grade C+ Prospects –

16) Carlos Torres, RHP; 17) Trayce Thompson, OF; 18) Santos Rodriguez, RP; 19) Juan Silverio, SS; 20) Brandon Short, OF; 21) Christian Marrero, 1B; 22) Jon Gilmore, 3B; 23) Sergio Santos, RP; 24) Charles Shirek, RHP; 25) Leighton Pangilian, 1B; 26) Brandon Hynick, RHP; 27) Kyle Bellamy, RHP; 28) Lucas Harrell, RHP; 29) Nick Ciolli, OF; 30) Ryan Buch, RHP; 31) Nathan Jones, RP; 32) Stefan Gatrell, OF.

Grade C ProspectsAnthony Carter; Kyle Colligan; Justin Collup; Alejandro De Aza; Jim Gallagher; Nevin Griffith; Matt Heidenreich; Greg Infante; Charles Leesman; Jon Link; Seth Loman; Dale Mollenhauer; Juan Ramirez; Jacob Rasner; Dan Remenowsky; Hector Santiago; Stephen Sauer; Joe Serafin; Brady Shoemaker; Luis Sierra; Steven Upchurch.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player's performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

1 comment:

  1. Good article. Just a note... it's Doug Laumann that replaced Shaffer not Lannan.