Tuesday, December 21, 2010

TEAM #30 – Chicago White Sox

Sorting out how to use Sale will be a major focus this spring

It is not so much that the White Sox have fallen from last year’s rankings, where they ended up at #28 in our guide (TEAM #26 – Chicago White Sox) , as much as it is that the teams that were behind them last season (the Astros and the Cardinals) have taken major steps forward. Overall, the strength of the system is presently comparable to the same time last year. While the Edwin Jackson deal did likely deprive them of a player that would have made this list (David Holmberg), the White Sox primary reason for occupying the ‘prospect basement’, despite getting Chris Sale as a steal at #13 last June, has to do with significant fall-offs from players like Tyler Flowers and Jordan Danks and the injury to Jared Mitchell. The system falls off a bit after Viciedo, and the drop accelerates rapidly after Morel. Combine that with the fact that the system has barely 2% of the nearly 1900 players that we graded ‘C’ or better this year and it becomes apparent that the ‘nearly bare cupboard’ that we described last year is becoming a problem.

Kenny Williams has never been afraid to trade from his farm system to help his Major League club. More times than not, in the past, he has seemingly gotten the better end of this type of deal. The Peavy and Jackson deals over the last 18 months were supposed to follow that path. But with the seasons that were put together by Clayton Richard and Dan Hudson in 2010, it begs the question whether Williams now is getting caught up more in the need to make something happen than looking out for the long-term interests of the club. The answer to that should be a lot clearer after this season, because, where the Sox could have dismantled an aging team and ceded the Central division to the Twins or the Tigers, Williams has resigned Konerko (34) and Pierzynski (34) and added Adam Dunn (31). While this will buy him some time to rebuild the farm system as the White Sox make a run at the division title, it saddles him with more ‘Peavy-like’ contracts that will be difficult to move if things should head south. It is a ‘riverboat gambler’ strategy that Williams has never shied away from, but will certainly expose Williams and the White Sox to further criticism should it fail. If there is a bright side, it comes in the form of the 2010 draft that appears to rival the 2008 and 2003 drafts for strongest White Sox draft of the last ten years, with seven first year players among the Sox top thirty prospects. Sox fans could be celebrating a banner 2011 season next October, but if not the farm system isn’t likely going to ease any pain.

Best Pick from 2010 – Our 2010 assessment of the organization stands up to anyone’s, but there was nothing that particularly stands out, as we rightly tabbed Hudson as #1 and correctly placed Viciedo and Morel higher than most of the ‘experts’—while warning against Flowers and Danks.

Worst Pick from 2010 – This is pretty easy, as Sergio Santos made the transition to bullpen arm in a huge way in 2010 and he only finished #22 on our list.

Grade A

1) Chris Sale, LHP (2010 Performance Scores– Dominance 80; Control 60; HRrate 29; Stamina 27)

We believed Chris Sale was the best college arm available in the 2010 draft. His 2010 College Performance score trailed only Texas A&M’s Barrett Loux. So we were as shocked as the White Sox likely were when he was still available at #13. The Sox fast-tracked Sale to the Big Leagues in a relief role, and he only continued to make favorable impressions once arriving—ending the season as the team’s best option at closer. Coming out of the bullpen allowed Sale to consistently throw his fastball in the mid-90s—a few ticks higher than he had worked as a starter. The relief work also allowed him to focus on his slider—the pitch that offered greatest concerns coming into the draft. What the bullpen did not allow him to do was showcase his plus-plus change—the pitch that is the main reason why we believe that he is ideally suited for a starting role.

At a slight 6’6”, we believe Sale could ‘beef-up’ and work in the mid-90s as a front of the rotation starter with a solid three-pitch repertoire. Unfortunately, word out of Chicago is that Sale is likely to once again find himself in the bullpen in 2011. This isn’t a two-pitch Neftali Feliz, that we advocated a bullpen role for. Therein lies the paradox with the White Sox decision to make a run at the Central division in 2011—as it likely means that Sale is the de facto closer vs. working on being a difference maker at the top of the rotation. Still just 21yo, the White Sox are unlikely to harm his development in any significant way, but this is a special arm that should be developed as such.

2) Dayan Viciedo, 3B (2010 Performance Scores – Power 75; Discipline 43; First Base Rate 28; Speed 34)

The scouting community continues to overlook the potential of Viciedo as a Major League bat. Only 21yo, Viciedo blasted 25 HRs in 343 AAA At Bats—finishing with a top ten Performance Score in the International League behind some very good hitters. More than that though, Viciedo posted an .840 OPS in 104 late season At Bats with the White Sox. This is a solid middle of the order Major League bat, with the potential for 35+ home runs, yet we were the only place that ranked Viciedo (#90) as a Top 100 talent last year and are almost surely to ranking him higher than most anyone else again this season.

The knock on Viciedo comes in two forms: 1) a 33:166 BB:K ratio thus far as a professional and 2) a lumbering build that makes Pedro Alvarez look sleek at third base. While we don’t expect Viciedo to ever become a patient hitter, his development curve is likely to produce reasonable BB:K numbers as he matures—remember he won’t turn 22yo until just before the 2011 season. As to the defense, the downside is that he is limited to a 1B/DH role, but the bat is special enough to make that acceptable. His arm is not a question at third base, so if he can continue to make strides on his conditioning and agility, the upside is that he becomes an adequate fielding, power-hitting third basemen—something that Brent Morel is unlikely to ever become. With the re-signing of Konerko and the addition of Adam Dunn, expect Viciedo to return to AAA to begin 2011. He may be the Sox most tradeable commodity should the need arise in-season. In any case, expect a bright offensive future from Viciedo.

Grade B+

3) Brent Morel, 3B (2010 – Power 55; Discipline 62; First Base Rate 51; Speed 45)

While, based on my earlier comments, it may sound like I am down on Morel; nothing could be further from the truth. We had Morel as the White Sox #4 prospect last season and he did nothing to disappoint in 2010, as the 23yo posted a top twenty Performance Score in the International League. Morel provides excellent third base defense and plus plate discipline skills. His contact skills rate as average. The problem lies in his power skills as we envision Morel’s upside to be very Joe Randa or Jeff Cirillo-ish. As we have mentioned before—‘ceiling’ trumps ‘floor’ and that would make Morel the #2 third base prospect in the organization—behind Viciedo. Fortunately for Randa—I mean Morel, Ozzie Guillen is a former shortstop who values defense and this team went into the 2010 season with Mark Teahan as their everyday thirdbaseman and played Omar Vizquel there heavily down the stretch. That translates into Morel having every opportunity to win the thirdbase job this spring. Compare him to the Marlins Matt Dominguez and we believe you will find similar hit skills—actually Dominguez has more potential with two years of development in hand, but Dominguez is a gold glove caliber defensive player—thereby providing a ceiling that matches the offensive risk. Morel’s defense is very good, but he is a high-floor prospect, whereby his glove will play in the Majors and his bat looks to be merely adequate at best.

Grade B

4) Jared Mitchell, CF

We were excited about Mitchell’s potential heading into the 2010 season and felt that he had true five-tool potential with a vast ‘ceiling’. That said, we expected his development curve to be somewhat slow—due to the fact that he was a two-sport college athlete. The White Sox had other ideas though and had visions of him opening the year in AA and, if the breaks went their way, patrolling the outfield in Cellular Field by September. But the breaks—namely a torn ankle tendon—went anything but their way and sidelined Mitchell for the entire season. Shaking off the rust in the Arizona Fall League, Mitchell looked extremely over-matched and now appears destined for the Carolina League to open 2011. Nothing that we said last year about Mitchell doesn’t still hold true today, but the development curve issue becomes bigger. Mitchell will be a 22yo in Hi-A to open the season and looks to be at least one and one-half years away from a Big League opportunity, meaning that he is likely to be nearly 24yo before he receives a legitimate shot. Still a huge boom or bust type prospect.

5) Eduardo Escobar, SS (2010 – Power 37; Discipline 59; First Base Rate 39; Speed 51)

While Escobar was on our radar screen last year (#13 White Sox prospect), he did not truly open eyes until his AZFL play this fall where he showed dazzling glove work and posted a top ten Performance Score. Escobar’s glove has never been in doubt, as he has good range, soft hands and a quick release. What has changed is a true breakout with the bat, as Escobar came into the season with a career .648 OPS and posted a .709 OPS as a 21yo between Hi-A and AA. With continued improvements at the plate, we can imagine a plus shortstop defender with an Omar Infante-esque bat. That is an above average Major Leaguer for the position. Expect Escobar to return to Birmingham to begin 2011 and he could be ready for a Major League job sometime in 2012.

6) Trayce Thompson, OF (2010 – Power 75; Discipline 26; First Base Rate 29; Speed 46)

Thompson remains more promise than production at this point, but we were adequately pleased with his injury-plagued 2010. Plus-power remains his top skill, but he combines that with average speed and solid outfield defense. The downside remains patience at the plate, as he whiffed 30% of the time in 2009 and now has done so 32% of the time as a pro. That said, he played in full-season ball as a 19yo and encouraging signs are there. What Thompson needs at this stage is time to develop. The White Sox should provide that by returning him to the South Atlantic League (SAL) in 2011. While he remains a considerable way off, his potential is as high as most anyone’s in the organization.

Grade B-

7) Jacob Petricka, RHP (2010 – Dominance 73; Control 63; HRrate 68; Stamina 64)

The White Sox selected Petricka in the second round last June—right about where his pre-draft ratings placed him. With a frame that could hold more weight, Petricka is likely to pitch in the mid-90s with his fastball. While he has potentially adequate secondary offerings that will allow the White Sox to try to develop him as a starter, his upside there is not as high as it would be coming out of the pen where he could excel toward the back of a Major League bullpen. That is not the type of profile that you would like to see quite this high on the list, but there is a reason why the White Sox are ranked at #30. Look for Petricka to open 2011 in the Carolina League.

8) Brandon Short, OF (2010 – Power 62; Discipline 52; First Base Rate 48; Speed 64)

It was a breakout season for Short, who entered the year as the organization’s #19 prospect. Short posted an .856 OPS in nearly 500 Carolina League (CAR) at bats, where he finished with the League’s #22 Performance Score. While he displayed average skills across the board in 2010, Short still lacks patience at the plate—something that is likely to be exploited at upper levels. Defensively he covers above average ground, but lacks arm-strength. This is his biggest potential negative, because he is unlikely to be able to stay in Centerfield as he matures and is unlikely to display typical corner outfield power. 2011 will be critical for Short, as his lack of patience will receive a real test at AA.

9) Andre Rienzo, RHP (2010 – Dominance 76; Control 53; HRrate 59; Stamina 70)

Despite this being the fourth year in the organization, it is the first year that Rienzo has made us believe that he was anything more than an oddity—namely being a Brazilian-born professional. His 125:32 K:BB ratio in 101 SAL innings was good enough to earn Rienzo a top twenty Performance Score in 2010—besting his #30 DSL ranking in 2008. Rienzo uses a low-mid 90s fastball to key a relatively well-developed three-pitch repertoire. He carries his velocity deep into games, and looks like a potential back of the rotation starter. While we don’t see a tremendously high-ceiling, Rienzo was a bright spot in 2010 for an organization that had few in its prospect ranks. Look for him to spend 2011 in the Carolina League.

10) Tyler Flowers, C (2010 – Power 72; Discipline 21; First Base Rate 41; Speed 38)

Little has changed in the way of our assessment of Flowers, except that another year has been removed from the calendar and the White Sox, through the Pierzynski signing, have indicated that they aren’t ready to turn over the everyday job to him. Flowers still has good power, and draws a fair amount of walks, but he also still strikes out way too often and is only marginal behind the plate. There are worst skill sets on display as Major League backstops, so we still expect Flowers to get a Big League shot, but we remain skeptical of Flower’s chances of Major League success. He will return to Charlotte to begin 2011.

11) Greg Infante, RP (2010 -Dominance 64; Control 40; HRrate 77; Stamina 25)

When your top 12 prospect list contains three probable bullpen arms, it speaks enormously of the quality of your organizational strength. That is where the White Sox find themselves as the final two names are both relievers. The White Sox used Infante exclusively out of the pen in 2010—for the first time, and he seems to have found a home, as he began the year in Hi-A and finished it in the Majors. An extreme groundball inducer, Infante pitches off of a mid-to-high 90s heater. His secondary offerings are nothing special and he can struggle with control at times, but he allowed no home runs in 65 innings of work in 2010. The White Sox have created opportunities in their 2011 bull pen, and it would not surprise us to see Infante become the 2011 version of Sergio Santos. This is not a player with an especially high upside, but he looks certain to have a Big League chance.

Grade C+

12) Addison Reed, RHP (2010 – Dominance 79; Control 69; HRrate 71; Stamina 32)

The White Sox selected Reed in the third round this past June and got decent value for the pick as Reed was one of the more accomplished college arms available—posting a top twenty Performance Score. The White Sox are said to be developing Reed as a starter, but we feel confident that if he is to reach the Majors, it will be in a bullpen role. The problem is that none of Reed’s raw stuff is spectacular. In the pen, he can deliver a mid-90s fastball that becomes a low 90s offering in a starting role. His curve is merely average, and his change would best be described as developing. In college he succeeded on guile, but he will need more than that to succeed in the pros. Our best guess is that he begins 2011 in the Kannapolis rotation.

Other Top 300 Candidates – You have got to be kidding me!

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

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