The conclusion of this series is about the lifeblood of any minor league system, starting pitching. You can never have enough pitching as the saying goes. The White Sox don't have to worry about having too much starting pitching in the minors though. Most of the top pitching prospects in the system either profile as relievers or are veteran minor leaguers that have limited ceilings. There are few new and exciting names to talk about, but that's not to say there isn't hope.
2010 Preseason Prospect Rank: NR
2010 Postseason Prospect Rank: T-11
Key Stats: 101 IP, 125 K, 32 BB, 3.65 ERA (Low-A)
Let's start off with the guy that excites me the most. Rienzo emerged in a way somewhat similar to Fautino De Los Santos in 2007. Both foreign talents stayed mostly off the radar in the Dominican Summer League, joined Kannapolis after opening day as 21-year-olds and boasted strong stats once there. The main difference is that De Los Santos pitched in three levels in his breakout season while Rienzo stayed in Kanny all of last year. The Brazilian righty is going to pitch in Winston-Salem this year and can arguably still be called a sleeper. He's still flying mostly under the radar despite having the best statistical season of any White Sox minor league starter in 2010. Given the comparison to De Los Santos (and previous trades of Dan Hudson and Brandon McCarthy) it's almost too obvious to say he could be trade bait. However, the fact that the Sox took it slowly with him last year compared to those three could be a sign that they intend to keep him instead of inflating his value for a trade.
3rd round draft pick in 2010 (95th overall)
2010 Postseason Prospect Rank: 10
Key Stats: 30 IP, 44 K, 6 BB, 1.80 ERA (Rk Great Falls)
Reed is growing on me. He was a reliever for two years in college (and a damn good one) before moving to San Diego State's rotation last year. There, he posted a K/9 above 10 and a BB/9 below two. With Great Falls he put up similar numbers, though he pitched mostly out of the 'pen. It's assumed he will go back to starting this year, but it's unclear where his future is. He seems to have good enough secondary pitches to stay a starter, but since he was a closer in college, he will be mentioned as a future reliever until he proves otherwise. His slider is his best pitch and his fastball and change are decent offerings. I see no reason why he shouldn't continue to do well in Kannapolis this year.
2nd round draft pick in 2010 (68th overall)
2010 Postseason Prospect Rank: 8
Key Stats: 9.2 IP, 10 K, 8 BB, 3.72 ERA (Low-A); 34.2 IP, 38 K, 7 BB, 2.86 ERA (Rk Bristol)
Petricka has major heat and that's enough to be considered a prospect and a solid pick early in the draft. However, a lot of people were saying that the Indiana State standout was destined for the bullpen. After starting with Bristol, Petricka got moved up to Kannapolis but came out of the 'pen. This year he will return to Kannapolis, but it's assumed he will be a starter again. He needs to further develop his secondary pitches as a starter this year. If scouting reports say he has done that, that trumps all stats at least for this season.
2010 Preseason Prospect Rank: 13
2010 Postseason Prospect Rank: 18
Key Stats: 84.2 IP, 39 K, 44 BB, 5.10 ERA (High-A); 63.2 IP, 51 K, 20 BB, 2.69 ERA (AA)
I know I mentioned Leesman in the relievers piece as someone who profiles better in the bullpen, but until he actually comes out of the 'pen as a professional he stays in this section. Interestingly enough, he moved down in our prospect rankings despite posting a career best ERA, K/9 and BB/9 this year in Birmingham. Of course, that came after posting career lows in the same categories in the first half of the season at Winston-Salem. Leesman leads the way in the 'most bizarre season' category. Got what appeared to be an undeserving promotion and then was a stud. It's likely the Sox had him working on a pitch, saw the desired improvement and he pitched 'normally' in AA. That's the only explanation I have for the promotion and ensuing success. As a lefty, he's a rare breed in the organization, but like Chris Sale he might be a reliever in the future. No idea what to expect from this year. He could be a bit of a sleeper if he keeps the momentum from last year's second half.
2010 Preseason Prospect Rank: 17
2010 Postseason Prospect Rank: 22
Key Stats: 68.1 IP, 37 K, 17 BB, 3.69 ERA (AA)
Shirek is a guy on the fringe. At 25 years old and a K/9 hovering around 5, Shirek doesn't profile very well at the moment. However, he is a control guy, one of the best in the system. The former Nebraska Cornhusker is probably looking at a last chance this year. With no big names standing out in the high minors, a strong season could propel Shirek into a surprise spot start like that of Lucas Harrell a year ago. My expectations are minimal, but a couple hot months could give him a dream opportunity.
2010 Preseason Prospect Rank: NR
2010 Postseason Prospect Rank: 23
Key Stats: 76 IP, 58 K, 11 BB, 2.49 ERA (Rk Bristol)
Heidenreich is a very solid sleeper candidate for 2011. He was drafted out of high school in '09 and showed a lot of progress in his second year at Bristol, even earning a token bullpen appearance with Kannapolis. Still just 20, the California native is still a bit of an unknown. He was called a project when drafted so waiting a couple years to get to full season ball is fine. At 6'5" it's easy to see why the Sox took him in the fourth round. Rienzo is the easier pick for a breakout, but Heidenreich is certainly a name to watch this season.
In recent years the Sox have typically had at least one starting prospect in the high minors that could step up in case of injury (see Hudson and McCarthy). Chris Sale could fit that profile, but seems to be a reliever. That's what makes this year a bit different. Lucas Harrell might get a spot start or two, but he's at best No. 7 on the organization's depth chart and he's not exactly a top prospect. If Rienzo continues to develop, he could be that guy but not this year. What's more disturbing is that of the six guys profiled above at least
three of them (Reed, Petricka, Leesman) seem to profile as relievers. There are other names, like Terry Doyle (25 years old and hasn't pitched in AA), Nevin Griffith (2nd round pick in '07 that can't stay healthy), Steven Upchurch (touted above slot pick in '08 that hasn't pitched above rookie ball) and Thomas Royse (3rd round pick last year that is likely out for the year with Tommy John Surgery) that could shock us with a leap forward, but I'm not going to hold my breath. This is arguably the weakest part of the system right now so the best thing to hope for is for the current group to stay healthy and for another sleeper or two to emerge.