This time of year, there are always more players in the organization than there is room for on active major and minor league rosters. If you attempt a depth chart for the April-starting affiliates (Class A and up), even leaving out the guys likely to be in rookie ball (which starts in June), you end up with a few more players than can fit on the 25 man rosters of those teams.
This is by design. Some of these players will be released, others traded (mostly in minor deals), and yet others will be kept in Arizona for Extended Spring Training to be assigned later. Some will end up on a disabled list with injuries or “injuries” – last spring the Charlotte (AAA) disabled list was littered with players whose presence on the list was dubious at best. It was clear the team was using the list as a reserve roster of sorts.
But this year, the number of pitchers in the organization who seem targeted for AAA is comically large. By our count, there are 28 hurlers who are either established at AAA or have a solid full season or more of relative success at AA. The Charlotte Knights’ roster will likely hold 12 pitchers. So unless the White Sox are going to field a second AAA team, about 16 of them will not be in a Knights uniform for the opening of their new ballpark in April.
That doesn’t even account for guys who have only a little AA experience but may quickly jump to AAA – Chris Beck, Chris Bassitt and Cody Winiarski all could be knocking on the door pretty quickly. Rehabbing pitchers like Henry Mabee and Kyle Bellamy are also left out.
Let’s take a March Madness-like look at the field. Trades cannot be predicted, so this will be based on talent level, track record and current organizational needs. Who are locks to make it? Of the arms on the bubble, which ones are leaning in or leaning out? Which long shots have to have everything fall just right to be there?
***NOTE: We are going to assume for this exercise that Felipe Paulino gets the 5th starter slot, Donnie Veal the second lefty reliever role, and Daniel Webb the final open bullpen chair. These are the most likely scenarios at this point.
Andre Rienzo showed flashes of his talent in 10 starts in Chicago last year after a Charlotte campaign that saw him get stronger each month. He’s got a shot at the Sox rotation if Paulino falters, and also has a long shot at the pen, but he’s just outside as it stands today. Being effectively the team’s sixth starter, Rienzo should begin 2014 at the top of the Knights’ rotation, working on consistency and control.
Lefty Eric Surkamp was claimed off waivers from the Giants this offseason, and he was considered a significant prospect until elbow surgery shut him down for 2012 and part of 2013. Surkamp is a finesse pitcher and he hasn’t looked sharp in Arizona thus far, so he should be in the Charlotte rotation getting back to starter-level innings.
Another lefty, Charlie Leesman is roughly number 7 or 8 on the starter pile for Chicago and also is going to get a look as competition for the 2nd lefty slot in the pen. But with Veal more experienced and out of minor league options, and too much depth ahead of him for the rotation, look for Charlie to be starting games for the Knights come April.
Jake Petricka and his plus fastball made the successful transition back to the bullpen in 2013 and showed flashes of his talent but also some control issues in 16 games on the South Side. Petricka stands as the probable first call-up for any right-handed needs in the bullpen, and will likely be the Knights’ closer.
LEANING IN (8)
32 year old Lefty specialist David Purcey signed a new MiLB deal with the Sox after posting iffy results in Chicago in 19 games last year. Having pitched in 111 MLB games he’s got nowhere to be but Charlotte, where he’ll be waiting for any struggles from Veal and/or Leesman. We can’t call him a lock because, given his past control issues and the presence of other lefties at this level, he is also a release candidate.
Flamethrower Maikel Cleto was signed just a few weeks ago as a classic “Coop will fix ‘em” candidate. The owner of a mid-90’s fastball, heavy sinker and major control problems will hope to harness his at-times wicked stuff in AAA. Cleto is out of minor league options, and since he is a very long shot to be in Chicago in April, there is a chance he declines assignment or is claimed by another team.
Nestor Molina has officially transitioned to a relief role, and there have been some positive reports that the change may suit him. Given that the Sox once saw him as a key prospect, they won’t give up on him easily, so expect him to be given every chance to show his value as a reliever.
Dylan Axelrod started 20 games with the Sox last year, came out of the bullpen in 10 more, and just wasn’t successful in either role. He’s mastered AAA though, and with a new minor league deal, that’s where he’ll be again. They may try to convert him to a reliever, to see if his stuff can play up a bit in shorter stints. He’s also a guy to keep on release watch.
Brian Omogrosso spent time in Chicago each of the last two seasons, but he got lit up in his 12 games in 2013. Signed to a new minor league deal and already sent over to minor league camp, Omogrosso’s results haven’t been great in AAA either in recent years. But he seems likely to be part of Charlotte’s pen this year.
Tall right-hander Taylor Thompson put up very solid numbers up through AA despite being a 44th round pick, but he hit a wall in his first AAA stint. The Sox moved him up quickly prior to that, so he’s likely still on their radar, and should be part of the Charlotte bullpen.
Frank de los Santos was acquired from the Rays last September. This 26 year old lefty is nominally in the LOOGY race, but he’s behind a number of other guys. He has a history of getting lots of ground ball outs, which the Sox like, so they’ll keep him in AAA to see what he can do.
Spencer Arroyo is yet another lefty, but he’s been a starter throughout his career and doesn’t profile as a specialist. He spent half of 2012 and basically all of 2013 at AA Birmingham (made 1 start with Charlotte) with decent results last year, and he’ll likely take up the back end of the Knights’ rotation.
LEANING OUT (10)
Deunte Heath has become the master of sticking around. Despite somehow walking 12 batters in 7.2 innings in Chicago last year, this 28 year old with three seasons of AAA under his belt is getting a chance at a fourth. He’s also likely the first guy to move to the “lean in” category if anyone above him is unable to make it to North Carolina come April.
Lefty Mauricio Robles pitched in 3 games with the Phillies last year after showing himself very tough to hit in AAA (16 hits in 38 innings), but he’s also had control issues (BB/9 rates often north of 6). Reminiscent of Leyson Septimo’s profile, he’s got a shot at the Charlotte roster, but he’s behind a few other southpaws at the moment.
Stephen McCray repeated rookie ball after being drafted, then suddenly found himself on the fast track, going from A to AAA in just two seasons. His tools don’t stand out, he doesn’t miss many bats or induce many ground balls, but he’s somehow consistently gotten above average core results. He may repeat AA, or perhaps be converted to a reliever to play his fastball up a bit, which would give him a better shot.
Kevin Vance is probably the most ‘prospecty’ among the lean-out group, posting strong strikeout and hit rates in AA at age 22 last season (and just two years removed from his draft). But he’ll have a hard case to make for starting the year in Charlotte, partially due to some command issues from 2013, but mostly due simply to crowding on the depth chart. He’s not a candidate for release, but he may have to start back in Birmingham in his age 23 season, still at an age-appropriate level.
Salvador Sanchez was converted from shortstop and saw four levels in 2012 ending in Birmingham. His numbers back in AA in 2013 were improved and very solid in basically every category, so he should be seeing AAA this year. It just may not be to start the season.
The Sox picked up lefthander Evan Crawford in the AAA phase of the Rule V draft in December from Toronto. Crawford’s brief 10 games in the majors in 2012 weren’t too god, and neither were his 2013 AA or 2012 AAA results. He’s a sinker-baller who is tough on lefties and gets plenty of ground balls, so the Sox will probably try to mold him into a LOOGY, and he may start the year in extended camp or AA.
Scott Carroll was in the Knights’ rotation in 2012, then spent 2013 rehabbing from TJ surgery on his elbow (you can read his article on our site about that process here). This 29 year old righty has 59 games at AAA and would seem to be ticketed back there again on his new minor league deal, but he’s got a crowd to fight through and his rehab may mean he’ll be kept in extended camp. Birmingham is also a possibility.
Parker Frazier was an offseason signing for depth, and he made the change from starting to relieving for 2013. His numbers in two AA stops were decent, but he got hammered in a brief 9 game stint in AAA. The improvements as a reliever are enticing, but he’s on the outside looking in as it stands today.
Ryan Kussmaul has been nails two years running with Birmingham, but the 27 year old has yet to be given a real shot at AAA. The lack of a look is likely due to underwhelming tools, but given what he’s done in AA so far, you’d think he should get a shot if a slot opens up. There just isn’t one right now.
Nick McCully put up good core results with Birmingham last year, but he got hit around in Charlotte in 9 games and his strikeout rates at both stops were quite low. This coupled with a fly ball tendency means he's likely headed back to Birmingham, and back to a relief role, wherein he previously posted much stronger peripherals.
NEED SOME HELP (6)
After stints in Japan and in the Red Sox organization, Terry Doyle has come back to the White Sox for another shot. His 2013 results between AA and AAA were not encouraging, but he had previously looked good at those same levels with the White Sox in his first tour. Hard to say where he may slot in this year.
Tony Pena Jr converted from shortstop after 2008 and has ranged around through five organizations as a pitcher, last with Charlotte where he pitched in 33 games (9 starts). He’s got 3+ seasons of mediocre AAA pitching under his belt, and it’s hard to see where a 32 year old innings eater like this has much value for the Sox.
Matt Zaleski has been in the White Sox minors for 10 straight seasons, which must be some sort of record for a guy with the same club who hasn’t reached the majors. He’s had 78 games of mediocre results in AAA, and it is hard to see how he fits in while going for 11.
Omar Poveda was signed as a minor league free agent this offseason after posting OK numbers with Atlanta’s AAA team in 2013. He’s gotten hit around in 3 innings of spring training ball so far, and doesn’t seem to have a landing spot.
Since pounding his way up to AA posting big K numbers along the way, Dan Remenowsky has bounced off the AAA wall three separate times. Going into his age 28 season and with declining numbers, it’s hard to imagine him breaking camp with the Knights.
Native Chicagoan and former Cubs prospect David Cales posted decent numbers with Birmingham last year, but his 23 games of AAA results are a little rough. Cales missed time in 2011 and 2012 with injuries, and may finally be up to full strength now, but who would he pass on the chart?
With over twice as many pitchers as can possibly fit on the Charlotte Knights' roster, it should be a busy few weeks on the transaction wire. If you have any guesses, leave a comment and tell us what you think.
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Tags: Andre Rienzo, Brian Omogrosso, Charlie Leesman, Charlotte Knights, Dan Remenowsky, David Cales, david purcey, deunte heath, Dylan Axelrod, Eric Surkamp, Evan Crawford, Frank de los Santos, Jacob Petricka, Kevin Vance, Maikel Cleto, Matt Zaleski, Mauricio Robles, Nestor Molina, Nick McCully, Omar Poveda, Parker Frazier, ryan kussmaul, Salvador Sanchez, Scott Carroll, Spencer Arroyo, Stephen McCray, Taylor Thompson, Terry Doyle, Tony Pena Jr