State of the System: Corner Infield

Positional Overview:
Prior to this off-season, the corner infield positions were both viewed as being weak spots in this organization, but GM Rick Hahn has done a good job of bringing in potential long-term occupants at both 1B and 3B this off-season in the shape of Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson, respectively. Beyond those two there are a number of other notable prospects too, especially at 1B, with a good mix of MLB ready (or close to MLB ready) talent (Abreu/Davidson) along with high upside prospects that are further away (Keon Barnum/Trey Michalczewski).

What can we expect from Jose Abreu?
Jose Abreu was signed as the long-term future at 1B for the Chicago White Sox, but what can we expect from him in this coming season? The tool that I have most confidence in is Abreu’s power, and hopefully he can slug something in the .220-.240 ISO range, which would put him amongst the top 10-20 power hitters in baseball. An ISO below .200 would be a disappointment. The rest of his game is much more uncertain for me. I am very curious to see what his approach at the plate is going to be like. The evidence from Spring Training is not particularly encouraging (1BB/10SO), though we all know that ST usually does not count for much. Averaging the four projection systems available on Fangraphs gives a projected triple slash of .274/.350/.506, with 30HR (.232 ISO), 9.14 BB% and 20.55 K%. This would be a hugely encouraging rookie season (and is more optimistic than my own expectations) and would make him one of the favorites for AL ROY.

Top Prospects:
Jose Abreu, 1B- Top ‘prospect’ in the entire system has potential to hit for plus power and average.

Matt Davidson, 3B- Acquired in the Addison Reed deal, Davidson heads what was a weak 3B crop (prior to his addition). As is the case for most prospects, there are some concerns with Davidson, most pressing of which being his strikeout troubles. Davidson had a K% (SO/PA) of 26.8% last year in AAA as a young-for-the-level 22 year old. That number jumped a little to 27.6% in 87 MLB PA’s, which would have ranked 10th amongst qualified hitters in MLB last year. Unless Davidson can make dramatic improvements in this area, which is certainly possible given his age, then we can probably expect future MLB batting averages from him somewhere in the .230-.260 range. Along with the high strikeouts, Davidson also brings a good walk rate. In 2013 Davidson had a BB% of 9.2% in AAA and 11.5% in MLB, and in 2012, at the AA level, he had an excellent 12% BB%. These BB% would have easily put Davidson among the top 5-10 3B’s in MLB last year, so even if Davidson is only a .230-.260 hitter in the Major Leagues, then he could still get on base at a somewhat reasonable clip due to his patience at the plate. Davidson’s best tool is his plus power. During his minor league career he has posted ISO’s (SLG-AVG) in the .190-210 range, including a .201 mark last year in AAA and .197 in MLB. If these rates translate to the Majors, then Davidson would be one of the top 5 or 6 power hitting 3B’s in baseball, with only Pedro Alvarez and Evan Longoria significantly ahead of him based on 2013 numbers. Defensively he projects as an average, or perhaps fringe average, defender at the hot corner. To sum it all up, Davidson has the potential to be a very useful piece for the White Sox, especially during his cost controlled years. The high strikeout rate will frustrate many fans, I’m sure, but the power and walks should still allow him to be an above average offensive contributor. If the strikeouts don’t completely overwhelm Davidson, then he could realistically settle into the 2-4 WAR range per season, which would be an excellent return for the White Sox.  

Best of the Rest:
Keon Barnum, 1B- Barnum missed the start of the 2013 season due to injury and then was slow out of the gate with Kannapolis, racking up big strikeout numbers in June and July. He rebounded well in August, putting up a .340/.414/.500 line while reducing the strikeouts significantly. Barnum’s best tool is his power, but he only hit for ok power in ’13 with a .149 ISO, though a lot of that may have been down to the injury. Barnum will likely always struggle making contact, so it’s essential that the power starts to show if he’s ever to become a future major leaguer.

Trey Michalczewski, 3B- Michalczewski was the Sox’ big overslot signing from the 2013 draft. He struggled in his pro debut with a poor contact rate (25.2% K%) and minimal power (.092 ISO), though he did walk at a nice rate (10.4 BB%). Due to the limited data available, it’s difficult to know exactly what type of hitter Michalczewski is, or has the potential to be. The scouting reports indicate he has good power potential and bat speed, and he sounds like a well-rounded prospect, though perhaps without any standout tools.

Rangel Ravelo, 1B- Ravelo is a favorite of many as a sleeper prospect entering the ’14 season. Ravelo has a solid approach at the plate, making a lot of contact, and even drawing a lot of walks this past season (11.5% BB% in A+). He finished 2013 with 51 BB/57 SO in 413 PA’s. Four HR’s and a .143 ISO at A+ in ‘13 also represented the best power output of his career to date. Ravelo has only hit 7 home runs in 1179 career PA’s, but he does have good doubles power and some project him to be a 10-15 HR guy in time. The transition from 3B to 1B last year negatively affects his future value and puts a lot more pressure on his bat. If Ravelo’s power continues to develop then his prospect status will take a big jump in 2014.

Andy Wilkins, 1B- Wilkins has been a steady performer since he was drafted in 2010. He opened 2013 in fine form while repeating AA with Birmingham, but cooled off after a mid-season promotion to Charlotte, where he posted a disappointing .265/.312/.423 line. Wilkins is probably more of a AAAA/organizational filler type prospect, but he could potentially bring some left-handed power from the bench in the Majors.

Still not giving up on…
Dan Black, 1B- A favorite of mine ever since he was drafted in 2009. Black has always shown good power and patience at the plate (he had 91 BB's in 2013) but has moved very slowly through the system. Maybe this will be his year.

Interesting Side Note…
Over the past 10 seasons, the White Sox have only have two 3B’s who have contributed a WAR over 2 in a single season, one of those was Gordon Beckham (2.5 WAR in 2009), the other was Joe Crede (4 WAR in 2006). Matt Davidson could be set to fill what has been a glaring hole in the White Sox’ lineup for much of the past decade.

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