Twice annually, the writers at Future Sox work together to produce a list of the top prospects in the White Sox system. A small twist this year - we're going 30 deep instead of 25, partially as a reflection of how much deeper the system has gotten.
As usual, we are releasing in two posts. This is the first part (16-30) of our 2015 Preseason list. The top 15 (and full list including players who just missed the top 30) is coming later this week.
NOTE ON ELIGIBILITY: We consider a "prospect" any player in the White Sox organization who has not yet achieved MLB Rookie status.
STATE OF THE SYSTEM: Since our Midseason list, the system has graduated and/or lost some ranked prospects (Chris Bassitt, Rangel Ravelo, Scott Snodgress), but also added a few interesting names (Nolan Sanburn, Michael Ynoa, Onelki Garcia). Several draft picks from 2014 had strong pro debuts, and continued increases in international spending are beginning to pay dividends. The very top of the list is strong, with four or even five prospects likely to show up on one or more of the all-MLB top 100 lists. The system is also showing its strength in depth, as the back end of the list is as strong as we’ve seen in some time. When we publish the full list, you’ll see a number of players just outside the Top 30 who in other years would likely have made it.
RELEVANT STATUS CHANGES: Three of the top 30 players from the offseason list have graduated and/or are no longer in the organization: Rangel Ravelo (10th), Scott Snodgress (20th) and Chris Bassitt (25th).
THE LIST (prospects ranked 16th through 30th)
16. Tyler Saladino, INF [Previous: 23, +7]
- Drafted 7th Round in 2010
Few recent White Sox prospects have experienced the ups and downs in our rankings that Saladino has since he was drafted in 2010, having gone as high as 4th, to out of the Top 25, then back in. Tyler’s 2014 was a revelation, posting a .310/.367/.482 line for AAA Charlotte with good contact and some power (9 HR in 325 PA) while playing primarily in the middle infield. Then in mid-July the nascent utility man tore his UCL, resulting in Tommy John surgery in August that will keep him out of action until March or April of this year. With Marcus Semien now gone, Saladino finds himself with a good chance at a bench role with the White Sox, assuming he is healthy and ready in Spring Training as expected. He destroyed left-handed pitching (.939 OPS) and makes a good foil for Conor Gillaspie at third and (possibly) Micah Johnson at second, plus he can play his native shortstop where Rick Hahn told us he's the best defender in the org outside Alexei Ramirez and Cleuluis Rondon. How the 25-year old looks in Arizona in March may dictate if he’s in Chicago or back in Charlotte to open the season.
17. Trayce Thompson, OF [Previous: 17, no change]
- Drafted 2nd Round in 2009
It appears that Thompson now holds the record for consecutive Top 25 list rankings for one player, as he’s been here uninterrupted since late 2009 (much of that spent among the top 10). That’s good news and bad news though, as he’s now had six years in the system and he has yet to see significant playing time above AA. The tools remain enticing – he’s had plus tags hung on his athleticism, speed, arm strength and raw power. But he’s still got the same question marks as well – contact rates (25.4% K/PA in 2014 with AA Birmingham) and the effectiveness of his hit tool (.235 AVG in 1243 PA at AA). Despite his long experience in the system, Trayce is still only going into his age 24 season and he’s already major league-ready defensively with significant ceiling offensively. The brother of NBA player Klay Thompson, Trayce will likely be at AAA Charlotte to open 2015.
18. Nolan Sanburn, RHP [NEW]
- Drafted 2nd Round in 2012 by OAK, acquired late 2014
Sanburn was acquired from Oakland this past August in the Adam Dunn trade and hasn’t yet pitched in the White Sox system. Going into the 2014 season ranked as the #11 prospect in the A’s system according to Baseball America, his stock fell back a bit this past year due to minor shoulder problems that relegated him to relief work and raised some potential red flags. In that role in 2014 he posted a strong 9.2 K/9 rate against a very reasonable 3.2 BB/9. The stuff is significant: a fastball that runs low-to-mid 90's and touches 96 (and that BA called "electric"), a hard upper 70's curve with good depth, and work-in-progress slider and change. If his arm can ramp up to starting innings (he hasn't thrown more than 75 in a pro season) with that stuff, he's got mid-rotation upside. If he's a reliever, that FB-CB one-two punch could make him an effective late innings bullpen weapon.
19. Andre Wheeler, LHP [Previous: Unranked]
- Drafted 15th Round in 2013
This 23-year old lefty was a somewhat unknown commodity when he was drafted in 2013, having converted from outfielder to pitcher in 2012 and logging just 51 college innings. But he’s found himself climbing prospect lists thanks to both his 2014 performance and recent scouting reports. While working as part of a tandem with fellow lefty Jordan Guerrero, Wheeler had one of the strongest statistical seasons among pitchers in the system with Class A Kannapolis: 2.84 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 7.8 H/9 in 98.1 IP. Those numbers don’t appear to be an apparition either, given recent scouting reports. Wheeler deals a fastball that ranges from 90 to 95 with good run, a low 80’s slider with a lot of bite that flashes plus, and a change-up that shows some above average potential. Fangraphs writer Nathaniel Stoltz has a series of Wheeler videos on YouTube you can look at. Wheeler should be ramped up enough to have his own rotation slot for Advanced-A Winston-Salem to open 2015 as a relatively raw 23-year old.
20. Keon Barnum, 1B [Previous: 21, +1]
- Drafted 1st Round Supplemental (48th overall) in 2012
Barnum is a prototypical first base prospect, with big raw power and some question marks around whether or not his hit tool will translate enough. After injuries limited his play in 2012 and 2013, the prep draftee played his first full pro season with a challenging assignment to A+ Winston-Salem. As a 21-year old with just 69 pro games under his belt, Barnum’s trend over the year showed a player adjusting and improving (OPS of .470 in April, .635 in May, .917 in June), before pitchers adjusted and he may have felt the rigors of a full season (.672 in July, .631 in August/September). He hasn’t shown much game power yet (8 HR this year in 132 games), and there is a lot of swing and miss in his game (30.6% K/PA), which has caused him to slip back on prospect lists. The raw power is still enticing and he can put on a show in BP, plus he’s quite raw for the levels he’s been assigned so don’t write him off just yet. The team may elect to have him repeat A+ (where he’d still be a little on the younger side for the league), but their track record with high-draft pedigree prospects is to challenge them and he could start the year in AA Birmingham.
21. Kevan Smith, C [Previous: 18, -3]
- Drafted 7th Round in 2011
The highest-ranked catching prospect in an organization thin on such players continues his slow and steady progress through the system. In 2014 as an old-for-level 25/26-year old, Smith was among his team and league’s best overall hitters statistically with AA Birmingham: .290/.376/.437, 10 HR, 10.2% BB rate, 15.1% K rate. At the plate Smith has shown good power (10+ HR each of last three years in 101 to 108 games each year), makes good contact and gets on base. Defensively he’s got a strong arm and above average athleticism for a catcher, but his receiving skills still need some work. The team has expressed that they like Smith’s game approach and work with pitchers, and they thought enough of his chances to put him on the 40-man roster this offseason. With the parent club having trouble finding the right answers behind the plate, Smith has an opportunity to see the majors sometime in 2015 with a strong showing. Smith is likely to start the year at AAA Charlotte for his age 26/27 season, and this year may be his best window.
22. Michael Ynoa, RHP [NEW]
- Int'l Signee by OAK in 2008, acquired in 2014
Acquired as the "other piece" in the Samardzija trade, Ynoa has an interesting background. Signed for a then-amateur-record $4.25M in 2008 by the A’s, he was at one time a Top 100 prospect in the game before he threw a single pitch in pro ball. But due to a combination of injuries and TJ surgery, by 2012 he’d thrown just 40 game innings in four years since signing. He finally got in a near-full season in 2013 (75.2 innings), then was relegated to a relief role in 2014 with A+ Stockton where he struck out an impressive 64 batters against 21 walks in 45.2 innings. The initial profile is still intriguing: a 6’7” frame now more filled in, a mid-90’s fastball that has been called electric, and a curveball that shows promise. Rick Hahn told us his scouts feel he's got three plus pitches, but it wasn't clear if the 3rd was his change-up or another offering. The potential is there for a strong late-innings reliever if he puts it together. Despite the long road, Ynoa is still just 23 years old and likely starts 2015 in AA Birmingham’s bullpen.
23. Luis Martinez, RHP [Previous: Unranked]
- Int'l Signee in 2012
Martinez' signing for $250,000 was the first big fish of the Marco Paddy era with the White Sox. The scouting report from Baseball America on Martinez from the time he was signed as a 17-year old talked about a projectable frame with long arms and a delivery he repeated well. His fastball ran 88-92 with potential to go up as he fills out, and had a curve and a change-up. 2014 was his first year in pro ball, having skipped DSL and spending time with both White Sox US Rookie affiliates. As a 19 year old he posted a strong strikeout rate (9.6 K/9) and passable control (4.0 BB/9, improved during year) in 12 games (58.1 IP) with AZL White Sox and Great Falls. We haven't seen any in-person scouting reports from his 2014 stints, but the results are encouraging considering his age and development against the level. Martinez should be in full-season ball (likely Class A Kannapolis) in 2015, where we’ll have a chance to look at him in person.
24. Adam Engel, OF [Previous: 22, -2]
- Drafted 19th Round in 2013
Engel is a tool shed; possessing plus speed (some scouts have even said 80-grade), a strong arm, impressive athleticism and some raw power. Nathaniel Stoltz of Fangraphs clocked Engel around 11 seconds home-to-third on a triple, which is elite speed (he’s stolen 70 bases in 90 attempts in 159 pro games). As with some other toolsy outfielders in the system however, there are questions about whether or not his hit tool will mature enough to make use of the other assets. 2014 was his first full pro season, and his numbers for the year across A and A+ were a mixed bag: .256/.327/.372, 23.6% K/PA, 7.9% BB/9. Playing winter ball in Australia (roughly A+ equivalent), Engel started ice-cold (batting under .200 most of the 1st half) but then turned it on late, finishing with a .250/.314/.380 line and 18 steals in 22 attempts. There is a lot of potential here and the results so far are encouraging if you look at him as somewhat raw, but as age-appropriate for A ball the results are still some distance from the target. Look for Engel to open 2015 with A+ Winston-Salem as a 23-year old.
25. David Trexler, RHP [Previous: Unranked]
- Drafted 17th Round in 2014
Trexler is the definition of an out-of-the-blue prospect. Drafted in the 17th round for a $1,000 bonus in 2014, the 6’3” righty’s college scouting reports at UNF talked about an 88-92 mph fastball and good feel for breaking pitches – nothing that jumped out. Then after some small mechanical tweaks made with Sox staff, writers from both Baseball America and Fangraphs started reporting an entirely different picture from camp: a sink & run fastball at 92-96, and not one but two breaking pitches that looked above average to plus. That’s an intriguing profile for someone just starting pro ball, and a huge surprise given his draft pedigree. Trexler had no trouble across both rookie affiliates this year (30.2 IP, 29 H, 9 ER, 9 BB, 33 K) and induced a ton of ground balls (a ridiculous 7.67 GB:FB ratio), though he was much older than most players at those levels at 23. Fangraph’s Kiley McDaniel indicated the Sox plan to move him up quickly, and he could open the season in the more age-appropriate Advanced-A Carolina League with Winston-Salem’s rotation.
26. Jordan Guerrero, LHP [Previous: 24, -2]
- Drafted 15th Round in 2012
There are many parallels between Guerrero and 19th-ranked Wheeler. Both are LHP’s that broke out in 2014 in their first full-season assignments, their statistical results had similarities, and they even shared a rotation slot in a tandem arrangement. In 78 innings this year with Kannapolis as a 19/20-year old, Jordan put up good core numbers (3.46 ERA, 1.39 WHIP), struck out more than a batter an inning (80 K) and showed decent control (27 BB). He’s also unusual in the Sox system in that his fastball (runs typically 89-92 with a little sink) isn’t yet special, but he’s been very good with both the curve and change, with the latter getting plus tags from scouts. Considering he was a couple years young for level, the advanced feel for offspeed pitches and the possibility of adding strength to his slender frame make for an enticing profile. Again like Wheeler, Guerrero should have his own rotation slot in 2015, either back at Kannapolis or moving up to Winston-Salem before he’s old enough to buy a drink.
27. Andy Wilkins, 1B [Previous: 19, -8]
- Drafted 5th Round in 2010
Similar to 16th-ranked Saladino, Andy Wilkins was a relatively high level prospect in the system early on (as high as 13th in 2011), dropped back with some struggles, then exploded back onto the radar with a big 2014 in Charlotte. The hitting numbers were huge (.293 AVG, 30 HR, 38 2B in 529 PA) and the contact rate was good for a power hitter (17.2% K/PA). But there was a red flag too: his walk rate, which was above 10% in his four pro years prior, dropped off to 6.4% this past season (and nearly half of those came in the last month of the season when he was being pitched around). Then there was his September cup of coffee, where he looked overmatched hitting .140 and striking out 22 times in 45 plate appearances. He’s blocked in Chicago and is essentially the emergency backup in Charlotte going into his age 26 season, where he’ll need to show he can be more selective at the plate. But guys who hit 30 HR in AAA don’t grow on trees – the power is real and he makes contact, so if he can hit like 2014 again and get his walk rate back where it was prior, someone might give him another MLB shot.
28. Mike Recchia, RHP [Previous: 27, -1]
- UDFA, signed in 2013
Teams sign a handful of undrafted players every year, some from independent leagues, and most of them end up as minor league filler. But once in a while a team finds something more, and Recchia looks the part. Signed during the 2013 season and going three levels since, this Crestwood native and former Comiskey Park vendor had a strong 2014 across A+ (7 starts) & AA (19 starts): 3.05 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7.5 H/9, 2.7 BB/9, 8.2 K/9. He doesn’t have a stand-out pitch, but his fastball runs 91-94 with some late tail, a slider running 82-85 that a scout referred to as above average, a curve that generates some swing-and-miss and a change. The delivery is somewhat high-effort and the frame is shorter and stockier than your typical starter, but he’s physically strong and has no injury history. While he has the durability and track record to start, Mike’s FB-SL combo could play better out of the bullpen where his fastball could perhaps play up a couple ticks. Turning 26 in April this year, Recchia will need to perform well in AAA this season to stay on the radar, though he may open back with Birmingham before moving up to Charlotte.
29. Andrew Mitchell, RHP [Previous: Unranked]
- Drafted 4th Round in 2013
This big righty is in some ways the opposite of the pitcher right above him on our list. Mitchell has a fastball that has hit 97 with lots of sink and a plus curveball that was considered among the best in his draft class, but the results so far have been erratic. This TCU product made 5 starts but mostly worked from the pen, and he did strike out a very nice 83 batters in 65 innings while keeping hits (51) at bay. Unfortunately, he also walked a whopping 67 and was charged with 23 wild pitches. Needless to say he’s got some refinement to do, though the potential for a late-inning relief profile with two nasty pitches is still intriguing. Mitchell will be 23 and likely in the bullpen at A+ Winston-Salem to open the season, though it is possible they will try him starting again.
30. Eddy Alvarez, INF [NEW]
- UDFA, signed in 2014
The word ‘unique’ is among the most overused in journalism, but it safely applies to Alvarez’ path to professional baseball. Spending most of his early adulthood in the world of speed skating, Eddy has won World gold and earned an Olympic silver medal at the Sochi games last February. A month later he signed with the White Sox, spent a couple months in camp and began his pro career in June after not picking up a bat in over three years. One might have expected a lot of rust, but this Pedroia-sized infielder compiled one of the best statistical seasons in the entire system. Across AZL (Rookie) and Kannapolis (A) in 45 games (210 PA), Alvarez posted a .346/.433/.500 line with 5 HR and 9 SB. Defensively he’s still in search of a home as he learns, and while he has good speed his technique needs work (9 for 19 in SB attempts). Time away from baseball and his advanced age (will turn 25 this month) will work against him, but his brief and impressive pro debut and his experience competing at the highest level mean he should be on people’s radars. Look for this Olympian to open 2015 with A+ Winston-Salem as the team works him quickly up and closer to an age-appropriate level. See our interview with Eddy from August for some great insight into his fascinating path to the White Sox.
******Watch for our Top 15, capsules and the complete list including some just-missed names, which will be posted in a couple days!******
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