Welcome back for Part Two in a sometimes depressing two-part series, in which I cast a nostalgic gaze back upon the recent history of White Sox minor league baseball, remember the prospects that had good years, and then remember the less good years by those prospects that were almost sure to follow. Part One, covering the late unpleasantness of 2005-2010 on the farm, can be found here. Different in this Part Two (2011 to present) is that in some cases, maybe the results aren't so depressing.
2011 — Dylan Axelrod
Axelrod was a late, late draft pick by the Padres in 2007, undrafted until the 30th round. Like most late-round picks, he was released after just a couple seasons. But unlike most late-round picks, he was then signed to a minor-league deal straight from an independent league team (the Windy City ThunderBolts, coincidentally where high-round Sox draft pick Keenyn Walker ended up this year).
Axelrod started the year in Birmingham, where he was decent, and moved up to the Knights, where he was much better. He put up a 2.27 ERA and struck out a decent number of guys, although his walks were a little high. In any case, it was good enough to get him called up in September to the Sox, where he appeared in four games and gave up six runs over 18 2/3 IP. However, apart from a nearly identical stint with Cincinnati in 2014 (five appearances, six runs, 18 1/3 IP), Axelrod never replicated that success. He most recently pitched for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
2012 — Brady Shoemaker
Shoemaker’s first half of 2012 was one for the books. He was a Mid- and Post-Season All-Star, in addition to being named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star and getting Player of the Week honors in the Carolina League twice. The outfielder slashed .331/.422/.549, 13 home runs, 30 walks, 23 doubles, you could see his name in lights. Plus, his first name was my last name, so how could it go wrong?
The catch was that he was 25 years old in a league roughly two years younger than him, and when he was promoted to Birmingham, he could only muster a .254 average (although he did boast a .408 OBP, courtesy of his 45 walks in 56 games). The power faded as well, leaving him with four dongs and 12 doubles for the Barons on the season. Shoemaker missed 2013 with a torn labrum and was claimed by the Marlins in the Rule 5 draft. Like Brian Anderson, he came back to the Sox later on in his career — 2016 — and hit .229 in 29 games for Birmingham before being released again. He currently plays for the St. Paul Saints of the American Association, where the winter is cold and Fun is Good.
2013 — Josh Phegley
The Pheg Machine! At this point, Phegley had been around for a little while, but had his early playing time limited by an autoimmune disorder. Eventually, he got his spleen removed, and by 2013 he had recovered enough to hit .316 with 34 extra-base hits in 61 games for Charlotte. This was at a time when Tyler Flowers was starting for the Sox, so the idea of a catcher who could hit was like an oasis in the desert.
This was an immediate payoff from “is he good??” to “he’s not that good,” as Phegley was called up to start that July and hit .206. After the 2014 season, he was part of the package sent to the Oakland A’s in exchange for Jeff Samardzija. Phegley is currently splitting catching duties with Stephen Vogt, and is batting .197. His being a four-year Major Leaguer does put him in better territory than most in these articles, even if he's a backup battling the Mendoza Line.
2014 — Tyler Danish
Tyler Danish is definitely still a thing, but his first full season was even more of a thing. He’s always been a funky pitcher, with a weird windup and stuff that doesn’t blow past the hitter but fools him instead. Danish, a second-round pick in 2013, proved nigh-unhittable that year, and continued putting up double-take-inducing numbers in 2014. He was promoted after 38 innings for Kannapolis, in which he put up a 0.71 ERA in seven games started, giving up only three earned runs over that span.
In Winston-Salem, he gave up nine times as many earned runs as he had in Low-A, which left him with a 2.65 ERA over 18 games and 91 2/3 IP. Combined, he was 8-3 on the season, with a 2.08 ERA, 129 2/3 IP and a WHIP of 1.141. Also, he was 19 years old in 2014.
Currently, Danish is adjusting to Triple-A, where he’s having some problems with walks, although his ERA is a manageable 3.66 in a league almost five years older than him. He also made a spot start for the Sox, going five innings and giving up three hits and six walks but zero runs, in an emblematic performance.
2015 — Tim Anderson
Of course everyone knows all about Tim Anderson now that he’s Chicago’s starting shortstop - and being a top 100 prospect across MLB means it might be a stretch to call him just "OK". But did he ever have a great season on the farm in 2015. He spent all year with the Barons and hit .312, and if you looked past his 24:114 BB/K ratio, the eye-popping stat was the 49 stolen bases in 62 tries. This was good for the Southern League lead in that category, 12 more than the second-place runner-up, teammate Jacob May. Anderson hit with limited home-run power, ending up with just five, but used his speed to rack up 21 doubles and 12 triples.
At 24 years old, Anderson can be found between second and third base for the White Sox, and is showing signs of life after a rough start. The walk rate is still minuscule and the strikeout rate is still high, but he’s looking more and more like a real major league position player that the White Sox actually drafted themselves and everything. It’s a first in recent memory. He's the rare - unique on this list - example of a player who really might live up to expectations.
2016 — Brannon Easterling
Easterling is quintessential “Player That I Thought Was Good That Turned Out To Not Actually Be As Good As I Thought They Were” material. In 2016 with the Intimidators in Low-A, Easterling split time between starting and relief with terrific results: a record of 7-3, a 1.86 ERA and a WHIP of 1.03 over 126 innings. He started 18 games of the 34 in which he appeared overall.
Usually, such an outstanding season would generate some buzz, but Easterling isn’t a typical case. He was drafted in 2014 at 23, and during that stellar 2016 season was 25, about three years older than the Southern Atlantic League average. He spent the previous two seasons in rookie-level ball. The 126 innings came with just 88 strikeouts. It was possible that he was just advanced for the league physically.
So far this year, he has a 4.20 ERA in 60 IP starting for the high-A Dash, where he is still about three years older than the league.
2017 — Mike Morrison
I was feeling so optimistic about the future that I decided to throw in 2017! Of course, young highly-ranked prospects like Michael Kopech, Yoan Moncada, and Dane Dunning are filling up the headlines this year, but some lower-profile players are quietly having great seasons as well. Mike Morrison, a 27th round draft pick in 2016, is repeating low-A for his first full season (he only got in 11 games last year) and is virtually untouchable. He didn’t give up a run in relief until the end of May — two runs — and they still stand as the only runs he has given up this year. Morrison has an ERA of 0.64, a WHIP of 0.393, and gives up 1.9 hits per nine innings. He has 37 strikeouts and only five walks in his 28 innings pitched.
He’s 23 and is slightly above league average age, so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do in Winston-Salem once he’s inevitably called up. It’s even possible that he’ll end up as A Player That I Thought Was Good That Turned Out Actually Be As Good As I Thought They Were! Hope springs eternal.
Morrison is covered more in-depth (and in-person) as part of this article.
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