Twice annually, in January and July, the writers at FutureSox work together to produce a list of the top prospects in the White Sox system. The list is released in two parts: numbers 11-25 first, then numbers 1-10. Here is the first part of our 2014 preseason list.
NOTES ON ELIGIBILITY: We consider a “prospect” any player in the White Sox organization who has not yet achieved MLB Rookie status. This means players like Jose Abreu, Micker Adolfo and Adrian Nieto are eligible for the list, even th0ugh they’ve never seen the Sox minors (and in Abreu and Nieto’s cases, likely never will).
STATE OF THE SYSTEM: The Sox system is stronger than it’s been in years. Overall talent depth is greatly improved, and you no longer see national publications putting the Sox farm at the bottom of MLB (as it was for the past few years). Increased spending on the draft and international players, rebuilding of their Latin American operations, improved scouting, favorable changes to draft bonus rules and a swing of the prospect balance sheet from net negative (trading away) to net positive (acquiring) have all helped the system get to near major league average.
WHAT’S HAPPENED IN 6 MONTHS: Catcher Josh Phegley (#5 on the 2013 midseason list) and RHP Andre Rienzo (#15) have both “graduated”, having reached rookie status in MLB. LHP Santos Rodriguez (#25) was recently claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Via trades late in 2013 and during the offseason, and even the Rule V Draft, the Sox acquired nearly a dozen eligible minor leaguers, while only losing one who had any shot at making the list (OF Brandon Jacobs, acquired then traded away in just a few months’ time).
11. Daniel Webb, RHP [Previous Rank: 10, -1]
- Drafted 18th Round in 2010 by TOR, acquired via trade in 2012
2013 saw fireballer Daniel Webb go from the outside edge of the prospect radar all the way to Chicago and a top 10 prospect ranking. This 24 year old righty found a way to harness his triple digit fastball and make his offspeed pitches be more than show-me stuff. The big righty started the season by blowing away hitters for A+ Winston-Salem (15 IP, 10 H, 0 ER, 5 BB, 19 K), was promoted and did it again for AA Birmingham (20.1 IP, 11 H, 4 ER, 5 BB, 21 K), and blew away even more hitters for AAA Charlotte (27.1 IP, 24 H, 9 ER, 17 BB, 38 K) before reaching Chicago and looking pretty comfortable there too (11.1 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 10 K). He accomplished this with a mid-upper 90’s heater that touches 100 and tails arm-side, a hard slider usually in the mid 80’s, and a less often-used change up. Webb will likely be in the White Sox bullpen to open 2014, and may even challenge for the closer role.
12. Carlos Sanchez, SS/2B [Previous: 6th, -6]
- Signed in 2009 from Venezuela
At this time a year ago, Sanchez was the highest ranked middle infielder in the system. But it appears the decision to make him the youngest player in all of AAA baseball to start the 2013 season (at age 20) was overly aggressive, as he struggled to a .241/.293/.296 line in Charlotte while splitting time between short and second. He did help make the case that he just needed time to adjust by being named rookie of the year in the Venezuelan Winter League. He put up a .348/.428/.443 slash line in about 260 plate appearances, giving him the 3rd highest AVG and 4th highest OBP in the league. Starting 2014 as a still very young-for-level 21 year old, he’ll likely repeat AAA and hope to use his VWL performance and a year of facing advanced pitching to get his hitting back on track. The switch-hitter had a big 2012 (.323/.378/.403 across A+, AA and AAA), and has shown reasonable contact rates throughout his time in the minors. The ability to provide plus defense at 2B and at least competent at SS and 3B give both him and the Sox options. He still hasn’t developed much power, but if he can find a way to get on base at a high rate, with his speed and defense he could find a starting role in the majors or at least be a valuable utility infielder.
13. Keon Barnum, 1B [Previous: 7, -6]
- Drafted 1st Round Supplemental (48th overall) in 2012
Barnum has had a rough start in the system, in great part because of injuries. After only seeing brief action his draft year (2012) dealing with a minor shoulder injury, this year he didn’t get going until mid-June due to a hamate bone issue. The 20 year old ended up with a .254/.315/.403 line with Class A Kannapolis, showing some power but also a high strikeout rate (29.1% K/PA). The good news is he improved as the season went on: .150/.239/.175 in June, .250/.297/.452 in July and .340/.414/.500 in August. In many ways a prototypical pure 1B prospect, the 6’5″ Barnum has shown plus power potential, but he’s raw and needs to make enough contact to make his power work for him. He’ll likely open 2014 as the starting 1B at Winston-Salem, but it it possible he repeats Kannapolis, as a 21 year old with plenty of time to develop.
14. Jacob May, OF [Previous: 21, +7]
- Drafted 3rd Round in 2013
After tearing up Pioneer League pitching for Rookie affiliate Great Falls for a couple weeks (.378/.481/.444 in 55 PA), May was quickly promoted to Class A Kannapolis to finish the season. There he posted a .286/.346/.461 line in 230 plate appearances, showing surprising power (8 HR) and expected speed (19 SB, 5 CS). He’s now getting in some winter play with the Sydney Blue Sox in Australia, and he’s holding his own there (.256/.318/.396), where he is 2nd in the ABL in both stolen bases (17 in 20 attempts) and triples (3, tied). Though considered by many a reach in the 3rd round, there was never any doubting May’s athleticism or speed. The questions were about the switch hitter’s bat, and to a limited extent the refinement of his defense. His hitting thus far has helped alleviate that main concern, and has him shooting up ranking lists. May will likely start 2014 in Winston-Salem’s outfield as a 22 year old.
15. Jacob Petricka, RHP [Previous: 22, +7]
- Drafted 2nd Round in 2010
After making the seemingly inevitable transition from starting back to the bullpen, things have gone much better for this power pitcher. Petricka began 2013 in Birmingham’s bullpen, putting up a 2.06 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .265 BAA, 4.1 BB/9 and 9.4 K/9 in 54.2 IP, earning a promotion to AAA Charlotte. There he looked even sharper in limited innings (15.1 IP), increasing his K rate a bit and dropping the BAA to .167 while maintaining the control, resulting in a promotion to the big club. In Chicago his peripherals weren’t encouraging (10 BB, 10 K in 19.1 IP), but he wasn’t overwhelmed and was tough to hit (.233 BAA). He’ll need to keep the walks down and improve his offspeed stuff to keep major league hitters off his plus fastball to be successful in the bigs. The big right-hander has a good shot at making the Sox pen to open 2014, but it is possible he’s back in Charlotte.
16. Scott Snodgress, LHP [Previous: 11, -5]
- Drafted 5th Round in 2011
After making a run into the Top 10 last year, this 6’6″ lefty falls back a bit after struggling through parts of his 2013 season. After cruising through A and A+ in 2012 (3.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, .217 BAA, 4.1 BB/9, 8.2 K/9), his numbers in AA this past year fell back in almost every category: 4.70 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, .269 BAA, 3.7 BB/9, 5.6 K/9. His walk rate actually improved a bit, so his struggles were more about getting hit harder than any control issues. Also worth noting, his season was erratic performance-wise, putting up monthly ERA’s of 4.66 in April, 4.02 in May, 6.35 in June, 0.33 in July, and 8.13 in August. Snodgress has a low-mid 90’s fastball, along with a curve and change that are considered fairly polished. He likely repeats AA as a 24 year old in 2014, but could see AAA during the season.
17. Micker Adolfo, OF [NEW]
- Signed in 2013 from Dominican Republic
This teenager was signed in July at age 16 for (by far) the largest amateur international signing in White Sox history: $1.6M. The now-17 year old hasn’t played a game in any affiliated league yet, so all we have to go on are scouting reports. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus wrote that Adolfo displayed jaw-dropping power during a showcase in the DR, and other reports give him a plus arm and above average speed. Already 6’3″ and 225 pounds at signing, he is likely relegated to the corner OF positions, and may get bigger as he continues to mature. Per statements from Assistant GM Buddy Bell, Adolfo may be stateside with the new AZL Rookie League affiliate in 2014. Starting the season in the DSL seems possible as well.
18. Chris Bassitt, RHP [Previous: 29*, +11]
- Drafted 16th Round in 2011
Among the fastest risers on our list, Chris has gone from the prospect periphery to #18 thanks to a strong 2013 campaign. After transitioning to a starting role late in 2012, the righty began 2013 in Winston-Salem’s rotation and posted pretty good results (3.46 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, .231 BAA, 3.7 BB/9, 9.0 K/9) in 101.1 IP, earning him a promotion to AA Birmingham. There his results only got better (2.27 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, .213 BAA, 3.2 BB/9, 7.0 K/9), though his K rate dropped a bit. He then helped lead Birmingham to the Southern League Championship with two solid post-season starts allowing just one run and striking out 16 in 12.2 innings (read this article Chris wrote for us about that pennant chase). That was followed up by 10 innings in the AFL, where the walk bug caught up with him (8), but he still missed plenty of bats (9 K). The doubling of his innings from 2012 may have contributed to the drop in K’s late in the regular season, and the lack of control in Arizona. Bassitt has a fastball that typically sits 91-93 but touches 95, a slider, curve and change. There is some question about whether his future is in the bullpen or as a starter, but he will likely remain a starter at least for 2014, probably in Birmingham’s rotation as a 25 year old.
19. Trey Michalczewski, 3B [Previous: 14, -5]
- Drafted 7th Round in 2013
Though he was drafted in the 7th round, Michalczewski was considered a higher round talent and was signed as an over-slot pick, getting 3rd round bonus money ($500,000, over slot by $326,400). Assigned to rookie level Bristol after the draft, his statistical results weren’t great: .236/.324/.328, 23 BB, 56 K in 222 plate appearances. But as an 18 year old in his first pro season, the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Scouting reports were favorable towards the switch-hitters potential at the plate, and pre-draft reports indicate a strong arm and potential for good power. Having played all over the infield during his high school years, he’s a work in progress at third, but his footwork improved as the season went on. Michalczewski will likely be at Class A Kannapolis to start 2014, though it is possible they keep him in extended spring training or give the 19 year old more time in rookie ball. Either way, this season should be a better indicator of his skills than his short draft season.
20. Francellis Montas, RHP [NEW]
- Signed in 2009 from Dominican Republic by BOS, acquired via trade in 2013
Francellis “Frank” Montas was one of the prospects acquired from Boston in the Jake Peavy trade. While Avisail Garcia was the headliner from Detroit, this hard-throwing right-hander was the most intriguing of the three prospects that came from Boston. Montas has a fastball that sits consistently upper 90’s and touches 100 – a pitch Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus described excitedly with a word not fit for print for it’s nastiness. He also has an inconsistent but active breaking ball, and a change-up. The core numbers in A ball this season don’t accurately reflect the talent level yet: 5.43 ERA, 1.48 WHIP in 24 games as a starter. But his 10.3 K/9 rate and not-terrible 4.1 BB/9 hint at it, and in some ways he profiles similar to Daniel Webb. He may still be starting in the minors, but his 2.5 pitch repertoire suggest he’s likely a late inning reliever in the long run.
21. Rangel Ravelo, 1B [Previous: 24, +3]
- Drafted 6th Round in 2010
Ravelo has been hovering in the 20’s on our lists for some time now, but that doesn’t reflect the roller coaster he’s been on. In the 2013 edition of the story, the Sox moved Ravelo from 3B to 1B, which put more pressure on his bat, and he opened the season with an undistinguished .666 OPS in 67 plate appearances on his third try at A ball. So the Sox… promoted him. And they appear to have known something, as he put up a very nice .312/.393/.455 line in 347 PA for A+ Winston-Salem, while walking (40) nearly as often as striking out (46). The question is, can Ravelo add enough power to have a shot as a first baseman? He hit only 4 home runs this past season, but he also hit 31 doubles in 354 at bats. Over a typical full season at that level, that would be over 40 – enough to lead the Carolina League. That gap power hints at the potential, but he hasn’t yet fulfilled it. His strong contact rate (13.8% K/PA) and batter’s eye (.089 Iso OBP) tell us he can hit and get on base. He should open 2014 as the starting 1B at AA Birmingham (turning 22 in April), trying to add some long balls to his resume.
22. Adam Engel, OF [NEW]
- Drafted 19th Round in 2013
The second significantly over-slot signing in last year’s draft (after Michalczewski), Engel signed in the 19th round for 10th round money ($100,000). He came into last spring looking like a higher round talent, but struggled at the plate for Louisville (.237/.368/.297) and his stock dropped, causing speculation he may stay at school one more year to improve it. The Sox coaxed him into signing, and were rewarded with a solid showing at Great Falls: .301/.379/.414, with 31 stolen bases (8 CS). The speedy outfielder drew 21 walks to go with 10 hit-by-pitch to boost his on-base percentage and put bat to ball consistently (12.4% K/PA), which are key for a future table-setter. Scouting reports indicate he has plus speed, and he was valued pre-draft in part because he is seen as a true center fielder in the long run. Engel likely begins 2014 as Class A Kannapolis’ starting center fielder, at age 22.
23. Myles Jaye, RHP [Previous: 23, unchanged]
- Drafted 17th Round in 2010 by TOR, acquired via trade prior to 2012 season
This lanky right-hander leapt onto the radar in 2013 with a strong 7-start performance at Kannapolis to open his 2nd season there: 2.20 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .238 BAA, 3.7 BB/9, 8.1 K/9. The dramatic improvement from his 2012 numbers was in part the result of Myles dropping his arm angle down to more 3/4 (per our interview with him), and it got him promoted to Winston-Salem. His numbers there weren’t as strong (4.11 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .266 BAA, 3.3 BB/9, 6.8 K/9), but he was also doubling his innings workload from the year prior. Jaye has a plus fastball in the low to mid 90’s with good sink that helps him induce a lot of ground balls. He also a slider and change that are improving. Jaye is likely to be in Birmingham’s rotation (where he made one late season start last year) to start 2014, at a young-for-level 22 years old.
24. Jefferson Olacio, LHP [Previous: 30*, +6]
- Signed out of Dominican Republic in 2011
At 6’7″ and now 270 pounds, Olacio draws physical comparisons to a very successful major league lefty: C.C. Sabathia. Young, very raw and still growing into his body, the 19 year old had his first full season in A ball with Kannapolis in 2013 posting mixed overall results: 4.54 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, .256 BAA, 3.8 BB/9, 5.9 K/9. But all those numbers other than the strike out rate were vast improvements over his 2012 campaign, and the K:BB ratio improved despite striking out fewer batters. Also worth noting, Olacio improved as the season went on – after posting a 7.63 ERA and walking 24 in 43.2 IP for April and May, those numbers were 3.09 ERA with only 33 BB in 93 innings the rest of the way. With a mid to upper 90’s sinking fastball from a funky delivery, he gets ground balls and the strikeouts will come. Olacio’s secondary stuff is very much a work in progress, and he’ll work to refine that in his age 20 season, likely in Winston-Salem’s rotation.
25. Eric Surkamp, LHP [NEW]
- Drafted 6th round 2008 by SFG, claimed off waivers this offseason
Left exposed by the Giants, lefty Eric Surkamp was claimed by the White Sox in December. Ranked among the Giants’ top prospects from 2009 through 2012, Surkamp missed all of the 2012 season recovering from TJ surgery (elbow), causing his prospect value to drop. In 2013 he got in 16 rehab games between A+ and AAA, putting up good numbers but a slightly lower K rate than was typical for him: 2.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .211 BAA, 2.4 BB/9, 7.4 K/9. He also made 1 ugly start in the majors (2.2 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 2 HR, 0 BB, 0 K). The 26 year old has a fastball that sits 87-91, a very good change-up, curveball, and plus control. Surkamp will get a shot at the 5th spot in the Chicago rotation for 2014, but may end up in AAA Charlotte. Having only pitched 89.1 innings in 2013, he’ll need to stretch out a lot more to be ready for a full season starting.
* = rank is implied, player was on “others receiving votes” list from previous version.
Watch for our Top 10 list in a few days – that article will have the full Top 25 list, capsules for the Top 10, and the list of other players who received close consideration.