Twice annually, the writers at FutureSox work together to produce a list of the top prospects in the White Sox system. This is the first part (11-25) of our 2014 Midseason list. The top 10 (and full list including the just-missed players) is coming later this week.
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 Josh Phegley and Marcus Semien, even though they are currently in the minors, are not eligible.
STATE OF THE SYSTEM: The Sox system continues to improve. Increased spending on both the draft and international players, rebuilding of Latin American operations, favorable changes to draft bonus rules and a swing of the prospect trade balance sheet from net negative (trading away) to net positive (acquiring) have all helped. This past June, the White Sox spent the 2nd most of any MLB team on the amateur draft and went well into penalty territory to get Carlos Rodon signed. On the international side, they spent $750k or more on three different players during the July 2nd rush.
WHAT’S HAPPENED IN 6 MONTHS: Six of the top 25 players from the offseason list have graduated and are no longer eligible: Jose Abreu (1st), Erik Johnson (2nd), Marcus Semien (4th), Daniel Webb (11th), Jake Petricka (15th) and Eric Surkamp (25th). As noted above, the 2014 draft and signings period were completed as well as the international July 2nd signing period, adding a number of prospects to the organization.
11. Trey Michalczewski, 3B [Previous Rank: 19, +8]
- Drafted 7th Round in 2013
This overslot pick from 2013 (received a 3rd round-level bonus) is one of our biggest risers since the offseason list, thanks to a strong showing thus far as a 19-year-old in Class A with Kannapolis (.279/.358/.449). Reports are also positive on improvements defensively at third base, a position he is still fairly new at after playing shortstop in high school. On the negative side, his 28.2% K/PA rate is somewhat worrisome, but he’s walking at a good 9.6% clip and some contact struggles should be expected for such a challenging assignment. He’s got the quickness necessary for the hot corner and projectable power, but he’ll need to improve his contact rate to continue succeeding at higher levels.
12. Micker Adolfo, OF [Previous: 17, +5]
- Signed in 2013 from Dominican Republic
After signing for the largest international amateur bonus in White Sox history ($1.6M) in 2013, this outfielder is already stateside playing in the AZL at age 17. A 40% K/PA rate isn’t much of a surprise for such a young and inexperienced prospect, but he’s still showing that power. Posting a .206/.269/.383 line in 120 plate appearances, half of his hits to date have been of the extra base variety, including 3 long balls. Adolfo (Zapata) is still quite raw and a number of years from the majors, but his substantial raw power, athleticism and strong arm hint at a high ceiling.
13. Chris Beck, RHP [Previous: 7, -6]
- Drafted 2nd Round in 2012
This sinker-baller looked like a potential steal in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft, and he’s risen quickly through the system posting strong core results along the way (3.30 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in AA). So why does this pitcher recently promoted to AAA fall down our list from the offseason? He’s just not missing bats – K/9 rates of 4.3 in A+ and 4.9 in AA are significant red flags. His ground ball rates (1.53 GO/AO in 2013, 1.17 in 2014) are good, but certainly not spectacular for a guy who relies heavily on his sinking 92-94 mph fastball. Our in-person look at him indicated he may have been working on his fastball at times, but that doesn’t likely explain 1.5 seasons. The White Sox clearly believe in him and the potential is still there, but very few pitchers go on to succeed in the majors while striking out so few batters in the minors. AAA will be a good test, and despite the lack of whiffs, he’s a key pitcher to watch.
14. Cleuluis Rondon, SS/2B [Previous: Not Ranked]
- Signed from Venezuela (by BOS) in 2010
Rarely do you see scouts put a “plus-plus” tag on any tool for any player, but Rondon has had numerous such descriptions heaped on his defensive skills. A wizard at short and second, this acquisition from the Peavy trade has always had one big question following him: can he hit? After posting less than stellar line in Kannapolis (.233/.295/.262, 19.3% K/PA), Rondon was promoted due to Tim Anderson’s injury and surprisingly has posted better numbers there: .269/.333/.385, 12.8% K/PA. There’s no current power in Rondon’s game, though he does have some speed (14 SB thus far). The assignment to Advanced A ball is very aggressive for this 20-year-old with a raw hit tool, but his truly stellar defense means he’s got major league potential if he can hit at all.
15. Jacob May, OF [Previous: 14, -1]
- Drafted 3rd Round in 2013
Our hitter of the month in June, speedy outfielder Jacob May has developed a pattern in his ascent through the system. Much like he did in Kannapolis, May struggled in his debut at A+ Winston-Salem, but improved dramatically each full month at the plate before a mediocre July. His slash lines by month this year: .136/.231/.210 in April, .257/.297/.371 in May, and .366/.393/.535 in June. He also stole an improbable 20 bases in 20 attempts in June, and is 37-for-44 on the season. May doesn’t have much power, but his speed is formidable, his defense is said to be solid in CF with plus range, and he makes decent contact (14.9% K/PA). May’s July has come back down to earth somewhat (.232/.341/.420), but if he can find a way to get on base at a good clip he’ll continue to stay on the prospect radar.
16. Jace Fry, LHP [Previous: Not Ranked, newly drafted]
- Drafted 3rd Round in 2014
Though fellow pitchers Carlos Rodon and Spencer Adams garnered more attention from the draft (with good reason), there’s also a lot to like with this third rounder signed for slightly over slot value ($760K vs $726K slot). Baseball America and MLB Pipeline had him ranked just inside their top 100 draft prospects. Posting a 1.80 ERA and 98 K against 30 BB in 120.1 IP in a strong conference for a national seed is an impressive feat, and he tossed a no-hitter against Northern Illinois during the season. This TJ surgery survivor (2012) has a sinking fastball in the low 90’s, a good change up, a slider and a curve in his repertoire. Due to his college innings load, the 20-year-old Fry is seeing limited action with Great Falls this year (6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K).
17. Trayce Thompson, OF [Previous: 10, -7]
- Drafted 2nd Round in 2009
Trayce Thompson is a tool shed, possessing big time athleticism, very good speed, a strong arm and easy power. Unfortunately, he has yet to “put it together” for any sustained period. Thompson’s numbers at the plate for AA Birmingham this year (.234/.326/.408, 25.6% K/PA) are only slightly better than last year at the same level (.229/.321/.383, 23.6% K/PA). His hit tool remains a question mark (note the K rates). At 23, he’s still somewhat young, but this is Trayce’s sixth year in the minors. With his strong defense, speed and power, if he can just find a way to hit north of .250-.260, he’s got a Major League future.
18. Kevan Smith, C [Previous: Not Ranked]
- Drafted 7th Round in 2011
We wrote up Smith in some detail in March, after the Adrian Nieto acquisition. The short story is, he’s hit and hit for some power on his way up the system, while improving his defense – but he’s in his age 25/26 season at AA and is blocked by Josh Phegley in AAA. Our hitter of the month in May, Smith’s had a career-best season so far in Birmingham: .299/.385/.456, 8 HR, 16.2% K/PA in 345 PA. The catching picture above him is murky, making it hard to predict a future for this former quarterback, but he’s making a case for MLB consideration in 2015.
19. Andy Wilkins, 1B [Previous: 30*, +11]
- Drafted 5th Round in 2010
Andy Wilkins looked like a possible first baseman of the future after being drafted in the 5th round, skipping A ball in his second year and hitting 23 home runs at A+ Winston-Salem in 2011. But a disappointing 2012 in AA, followed by a failure to launch at AAA late in 2013, took the helium out of his prospect stock and fell off the radar. Now in 2014 in Charlotte, after a slow start (.642 OPS in April & May), he had a big June (.877) and an insane July (1.324) to collect two straight International League hitter of the week awards. He leads the International League with 26 home runs. One concern with Wilkins is his dropping walk rates, and it is hard to over-assign meaning to a couple months of (very) hot hitting for the 25-year old. But it is no longer completely insane to suggest he could be in the mix for a role with the Sox in 2015.
20. Scott Snodgress, LHP [Previous: 16, -4]
- Drafted 5th Round in 2011
Stanford lefty Scott Snodgress continues to slip down our list, as he struggles in his second season in AA. His core numbers are somewhat improved over last year (ERA 3.89 vs 4.70, WHIP 1.39 vs 1.43), but his K/9 rate is still in the 5’s and his control is basically unchanged. As this season has gone on he’s getting hit less, but the strikeout rate is actually going the wrong way. Being a 6’5″ lefty with a decent fastball (generally low 90’s) and solid curve, as well as being tougher on LHB, gives him a good shot at being a reliever in the Majors. Sure enough, Snodgress was promoted to AAA just a few days ago and has been working from the bullpen. Scott is 24, which is certainly age-appropriate for AAA, but it isn’t yet clear if this bullpen assignment is his long term path.
21. Keon Barnum, 1B [Previous: 13, -8]
- Drafted 1st Round Supplemental (48th overall) in 2012
Barnum’s key tool is plus raw power, and the development of that tool into a playable skill will dictate his future. To that end, Keon needs to hit enough for the power to play, and he’s been about a .250 hitter in his two full season turns thus far. There is a lot of swing-and-miss in his game (30.8% K/PA this year) which is currently preventing him making the translation, but he’s also been challenged with an assignment to Advanced A ball at age 21. Similar to his time in Kannapolis last year, Barnum started poorly (.470 OPS in April) before turning it on as he adjusted to the league (.635 OPS in May, .917 in June), though he’s cooled a bit in July (.672) and he’s got 8 long balls on the season. He’ll need to improve his contact rate going forward to provide hope of a major league future at first base.
22. Adam Engel, OF [Previous: 22, No Change]
- Drafted 19th Round in 2013
Engel may be the speediest prospect in the system, and his combination of athleticism, size (6’1″, 215) and strength is enticing. The big question with Engel is, can he hit enough, or at least get on base enough, to make the power and speed play? After making a strong showing with rookie level Great Falls last year (.301/.379/.414, 12.4% K/PA, 31/39 SB/ATT), the over-slot 19th rounder started slow with Kannapolis (.234/.310/.351) before going down with an injury in May. Since returning, he’s posted a .286/.380/.527 line including 5 HR in 27 games. Defensively he has excellent range and a strong arm. Engel’s 25.6% K rate since his return is a little high, but the hit tool does seem to be developing, thus his continued presence on our list. See this article from Fangraphs for some video and deeper analysis.
23. Tyler Saladino, INF [Previous: Not Ranked]
- Drafted 7th Round in 2010
Few prospects in the system have seen dramatic ups and downs the way Saladino has. Tyler went from unranked in his draft year to as high as 4th in the system in early 2012 thanks to a breakout 2011 campaign, then fell back out of the rankings by mid-2013 after struggling for two seasons in AA. This year had been a revelation, as he posted a .310/.367/.482 line with good contact and some power (9 HR in 325 PA) earning him a AAA All Star berth. In mid-July the infielder-turning-utility-man suffered a torn UCL in his throwing arm (surgery set for 8/14), and won’t return until sometime during the 2015 season. Despite the tough blow and his age (25), there’s still a chance he plays a role with the big club in 2015 if he returns and continues hitting. Saladino is graded out as solid average defensively at SS, and was working all over the IF and OF before his injury to improve his potential value.
24. Jordan Guerrero, LHP [Previous: Not Ranked]
- Drafted 15th Round in 2012
Guerrero didn’t garner much notice after being drafted in the 15th round in 2012, and posting decent but unspectacular numbers in Bristol for two seasons. But 2014 has been a breakout year for the lefty, as he’s posted a strong 9.8 K/9 against a reasonable 3.4 BB/9 in Kannapolis in his age 19/20 season. Jordan’s fastball runs 89-92 with some sink (shows in decent GO/AO rate), throws a change-up that has been described as plus, and has a developing curveball. He’s started three games but worked mostly out of the bullpen, and while he’s only thrown 53.1 innings that’s more than double his total from the previous year. Look for Guerrero to potentially start next season as he builds up arm strength.
25. James Dykstra, RHP [Previous: Not Ranked]
- Drafted 7th Round in 2013
Dykstra was taken as a “signability guy” in the 7th round in 2013, getting a low-round bonus and pitching only briefly for Great Falls in his draft year. A strong 2014 season has put him on the radar. In 16 starts with Kannapolis, the 23-year-old posted a 2.62 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, but his peripherals were more impressive: 82 K, just 10 BB, and a 2.18 GO/AO in 99 innings (earning our Pitcher of the Month award). Promoted to A+ Winston-Salem, in three starts he’s got 20 punch-outs against just 2 walks in 20.2 innings, and a 3.44 GO/AO. A ground ball artist with superb control, Dykstra uses a combination of 4-seam (low-mid 90’s) and 2-seam (upper 80’s to low 90’s) fastballs with good sink, a change-up and a slurvy breaking ball to induce weak contact.
* = Rank is implied, player was on “others receiving votes” list from previous version.
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