At this point, it seems unlikely the White Sox will make many more moves that substantially effect the farm this offseason, either by addition or subtraction. Surely there will be a few more minor league free agent org guys signed over the winter, and February will see the usual small wave of releases and trades for “cash considerations” (a euphemism more acceptable than stating flatly that a player was sold). But those are likely to be moves at the edges.
That should mean that, as of today, we know some 95% of what players will be in the system in April. We’ve been asked repeatedly during the offseason, which players are likely to be with which affiliates to begin 2016. So, why not take a crack at projecting the club’s “Big Board” depth chart, across the affiliate teams?
Starting the process reminded me why not.
As the article’s title suggests, it’s a little like cleaning out your closet (or your kid’s) and then re-organizing it. Filled with items causing reactions ranging from “Oh wow, look at this!”, to “I totally forgot we had this”, to “doesn’t this belong to someone else?” After the relatively fun tear-down phase, you reach the agonizing moment of realization that not everything was really meant to fit back in there. And finally, the re-stocking, and asking ourselves questions like “where do all these things go?”, and “how did we end up with three times as many shirts as pairs of pants”.
Here are my projected (euphemism for marginally educated guess) rosters for the state-side affiliates to open their 2016 campaigns…
AAA Charlotte Knights
The phrase that comes to mind looking at this roster is, “barn burner”. The lineup, which is a typically AAA balance of legitimate prospects and org players, should hit quite well. The rotation and bullpen each feature a couple or three intriguing arms, but are mostly org guys or minor league fliers. Combine those factors with a band box of a home ballpark (albeit a beautiful one), and I’d bet you’ll see a lot of scores like 12-9 or 10-6. If you like dingers and want to see a ballgame at probably the best park in all of minor league baseball, go catch a game in Charlotte in 2016.
As far as tough decisions on this roster, the catching situation is fluid. Look for the trio of Smith, Brantly and Sanchez to battle it out in Spring Training, and barring injuries to either of the MLB backstops, one of these three will be elsewhere come April (also the two in AAA will likely split starting duties). Delmonico is listed as the DH here, but look for him to rotate with Hayes and Davidson on the corners, assuming the latter is still with the club. Sands could be with the big club, so Hairston then gets a starting nod in left, probably. Don’t be surprised if you see Charlotte carry as many as three lefty relievers, as the team looks for depth in an area of repeated weakness with the big club. And finally, look for a bunch of the arms listed above to open the season on the “disabled” list.
AA Birmingham Barons
The Barons look like the most talented team in the system going into Opening Day, especially on the pitching side. A rotation of Fulmer, Danish on repeat, Clark and Brennan, with one of Dykstra or Heidenreich taking up the final slot, should keep Southern League offenses at bay. And that bullpen is pretty well stacked with legitimately interesting arms. The lineup looks pretty good too, featuring six hitters who’ve been on a Top 30 list in the past year and professional hitters like Narvaez added in.
Some tough calls to make here though, and that means the roster could be much different in reality. Barnum doesn’t look “ready” for AA, but he’s played 2 full seasons at A+ and the team is likely to challenge him. Any of the back three of six listed starters could be slotted to the pen, and there are too many AA-level relievers to fit on this roster. A six man rotation might be a possibility here as well, and the bullpen looks pretty crowded so some of those arms could just as easily be a level up or down (or elsewhere).
A+ Winston-Salem Dash
*DL*: Jace Fry* (TJS, mid-season return likely)
The 2015 Dash had a lot of talent, and it showed in their performance. This year though, this doesn’t look like a playoff team, at least in the first half. The lineup features some light-hitting players who are more known for their defense than offense, so the best show might be on the field instead of at the plate. The good news is, the starting rotation looks strong from top to bottom, and the bullpen does have some talent as well.
Lots of guess work here. Austin and Rondon are the only fairly obvious offensive players, with all the others open questions along with the bench and potentially some guys a level up or down swimming into Winston-Salem. The bullpen is also full of question marks, with most of that group pretty interchangeable with guys a level down.
A Kannapolis Intimidators
This looks like the most talented roster that Kannapolis has opened with in a number of years, and may be just as exciting as Birmingham’s group (though obviously in a more raw way). The lineup looks 100% turned over from last year’s squad, loaded with bats who performed well in rookie leagues in 2015 and some strong defensive players in the middle infield and outfield. The bulk of the rotation are younger arms with real potential, and the pen has a few fireballers (though not a lot of refinement in the group).
Aside from Zangari and Zavala (the “Killer Z’s”), the rest of the lineup could easily be interchanged with some players repeating rookie ball (see below), so the chances of this lineup being 100% accurate are quite low. The rotation seems fairly clear among the front four, though Bummer could be in the pen after missing time from his elbow surgery. The pen is also pretty up in the air, and if Schroeder does start the year here he’ll probably be getting lots of playing time. The Sox had a nice wave of talent on the rookie clubs in 2015, so however it falls out, the Intimidators should be a much better and more exciting club than last year.
1B: Sikes Orvis
DL: RHP Blake Hickman (TJS, early-to-midseason return likely)
These are the players likely to not have a chair when the music stops, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t prospects. Using the kid’s closet analogy, some of these are toys the kid just isn’t ready for yet, but maybe soon. Some of the youngest names here, like Perez, Feliz, Adolfo, Otano and Sanchez are still teenagers and need more refinement before they’re exposed to full season ball.. Others simply lost the numbers game, but are candidates to join a full season team after some time in Extended ST. Yet others are players who would benefit more from playing every day in Extended, than being on a bench in the SAL.
Also, just to reiterate, many of these players could just as easily be in Kannapolis as some of the names I picked for that roster. The choices are subjective, my information is limited, and we still have Spring Training to play out. Injuries can’t be accounted for either, but they will surely be a factor by the first week of April. These are just my best guesses.
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