With Opening Day for the major league team and the full-season affiliates less than a month away, the FutureSox staff convened and reflected on our pre-season rankings, made some bold predictions, and noted what they are looking out for this season. I was joined by Matt Cassidy, Brian Bilek, Will Siskel, and our newest writer, Matt Lynch.
This is the second and final installment of the pre-season round table. If you missed part one, you can read it here.
What prospect has the most to prove in the 2016 season to stay on the White Sox radar?
Matt C: Some call these “make or break” years, though I think that’s too absolute. Two 2015 Barons leap to mind here, though from different perspectives – Courtney Hawkins and Danny Hayes. For the former, Hawkins has slowly slipped back in rankings as he continues to struggle with pitch selection and plate approach. But he’s been consistently very young for level, and lost some time to injury last year so some slack is warranted. That said, if he struggles with the same themes again repeating AA when he’s now close to age-appropriate, the outlook starts to turn sour. For Hayes, he was never a highly touted prospect but snuck into the bottom of our list on a combination of striking patience (.140 Iso OBP in 2015), excellent defense and small hints at turning raw power into game power despite making a large leap from A- to AA. But if the power doesn’t develop, as an age-appropriate 1B he’s likely to lose his grip on the outer edge of the prospect radar.
Brian: Chris Beck is entering his fourth full season with Chicago and he has a very important season ahead of him. Taken in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft, Beck was an arm that fell to the White Sox as he struggled during his junior year at Georgia Southern. Beck had struggled to find the right balance of strength and flexibility training that led to some mechanical changes and in turn, a drop in velocity. Since joining the White Sox, the velocity has returned but Beck has yet to develop the secondary stuff of a starting pitching prospect. Despite that, Beck’s sinker coupled with good command has pushed him to have respectable campaigns at every level in varying samples. Beck will start 2016 in Charlotte and figures to be one of the first few options backing up the current Chicago rotation members if an injury or two were to occur. In 2016, Beck will need to prove that he has the stuff to earn a sustained shot at a rotation spot or dedicate himself to repackage his arsenal and become a potential bullpen piece.
Matt L: Like Matt Cassidy noted, I also think Courtney Hawkins has the most to prove in order to stay on. Known as the kid who was doing backflips on stage after being drafted by the White Sox, Hawkins has not lived up to high expectations. Personally, I think some issues arose due to the White Sox brass rushing him, as he was one of the youngest players in the league while at High-A Winston Salem and Double-A Birmingham. He has shown off both the power and arm strength tools, but has really had contact issues, similar to Davidson. A really strong kid with great athleticism, Hawkins sounds just like many other toolsy players the White Sox have drafted in the past that turned out to be busts. Still just 22, he has some time to improve, but I truly think this year is make or break for Hawkins. He will likely return to Birmingham for another season which should help him, but he definitely needs to put up stronger numbers his second go-around as a member of the Barons.
Will: This answer depends on how you interpret “stay on.” I interpret stay on as worthy of our attention as a candidate for future 25-man roster contention and for whom 2016 is a crucial season for prospect-status. After a 2015 that saw him bottom out, I think Matt Davidson has the most to prove, likely more for rival teams in search of a 3B/power bench bat than for the White Sox.
From the pitching side, Chris Beck strikes me as someone who has lingered on prospect rankings for a while, with little distinguishing him from a projection as a 6th starter prospect.
My initial reaction was Courtney Hawkins. It remains to be seen if Hawkins, or any player for that matter, can overcome pitch-recognition related woes in his struggle with contact to see his game-power materialize. If the 22 year-old remains healthy (unlike in 2015) and still posts a similarly discouraging OPS around .700 (strikeout laden) at Birmingham, he’s not going anywhere, but the pessimism surrounding his hit tool will likely be reinforced.
Rob: Since the obvious answers of Courtney Hawkins and Chris Beck have been covered by my colleagues, I am going to go outside the box for this answer and say Adam Engel. Engel was the biggest riser from the 2015 to the 2016 rankings thanks to a strong second half of the year that carried over to an absolutely monstrous Arizona Fall League performance. The knock on Engel has been an inconsistent hit tool and I’d love to see Engel sustain his success into a strong 2016 campaign that will likely start at AA Birmingham. Despite the aforementioned strong second half last season, Engel only hit .251/.335/.369 in A+ Winston-Salem. He needs to show he can stay consistent enough to improve on those numbers across a full season or he will likely only hope to become a late inning pinch runner/defensive replacement at the major league level. There is no doubt Engel has all the tools to be so much more than that and 2016 will be telling on how his development will go.
What affiliate are you most excited to follow this season?
Matt C: While the Barons are likely to have the largest number of touted prospects in the system, I’m going to say I’m most excited to see the Kannapolis Intimidators. With the organization’s rebuilt Latin American operations finally ramping back up under Marco Paddy, some of that talent signed from 2012 to 2015 is now looking to arrive in full season ball, including players like Johan Cruz, Antonio Rodriguez, Micker Adolfo and Yosmer Solorzano who are all likely to hit A-ball this year with others possibly added late. Then there is the 2015 draft, that produced some strong performances despite missing out on 2nd and 3rd round picks. Players like Corey Zangari, Jordan Stephens, Seby Zavala and Landon Lassiter will ride solid rookie campaigns into the South Atlantic League, along with some lower round picks that outperformed expectations like Danny Mendick, Bradley Strong, Danny Dopico and maybe even Chris Comito. I’m planning to hit Kanny in June, and looking forward to what will probably the most talented team they’ve had in a number of years.
Brian: If you want to see the names when checking the affiliate box scores, the Birmingham Barons should be your go to squad. This team should hold intriguing players on both sides of the ball. To illustrate that point, five of our top ten prospects at FutureSox should start their 2016 campaign in the Southern League. What is remarkable to me, is that every player in their projected starting line up has at least one of the three p’s (polish, pedigree and projection). FutureSox #4 prospect Trey Michalczewski leads the way for the bats as his natural development would bring him to Birmingham. Hawkins figures to repeat Birmingham and strike the power potential that enabled him to be a first round pick in 2012. Toolshed Adam Engel will man center field for the Barons as he sets out to prove his Arizona Fall League MVP was more than a hot streak, and A-ball world-beater Eddy Alvarez figures to fill out one of the top two spots in the lineup alongside Engel.
On the pitching side of things, we assume 2015 first rounder Carson Fulmer will head up the rotation for the Barons unless the Sox feel confident enough to send him to Charlotte. Following Fulmer will likely be Tyler Danish and Brian Clark. Danish struggled for the first time of his career in the Southern League last year but will come back with a good idea of what to expect. Personal favorite and LHP Clark should continue to start following his dominance in Winston Salem down the stretch. There is an outside chance lefty Jordan Guerrero breaks with the club, but if not, he’ll have the chance to earn his way there by midseason. In the bullpen, there is a trio of arms who can make some noise with some refinement in their control. Peter Tago‘s fastball-slider combination was nearly unhittable when he could find his release point. The lanky Michael Ynoa, who is the forgotten member of the Samardzija trade, quietly put together a strong year in Winston-Salem and is thought highly enough to keep a spot on a the White Sox 40-man roster. Lastly, Robin Leyer, who did not make our FutureSox top 30, is another interesting piece figuring to be in the Birmingham pen. ESPN’s Keith Law though highly enough of Leyer and his upper 90’s fastball to rank him 8th on his list.
Matt L: The affiliate to watch for me is The Charlotte Knights, the Triple-A Affiliate of the White Sox. In general, I am really excited to see some of the position players in 2016, led by top prospect Tim Anderson. It will be interesting to see how he performs against International League pitching after a stellar season in Birmingham in 2015, and whether or not he can play his way into joining the White Sox in 2016. I am also excited to see how Jacob May and Jason Coats perform, as they may be close to major league ready. Davidson will most likely be back in Charlotte as well and has had a hot spring. He’s a top prospect who has not lived up to expectations as of late, but I’m hopeful he can regain form and find his way to the South Side of Chicago in 2016.
Will: Charlotte, if not for the sole reason that they have Tim Anderson at shortstop. If you’re interested in more than one player, however, it’ll probably be Kannapolis. Following the 2015 draft class that saw recently named Scouting Director Nick Hostetler make his mark on the organization, many members of the draft class will see their first-full season in affiliated ball. I think this will be a marker for a talent wave that will hopefully usher in some sustainable prospect depth in coming years, led by Corey Zangari, Seby Zavala, Yosmer Solorzano, among others.
Rob: There are two waves of collective talent that is progressing through the Sox system right now. The first is the 2015’s Winston-Salem Dash squad that lost in the Carolina League Southern Division Championship and the second wave is last year’s rookie level Arizona League White Sox, who won the AZL Championship. FutureSox’s Kim Contreras has done a wonderful job covering the AZL White Sox during and after their championship run, including stories on blossoming prospects Corey Zangari and Jordan Stephens. Zangari, Stephens, and many of the core pieces of that AZL team will be graduating to Kannapolis which automatically makes the Intimidators a fascinating team to follow in 2016. However, my pick is the 2015 Winston-Salem nucleus of Trey Michalczewski, Adam Engel, Eddy Alvarez, Jake Peter, Brian Clark, and Carson Fulmer that will graduate to Birmingham. Also figuring to join these players are top 10 prospects Courtney Hawkins and Tyler Danish, who were 2015 Birmingham Barons and are likely repeating the level. When you factor in that it is probable that the #3 ranked Spencer Adams and #6 Jordan Guerrero will either begin the season with Birmingham or join their rotation at some point, you have a completely stacked roster and a tantalizing box score to check each night.
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