I know this may come as a shock to some, but Future Sox is not the only blog on the White Sox block.
Jokes aside, there’s a whole landscape of blogs, discussion forums and social media accounts around the team, not to mention mainstream media. While our blog is (as far as we know) the only one in the team photo specifically focused on prospects and the minors, the more general team blogs also cover these topics as part of their work.
That brings us to this little experiment. We gathered writers from three other White Sox blogs to answer a few questions about the farm. As it turns out, while there is some commonality, there are also some real differences in viewpoints. It would be easy for each of us to pretend the other blogs don’t exist. But the reality is, there are a number of high quality sites in our little world, and it’s good to get some different perspectives. The blogs we contacted are a good place to start, if you don’t read them already (we hope you do).
Here is the cast for our roundtable (in no particular order):
- Josh Nelson, South Side Sox (SB Nation)
- James Fegan, Baseball Prospectus – South Side (BP)
- Tom Fornelli, Write Sox
- Matt Cassidy, Future Sox (ChicagoNow)
This is how each of them answered five questions about the White Sox minor leagues and prospects…
QUESTION ONE: Do you have a favorite White Sox prospect (or two) you follow? Maybe who you feel is under-appreciated? Who, and why?
Josh: Ever since Nick Hostetler (Dir. of Amateur Scouting) gushed about Corey Zangari, I’ve been following every game of his. Having him play in Kannapolis is a huge leap for him. He has struck out 55 times to just 11 walks and his batting average is .194. But this kid already has 6 home runs in 30 games and for all those Sox fans wishing for a Kyle Schwarber, Zangari could be that future basher we as fans dream for.
I think the most under-appreciated prospect is Jacob May. Many think he is a 4th OF at best. I think he can be a starting CF and paired with Tim Anderson can bring a new dynamic to the White Sox offense with their speed in the near future.
Tom: I’m not exactly exotic when it comes to the prospects I keep track of. It’s hard to say I really have a favorite, but I pay more attention to the names at the top of the list, which means Carson Fulmer and Tim Anderson are my answers here.
Fulmer gets a bit more attention, though, because there’s always a chance he’ll pitch meaningful innings for the White Sox this season. I don’t think that’s the plan for Anderson, and I think it makes far more sense to let him spend at least an entire season in Charlotte before “rushing” him to Chicago.
James: I would be kidding myself if I pretended any prospect mattered to me on the scale of Tim Anderson. He’s not just the top guy in the system, he’s the best position prospect this organization has fostered in a decade. He represents both the high-level athleticism the Sox have longed to harness for so long, and could be a major success story for a player development staff frequently derided for its struggles to convert talent as raw as Anderson’s into genuine MLB-level baseball skills. If Anderson sticks as an above-average MLB regular, it provides excitement for what this system is capable of producing going forward.
Also, he’s just exciting to follow on his own unique merits. He’s not someone who can be scouted with stat lines (not that anyone can), you really need to watch him and the lightning quickness he moves with to understand why he’s special. Finally, and it’s a distant dream, but having a black man with a fun and relatable public persona as one of the faces of the franchise would appeal to a population on the south side of Chicago that is not targeted enough.
I have an unhealthy obsession with relievers who carry themselves to the majors with one dominant pitch–it makes me overly forgiving of Jake Petricka–so ever since Craig Goldstein showed me video of Zach Thompson‘s big fastball in Spring Training, he’s been my follow project (I know he’s still starting but c’mon).
Matt: For a personal cheeseball, I’ll go with Jason Coats. I’ve got a weakness for players who consistently outperform their apparent physical tools, and he certainly fits that. Coats is also the opposite of the “toolsy” but flawed outfield prospects we’ve seen for years; the Courtney Hawkins, Adam Engel, Jared Mitchell, Keenyn Walker types who have one or two loud tools but struggle to hit. I’d put Coats’ grades (current/potential) at 45/55 hit, 50/55 power, 55/65 glove (on corners – much lower in CF), 50/50 arm, 55/55 speed – and I’m probably higher than others on most of those. Somehow though, as a package it all plays up. And I think he’s a competent or better 4th OF right now, with a starting RF ceiling if things go right. Although with Avisail Garcia suddenly hitting, there doesn’t appear to be much of a role for him right now in Chicago.
QUESTION TWO: What are your thoughts on White Sox player development, overall? What’s good, what’s bad, what should change?
Tom: This organization has always been aggressive when it comes to development, and I don’t just mean with promoting guys to the Majors, I mean with promotions across the board. When it comes to guys like Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon, it’s paid dividends. With guys like Gordon Beckham, it’s blown up in their faces.
I think, overall, I’d like to see the Sox show more patience, because I’m not sure how the aggressive approach really works. I believe that the guys who are going to make it regardless, that have a ton of talent, like Sale, are going to work out fine either way. For 98% of your players, though, rushing them could just lead to a crisis of confidence that will throw them severely out of whack.
For instance, Carlos Sanchez is a player that I like, but I believe the Sox have been a bit too quick with. He should not have been a regular on the White Sox last season. Yes, the glove is there, but he’s still learning how to hit. At just 23 years of age he’s spent the majority of his professional career playing in leagues where he’d be considered extremely young.
I don’t think this has been to his benefit, and in a lot of ways, I think this aggressive approach has been a key reason why the team has had so many struggles developing position players. When you keep drafting toolsy, athletic guys who need developing, you actually have to invest the time to develop them too.
James: As Tom said, aggression seems like the overriding theme with the Sox. When they have someone they’re confident in, they like to move him quickly through the system until their performance forces them to stop. A lot of the time that’s because they have identified someone with the advanced skill set, feel or makeup necessary to deal with intense competition and failure, and to some degree they just like testing guys.
When it works, it really works. Chris Sale is the rare prospect who paired immediate production with a steady march toward an elite ceiling. Carlos Rodon has had his ups and downs in the majors but is a good match with the organization in that his stuff is too good for him develop against lesser hitters, and Jose Quintana is a miracle baby whose path simply cannot be believed. In general, it seems like the warts of hyper-aggression can be smoothed over by having Richard Dotson at Triple-A and Don Cooper in the majors.
For hitting, there are not those type of cornerstone guys, and the developmental template they offer in place. The recent success of Trayce Thompson and Marcus Semien aside, and even with the optimism created by Anderson and Trey Michalczewski, the results have simply not been there. It’s a Moneyball-era canard to demand that every prospect show a good walk rate while they are just figuring out how to hit, but the aggressive process could be to blame for a lot of system graduates arriving in Chicago with very raw and in-progress plate approaches.
Josh: I’ve been thinking about player development for three hours and this is what I can come up with.
For me, he symbolizes the White Sox player development efforts. And at the moment, I’m conflicted about how I feel about him.
Matt: The aggressive promotion of top prospects is definitely a risky path, but I’m going to go a different route here. What stands out most to me, and that James alluded to, is the dramatic difference in success rate between developing pitchers versus hitters.
Is that a function of development? The Sox do have fantastic pitching coaches up and down the system. But are the hitters lacking that, or is it more that the team isn’t as good spotting hitting talent before being drafted or signed? Or both?
I don’t know the answer, but I do see signs of hope. Anderson, Thompson, Michalczewski, and even Marcus Semien have begun to change the picture a bit. The Sox have also changed hitting coaches up and down the ladder the last few years, including at the major league level. But they’ve also changed their draft approach (with personnel changes there too). It’s difficult to put a finger on the true cause, but it does seem the trend is changing lately, for the better. Time will tell.
QUESTION THREE: The draft is less than a month away. Is there a specific player or players you hope the Sox will target? If you’re not quite that deep into the names at this stage, knowing the team has picks 10, 26 and 49, what would you like to see them do in general? Any type of players you want to see?
James: When they Sox had the third pick [in 2015], it was a bit easier to think through who they would end up with specifically. Aiken was going first, I had all my hopes on Rodon, and was nervous they would talk themselves into Tyler Kolek, but suspected they would find a natural fit with Aaron Nola if Rodon got snatched up.
At No. 10 it’s a bit harder to peg, and there’s much more potential to have someone surprising fall to you, or maybe taking someone slightly below what’s expected at that pick because your evaluations of him are higher than the rest of the league.
If he slips a bit, Riley Pint seems like the “live arm with stuff, needs refinement” type they like to mold a lot, Jordan Sheffield, too. But start off a sentence about a pitcher with “the White Sox are confident he can start” and my eyebrows raise. Then again, the “we actually agree that his delivery is too high-effort and he’ll have to relieve” isn’t a phrase said often on draft day. Corey Ray shouldn’t get to them, but a Simeon grad would be amazing to follow through the system.
Looking at the system, I know I would like to see some high-floor, advanced approach bats, and I would like to see an outfield prospect of note, but the name of the game is creating value which allows you to plug holes on the MLB club however you can. The constant surplus of arms had a big role in bringing Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier to Chicago, after all.
Josh: I have been paying a great deal of attention to this year’s draft. Two months ago, I was sold that Jason Groome was going to be the first pick in the draft. A month later, I think it’s between Florida’s A.J. Puk and Mercer’s Kyle Lewis. What’s changed for Philadelphia is the way 2016 has started for them. Compare them to the other “Tankers” in the National League: Atlanta, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, San Diego, and the Phillies are much closer to contention than them. Both Puk and Lewis could make the majors within 3 years, if not sooner, and by then Philly could be contending in the NL East.
After that, it gets a bit crazy, which really impacts the White Sox. 10 of the Top 15 picks could be high schoolers, which is the strength of this year’s class. High School flamethrower, RHP Riley Pint who has hit 102 mph, is going to either Cincinnati or Colorado. I would be shocked of Groome is not selected in the Top 5 either to Atlanta or Milwaukee. The best prep prospect in February was OF Blake Rutherford. Now it’s his prep rival OF Mickey Moniak, who could be taken as high as three to the Braves. With the tankers still so far away from contention, they can afford to load up on the top high school talents. Leaving the Athletics, Marlins, Padres, Tigers, and the Sox to choose from the best college talents.
At pick 10, I look for the White Sox to take a player with a high floor and it could be a college pitcher. Mississippi State’s Dakota Hudson comes to mind as he has a plus-fastball, change up, and already has a cut-fastball. Pretty much a ready to order Don Cooper special. Positional-wise, it would be a miracle if Corey Ray was available at 10. If it were to happen (and that’s a BIG if), I would put him ahead of Tim Anderson on the White Sox prospect list. That’s how confident I am in his ability to play at the next level. Tennessee 3B, Nick Senzel would be great addition if Ray goes first.
At pick 26, in the past, I liked what the White Sox have done drafting Tyler Danish (’13) and Spencer Adams (’14) in the second round. Drafting high school pitchers who are at least five years away from helping the big league club and have the makeup to handle each level of professional baseball. Whenever I talk to Jim Callis about Adams, still to this day he is shocked how Adams fell to the White Sox because every team had first round grades on the kid.
In this year’s draft, I wonder if the White Sox flip the script and take a top level high schooler at 10, because there will be very good college players to select from in this slot. Two that have caught my eye are pitchers Justin Dunn from Boston College and Eric Lauer from Kent State. Nick Hostetler could even go catcher with Matt Thaiss from Virginia or Zack Collins from Miami.
At pick 49, guys like Will Craig from Wake Forest or high schooler Bo Bichette (Dante’s son) could be targets.
Tom: There aren’t any specific players that I have in mind simply because I don’t follow college baseball very closely, and don’t follow at the high school level at all. I just know that my personal draft philosophy is that I prefer college players over high school players, and considering how the White Sox are in one of their patented “rebuild while trying to win” cycles, I would suppose they’re leaning toward college players as well, even if the high school talent pool is supposedly deeper this summer.
Also, while the Sox have had plenty of success with pitching, I’m still hoping that they use two of their first three picks on college hitters. If you look at our offense, when you get past Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton, and possibly Brett Lawrie if you’re feeling generous, there aren’t a lot of productive players on the right side of 30 right now. We have plenty of young pitching talent on the way, we need more cheap offense.
Matt: Like Tom, I’m not very up on all the names in the hat right now. Other writers at Future Sox are, and I’m not usually a big part of the draft coverage, leaving that to some other guys on our staff.
That said, it looks like this draft class is weak on top end talent, and stronger on depth. It also looks like the high school crop may have more high ceiling types than college overall. With the team having those 10th and 26th picks (and 49th to boot), I’d like to see them go prep with at least one of the first two picks. Which order is less important than the bonus money, the way the rules are structured now. But I want to see a good gamble in there.
QUESTION FOUR: Where Future Sox is focused exclusively on the minors and related topics, your blogs (South Side Sox, Baseball Prospectus – South Side, Write Sox) cover the team as a whole, with prospects, minor leaguers and the draft just one facet of that. How do you handle that part of the picture in your blogs?
Josh: We write about the White Sox everyday, even when it’s not fun (See: 2013-2015). When the team is not performing well, it really helps to have something to look forward to and covering the minors does that. For us at SSS, we are lucky to have someone in Larry that has a passion following what happens in the minors. He is great at evaluating players and is rarely wrong about a player’s potential. He was on the Trayce Thompson bandwagon before it was cool.
We have a minor league thread that Jim Margalus updates daily. It’s a place where the community can visit to stay in tune with what is happening in Charlotte, Birmingham, Winston-Salem, and Kannapolis. On the podcast, we’ll have the PbP broadcasters share their thoughts on players development as they watch these guys play daily. Jim Callis is on about every six weeks to get his honest evaluations on how the top prospects are progressing and he is the man when it comes to the MLB Draft.
What I’ve noticed is that White Sox fans do have an appetite for this type of coverage. They want to know who could be future starters and who could be packaged to acquire star players like Todd Frazier. We get questions every week in P.O. Sox about Carson Fulmer. Hell, we get questions asking if Jason Coats will find playing time in Chicago. I think it’s great and it makes our coverage better by paying attention to the lower levels. It’ll come in handy when the White Sox trade two more pitchers to Oakland for Josh Reddick.
Tom: I started Write Sox as an outlet to share my thoughts on the White Sox. I write for a living, but I wanted somewhere to write for a hobby as well, because personally, I find that when I’m just doing it for work, it loses its fun. Having Write Sox available to me keeps that from happening, and I believe it just makes me better overall.
What I cover there reflects my personal interests. I follow the top prospects in the system, but I’m not as invested in them as I used to be. Frankly, I just keep abreast of players I believe could be with the White Sox in the current season, or those I believe could be used as trade bait. That’s how my coverage of them works as well.
Odds are the only reason I’m going to be writing about Tim Anderson or Carson Fulmer is they’ve been called up or traded. Or possibly in response to all the tweets in my mentions talking about how Carson Fulmer needs to be in the starting rotation right now, which I believe is just a silly notion.
Other than that, I wouldn’t rely on Write Sox as the place to go to for your information on the White Sox minor league system.
James: I’m glad I’m third because it’s probably a combination of the two. Prospect coverage is something where it shows when you’re not doing the work, and we don’t have anyone dedicated specifically to the minor league beat, let alone someone heading out to games and putting eyes on guys, which is vital as minor league scouting reports fall out of date very quickly.
So our coverage is much more on how do prospects relate to the major league team rather than prospects for the sake of mapping their development path. Tim Anderson’s progress is an obvious focus for us, because he’s the biggest minor league trade chip and also the presumptive shortstop of the future. He had yet to hit Triple-A before his impact is felt in the solutions the Sox seek at the major league level at that position. Carson Fulmer works in the same way to a lesser extent, and it really behooves us to be up on the top-10 to top-15 of the prospects in the organization because they speak to the depth and trade resources at hand. And then even beyond that, you need to know who the Kevan Smith types are, and who is tearing up the bullpen in Triple-A, because all of those guys are going to come into play over the course of a long year. In sum, covering the major league team really only excuses you from monitoring all the fringy future 40-50 grade guys when they’re in the low minors. Yency Almonte was a minor blip on the radar for a single season at Single-A in the Sox organization and still wound up bringing back a guy in a trade who has already seen major league action this season.
A corny but true thing I could say right here is that I read Future Sox, but I do. I try to seek out people who are doing the work, cite their observations and give them credit. Just showing that we’re observant and plugged in does a lot more for our site’s rep than ignoring prospects completely or trying to rush our way through it by watching video in our spare time. Luckily we’ve been doing this long enough to where the whole staff is pretty intuitive on how prospects typically progress and are treated by this organization, and we have been doing it long enough to have friends in the prospect community who will share info with us, and now we even have the resources of BP to lean on. As a result, there are plenty of options when I need to ask “Hey can this guy hit worth a damn?”
It was at least three or four years ago when Collin Whitchurch pitched me to join the staff with the notion that he would monitor the MLB draft for us, and the lesson I’ve been learning more and more since then is to lean on the specialists when need be.
Matt: This question doesn’t apply to us, but I’ll turn the tables. We wanted to host writers from these three other White Sox blogs because they all provide excellent content. For niche sites like ours, we can and do point to their articles here and there, for that reason. We all watch the major league club too, but as it’s not our main focus, it behooves us to lean on those who are closer to that action.
QUESTION FIVE: The world of minor league baseball has any number of unique qualities, different than MLB and really any other sport. Some good, some bad. If you could change one thing about the way the minors are run and operated, what would it be?
Tom: Other than the possibility of MLB Network, or other sports networks, showing more games on national television, I’m really in no position to judge anything about how the minor leagues actually operate.
I will say that, as a White Sox fan, while I understand the benefits of having the affiliates clustered together in North Carolina, I would enjoy having an affiliate closer to Chicago. Whether in South Bend, or Kane County, or anywhere within a reasonable drive, it would be nice to go catch some Sox prospects in person.
James: In a continued effort to suck up to my hosts, Future Sox has actually already addressed what I would say the main issue, and probably the next step in how baseball organizations strengthen themselves. Everyone wants to get more out of their prospects, but the next stage in that is investing in these players to maximize their performance in a way that is in accordance with the value placed on minor league talent.
Minor leaguers don’t get paid a comfortable living wage, don’t have their nutrition monitored and provided for, don’t have travel accommodations nor train in facilities that are befitting of high-valued assets. No one would expect the White Sox to thrive if they had to ride on a bus for six hours, eat at CiCi’s, and roll out of bed a few hours later to play a game, so why expect the same from raw talents in their early 20’s? To some degree this is already happening; I’ve seen first-hand that the facility built for the South Bend Cubs (the Low-A affiliate of the Cubs) is immaculate, and to some degree this is held back by minor leaguers having no union representation nor negotiating power.
But everyone wants to avoid paying through the nose for veteran free agents just to have competent solutions throughout an MLB roster, and teams are slowly but surely moving toward realizing that strengthening their depth by investing in their organizational infrastructure is the way to go, because the minor leagues should be an engine of development, not a war of attrition.
Josh: James addressed the biggest problem in the minors today. To add something new, AAA/AA levels should have pitch/fx technology. Far too often we rely on scouts radar guns and more data is needed to make better personnel decisions. A crazy idea – start automating strike/ball calls in any of the leagues to work out the kinks before implementing a solution in the Majors.
Matt: As a couple of you pointed out, I wrote about minor league pay as an investment a while back. And I really like the ideas brought up about Pitch F/X in the minors as well, and robot ump trials, and better streaming of more games. And I’d love to see a Sox affiliate closer to home too. That would certainly make our jobs easier!
So I’ll throw in one more idea. For minor leaguers in AA or above, take them out of their team for a few days during the season, and have them hang out with the major league club. Let them see the daily MLB routine in person for 2 or 3 days, interact with the “big kids”, even talk with the media, and get a taste of what it all really feels like. The club could rotate them so that only one or two players go at a time. Like an undergrad auditing a grad school course, there’s a lot to learn and this could make the landings in the majors a little softer and smoother, not to mention increase knowledge sharing.
As you can see, there are not only some varying viewpoints in the White Sox blogosphere, there are some excellent writers as well. Thanks to all of them for participating in our first blogger roundtable!
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