Chicago White Sox

Original Published Date: Oct. 15, 2013
Updated: Nov. 2, 2013 – Added Jose Abreu

Over the past few years, the Chicago White Sox minor league system has lacked depth but still managed to develop two elite contributors in the big leagues in Chris Sale and Addison Reed.  However, the depth is finally improving as the White Sox have been able to retain their recent first round draft slots in the first year player draft by refraining from signing expensive free agents.  Additionally, the White Sox spent $1.6 million on Dominican outfielder Micker Zapata, in the 2013 J2 signing period; potentially signally to the industry that they will once again become players in the Latin market.

Net net, it’s a better system but it’s still not great and that is best illustrated by their top ranked prospect, Erik Johnson.  He’s a good prospect and will likely be included in our Top 100 rankings, but he has the ceiling of a number three starter.  The White Sox first pick in the 2013 draft, Tim Anderson, is an intriguing athlete with a high upside, but is very raw.  The same can be said for Courtney Hawkins, their 2012 first round pick – crazy tools but still very raw and took a step back in 2012 due to his aggressive assignment.  Two middle infielders, Micah Johnson and Marcus Semien are also interesting prospects that could contribute at the highest level and in fact, Semien’s had a cup of coffee in 2013 and held his own.

On October 29th, the White Sox officially signed Jose Abreu to a six year, $68 million dollar contract.  It was a significant signing for the team and solidifies their first base position for the next few years.  It also adds depth to their minor league system and Abreu immediately becomes their top prospect.

1. Jose Abreu (1B)

2014 Age: 27
Ceiling:Role 5-6
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 258 Bats: Right Throws:Right
2013 DNP

Jose Abreu is no stranger to scouts and major league executives as he played extensively on the Cuban National teams including batting .360 with three home runs in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.  His carrying tool is plus-plus raw power that allowed him to put up significant power numbers including 33 home runs in the 2010-2011 season.  In fact, his performance in that year were truly worthy of a video game where he had a .453/.597/.986 slash line with 33 home runs and 93 RBIs in a paltry 66 games.   It was those types of performances that caused Yasiel Puig to pronounce that Jose Abreu was the “Cuban Miguel Cabrera”.

Before we anoint Abreu: Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, and Miguel Cabrera wrapped up into a single player, there are three things that need to be considered:

  1. The Cuban National Leagues are far from the Major Leagues.  Pitchers don’t throw hard and in fact, the league is full of “junk-ballers”.
  2. Abreu is listed at 6-foot-2 and 258 pounds and looks every bit of that.   Let’s face it, he’s big and slow with an unathletic body.  Baseball has not always been kind to players of this profile.
  3. Most of his power is generated through raw power and not bat speed.  There is significant concern about his ability to turn on premium velocity, particularly premium inside velocity.

Abreu will be the starting first basemen for the Chicago White Sox and has a chance to hit 20 plus home runs in his Major League debut.  However, I would be concerned about his batting average as the reports I have on him indicate that he’ll have trouble with premium velocity and will be more of a “mistake hitter”.  While everyone wants the next great Cuban émigré on their team, Abreu is not Yoenis Cespedes or Yasiel Puig.

Fantasy Impact: Jose Abreu is draftable in most fantasy leagues in 2014.  However, I doubt he’ll be on any of my teams.  The price will be too steep as I’ll put his stat line at a .230 batting average with 20 home runs with downward pressure on the batting average but with some upside on the home runs.

2. Erik Johnson (RHP)

2014 Age: 24 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 235 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2013
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 AA-AAA 143.1 100 31 7 2.54 8.30 1.96 0.99

One of the biggest breakout prospects in the minor leagues this year was right-handed Erik Johnson.  He moved through two levels within the minors and was rewarded with a September call-up to Chicago where he performed very well.

Johnson took a major step forward in 2013 in terms of both stuff and command.  He has a four pitch arsenal that features a four-seam fastball that sits 92-94 MPH, a two-seam fastball that has some nice glove-side run, an 84-86 MPH slider that he threw more in the minors than he did upon his callup and a mid-70’s curve that got a ton of swing and miss upon his callup.  The change-up is a little underdeveloped but does show enough to keep left-handed batters honest.  It’s a comprehensive arsenal that he mixes well and can throw for strikes.

The performance across two levels in the minor leagues was spectacular with a 1.96 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP with a 3.28 K/BB ratio while striking out just under a batter an inning.  If it weren’t for a groin injury in early July, Johnson could have been summoned to Chicago much earlier than he ultimately did.

Johnson has a bulldog mentality on the mound and attacks hitters.  The pitching mechanics are also very aggressive as he appears to rush his pitches, particularly out of the stretch.  While I wish the mechanics were more fluid, the timing seems to work for him as he is able to repeat his delivery.

Fantasy Impact:  Erik Johnson is a classic number three starter in the major leagues.  I expect him to have a strikeout rate of 7-7.5 per nine with better than league average ratios.  He’s not a star and will therefore not be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher on a fantasy team, but he could serve as a nice number four starter in a deep fantasy league.

3. Tim Anderson (SS)

2014 Age: 20
Ceiling:Role 5
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws:Right
2013 Low-A 268 45 1 21 21 .276 .347 70.9 8.6 .382

Selected with the number 17 pick in the 2013 draft, Tim Anderson provides the high upside athleticism that the White Sox like to develop.

As with many raw athletes, Anderson did not focus on baseball until 2012 after giving up his dream of a life in the NBA as a point guard.  However, he’s quickly making up for lost time, showing excellent bat speed and a very simple swing.  Even with the lack of an extensive baseball resume, the White Sox were aggressive with Anderson, starting his professional career in the SALLY League.  He definitely held his own with a .276 batting average and a .347 OBP.  However, he did show some swing and miss, posting a contact rate of 71%.  At this juncture, I’m not too worried about the low contact rate as Anderson is still very raw and that will be his development focus.

The power projections range from a grade of 30 to 50.  Based on the lack of leverage in his swing and his wiry build, I think he’ll struggle to hit double-digit home runs at the highest level.  However, that could change as he goes through the development process and the White Sox work on his swing.  For me, Anderson should use his 70+ grade speed with his bat speed to simply get on base.  Once there, he should be able to steal 30+ bases (in 2013, he stole 24 while being caught only four times).  BABIP will be Anderson’s friend and he should exploit that to the max.

Anderson is currently playing shortstop and based on his athleticism and current actions at the position, I believe he can stay there for the long haul.   He has great lateral movement and enough arm strength to make the deep throw.

While I like Anderson a lot, I do worry about the aggressive development path that the White Sox might take.  Using Courtney Hawkins as an example, he might have regressed in his development because he was rushed.  I’m assuming Anderson will start 2014 in High-A and at age 20, he’ll be one of the youngest players in the league.  The White Sox might be better served to allow him to marinate in Low-A for another 200 at-bats before making the jump in mid-season.

Fantasy Impact:  Shortstops that can steal 30-40 bases with a .280 batting average in the Major Leagues are extremely valuable and that is the upside of Anderson.  Offensively, he could be a Elvis Andrus type player with top-of-the-order potential.  He’s a must own in a Dynasty league.

4. Courtney Hawkins (OF)

2014 Age: 20
Ceiling:Role 5
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws:Right
2013 HiA 383 48 19 62 10 .178 .239 58.2 6.0 .236

Drafted as the 13th overall pick in the 2012, Courtney Hawkins is a toolsy talent with crazy upside if he can just learn to make contact, which was a struggle in 2013 as he whiffed an alarming 160 times in 383 at-bats.

Hawkins was the second youngest player in the league and it showed.  He posted a difficult line of .178/.249/.384, showing very little plate discipline and struggled with pitch recognition.   In a word, he was overmatched.  The bat speed is evident as is the plus raw power.  He puts on an impressive batting practice and even the game power emerged as he hit 19 home runs in 2013.  However, if he doesn’t learn to make more contact, Hawkins will not make it out of Double-A.

For those looking for encouraging signs, Hawkins struck out 45 times in 77 at-bats in April or 58% of the time.  In August, the contact rate improved as he only struck out 31 times in 101 at-bats.  It was definitely progress and more importantly, he shorten up his swing.  With his strength and bat speed, he has natural plus power that will emerge if he makes contact.  Staying inside the ball and becoming more direct to the ball should allow him to eventually get to that power.

From all accounts, Hawkins is a hard worker and a good kid.  He needs to continue to modify his swing and the White Sox need to have him repeat High-A.  At 20-years-old, he’ll still be one of the youngest players in the league.  The Fall Instructional League could be pivotal for Hawkins.

Fantasy Impact:  Courtney Hawkins is the classic high risk/high reward player.  He could develop into an middle-of-the-order outfielder with 25-home run power or never make it out of Double-A.  He’s a lottery pick and while many times you’re left throwing the ticket out with the trash, I’m not willing to give up on Hawkins just yet.  There’s just too much talent – and a talent that was clearly moved to aggressively.

5. Micah Johnson (2B)

2014 Age: 23
Ceiling:Role 5
Ht: 5-11 Weight: 190 Bats: Both Throws:Right
2013 A-AA 536 106 7 58 84 .312 .373 81.7 9.3 .369

While everyone was watching Billy Hamiton steal 75 bases in Triple-A, Micah Johnson said, “Oh Yeah” and stole 84 bases over primarily two-levels (Low-A and High-A).  The college product out of Indiana had no trouble with Low-A, posting a .342/.422/.530 slash line over 304 at-bats including 61 stolen bases.  Things got a little more challenging in High-A as his slash lined regressed to .275/.309/.360 in 211 at-bats.

Clearly Micah Johnson has speed with a respectable stolen base percentage of 76%.  At 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, he does have strength and is capable of hitting a few balls out.  There is bat speed but the swing is a little long; particularly from the left-side.  While the contact rate was good during both of his stops in 2013, I’m not convinced that the swing is conducive to making great contact.

Defensively, Johnson had 29 errors at the keystone.  Given his athleticism, I found this a little alarming until you see him play the position.  He lacks some basic footwork to put him into position to make clean pickups and a proper throw.

Johnson turns 23 in December and even as a college draftee, he’s more raw than you would expect.  His speed is his carrying tool but concern about his defensive ability and his ability to make consistent contact has me concerned about his overall ceiling.  Assuming he can shorten up the swing and work on his footwork, he could be a solid regular contributor for a second division team.  If not, he’s a fringy prospect.

Fantasy Impact:  Johnson is a better fantasy prospect than a baseball prospect at the moment given his stolen base potential.  He should be owned in all Dynasty League formats with the understanding that his stock could take a huge hit if his hit-tool does not develop once he hits the upper minors in 2014.

6. Marcus Semien (2B)

2014 Age: 23
Ceiling:Role 5
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws:Right
2013 AA-AAA 518 110 19 66 24 .284 .401 82.5 18.9 .311

Selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft out of the University of California, Marcus Semien’s built on a nice year in 2012 to make his way through both Double and Triple-A, before getting called up in September for his major league debut.  While it was just a taste, he showed the promise that he could be the answer at second base for the White Sox.

Semien’s has a solid toolset across the board and despite 24 stolen bases in 29 attempts, doesn’t have a true carrying tool.  He has some bat speed with a nice compact swing but doesn’t have the strength nor a leveraged swing to profile more than a handful of home runs at the highest level.  He does make good contact and excelled in Double-A with his ability to get on-base (84 walks and a .420 OBP).   He does hit lefties much better than righties (.342 vs. .270) which could be a problem going forward.

Defensively, Semien’s has excellent range and hands and profiles as an above average second baseman but probably a fringy shortstop.  With this, it will come down to the bat as to whether Semien’s will get regular at-bats for the White Sox or be an extra bat off the bench.

Fantasy Impact: I do like Semien’s ability to post usable stolen base totals as a sleeper in 2014 fantasy leagues.   Long-term, I’m just not sure about how much value he will have given the lack of upside.

7. Trayce Thompson (OF)

2014 Age: 23
Ceiling:Role 4-5
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws:Right
2013 AA 507 78 15 73 25 .229 .321 73.2 11.8 .277

Trayce Thompson had another solid year as he posted a .229/.321/.383 slash line.  While the batting average was disappointing, it was primarily fueled by a .280 BABIP.  His 60 walks though were encouraging and perhaps provide an indicator that Thompson is looking for his pitch more.

My overall evaluation of Thompson remains similar to last year.  A toolsy athletic talent that struggles to make sufficient contact.  In 507 at-bats in Double-A in 2013, Thompson posted a 72.6% contact rate vs. a 67.6% contact rate in 2012.  While a 5% improvement needs to applauded, there is still a lot of work left.  The bat speed is there, but the swing is long and Thompson needs to continue to work on staying inside the ball and being more direct with his stroke.

Fantasy Impact:  Despite the poor contact, Thompson needs to be owned in a Dynasty League.  The chance for a 20/20 player is there and if he can continue to make improvement with his swing, it might be enough for him to find full-time at-bats in the Major League.  The opportunity might come in 2014.

8. Carlos Sanchez (SS/2B)
After a promising 2012 year at the plate, Carlos Sanchez offensive game took a step back in 2013 as he posted a pedestrian .241/.293/.296 in 432 at-bats in Triple-A.  The contact rate is there but his lack of strength is limiting him to being primarily a singles hitter as his .296 slugging percentage shows.  The glove continues to work, but given his offensive maturity, it looks like his upside is a utility player at the highest level.

9. Keon Barnum (1B)
Keon Barnum was drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2012 draft as a power-hitting first baseman.  In 43 professional at-bats in 2012, he looked the part; both physically at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds and by slugging three home runs in his brief debut.  He started 2013 in the complex league before hitting Low-A in June where he hit five home runs in 201 at-bats while striking out 65 times.  It wasn’t a great debut for the Florida native but there is still a lot of development time left for the 20-year-old.

10. Tyler Danish (RHP)
Selected in the second round of the 2013 draft, 18-year-old Tyler Danish is a fastball/slider pitcher with tremendous sink on his fastball that generated a crazy 5.88 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio in 30 innings this past year.  His fastball sits 90-92 MPH with his slider sitting in the lower 80’s.  The arm action though is not good as Danish comes in at a low ¾ slot and slings the ball.  It’s not the ideal delivery for sure, but it does provide a level of deception that could have some short-term benefit for the young hurler.  Long-term, I do worry that the delivery will lead to arm problems.

11. Brandon Jacobs (OF)
Traded from the Boston Red Sox for Matt Thornton in July of 2013, Brandon Jacobs is a uber athletic football body, playing on a baseball diamond.  While this works for some player, it has yet to translate into success for the 6-foot-1, 225 pound Georgia native.  There is bat speed but the swing is long and Jacobs struggles mightily with off-speed pitches.  Plus, there is significant reverse splits as Jacobs really struggles against left-handers posting a .128 in 78 bats.

To reinforce his struggles against lefties, I had a chance to scout him against soft-tosser John Lamb in late April where he went 0-3 with two punch outs.  He was totally fooled by Lamb’s breaking pitch and essentially had no chance.  Granted, Lamb’s curve ball was really good that night but he swung over the top of it numerous times.

2014 Emerging Prospect:

Micker Zapata (OF)
I had a chance to see Micker Zapata in the Fall Instructional League and I left impressed.  He’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds but is athletic with massive raw power.  Batting practice was impressive, but his in-game power was also there as he hit everything hard.  The swing is long and it’s mostly pull power, but with some instruction, he could be a real breakout player in 2014.

13 comments on “Chicago White Sox

  1. Have you had a chance to see Chris Curley play? He hit 24 HRs in High A last year and looks to be starting the season in AA with Birmingham. I know he is older, but have you had a chance to see him while looking at other guys? Thanks!

  2. where does matt davidson rank among their top 10?

  3. ‘too’ aggressively in Hawkins fantasy part

  4. Is it possible to include Abreu on this list now?

  5. Micah Johnson’s success rate was 76%, not 70%. Important difference because 75% is generally considered the “break-even point” for whether it’s worth it to steal.

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