Welcome to the first of 30 Top 10 prospects lists that will be featured on FanGraphs between now and March.
I’ve spent every offseason ranking prospects at FanGraphs since 2008, and I truly believe this year’s collection of top prospects lists is the best yet. Along with reading about 15 prospects for each club, you’ll receive a future ceiling grade projection (20-80) for the Top 10 players in each organization. You’ll also read companion pieces from the prospect writing team from both FanGraphs and RotoGraphs, as well as related prospect interviews from David Laurila.
The lists and player profiles are created through first-person observation and by speaking with scouts, coaches, players and front office contacts (including assistant general managers, scouting directors and directors of player development). I can proudly say that some of the brightest minds from around the game weigh in on the rankings.
I don’t pretend to be a scout or an expert of any kind. I offer what I consider to be an educated opinion and I also try to write my pieces for all readers — the diehard and the casual fans alike. The prospect team compiled from FanGraphs and RotoGraphs is not trying to be a scouting service, or impress a front office enough to offer us jobs. We don’t pretend to be as skilled as a veteran scout with 30 years of experience navigating the back fields and shelling peanuts from the stands. We’re guys who like prospects, and like writing about them. So, please, sit back and enjoy.
In terms of high-ceiling talent and depth, the White Sox minor league system has been a bottom-feeder for a while now as former General Manager Kenny Williams focused on improving the big-league product through free agency and via the trade route, oftening flipping multi-prospect packages for veterans. The club also had unprecedented bad luck with first round draft picks for an 18-year stretch, beginning in 1991 — right after four amazing years that saw the club nab Jack McDowell, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas, and Alex Fernandez.
Undetered, though, members of both the player development and scouting staffs worked diligiently to infuse the system with new talent and polish existing skills. The hard work is beginning to pay off and the Sox now boast an up-and-coming system.
The Year in Review: Johnson, 23, made 29 starts across three levels of organized ball in 2013 and solidified his standing as the top prospect in the Sox system. He opened the year in Double-A and then made a stop in Triple-A before he finished the year with five starts in the Majors. In total, he was just shy of the 170-inning mark — a significant increase over the 92.1 innings he pitched in 2012.
The Scouting Report: A former second round draft pick (2011), Johnson has a strong, durable frame that should allow him to pitch more than 200 innings on an annual basis in the Majors. He works comfortably in the low-90s with his fastball and backs that up with two breaking balls. His slider is a step ahead of the curveball at this point and his changeup is a distant fourth pitch.
The Year Ahead: The White Sox could feature one of the youngest starting pitching staffs in the American League in 2014 and Johnson’s strong finish to the ’13 campaign should bathe him in a favorable light at the beginning of spring training. He could, in fact, open the year as the club’s No. 3 or 4 starter, depending on how the front office approaches the offseason free agent and trade markets.
Career Outlook: As mentioned, Johnson has all the makings of an innings-eater and should top out as a solid, but unspectacular, mid-rotation starter. The club should get plenty of use out of the hurler into his late 20s and during his peak seasons.
The Quote: “Fastball command is essential in pitching with success at the Major League level. If he masters that, he will be a good one.”
The Year in Review: The organization was shockingly aggressive with the first pick of the 2012 draft by assigning him to High-A ball in April despite the fact he was still a teenager (19) with just 59 games of pro experience. Things went horribly wrong for Hawkins and he hit just .178 with 160 strikeouts (and just 29 walks) in 103 games. He was overmatched in just about every aspect of the game.
The Scouting Report: Hawkins has decent maturity for his age and good makeup, which helps give him a chance to bounce back from the dismal showing in 2013. He may never produce high batting averages but his above-average bat speed should allow him to cut down on his swing and still produce enough power to produce .200+ isolated slugging rates at the Major League level. The young hitter is athletic for his size (6-3, 220), can hold his own at all three outfield positions and possesses plus arm strength.
The Year Ahead: Hawkins needs an opportunity to get his feet back under him and that should necessitate a return engagement to High-A ball as a demotion to Low-A could damage the psyche even further. The inexperienced hitter needs a chance to improve his pitch recognition and adjust his approach. Expect him to spend the entire season in A-ball and the production of league-average numbers would be considered a huge improvement.
Career Outlook: The struggles from 2013 have definitely slowed down Hawkins’ timetable and he likely won’t reach the Majors until late 2016 at the earliest. He still has a chance to be an impact bat at the big league level but young players such as Avisail Garcia and potential veteran imports will have to keep the young hitter’s right-field spot warm.
The Quote: “Once he shortens his swing and learns to use the hole field, I think we will have something special. He has a tremendous upside just because of his offensive potential.”
#3 Jose Dariel Abreu | 60/DNP
The Year in Review: Abreu didn’t spend much time on the field but he had an eventful year nonetheless. The well-documented success of Cuban import Yasiel Puig in Los Angeles blew up the market which allowed Abreu to secure a six-year, $68 million Major League contract. He joins a growing Cuban contingent in the Chicago clubhouse.
The Scouting Report: Much like with Puig, reports and opinions on Abreu are all over the map although he was more accessible to the scouting community. He generates plus, right-handed pop to all fields thanks to his strong frame but he’ll have to prove his aptitude for hitting the curveball and staying back on off-speed pitches. Defensively, he’s considered a decent fielder around the first base bag.
The Year Ahead: I’m told by a contact that Abreu is viewed by the Sox as an MLB-ready player. As such, the hope is that he’ll join fellow Cuban natives Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo in the regular lineup, taking over first base for veteran Paul Konerko who has spent the past 15 seasons playing for the Sox.
Career Outlook: Scouting Cuban defectors is by no means an exact science and it will be some time before we have a good grasp on Abreu’s true talent level. His power tool is considered to be plus but he lacks another eye-catching tool.
|22||71||1.4 %||31.0 %||.261||.268||.406||.291||77||-2.8||1.5||0.1|
The Year in Review: Semien opened the 2013 season in near obscurity but he finished the year on the tips of the tongues of many White Sox fans. The prospect opened the year with no experience above A-ball but he finished the year in the Sox’s Major League lineup. He appeared in 158 games during the regular season — split between the Majors and the minors — but was then curiously assigned to the Arizona Fall League where he played regularly and struggled with the bat.
The Scouting Report: Semien doesn’t have loud tools but he does a little bit of everything. He hits for a solid average, has an excellent eye and has above-average speed paired with strong base-running instincts. He utilizes a nice swing and is quick to the ball with a short stroke that generates surprising pop. On defense, Semien shows solid actions but his average range and arm may be a bit shy for shortstop making second base a more realistic option.
The Year Ahead: Semien could supplant disappointing second base incumbent Gordon Beckham in 2014. The White Sox have some interesting middle infield prospects so it will be important for the young athlete to get a quick start out of the gate.
Career Outlook: The California native has a chance to be an average or better middle infielder. But there is also a chance that he’ll slide into a utility or platoon role, and a contact I spoke with lauded Semien’s versatility which makes the rookie all the more valuable to the Sox.
The Year in Review: Beck, 23, opened the season in High-A ball but finished the season with five starts at the Double-A level. Hitters put a lot of balls in play against the right-hander but they had a difficult time getting it into the air. He’ll need to miss more bats (4.32 K/9 in High-A) if he’s going to take his game to the next level.
The Scouting Report: The 76th overall selection out of Georgia Southern in the 2012 amateur draft, Beck isn’t flashy but he’s durable and he gets the job done. He’s a pitch-to-contact guy that produces above-average ground-ball rates and he allowed just 11 home runs in 2013. He attacks the strike zone with a low-90s fastball and backs it up with a cutter and a changeup — both of which show flashes of becoming reliable offerings. His control is currently ahead of his command.
The Year Ahead: Beck should return to Double-A in 2014 and could see the Majors by the end of the season thanks to the unreliability of young pitching (which is expected to dominate the Sox’s rotation in the coming year). Truth be told, though, he likely won’t have a significant impact in The Show until 2015.
Career Outlook: If Beck finds a way to become more consistent with the command of his secondary offerings, he could develop into a No. 2 or 3 stater. As it stands, though, he looks more like a No. 3 or 4 innings-eater — which is still nothing to sneeze at.
The Year in Review: Anderson was selected in the first round of the 2013 amateur draft by the Sox with the 17th overall selection. The junior college player was the third middle infielder selected, behind Hunter Dozier (Kansas City) and J.P. Crawford (Philadelphia). He held his own with an aggressive assignment to Low-A ball and showed off his plus speed with 24 steals in 28 attempts but he also struck out 78 times in 68 games.
The Scouting Report: Anderson swings and misses too much for a hitter that projects to be a top-of-the-order catalyst but he has just enough raw power potential to mess with his head. His quick bat and fleet feet should help him hit for a solid average if he makes the necessary adjustments alluded to in the previous sentence. Anderson’s speed could allow him to swipe 50+ bases in a single, healthy season. His defense at shortstop is a question mark due to modest arm strength but he could make his way to second base or even centre field.
The Year Ahead: The young shortstop should move up to High-A ball to open 2014 and could spend most of the season there while he works to make more consistent contact. He’ll also look to prove that he can handle shortstop on an ongoing basis. There is no rush for Anderson to develop thanks to the presence of big league incumbent shortstop Alexei Ramirez and fellow prospect Marcus Semien ahead of him.
Career Outlook: Anderson, 20, has a solid chance to at least develop into a second-division starter, if not a future all-star if he can see the hit tool jump a grade. His future projection should look a little clearer once the infield prospect spends a full season in professional baseball.
The Year in Review: The stolen base numbers jump out at you immediately: 84 swipes in 110 attempts. His overall numbers were also quite impressive in Low-A ball but, at 22, he was old for the league. His statistics in High-A and Double-A were less impressive.
The Scouting Report: With power becoming more scarce in the Majors, speed is a more valuable asset and Johnson is one of the better swift-footed prospects in the minors. He’s not the fastest runner but his wheels are well-above-average and he’s a heady player, which helps him get the most out of his tool. He projects to develop into at least an average hitter for second base with a chance to be above-average. Defensively, his lack of reliable hands at the keystone could eventually push him out of the dirt and into centre field.
The Year Ahead: After a three-level sojourn in 2013, Johnson will likely spend much of the season in Double-A. He’ll look to get on base at a high clip more consistently, which will allow him to take advantage of his greatest asset — his speed. There are a number of middle infield prospects ahead of him, including Marcus Semien and Carlos Sanchez, so he should have plenty of time to polish the rougher aspects of his game.
Career Outlook: Johnson, a ninth round draft pick in 2012 out of Indiana University, could end up being a steal. As long as he keeps running he looks like a future regular either at second base or center field. If he can continue to make consistent contact and get on base at a solid clip he should profile well at the top of the lineup.
The Year in Review: Once again, Thompson failed to translate his raw (and intriguing) tools into regular success at the plate. After playing at four levels in 2012 (including the Arizona Fall League), the young outfielder spent the entire year at Double-A. He hit just .229 and struck out 139 times in 135 games.
The Scouting Report: Thompson has three above-average tools in his power, speed, and center-field defense, which is why he continues to figure prominently on top prospects lists despite disappointing numbers. His hit tool is currently below-average, he needs to improve his pitch recognition and be more consistent with his swing, which can get long. One contact I spoke to called him the best defensive outfielder in the system.
The Year Ahead: A third trip to Double-A seems in order after his disappointing 2013 season. The good news is that he’s still just 22 years old and has three option seasons remaining. Thompson needs to make more contact and just be more consistent from game to game.
Career Outlook: It’s hard to give up on the tools that Thompson possesses so he’ll continue to get plenty of opportunities to make everything click. Right now, though, it’s hard to envision him becoming an all-star-calibre player and he looks more like a future second-division starter who will produce a low batting average but with some 15-15 or 20-20 (HR-SB) seasons in toe.
The Quote: “He still has a chance to be an impact player… He needs to learn his strength as a hitter and quit giving in to pitchers by swinging at pitches out of his zone.”
The Year in Review: Snodgress saw his strikeout rate drop three Ks per nine innings in 2013 after he made the traditionally-difficult jump from A-ball to Double-A. Despite his height advantage, his previously-impressive ground-ball rate dipped to average levels. On the plus side, the 6-6 southpaw continued to showcase his durability to 26 starts and 143.2 innings of work.
The Scouting Report: The Stanford alum has a fastball but it looks even more imposing than it is thanks to his height and long arms. He’s going to have to utilize his height better to induce a higher number of ground balls if he’s going to be more of a pitch-to-contact pitcher. His command took a step backward in 2013 and he still needs to improve both his curveball and his changeup. A contact I spoke with felt that, with enough time, both his secondary pitches could become plus offerings.
The Year Ahead: A strong spring training could help push Snodgress to Triple-A but he may need to head back to Double-A for a couple of months. The 24-year-old lefty has just three pro seasons under his belt so he doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2014 season and may not make his MLB debut until 2015.
Career Outlook: A rough 2013 season has tempered the enthusiasm around Snodgress and he may top out as an innings-eating No. 4 starter. The Sox could also entertain the thought of moving him to the bullpen where he could abandon his so-so changeup and look to add a couple ticks to his fastball in shorter stints.
The Year in Review: The Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays have matched up for a few deals in recent years. The Nestor Molina acquisition (for Sergio Santos) hasn’t gone as well as hoped but the combined loot of Webb and Myles Jaye (for Jason Frasor) could end up working out quite well. Webb, a right-hander, opened 2013 in A-ball but played at four levels and finished the season in the Majors.
The Scouting Report: Formerly a starter, Webb saw his value increase with a move to the bullpen where he improved his fastball command and his average velocity sat more firmly in the 95 mph range. He also possesses both a slider and a changeup, with the former offering being a little more developed at this point.
The Year Ahead: The White Sox have some young(-ish) pitchers established in the backend of the bullpen in Addison Reed and Nate Jones but the club loves its hard-throwing relievers so Webb has a great shot at breaking camp in the Majors. Relievers are volatile by nature and the young reliever will have to prove that his improved fastball command will stick, if not continue to improve even further.
Career Outlook: In his current state, Webb possesses the necessary pieces to develop into a high-leverage set-up man. With increased experience and some polish, he has a chance to develop into a shut-down closer. The Sox got an excellent return in their 2012 trade for veteran middle reliever Jason Frasor.
The Next Five:
11. Chris Bassitt, RHP: Bassitt became a full-time starter in 2013, his third pro season, and showed his durability by bumping his innings total to 149, more than 50 innings above his 2012 total. He’s not flashy but he could settle in as a solid No. 4 starter; Bassitt is in danger of rough numbers against left-handed hitters due to his low arm slot but he does a nice job of getting on top of his curveball that shows a solid 12-6 break.
12. Tyler Danish, RHP: The 55th overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft out of a Florida high school, Danish flashes good stuff with a low-90s sinker, potentially-plus slider and solid changeup. However, his future appears to be in the bullpen due to his modest frame and high-effort delivery.
13. Andrew Mitchell, RHP: This Texas Christian University alum isn’t as polished as a lot of high draft picks out of college but you can’t ignore his stuff. He shows mid-90s velocity and an above-average breaking ball as a starter. His numbers were modest in his pro debut due to his lack of command and control, as well as a reliable third pitch being MIA.
14. Carlos Sanchez, 2B: I had high hopes for Sanchez when the year began but he stumbled at the Triple-A level and is in danger of getting forgotten on the depth chart behind fellow middle-infield prospects Marcus Semien, Micah Johnson, and Leury Garcia. He needs to rediscover his above-average hit tool.
15. Adam Engel, OF: One of the better mid-round draft picks from 2013 (19th round), Engel left behind a disappointing college season and improved significantly as a pro. He possesses at least three plus tools in his speed, center-field defense and arm. If he continues to hit like he did in his debut, Engel could add a fourth above-average tool to his resume.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.