The White Sox system is better than in recent years, definitely helped by the addition of 2014 #3 overall pick LHP Carlos Rodon, only the White Sox second top 10 overall pick since 1990. The White Sox mixed drafting history has ticked up recently, with their top two picks in their last two drafts (Rodon, Adams, Anderson, Danish) all showing up on this list with 50+ FVs (no small feat), joined by a power arm acquired from the Red Sox in one of the few White Sox dump trades in recent years.
Chicago’s system isn’t exceptionally deep, but recent solid drafts and an increased presence in Latin America have helped the system, along with an increased focus on young players. Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana didn’t qualify for the MLB growth assets list, but that’s two stars and two above average everyday players, all in their control years that were acquired for below market prices. Combine that with an improved farm, the upper tier of which is mostly at the upper levels, and that gives White Sox fans some hope that, with another step forward from the big league team, success could be sustained for awhile.
Here’s the primer for the series and a disclaimer about how we don’t really know anything. See the links above for the ongoing series about how I evaluate, including a five-part on the ever-complicated hit tool.
Most of what you need to know for this list is at the above links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report. The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (a notch better than the projected tools, or a 75% projection while the projected tools are a 50% projection) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.
Below, I’ve included a quick ranking of the growth assets that the White Sox have in the majors that aren’t eligible for the list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite. Up next are the Reds and Phillies in that order. The next group of three orgs that I’m doing research on right are the Padres, Rays and Marlins.
Organizational Overview by Dave Cameron
Rick Hahn has done a great job of rebuilding the team’s talent base through Major League acquisitions, helping to move the team forward without having to wait years for prospects to develop. The White Sox probably aren’t quite contenders yet, but they’re close enough now where it’s not that difficult to see the path to get there. With significant financial flexibility this winter, several more pieces could be added to the team’s core, putting the White Sox in position to be respectable in 2015 and contenders by 2016. This is an organization headed in the right direction, and their turnaround shouldn’t take too much longer.
50+ FV Prospects
1. Carlos Rodon, LHP
Current Level/Age: AAA/21.9, 6’0/235, L/L
Drafted: 3rd overall (1st round) in 2014 out of North Carolina State by CHW for $6.582 million bonus
Fastball: 55/60, Slider: 60/70, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 45/50
Scouting Report: Rodon was a notable prospect out of high school, but had a 3rd-4th round grade from most teams, as the fastball sat around 90, there was no projection and some teams had him off the board due to a back issue. His velocity spiked soon after he got to campus at N.C. State and he was sitting 92-95 mph and flashing a plus-plus slider en route to a dominating freshman season that began hype that Rodon would go #1 overall in 2014. Early in 2013, his velo dipped back to around 90 for long stretches, but he still was hitting 95-96 mph regularly and scouts weren’t playing close attention yet. Shown in the above video, Rodon had one of his best outings the summer after his sophomore year when he shut-down Cuba (free agent OF Yasmany Tomas was among those in the lineup) in Durham, NC (near Rodon’s home), with that same dominating stuff from his freshman year and a changeup that was now flashing above average.
In his draft year, Rodon only flashed that premium stuff in two outings and showed the more ordinary stuff (mostly 89-92 without much life, touching 95 mph in the first inning, a 60 or 70 slider at an abnormally high velo of 87-90 mph and inconsistent changeup he didn’t use enough) in every other outing. In a cold weather outing at Maryland, he was visibly bothered by a back issue while, in every other outing, he threw way too many sliders, generally threw too many pitches each start for scouts’ liking and his fastball command suffered as a result of some of these things and the inconsistent effort in his delivery. The White Sox said their doctors didn’t see anything wrong with Rodon’s back in the MRI.
By draft time, Rodon had played himself down from a slam-dunk #1 overall pick to being in the top tier of three prospects, with two prep arms sliding ahead of him on draft day. The White Sox had to pay for their good fortune with help from agent Scott Boras, giving Rodon the top bonus in the draft that still would’ve been tops even if Brady Aiken signed for his originally-agreed-upon $6.5 million bonus.
The White Sox had some draft room theories about Rodon’s draft year struggles (the draft hype created unreasonable expectations, target on his back, etc.) and they thought they could get him back to his premium stuff at some point in pro ball. To everyone’s surprise, Rodon had the premium stuff back in every pro start after signing: 92-96, hitting 97 mph with at least a 70 slider that he didn’t throw much (as instructed by the White Sox) and the above average changeup that he finally had some time to work on. For the reasons mentioned above, I still think Rodon settles in at 90-94 mph (still a 55 pitch), but I’m not going to act like I know when that’s going to happen.
Rodon still needs to clean up the delivery a bit (he’s already made some tweaks since signing) and work on his fastball command (he misses too much to his arm side), but the changeup flashed 55 to 60 potential after signing, so that above grade may be light, and the slider is an 80 at times when the fastball is in the mid-90’s, so that grade could be light as well. I rounded up on the fastball and the command, as both could settle a little below that, but the White Sox have a great track record with pitchers at the big league level and Rodon’s development isn’t following any rubric I’m aware of. If you’d like to get a sense of Rodon’s personality, he analyzed the July 4th hot dog eating competition on a podcast.
Summation: There’s incessant chatter that Rodon will open the season in the big league rotation and a buzz-filled Spring Training may serve to force Chicago’s hand. I’m guessing he spends a few weeks in the minors to work on a few things, make sure mechanical adjustments are in order, wait for the White Sox to need a 5th starter and wait long enough to give them an additional year of control. Scott Boras got his retail price in the draft and he’s going to want it again after Rodon’s six years of big league control, so it’s only fair for Chicago to get what they can.
FV/Role/Risk: 65, #2/3 starter, Low (2 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AAA/MLB, 2016: MLB
2. Tim Anderson, SS
Current Level/Age: AA/21.4, 6’1/180, R/R
Drafted: 17th overall (1st round) in 2013 out of Mississippi JC by CHW for $2.164 million bonus
Hit: 30/50+, Raw Power: 50/50, Game Power: 20/45+, Run: 65/65, Field: 50/55, Throw: 60/60
Scouting Report: Anderson was almost completely unknown entering his draft year, as he went undrafted in 2012 at the same junior college. He came out late in spring 2012 after basketball season ended to play baseball and was often hidden in left field, so it wasn’t easy for scouts to pick up on the raw tools at a rural junior college game with their pref lists mostly set. Anderson had a big summer in the lower-tier Jayhawk League, stood out in a fall JC showcase, then had first round hype by March 2013. Scouts are still baffled how they all missed on this kid out of high school and his freshman year of junior college, with basketball and limited reps an obvious excuse, but Anderson went to high school miles from the University of Alabama and the Tide completely missed on him as well.
Anderson is the loose athlete every scout is looking for, with 65-70 speed, a plus arm and, despite some issues he’s working on (fundamentals/footwork), he has all the tools to stick at shortstop. He has plus bat speed, above average bat control and surprising pop, flashing average raw power. Anderson’s feel to hit can sometimes get in his way: he isn’t as patient at the plate as he should be, with his ability to square up most pitches holding him back. That said, he’s still hasn’t played much high level baseball, he’s already in Double-A at age 21 and he has above average tools across the board; working on some plate discipline/contact issues and finer points of defensive consistency is a shockingly short list of problems at this stage.
Summation: Anderson should head to Double-A Birmingham next year for his age 21/22 season and if he can make the necessary adjustments, should be on track for a big league debut in 2016.
Upside: .280/.330/.450, 15-18 homers, solid average defense, plus baserunning value
FV/Risk: 60, High (4 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA/MLB, 2017: MLB
3. Francellis Montas, RHP
Current Level/Age: AA/21.6, 6’2/205, R/R
Signed: International Free Agent, signed for $75,000 bonus out of Dominican Republic by BOS on 12/14/09
Fastball: 60/70, Slider: 55/60, Changeup: 45/50, Command: 40/45+
Scouting Report: Montas was a low-profile Dominican signee that started turning heads in the Red Sox system when he hit 100 mph in Rookie ball, but had little else to offer at that point. The White Sox acquired him from the Red Sox last year in the Jake Peavy deal, which also netted Chicago RF Avisail Garcia. Montas has made a lot of progress since the trade, turning an average slider into a plus slider that flashes 65 at times while turning a usable changeup into an average pitch that flashes above average for some scouts. He has a low effort delivery and generally keeps the ball down in the zone but the delivery is arm heavy, inconsistent and a little stiff from a very high slot.
The White Sox have a good track record with pitchers and they’ve already helped Montas make a lot of progress, but it may be too big of a task to turn him into a starter. He’ll go out next year in Double-A as a starter, but Chicago knows this may not work out and everyone knows there’s easy closer upside here. Montas sits 93-97 and hit 99 mph as a starter, working more 95-99 mph as a reliever. With an average changeup and 60-65 slider that’s 89-91 mph and a little funk/deception in his delivery, he could be a dominating reliever in short order, but has mid-rotation upside if all goes to plan.
Summation: I usually don’t like putting projected relievers this high, but Montas still has a shot to start and isn’t just a max-effort guy that throws hard and spins it just enough to strike out minor league hitters. He’s a legitimate asset that could be an impact big league option as early as late 2015.
FV/Role/Risk: 55, #3/4 starter or Closer, Medium (3 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA/MLB, 2017: MLB
4. Spencer Adams, RHP
Current Level/Age: RK/18.6, 6’4/170, R/R
Drafted: 44th overall (2nd round) in 2014 out of Georgia HS by CHW for $1.282 million bonus
Fastball: 55/60, Slider: 45/50+, Curveball: 50/55, Changeup: 45/55, Command: 40/50
Scouting Report: Like Anderson, Adams is another premium athlete with high level basketball in his background. Adams’ velocity took off once he focused fully on baseball: he was mostly 86-89 mph as a junior, 88-92 in the summer, then 91-96 touching 97 mph as a senior. Adams’ off-speed stuff varies depending on when you saw him. He threw an above average changeup over the summer but didn’t use it much in the spring and his curveball slowly was marginalized in favor of a short cutter-type slider that slowly turned into a true slider. Adams throws all four pitches and they all flash above average to go with his plus fastball.
Adams is a premium 6’4 athlete with a dual-sport background and a good delivery that should create at least average command and he flashes four above average pitches. I don’t see a plus secondary pitch, though it’s still early to rule out that one could develop, and I worry that his narrow frame won’t allow him to add much more weight, though hitting 97 mph isn’t exactly a soft-tosser. Adams’ velocity faded a bit down the stretch in pro ball, siting in the low-90’s, but that completely normal for a skinny high school pitcher at the end of his longest season.
The White Sox prefer the curveball as Adams has better feel for the pitch and it makes more sense given his arm slot, but Adams should still throw the slider. Throwing two distinct breaking balls without one undermining the other is a huge problem for many young pitchers and that, along with how quickly he’s taken to pitching and made adjustments with pro instruction all speak to Adams’ intangibles. The White Sox were shocked he lasted until the 44th overall pick and I was as well.
Summation: Adams should head out to Low-A for his full season debut in 2015 and he could rocket up prospect lists if he can put all these elements together against hitters a few years older than him.
FV/Role/Risk: 50, #4 starter, High (4 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: Low-A, 2016: High-A, 2017: AA, 2018: AAA/MLB
5. Tyler Danish, RHP
Current Level/Age: Hi-A/20.2, 6’0/205, R/R
Drafted: 55th overall (2nd round) in 2013 out of Florida HS by CHW for $1.001 million bonus
Fastball: 50/55, Slider: 50/55, Changeup: 45/50+, Command: 45/50+
Scouting Report: I scouted Danish a lot in 2013 as we were both based in Tampa and I had a hard time getting past his smallish frame, low arm slot, high pitch counts and borderline grisly arm action (it looks much worse in super slo-mo). I put a 3rd-4th round grade on him and figured he’d go to school unless a team closed their eyes until he released the ball, but it turned out that multiple teams had him in the 2nd round. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the team that took a chance on the other guy that has confounded mechanics experts (LHP Chris Sale) would take a shot on Danish.
Danish’s velocity will vary depending on the day, but he’s mostly 88-92 mph and will hit a tick higher at times with plus-plus life created from his low slot and extension. He’s very aggressive and spots the pitch very well along with his above average two-plane slider, which will flash plus every now and then and may play up in short stints. Danish has developed a changeup since signing that’s above average at times, again due to the life he can put on the ball from his low slot.
He’ll have trouble getting around the ball at times, leaving pitches up when this happens. Danish is a true bulldog and gets hitters out when he’s only pitching at 87-90 mph. In a big matchup in high school, I watched Danish strike out the side in the first, then lead off the next inning, spot the third baseman standing too far back, try to bunt for a hit, then dive headfirst into first base. Along with Sale and Rodon, I’ve given up trying to figure out whose mechanics and history will undermine their future and look more at the makeup/competitiveness and current ability, with the White Sox looking like they’ll go 3 for 3 on these cases.
Summation: If they want to rush him, Danish could be a big league bullpen piece late in 2015, but he’ll likely spend most of the year as a starter in Double-A. I had multiple scouts asking me all year if I was going to reverse course on Danish, because he’s their favorite guy currently in the minors and you don’t want to bet against this guy. Danish may just end up a good setup guy, but he’s got a rubber arm, a mean streak and a crazy ability to manipulate the ball, so I’ve given up trying to fight it. I believe in Tyler Danish.
FV/Role/Risk: 50, #4 starter/Late Setup, Medium (3 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA/MLB, 2017: MLB
45 FV Prospects
6. Trey Michalczewski, 3B Video: Scouts were a little underwhelmed with Michalczewski this year and didn’t see a carrying tool, but agreed there’s a solid average third baseman with a smooth stroke from both sides and a nice 6’3/210 frame that produces average power. He may be mostly average across the board, but Michalczewski performed well in Low-A as a teenager, has limited reps against elite pitching and wore down late in 2014. There’s some real sleeper potential here in 2015 as a 20-year-old in High-A with added bulk, particularly if he can integrate more power into his contact stroke.
7. Micah Johnson, 2B, Video: Johnson is an 65-70 runner that has good range at second base, makes a lot of contact and spent most of last year in Triple-A. There’s a short path to being a big league contributor in 2015, but Johnson has no power in his swing, still needs a little work defensively and had two hamstring injuries in 2014, so he may fit best in a utility role long-term, particularly with Tim Anderson, Marcus Simien and Carlos Sanchez all playing middle infield at the upper levels.
8. Courtney Hawkins, RF Video: Hawkins has above average tools across the board headlined but easy plus power all packed into a linebacker-like 6’3/220 frame, especially noteworthy as he’s done multiple backflips on camera, one coming after the White Sox took him 13th overall in 2012 out of a Texas high school. He’s had a lot of trouble making contact due to an aggressive approach, an inability to lay off soft stuff off the plate and mechanical breakdowns. Hawkins’ swing is fine, but he has to tighten his zone and stay focused on keeping a solid base at the plate. He’s a big personality, which may have served to snowball some of the offensive issues that came with the struggles of an aggressive High-A assignment at age 18, but Hawkins showed signs of adjustments late in 2014.
9. Micker Adolfo, RF Video: Adolfo was a big July 2nd singing for $1.6 million in 2013 out of the Dominican, but Adolfo was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is bilingual, moving to the Dominican to train years before July 2; I interviewed him in January 2013 and he’s a really nice, soft-spoken kid. He has above average tools across the board with plus bat speed, power potential and arm strength as the carrying tools. He had huge troubles in his pro debut this year, striking out 85 times in under 200 PA in the Rookie-level AZL, but things clicked in instructs, with White Sox officials and rivals scouts raving about his adjustments at the plate. Chicago chalks this up to not seeing much high level pitching and being thrown into a new country after being given a huge amount of money; Adolfo and Michalczewski are the two picks to click in 2015 for White Sox officials.
10. Trayce Thompson, RF Video: Thompson is the son of Lakers great Mychal and the brother of Warrios star Klay. Trayce is also a ridiculous athlete in his own right at 6’4/220 with above average speed and long strides that allows him to play a fringy center field, an above average arm and above average to plus power with above average bat speed and a smooth swing. Like many big athletes, Thompson has been a slow developer and he’s had a lot of trouble making consistent contact but there isn’t any one problem: his zone can expand at times, he has long limbs and his mechanics can break down at times. At age 23 in Double-A, he hit. 237/.324/.419 with 20 steals and 16 homers; that’s roughly his big league ceiling and he might be able to do it in center field, but is more likely a good 4th outfielder.
11. Matt Davidson, 3B Video: The 23-year-old was acquired from Arizona for RHP Addison Reed and looked ticketed for some big league time at third base in 2014, but he had a lot of unexpected struggles at the plate. Davidson hit .199 with a career-high 30.4% K rate in a full season at Triple-A due to a looser approach at the plate and a bat path that got too steep through the zone; both should be fixable.. He was always fringy defensively and looked like an eventual first baseman, but his above average power and feel to hit made that a secondary issue; it’s now hard to call him more than a corner utility platoon bat until Davidson hits again.
12. Jacob May, CF Video: May was a 3rd rounder out of Coastal Carolina in 2013 and his carrying tool is his plus-plus speed, which he didn’t have the green light to use in college but he now does, racking up 37 stolen bases in 2014. He does a good job controlling the strike zone and getting on base with a swing that’s just as good from both sides. He has 40-45 raw power that he can get to in games and he may be able to produce double digit homers in the majors, but he needs to strike a contact/power balance at the plate as getting on base is his meal ticket and some scouts question his contact ability. May was gassed in the first half in 2014 after a summer in the Australian League, but after a breather, he put up much better numbers in the second half before a hand injury ended his season; May is a guy to watch on what should be a solid 2015 club at Double-A Birmingham.
40 FV Prospects
13. Carlos Sanchez, SS Video: Sanchez almost didn’t qualify for this list after 104 PA in the big leagues at age 22; he’s almost a finished product as a limited upside utility infield type. He’s part of a cramped middle infield at the upper levels; he can play shortstop and second base and is an above average runner, but has little pop and the bat may only be average.
14. Nolan Sanburn, RHP Video: Chicago picked up Sanburn late this season from Oakland in exchange for noted Toby Keith lookalike Adam Dunn. Sanburn was used in the bullpen at Arkansas (Oakland took him in the 2nd round in 2012) and moved to the pen last year in High-A for Oakland, but the White Sox want to develop him in 2015 as a starter. He’s only 6’0/175, but he sits 92-95 mph with a lively fastball and a four pitch mix headlined by an above average curveball and solid average changeup. There are some durability questions, so the starter thing is more of an experiment, with the likely fit as a setup guy.
15. Chris Beck, RHP Video: Beck had high first round hype after a dominating Cape Cod League, but his stuff backed up in the spring with added weight and limited flexibility which helped his breaking ball disappear; he’s basically the same pitcher today after going in the 2nd round in 2012. He still has an above average fastball (90-94, touching 95 mph) and changeup, but is working with both a slider and curveball to see if one can become a 50 and allow him to fit in a rotation. The command is just okay and he’s a swing man type right now with a chance to become a back-end starter; Beck made some progress late in 2014, so he’ll be someone to watch early in 2015.
16. Rangel Ravelo, 1B Video: Ravelo has feel to hit, some bat control and advanced plate discipline, but he recently moved across the infield to first base and has only average raw power, so the profile is limited to the wrong side of a first base platoon. Some scouts see more of a 4-A hitter and point to 2014’s career-high 11 homers as proof that he doesn’t have enough loft in his swing for his hitting ability to matter in the big leagues. Ravelo has solid arm strength and hands, so he should be at least average at first base.
17. Keon Barnum, 1B Video: Barnum is a huge 6’5/225 lefty bat with easy plus power that went in the sandwich round out of a Tampa-area high school in 2012 and drew Ryan Howard comparisons at the time. Barnum was very good as a prep junior and over the subsequent summer, then had an up-and-down draft spring with many teams moving him down to the 3rd-4th round over contact concerns, in addition to him turning 19 before his senior season started. Those contact concerns were well-founded as Barnum has struck out about 30% of the time in full-season ball, including 163 this season in High-A as a 21-year-old. He’s a good athlete that could play an outfield corner if needed and the White Sox actually want him to be more aggressive at the plate, as his gentle giant type persona doesn’t play well with his imposing skill set. The swing is pretty simple and the adjustments needed are mostly mental, especially after the Sox moved him closer to the plate to enhance his plate coverage. Scouts need to see some production before they buy in, but there’s still something here worth monitoring.
18. Scott Snodgress, LHP Video: Snodgress was one year ahead of Matt Davidson at Yucaipa HS in California but Snodgress went to Stanford while Davidson signed as a sandwich round pick of the Diamondbacks a year later. The 6’6/225 Snodgress was a 5th rounder in 2011 after being used only in the bullpen for the Cardinal, but hitting 95 mph at his best. Since signing, Snodgress has been primarily a starter and got a couple big league relief innings at the end of 2014. He’s big and has a funky delivery with deception, working 88-91 with life as a starter and 90-93, touching 94 mph in relief. His two-plane breaking ball is solid average at times and his changeup can be average, so there’s fringy to average stuff as a potential 5th starter or solid average stuff as a long man/middle reliever.
19. Jace Fry, LHP Video: Fry had Tommy John surgery after his freshman year at Oregon State and was slowed by a back issue later in 2014, but he looked solid throwing bullpens in instructs. Fry worked 88-91 at times and 90-93 mph at other times when he was fresher, but always with above average life and he has a four pitch mix led by a slider that’s above average at times and a curveball and changeup that are both average. Fry is just 6’1/190, so there’s no projection, the arm slot is lower and he needs the margin for error with higher velocity to allow his solid average stuff to play in a rotation, but he could also end up fitting as a 7th or 8th inning guy.
20. Tyler Saladino, SS Video: Saladino has been a little injury prone with a knee injury in 2013 and Tommy John surgery in August of this year, which was especially disappointing after a breakout offensive year in Triple-A. He’s okay defensively at shortstop but probably fits best as a utility guy long-term and he’s also just okay offensively, with fringy raw power that could allow him to hit double digit homers and solid plate discipline but not a ton of bat speed and a line drive bat path. Saladino should be back at some point later in 2015 and has big league value, but his upside is as a backup.
21. Adam Engel, CF Video: Four of Engel’s tools look like those of a true prospect: an easy plus-plus runner, a plus glove, 50 raw power and a 50 arm in a strong 6’0/215 frame that drew D-1 football interest in high school. The problem is he’s stiff at the plate and can’t really hit. He signed for $100,000 in the 19th round in 2013 out of Louisville after stealing a ton of bases but never really hitting in college. Chicago made some adjustments to his swing and he’s hit alright at short-season and Low-A, but had some trouble in a brief High-A look late last year and he turns 23 next month. The White Sox think there’s still a reserve outfielder in there, but Engel is now getting the reputation as a guy that tinkers with his swing too much. His speed and defense will get him to the upper levels of the minors, but there are enough questions on the bat that he may never be more than replacement level in the big leagues.
22. David Trexler, RHP: Trexler is one of those crazy cases where a guy take a huge step forward right after the draft. He signed for a $5,000 bonus in the 17th round this year and was well-known to area scouts after going to Florida State, then a junior college and showing inconsistent glimpses of dominance at both, before being drafted this year out of North Florida. Trexler was mostly 89-92 mph with an average breaking ball and no changeup as a starter this spring; veteran area scout Joel Grampietro was in his first draft with the White Sox and argued strongly for Trexler. With some small directional adjustments to his delivery after signing, Trexler was suddenly sitting 92-96 mph with an above average curveball and slider in the short-season Pioneer League and at instructs. Chicago has decided to scrap the slider so Trexler can focus on a fastball-curveball-changeup repertoire and the plan is to move Trexler aggressively to High-A as a starter in 2015, as he recently turned 24.
A 15th-round selection by the White Sox in 2013, Wheeler spent the majority of his freshman year at Texas Tech as an outfielder and then, even when he switched to pitching exclusively, only ever worked in a relief capacity. Nor was he particularly effective in that role, recording just a 21:18 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 32.0 innings in his last year of school. He made 18 professional appearances between the Rookie-level Appalachian and Class-A South Atlantic Leagues following the draft — all in relief, once again — before moving to a tandem-starting role this past season with Class-A Kannapolis and producing excellent strikeout and walk rates (27.3% and 7.9%, respectively) over 98.1 innings. Nor does Wheeler’s success appear to be the product merely of that command typical to college-type pitches: a report by Charlie Drysdale from August indicates that Wheeler’s fastball sat at 92-94 mph in that start — above-average figures, those, even among major-league starters.
As the following GIFs (care of footage by Nathaniel Stoltz) also reveals, Wheeler’s slider isn’t without merits, either.
First, in real-time:
Others Of Note
Two corner bats in the upper levels have big league reserve upside: 3B Nick Basto (Video, has 50 raw power and can play all four corner positions, has a chance to become a platoon bat) and 1B Andy Wilkins (got a big league cup of coffee this year after hitting 30 homers in AAA; has above average raw power but is stiff enough most scouts have him as a 4-A bat). Two infielders acquired this year also have some upside: 2B Jake Peter (7th rounder from Creighton has advanced lefty bat and huge arm that’s been up to 95 mph on the mound; he could start as high as Double-A next year) and SS Amado Nunez (top White Sox July 2nd signing this year got $900,000 and probably moves to third base, with tools that are average across the board). Two more hitters have carrying tools but real contact issues: RF Jared Mitchell (Video, former first rounder has above average tools but huge contact issues that have held him back at the upper levels) and SS Cleuluis Rondon (defensive wizard acquired with Avisail Garcia and Francellis Montas in the Jake Peavy deal doesn’t need to hit much to be a big leaguer and is still 20, but has had some trouble in that area).
The White Sox took two catchers in the recent draft: Brett Austin (Video, Rodon’s catcher at N.C. State who went in the sandwich round out of high school then the 4th round this year; he has fringe to average tools) and Zach Fish (Video, converted to catcher after signing, has some background behind the plate, an average arm and above average raw power, but is a 30 runner with contact issues). The White Sox also signed Dominican C Jhoandro Alfaro (Video) for a $750,000 bonus on July 2nd, the younger brother of Rangers C Jorge Alfaro; Jhoandro is a stout 6’1/180 with advanced defensive skills and a solid swing with some pop from both sides, but nowhere near the quick-twitch tools of his brother. There are three more catchers worth noting in the system, all with the upside to be big league backups: Omar Narvaez (5’10/175 switch hitter was Double-A Rule 5 pick from the Rays last year and has advanced catch and throw skills and plate discipline), Adrian Nieto (MLB Rule 5 pick spent the year in the big leagues and could develop into offensive backup), Kevan Smith (Video, former QB at Pitt is 6’4/230 and was late to baseball, but has above average raw power and just enough defensive ability to keep back there).
In the upper levels, you can take your pick from a number of hard throwing Latin relief types: RHP Braulio Ortiz (6’5/205 righty is regularly 93-98 mph with little effort, but pretty much everything else is a disaster), RHP Raul Fernandez (waiver claim from Colorado has mixed track record, but at his best sits 94-98 mph with a 50 splitter and below average command), RHP Miguel Chalas (Video, acquired this August in Alejandro De Aza deal; gets into the mid-90’s with a solid average changeup and usable breaking ball) and LHP Jefferson Olacio (enormous 6’7/270 lefty has improved mechanics to just bad rather than terrible, sits 90-95 and hits 97 mph with slider and changeup that both flash average, but lots of consistency issues). Of the domestic arms in the upper levels, we have four righties: Chris Bassitt (average FB/SL combo, up to 94 mph with life as a starter, but lacks command to start, comes from lower slot with angles and stuff could play up better in short stints), Brandon Brennan (former 4th rounder worked 93-96 mph before TJ surgery, is now 90-94 with solid average slider and command issues that could push him to relief), Kyle Hansen (Vide0, brother of Craig Hansen is a lanky 6’8/200 and sits 92-96 mph with an inconsistent slider that is 55 at times) and Mike Recchia (25-year-old was signed out of the independent Frontier League after being released by the Yankees, it isn’t pretty but he’s up to 94 with an average three pitch mix and deception that could make him a 5th starter).
In the lower levels, there are some starter type prospects to monitor: RHP Thaddius Lowry (6’4/215 kid is still new to pitching and hits 95 mph with a potential 55 curveball, but still has lots of work to do), LHP Jordan Guerrero (6’3 lefty is mostly 88-91 mph with stuff that flashes average and feel to pitch), RHP Robin Leyer (Sits 92-95 and hits 96 mph with fringy slider and changeup to go with some feel) and RHP Zach Thompson (6’6/210 righty is up to 95 mph with a 55 curve like Lowry and Thompson has more projection but still has trouble putting it all together). There’s also two prospects to monitor that are likely relief types, both righties: Yelmison Peralta (Video, can sit 92-95 mph in shorts stints with a potential 55 slider but it’s still a little rough) and Adam Lopez (tore his ACL in instructs last fall, returned late this season and sits 92-94 mph with a potential 55 slider and usable changeup when he’s right).
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.