With the graduation of prospects like Chris Sale and Dayan Viciedo, and a lack of activity in Latin America the White Sox minor league system has become a relatively barren place. Most of the position player lack an everyday profile and very few pitchers project as anything more than relievers. For the White Sox system to come back it will require a shift in player acquisition strategy or massive leaps forward by players like Trayce Thompson, Jared Mitchell, and Nathan Jones.
1. Addison Reed (RHP)
Reed is the closer in waiting on the South Side. He made a meteoric rise through the organization in 2011, reaching the big leagues late in the year. He has overpowering stuff that can absolutely terrify hitters. He is still refining his command of the strike zone and if that comes around he could be one of the game’s elite closers.
2. Nestor Molina (RHP)
Recently acquired from the Blue Jays in exchange for reliever Sergio Santos, Molina comes into the Sox system and immediately ranks among the best they have. Though he has at least four solid pitches, none of them stand out as a go-to pitch and he relies more on command, control and sequencing to get hitters out. He profiles as a workhorse back of the rotation starter that might have a season or two where he out-performs that projection.
3. Jacob Petricka (RHP)
Petricka is an intriguing right-hander that scouts remain mixed on. Some see him as a reliever capable of mid-90s velocity and working high leverage innings, while others see a power fastball-slider starting pitcher that could be a number four starter. Either way, Petricka has the raw stuff to pitch in the big leagues and must just polish his game and develop improved consistency with his slider.
4. Trayce Thompson (OF)
Every year Thompson’s numbers frustrate fans who are told of his great potential. That was no different in 2012 and despite less than stellar numbers, there remains a large cadre of scouts that still believe in the tools and athleticism of Thompson. He is a top notch defender in center field with good jumps and routes and strong arm. He offers plus or better power potential with only his hitting ability lagging behind. If it all comes together, Thompson could be an All-Star caliber player. That said, there is a slim likelihood that his tools all come together to fulfill that potential.
5. Jared Mitchell (OF)
Mitchell is another toolsy outfielder with speed and the potential for fringe-average power. He remains very raw having only focused on baseball since signing with the White Sox and then losing much of the 2010 season due to an ankle injury. His ceiling remains as a solid all-around center fielder capable of contributing to the team in many ways. Even if that projection never materializes Mitchell should be able to do enough on the diamond to be a solid extra outfielder.
6. Nathan Jones (RHP)
A fifth round pick in 2007, the now 25-year old Jones took well to a move to the bullpen in 2011. While he can still touch the upper-90s in short stints Jones battles fiercely with his mechanics. He spent much of the season trying to find something that would allow him to throw strikes more consistently and never really put it all together. When (or if) it clicks for Jones he could shoot straight to the big leagues and give the White Sox another power arm to pair with Chris Sale and Addison Reed at the back end of games.
7. Eduardo Escobar (SS)
There’s nothing flashing in Escobar’s game as he simply does a lot of things well but never blows you away in any one area. He is an average runner with enough range for shortstop. He makes all the plays at short and is considered a plus defender by most scouts. He maintains a swing-at-everything approach that limits his offensive ceiling. Most scouts see him as a very nice utility player and that profile could be realized as soon as 2012.
8. Erik Johnson (RHP)
The White Sox second round pick in 2011, Johnson could be a workhorse starter down the line. He sits in the low-90s with his heavy fastball and can touch 95 on occasion. He has a big, hulking frame that helps him maintain his stuff deep into games. At times, Johnson has shown a potential plus slider that could be a put away pitch for him. He will also mix in a slow, looping curveball and a change-up, but neither are reliable offerings at this time.
9. Andre Rienzo (RHP)
A Brazilian right-hander Rienzo has made grade strides since signing in 2006. He locates his low- to mid-90s fastball exceptionally well, including elevating the pitch to put hitters away. His fastball gains more life up in the zone and it can be a truly devastating pitch. What Rienzo lacks is a reliable breaking ball that can keep hitters off his fastball and that remains something he must find to be more than a 6th or 7th inning reliever.
10. Tyler Saladino (SS)
Scouts I spoke with this year were unanimous in their belief that Saladino would be a big leaguer, but not as more than a utility player. A classic grinder that gets the most out of his limited tools Saladino can handle all three infield positions and may be able to manage in the outfield as well. He can barrel the ball pretty well and his effort will earn him an extra hit or two on occasion.
11. Gregory Infante (RHP)
Despite not getting back to the big leagues in 2011, Infante still features an overpowering fastball that has touched as high as 99 mph and sits at 94-96 mph regularly. Though he can spin his breaking ball consistently it remains a very slurvy pitch that lacks definition and swing-and-miss potential. Infante should get another big league trial at some point in 2012 but he will have to firm up his breaking ball to be more than a middle reliever.
12. Keenyn Walker (OF)
The team’s first round pick in June, it was difficult to find pro scouts that liked what they saw in his debut. Billed as a top flight athlete with power, speed and defensive ability, Walker struggled with low-A ball after a 15 game debut in the Pioneer League. Walker still has the tantalizing physicality that teams love and this may be an exceedingly pessimistic rating of him, but until some of those tools show on the diamond it will be tough to move him higher.
13. Michael Blanke (C)
Just a 14th round pick in 2010 Blanke has the frame to profile as a durable backstop with plus catch and throw skills. His defensive ability and the way he works with his pitching staff both earn high marks from coaches and scouts. Offensively Blanke has only a tenuous grasp of the strike zone, though he does have some strength and could hit 10-15 home runs at his peak. With a limited offensive ceiling and plus defense, Blanke easily profiles as a big league backup behind the plate.
14. Osvaldo Martinez (SS)
One of the pieces received as compensation for manager Ozzie Guillen going to Florida, Martinez is a solid defender up the middle with a plus arm. He makes easy contact with the baseball though that sometimes works to his detriment as he will expand his strike zone and make weak contact rather than waiting for a pitch he can line to the outfield. Like Escobar and Saladino ahead of him on this list, Martinez profiles best as a utility infielder that can play 3-4 times a week.
15. Jeff Soptic (RHP)
Soptic is a big (6-6, 220), hard throwing right-hander that can pump fastballs in the mid-90s with ease and has touched as high as 100 mph as an amateur. For all his velocity, Soptic is maddeningly inconsistent as he lacks the ability to throw strikes consistently and his fastball doesn’t miss as many bats as the velocity would suggest. His slider will show as an above-average pitch at times but is far more often a below-average offering. With his inconsistencies Soptic profiles as a reliever long term.