White Sox farm system in midst of renaissance
Increased efforts in Draft, international market paying immediate dividends
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For several years after winning the 2005 World Series, the White Sox chased a second championship at the expense of their farm system. They traded prospects for veterans and diverted money from their Draft and international budgets to the Major League payroll.
Chicago has just one playoff appearance and four winning seasons to show for the last eight years, however. It wound up with an old, expensive big league club and bottomed out with 99 defeats in 2013.
The White Sox hadn't lost that many games since 1970, but their future is considerably brighter than the recent past. General manager Rick Hahn has swung trades for young building blocks such as Matt Davidson, Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia and signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu. And the system is undergoing a renaissance, boasting more prospect depth than it has in years.
The most obvious strength in the system is the infielders, headlined by Davidson, Tim Anderson, Marcus Semien and Micah Johnson. It also features a number of high-ceiling outfielders and hard-throwing right-handers.
"It sort of happened overnight with the moves we made and the Drafts we've had the last couple of years," assistant GM and vice president of player development Buddy Bell said. "You never really know how good the players are until they get to the big leagues, but overall, we have more to choose from. That's a good feeling."
Under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement from 2007-11, when teams were free to spend whatever they wanted on the Draft, the White Sox ranked last with an average of $3.7 million in bonuses. They've upped that figure to $6.1 million in the last two years, which places them 21st among the 30 clubs, but also represents a 67 percent increase. Not coincidentally, Chicago's 2013 Draft crop is one of its most promising in recent memory, led by Anderson, right-hander Tyler Danish and outfielders Jacob May and Adam Engel.
Likewise, the White Sox have turned around an international program that fell into disarray after former senior director of player personnel Dave Wilder and two scouts were caught taking $400,000 in kickbacks from prospects in 2008. Chicago hired Marco Paddy away from the Blue Jays as a special assistant for international operations in November 2011. Thanks to Paddy and an increased budget, the White Sox landed Dominican outfielder Micker Zapata for $1.6 million last summer.
"Our philosophy has been changing," Bell said. "It's no secret that pitching had been an important part of our Drafts, but we're starting to draft more position players and spend more money. You can't compete unless you have a presence in the foreign market, and Marco has done a very good job getting us back to where we wanted to be."
Three questions with Danish
Danish parlayed a stunning senior season at Durant High (Plant City, Fla.) -- he didn't allow an earned run in 94 innings -- into a second-round selection and a $1,001,800 bonus in the 2013 Draft. Some scouts worry about his delivery, which features a low arm slot and some effort, but it produces an exceptionally heavy sinker and a promising changeup and breaking ball.
MLBPipeline.com: How surreal was your streak? Obviously, the goal of any pitcher is to prevent runs, but you can't expect to go an entire season without allowing an earned run.
Danish: It was crazy. It didn't hit me until about 60 innings in. It's something I'll remember forever. It's one of those things like a no-hitter, where everyone knew it was going on but didn't talk about it. My teammates saved me a couple of times.
MLBPipeline.com: There's a lot of discussion about your low three-quarters delivery. How did it come about?
Danish: I think it was because I was a shortstop before I was a starting pitcher in my sophomore year of high school. I threw the same way from shortstop and the ball ran like that. I was messing around in the bullpen with it. I used to be a high three-quarters guy, but the ball moved so much and things clicked, and I ran with it. It just felt natural. It was big getting drafted by the White Sox. Chris Sale is in the same organization and has the same arm angle -- from a different side, of course -- and he progressed quickly. It helped my confidence level knowing they weren't going to change me.
MLBPipeline.com: Some scouts look at your mechanics and your size [closer to 6 feet than his listed height of 6-foot-2] and question whether you can remain a starter. Others look at that and compare you to Jake Peavy. What's your take on all of this?
Danish: I hear some people don't slot me as a starting pitcher. One of my goals is to show people I can do that, I can progress and I can go out there for seven innings. I'll need to get better command of my pitches to do that. I'm a very competitive guy. The doubts don't upset me, but they put a chip on my shoulder. I love starting because you have control of everything. You control your team's destiny, you control the other team's destiny, you control the game with every pitch.
Camp standout: Courtney Hawkins
The 12th overall pick in the 2012 Draft, Hawkins excited fans by doing a backflip during MLB Network's broadcast, and he excited the White Sox with a strong pro debut that culminated with two homers in the high Class A Carolina League playoffs. Chicago sent him back to that level as a 19-year-old last season, and he struggled. Hawkins topped the CL in strikeouts (160 in 383 at-bats) and ranked last in batting (.178).
Hawkins never had struggled on the diamond before, so that severe dose of adversity may be beneficial in the long run.
"Courtney has made huge progress this spring," Bell said. "A lot of it has to do with getting humbled a little bit. He had issues with his approach and his balance. Courtney always wanted more instead of letting things just happen and letting the ball travel a little bit. I think the fact that Courtney understands it's not easy is probably as good as anything."
If Hawkins can make consistent contact, he could be a star, because he has the most all-around ability in the system. His power, speed and arm are all plus tools, and his right-field defense isn't far behind.
Breakout candidate: Engel
Engel might have been the best all-around college athlete in the 2013 Draft. A star high school quarterback who drew interest from college football programs such as Wisconsin, Engel opted instead to play baseball at Louisville. He has plus-plus speed to steal bases and run down everything in center field, and he has the bat speed and strength to make a difference at the plate.
"Engel is very good and no one talks about it," Bell said. "He might be the best center fielder we have in the system right now. He has some sneaky pull power, he can run and he's not afraid to lay a bunt down."
So why were the White Sox able to land Engel with only a 19th-round pick and a $100,000 bonus? He hit just .265 with two homers in three college seasons.
After he turned pro, Chicago had Engel raise his hands at the plate. The change paid immediate dividends, as he batted .301 with three homers in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, topping the circuit with 31 steals in 56 games. Like Hawkins, Engel can be an impact player if he produces at the plate.