CHICAGO -- The White Sox farm system is on the rise.
Last year's 99-loss season forced the front office to undergo a considerable reshaping process after more than a decade of consistently competing for a division title. Chicago began dealing veteran pieces last July to start rebuilding the system, and since then, the organization has seen rankings of its system start to rise.
Thanks to the organization's new focus on developing the Minor League system, the White Sox are deep at the middle-infield positions, which could make the current double-play tandem of Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham expendable.
In the ninth round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, the White Sox selected a premier athlete who has quickly progressed through the system. Across both A levels and Double-A Birmingham last season, second baseman Micah Johnson posted a .312/.373/.451 line with a whopping 84 stolen bases.
Johnson forced a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte this season by posting a .329/.414/.466 line in 37 games at Birmingham. He's struggled at the new level, hitting just .221 with one stolen base. Johnson was also slowed by a hamstring injury in late May, and the speedster is just 11-for-19 in steals.
"Well, they're adjusting to him. Everybody knows how he can change the game when he gets on base, and he's getting a lot more attention than he was last year," director of player development Nick Capra said. "People are aware of what he does and how he does it, and they're trying to do everything they can to eliminate that. … They're just paying a lot more attention to him and he's just been a little more patient this year, which, he needs to learn that part of the game, too."
Another middle-infield prospect is Carlos Sanchez, who's been in the system since 2009.
Sanchez was signed by the club as a 17-year-old from Venezuela, and after hitting .323 across three levels and 133 games in 2012, he dipped to .241 in 112 games with Charlotte last season. Sanchez has rebounded in a big way this season, posting a .300/.367/.423 line in 67 games at Triple-A while playing solid defense.
"Its all about making adjustments for this kid, and he's done it all," Capra said. "Defensively, he's making all the plays, turning the double play well, any ball hit in his area, he gets to and makes the play. The question last year was his offense, and I think he's proven that he's more than capable putting offensive numbers up, and he's been real consistent throughout the course of the year."
Marcus Semien, yet another middle-infield prospect, got a taste of the Majors this season. After starting this season in the bigs, Semien was sent down to Charlotte to get consistent at-bats. The move has proven beneficial, as he's hit .255 with with three homers, six RBIs and an .897 OPS in 14 games. Chicago's sixth-round choice in the 2011 Draft, Semien has even tried the outfield.
"I don't really call it an experiment. This kid's an athlete," Capra said of Semien playing the outfield. "You can probably put him pretty much anywhere on the field and he's going to be probably more than adequate of a defender. I haven't seen him play out there yet, but from the reports I'm getting, he's done very well out there in the little bit of time he's been out there."
In the outfield, Courtney Hawkins may be starting to figure things out. Chicago's first-round selection in 2012 out of Mary Carroll High School in Texas, Hawkins grades out as having some of the best raw tools in the organization. He made it to Class A Advanced Winston-Salem by the end of that season, just months after he was drafted.
After that eye-opening professional debut, Hawkins endured an extremely tough 2013. Despite 19 homers and 62 RBIs, he hit just .178 in 103 games with Winston-Salem. Hawkins' biggest issue was swinging and missing, as he struck out nearly 42 percent of the time in 2013.
Following a sluggish start this season, Hawkins is hitting .252 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs, and has reduced his strikeout rate to 31 percent. Capra noted that Hawkins has handled a position change well -- he's moved from center to left -- and more than anything, he needed to learn how to deal with adversity in order to succeed.
"This kid's never failed before, and he failed a little bit last year, kind of humbled him a little bit," Capra said. "And that made him, I think, a little bit hungrier, a little bit better, and we're reaping the rewards of his struggles last year. That's part of development."
Chicago's top-rated prospect came to the club via trade. Matt Davidson, who was acquired from Arizona this past offseason, is projected as the third baseman of the future, but he has struggled. The 23-year-old has hit just .180/.252/.356 with 10 homers and 21 RBIs at Triple-A, striking out 38 percent of the time.
Like Johnson, Davidson's most glaring projected weakness is his defense, but Capra said he's pleased with Davidson's progression at the hot corner. As for his unexpected struggles at the plate, Capra explained that Davidson has been working through mechanical adjustments in an effort to reduce his strikeouts.
"He's a young kid who's working on things to make things better, and sometimes that slows down your progress at times in order to get the success we're looking for in the future," Capra said. "He's going through some changes that he hasn't really refined yet, and once we did, I think we're going to see the player that we envisioned him being, a guy that can pound the ball out of the ballpark. His average will get better, and I think once he is comfortable with some of these changes he's making, we're going to see the benefits."
While the Sox hope Davidson works his way up to the big leagues in the next couple of years, Tyler Danish and Tim Anderson could help Chicago further down the road.
The 19-year-old Danish, Chicago's second-round choice in last year's Draft, succeeded immediately after signing out of Durant High School in Florida. He posted a 1.20 ERA in 30 innings in 2013, reaching Class A Kannapolis at the end of the season.
Danish then posted a 0.71 ERA in seven starts for Kannapolis this season, earning a promotion to Winston-Salem. He's struggled to a 5.48 ERA in five starts at the new level, but Capra sees a high ceiling for the right-hander.
"I think only time will tell. He's got a good feel for pitching," Capra said. "Mechanically, he's pretty solid. He's learning the professional game. All his pitches have movement on them. He needs to learn the command maybe a little bit better."
Then comes Anderson, another middle-infield prospect. An accomplished basketball player and a tremendous athlete, Anderson has hit .287 in 127 career Minor League games at Class A and Class A Advanced levels. He has much to learn at shortstop, however, as he's committed 47 errors and has a .914 fielding percentage over the last two seasons.
"We talk a lot about the mental side of baseball. Well this kid, he's pretty strong pretty mentally," Capra said. "He goes out, he enjoys the game of baseball. He plays his tail off day and night, and you can see he's a confident player, and I think that's part of the success he's had because of that. Offensively, he seems to be getting better the more at-bats he has. Defensively, he's made more than a handful of error, but a lot of them are just rookie mistakes."
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com.