Fast-rising outfielders pace new Top 20 Prospects
Thompson, Hawkins show franchise's dedication to developing talent
CHICAGO -- The sole White Sox representative on MLB.com's 2012 preseason list of Top 100 Prospects was Addison Reed. And the right-handed reliever checked in at No. 100.
Reed and his 25 big league saves have understandably graduated from prospect status, and no other White Sox Minor Leaguer was able to crack the re-ranking of the Top 100, released on Thursday. As for team status, the White Sox ranked No. 30 out of 30 teams in the preseason rankings, and didn't move up from that bottom rung in the re-release.
With all due respect to these detailed pieces of Minor League analysis, the White Sox seem extremely satisfied with the improved overall talent they have directly aimed at helping the big league club.
"Whether we are first, whether we are last, it doesn't really mean a whole lot," said Buddy Bell, White Sox vice president, player development and special assignments, who presides over the Minor League system. "What we are trying to do is get guys to the big leagues and once they get here, make sure they are able to perform. We've been able to do that for a while now."
"We've had I don't even know how many people brought up from the Minors this year," said Reed, who crossed through four Minor League teams in 2011, before breaking camp full time with the White Sox in '12. "They've all contributed and done well."
There have been 10 rookie pitchers and 12 overall rookies employed this season by the White Sox, a team that takes a one-game lead over the Tigers in the American League Central into Friday's series opener with the Royals. This plethora of young help doesn't automatically translate to the White Sox system being deep, but hurlers such as Reed, Hector Santiago and Nate Jones have long surpassed the prospect stage among a highly serviceable group.
As for young players who should be helping the White Sox in the near future, the outfield seems to be the place to watch. In the re-release of the team's individual Top 20 Prospects, outfielders Trayce Thompson (No. 1), Courtney Hawkins (No. 2), Keenyn Walker (No. 5) and Jared Mitchell (No. 9) are all stacked in the Top 10. Nobody made a bigger jump from the preseason than Hawkins, who was the team's top selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft and therefore wasn't on the original ranking.
Hawkins, who doesn't turn 19 until Nov. 12, batted .284 with eight homers, 33 RBIs, 39 runs scored and 11 stolen bases over stops for Bristol, Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem. He was promoted to the Dash in order to experience the Carolina League playoffs.
"No matter where he goes, he looks like the best player on the field," said Bell of the right-handed-hitting Hawkins. "He played really good in center. He's a great student of the game. He's high energy, as we saw the first night when we drafted him [when he did a celebratory backflip]."
"He has proven to be more polished at an accelerated rate than I thought," said White Sox general manager Ken Williams of Hawkins. "Across the board, we've had some good performances from guys that stepped up to another level, and I'm proud of them."
Thompson was ranked as the White Sox top prospect in MLB.com's re-release, moving up two spots, and the numbers back up that assertion. The 21-year-old launched 25 homers, drove in 96 runs and added 88 runs scored and 21 stolen bases over stops at Winston-Salem, Double-A Birmingham and currently Triple-A Charlotte in the International League playoffs.
According to Bell, it's not out of the question that Thompson could see the Majors at some point in 2013. Even Orlando Hudson, the veteran middle infielder who did a recent injury rehab stint with Charlotte, came away raving about Thompson.
"His body, his mannerisms, the way he played the game. He misses a pitch and still hustles around the bases or runs ground balls out," Hudson said about Thompson. "He didn't take his at-bats to his defense or his defense to his at-bats. He's going to be a big leaguer, very sooner than later, I can tell you that."
"Trayce has been great the last three months and has done a great job defensively," Bell said about Thompson. "We don't talk about it much, because with the Minors, everyone looks at numbers and not necessarily defense. He has played great in center. He's not quite with Danksy [Jordan Danks] yet, but he's getting there."
Mitchell, a one-time highly ranked White Sox prospect and the team's top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, dropped out of the preseason Top 20 as he continued to work his way back from a left ankle injury that cost him the entire 2010 season. The fleet-footed left-handed hitter collected 24 doubles, 13 triples and 11 homers for Birmingham and Charlotte, along with 67 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.
Although it wasn't reflected completely in the re-release, Bell tabbed Walker, with 56 stolen bases between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, as showing the most improvement among these outfielders on the rise. Walker played with a sore shoulder and sore knee, but he still improved from No. 7 to No. 5.
Catching looks like the White Sox deepest position, topped by No. 11 prospect Josh Phegley. While the middle infield, aside from fast riser and Futures Game participant Carlos Sanchez, who went from out of the preseason ranking to No. 7 in the re-release, stands as the thinnest.
Ultimately, though, the White Sox base their prospects' success on Major League preparedness over team results and rankings.
"Guys who are supposed to get better have gotten better for the most part, and that's the benchmark," Bell said. "There have been some disappointments, but overall, it's been a good year."
"There's more to come, no doubt about it," said Jones, who has a 2.91 ERA over 53 games for the White Sox. "There are plenty of guys capable of competing at the big league level."