Chicago White Sox: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Chicago White Sox: Scouting Reports

Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2007.

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Chicago White Sox

General manager Ken Williams, the architect of the White Sox' World Series championship in 2005, likes to say he enjoyed that success for about 24 hours before getting to work on a repeat. He appeared to strengthen the roster with a series of offseason moves funded by a significant increase in payroll, including the additions of Jim Thome and Javier Vazquez, but Chicago ultimately fell short of returning to the playoffs.

A pitching staff built around a veteran rotation couldn't duplicate its 2005 performance, with the staff ERA climbing from 3.61 to 4.61. The lineup picked up the pace early, helping the White Sox to a 56-29 start, but wore down late in the season. A 33-36 second half caused Chicago to slide into third place in the deep American League Central, missing the postseason despite delivering back-to-back 90-win seasons for the first time since the Sox had three straight from 1963-65.

While going backward in the standings, the White Sox flexed some new muscle in the Chicago market. They filled U.S. Cellular Field with regularity, drawing a record 2.96 million fans, nearly as many as the crosstown rival Cubs. Ratings showed that more people followed the Sox on television than the Cubs. Both of those developments were amazing considering the perception of the two franchises and their home ballparks over the last two decades.

Williams has helped change the outlook of his franchise with his aggressive approach, almost always joining the pursuit of high-profile players on the market. He doesn't mind trading prospects for proven talent and hasn't seen many of his deals come back to bite him. The Vazquez trade could be an exception, as he sent promising center fielder Chris Young to the Diamondbacks. Trying to improve a thin bullpen, Williams sent two other promising pitching prospects, lefthander Tyler Lumsden and righthander Daniel Cortes, to the Royals for Mike MacDougal in July.

The White Sox eventually may suffer for draining so much talent away from the farm system. Their big league club was older than all of its AL Central rivals except for the Tigers in 2006, and its window for contending may not remain open for too much longer.

Chicago did break in some young players last season, with Brian Anderson taking over in center field, Bobby Jenks saving 41 games in his first full year in the majors and Brandon McCarthy serving in middle relief while awaiting an opening in the rotation. Most of the system's top prospects are at the upper levels, led by outfielder Ryan Sweeney and third baseman Josh Fields, who starred in Triple-A and are ready for jobs with the Sox.

But at the lower levels, there's an alarming lack of talent. The bottom three clubs in Chicago's system combined for a .333 winning percentage. The White Sox have leaned toward safer, more easily projected prospects in recent drafts, leading to a shortage of high-ceiling talent. They also haven't been productive at mining international talent, prompting manager Ozzie Guillen to prod Williams for an increased effort at finding and developing players from Latin America, particularly Guillen's native Venezuela.

1. Ryan Sweeney, of   Born: Feb. 20, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 6-4Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS--Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2003 (2nd round)Signed by: Paul Provas/Nathan Durst
Ryan SweeneyBackground: There's no doubt that Ryan Sweeney loves baseball. That's the only way you can grow up in Iowa and get this far, this fast as a baseball prospect. High school baseball isn't even played during the school year, making it tough for players to get scouted. But Sweeney starred on the showcase circuit, showing he belonged among the best prep players in the country. When he was a rising senior in 2003, the only thing teams wondered about was whether he was a better prospect as a lefthanded pitcher or as an outfielder. He had a chance to become the first Iowa high schooler ever drafted in the first round, but just missed. The White Sox fell in love with his sweet lefthanded swing and all-around skills and selected him in the second round, signing him for $785,000. Chicago needed an extra outfielder in big league camp the following spring, and when he hit .367 he jumped on the fast track. He began his first full season at high Class A Winston-Salem as a 19-year-old. He consistently has been one of the youngest players in his leagues and made his major league debut in September, just three years removed from high school.

Strengths: Sweeney has an extremely advanced approach at the plate for his age. He has a technically sound swing that has evoked comparisons to that of Harold Baines. He's willing to go with a pitch, giving him the ability to spray doubles from gap to gap. Getting pushed through the minors forced Sweeney to learn to make adjustments against pitchers with much more experience than he had. He totaled just eight homers in his first two full pro seasons—including just one longball in Double-A in 2005, when he played through a wrist injury—but his power started to blossom in 2006. Chicago third-base coach Razor Shines, his manager the last two seasons, believes he'll develop above-average pop. An excellent athlete, Sweeney is a good baserunner but may not steal more than 5-10 bases per season. A right fielder for most of his career, he got a shot to play some center in 2006 after the Sox included center fielder Chris Young in the Javier Vazquez trade with the Diamondbacks. Sweeney quickly showed he has the instincts and ability to play anywhere in the outfield, and he covers ground well for a big man. The arm strength that once made him a coveted pitching prospect translates into a plus in the outfield.

Weaknesses: Sweeney still needs to develop his power if he's to hit 20-plus homers on an annual basis in the majors; 10 of his career-high 13 homers came at Triple-A Charlotte's cozy Knights Stadium. He didn't manage a single extra-base hit in 35 at-bats with the White Sox. He's still learning to pull the ball with loft on a consistent basis. Once he learns to stay back better on pitches, he should drive more balls because he won't be out on his front foot. While Sweeney makes good contact, he could stand to work more counts. Not only would that allow him to draw more walks, but it will also put him in more situations where he can unleash his power.

The Future: Brian Anderson batted just .225 with eight homers as a rookie, and manager Ozzie Guillen said Chicago's center-field job will be open to competition in spring training. Sweeney went one round later than Anderson in the 2003 draft but has more potential at the plate. He's the White Sox' No. 3 hitter of the future. Sweeney fits better defensively on a corner, and it's possible he could wind up playing there for the Sox this year if Scott Podsednik is moved. He'll only be 22, so it won't be a disappointment if Sweeney returns for a second season at Charlotte.
Charlotte (AAA).296.350.45244964133253137035737
Chicago (AL).229.229.22935180002070
2. Josh Fields, 3b   Born: Dec. 14, 1982B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 215
 Drafted: Oklahoma State, 2004 (1st round)Signed by: Alex Slattery/Nathan Durst
Josh FieldsBackground: For some organizations, a bust the magnitude of Joe Borchard would have scared them away from two-sport players. But the White Sox went the quarterback/slugger route again four years later by taking Fields 18th overall and signing him for $1.55 million. Fields had a big year in 2006, making his big league debut, winning Triple-A International League rookie-of-the-year honors and delivering a double and an RBI single in the Futures Game.

Strengths: Fields has made great strides since concentrating on baseball. He generates impressive bat speed from a solid righthanded stroke, and he easily set career highs in average and homers in 2006. He's a plus baserunner with the speed to steal some bases, and he also has an above-average arm. He was raw defensively when he entered pro ball but has improved his footwork and throwing accuracy to become a sound third baseman.

Weaknesses: When Fields gets overaggressive, his swing gets long and he's prone to strikeouts. He could need some time to adjust to big league breaking pitches. He might not hit for a high average, though if he hits 25-30 homers per year that will be fine with the White Sox.

The Future: Joe Crede doesn't become a free agent for two more years, so Fields has no clear path to a regular job with the White Sox. They hoped he'd become a possible left-field candidate by playing there in Venezuelan winter ball, but he came home early, and manager Ozzie Guillen doesn't want him to learn on the job in spring training.  There's nothing left for Fields to prove in Triple-A, so a trade may be in order for him or Crede.
Charlotte (AAA).305.379.5154628514132419705413628
Chicago (AL).150.320.40020432012580
3. Lance Broadway, rhp   Born: Aug. 20, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 210
 Drafted: Texas Christian, 2005 (1st round)Signed by: Keith Stabb
Lance BroadwayBackground: Undrafted out of Grand Prairie (Texas) High, Kerry Wood’s alma mater, Broadway started his college career at Dallas Baptist before transferring to Texas Christian and becoming an All-American in 2005. A late surge made him the 15th overall pick that June, and he spent his first full pro season at Double-A Birmingham before moving up for the International League playoffs.

Strengths: Broadway knows how to pitch. He pounds the strike zone with a collection of pitches, the best of which is a spike curveball that some scouts rate as a plus-plus offering. He sets up his curve with an 89-92 mph fastball. He has made progress with the arm speed on his changeup, making it more effective. He's a physical specimen who had no trouble adjusting to a pro workload.

Weaknesses: Because he has just an average fastball, Broadway has less margin for error. His mechanics got out of sync in midseason, and he got hit hard when he left heaters up in the strike zone. His fastball lacks movement at times, making it more vulnerable. He'll need a more consistent changeup to get big league lefthanders out.

The Future: Given their veteran rotation, Chicago has no need to rush Broadway. He'll almost certainly start 2007 in Triple-A and profiles as an innings-eating starter. General manager Kenny Williams isn't afraid to deal prospects, and the White Sox' pitching depth makes Broadway one of their best trade chips.
Birmingham (AA)882.742525201541601040111.269
Charlotte (AAA)003.00110065016.217
4. Kyle McCulloch, rhp   Born: March 20, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 185
 Drafted: Texas, 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Keith Stabb
Kyle McCulloughBackground: Known more as a shortstop at Bellaire High, where he played with former White Sox phenom Chris Young, McCulloch became a full-time pitcher at Texas. He went 27-11 in three years with the Longhorns and won the clinching game of the 2005 College World Series. The 29th overall pick last June, he signed for $1.05 million.

Strengths: McCulloch's plus changeup rates as the system's best. He gets good natural movement on his 88-92 mph fastball, and his curveball is consistently effective. He has tremendous poise and challenges hitters even on days when he lacks his best stuff. He's polished, athletic and durable.

Weaknesses: McCulloch nearly pitched himself out of the first round with a late-spring slump. His velocity stayed in the upper 80s more than it had in the past, perhaps because he didn't work off his fastball enough. He won't overpower advanced hitters, and he'll have to walk a fine line while setting them up for his changeup.

The Future: There's little difference between McCulloch and Lance Broadway, Chicago's last two first-round picks. Broadway opened his first full season in Double-A and McCulloch likely will do the same. They could team up as mid-rotation starters for the White Sox by mid-2008.
Great Falls (R)111.61650022191727.213
Winston-Salem (Hi A)254.087700353741721.266
5. Charlie Haeger, rhp   Born: Sept. 19, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS-Plymouth, Mich., 2001 (25th round)Signed by: Ken Stauffer/Nathan Durst
Charlie HaegerBackground: Haeger spent two years in Rookie ball with a fringe-average fastball before leaving the White Sox in 2003. He reinvented himself as a knuckleballer at the urging of former Arizona State and Wake Forest pitching coach Chris Sinacori, then blitzed through the minors to Chicago in little more than two seasons. While working on mastering the knuckler, he played golf at Madonna (Mich.) University, where his brother Greg is the baseball coach. In addition to making his big league debut in 2006, he also led the International League in wins.

Strengths: Charlie Hough says Haeger has the best knuckleball he's seen since Tim Wakefield arrived in the big leagues. It dances like a good knuckler should and Haeger has learned to trust it in any situation. He has a mid-80s fastball and a decent curve, but he'll throw his knuckler 70-80 percent of the time when it's on. He's an excellent pupil who has developed a rapport with Hough and Wakefield.

Weaknesses: The knuckler can be hard to hit but presents problems for all of its practitioners. It can give catchers fits, and A.J. Pierzynski committed three passed balls in Haeger's big league debut. It's a fickle pitch that sometimes moves so much he can't throw it for strikes.

The Future: Chicago doesn't have a rotation opening for Haeger, which could leave him in a bind. Though he was effective out of the bullpen in September, it's hard for a contender to trust a knuckleballer in critical relief situations. He may make the White Sox in 2007 but probably will be kept on a short leash.
Charlotte (AAA)1463.07262520170143978130.231
Chicago (AL)113.447100181201319.182
6. Aaron Cunningham, of   Born: April 24, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 5-11Wt: 195
 Drafted: Everett (Wash.) CC, 2005 (6th round)Signed by: Joe Butler/Adam Virchis
Aaron CunninghamBackground: Undrafted out of high school and unknown when he arrived at Everett (Wash.) CC, Cunningham tore the cover off the ball as scouts flocked to see his teammates, pitchers Zach Simons and J.T. Zink. Cunningham hit .465 in his wood-bat league and joined Simons and Zink in the first eight rounds of the 2005 draft. He has batted .301 since signing as a sixth-rounder.

Strengths: A muscular, compact athlete, Cunningham produces above-average bat speed and drives the ball to all fields. He stepped up his power production in 2006, and the White Sox believe there's more to come. He crowds the plate and handles the bat well. He has above-average speed and arm strength.

Weaknesses: Cunningham is a born hitter but still a bit green in terms of rounding out his game. He must work better counts and curb some of his aggressiveness at the plate. He doesn’t get good jumps and probably won't be a basestealer at higher levels. He's probably going to be a left fielder because his jumps, throwing mechanics and accuracy all need work.

The Future: Easily Chicago's best position prospect in the lower minors, Cunningham is at least a couple of seasons away from being ready for the majors. He should start 2007 in high Class A and could hit his way to Double-A with a strong spring and fast start.
Kannapolis (Lo A).305.386.496341581042631141347219
7. Adam Russell, rhp   Born: April 14, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-8Wt: 250
 Drafted: Ohio, 2004 (6th round)Signed by: Larry Grefer/Nathan Durst
Adam RussellBackground: Russell had little success at Ohio University, going 6-11, 6.28 in three seasons. He posted just one win as a junior in 2004, but made a late push and became a sixth-round pick. He has fared much better in pro ball since finding a reliable breaking ball, and he spent the second half of 2006 in Double-A.

Strengths: Russell's size presents an intimidating presence on the mound, and he has learned to use it to his advantage. He throws on a downhill plane from a high slot, and he reaches the mid-90s with his lively fastball on his best days. He'll alter his arm slot and drop down to give batters a different look with his fastball and slider. He has gained confidence in throwing four-seam fastballs at the top of the strike zone after establishing his heater in the lower half.

Weaknesses: Russell's changeup and curveball are still works in progress and he doesn't consistently dominate hitters because they don't have to respect his offspeed stuff. He tends to overthrow when things aren't going well, which costs him command.

The Future: Entering 2006, the White Sox were excited about Russell's potential as a reliever, but now they believe he can be a starter. He still needs to flesh out his repertoire, and he probably will head back to Double-A to start 2007.
Winston-Salem (Hi A)732.66171700948053961.235
Birmingham (AA)334.75101000555951947.269
8. Lucas Harrell, rhp   Born: June 3, 1985B-T: B-RHt: 6-2Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS--Ozark, Mo., 2004 (4th round)Signed by: Alex Slattery/Nathan Durst
Lucas HarrellBackground: Harrell was part of a banner crop of Missouri high school talent in 2004, a group that also included Dodgers first-round picks Scott Elbert and Blake DeWitt plus Ross Detwiler and Nick Schmidt, who could be first-rounders out of college in 2007. Harrell led Ozark High to the state title, tossing a complete game and hitting a homer in the semifinals against DeWitt's team. Considered a bit of a project as a fourth-rounder, Harrell nevertheless reached Double-A last year.

Strengths: Harrell goes after hitters with a low-90s fastball. He has sacrificed some velocity for command and life, and he induces a lot of groundballs with the sinking action on his two-seamer. His changeup is much improved and might be his best pitch. He's a good athlete who also played basketball in high school.

Weaknesses: His 2006 season ended early because he strained a trapezius muscle, but it's not expected to hamper his development. Harrell continues to work on developing an effective slider, and his control is still far from polished.

The Future: Harrell will open 2007 in Double-A. He's on schedule to be ready for the big leagues in 2009, when the veteran White Sox rotation finally may have openings.
Winston-Salem (Hi A)722.45171700925834470.182
Birmingham (AA)0210.24330010121144.316
9. Matt Long, rhp   Born: R-RB-T: R-RHt: 6-6Wt: 200
 Drafted: Miami (Ohio), 2006 (2nd round)Signed by: Mike Shirley/Keith Staab
Matt LongBackground: Healthy once again after having Tommy John surgery in 2004, Long made the right move when he turned down the Dodgers as a 35th-rounder out of high school and the Giants as a 34th-rounder in 2005. The White Sox made him a second-round pick last June and signed him for $330,000. He looked worn down in his pro debut, understandable because it was his longest season since he got hurt.

Strengths: Long has a great build and has added strength in recent years. His fastball is his primary weapon, and it sat at 92-94 mph and peaked at 96 last spring. He usually pitched at 91 mph after signing, but Chicago expects more velocity when he's fresh in 2007. He has a tight curveball that became more consistent after the Sox worked to tighten his delivery in instructional league. He is a hard worker who put in the time to come back from reconstructive elbow surgery.

Weaknesses: Long lacks some command with his curveball and his changeup. Chicago wants him to focus on his changeup and may use him as a starter in his first full pro season. He's raw for his age because he didn't get many innings against high-level competition in college.

The Future: There's a shortage of power arms in the White Sox system, which could work in Long's favor. He could move quickly, especially if he stays in a bullpen role. How well he masters his offspeed stuff will determine his long-term role.
Kannapolis (Lo A))358.0222001345151320.345
10. Chris Carter, 1b   Born: Dec. 18, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 210
 Signed: HS--Las Vegas, 2005 (15th round)Signed by: George Kachigian/Joe Butler
Chris CarterBackground: Carter's bat has launched him from 15th-round high school draftee to Top 10 Prospect in less than two years. The White Sox hoped he could spend 2006 at low Class A Kannapolis, but he returned to extended spring training after a bumpy start. He led the Rookie-level Pioneer League in homers, extra-base hits (37) and total bases (143).

Strengths: While the rest of his game is pedestrian, Carter's power is impossible to overlook. He swings hard and can drive good fastballs and hanging curveballs. He's a pull hitter but has the strength to hit the ball out to the opposite field as well. He has a decent eye at the plate and is willing to take a walk when pitchers start nibbling, as they often do against him.

Weaknesses: Carter's power comes with a tradeoff—lots of strikeouts. His bat will have to carry him because he's a below-average runner, defender and thrower. Drafted as a third baseman, he moved to first base full-time in 2006. He's prone to errors because he lacks soft hands, and he'll need a lot more work fielding grounders and taking throws.

The Future: Carter will return to Kannapolis, and he's probably three to five years away from Chicago. That timetable would put him on schedule to arrive at the end of Paul Konerko's contract, which runs through 2010.
Kannapolis (Lo A).130.231.261464630155170
Great Falls (R).299.398.5702513775211155934704

Photo Credits:
Sweeney, Russell, Harrell: Sports on Film
Broadway: Robert Gurganus
McCulloch, Cunningham, Long: Bill Mitchell
Carter: Denny Wright