2012 Chicago White Sox Top 10 Prospects Chat With John Manuel

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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, 2011.

John Manuel: I'll be starting in just a minute or two, wrapping up a phone call. Thanks for your patience.

    Ben (Leland Grove): How big of a tumble did Mitchell take on your top 30 this year, and how troubling is his K rate?

John Manuel: OK, thanks everyone. Here's a good place to start. Mitchell fell into the 15-20 range. For me, he gets a pass on this season. His K rate is obviously an issue, but talking to a couple of scouts about him this year, I got two different ways to look at the same guy. He is inexperienced—no other way to put it. This was his first year playing baseball full-time and playing baseball in July and August. Every other year he'd either been playing football or been hurt (2010). So the fact he hit .134 in August, you don't write it off but you put it in context. Second, he still showed that he could turn on velocity (talked to a scout who saw him hit a HR off a 96 mph fastball). So the bat speed is there; he has some patience. The Sox will need patience with him. He may not be a regular until age 26-27, and that's if everything works out.

    Frank (Chicago): Andy Wilkins put up respectable numbers in the CAR last season. Whereabouts did he land on your top 30 and why?

John Manuel: Wilkins barely missed the top 10. If he had a bit more athletic ability, I think he'd have made it; the soft body still gives scouts pause as it did in high school. Personally, I see a second-division 1B regular as his ceiling. He makes pretty good contact for a power-oriented hitter and should have enough strength to compensate for his good but not great bat speed. He's just OK against LHPs (sub-.700 OPS) and is going to have to improve there to be more than platoon or second-division guy.

    Grant (NYC): Jordan Danks - prospect or suspect?

John Manuel: He dropped precipitously in our rankings so I guess you'd call him more of a suspect. I wrote about him quite a bit in the run-up to the Rule 5 draft; I was surprised he was not protected because of his defensive ability, lefty bat and speed. A change of scenery probably would have helped; he was rushed, and now if he goes back to Triple-A, it will be his third straight year there. If he doesn't figure out how to make more consistent contact this year, it's hard to see him figuring it out as a White Sox.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Between Kevan Smith and Mike Blanke, who came closer to your top 10, and who has better skills behind the dish? Thanks.

John Manuel: Blanke; scouts are all over the place on him but he's younger, he's got just as much raw power and he's got much better defensive tools. I got a 70 on Blanke's throwing arm, though others have given it lower grades. Smith's hitting ability is superior but Blanke has real raw power and has a chance to be a Mark Parent type, if not a bit more.

    Matt (Naperville, IL): How far did Eduardo Escobar fall on your list this year, and what are his biggest shortcomings?

John Manuel: Escobar made the top 10 in the prospect handbook, before the White Sox's Janus-faced offseason where they haven't figured out if they're rebuilding or not. He's a big league utility guy for me; he has one big shortcoming in that he can't really hit enough to be a regular. It's a hellacious .666 career OPS in the minors, and he doesn't steal bases efficiently or make a ton of contact. So yeah, he has some shortcomings.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Between Kyle McMillen and Erik Johnson, who are you higher on, and what are their ceilings?

John Manuel: We went starter over reliever with Johnson ranking in the 11-30 mix and McMillen not even making the 30. McMillen surprisingly didn't come up much when we did our Draft Report Cards in the fall, whereas the White Sox were pretty high on Johnson at the time and see him as a innings-eating starter. I've gotten a Curt Schilling body comp on Johnson in the past; obviously that's an unrealistic career comp seeing as how Schilling's a borderline Hall of Famer, but it gives you an idea that scouts see Johnson as the kind of guy who could log 200 innings annually. He has some mechanics to smooth out transitioning to full-season ball, but the White Sox have a good track record of developing guys with big arms. A lot of continuity in their minor league pitching program, and they've had success with it.

    Carlos (Chitown): Between this year's top 10 and last year's, which one would you give the nod to in terms of ceiling?

John Manuel: I would actually have to vote last year because pre-injury, I was all in on Jared Mitchell. I would take Chris Sale over Addison Reed, and Dayan Viciedo has taken a big step forward. It's just not a good farm system right now, or even an average one. It's bad.

    Harry (Gary, IN): We know about Castro coming over from the Padres, but what about the "other" guy Pedro Hernandez? Is he in your top 30?

John Manuel: The book was done by the time that trade was made; Hernandez obviously didn't make the top 10, same for Miles Jaye and Dan Webb in the Jason Frasor trade. We broke down Hernandez in Trade Central: http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/majors/trade-central/2011/2612762.html

    Roger (St Louis): Is Brandon Short still on your radar?

John Manuel: He is in the 15-20 range. Not a lot of hitters in this system, and Short's aggressiveness gets him in trouble. He doesn't really have one plus tool. But he does a lot of things fairly well; he's fairly similar in my mind to Dave Sappelt, recently traded by the Reds to the Cubs. For me, Short's a fourth outfielder more than a regular, unless he gains better control of the strike zone and gets on base more frequently.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Are you optimistic that Trayce Thompson won't become a players in the mold of Cody Johnson - a potential 40 HR/200 K type?

John Manuel: Not a similar player but yes, they could have similar numbers. Thompson has a ton of adjustments to make but has much more athleticism than a player like Johnson. He's more similar to former White Sox farmhands like Chris Young or Mike Cameron in terms of being a power guy with athleticism and some speed, though he's not going to steal as many bases as those guys and profiles more in right field. He's also fairly similar to Marlins farmhand Marcell Ozuna; a bit more athletic but a little less raw juice and arm strength. If you're searching for a comp, you can do better than Cody Johnson.

    Ken (Tampa): Hey, Phil. What can you tell us about Kyle Bellamy? He put up great numbers until being promoted to AA. Good closer-type down the line?

John Manuel: Well, that was in 2010. Bellamy was hurt all year, missed 2011, and is a submariner in the Chad Bradford mold anyway (maybe not knuckle-scraping but he's a low-slot joker). Bradford of course was drafted by the White Sox and made it to the majors with them first so they like Bellamy but let's see if he's healthy first. He's not a closer type.

    Sammy (Chicago, IL): While we realize you don't help to compile BA's top 100 prospects, do you think any of your top 10 guys have a legit shot?

John Manuel: Phil doesn't but I do. This is a one-trick pony organization. Nestor Molina and Simon Castro are not Top 100 material; Reed will make it, probably in the 51-75 range.

    Kyle (Dallas, TX): I see Jeff Soptic has the best FB in the system. What else does he bring to the table?

John Manuel: Right now, that's about it on a consistent basis. His lack of life on his fastball, which has touched 100, is a concern. He has a ton of work to do but fits in with the White Sox's general philosophy: 1) Get power arms. 2) Speed them through the minors. Then your flow chart shifts to 3a) Trade power arms for other stuff, or 3b) Put them in the big league bullpen. 4) Repeat.

    Darrell (Los Angeles): So, the Sox pick 13th in June. Do you see them going after a HS bat, of which there are many to choose from this year, or will they likely stick to a college arm?

John Manuel: I think the bigger question is how much will they spend. We're not going to call the new CBA "slots," it's more of an "assigned value of the pick," and Jim Callis and I have a friendly wager on what percentage of their assigned value the White Sox will spend for their first 10 rounds. Jim's betting below 90% of the assigned value. I'm guessing they'll spend 90%.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): The Sox have reacquired Dexter Carter. What are the chances of him putting up the kind of numbers he did in his 2009 season? Or has that train passed already?

John Manuel: I like Dex, but that 2009 year is the aberration.

    Karl of Delaware (Delmarva): What are your thoughts on outfielder Mark Haddow and pitcher Blaire Walters who tore up the Pioneer League? Whats your guess as to where they start the 2012 season?

John Manuel: Both solid college picks who are probably organizational guys. Haddow has intriguing tools, he's fairly athletic for his size and has some raw power. He's Phil's Sleeper in the book. Walters, on the other hand, made the book, he's in the 26-30 range. He's got a carrying tool in his cutter; this organization likes cutters, teaches a lot of guys cutters, and here's a lefthander with good size, decent velo and a ready-made cutter. He could move very quickly into Chicago's bullpen picture.

    Ryan (Arizona): Wouldn't reed be more valuable developed as a starter? Wouldn't a potential 2 or 3 be more valuable than a set up man or closer?

John Manuel: That question, to me, is one of the many that has me wondering if the White Sox can't make up their minds about rebuilding or not. I think they want to rebuild; I actually think Kenny Williams wants to rebuild. I also think it's impossible to do that with all their dead-weight contracts like Rios, Dunn and Peavy. That's $43 million right there. How do you rebuild with that on the books? I think the Sox are trying to do that, but on the off-chance those guys have decent seasons, Reed could help that bullpen in the short-term. So while long-term I think you have a good point, I tend to lean to having Reed in the bullpen for 2012, and we have him as the closer in our long-term lineup as well.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Of the hurlers moving from short season teams to full season Kannapolis, who are your favorites?

John Manuel: Johnson leads that list; Soptic would be next. Kyle McMillen will be interesting as well. I forgot to add earlier that McMillen had an injury issue that led to his signing bonus being reduced, and there's a health question with him moving forward, so that's a big reason why he didn't make the top 30. Walters obviously fits here as well. The other guy to watch is former Stanford LHP Scott Snodgress�good arm strength, has touched 95 and has a curveball with potential. Cody Winiarski is a nice pitchability guy to watch, he should have some A-ball success at the least.

    Jadam (Herv, NY): Why does Reed rank above Molina? I would think that with both having closer potential and Molina having a better chance of staying in the rotation, Molina might have gotten the edge.

John Manuel: Molina is more of a fourth starter type. A true closer, an impact reliever like Reed can be, is harder to find, I believe, than a control-oriented fourth starter with no real separator. The White Sox got a guy like that in Phil Humber off the waiver wire last year. I like Molina some but he's really not a No. 1 prospect. His ceiling is less than that of Simon Castro, but Castro's been pretty messed up mechanically the last year-plus, so Molina got the nod. But 2 and 3 are closer than 1 and 2 for me.

    Greg T (London, ON): Hi - SS Tyler Saladino's numbers have looked very solid for the past two seasons. Projecting him as a future utilityman would seem to underestimate his hitting ability? In a year or two it wouldnt be surprising to see him outproducing 3B Morel or perhaps 2B Beckham?

John Manuel: There's hope for Saladino to hit his way into an everyday role, and he has shown a consistent bat. I would say Beckham has a lot more offensive upside. I could see Saladino usurping Morel if Morel's September was a mirage; Morel had a bad year but a very good September. I like Morel more than most and see Saladino as more of a utility guy, but if he's an everyday guy for Chicago, 3B would seem to be his best bet.

    Scott (Troy): I saw Charlie Leesman was added to the 40 man and was graded as having the system's best Changeup. Does he have a future as a back of the rotation guy, or is he better suited as a Lefty out of the Pen? He seems to have had problems with control based on his BB/9 in the minors.

John Manuel: Sounds like he's a reliever who just doesn't have the consistency to start. He has a starter's repertoire but not a starter's focus or ability to go through a lineup multiple times. He's still a sleeper for me in their system; top 10 upside but not top 10 performance or consistency.

    Aaron (Texas): In your years doing the White Sox top 10 minor leaguers evaluation for BA, is this the shallowest pool of talent that you have encountered?

John Manuel: Obviously Phil has a deeper reservoir of Sox knowledge but talking to two scouts about this system recently, they both thought (a) the Sox are having a hard time rebuilding without really committing to it and (b) this is as bad as their system has been in a long time. I don't know that it's epic in its badness though. Frankly I don't think Cleveland's system is much better, or the Marlins. It's not worst than the Astros were heading into 2010; the 2010 Handbook Astros, where Chia-Jen Lo, Jon Gaston, TJ Steele and Jay Austin were all in the top 10 ... that's the worst system in recent memory for me. As his boss, I'm sorry to Ben Badler for assigning that to him, and I put myself on the Astros the next two seasons to make it up to him.

    Rich (NJ): Your thoughts on Michael Blanke's yr., future potential and where he ranks in the team's prospect list (top 15?). Thanks

John Manuel: Phil ranked him 20th. Just prepping to do this chat in his stead, I hear that's a bit low. He's got a big arm, and raw power. I will say that other reports we have on Blanke are less impressed, and he's always been a bit of a mixed bag; I got no real buzz on him out of Tampa, but Phil said the White Sox really liked him last year out of the draft. He's being moved quickly and could surpass Josh Phegley�who was drafted 10+ rounds earlier�in the system's pecking order if he hasn't already.

    Jason S (Chicago, IL): What are your thoughts on Andre Rienzo? I saw he was listed as a top 30 prospect last season and numbers showed well in 2011. Was he close to a top 10 prospect?

John Manuel: He moved up but not a ton; obviously the White Sox weren't too impressed because they risked losing him in the Rule 5 draft, leaving him off the 40-man. His arm strength is still there, secondary stuff is lacking. Kind of your typical arm-strength White Sox relief type.

    chisox2005 (St. Charles, IL): I recently heard a radio interview with White Sox minor league director, Buddy Bell. He was very impressed with the Instructional League performance of Jared Mitchell and felt that he was fully recovered from the spring training injury of 2010. Is Mitchell possibly ready to reclaim elite prospect status?

John Manuel: He's still athletic but it's going to all be about the bat. He has to see a lot of pitches and make up for a lot of lost development time, time lost (a) to football and (b) to the ankle injury. What else would you expect Buddy to say? "Our 2009 first-round pick is already done for ..." That's not what he's going to say. I'm rooting for Mitchell but I don't expect him to reclaim elite status in 2012. I would like to see him hit .250 with some pop and with fewer than 150 K's first.

    Rick (Toronto): Hello John, thanks for the chat. Looks like a fairly weak system, if Nestor Molina remained in Toronto, where would he rank on their top 10? With Jared Mitchell striking out at a 40% clip, would you write him off at this point.

John Manuel: On the Molina front, he was, I believe, No. 18 according to Nathan Rode. Tells you a bit about those two very different franchises. Miles Jaye didn't even make the Jays' 30, he'd be 11-20 range for me on this White Sox list. I should have listed Jaye in the earlier question about short-season Sox graduating to Kannapolis; the White Sox think Jaye might pitch with two plus pitches eventually in his fastball and slider, so they like him and he's intriguing.

    StatMan (Kenosha, WI): Seventh round pick Kevan Smith, a catcher, tore up Rookie ball after he was drafted. What can you tell me about his long term prospects and his defense, particularly his arm strength?

John Manuel: Smith's a former Division I QB (Pitt) and has athleticism and solid arm strength. His throwing mechanics are inconsistent but he's in the top 30. With Blanke ahead of him, likely at Double-A, you could have Phegley at high A and Smith in Kannapolis in 2012, though I also could see Smith moving faster than that.

    Dave (Kenosha): Hector Santiago LHP came up to the Sox last year and really looked good: strike thrower, composed, got outs, etc. He was returned to AA and didn't get the 9-1 call up? What are your thoughts on him?

John Manuel: I'll finish here ... I like Santiago and he came close to the top 10 as well. He struggled going back to the minors after his initial callup; sometimes I think it's hard for those guys to see the big leagues and go back down, that's a tough adjustment. The Sox are trying to figure out his best role, and I think it goes back to are they contending or not. If they are, then Santiago's best chance short-term is to help in the bullpen. If not, and if they can trade Gavin Floyd or dump Peavy's contract, then innings open up for Santiago and they can see if he can start. I get the feeling talking to people that they'd like Santiago to get some innings in Birmingham or Charlotte to start the year and then move accordingly.

    Jake (Philly): For those of us eagerly awaiting the Handbook, how many of the Sox top 10 prospects graded "Safe" on the risk factor scale?

John Manuel: I see this news is leaking out; I guess Jake from Philly is a digital subscriber. I'm very excited about the BA Grades we're rolling out in this year's book, which includes a Risk factor as well. I think it will make a great book even stronger. We were very stingy with handing out Safe grades; I believe there are fewer than 10 in the entire book. No Sox prospect got a Safe, not even Reed. But look for JJ Cooper and I to podcast on the grades when the book gets here to be shipped out and for us also to post a story on the site explaining the grades (which we also do in the Handbook).

    John (Louisville, KY): No Tyler Kuhn in the Top Ten?? Interesting. I saw that you had him as "Best Hitter for Average" but that was all?? When do you start rewarding someone who CONSISTANTLY succeeds at every level he's been at?? Thoughts?

John Manuel: Very quickly, Kuhn looks like a utility guy at best; he's easy to root for because he does hit and he plays exceedingly hard. He's in the Top 30 for the Handbook. But he doesn't have any real big tools other than his ability to make consistent contact. He's not a guy scouts love but he is getting closer to hitting his way to the majors.

John Manuel: OK, I've got to run. I hope I pinch-hit in a satisfactory manner for Phil, though I know I'm leaving some questions on the board here. Thanks for your time, if you have questions for Phil, I'm sure he'll take them at @ChiTribRogers and I'll take any more at @johnmanuelba Thanks.