Sign Up! Join our newsletters, get a FREE e-Edition
Stephen Strasburg's college closer continues to make a name for himself. Like Daniel Hudson and Chris Sale before him, Reed shot through the White Sox system and was one of the first members of his draft class to reach the majors. A thirdround pick signed for $358,200 in 2010, Reed started last year in low Class A Kannapolis and moved one level at a time before getting to Chicago in September. The only 2010 draftees to arrive in the big leagues before him were White Sox teammate Chris Sale, Josh Spence and Chance Ruffin, all relievers. After saving 20 games with a 0.65 ERA in 2009, Reed replaced Strasburg as San Diego State's Friday starter as a junior and went 8-2, 2.50. Though he has the stuff to fit in a rotation, he made just two starts in his pro debut and none last year. He put up crazy minor league numbers in 2011, with a 1.26 ERA, a 111-14 K-BB ratio and a .157 opponent batting average in 78 innings. He wasn't as dominant in the majors, but he did strike out 12 of the 33 hitters he faced, including Miguel Cabrera twice. Reed's younger brother Austin pitches in the Cubs system after signing as a 12th-rounder out of high school in 2010. Reed has a great pitcher's build and a solid delivery, operating from a three-quarters arm slot. He works quickly and throws strikes, challenging hitters to beat him. He can make them look bad with either his fastball or slider. Reed works at 93-96 mph and touches 98 with a fastball that often runs in on righthanders. His slider grades better than his heater, with some scouts rating it as a plus-plus offering. His slider has late bite and arrives in the low 80s, giving it great separation in velocity from his fastball. It works almost as a changeup. Reed throws a true changeup as well and made strides with the pitch in 2011, though he doesn't have much need for it in relief. He has strong mound presence and a durable arm, two important attributes for a late-inning reliever. While he handled a full workload in his first full pro season, the White Sox generally gave Reed at least two days off between outings in the minors and didn't pitch him on back-to-back days after he reached the majors. He'll still have to prove he can get the job done on back-to-back days, but with his stuff, that shouldn't be a problem. Chicago is looking to get younger and cheaper with its starting rotation, and some club officials think Reed could help fill that need. But for now, the White Sox are developing him as a set-up man who ultimately could be used as a closer. They traded Sergio Santos, who had 30 saves in 2011, to the Blue Jays at the Winter Meetings and may move Sale to the rotation in 2012, so their closer's job is wide open. Reed has a terrific chance to win a bullpen role in spring training. If he progresses as rapidly as he did in 2011, it's not out of the question that he could be finishing games for the Sox by the end of the season.
Originally signed as a third baseman, Molina hit .223/.369/.273 in three seasons in the Rookie-level Venezuelan and Dominican summer leagues and moved to the mound before making his U.S. debut. He made just four starts before 2010 but flourished after moving to the rotation last year, ranking third in the minors in K-BB ratio (9.3), fourth in walk rate (1.1 per nine innings) and ninth in ERA (2.21). The White Sox acquired him from the Blue Jays in a December trade for Sergio Santos. Molina doesn't have a consistent plus pitch, but his entire repertoire plays up because of his superlative command. He has averaged just 1.4 walks per nine innings in five seasons as a pitcher. Molina works both sides of the plate with an 88-93 mph fastball. He had a slurvy breaking ball that he tried to turn in into a slider, but that didn't work and he's now operating with a curveball. He also has a splitter that flashes hard tumble and demonstrates some feel for a straight changeup. Molina is best suited for the back of a rotation and if he keeps up last year's pace, he may find himself in the big leagues at some point in 2012. He could open the season at Double-A Birmingham.
A rare above-slot signing for the White Sox, Thompson got $625,000 as a secondround pick in 2009. Following an abbreviated 2010 season in which a pitch shattered his right thumb, he stayed healthy last year and led the low Class A South Atlantic League with 95 runs while ranking second in the system with 24 homers. His father Mychal is a former No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. Older brothers Mychel (Pepperdine) and Klay (Washington State) are college basketball players, with Klay rated as a possible NBA first-rounder. Thompson has the ability to hit long home runs to all fields, thanks to his strength and the loft in his stroke. The length in his swing limits his plate coverage, and, combined with his lack of pitch recognition, leads to frequent strikeouts. His 172 whiffs tied for fifth in the minors in 2011. Thompson isn't just a bomber. He has worked hard on his center-field defense, which some scouts say is better than his bat. His strong arm is a weapon in center field and should play in right, where he'll likely wind up. He's slow out of the batter's box but has average speed when he hits his strides. He shows good instincts on the bases and in the outfield. He may have repeated low Class A, yet Thompson will be just 21 when he advances to high Class A Winston-Salem in 2012. He has the highest offensive ceiling in the system but will have to cut down his strikeouts considerably to reach it.
The White Sox drafted Petricka in the 38th round out of a Minnesota high school in 2006 but didn't sign him, then took him again as a second-rounder in 2010. In between, he had stints at Iowa Western CC and Indiana State and lost a year to Tommy John surgery. He was overpowering in 2011 until he came down with back problems, missed most of June and wasn't as sharp afterward. Radar guns love Petricka, who works in the mid-90s with his fastball and has been clocked at 100 mph. He relies on his velocity at the expense of his other pitches, however. His curveball can be a hammer but often spins to the plate or sails to the screen. His changeup shows promise, though he lacks the confidence to throw it in hitter's counts. Petricka induces a lot of groundballs, a key for pitchers at U.S. Cellular Field. He can get mechanical at times and has spells where he doesn't throw enough strikes. Petricka has the ingredients to develop into an A.J. Burnett type but struggles to make adjustments. Some scouts believe he's destined for the bullpen, where he pitched in the Arizona Fall League. Chicago has more of a need for starters, so he'll get plenty of rope in that role.
Recruited as a safety by Boise State and some Pacific-10 Conference programs, Walker gave up football after leaving high school. He also turned down the Cubs as a 16throunder in 2009 and the Phillies as a 38th-rounder in 2010 before Chicago made him its top pick (47th overall) in 2011. He signed for a slightly over-slot $795,000 after leading national juco players with 70 steals in 73 tries for Central Arizona JC. Walker's plus-plus speed makes him a game-changer on the bases and helps him in center field, but he has a lot of work to do as a hitter. A switch-hitter, he was overmatched from both sides of the plate after reaching low Class A. He swings and misses frequently and has yet to show the gap power as a pro that he displayed in junior college. Walker is still a bit raw defensively, but he has plus range and arm strength for center field. Walker is a potential top-of-theorder force, though he'll need time to refine his offense and defense. Because he played with a wood bat in junior college, the Sox think he could make rapid adjustments to pro pitching in 2012. They'll send him back to Kannapolis with the potential for a midseason promotion.
Marinez is following the path less taken. He made his major league debut a year prior to pitching in the 2011 Futures Game, three months before the Marlins sent him and shortstop Osvaldo Martinez to the White Sox as compensation for manager Ozzie Guillen. Marinez has battled control problems that have become more pronounced since he strained his elbow during his 2010 big league callup. Marinez is a classic two-pitch reliever, relying almost exclusively on his fastball and slider. He gets easy velocity from a low three-quarters arm slot, with his fastball sitting at 92-96 mph and climbing into the upper 90s. His slider arrives in the mid-80s and can look like his heater until it gets on top of hitters. Marinez sometimes gets under his pitches, causing him to leave them up in the zone. He also has bouts of wildness when he struggles with his release point. He dominates when his location is good. He has to prove he can stay healthy after working just 226 innings in six pro seasons. Scouts see a big-league set-up man or possibly even a closer in Marinez, provided that he can significantly improve his command. He's an ideal project for big league pitching coach Don Cooper, though Marinez will get some time at Triple-A Charlotte before he sees Chicago.
The White Sox drafted Saladino mostly on his reputation as a hitter, taking him in the seventh round after he hit .381 with 17 homers at Oral Roberts in 2010. He nearly matched that longball total in his first full season as a pro, smashing 16 in high Class A despite missing the first month after breaking a bone in his hand during spring training. He continued to play well in the Arizona Fall League. Saladino doesn't have a standout tool but he's a steady all-around player. He has a line-drive, all-fields approach at the plate, making consistent contact with surprising power. He projects as a possible 30-double/15- homer threat at U.S. Cellular Field. He has average speed and range at shortstop, though his instincts allow him to play above his physical ability. His strong arm would fit at third base if he has to move off shortstop. Ticketed for Double-A in 2012, Saladino faces a shortstop logjam ahead. Alexei Ramirez is entrenched in Chicago, while prospects Osvaldo Martinez and Eduardo Escobar already have reached Triple-A and gotten cups of coffee in the majors. Saladino has a better bat than Martinez and Escobar, and he eventually could help the Sox at second or third base or as an offensive-minded utilityman.
The White Sox touted Silverio as a five-tool shortstop when Victor Mateo and Dave Wilder signed him for $600,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2007. A year later, they learned that Mateo and Wilder were part of a conspiracy to oversell prospects so they could skim their bonus money. Silverio overcame that stigma and three uneven seasons in the lower minors to break through with a solid year at two Class A stops in 2011. Silverio began making adjustments at the plate when he returned to Kannapolis last year. He's still too undisciplined at the plate, but he has a knack for barreling the ball and projects to have average power to both gaps. He's a good athlete with average speed. Silverio has played primarily at third base in the past two seasons. He has a strong arm and can make some spectacular plays, but he has to learn not to try to force difficult throws after making 39 errors in 124 games in 2011. Silverio will open the 2012 season as a 20-year-old, so Chicago can continue to be patient with his development. He may repeat high Class A, at least for the first half. If he doesn't become an everyday third baseman, he has the tools to play the outfield and could become a corner utilityman.
After he took a step backward in 2011, the Marlins gave up Martinez as part of the compensation package for manager Ozzie Guillen. They didn't help his development by promoting him twice for a total of six weeks early in the season and giving him just 20 at-bats. He took three bullets in a September 2009 drive-by shooting but recovered to play in the 2010 Futures Game. Martinez lasted as long as he did in the majors because of his defense. He has soft hands and a strong arm, and he uses his first-step quickness to get to a lot of balls. He's a true shortstop who's capable of handling second and third base as well. While Martinez' glove is ahead of his bat, he has a level swing and a good two-strike approach. He's never going to hit for much power but has shown signs of the bat control necessary to handle advanced pitching. He's an aggressive baserunner with slightly aboveaverage speed. Alexei Ramirez blocks Martinez's path in Chicago, just as Hanley Ramirez did in Florida. The White Sox will give him a long look at second base, where Gordon Beckham has stagnated. Martinez will have to show more with the bat to avoid being tagged as a utiltyman.
A clone of former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, Escobar advanced from low Class A in 2009 to Triple-A last year. Chicago promoted him in September but never gave him a start, though he did collect an infield hit against Justin Verlander in his first big league at-bat. Escobar is a ballplayer more than a toolkit, the type of guy managers and teammates want the ball hit to with the game on the line. He covers a lot of ground at shortstop but his solid arm isn't quite enough to pull off all the plays from the hole. He's a vacuum cleaner who makes the routine plays and hangs in well on double plays. While Escobar has quick hands at the plate, he has yet to develop the strength or discipline to be an effective hitter. He flashed some pop in the Arizona Fall League after the 2010 season, but it didn't carry over to Triple-A. He has slightly above-average speed but isn't a real basestealing threat. The arrival of Osvaldo Martinez creates immediate competition for Escobar, though Martinez could be moved to second base. Neither figures to displace Alexei Ramirez in Chicago, and Escobar needs a second season in Charlotte to continue his development as a hitter.
A prototypical sleeper, this blue-collar guy from Newark, N.J. somehow shot from high Class A to Chicago in a six-week period last season. After signing for $85,000 as a 30th-round draft-and-follow, Santiago spent his first four pro seasons in middle relief. The key to his rapid ascent was was a trip to the Puerto Rican Winter League after the 2010 season, where former Brewers lefty Angel Miranda helped him improve his changeup and develop a screwball. The White Sox sent Santiago back to Winston-Salem for a third straight year but made him a starter, and he came up to the majors for a short stay in July. He struck out Eric Hosmer in his debut and threw 4⅓ scoreless innings the next day before returning to the minors. Santiago's best pitch is a low- 90s fastball that spikes as high as 96 mph. His heater straightens out at times, which made the refinement of his changeup and addition of his screwball so important. They give him a pair of average secondary pitches to keep opponents from sitting on his fastball. His mediocre slider wasn't getting the job done. Santiago's control and command waver, and he'll need to throw consistent strikes to stick in the majors. He could be part of Chicago's bullpen in 2012, though the organization may want to send him to Triple-A and continue to develop him as a starter. The White Sox don't have much pitching depth in the high minors, so he should get an opportunity soon no matter what path he takes.
Wilkins is about as subtle as a jackhammer. He's a throwback masher who can hit the ball a country mile, and his power makes him a guy to watch in a system that hasn't developed a 30-homer player since Joe Crede. Wilkins skipped a level in 2011, spending his first full pro season in high Class A and ranking second in the Carolina League with 23 homers. Scouts don't like the way he wraps the bat behind his head, but he still generates enough bat speed to drive high fastballs to the opposite field. He crushes pitches that are down and in. He isn't as dangerous against lefties (.692 OPS last year) but crushed righthanders (.911 OPS). He draws a fair amount of walks and doesn't strike out much for a slugger. Chicago tried Wilkins at third base in his pro debut but moved him across the diamond to first base in 2011. He lacks range and agility at either corner, but he has solid arm strength and can make the routine play at first base. He has below-average speed but is aggressive on the bases. Wilkins will move up to Double-A and if he continues to develop, he ultimately could allow the rebuilding White Sox to entertain offers for Paul Konerko.
Matched against No. 2 overall pick Danny Hultzen in California's College World Series opener last June, Johnson battled nerves but held Virginia scoreless for three innings in a game the Bears would lose 4-1 after the bullpens got involved. Unlike the polished Hultzen, Johnson is more of a project who will need time to develop. The White Sox, who drafted him in the second round and paid him $450,000, love his strong build and arm plus the fact that he moved into a Friday-starter role as a college freshman and never gave it up. Johnson throws a 90-94 mph fastball that tops out at 96. Chicago believes he could gain velocity as he smooths out his delivery and becomes less of a max-effort guy. Johnson complements his heater with three offerings, the best of which is a hard slider that can be a swing-and-miss pitch. His curveball and changeup were the focus of hard work in instructional league. Johnson's fastball/slider combination makes him a late-inning relief candidate, but the White Sox want to see how he fares as a starter. He could become a mid-rotation option if he refines his fastball command. Johnson pitched only two innings after signing, so 2012 will be a learning experience. He'll probably open the year in low Class A and have an opportunity for a midseason promotion.
It might be time for the White Sox to throw Leesman into the deep water and see if he can swim. He handled a full season in Double-A last year, running his record as a pro to 37-18 after winning just six games in three college seasons at Xavier. Signed for $50,000 as an 11th-round pick in 2008, he continues to impress scouts as a savvy lefthander with four pitches and claimed a spot on the 40-man roster in November. Leesman's fastball sits in the high 80s, spiking to 90 mph, and sets up a plus changeup that he throws in the mid- 70s. He uses two breaking balls, with his slider a better pitch than his curveball, but both need work. He also has learned a cut fastball that helps him against righthanders. Leesman moves the ball around well and rarely loses track of the strike zone. Some scouts project him as a back-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues, but Chicago isn't sure if he has the secondary pitches to succeed with marginal velocity. He'll compete for a job in spring training and might get his first opportunity in the bullpen, though he'll likely open 2012 in Triple-A as a starter.
As unproductive as the White Sox have been in the Dominican Republic over the last decade, Olacio could get the organization headed in the right direction. He's built along the lines of C.C. Sabathia and has a power arm, though he's as raw as a pitcher can be. Signed for $125,000 after showcasing himself in the Dominican Prospect League in 2010, Olacio came to the United States for minor league spring training last March. He then returned home to play in the Dominican Summer League, where his lack of control was painfully evident. So too was his potential, however, as he struck out 42 in 38 innings and didn't allow a home run. Olacio already has a fastball that's consistently in the low 90s, and Chicago thinks it will get better as he grows into his body. When he was 14, he stood 6-foot-3 but couldn't hit 80 mph. He's still developing a feel for his curveball and changeup, for now trying to get by on his intimidating size and his fastball. Olacio has a max-effort delivery that gives him deception. He'll be tested in the United States in 2012, most likely at Rookielevel Bristol after he spends the first half of the season in extended spring training. Olacio has a high ceiling, but he'll need to refine his secondary pitches and learn to control the inner half of the plate to reach it.
Mitchell still is trying to bounce back from tearing a tendon in his left ankle when he crashed into an outfield fence in spring training in 2010, costing him the entire season. He was considered a potential five-tool player when the White Sox drafted him 23rd overall and signed him for $1.2 million in 2009, but he hasn't been the same guy since his injury. He never got untracked in 2011, hitting better than .231 in only one month and .134 in August, though scouts came away talking about his relentless effort and hustle. Part of national championships in baseball and football at Louisiana State, Mitchell needs to make adjustments in his swing and his approach. He chased high pitches en route to 183 strikeouts last season, the third-highest total in the minors. He's willing to work counts but gets in trouble when he falls behind. He has average raw power, though he'll have to make more contact in order to tap into it. A wide receiver at LSU, Mitchell runs well but isn't the plus-plus runner he was before he hurt his ankle. He's a solid center fielder with an average arm. Some club officials wonder if the collision with the wall two years ago has made him tentative in pursuing balls over his head. Mitchell will return to high Class A to open 2012, and Chicago will try to remain patient.
The White Sox remain intrigued by Rienzo's arm strength, though they didn't see as much improvement as they hoped for last season in his secondary pitches. Chicago opted not to add him to its 40-man roster, and was relieved when other teams decided he was too raw to select in the Rule 5 draft. Rienzo has overpowered lower-level hitters with his fastball, which sits in the low 90s and rarely straightens out. He has better command than his 66 walks in 116 innings last year would indicate. He had trouble finding the strike zone because the White Sox insisted he throw more curveballs and sliders. He still hasn't found a go-to breaking pitch, generally throwing slurves that break early and don't fool hitters. He sometimes telegraphs his changeup, which would be more effective if he could take something off it and throw it in the high 70s rather than the low 80s. Rienzo will move up to Double-A and needs to make strides rounding out his repertoire in 2012.
Short is one of the better pure hitters in the system and won the Carolina League batting title with a .316 average in 2010, but his numbers suffered when he moved up to Double-A last year. He has a stylish swing from the right side and generates solid gap power to both fields but needs to do a better job of recognizing pitches and controlling the strike zone after giving away too many at-bats to Southern League pitchers. To his credit, Short improved the other phases of his game in 2011. He played a strong center field and did a better job of using his solid speed on the bases. He runs down balls in the alleys and has an average, accurate arm. Because the system is so thin, the White Sox may promote Short to Triple-A in 2012. They gambled and didn't protect him on the 40-man roster, but he could force his way into the big league picture by midseason.
If it wasn't for bad luck, Phegley wouldn't have any luck at all. Since signing for $858,600 in the 2009 draft, he has been slowed by a series of injuries and medical woes. A wrist injury prevented him from making a trip to the Arizona Fall league after the 2011 season, but at least he played in 116 games and reached Triple-A. The year before was a nightmare, as Phegley had his spleen removed after medication was unable to control a condition known as idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, which results in low blood platelets. He has a level swing and solid two-strike approach, but good fastballs beat him too often. Some scouts think his bat speed will improve as he gets healthier, allowing him to make use of his plus raw power to all fields. Phegley has to hit because he doesn't do much else. He's thick-bodied and lacks athleticism, which limits when he's on the bases or moves behind the plate. He's a below-average receiver with solid arm strength and has nailed 48 percent of basestealers in his pro career. He figures to spend 2012 in Triple-A but should be first in line for a major league promotion if A.J. Pierzynski or Tyler Flowers is sidelined. The toughness he has shown should come in handy making the next step.
Catchers with offensive potential and arm strength are valuable commodities, and Blanke's rise to high Class A in his first full pro season showed what the White Sox think of him. They also sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he earned compliments for his work behind the plate. Blanke's size leads to some receiving and quickness issues. He made 18 errors in 103 games last season, in part because he often rushes his throws, though he used his strong arm to throw out 37 percent of basestealers. Blanke shows raw power in batting practice but has a long swing and hasn't fully tapped into it in games. He needs to tighten his stroke and do a better job with pitch recognition. As expected for a catcher, he's a well below-average runner. Blanke has grown into his body but he still has some awkwardness that Chicago expects eventually will get smoothed out. Coaches praise his ability to make adjustments. He should see Double-A at some point in 2012.
The switch-hitter steadily has improved with the bat since signing out of Venezuela in 2009, but it's his play in the field that has captured the White Sox's attention. Kannapolis manager Tommy Thompson, who started his career as a coach/instructor in 1988, says Sanchez is as strong defensively as any second baseman he has seen. He has excellent range to both sides and quick, soft hands. He hangs in well on double plays and has a strong arm that has allowed him to see time on the left side of the infield. Sanchez is a better hitter from the left side of the plate. He has a small-ball game, bunting and protecting the plate, but he'll have to make more contact and draw more walks. He has very little power, so he must focus on getting on base. He has average speed but gets reckless on the bases and runs into too many outs. Sanchez has the upside of an everyday second baseman in the major leagues, though he'll need to add a lot of polish first. He'll still be 19 when he opens 2012 in high Class A.
Moved back into the bullpen after spending 2010 as a starter, Jones continued to flash the two pitches that made Bobby Jenks successful with the White Sox: a triple-digit fastball and a knee-buckling curveball. After going on the disabled list in mid-May with shoulder tendinitis, Jones returned to record a 2.49 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 47 innings the rest of the way. While his fastball resides in the mid-90s and his curveball can be a true hammer, there's one important difference between him and Jenks. He never has commanded those weapons the way Jenks did when he was at the top of his game, though Jones is less wild than he was when he entered pro ball in 2007. He still pitches behind in the count too often and has to sacrifice stuff to get the ball over the plate, getting hit harder than he should. He has shortened his delivery in recent years but still has trouble repeating it. Jones has developed a cut fastball that sometimes is more trustworthy than his curveball, and he uses it to keep lefthanders off his fastball. After some work in the Puerto Rican Winter League, he'll probably open the season in Triple-A but could finish it in Chicago.
Infante impressed former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen by making five scoreless appearances during a September 2010 big league cameo, but never got a big league look last season. In fact he opened 2011 in Double-A, where he allowed just one run (unearned) in 12 appearances before spending the rest of the year in Triple-A. Infante's fastball averaged 96 mph when he was in Chicago, and that was no illusion. He pitches at 94-98 mph but still seeks reliable secondary pitches and command to go with his heat. He has a hard slider that gets groundballs when it's on but tends to be slurvy. He also has a mid-80s changeup that he used more when the White Sox tried to develop him as a starter. He leaves too many pitches up in the strike zone, which is why he doesn't dominate as much as his sheer velocity might indicate he should. After spending the winter pitching in Venezuela, Infante will get a chance to pitch for a major league job in spring training.
Jake Peavy has paid few dividends for Chicago, but his extended professional family led to one bargain. His agent, Barry Axelrod, is the uncle of Dylan, who signed with the White Sox two days after they acquired Peavy at the 2009 trade deadline. Axelrod signed with the Padres for $1,000 as a 30th-rounder in 2007 and was released two years later before heading to the independent Frontier League and hooking up with the Sox. He's a strike-throwing machine who works fast and challenges hitters despite less-than-overwhelming stuff. His fastball runs from 88-91 mph, his slider is average and his changeup is fringy. Axelrod makes it work with his feel for pitching and off-the-charts makeup. He often confuses hitters by pitching backward. His ceiling is limited to a No. 5 starter, but he could find himself alongside Peavy in the big league rotation to open 2012.
Martinez flashed five-tool potential when he made his U.S. debut in 2007, but his body never filled out as expected and a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in 2008 cost him valuable repetitions and some speed. The son of the late White Sox outfielder Carlos Martinez, Jose still catches the eye of scouts. His signature tool is his strong arm, which plays well in right field and resulted in 15 assists last year. He shows off his arm too much, however, which led to 14 errors. Martinez needs to settle down at the plate, too. He makes consistent contact thanks to his bat speed, but he doesn't walk much or make the most of his gap power because he lacks patience. He might top out at 10-15 homers annually because his swing is fairly flat. Martinez has a lost a step and now has fringy speed, though he does cover enough ground in the outfield. Ticketed to start 2012 back in Birmingham, he most realistically projects as a fourth outfielder.
Confidence can be a huge factor for a pitcher, and Walters demonstrated that by carrying Rookie-level Great Falls to the Pioneer League title in his pro debut last summer. He went on an 11-0 roll (including two playoff wins) as a starter, after working exclusively in the bullpen in his two seasons at Hawaii. He was named Pioneer League pitcher of the year and won the decisive game for the league championship. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who was signed for $25,000 as an 11th-round pick. Walters works mostly off a low-90s fastball with natural sink. Hitters in Rookie ball were baffled by his breaking ball, a combination cutter/slider with late bite. He also has a fringy changeup. Walters mixes his pitches well and rarely makes mistakes up in the zone. He limits damage by throwing strikes and not putting men on base. Though Walters may not be more than a future No. 4 starter, the White Sox want to find out more about him and may give him a nonroster invitation to major league spring training. They won't get too excited until he has success at higher levels, but they're also in need of some pitching prospects who can move quickly. He might get tested in high Class A to open 2012.
Kuhn has hit .314 in four pro seasons but hasn't figured more prominently in the White Sox's plans because he hasn't found a defensive home. He missed winning the Southern League batting title last year by just seven points. His confidence and plate coverage make him feel that he can hit any pitch. He works counts in his favor and has a knack for fouling off pitchers' pitches. Kuhn forces pitchers to challenge him and consistently squares up the ball, hitting line drives all over the field. He has little home run power but uses his solid speed to pile up his share of extra-base hits. Chicago could have used a bat like Kuhn's to spice up their stagnant lineup in 2011, but he has yet to prove he can handle any position well. A shortstop in college, he has played mostly second base and left field as a pro. He also has seen action at third base. He has average arm strength but limited range, and he profiles best offensively and defensively at second. Kuhn figures to open 2012 in Triple-A and await a chance to prove he can be more than an offensive-minded utilityman.
Because at 23 he was quite old for Rookie ball, the White Sox expected Smith to get off to a flying start in Rookie ball after signing him for $60,000 as a seventh-round pick. He did even better than that, combining for a 1.074 OPS between the Appalachian and Pioneer leagues last summer. He hit .478 in the playoffs to help Great Falls win the Pioneer League championship. Smith recreated the success he once had on the gridiron, as he earned the starting quarterback job at Pitt as a redshirt freshman in 2007. He set a school record with 202 passing yards in his debut--surpassing even Dan Marino--but he battled arm injuries and fell out of favor with coaches, so he eventually traded in his shoulder pads for catcher's gear. Smith played three seasons of baseball and ranked second in the Big East Conference with a .397 average last spring. He has solid discipline and recognizes pitches well, so he should continue to hit for average. He also has power to all fields. The key for Smith will be how well he can develop as a catcher. He's more athletic and quicker than most backstops, but his lack of experience shows up in his throwing mechanics and his receiving. He has an average arm and threw out 34 percent of pro basestealers. Chicago is intrigued by Smith's maturity and willingness to learn, and could jump him to high Class A for his first full pro season.
The 2011 season was disappointing for Danks, whose older brother John has won 54 games in five seasons with the White Sox. While fellow Charlotte outfielder Alejandro de Aza and Dayan Viciedo got a chance to show what they could do in Chicago, Jordan spent his second full season in Triple-A. He did set career highs with 14 homers and 18 steals, landing a spot on the U.S. national team for the World Cup in Panama and Pan Am Games in Mexico. Nevertheless, the White Sox declined to add him to their 40-man roster after he finished the season with 51 strikeouts in 101 at-bats. Danks is the best defensive outfielder in the system but has yet to show that he can make a difference with the bat. He has made only incremental progress as a hitter and finished with 150-plus whiffs for the second straight year. He has trouble catching up to good velocity and too often cheats to do so, starting his swing early and chasing bad pitches. Though he has size and strength in his favor, he makes a lot of weak contact to the opposite field. Danks hasn't let his hitting issues derail his overall game. He's one of the top defensive center fielders in the minors, thanks to his plus speed and instincts and average arm. He also has become a proficient if not prolific basestealer. Danks' window to play in the big leagues is closing, and he probably faces another Triple-A assignment to begin 2012.
Heath was drafted by the Mets out of high school and the Devil Rays and Angels out of Lake City (Fla.) CC before signing with the Braves for $245,000 as a 19th-round pick in 2006. He rode his fastball to Triple-A by the end of 2009, but Atlanta released him the following spring after he was caught in a prostitution sting during spring training. Since signing with the White Sox, club officials and coaches have given him high marks for his conduct. Heath throws 91-95 mph and pushes the upper 90s with his fastball, which features riding life. He backs it up with a slider more notable for its low-80s velocity than its bite. Charlotte needed him in a starter's role last year and he made the most of it, and he pitched well out of the rotation in the Venezuelan League. Chicago prefers him in the bullpen, however, because neither his curveball nor his changeup qualifies as an effective offspeed pitch and his control remains shaky after five years in pro ball. His strong winter performance landed him on the Sox's 40-man roster in November and put him in line to make his major league debut at some point in 2012. Until he throws more strikes, he won't be trusted as more than a middle reliever.
In order to access this exclusive content you must have a Baseball America Account.
Login or sign up