The White Sox’ farm system is in a strange place, just like the White Sox themselves. The big league club is in a state of flux, rebuilding this offseason despite being aggressive as possible contenders just one offseason ago. This winter, they jettisoned established players to help rebuild a farm system that was as thin as any in baseball.
That’s as much a knock on the White Sox system as it is a testament to Molina. A nice prospect, Molina is not the type of high-ceiling player you want as the crown jewel of your farm system. He’s a pitcher with above-average stuff and plus command who profiles as either a back-of-the-rotation starter who’s almost big league ready or possibly a late-inning reliever.
If Molina isn’t the best prospect in the White Sox system, it’s because of Addison Reed. Reed falls into the same category as Molina, in that it’s still uncertain whether he will start or relieve, but Reed functions with much more electric stuff. If Reed ends up in a bullpen, he will likely be closing, and he could play that role in Chicago this season. He’s started only two games as a professional, but he has the repertoire to do so if the White Sox choose to stretch him out. Otherwise, he could be a dominant reliever.
Yet another player in the starter/reliever flux is the player the White Sox got in return for Carlos Quentin, Simon Castro, formerly of the Padres. Castro entered last season in the Padres farm system as the type of high-ceiling pitcher the White Sox lacked in their system. Lack of command and mechanical issues led to a disaster of a season in 2011 for Castro, but also is likely what allowed the White Sox to pluck him from the Padres this winter. If he can get his issues worked out, he could still be a mid-rotation starter, but with his mid-90s fastball and lack of a real change-up, he could also be destined for the bullpen.
The starter/reliever development quandary also includes Jacob Petricka, a right-hander with a legitimate 100 mph arm, but questionable secondary pitches. At least Petricka is currently working as a starter in the minors, and will continue to do so until he proves otherwise.
This is the issue with the White Sox system. Lots of interesting arms, but lots of question marks.
The same applies to many of their top position players.
Their top pick in the 2009 draft was Jared Mitchell, a two-sport athlete at LSU. He’s been largely forgotten for the past two years after blowing out his Achilles making a spectacular catch in a 2010 spring training game, an injury that cost him the entire 2010 season. This was especially devastating for a player like Mitchell who relies on his athleticism to make up for lack of baseball experience, and who needed all the professional at-bats he could get after splitting time in college with his football duties.
Mitchell came back and played a full season last year, but the results weren’t what the Sox had hoped to get out of him by this time in his career. Mitchell hit just .222 and struck out 183 times. He’s always been a high-risk prospect, but that type of swinging and missing doesn’t bode well for his future development, especially when it comes with only nine home runs.
Trayce Thompson had similar contact issues in 2011, batting just .249 and striking out in almost 29 percent of his at-bats, but he brought 24 homers and 36 doubles to the table with all those whiffs. While Thompson’s contact issues are still significant, his production in spite of it still makes him an intriguing prospect.
Others to watch
Charlie Leesman: Leesman is a nice prospect who should be a back-of-the-rotation starter when it’s all said and done. He struggled more than expected in Double-A last season, mainly because his control wasn’t great. He doesn’t miss enough bats to miss the strike zone, but if he can just hit the mitt a little more often, he’ll turn into a usable starter in the next year or so.
Jordan Danks: The brother of current White Sox starter John Danks swings and misses too often to ever hit for a high average, and doesn’t have the power to go along with it. If he could become even an average hitter, his defense in center field would make him a very usable player.
Keenyn Walker: The Sox’ first pick in this past year’s draft (47th overall) is a big (6-foot-3) switch-hitter with tools out the wazoo. We’ll see if he can hit.