White Sox pipeline boasts proven track record
Top prospect Hawkins making impressive strides in short time period
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said he doesn't know where the team's farm system ranks among the other organizations in the league, but he thinks it's serving its purpose just fine.
"The function of the Minor League system for me is twofold: provide impact players for the big league club, and two, provide potential assets that we could trade to get players to big league club," Hahn said. "From my standpoint, the Minor League system is doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing."
That's because the White Sox system has produced big league talent like closer Addison Reed, ace left-hander Chris Sale, left fielder Dayan Viciedo and relievers Nate Jones and Hector Santiago. Chicago has also used prospects to acquire competitive talent midseason, such as Kevin Youkilis, Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano last season, and third baseman Conor Gillaspie before this year.
But there's little question what remains in the pipeline isn't as prosperous as other clubs. ESPN analyst Keith Law ranked Chicago's system 28th out of 30 this February, and Baseball America ranked it second to last in March.
That's not to say the cupboard is barren. When Chicago prospect Courtney Hawkins performed a back flip after he was selected 13th overall in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, it represented a change in direction. Chicago's farm system was depleted, and the organization was hoping young athletic prospects like Hawkins -- who was drafted straight out of high school -- might revitalize its future outlook.
One year later, Hawkins is already ranked as MLB.com's No. 1 prospect in Chicago's system and has consistently shown his potential is real. The outfielder started last season in rookie ball but finished in the Carolina League playoffs. He's now playing at Class A Advanced Winston-Salem and has already hit 11 home runs in 31 games after missing the beginning of the season with a shoulder injury.
"He's been pretty good for a 19-year-old kid just out of high school," director of player development Nick Capra said.
Hawkins is still projecting as a center fielder because of his above-average speed, but if he continues to develop, he might move to a corner-outfield spot. He still needs to refine his approach at the plate, cut down on his 56 strikeouts and improve his .289 on-base percentage, but that's to be expected for someone Hawkins' age. If he can alter the all-or-nothing results, he could hit Chicago as soon as 2015.
The White Sox renewed their commitment to taking athletic high-potential bats with their first-round pick in Thursday's Draft. With Hawkins and a host of other outfield prospects -- including 2009 first-round pick Jared Mitchell and second-round pick Trayce Thompson, the brother of Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson -- waiting in the wings, Chicago selected an infielder this year in East Central Community College shortstop Tim Anderson.
"We're looking at a 19-year-old junior college kid that hasn't played a lot of baseball," Capra said. "He's very, very athletic. He shows very good action at shortstop, although there are some things that need to be cleaned up offensively."
The path to the big leagues at short won't be easy for Anderson, as Alexei Ramirez has the position locked down for the near future. Ramirez is in the second season of a four-year, $32.5 million contract, and Gordon Beckham currently resides at second. If Anderson pushes for Major League time sooner rather than later, the versatile infielder may need to make a switch, especially with infielder Carlos Sanchez -- the organization's No. 4 prospect -- playing at Triple-A Charlotte this season. The White Sox signed Sanchez in 2009, and he could see time as a Major League backup as soon as this year. He's hitting .294 with 16 RBIs in 54 games with Charlotte.
"You always try to look down the road," Capra said. "We're really excited about bringing this kid in. He's very athletic, and we can't wait to get our hands on him."
The White Sox selected Coastal Carolina outfielder Jacob May with their third-round pick, but otherwise emphasized addressing the lack of depth in their current pitching prospects. They took Florida high school standout Tyler Danish with their second-round pick and used six of their eight Day 2 selections on pitchers.
"We were looking for pitchers that profile well in our ballpark, sinkerball pitchers that keep the ball on the ground and in the ballpark," Capra said. "I think it's our philosophy to always take the best possible body, and our scouts have had a good history of doing that.
Erik Johnson, the organization's second-rounder in 2011, has proved to be the best pitching prospect in the stockpile right now. He's 6-2 with a 2.53 ERA in 12 starts for Double-A Birmingham this season. He has four average or better pitches in his arsenal, and his fastball touches the mid-90s at times. The right-hander out of Cal could be Major-League ready by next season, and No. 6 prospect Scott Snodgress isn't far behind him.
The left-hander held a 1.50 ERA in a starts for Winston-Salem last season but has started off 2013 a little slow. In 12 starts with Birmingham, he's 7-4 with a 4.54 ERA. He needs to improve his command and could be a candidate to switch to the bullpen once he reaches the Majors.
"The progress has really taken off with Erik Johnson. It's just been a great surprise," Capra said. "The scouts saw his mentality and saw his pitchabilty. He's taken off with it and put himself in a position where the big league club is talking about him. [Scott] Snodgress has a pretty good pace also. He might be a step behind Johnson right now, but we're obviously very excited about his progress, also."
This is Hahn's first year calling the shots, with former general manager Kenny Williams now serving as the executive vice president of the team, but the core group of scouts and decision makers has stayed constant over the last five or six years. Director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann said that comfort level enabled him to take well-calculated risks in this year's Draft, as the White Sox continued to restock the pipeline.
Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.