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January 12, 2007

Future Shock

Chicago White Sox Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
None
Very Good Prospects
1. John Danks, lhp
2. Ryan Sweeney, cf/rf
3. Josh Fields, 3b
Good Prospects
4. Gio Gonzalez, lhp
5. Charlie Haeger, rhp
Average Prospects
6. Aaron Cunningham, lf
7. Lance Broadway, rhp
8. Kyle McCulloch, rhp
9. Chris Carter, 1b
10. Nick Massett, rhp

1. John Danks, lhp
DOB: 4/15/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2003, Texas HS
What he did in 2006: 4.15 ERA at AA (69.1-74-22-82); 4.33 at AAA (70.2-67-34-72)
The Good: Young lefthander found success at Triple-A thanks to effective three-pitch mix. Curveball is best offering, but fastball also has plus velocity for a southpaw, sitting at 90-92 mph. Changeup is more than just usable, and projects as a third plus pitch.
The Bad: Danks has an annoying habit of getting hit hard initially after each promotion and needing to adjust each time. His fastball can be a little too true and he has a tendency to work high in the zone, which has led to an elevated home run rate.
The Irrelevant: ERA in first seven Pacific Coast League starts: 5.97. ERA in last seven: 2.75.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: An above-average big league starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. By trading Brandon McCarthy, White Sox GM Kenny Williams gained a new No. 1 prospect, but left a hole at the bottom of the rotation that Danks is not ready to step into, according to most. Still, the White Sox feel he'll provide much greater long-term value.

2. Ryan Sweeney, cf/rf
DOB: 2/20/85
Height/Weight: 6-4/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 2nd round, 2003, Iowa HS
What he did in 2006: .296/.350/.452 at AAA (492 PA); .229/.229/.229 at MLB (35 PA)
The Good: Scouts love the size, the picture-perfect swing, the power potential and the plus outfield arm. Has yet to have a breakout campaign but has held is own despite consistently being a year ahead of most high school picks from his class. Just enough range, thanks to good instincts, to play all three outfield positions.
The Bad: Has completed a year of Triple-A, yet we still need the word 'potential' when talking about his power, which will likely top out at about 20 home runs annually, at most. Overly aggressive at the plate, with tremendous plate coverage almost working against him at times. Can hold his own in center, but not in the long-term.
The Irrelevant: Sweeney hit .337/.382/.558 when leading off an inning.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting big league outfielder--chances for above-average production are good, chances for star-level production are not.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Both the White Sox and manager Ozzie Guillen are enamored with Sweeney, despite a big league debut that including zero walks and zero extra-base hits in 35 at-bats. Brian Anderson is on the market to make room for him.

3. Josh Fields, 3b
DOB: 12/14/82
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, Oklahoma State University
What he did in 2006: .305/.379/.515 at AAA (526 PA); .150/.320/.400 at MLB (25 PA)
The Good: Former football star continued transition to the diamond with breakout season at Triple-A. Surprisingly well-rounded set of tools including plus power, above-average speed and excellent arm at the hot corner.
The Bad: Past the arm, Fields is a sloppy defender, but it's more an issue of fundamentals, and nobody thinks he needs to move. Power-only swing is a bit long, and his strikeout rate will likely always be high.
The Irrelevant: Fields holds the Oklahoma State career record with 55 touchdown passes and set a Cotton Bowl record with 307 yards passing.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A lot like Joe Crede, but without the glove.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Fields is blocked for two more years by Crede, but that doesn't mean he's not going to play in the majors. With Kenny Williams, a trade is always possible, as is a switch to the outfield if he returns to Triple-A.

4. Gio Gonzalez, lhp
DOB: 9/19/85
Height/Weight: 5-11/185
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, Florida HS
What he did in 2006: 4.66 ERA at AA (154.2-140-81-166)
The Good: Averaged over a strikeout per inning in Double-A as a 20-year-old. Fastball has average-to-good velocity for a southpaw (88-91 mph), but curveball is a plus-plus pitch that generates swings and misses whether it's thrown for strikes or not. Changeup is average.
The Bad: Gonzalez' control is either there or not, depending on the day. He is a flyball pitcher who is prone to giving up home runs, and he doesn't get much of a downward plane on his fastball because of his height.
The Irrelevant: Gonzalez missed the end of his senior season at Monsignor Pace High School when his mother got into an argument with the head coach about the lack of playing time for Gonzalez' little brother.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 4 starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. The White Sox were the original team to draft Gonzalez, and now they've reacquired him in the Freddy Garcia trade. He'll begin the year at one of the two upper level teams, depending on the spring training numbers game. At his age, he can afford a return to Double-A.

5. Charlie Haeger, rhp
DOB: 9/19/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 25th round, 2001, Michigan HS
What he did in 2006: 3.07 ERA at AAA (170-143-78-130); 3.44 ERA at MLB (18.1-12-13-19)
The Good: Knuckleballers show up in the minor leagues here and there, but Haeger has found much more success than some of the recent versions. He's a student of the pitch, working with both Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield to hone it.
The Bad: Like most knuckleballers, there are consistency and command issues.
The Irrelevant: After pitching his first two seasons in the Arizona Complex League with a 5.13 ERA as a "normal" pitcher, Haeger retired before re-inventing himself with the knuckleball.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: a big league pitcher, it's hard to project a role for players like this, much like how hard it is to rank them.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Haeger had a tough big league debut in an emergency start last May, but he was impressive out of the bullpen in September. He'll compete for the open No. 5 starter job in spring training, the good news being that a relief job in the big leagues is the likely consolation prize.

6. Aaron Cunningham, lf
DOB: 4/24/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 6th round, 2005, Everett (Washington) JUCO
What he did in 2006: .305/.386/.496 at Low A (402 PA)
The Good: The rare decent bat in the system, Cunningham came on strong in the second half after dealing with a nagging ankle injury early in the year. Quick wrists and a compact swing allow him to make hard contact to all fields. Above-average runner.
The Bad: Below-average outfield skills limit Cunningham to left field, so he'll need to turn some of his many doubles into home runs in order to project as a starter. Better pitch recognition would help in that task.
The Irrelevant: Cunningham was penciled in at every slot but cleanup in the Kannapolis lineup last year for at least one game.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: An average corner outfielder.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. In a system all but void of bats, Cunningham is one of the few bright spots. He'll spend 2007 in the Carolina League.

7. Lance Broadway, rhp
DOB: 8/20/83
Height/Weight: 6-4/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, Texas Christian University
What he did in 2006: 2.74 ERA at AA (154.1-160-40-111); 3.00 ERA at AAA (6-5-1-6)
The Good: Strike-throwing machine has two above average secondary pitches with outstanding curveball and very good change. High stamina pitcher who maintains his stuff late into games.
The Bad: Broadway's fastball is fringe-average at 88-91, leaving him without a real out pitch he can blow by hitters as the curveball tends to simply induce bad contact.
The Irrelevant: Broadway pitched in high school at Grand Prairie High in Texas, the same school that produced Kerry Wood.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 3-4 starter, with little chance for any more than that.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Broadway is ready for Triple-A and likely will make his MLB debut at some point in 2007.

8. Kyle McCulloch, rhp
DOB: 3/20/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, University of Texas
What he did in 2006: 1.61 ERA at Rookie level (22.1-19-7-27); 4.08 ERA at High A (35.1-37-17-21).
The Good: Command and control righthander relies more on secondary pitches with good curve and very good change. Man, that sounds familiar.
The Bad: High 80s fastball is slightly below average, leaving him without a real out pitch... there it is again! That déjà vu feeling!
The Irrelevant: McCulloch's 1.61 ERA in the Pioneer League needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as while he allowed just four earned runs in 22.1 innings, 11 unearned runs crossed the plate.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 3-4 starter, with little chance for any more than that. Thank god for copy and paste.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Drafted one year before Broadway, McCulloch will begin the year at Double-A Birmingham. Had he been born in 1984 instead of 1985, I could just repeat the Broadway comment once again.

9. Chris Carter, 1b
DOB: 12/18/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 15th round, 2005, Nevada HS
What he did in 2006: .130/.231/.261 at Low A (52 PA); .299/.398/.570 at Rookie level (294 PA)
The Good: After flunking out of the Sally League in pro debut, massive slugger rebounded to lead the Pioneer League in extra-base hits, home runs and total bases. Good pitch recognition allows him to both draw walks and recognize those pitches he can drive--while doing so when they arrive thanks to plus-plus raw power.
The Bad: Nearly all of Carter's swings looks like an over swing, and even in his highly successful Pioneer League campaign; he still struck out a ton. Limited athletically to first base, and he's not very good there.
The Irrelevant: After never getting more than one hit in 13 Low A games, Carter began his Pioneer League campaign with three straight mulit-hit efforts, going 6-for-10 with a pair of home runs.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A big ol' hacking slugger.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very High. Carter has the best raw power in the system, and he can keep himself on the prospect radar with some success in a return engagement to Kannapolis.

10. Nick Masset, rhp
DOB: 5/17/82
Height/Weight: 6-4/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 8th round, 2000, St. Petersburg (Florida) JUCO (DNF)
What he did in 2006: 2.06 ERA at AA (48-38-20-40); 4.81 ERA at AAA (67.1-79-28-65); 4.15 ERA at MLB (8.2-9-2-4).
The Good: 92-94 mph fastball touches 96 and features late, heavy sink. Curveball and changeup are both at least average and plus at times.
The Bad: Masset has a sizeable platoon split, with lefthanders hitting him hard. His stuff grades out more higher than his stuff does by a significant margin without a good explanation as to why.
The Irrelevant: Masset suddenly became a strike-throwing machine this winter in Mexico, walking just two in 20.2 innings and registering 15 saves in 20 appearances.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid big league reliever who can possibly deliver emergency starts here and there.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Acquired from Texas in the Brandon McCarthy deal, Masset will be given a good opportunity to earn a big league bullpen job in spring training.

The Sleeper

Second baseman John Shelby slipped to the fifth round last June after a disappointing junior year at Kentucky, but he looked good in his pro debut and has good speed to go with above-average power for the position.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. John Danks, lhp
2. Josh Fields, 3b
3. Ryan Sweeney, cf/rf
4. Gio Gonzalez, lhp
5. Charlie Haeger, rhp
6. Brian Anderson, cf
7. Aaron Cunningham, lf
8. Lance Broadway, rhp
9. David Aardsma, rhp
10. Kyle McCulloch, rhp

Anderson is hoping for one more chance at the center field job, but the team looks like they want to go with Sweeney. Aardsma was arguably the Cubs' best reliever in the second half of the season, making a return to effectiveness that was as surprising as the return of the mid-90s velocity on his fastball. Bobby Jenks misses his chance to sit at No. 1 by just barely missing the age cut.

The White Sox system is a bad one, as the drop off in talent after the first five prospects is sizeable. While Kenny Williams' trading ways have played a factor, some of the most boring drafts in recent memory play a larger one.

Next: The Cleveland Indians.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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