On White Sox off-days throughout the season, Grab Some Bench! will feature a look at White Sox farmhands. We’ll give you an update on how the top prospects are progressing, news on interesting promotions, and information on streaking and slumping players.
Since the minor league season does not begin until the weekend, this first “Down on the Farm Report” will talk about who we should expect to see at each level in the minor league system this year.
AAA Charlotte Knights
As what’s always the case, there are plenty of familiar faces to Sox fans in Charlotte. The most interesting area to watch will be in the outfield, as top prospects Jared Mitchell and Trayce Thompson are expected to start for the Knights. Jordan Danks, who spent some time in the Majors last season, should round out the Knights outfield.
However, Brandon Short and Blake Tekotte, both of whom had some good moments throughout the spring also have AAA experience. It will be interesting to see if Rick Hahn elects to have Short and Hahan back up the starters in AAA, send them to AA, or just give them an outright release.
The most familiar name in the infield is Brent Morel, as he lost out to Conor Gillaspie for one of the bench spots on the big league club.
Top prospect and 20-year-old infielder Carlos Sanchez will start in Charlotte after rising through the system last year, and this year’s Spring Training legend Seth Loman should start at first base. Josh Phegley will likely handle the catching duties while being backed up by Bryan Anderson, two guys who saw plenty of big league time in Spring Training.
There are a lot of pitchers that may look familiar to Sox fans. Zach Gropper’s man crush and top prospect Simon Castro looks to be one of the anchors in Charlotte’s rotation, one that also will include Andre Rienzo and Zach Stewart (yikes).
The bullpen features a lot of guys who Robin Ventura used heavily in Spring action. Brian Omogrosso and Jhan Marinez pitched briefly in the big leagues last season and were finalists for a bullpen spot if Jesse Crain didn’t heal up quickly. Don’t be surprised if manager Joel Skinner elects to close one of those guys. Also, Deunte Heath, Daniel Moskos, David Purcey, Jeff Gray, and Ramon Troncoso likely round out the Knights ‘pen.
AA Birmingham Barons
After AAA, the status gets a bit unclear as to who is going to be placed at which level. However, one thing we know for sure is that the highly touted Nestor Molina, who came over to the Sox system in the Sergio Santos trade, will start the year in Birmingham. Molina struggled last season in Birmingham, and by now, the Sox probably expected him to be in Charlotte. If he has a good first few starts, don’t be surprised if he’s promoted to AAA pretty quickly.
After Molina, it doesn’t look like there are many promising prospects that will start out in Birmingham. One guy you may have heard of, though, is pitcher Jake Petricka, a second-round pick in the 2010 draft. Tyler Saladino, who has gotten a few looks in the infield by the Sox in some Spring Training action, should also start in AA.
Andy Wilkins, who’s hit 46 homeruns in two and a half minor league seasons, will probably man first base, while Brady Shoemaker will be in the outfield after hitting .300 last season between Winston-Salem and Birmingham.
High-A Winston-Salem Dash
If you’re into keeping track of prospects, this is the level to keep the closest eye on. It appears as if the White Sox are going to start out a good amount of their top prospects in Winston-Salem, including both Keenyn Walker and first-round draft pick Courtney Hawkins. Walker spent some in Winston-Salem last year and struggled, but if he starts off well, he could be in Birmingham before long.
Hawkins was good in rookie ball, Low-A, and High-A last season, but I wouldn’t expect the Sox to entertain promoting him to AA until at least the midway point of the season.
There’s not as much excitement amongst the infielders, but Marcus Semien has begun to open some eyes and is a Top 20 prospect in the system. He even drew praise from Hawk Harrelson during a few of the Spring Training broadcasts this season.
Behind the plate, the Sox seem to like both Michael Blanke and Kevan Smith. Both players are listed on Winston-Salem’s roster right now (according to the team’s website), but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them actually starts in AA.
On the mound, the two names to watch for are Erik Johnson and Scott Snodgress. Both players did well in eight starts each in Winston-Salem last year, and even started a few Cactus League games this Spring. Given those two things, I see this case just like Blanke and Smith: don’t be surprised if they are in AA pretty quickly, maybe even starting the season there. And trust me, you want to remember those names.
Low-A Kannapolis Intimidators
There aren’t many familiar names here, but the one you may have heard about is second baseman Joey DeMichele. Drafted in the third round last season out of Arizona State, Michele did well in both Rookie-Level Bristol and at Kannapolis. He’s a guy who can get a call-up pretty early if he hits well.