We’ve heard the common names and options by now. Dayan Viciedo, if he’s still around, makes sense if a stronger defensive outfielder is signed in free agency. If Avisail Garcia fails to regain full arm strength from a torn rotator cuff, he could see some time as a DH. Of course, there’s always a chance the team can look to the trade and free agency markets as well.
AAA’s Andy Wilkins
At 25 years of age, AAA first baseman Andy Wilkins probably is not a guy who typically excites many around the game as a future MLB starter. The Arkansas product is set to turn 26 in September, and has been in the system since 2010, when he was selected in the fifth round.
Minor league lifers like Wilkins do not typically make it, and when they do, they don’t stick. However, the White Sox have a real reason to believe Wilkins has figured something out. That reason being that right now, he’s the hottest hitter on the planet.
After a slow start to the season for the Knights, Wilkins had a .306/.346/.531 line for the month of June to go along with five home runs, 12 RBI, and an .877 OPS. Not bad, right? Well, compare those to his July numbers: a .447/.456/1.000 line with 11 home runs, 29 RBI, and a 1.456 OPS. Oh, and that’s in just 18 games (as of Wednesday night). For the season, he’s at .281 with 25 home runs, 68 RBI (both categories lead the International League), a .313 OBP, and an .877 OPS.
Wilkins has begun to garner a bit of attention amongst die-hard Sox fans of late because of this hot streak, as he’s homered nine times over his last 10 games and four over his last two. A cool-down is evident, and just how hard and fast he falls over the next few weeks could determine how serious of a look the White Sox actually give him, if at all, come September call-ups. No matter how you slice it, though, this run that Wilkins has been on really since the start of June is one of the most impressive stretches of play we have seen from a Sox minor leaguer in a long time.
While he’s a bit old to suggest being a long-term fix in any sort of key role for the Sox, his minor league track record suggests he is at least worth a look either in September or during next year’s Spring Training. Aside from his first AA season in 2012 where he hit .239, Wilkins has hit no lower than .277 during any of his five minor league seasons, and no lower than .265 (last year in 58 games in Charlotte) at any level.
In addition, this year’s .313 OBP (which is on the rise, obviously) is actually his lowest at any minor league level, as he’s always been above .330 and walked at least 50 times over the past three seasons. The walk totals are way down this year (just 17), but given his track record, it’s possible the lack of walks this season is an aberration for Wilkins. His strikeout totals have always been a bit high (typically checking in above 90, and he’s at 74 this season), but he’s a guy who has always just found a way to hit.
AA’s Rangel Ravelo
Another 2010 draft pick, Rangel Ravelo was chosen in the sixth round out of Hialeah High School in Florida. After signing, Ravelo reported to Rookie-level Bristol and recorded and underwhelming .254/.291/.335 slashline with just one home run in 48 games. A corner infielder, it looked as if Ravelo had a lot of work to do.
However, something clicked for Ravelo in 2011, and it hasn’t stopped clicking since. He hit .384 in Bristol and .317 in Kannapolis in 2011, following that up with a .290 average in a full year at Kannapolis in 2012. Last season, he made the jump to Winston-Salem and hit .312.
Now, at just 22 years old, Ravelo is hitting at a .318 clip in AA Birmingham (as of Wednesday night), which is fourth in the Southern League. At just 6’2, 210 pounds, the power has never complimented the average for Ravelo, but he’s hit a career-high seven this season to go along with 28 doubles. Overall, he’s got a .318/.400/.465 slashline with 48 RBI and an .865 OPS.
Power is important for someone who plays the position that Ravelo plays, and would certainly be important for a 1B/DH platoon guy in the big leagues, but he makes up for the lack of consistent home run pop by being a high on-base (three seasons above .308), low strikeout (career-high 58 this season) type-hitter. This is now the fourth season in a row that Ravelo has consistently hit right around or above .300, and he only has one level left to prove himself at.
A Part of the Future?
While Wilkins and Ravelo are capturing some more attention this season, it’s tough to say what the future really holds for either of them. For Wilkins, he has a real shot to get called-up this September, and if one of Dunn, Konerko, or Abreu were to get injured between now and the end of the season, Wilkins’ age and performance likely gets him the call-up. Once Wilkins hops up to the big show, it’s safe to assume Ravelo would supplant him in Charlotte and get his shot to prove himself at yet another level.
If Wilkins looks competent against major league pitching and Ravelo doesn’t slow down in AAA, then maybe we head into Spring Training with both of these guys on the team’s radar heading into 2015. However, who knows what Rick Hahn and company will do to this roster between now and then, and this is all contingent on Wilkins and Ravelo performing at high levels to finish out this season.
Regardless of what the future holds for each of these first basemen, potential options for next season’s club emerging is something exciting to follow. With the play of these two first basemen, it doesn’t look like it’s only about the middle infield when it comes to prospects close to the big show anymore.
Photo Credits: Whole Hog Sports (Wilkins) and milb.com (Ravel0)