Top Ten Prospects: Chicago White Sox
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Phil Rogers
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. Kris Honel, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 180.
Background: A local product, Honel went 16th overall in the 2001 draft, making him the earliest Illinois prep pitcher picked since Bob Kipper was chosen eighth in 1982. He earned all-star recognition in both of his full seasons. He helped Winston-Salem capture the high Class A Carolina League title in 2003 with two playoff wins, including the clincher.
Strengths: Since his mid-teens, Honel has thrown a knee-buckling knuckle-curve, and he’ll use it in any count. His fastball climbed back to 91-93 mph last year after dipping a little in 2002. He has a lot of natural movement, with late break down and away from righthanders. He gets deception from a natural snap at the end of his delivery. He repeats his delivery, giving him good command.
Weaknesses: Honel has enough fastball now, but his frame is so projectable that the White Sox continue to watch for him to develop more velocity. That’s all he needs to have front-of-the-rotation stuff.
The Future: The Sox rushed Jon Garland and Dan Wright to the majors but are more cautious these days. The second half of 2005 is a reasonable goal for Honel. He’ll pitch in Double-A this year.
3. Neal Cotts, lhp
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200.
Background: Unsung when he was traded, Cotts has become the best part of the Billy Koch-Keith Foulke deal for the White Sox. He started the 2003 Futures Game and would have won the Double-A Southern League ERA title had he not fallen a few innings shy of qualifying. His first big league callup lasted four starts, as he left a poor impression because of wildness.
Strengths: Cotts has averaged 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors despite a fastball that tops out at 91 mph. His motion makes his fastball look harder. His changeup is his best pitch, and his curveball improved last year. He does a good job changing speeds and using his secondary pitches.
Weaknesses: Cotts will have to iimprove his control before he gets another shot with the White Sox. Big league hitters didn’t chase his pitches out of the strike zone, and they didn’t swing and miss when his stuff came over the plate. He doesn’t have an obvious out pitch.
The Future: A strong spring training could put Cotts into immediate consideration for a spot in the Chicago rotation. More likely, he’ll go to Triple-A and be in line for a big league job in 2005.
4. Ryan Sweeney, of
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205.
Background: Sweeney had a chance to become Iowa’s first high school first-rounder, but a lackluster predraft showcase dropped him to the second round. Scouted as both a pitcher and hitter, he signed for $785,000. Because he had college basketball potential, the White Sox were able to spread his bonus over five years. Sweeney hit .327 in Rookie ball and drew rave reviews in instructional league.
Strengths: Sweeney is a competitor in an ultra-athletic package. He’s considered a pure hitter with gap power, in the mold of John Olerud. He has great plate coverage and surprisingly good plate discipline for such a raw talent. He has a plus arm, showing an 88-92 mph fastball and promising curveball last spring, and is suited for right field.
Weaknesses: Having put on 15 pounds of muscle, Sweeney looks like a power hitter but has yet to become one with a wood bat. He sometimes appears too pull-conscious. His fielding skills are raw.
The Future: The consensus is that he has slightly more offensive upside than 2003 first-rounder Brian Anderson. With his strong debut, Sweeney showed that he’s ready for low Class A this year.
5. Joe Borchard, of
Age: 25. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220.
Background: Borchard is under increasing pressure to justify the record $5.3 million bonus he got to forsake a career as an NFL quarterback. He has gone backward the last two years, largely because he chases too many bad pitches.
Strengths: Borchard’s athleticism and leadership skills give him an edge over most ballplayers. He generates easy power and can hit monster home runs, especially from the left side. He has a strong arm, which he once showed by throwing five touchdown passes in a game against UCLA.
Weaknesses: Strikeouts are a growing concern, especially because his walk totals have diminished the last two years. Borchard’s plate discipline has worsened even as the organization has emphasized its importance. He has become a particularly suspect hitter from the right side. He can play three outfield positions but is below-average in center, Chicago’s original goal for him.
The Future: After he played nonstop for 21/2 years, the White Sox gave Borchard the winter off. It’s unlikely he’ll hit his way out of the doghouse in spring training and should get a third season in Triple-A.
6. Ryan Wing, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170.
Background: Selected one round after Kris Honel in the 2001 draft, Wing has been in lockstep with him. He started and won the California-Carolina League all-star game last year and teamed with Honel to pitch Winston-Salem to a championship.
Strengths: Wing is a nightmare for lefthanders because of his arm angle and stuff. He has a low-90s fastball with hard, sinking action. He uses his sinker to set up an excellent slider. He doesn’t hesitate to knock hitters off the plate. He’s difficult to run on, leading Carolina League pitchers last year with 67 percent of basestealers getting caught against him.
Weaknesses: Wing sometimes struggles with his mechanics, which in turn leads to spotty control. That’s the biggest difference between him and Honel. Wing should improve his command with more experience.
The Future: Wing and Honel will team up again in Double-A this year. The White Sox have promoted plenty of pitchers from Birmingham to the majors, including Neil Cotts in 2003, and could get interested in Wing quickly if he has a good first half. More realistically, he needs another 300 minor league innings before getting the call.
7. Brian Anderson, of
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Background: After a Freshman All-America season in 2001, Anderson slumped as a sophomore at Arizona. He reworked his swing and his approach last spring, and it paid off as he went 15th overall in the draft and signed for $1.6 million. He made the most of the chance to audition for the White Sox, who train in Tucson and sent 16 scouts and coaches to watch him. Anderson got off to a fast start at Rookie-level Great Falls before being sidelined by minor wrist surgery.
Strengths: Anderson has all five tools and is a slightly better athlete than Ryan Sweeney. He’s a polished hitter who can work counts and wait for a pitch to drive. He runs well and is a plus defender in center field. He has an outstanding arm and was clocked up to 93 mph as a reliever in his first two years with the Wildcats.
Weaknesses: Anderson battled knee and wrist injuries in 2002, and his wrist bothered him after he turned pro. Doctors shaved down a bone causing him irritation, and he should be ready for spring training.
The Future: With Chris Young slated to play center field in low Class A, Anderson likely will go to high Class A for his first full pro season. His big league ETA is mid-2006.
8. Shingo Takatsu, rhp
Age: 35. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 160.
Background: Drawn to the city and the opportunity, Takatsu became the first Japanese veteran to sign with a Chicago team when he agreed to a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $1 million. He spent 13 years with the Yakult Swallows, surpassing Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2003 to take over Japan’s all-time saves lead with 260. Takatsu was at his best in the Japan Series, going 2-0 with nine saves and a 0.00 ERA—thus his nickname, Mr. Zero.
Strengths: Using a sidearm delivery, Takatsu is deceptive and durable. He has plus command and changes speeds on his sinker, slider and changeup so well that he has six offerings. He can throw his changeup like a screwball and make his sinking fastball move toward either side of the plate.
Weaknesses: There’s nothing overpowering about Takatsu. His fastball rarely climbs above 88 mph and often parks at 85-86. His control slipped a notch last year. For a sinkerball pitcher, he gives up a surprising number of homers.
The Future: Takatsu will work either as a set-up man or closer for the White Sox, depending on the performance of Billy Koch. The Sox hold a $2.5 million option on his contract for 2005.
9. Chris Young, of
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180.
Background: Young led Texas prepsters in steals in 2001 at perennial power Bellaire High, which went 34-2 and was ranked sixth nationally. He lasted 16 rounds in the draft, mostly because he was scrawny. He has filled out as a pro and ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2003.
Strengths: Speed remains Young’s best tool. He has been clocked at 4.0 seconds to first base from the right side of the plate. He’s always a threat to steal bases, including third. Young has learned to use the whole field while developing surprising power and improved strike-zone judgment. He’s an above-average center fielder.
Weaknesses: Young sometimes looks bad against breaking pitches. He needs to do a better job making contact to take advantage of his speed. He has a below-average arm.
The Future: The White Sox hope Young can continue to establish himself as he moves to low Class A. They have little need to rush him with Jeremy Reed, Joe Borchard and Brian Anderson ahead of him on the center-field depth chart.
10. Arnie Munoz, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 170.
Background: Munoz was pitcher of the year in the Dominican League after the 2002 season, and he paid for it. He barely had any time off before spring training, and his snapdragon curveball didn’t have its usual bite as he failed to impress in big league camp and started slowly in Triple-A.
Strengths: When it’s on, Munoz’ curveball is one of the best in the minors. He uses tremendous arm speed to get the same violent break as Barry Zito. Munoz’ fastball can touch 90 mph. Those two pitches account for his 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings as a pro and make him a scourge on lefthanders, who hit just .128 against him last year. He’s poised and controls the running game.
Weaknesses: Munoz continues working on his changeup and slider. He needs something more to get righties out after they torched him for a .339 average in 2003. The White Sox haven’t given him a chance to start because he’s a maximum-effort pitcher who wears down after one trip through the lineup.
The Future: The Sox appear set with lefties Damaso Marte and Kelly Wunsch in their bullpen, but Munoz has intriguing talent. He figures to arrive in Chicago sometime in 2004 and has Eddie Guardado potential.