Yesterday the White Sox sent Brent Morel to minor league camp. I am surprised by this move, despite Morel having a terrible spring Rick Hahn seemed to indicate earlier in Spring Training that Morel was their starting third baseman. Unfortunately for Morel he has been dogged by a terrible spring audition which has seen he him hit for a .216 batting average with a .256 on-base percentage. In addition, he has only drawn one walk in thirty-seven plate appearances, while striking out in eight of them.
This is the right move by Hahn and the White Sox staff because Morel has shown that he is not ready to shoulder the load at third base from an offensive standpoint. Hahn also has players who seem like they can produce in Jeff Keppinger and Conor Gillaspie. Gillaspie, a left handed bat, has done very well this spring, hitting to a .278 average with a .357 on-base percentage. Gillaspie has been one of the best hitters on the Sox this spring and may very well be able to steal the starting third base job away from the veteran utility man Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger, like Gillaspie, also signed on to the Sox this offseason for three years, $12 million, and was supposed to take over the vacancy Kevin Youkilis left at third. Thus far Keppinger has shown the Sox no reason not to start him there opening day as he has hit an outstanding .500 in spring training and has reached base at a .576 clip. The Sox will have to choose who starts between the two when the season begins, but I believe Hahn likes his options.
Back to Morel, personally I am hoping this season will be a make or break year for Morel at Triple A. He will either accept that he is not cut out with the bat to compete for a major league level job, or he will find his confidence again and play like the reincarnation of Joe Crede, like he was supposed to. Meanwhile, the Sox will be comfortable enough at the Major League level to let Morel figure himself out.
Today the White Sox announced that they have signed seven players to minor league contracts. Catcher Bryan Anderson, third baseman Josh Bell, RHP’s Jeff Gray & Ramon Troncoso, LHP David Purcey, and outfielders Steve Tolleson and Stefan Gatrell are all expected to report to White Sox training camp at Camelback Ranch in one month.
The thinking behind these signings is to buy low on players who still have the potential to do above average, but have performed below average thus far in their career. Troncoso, a former Dodgers reliever had one decent year in his four years with the Dodgers, but never really seemed to settle in at the major league level. Josh Bell, a former Baltimore top prospect, is another player who was expected to be the future of his organization, but instead fizzled out once he reached the major league level.
While most of these players the Sox have signed have never seen big-league action, they were not signed for that purpose. Yes, bring on the rants, and calls for Rick Hahn’s head, but Hahn is building depth throughout the organization to leave margin for injury or underproduction by a current big-league player, and also giving himself the depth to be able to swing a potential trade. One thing that you learn in the big leagues is that you can never have enough arms and the signing of Gray, Purcey, and Troncoso, who despite not having much experience at the major league level, still have it, and can fill gaps in the Sox bullpen if necessary.
My favorite signing of the bunch is that of Josh Bell. The twenty-six year old was last seen with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012. In his time with the Snakes Bell was able to get fifty-two at-bats but only managed to get nine hits and collect four walks. Bell’s years in Baltimore were not much prettier; you can check them out here. Despite this lack of production, Bell still provides competition for the third base job, which it seems, will go back to Brent Morel, a player who was absolutely miserable for the Sox at third base in 2012. A little competition never hurt anyone, and you never know this competition may bring out the best in one or the other.
Hopefully some of these signings can contribute to the big league roster in 2013. If not, they didn’t cost much anyway. At least not as much as some other players who didn’t pan out in their contracts.
Consensus around the league has the White Sox farm system consistently ranking in the bottom three of the league. Despite this reputation of depleting our farm system, drafting badly, and not being patient enough with our prospects, the White Sox have groomed some very decent major league caliber players from their farm system in a relatively short time. Nate Jones a 2007, 5th Round Pick is contributed magnificently to the major league pen last year. Gordon Beckham and Jordan Danks, who were taken in the 2008 draft are on the major league roster with Beckham being our starting second baseman since 2010, and Jordan Danks just locking down the fourth outfielder job last year. Then the infusion of arms from the 2010 draft that included Chris Sale and future closer Addison Reed has rounded out key contributors the White Sox have drafted and bred for the Major Leagues.
Going into the 2013 season whitesox.com has ranked slugging outfielder Trayce Thompson, back flipping outfielder Courtney Hawkins, and pitcher Charlie Leesman as the top three prospects in the White Sox organization for the upcoming season. Hopefully in 2013 we will see one of these young men, and they will contribute to the big-league roster just as Gordon Beckham, Chris Sale, and Addison Reed before them.
Trayce Thompson is currently the White Sox number one prospect, and boy does he look the part as he stands at 6’4 inches tall, and weighs 200 pounds. Thompson is projected to have plus power and speed, and should be an exciting player to watch when does make it to the show. Yet, despite his immense promise Thompson needs more seasoning to perfect his game as he is still needs to learn how to work counts into his favor, and be more selective with pitches he chooses to swing at. But once he gets his eye and patience down pat, he should be major league ready and will hopefully be a fixture in the middle of the White Sox lineup for years to come.
Most White Sox fans remember the next guy from the draft day video of him doing a backflip shortly after being drafted by the Pale Hose. Fact is Courtney Hawkins is a flat out athlete. He checks in at 6’3, 210 pounds, and is considered by many to already have a major league ready body. Though Hawkins is considered to have quick hands and raw power, he hasn’t been able to fix his hitting mechanics to adjust to pitches other than fastballs. Hawkins needs to work on his moving parts of his swing, and also keep his head on the ball in order to progress to the next level. Hawkins is an average runner and should be able to get the extra base when he is all done developing and into the big-leagues. Overall, Hawkins is raw, but with the right coaching and fundamentals he should be an above-average outfielder with plus power, and a decent defender too.
Charlie Leesman is the third prospect of our top three according to whitesox.com, and he is also currently playing at the highest level out of the three. Pitching in Triple-A Charlotte last year, Leesman compiled a 12-10 win/loss record, 2.47 ERA, and a 1.34 WHIP in twenty-six games started for the Knights. Leesman is a southpaw who throws a fastball that hits around ninety miles per hour on the gun, and also throws a slider and a changeup. Leesman’s pitching style can be most compared to that of former White Sox great Mark Buehrle, as he won’t over power a hitter but he can get a lot of ground balls, which a good defense would turn those groundballs into outs. His fifty-two walks in 135 innings pitched last year, isn’t promising, but Leesman is still on the forty-man roster and has an invite to major league spring training. Don’t expect Leesman to be the reincarnation of Buehrle because he lacks the control, but you can expect him to be a potential 5th starter or a long-reliever for the White Sox in the future.
In 2013, don’t expect to see any of these names make an impact on the major league roster as there are still kinks that need to be worked out of every one of these guy’s games, and there are also current major leaguers blocking their path to a starting spot. With another year of seasoning the White Sox and their fans will be glad to know that these young players will only get better, and will have easier transitions once they taste the bigs.