On a less-publicized level, though, don't discount the apparent resurgence of Jared Mitchell as a bright light from Arizona shining for the White Sox future.
"With the way he looked, I think that's one of the biggest highlights of the spring so far," said White Sox director of player development Nick Capra of the team's top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. "He's actually behind where we would like him to be, but he might be catching up pretty quick.
where to watch
|3||Trayce Thompson||Winston Salem||A+|
|5||Jacob Petricka||Winston Salem||A+|
|6||Erik Johnson||Extended ST|
|11||Marcus Semien||Winston Salem||A+|
|17||Michael Blanke||Winston Salem||A+|
"If he does what we expect him to do this year, you know, he might be a guy we look at toward the end of the year this year and hopefully next year," Capra said.
With the Minor League season getting under way, you can keep track of the White Sox top prospects throughout the year on Prospect Watch. And get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of the White Sox Minor League teams on the White Sox affiliates page.
Mitchell had better luck during Spring Training than he did two years ago. The left-handed hitter, who split time between football and baseball at LSU, tore a tendon in his left ankle during a Cactus League contest in Tempe, Ariz., and missed the entire 2010 campaign. He played in some pain during the 2011 season, when he fanned 183 times and hit .222, but by simply watching him run over the past few weeks, quite possibly the top athlete in the organization seems 100 percent healthy and ready to sharpen his baseball skills.
Many experts rating Minor League systems consistently put the White Sox at the bottom of the pack. They are lacking depth throughout the system, especially in the middle infield, but there's no question general manager Ken Williams and manager Robin Ventura have more choices to help the big league team in the immediate or not-too-distant future. There are also six homegrown players on the White Sox Opening Day roster: Sale, Nate Jones, Brent Morel, Gordon Beckham, Addison Reed and Hector Santiago.
"Kenny feels like he has some chips that if we needed to make a move, if we had to trade somebody, there are some guys that we have in the system who hold some value," said White Sox director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann of the system he has helped stock as the man in charge of the First-Year Player Draft for the team.
Here is a quick look at the 2012 White Sox Minor League system.
A White Sox fan in search of the team's future starters need look no deeper than Double-A Birmingham. That rotation features Nestor Molina, Simon Castro, Jose Quintana and Pedro Hernandez, who all took part in big league camp, as well as right-hander Cameron Bayne. If a starting spot opens up during the course of the season, there's a chance the White Sox would look at the Barons as quickly as they would check the rotation for Triple-A Charlotte.
Molina (Sergio Santos, from Toronto), Castro and Hernandez (both Carlos Quentin, from San Diego) all came over during offseason trades. Birmingham's roster also will feature relievers such as Nevin Griffith, Dan Remenowsky and Ryan Kussmaul, as well as position players such as Mitchell, Andy Wilkins and Jose Martinez.
Kussmaul struck out 88 over 57 1/3 innings for Class A Winston-Salem in 2011. Wilkins, who got a number of late-game Cactus League looks, hit .278 with 23 homers, 33 doubles and 89 RBIs for the Dash. He's primarily a first baseman, but also will get some looks at third base.
"He has looked really good swinging the bat this spring," said Capra of the left-handed-hitting Wilkins, taken in the fifth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. "He's also a kid we are really excited about."
Debuts and Draftees
Using a sandwich pick between the first and second round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, the White Sox made Keenyn Walker their first selection and 47th overall. Walker had 60 at-bats for Great Falls, where he hit .333 with 11 stolen bases, and was then promoted to Class A Kannapolis, where he dipped to .228 with 10 stolen bases.
The outfielder is similar to Mitchell, in that he's a great athlete with a football background who has a huge upside, baseball-wise. Walker batted .412 with 59 RBIs and 70 stolen bases for Central Arizona College in 2011, and is starting 2012 back in Kannapolis.
"Definitely a ways away, but he's got a lot of tools," said Capra of Walker. "We have to get him at-bats as quick as we can and only time will tell how fast he accelerates through the system."
Catcher Kevan Smith, taken in the seventh round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, hit .355 between stops at Bristol and Great Falls with nine homers and 48 RBIs. He's part of a talented young core of catchers for the team, including Josh Phegley (Charlotte) and Michael Blanke (Winston-Salem).
Trayce Thompson was part of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, but the second-rounder played his first full season for Kannapolis in 2011. His 24 homers and 87 RBIs, coupled with his strong Spring Training showing, have the White Sox excited, despite his 172 strikeouts.
"He's going to strike out, and I don't think we are concerned with that," said Capra of Thompson. "He's going to hit for more of an average down the road. He will be an exciting player."
New Kids on the Block
Castro and Jhan Marinez both moved from another team to the MLB.com's White Sox Top 20 Prospects list. But second-rated Molina is the player who looks to have the potential for greatest impact on this organization.
In fact, Williams would not have traded Santos and the team's possible six years of contractual control over the closer unless he received Molina, who finished 12-3 with a 2.21 ERA, 18 walks and 148 strikeouts in 26 games (23 starts) last season between Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Haven..
"Molina really stood out for everybody in Spring Training," said Capra. "If they need someone at the big league level, we have the luxury that if we have to go to Double-A, we can.
"He's a strike thrower. He locates his fastball down in the zone. Good breaking ball, good changeup. He has a split that looks like a big league pitch. He's got some weapons that are going to help him along the way."
Teams on TV
The Charlotte Knights are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2012 MiLB.TV package will include more than 2,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
Fans will get a chance to view outfielder Jordan Danks, who made great Spring Training strides offensively to go with his stellar defensive work, and could join his older brother, John, with the White Sox at some point this year. Marinez also opens there, as does southpaw starter Charlie Leesman, who will try to find his head-turning form from 2009 and 2010.
"At times, he goes through mechanical issues," said Capra of Leesman. "He tries to find something that he feels works for him that might not. If we can get him back to where he needs to be as far as mechanics, he's another one that hopefully can get a taste of the big leagues."
"We have more depth due to some acquisitions we made this winter, especially at the upper levels. It's refreshing to know that in Double-A and Triple-A, we've got some people that are close to being big leaguers." -- Capra