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Farm system making strides with depth of talent

Plenty of room to grow, but White Sox showing progress in development

Farm system making strides with depth of talent

CHICAGO -- Don't look for the White Sox near the top of any Minor League system rankings.

In fact, don't look for them in the top half or even in the top two-thirds.

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But a farm system that has been a frequent recent punching bag of pundits who expertly analyze such matters is on the rise. Not a precipitous jump, mind you, but a slow and steady climb to becoming a true asset.

They have added depth throughout the system via solid First-Year Player Drafts under director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann, their own player development, international additions such as Micker Adolfo and trades to go younger and more athletic in this current reshaping process. That depth becomes important when the need eventually arises for the White Sox to acquire a big-ticket sort of player on the trade market but currently provides the organization with overall competition that has been absent.

It's an improvement noticed by White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams, who told MLB.com at SoxFest that this young core has him as excited about the White Sox going into Spring Training as he has been since 2006. That particular spring was the one following a World Series championship.

This positive feeling started for Williams with the hitters' mini-camp at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., coming one week before SoxFest, where new acquisitions such as Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson and Jose Abreu worked out for members of the front office and coaching staff. That upbeat attitude extends to the organization's homegrown prospects.

"Where Trayce Thompson is, Tim Anderson is, Courtney Hawkins is, and I'm leaving out some names," Williams said. "Jacob May, I saw him playing when I went to Australia. Some of these guys are just … .

"Keon Barnum is going to be a monster, I think. I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of these guys in the organization. Things have gotten younger and more exciting in a very short period of time."

The White Sox theory concerning their Minor League system has been fairly consistent over the last decade. Those players are used to supplement the big league club, with Bobby Jenks, Brandon McCarthy and Gordon Beckham serving as prime examples, or used to help the big league club as part of a trade. See Chris Young, Gio Gonzalez or Eduardo Escobar as examples in this category.

There was only one season since 2001 and prior to 2013 where the White Sox were completely out of contention, lending the team to spend more or focus more on winning than absolute development. Last year's 63-99 failure helped the White Sox make a needed change.

"We were able to execute our long-term plan in a very short time," Williams said. "Each year that we put together our Plan A, B and C, we've talked about, 'Is now the year that we should turn it over and get younger and target guys who could help us and help us very quickly?'

"Well, we were always competing so it was hard to do. So we have a bad year and it gives us the opportunity to do what we had tried to position ourselves to do every year. I got to tell you, when we are talking about our target list and some of the guys we've been able to bring in since last July, I'm as excited as I've been in years to see this team take the field."

MLB.com's 2014 Top 100 Prospects places right-handed pitcher Erik Johnson at No. 70 and Davidson at No. 80. Johnson almost certainly will be part of the White Sox rotation, while Davidson becomes the team's third baseman of the future -- whether that future begins March 28 or in May.

Sometimes it's the sleepers that make just as big of a difference. MLBPipeline Draft and Prospect expert Jim Callis listed May, the third-round pick in the 2013 Draft, in that group. He pointed to May's "great debut in the admittedly hitter-friendly Pioneer League," while adding in his high level of speed and some pop in his bat.

Callis also stated that Adam Engel, an outfielder selected in the 19th round last year, fits the same May profile. Third baseman Trey Michalczewski, the team's seventh-round pick in 2013, not only earned Callis' plaudits but also received praise from fellow MLBPipeline Draft and Prospect expert Jonathan Mayo.

Mayo and Callis see the progress made within the White Sox system.

"It remains to be seen if some of the athletes in the system [Hawkins, Anderson, et al] reach their potential, but there's just more in the system as a whole," Mayo said. "It used to be that finding 20 guys for the Top 20 to talk about was challenging, but the back end of that list has a lot more potential big leaguers on it than it used to."

"After years of not spending on the Draft and not spending internationally, they're being more aggressive about paying for amateur talent, and it shows," Callis said. "Trading veterans for prospects rather than the other way around also has helped the system's depth, and they've had some encouraging breakthroughs from guys like Erik Johnson and Marcus Semien."

Selecting Anderson (first round), Tyler Danish (second round), May and Andrew Mitchell (fourth round) helped the White Sox have one of the deeper Drafts in '13, according to Callis. He mentioned the interesting prospects added from Boston in the Jake Peavy /Avisail Garcia three-team deal, with Francelis Montas possessing "a big arm" and Cleulius Rondon showing great defensive ability at shortstop.

Evaluating the White Sox system in the past has been tough, according to Mayo. They haven't developed many elite prospects along the lines of Chris Sale, but players have come up and made big league contributions. Depth becomes the biggest present difference, presenting a confident group of players who aren't overly worried about system rankings.

"If you read those ratings and lose sleep over them, then you are not really in the game for the right reason," said fleet-footed second-base prospect Micah Johnson. "I would rather have guys with talent that work hard and understand their game, and that's what I like about our guys."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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