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WSI News - Season Features

WSI EXCLUSIVE!

Sox Prospects 2003 Wrap-up

by Randy Brace and Dave Schmitt

With the minor league seasons being over, it is time to take a look at what is coming up and what is going down on the farm. The following is our consensus top ten, based on talent, tools, and upside, with a little bit of opinion thrown in for good measure. After two weeks of arguing back and forth, and a week of research and writing, we have compiled this list, feel free to agree or disagree as you wish.

Jeremy Reed       

Reed went from a reach in the second round out of Long Beach State University to one of the top 5 performers in all the minors in only his first full season of professional baseball.  Reed is a guy who many would fail to recognize as a top prospect based purely on tools or the “eyeball test” which are some of the primary reasons he wasn’t on most teams’ draft boards in the first couple rounds.  He doesn’t have over-whelming power or speed, but all he does is hit.   

Reed has very good pitch-recognition and plate coverage as well as discipline.  Knowing what pitches he can handle and making pitchers throw strikes makes for a good hitter, especially if he can hit the pitch he is sitting on.  Reed can do just that.  He puts the ball in play with authority and covers the entire field.  Being left-handed only helps his cause.  As an outfielder, he has above average speed for a corner out-fielder and average speed for a CF’er.  A good-not-great arm and good instincts make him an adequate CF option for the Sox if he performs well in the Arizona Fall League and Spring Training.   

Reed will likely never hit 30 HR’s, but he has the makings of a .330-15-60 leadoff or #2 hitter with an OBP consistently in the .400-range.  Jeremy works his butt off and has done nothing but hit the cover off the ball since his pro debut.  Look for Jeremy Reed to make his MLB debut at some point in the 2004 season, just two years removed from being tabbed by most draft gurus as one of the biggest reaches of the early rounds of the 2002 draft and considered a fourth outfielder, at best, by many scouts.

 

Joe Borchard 


Joe Borchard

Borchard battled for a spot on the roster of the big league club in spring training ,and was rewarded with a broken foot. He battled this and other nagging injuries all season long, including a bout with wrist tendonitis that killed his power all season, but he is still the best centerfielder the Sox have that is even close to being ready to play at the big league level.. He came back at the end of Charlotte’s season to post respectable power numbers from both sides of the plate, though his K-BB ratio is still a concern. 

It will be up to the minor league coaches to bring out the strengths of Borchard’s abilities, he is a five tool player that has impressive power from both sides of the plate, aside from Willie Harris he has the best speed of anyone on the big league roster, and the rumors of his ability to cover center field have been greatly exaggerated, his short stint in the big leagues showed his ability to play the position on an above average basis, as well as one of the best arms in all of baseball.

 Joe will always be a free swinging high strikeout guy, but that is not always a bad thing, Jim Thome has found some success in that role, and he only hits from one side of the plate, combine that with power from both sides of the plate and you have a hitter that will make opposing managers think twice before calling to the bullpen.

 

Kris Honel 

Kris throws strikes, period. He is a three pitch pitcher that knows how to pitch, everything he throws finds the strike zone, he features a knuckle curve that breaks a foot and half to set up his changeup, he throws a fastball to offset the changeup. He is the rare high school pitcher that does not rely on his fastball to get batters out, he uses his changeup to set up his fastball. 

There was some concerns of his arm last year when it was thought he was injured, but it was more a dead arm issue brought on by pitching more innings than he has ever pitched in his career .Kris has moved from low A ball to high A ball and has made a spot start in AA, and has been dominant at every level he has pitched at. His strikeout to walks ratio has been good for a young pitcher, and has remained constant on every level he has pitched at. It is rare to draft a HS pitcher that makes it to pitch on the big league level, but  this looks to be a case of not if, but when. With his performance in the Carolina league playoffs he has shown that he can remain dominant under big game pressure, and has all the markings of a staff ace. 

Kris should make the step up to being the staff ace of the Birmingham rotation next season, and continue his slow but steady track to the big league level.

 

Neal Cotts 


Neal Cotts

Cotts, acquired in the much-maligned Foulke-Koch deal, has given hope to many Sox fans that something positive will come out of that move.  Cotts, a local kid out of Illinois State University, was drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2001 draft by the A’s.  Kenny Williams and Sox scouts, who have known about Cotts for a long time, were determined to include him in this deal and the pitching-wealthy A’s obliged.   

As a left-hander, Cotts uses a deceptive delivery to make his 88-91 mph fastball jump on hitters.  His fastball has nice movement and is rarely hit hard.  Cotts also has an effective change-up and an above-average curve.  He has a potent change of speed from his fastball to his 75 mph curve and his sub-80 mph change-up.  Changing speeds with his fastball as well as mixing in a healthy dose of off-speed pitches allows him to keep hitters on the wrong foot most of the time.  Cotts has been a strikeout pitcher at every level but has had problems with walks.  He will have to pitch more in the zone and trust his stuff and his defense in the future.  Cotts often times will try to strike out hitters that are already overmatched, and this leads to nit-picking at the corners, higher walk rates, and throwing too many pitches early in the game.  Periodically, Cotts will lose his release point and open-up his shoulders too early, as seen by most Sox fans in his recent stint with the big club.  In well over 300 innings of his professional career, he has yet to give up a HR to left-handed hitter.   

Cotts definitely needs some more time to refine his craft.  The Sox rushed yet another pitcher to the big leagues, but I expect Cotts to come through unscathed.  He has a tough mentality and not much affects him.  He has such good movement on all his pitches, if he just throws strikes, very few hitters are going to make solid contact.  Long term, Cotts doesn’t have as high a ceiling as other Sox prospects, but he does nothing but produce and get guys out at ridiculous rates.  He gave up only 67 hits in 108 AA innings, with 133 K’s and 56 walks.  A stint in AAA next year is on tap for Cotts, assuming he doesn’t make the Major League roster out of spring training.  Adjusting to more advanced and patient hitters is a crucial step Neal Cotts will have to make in his evolution into a Major League starting pitcher.

 

Jon Rauch 


Jon Rauch

Aside from being 6’11” tall and the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year in 2000, Jon Rauch has had a difficult time recovering from his 2001 shoulder injury.  Rauch was a steal in the 3rd round of the 1999 draft out of Morehead State.  Considered to have first-round talent going into his draft-eligible junior season, he dropped 50 pounds due to viral meningitis and slid to the 3rd round, where the White Sox made just a $310,000 investment in the future #1 player in the organization.  The shoulder injury and the troublesome recovery and lapses he has suffered are of considerable concern and are the primary reason he rates this low on the prospect list.  When healthy, Rauch is now close to being the pitcher he was in that fantastic 2000 season and showed at the end of the 2002 season during his short stint in Chicago. 

Rauch has fantastic mechanics.  Most scouts considered his injury caused by too much work from a long season, post season, Olympics, then basically straight to spring training and a questionable spot as the #5 starter in Chicago, where he pitched only once every 10 days or so.  Using a fantastic leg drive and consistent arm angles, Rauch’s primary weapon is location.  His extra length gives him an automatic 6-inches on his pitches almost no other pitcher in the history of MLB has had.  While he used to throw consistently in the 92-94 mph-range, he now works more often in the 90-92 mph-range.  As I previously mentioned, location is his primary weapon, not velocity.  He has an outstanding curve and a respectable slider he can throw when needed.  He likes to challenge hitters and has worked, when healthy, on developing a change-up the past couple years.  Jon is an athletic pitcher with a symmetric physique, not the rail-thin look of Randy Johnson.  Due to his size, he will always face questions about how well he can get off the mound to field bunts or squibs, although he can field his position adequately.   

His numbers in AAA are a bit deceiving, as the hitter-friendly park in Charlotte and his fly-ball tendency has resulted in higher than expected HR rates.  Following a short stint on the DL for soreness at the start of the second half, Rauch showed much better command and a considerable improvement in effectiveness.  A winter off and a healthy 2004 season could result in him finding a place in the Chicago rotation depending on the situation there.  Widely considered on the same level as Ben Sheets and Roy Oswalt in 2000, Rauch still has a chance to reach that top of the rotation potential if he can answer the health issues that have dogged him the past 2 seasons.

 

Brian Anderson:

 Following a fantastic season as a true freshman at Arizona, Brian Anderson battled injuries and struggled to make adjustments at the plate.  Anderson was able to put together a superb junior season to gain the attention of MLB scouts and prove he is capable of utilizing his considerable tools.  The previous summer, Anderson worked extensively with Arizona Head Coach Andy Lopez to rebuild his swing from scratch, shortening his stroke and trying to refine his approach at the plate.  Anderson still has quite a bit to work on.  A bit raw for a collegiate junior, he is still considerably more advanced than most any HS or JC player. 

 

Brian Anderson grades out above average in all 5 tools.  As a CF’er, he has an excellent arm that I would rate around 75 on the 80-point scouting scale.  He also gets his feet and body in excellent position to throw resulting in good accuracy to match with the pure arm strength he possesses.  His speed is not exceptional for a CF’er, but he is able to get a good read and jump on most balls.  He has enough speed to steal 30+ bases in the minors.  If given the opportunity to run, this would translate to 20-25 steals per season in the majors.  Nowadays, with less emphasis on stealing bases, intelligent base running is a more important factor, and he shows natural instincts on the base paths.  As a whole, speed is his weakest area, and for a player with his talents and good speed overall (8 triples his final NCAA season), that says a lot about his other tools.

 

Anderson showed a smooth transition to wood bats and showed it did not affect his power.  Taking BP at Dodger Stadium after signing, he hit several tape-measure shots.  Excellent bat speed and very strong forearms and wrists only add to his potential.  Experience for Anderson is the most important thing.  His injury will slightly slow his development, but, in all likelihood, he’ll be 100% by the start of spring training and begin in Kannapolis.  Anderson has the potential to be a perennial All-Star with 30+ HR potential and will stay in CF barring injuries or someone of considerable stature already manning the position.  His future is as bright as he wants it to be, and with the excellent work ethic he has already shown, I expect big things from Anderson in the future.

 

 

Ryan Sweeney

 Ryan Sweeney was the White Sox second round pick in the 2003 draft out of Xavier HS in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Since he was 9 years old, Sweeney has played in national tournaments and wood bat leagues trying to gain the recognition, exposure, and top-level competition not normally available to players from Iowa.  For years, Iowa High School players in the draft have been regarded as somewhat of an anomaly.  Every year or two, a player will come along that looks like a sure 1st round pick, only to have a bad BP session or test out poorly in one of the many pre-draft showcases.  As with Jeff Clement in the 2002 draft and Jeff Nelson before him, Sweeney’s stock dropped a bit after a poor BP session just a couple of months before the draft.  Nonetheless, Baseball America had him rated as the #3 corner OF prospect in the draft (#24 player overall) and as having the best strike-zone judgment of any HS hitter in the draft, something sorely needed in an organization not known for its hitting patience. The Sox had Sweeney as the highest remaining player on the board by a considerable margin when it rolled around to their 2nd round pick, 52nd overall, and despite taking a talented OF’er in the first round, Sweeney was just too good to pass up.   

Ryan Sweeney does everything very well.  At 6’5” tall and 200+ pounds, he is a big athletic kid.  His only ‘average’ tool is his speed, but at one pre-draft camp, he was timed at 6.6 seconds in the 60-yard dash.  As you’d expect from someone his size, his acceleration isn’t great, but once he get’s moving, he can really fly.  He worked extensively on his conditioning with a personal trainer for a couple months leading up to the draft, helping him gain 15 pounds and being in the best shape of his life.  He has a smooth and compact swing that many scouts have compared to John Olerud, but when I first saw him hit, his swing reminded me of Lance Berkman from the left side.  His size and athletic ability project him to develop more power as he continues to get stronger and matures at the plate, despite finishing his Jr. season of HS with a .950+ SLG%.  For the past 4 years, Sweeney has worked-out with wood bats exclusively, only using aluminum in his HS games.  Sweeney claims to prefer wood to aluminum and doesn’t expect to have much of an adjustment period going to wood 100% of the time.  Sweeney, who doubled as the staff ace for his HS team, was considered a better pitching prospect than positional player prior to wowing scouts at many of the winter and pre-draft showcases.  As a pitcher, Sweeney had a consistent fastball in the high 80’s, a good change-up, and showed a developing curve, despite not being allowed to throw breaking pitches until he was 16 years old. 

The Sox currently have him slated to be a right fielder, but it would not surprise me if his eventual position winds-up being first base.  He has good agility and is very fluid.  Being left-handed only further leads me to believe his future position is at first, where the Sox have no big-time prospects, as opposed to OF with Borchard, Reed, and Anderson in front of him at this time.  This is just a hunch I have and is not currently supported by any information from within the organization.   

When Sweeney was signed, the plan was for him to report to Bristol for a 2-week adjustment period before being promoted to Great Falls for the remainder of the season.  Unfortunately, after about 10 games, he pulled his hamstring running down a ball in the outfield.  That kept him out for 2 weeks, and in his first game back, he fouled a ball off his kneecap, forcing him to miss a couple more games.  Overall, he had a successful debut in Bristol before being promoted to Great Falls for the final 2 weeks of the season.  Overall, this kid has a nearly unlimited ceiling.  He will likely never develop into a prototypical 50 HR right fielder or first-baseman, but being a .320-30-110 (.400 OBP) type of performer would make him a border-line All-Star on an annual basis.  In my opinion, this is the low end of his potential.  He shows a great work ethic and determination to prove the other 29 Major League teams wrong.  With the recent successes of Brewers prospect Brad Nelson and USC super-frosh Matt Clement, I have little doubt Sweeney has the opportunity and ability to become an elite player, whether it be at 1st base or right field.

 

Robert Valido 

Prior to the 2003 draft, Robert Valido (#6 rated SS in the draft by Baseball America) was predicted to go anywhere from the second to the fifth round.  The Sox, still in need of improving the organizational depth and talent at SS, jumped on him in the fourth round.  The Sox have perhaps the best scouting of Florida of any team in baseball.  They were able to identify prospects like Andy Gonzalez and Ricardo Nanita early, but Valido was a slightly higher profile prospect.  He was the starting SS at Coral Park HS in Miami, a school that has a long tradition of top shortstops such as Luis Montanez.  Valido was such a good defensive SS, he forced the move of Sox 17th round pick and University of Southern Alabama commitment Guillermo Martinez to second base and Sean Rodriguez (#5 rated SS in the draft by Baseball America) was forced to transfer to rival Braddock HS in order to get playing time at SS.  Rodriguez, picked in the third round by Anaheim, has been praised as having the higher offensive ceiling, although he hit 40 points lower against the same competition in HS. 

Valido has a smooth defensive style and side-arm throw reminiscent of Nomar Garciaparra.  At 6’1” tall and still a pretty thin 180 pounds, Valido has trouble, on occasion, getting down on balls.  This is not a huge problem for him and is an easily correctible bad habit of most young shortstops.  He appears to move laterally very effortlessly and turns the double play with ease and has enough athleticism to get out of the way of hard slides on close plays.  As a hitter, Valido has a nice compact swing, although he has too much movement in his hands and doesn’t yet use his legs effectively to drive into the ball.  He shows occasional pop and a decent eye at the plate.  He doesn’t have the offensive ceiling of a Nomar, but he can be a very effective #2 or #7 or 8 hitter in the majors, depending on what kind of patience he shows at the plate.  Valido is not a burner on the base paths, although he has good instincts and is a smart base runner.  He runs a bit upright and that hurts him a little when getting out of the box. 

It is very unusual for most scouting services to rate 3 players from the current year’s draft in a top 10 or 15 list, but in this case, the athleticism and potential shown by Valido at a position of dire need in the White Sox organization warrants his inclusion.  Keep in mind, Valido performed on an equal or higher level than Andy Gonzalez did in the Arizona Rookie League in 2001 at one year younger and at a higher level of competition.  In 2001, Bristol was the White Sox’ advanced rookie team.  However, since moving to Great Falls, Bristol, where Gonzalez played his second professional season in 2002, is now the Sox’ lowest level of short-season ball.  Coaches and players throughout the Appalachian League commented on Valido’s polish in the field and impressive bat.  Valido made consistent contact and drove the ball more than most expected.  If he can build on his debut in Great Falls or Kannapolis in 2004, he could quickly establish himself as one of the top 5 prospects in an organization devoid of a homegrown shortstop for more than 20 years.

 

Arnaldo Munoz 

Arnie Munoz has been on the radar for a couple of years now.  Munoz is one of the seemingly few successful White Sox international signings, as he was signed out of the Dominican Republic at the end of 1998.  As a teenager, he was electric in AA and has averaged better than 10 K per 9 IP over his minor league career.  Following that successful season in AA in 2002, he went on to have a great deal of success in the Dominican Winter League, where many current and former major leaguers play each year.  There, he posted a fantastic 4-0 record with 4 saves, a 1.55 ERA and a silly 24 hits, 74 K’s, and just 11 walks in 40.2 IP.  He was the first pitcher ever to be named Dominican Winter League Pitcher of the Year and Rookie of the Year. 

After reporting to spring training, Munoz struggled with his control and velocity and failed to make the team.  Having pitched almost non-stop for the past 18 months, Munoz proceeded to get shelled in his AAA debut.  For most of the first half of the season, Munoz was sporting an ERA between 6 and 9.  He was dropping his arm down and losing any consistent slot, something he had only previously done when tired on the mound.  He sat out for a short period of time and, following the rest, he showed he was able to regain his arm strength and control.  He proceeded to dominate AAA for the second half, lowering his ERA to a year-end 4.75.  His pitching over the second half of the season cemented his place as a future contributor on the major league level, likely sometime in the 2004 season.  He is not a lefty specialist in the mold of a Kelly Wunsch.  Lefties and righties both struggle to hit against Munoz, and that is a huge plus for a team unable to find a left-handed pitcher capable of getting righties out on a regular basis for several years. 

He is a very diminutive pitcher at 5’9”, 170 pounds, and doesn’t overpower hitters with a 95 mph fastball.  Instead, he uses one of the best curveballs in baseball and complements it with a fastball he can throw anywhere from 87-91.  He also uses a still improving change-up and a slider he is able to throw with consistent control.  He tends to wear down if he is forced to throw many pitches over an inning or two.  For this reason, despite being a 4-pitch pitcher, he will likely remain in a relief role.  Some have suggested he could eventually be stretched-out into a starter.  In my opinion, this will not be a likely scenario unless he is able to improve his stamina and proves he can hold up for an entire major league season.  For the near future, Munoz is likely to be a versatile lefty reliever who can be left in the game for 1 to 3 innings and face both left and right-handed hitters without concern of match-up issues.

 

Enemencio Pacheco 

Pacheco, acquired last season from the Colorado Rockies in return for Sandy Alomar, was not 100% percent healthy and was not utilized well in the Rockies system. With the Birmingham Barons this season he was converted back to a starter and developed a change up to compliment his live fastball and sharp slider, and turned out to be one of the best on their staff, leading the team in innings pitched, starts, and wins. Pacheco is not an overpowering type pitcher, he is not going to reach back and power the ball past anyone, he is a control pitcher that forces a lot of ground balls, evidenced by the fact that he gave up five HR’s all season long, though this is helped somewhat by the fact that the Barons play in a huge ballpark. 

Pacheco will probably never develop into a staff ace, but his ability to simply get guys out will make him an effective middle of the rotation type starter. He is not the type to put up gaudy strikeout numbers, but his walk to strikeout ratio is better than 2-1, which is something you look for in a young pitcher. This season at Birmingham he walked 51 batters while striking out 116. 

It would not be surprising to see him invited to spring training with the big club in 2004 to compete for a spot in the rotation, depending on what happens this offseason, it is not uncommon for a pitcher to go straight from AA to the big leagues, if not he will probably anchor the rotation in Charlotte in 2004.

 


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