COMMENTARY | The Chicago White Sox have disappointingly fallen far from contention at the MLB level. Fortunately, that has no bearing on the strength of the team's farm system, which is likely to be bolstered shortly via some trades of big leaguers. The White Sox's system has long been noted as weak, a product of frequent trades to acquire veterans and a lack of draft spending. Recently, there has been a turn in this philosophy in the organization after draft spending rules have changed. While the system is still not good by any stretch, all experts would agree that it has gotten much stronger recently and is no longer the league's worst.
With that said, let's take a look at who is hot and who has disappointed thus far. Some will repeat from my last minor league update , some have switched from cold to hot, and a couple others are neither hot nor cold any longer.
Josh Phegley - C, Triple-A Charlotte
Phegley started hot and remains hot. After having a disappointing and injury-riddled career prior to this season, he continues to thrive in Charlotte. He is certainly the most MLB-ready position player in the White Sox's system. Since he is blocked by another young player in Tyler Flowers, the White Sox have been in no hurry to promote him to the major leagues.
Since Phegley has almost never posted very good numbers at any level prior this one, the White Sox are playing things slowly. They want him to really prove that his start is no fluke and become fully comfortable with the pitching in Triple-A. He did slow down slightly in June, but far from enough to constitute a slump. He still owns a .317 average, a .962 OPS, and a team-leading 14 home runs.
Micah Johnson - 2B, Single-A Kannapolis
Another repeat from my previous list, Johnson has by far the gaudiest statistics in the system. The Indiana product is batting .342 with 17 doubles, 11 triples, and 6 home runs to go with 42 RBI out of the leadoff spot. Even more impressively, his scorching pace on the basepaths continues as he has stolen 61 bases in 80 attempts.
Defensively, there is much work to do. Johnson has committed 21 errors and is a very raw defender. He is not far from a promotion to Advanced-A Winstom-Salem or even possible Double-A Birmingham, but at this point his glove is slowing down his potential. Look for him to get switched to the outfield if his bat and legs continue to show so well.
Trayce Thompson - CF, Double-A Birmingham
Trayce, son of Mychal and brother of Klay, was on my "cold" list in the last minor league update. While the only redeeming news was that he had reduced his once-astronomical strikeout rate, he had done little else to look like a player that was ready to play in Double-A. Fortunately, things have changed.
After an abysmal .187 average and .665 OPS in April, Thompson has followed up with .292 and .314 marks in May and June, respectively. His RBI totals have moved from 9 in April to 16 in May all the way up to 25 in June. His home run total is not as high (9) as one would have hoped based on his previous performances, but on the whole his emergence has been highly encouraging. The extremely talented center-fielder boasts awesome potential in nearly every facet of the game, with good range and arm in the outfield, huge power potential, a fine batting eye and good speed.
Others to watch: Erik Johnson (RHP, Charlotte), Andy Wilkins (1B, Charlotte) Daniel Webb (RHP, Charlotte), Chris Beck (RHP, Winston-Salem)
Courtney Hawkins - CF, Single-A Winstom-Salem
After missing almost the entire month of May with a knee injury, Hawkins came back with a flurry of home runs and slightly reduced strikeout rate before falling back into the terrible slump that characterized the beginning of his season. He has struck out in just under half of his plate appearances and has just a .186 average.
His immense power potential is obvious with his 14 home runs, which rank second in the entire league despite missing over a month of play. However, he is still at risk of a demotion to Kannapolis, where he had no such issues with strikeouts or batting average last season.
Carlos Sanchez - 2B/SS, Triple-A Charlotte
The 20-year old, youngest player in Triple-A has been quite consistent in his struggles this season. After surging through the White Sox's minor leagues last year with a .315 average in Single-A and a .370 average in Double-A, he has not lived up to his billing thus far in Triple-A. Despite Charlotte's notoriously hitter-friendly ballpark, Sanchez has not mustered a single home run and has only 14 doubles to go with his .237 average.
He has the reputation of being a fine defender and good athlete, but his defense and few stolen bases cannot redeem his poor batting average and lack of power production. It may well just be that the very young Sanchez needs an extra season or two of seasoning, but the main concern at this point is his ability to drive in runs, which is dubious without any signs of power.
Keenyn Walker - CF, Double-A Birmingham
The raw 2011 supplemental-round draft pick has struggled with low averages throughout his short minor league career and this year has been no exceptions. The leadoff hitter is an effective base-stealer with 29 so far this season and can take walks (41 so far), but his high strikeout rate and lack of power magnify his low batting average.
He is a fine defender and still young (23), but he has been aggresively promoted and just does not seem up to the task of hitting pitching at his current level. He's not a serious risk of demotion, but his outlook is bleak. An overall lack of tools and improvement leave him as another disappointment for White Sox player development.
Other to watch: Keon Barnum (1B, Kannapolis)
Jacob Long, a native to the Chicago area, is a writer for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He has experience covering sports and news for WMC-TV in Memphis, TN and owns the film and TV blog The Renegade's Film Journal . Follow him on Twitter @jlongrc .
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