Marcus Semien is on the short list of White Sox prospects who the White Sox can build around.
The Chicago White Sox face an offseason full of uncertainty. From an underperforming roster to a disgruntled fanbase, general manager Rick Hahn must make haste and return the White Sox to relevancy in the AL Central.
When he looks inside his organization, there are three prospects that stand out in potential and performance as being the type the White Sox can build around.
Now this list will concern itself only with those currently considered prospects. That means that Josh Phegley and Avisail Garcia will not be on the list. To be sure, both have a wealth of talent and are quite young, but each has passed the point of being a prospect.
It must also be noted that the only player the White Sox can truly build around is Chris Sale. That would be true on most MLB teams. That will not stop us from looking forward and examining which three are the type of ballplayer that when free agents are signed, it is to complement their talent, not to replace them.
Surely, there are others on the farm who will end up being fantastic baseball players, but here are the three prospects the White Sox can build around in the near future, presented in alphabetical order.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Jake Petricka looked quite good this season.
Andre Rienzo (2-3, 4.82) is close, but needs to be more consistent.
Rienzo gave up three earned runs or fewer in four out of his first five starts, for example, but then surrendered five earned runs in three out of his last five outings. The drop-off could be chalked up to the 169.0 innings he pitched between the minor and major leagues. More likely, it has to do with the 4.50 walks he issued every nine innings, per FanGraphs.
The up-and-down nature of his outings goes back to the minor leagues. In April and May, he posted respective ERAs of 7.71 and 5.74. He then rebounded to post a 2.30 ERA in June and a 1.23 ERA in four July starts. As you can see, it is feast or famine for the right-hander.
To be sure, Rienzo is talented enough to make the White Sox rotation next season, but not quite as electrifying as the others that will be discussed.
Jake Petricka (1-1, 3.26 ERA) is another pitcher who will be a valued contributor in the coming years but will not be featured.
Matter of fact, Petricka could be a dominating force in the bullpen next season and help solidify a unit that was in flux following Hector Santiago’s move to the rotation and the departures of Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain.
Unfortunately, teams are not built around relief pitchers. Therefore, the Indiana State product is excluded.
Erik Johnson has all the tools.
Erik Johnson showed manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper quite a bit in his five starts.
After his first two starts against the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers, Johnson was 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA and gave up 11 runs (five earned) in 9.2 innings. He then posted a 2.50 ERA, struck out 13 and walked only five batters over his final three starts.
Now, some of his peripherals were not good. According to FanGraphs, he had a 5.40 FIP (fielder independent pitching), .276 batting average against, a meager 1.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio and gave up five home runs in only 27.2 innings. The repertoire—fastball, slider, cutter and changeup—to be successful is there, however.
MLB.com's Bernie Pleskoff noted that, among other things, Johnson needs to learn how “to sequence pitches according to the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition, and consistently working to repeat a good delivery.” As he continues to work with Don Cooper and amasses more starts, Sox fans should expect to see the true measure of the right-hander's ability.
Johnson’s emergence has given general manager Rick Hahn some options with the rotation. He could, for example, shop Hector Santiago this offseason and pencil in Johnson at the bottom of the rotation next year with the expectation that he will develop into a strong No. 2 in the coming years.
While perhaps a year away from reaching the big leagues, Micah Johnson is going to be special.
In 536 at-bats across three minor league levels this past season, the second baseman hit .312 with 7 home runs, 58 RBI, 15 triples and an impressive .824 OPS. Of special note, he finished with a .139 IsoD (difference between on-base percentage and batting average), stole 84 bases during the regular season and won the MVP award in the Southern League Championship Series after batting .368 with seven steals, seven RBI and 12 runs scored.
CSNChicago.com's Chuck Garfien noted that while general manager Rick Hahn understands hitting for power has its place, he will be putting an emphasis on improving team speed and defense. That makes Johnson an ideal fit assuming he continues to make progress in the field, which is a weakness.
In 125 games at second, he committed 19 errors, and while the general consensus is that he has the necessary range, he struggles with the basics. White Sox director of player development Nick Capra noted as much when he said Johnson “still needs to work on the routine play,” via the Chicago Sun Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen.
Johnson is scheduled to play in the Arizona Fall League and will likely open the 2014 season at Double-A Birmingham. If he can maintain his level of play, a late-season promotion to the active roster will likely be in order. From that point on, he will be a fixture on the infield.
Marcus Semien, everyone.
Marcus Semien’s overall performance after getting called up at the beginning of September was mercurial. He was hitting .306 after his first 15 games, but only collected three hits over his last 20 at-bats to finish the season with a .261 average. He also struck out 22 times and only walked twice in 71 plate appearances.
His performance in the minor leagues indicates that he has to potential to be a piece the White Sox can build around, though. He ended up hitting .284 with 19 home runs, 66 RBI, 98 base on balls, 24 stolen bases and an .880 OPS at Double-A and Triple-A and was dominant for extended stretches. He did strike out 90 times, but given his walk rate, speed and ability to drive the ball to the gaps (32 doubles), he will be an impact player on the South Side.
Just like Micah Johnson, however, Semien is still learning how to be an effective defender. He committed three errors at third base in only 17 games with the White Sox, so that has to be a concern moving forward. On the positive side, he plays three positions—third base, second base and shortstop—making him quite valuable.
There will come a time when Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham are no longer on the roster, and Semien could replace either one of them. His performance in the Arizona Fall League will show the front office quite a bit about how ready the right-handed hitter is.