Chicago White Sox's 5 Sleeper Prospects to Watch in Spring Training
With a few exceptions, the Chicago White Sox’s 25-man roster is largely set.
Sure, there are a few question marks heading into the 2014 season. Who, for example, is going to fill out the bullpen? And will Rule 5 pick Adrian Nieto show enough to be with the team on Opening Day?
By and large, though, it should be relatively quiet this spring for White Sox manager Robin Ventura. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some sleepers who will be in attendance when spring training begins who could make a name for themselves this season.
This is, after all, the time when young players can showcase the skills they will then use as a launching point for a September call-up. Don't forget, that is exactly what Erik Johnson and Marcus Semien did last year.
So who is going to take advantage of the face time this spring? Who are the sleepers lurking in the shadows ready to show Ventura and the rest of the White Sox coaching staff what they are capable of doing? Who is going to show the fans something this time around?
Now in order to provide a framework, this list will avoid some of the more well-known names. That means guys like Carlos Sanchez, Marcus Semien, Andre Rienzo, Daniel Webb and Charles Leesman will not be discussed. Their arrivals are simply a matter of time.
Let’s take a look at five viable sleepers and one honorable mention who will be at spring training.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistical information is courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Eric Surkamp, LHP
True, Surkamp has found little success at the major league level. In seven starts over the course of two seasons, he has compiled a 7.36 ERA and a woeful 1.977 WHIP, but those numbers belie his true talents.
Consider that in five minor league seasons, he has a combined 2.84 ERA and has won 33 games versus only 14 losses. As MLB.com’s Scott Merkin noted, he did miss the entire 2012 season after undergoing UCL replacement surgery on his left elbow, but he came back with a vengeance in 2013. In 11 starts for Triple-A Fresno, Surkamp went 7-1 with a 2.78 ERA and a 3.34 FIP (fielding independent pitching) in 71.1 innings, according to FanGraphs.
He is not on the list here, though, because although he is new to the system, he is not much of a sleeper. Surkamp will undoubtedly be called up at some point this year for a spot start or to take over a more permanent position in the rotation should someone suffer an injury.
Alex Liddi, 3B
For Alex Liddi, 2013 was an eventful season.
First, he was assigned to Triple-A Tacoma after failing to make the Seattle Mariners out of spring training. He was then dealt to the Baltimore Orioles for what amounted to “about $73,700 in spending money,” according to Scott Weber from Lookout Landing, before being designated for assignment in September. Finally, he landed with the White Sox and is a non-roster invitee to spring training with a chance to assert himself at the top of the third base prospect list after Matt Davidson.
Of course, that would mean finding consistent results.
For example, in 881 games played across eight minor league seasons, Liddi has amassed a staggering 950 strikeouts. On the other hand, he has 310 walks, 219 doubles, 111 home runs and a .187 IsoP (difference between batting average and slugging percentage) on the farm. The bottom line is that he has a wealth of talent but hasn't yet put it all together.
Now the chance that Liddi makes the roster out of spring training is slim, but that does not mean that there isn’t a future in the South Side for him. A solid showing this spring and at Triple-A will go a long way toward determining how long he is with the organization.
Parker Frazier, RHP
What makes Frazier intriguing is that after six seasons as a starting pitcher, the Colorado Rockies made him a reliever before including him in the trade for Armando Galarraga. He responded very well to the move after some initial struggles, posting a 1.93 ERA and 1.114 WHIP in 13 games at Double-A for the Reds.
To be sure, it is a very small sample size, but the White Sox have made it a habit of churning out quality relievers over the past few seasons, and Frazier could be the next one if he can throw strikes and keep the ball on the ground.
Cody Winiarski, RHP
Cody Winiarski has a chance to be a special pitcher.
Here is a quick rundown of what the right-hander accomplished while he was at Winston-Salem, via Brian Boesch of the MLBlogs Network:
The Franksville, Wisc., native has 10 saves in 13 opportunities and owns an earned run average of 2.91 in a team-high 36 appearances. The righty has struck out 67 in 55.2 innings of work, good for the fourth-best strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio among CL relievers (10.8).
And that was only the beginning. After earning a promotion to Double-A Birmingham, Winiarski appeared in eight games, struck out 18 in 11.0 innings pitched, collected three saves and compiled a 0.636 WHIP. Quite impressive.
It stands to reason that no matter what happens this spring, Winiarski will begin the 2014 season with the Barons. That doesn’t mean that this spring isn’t a chance to prove that he’s capable of facing major league hitters. And while he may not have the velocity of Nate Jones, don’t discount his ability to get batters out.
Jared Mitchell, OF
After posting a .167/.293/.257 slash line with 123 combined strikeouts between Double-A and Triple-A last season, it appeared that Jared Mitchell’s window was closing.
Then the Arizona Fall League happened. He was so good—.304/.425.580 slash line, five home runs, 11 runs batted in, two doubles and 14 walks in 69 at-bats—that CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes noted he “has reemerged on the franchise radar.”
What makes this spring even more important for Mitchell is the wholly uncertain futures of Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza. If he can couple a strong showing in February and March with a solid start to the season in the minors, he may jump Jordan Danks on the depth chart.
This could be premature, of course. After all, Mitchell was fantastic during spring training last season, only to fall off a cliff once his season began at Triple-A.
Micah Johnson, IF
Micah Johnson could be the next Marcus Semien. That is to say he could use an exceptional performance during spring training as a launching pad for a late-season promotion to the White Sox.
Make no mistake, Johnson has the tools. Across three levels last year, he stole 84 bases, compiled a .312/.373/.451 slash line and scored 106 runs. Oh, and he was also the Southern League Championship Series MVP.
What stands out most is his ability on the basepaths. FanGraphs’ Marc Hulet wrote that “he’s not the fastest runner but his wheels are well-above-average and he’s a heady player, which helps him get the most out of his” speed. It is that speed (and not his defense) that will help him get to the next level.
Johnson will enter spring training as the No. 9 rated second base prospect, according to MLB.com, and has arguably supplanted Carlos Sanchez as next in line after Semien in the pecking order for middle infielders.