Walker covers tons of ground in center field, but he'll need to figure out a way to make contact more consistently at the plate. Image: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Top-5 Check In: Chicago White Sox

Now that we’re more than a month in to the 2013 minor league season, it’s a good time to check in on how the top prospects in each of the organizations are faring. It is way too early to get overly excited or overly depressed about anyone’s performance thus far, but it’s never too early to dig into the data and results that each prospect has added to their resume. For the purposes of these check-ins we will be using Baseball America’s rankings unless otherwise noted.

The Chicago White Sox have for years largely ignored the development of their own players and it’s a problem that new GM Rick Hahn will have to address as his aging big league roster will soon need an overhaul. Because of the lack of depth of talent, the White Sox have aggressively pushed the few bright prospects they have had and they seem to have struck gold with that tactic with Chris Sale and Addison Reed performing well for the big club.

The 2013 crop of prospects is thin on elite talent and even thinner on elite results thus far on the season. In many cases, the White Sox have maintained there aggressive assignments and almost to a man, the top of the system has struggled in the early going. There already wasn’t a lot to love about this system and most of these guys haven’t done much to change anyone’s mind.

1. OF- Courtney Hawkins (19)

Winston-Salem (A+) .177/.247/.456 1 2B, 7 HR, 3 SB, 7 BB, 45 K in 89 plate appearances

Hawkins was the 13th overall selection of the 2012 draft and wasted little time acclimating himself to pro ball after signing quickly last year. Aggressively assigned to Advanced-A as a 19-year-old this season, Hawkins has displayed plenty of the raw power that has scouts drooling, clobbering seven home runs in his first 79 at bats. Along with toe power has come an alarming amount of swings and misses, however. Hawkins has fanned 45 times in less than 90 plate appearances this year, which is almost incomprehensible.

He’s missed the past three weeks dealing with a rotator cuff and left biceps muscle strain and surely the ChiSox will take their time bringing him back. If his contact issues weren’t a big enough hurdle already, they don’t need him trying to compensate for some soreness and making his approach at the plate even more difficult.

2. OF- Trayce Thompson (22)

Birmingham (AA) .233/.358/.377 8 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 10 SB, 26 BB, 37 K through 180 plate appearances

Despite some disappointing triple crown stats, there is a lot to like about Thompson’s first full year at Double-A. His walk rate of 14.4% is a marked improvement over years past (it was just 8.8% in over 500 plate appearances at High-A in 2012) and his strikeout rate is hovering at just 20.6% this year. It has routinely been in the 28-30 percent range at the lower levels of the minor leagues. While the improved approach might not have turned itself into great numbers as of yet, it’s a very encouraging sign.

What’s discouraging, however, is the disappearance of Thompson’s power. This is a guy who smacked 24 long balls at Class-A Kannapolis in 2011 and followed that with 25 across three levels last season. To see him sitting with a lowly .377 slugging percentage at this point in the season is troubling.

3.  INF- Carlos Sanchez (21)

Charlotte (AAA) .218/.298/.261 4 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 8 SB, 15 BB, 25 K in 165 plate appearances

Another case of an aggressive assignment, like both Hawkins and Thompson, Sanchez is young for his league as he won’t actually turn 21 until late June. Also like Hawkins and Thompson, Sanchez is showing signs of being overmatched against the older competition. Never a guy with any pop at all despite a solid 5’11”, 195 lbs frame, Sanchez’s offensive value is derived almost entirely by getting on base at a good clip. Unfortunately, while his walk rates are okay, they aren’t eye-popping which means he has to hit his way on base most of the time. With players like that, their success is often tied completely to their BABIP and Sanchez has been a bit hit-unlucky this year at .261 on balls in play.

A switch-hitter with a compact stroke, Sanchez excels at making contact and can play three infield positions. He has above average speed, but that doesn’t translate to steals as he’s been successful in just 62 percent of his stolen base attempts in his career. Sanchez is a guy that doesn’t wow the scouts with great tools. That he’s rated the third-best in Chicago’s system tells you more about their system than it does about Sanchez.

4. RHP- Erik Johnson (23)

Birmingham (AA) 2.58 ERA, 0.971 WHIP, 29 hits allowed, 15 BB, 47 K in 45.1 innings (eight starts)

A former second round pick (2011 out of Cal), Johnson is a big-bodied right hander who can reach the mid-90s with his fastball, though he doesn’t sit there. His slider is rated the best in the White Sox system by Baseball America, but he lacks mastery of a third pitch.

Johnson has shown good command in his career and he keeps the ball in the park very well. His elite WHIP this season is fueled by an extremely low BABIP of just .230, but the combination of few walks and averaging roughly a strikeout per inning should keep Johnson moving successfully through opposing lineups even as the luck begins to even out. This is the type of pitcher who can move quickly through  system and eventually find himself as a middle of the rotation starter in the big leagues.

5. OF- Keenyn Walker (22)

Birmingham (AA) .191/.313/.248 2 2B, 3 3B, 0 HR, 15 SB, 21 BB, 49 K in 169 plate appearances

Walker is getting his first taste of Double-A and suffice to say it isn’t going well so far. The speedy switch hitter is a former sandwich round selection in 2011 and he’s showcased some good on-base skills thus far in his pro career. That part hasn’t changed in 2013 as he’s still sporting a good walk rate at 12.4 percent, but his strikeout issues have remained as he’s fanning in 29 percent of his trips to the plate. Through his first two seasons of pro ball, Walker showed the ability to maintain a high BABIP (as speedy hitters sometimes do), but this year it’s fallen to .293. That’s a total that wouldn’t kill the average of a different kind of hitter, but Walker is a guy who relies on his wheels to not only reach base, but to generate extra-base hits as well. That’s another part of his game that has been missing at Birmingham thus far.

Tags: Carlos Sanchez Chicago White Sox Courtney Hawkins Erik Johnson Keenyn Walker Trayce Thompson

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