Minor League Update: Good News & Bad News

It's been a few weeks, so I thought it would be good to check in on some of the notable minor league performances in the White Sox system thus far in 2014 — notable for good, or for ill.

Good News:

By far the biggest disappointment of 2013 at the minor league level was Courtney Hawkins being completely overwhelmed by High A. Well, he's getting a second crack at it and he's doing a good job of just making us shrug our shoulders at 2013 and move forward. Hawkins so far is hitting .289/.359/.589, showing off that power that made him such an exciting prospect in the first place.

His K% is 27.2, which is still high, but it's encouraging that it's down 10% from last year. He's even posting a strong 9.7 BB%. Hawkins only turned 20 last November, and it's not so bad to be at High A at that age. It's hard to imagine him ever posting a high average, but 2014 Hawkins is doing about as well as one could realistically hope for.

Micah Johnson had a breakout season last year, but there were the following caveats: He was old for his level, his approach wasn't great, and he was an absolute error machine. 2014 has seen the elimination of two of those problems to date. Now at AA, the 23-year old is actually 1.6 years below the average age for the league instead of slightly older — and remember, good prospects should be below league average age as a lot of organizational filler is going to drag that average age up.

Johnson is mashing to the tune of .350/.440/.500. What's cool about Johnson is that he has more power than your typical 80-speed guys. Even cooler is that this year he has walked almost as frequently as he has struck out, posting a 21:19 K:BB against the most advanced pitching he has seen. This is reassuring as guys with his speed should get on base any way they can. Further, I was able to participate in a phone interview with Johnson last year and he gave mixed signals about his philosophy — he said the right things about getting on base any way that he can, but he also said that his approach was "See ball, hit ball." 

Turns out he is subscribing more to the former than the latter this year, and that's a marvelous thing. Especially since people often use the expression "get on base any way you can" as code for bunt all day every day.

Johnson still makes too many errors, as his fielding percentage is .960 so far this year at 2B. Those who read my work often will know that I like to use the following caveat when making such analysis: Range is more important than errors when it comes to assessing defense. But, there is a certain point where you make too many errors for your range to really matter and you become unplayable. He is slowly trending away from that threshold, but I would love to see him shore up those errors otherwise he is destined for CF. Still valuable, but less so to the organization at this point. 

Another problem has emerged in that he has only successfully stolen on 9/15 attempts this year. A step back from his crazy 84/110 success rate last year.

Bad News:

Matt Davidson is not enjoying hitting outside of the PCL so far this year. Although he had a solid first week he has struggled immensely since, hitting .165/.239/.320. And sure, an IsoD of .074 is solid, and an IsoP of .155 is perfectly acceptable, but the K-rate is absolutely terrifying. Davidson has struck out at a whopping 39.4% clip, which would be the highest of his career — 12% higher than he posted in his cup of coffee in the majors last year. His BABIP isn't helping him at all, but it's not really that far removed from what we can typically expect from someone with his profile. 

For all that Davidson deserves to be in AAA, he did only turn 23 on March 26. On average, he's four years younger than his competition, and given that he has been close to the majors for what feels like a while now, it's easy to forget that. At the same time, his biggest issue has always been swings and misses, so this is anything but heartening.

Tommy Hanson isn't really a prospect, but Rick Hahn has expressed a hope that he could be help for the rotation. Hanson, once upon a time, was a Top 10 prospect in all of baseball — and from age 22-24, over 460.1 IP, Hanson posted an ERA of 3.28 with a K:BB of 2.91. Then he kept declining and wound up exploding with a shoulder injury. 

Well, sadly, it looks like his career has not rebounded yet with the White Sox. They can afford to stash him in Charlotte indefinitely on the super off-chance that he reclaims some of the old magic, but shoulder injuries are actually way scarier than elbow injuries, and so far he is walking more batters than he is striking out.

Quick GoodRangel Ravelo is destroying the ball so far this year. Since his move to being 1B/DH, he was going to have to rake to succeed. As a 22-year old in AA he is hitting .349/.491/.542 with seven more walks than strikeouts. I use the term "1B/DH prospect" loosely as your bat has to be so absurdly elite to count, and this is by far the best Ravelo has ever hit - still, hard to complain about hitting like that. 

Quick BadKeenyn Walker has an OPS of .350 in AA. That is not a typo — OPS, not OBP. 

Pretty Good News: In AAA, the White Sox may still have a fallback option in case of injury or crippling ineffectiveness in the infield as Tyler Saladino continues to survive, hitting .291/.351/.456.