Top 5 fantasy baseball prospects
1- Addison Reed, RP
Reed blew threw the minors last year starting the year in Low-A, and finishing it in the majors. In 78 minor league innings he posted a 12.75 K/9 and 1.61 BB/9 which helped him record a 1.26 ERA and 0.73 WHIP. He didn't slow down his strikeout ways in 7.1 major league innings racking up 12, good for a 14.73 K/9. The White Sox dealt 2011 closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays this offseason, clearing a path for Reed to become the team's closer of the future.
The former San Diego State Aztec, and teammate of Stephen Strasburg, dominates hitters with a three pitch mix. He throws a fastball, slider, and change-up. Thanks to his limited major league time, we have PITCHf/x data for Reed. According to his Brooks Baseball player card, his fastball averaged 95 mph, while his slider and change-up offered great velocity separation sitting in the low-to-mid-80s respectively. Scouting reports peg his fastball and slider as plus or better offerings, with his change-up earning average marks. In the bullpen, he won't need his change-up as much, and true to that, it was his least frequent thrown pitch at seven percent compared to 24 percent for his slider and 69 percent for his heater. Reed will begin the year in the majors, and is ready for the challenge.
2- Nestor Molina, SP
Above I mentioned that the White Sox dealt 2011 closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays, in return they received Nestor Molina. Molina is a converted third base prospect that enjoyed an excellent season in his first as a starter. He had previously been used as a reliever, but took to the change to starter seamlessly. He began the year in High-A posting a gaudy 9.55 K/9 with a dental floss thin 1.16 BB/9. Those component stats helped him post a 2.58 ERA and 1.07 WHIP while winning 10 games and losing just three in 18 starts and 21 appearances in total. In five starts for Double-A New Hampshire he kicked his performance up to an unfathomably high level. In 22 innings he had a 13.50 K/9, 0.82 BB/9 good for a 0.41 ERA and 0.64 WHIP. Contrary to what one may be inclined to believe, none of those stats are typos.
Molina's repertoire doesn't overwhelm, but as his stats suggest, he controls his pitches exceptionally well. He throws a low-90s fastball, a splitter, change-up, and a slider. According to Phil Rogers write-up in the 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Molina is working on scrapping the slider for a curveball. He leans heavily on his fastball and splitter, as they are his best two pitches. They have helped him induce groundballs in bunches, something that should serve him well in hitter friendly U.S. Cellular Field. He'll begin the year in Double-A pitching for the Birmingham Barons.
3- Trayce Thompson, OF
Thompson certainly has athletic blood lines. His father, Mychal, was a number one overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft. Meanwhile, he has two basketball playing brothers, one of which is Golden State Warrior forward Klay. Trayce took to baseball, and is a power hitting outfield prospect. He crushed 24 home runs in 597 plate appearances as a 20 year old in Low-A. He worked walks at a high clip, 10.1 percent, but had an awful 28.8 percent strikeout rate that helped contribute to an ugly .241 average. He'll need to reduce his strikeout rate if he hopes not to stall out in the minors, but his power potential makes him an intriguing prospect to follow the progress of.
4- Tyler Saladino, SS
The White Sox drafted Saladino in the seventh round of the 2010 amateur draft out of Oral Roberts. Since signing, he has played quite well slashing .282/.372/.479 across three levels that include Rookie ball, Low-A, and High-A. He played all last season in High-A showing a discerning eye, 11.0 percent walk rate, with plenty of pop for a middle infielder hitting 16 home runs and a .232 isolate slugging (ISO) in 464 plate appearances. He kept his strikeouts in check, 19.4 percent strikeout rate, and hit for a decent .270 average. Saladino didn't show much pop, but he did hit relatively well in the Arizona Fall League to cap 2011. He isn't considered an exceptional defender, and with Alexei Ramirez signed through 2015 with a club option for 2016, expect Saladino to move to third base or second base down the line.
5- Simon Castro, SP
Yet another offseason addition to the farm system came in the form of Castro, who the club received in return for Carlos Quentin. Castro had an excellent 2010 in Double-A before struggling in two Triple-A starts. Things got worse opening in Triple-A in 2011, where he got hammered in six starts. He regained his footing a bit in Double-A, starting 16 games spanning 89.1 innings.
At his best, Castro leans on a 90-95 mph fastball to get hitters out. He backs it with a slider that flashes plus when it's on, and a fringe change-up. Castro pounds the zone, and could be a workhorse innings eater. Trading PETCO Park for U.S. Cellular Field could prove trouble for his flyball approach. He'll try to get over the hump in his third taste of Triple-A to open 2012.
Bonus- Keenyn Walker, OF
Walker was the club's supplemental first round selection in last June's draft. He's more athlete than baseball player right now, but his speed is plus-plus and could make him a game changer in the stolen base category if he figures it out on the diamond. He struck out a bunch in Low-A last year, so the process of him developing could take a while. He'll repeat the level to begin this season.
Top 5 in 2012
1- Addison Reed, RP
Reed will likely be used in high leverage situations right out of the gate, and it seems like only a matter of time before he's closing games. Matt Thornton looks to be the favorite to get the first crack at closing.
2- Nestor Molina, SP
Molina's success in Double-A, albeit in a short period of time, indicates he might not need much more time in the minors.
3- Dylan Axelrod, SP
Very low ceiling prospect, but he reached the majors last year and pitched in four games, starting three. He pounds the strike zone with an upper-80s to low-90s fastball, a change-up, and a slider that he threw 42 percent of the time in the majors. The slider had a 21.26 percent whiff rate according to Brooks Baseball's PITCHf/x data, making him a potential source of strikeouts in spite of an underwhelming fastball. Axelrod could prove to be ownable in AL-only formats or streamed by matchup in large mixed leagues should the White Sox need to turn to him as a starter for an extended period of time.
4- Hector Santiago, SP/RP
Santiago is an interesting prospect if for no other reason than because he throws a screwball. He spent four seasons in the White Sox system as a ho hum reliever before flourishing as a starter last year. He pitched in High-A, Double-A, and ultimately two games in the majors. He isn't terribly exciting as a starting pitching prospect, but could have appeal to owners in non-traditional scoring leagues as a big league reliever. He could be a source of holds if the team uses him as a high leverage left-handed option late in games.
5- Simon Castro, SP
Castro is less likely to get an opportunity to start in the majors this year than Axelrod, and he has a lower ceiling than Molina, thus he ranks behind both on the 2012 top five.