Farm previews: Charlotte and Birmingham

Remember when the White Sox had a robust farm system that had multiple players worth following across all levels?
That was a fun year.  Congratulations, Gordon Beckham. Goodbye, Aaron Poreda. Goodbye, Dexter Carter.  See you next season, Jared Mitchell.
Let’s take a look at what’s left at each of the four minor-league levels has left.  Triple-A and Double-A today, and the A-ball levels tomorrow.
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CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS

  • Chris Chambliss, manager
  • Gary Ward, hitting coach
  • Richard Dotson, pitching coach

No changes here.
STARTING PITCHING
Daniel Hudson earned Ozzie Guillen’s praise in spring training, but he’ll have to bide his time and wait for Freddy Garcia to falter.  At least he’ll get a chance to work on sharpening his slider and curve ball in a low-pressure environment.  His numbers might look worse than last year, and maybe they should.   Carlos Torres, the reigning Triple-A Pitcher of the Year according to MLB.com, has nothing left to prove statistically, but can benefit from improving efficiency.
The lack of pitching depth means that Lucas Harrell and Jeff Marquez (don’t laugh; OK, laugh) have a golden opportunity to have the year Torres and Hudson had last year, coming out of nowhere to get an extended big-league opportunity.  I like Harrell’s chances better than Marquez’s, but both would register as a big shock.
There isn’t much behind them.  Justin Cassel throws 86 m.p.h. from the right-hand side, and Wes Whisler is Wes Whisler.  Matt Zaleski was singled out by Buddy Bell on that conference call I was on a couple of weeks ago as a sleeper, but he looks like Cassel to me, except he has just about the laziest-looking windup I’ve ever seen. “Effortless” would be the courteous way to phrase it.

BULLPEN
All things being equal Greg Aquino probably would have earned the last bullpen spot over Sergio Santos, but Aquino had a minor-league contract, and Santos was out of options.  He and Erick Threets figure to be the first men up if any of the White Sox’s relievers can’t fulfill their duties, unless they change the roles of Hudson or Torres.
Clevelan Santeliz has a big arm and doesn’t quite know what to do with it.  His possibilities are all over the map. Nobody else is noteworthy.

Tyler Flowers and Matt Zaleski
CATCHER
Tyler Flowers is here.  Until he gets traded.
INFIELD
Dayan Viciedo will slide over to first, but the Sox haven’t entirely abandoned the idea of him as a third baseman. There’s little depth on the corners (The Standby Javiers, Castillo and Colina, would be a great band name), which means that he will get an opportunity to play wherever he’s better suited.
That also means that C.J. Retherford will play plenty of second and third as the Sox stress positional flexibility.  Brent Lillibridge will be the everyday shortstop, with good-glove-no-bat Robert Hudson backing up.
OUTFIELD
Jordan Danks should get most of the starts in center, and pay attention to his home/road splits.  I think he’ll be here the whole year, and Alejandro De Aza, a pretty good Triple-A player, will be the emergency fourth outfielder from the left-handed side.
It’s a make-or-break season for Stefan Gartrell, who came on late last year to secure a 40-man roster spot.  He’s 26, and this is his first full season in Charlotte.
Brady Clark will be 37 in two weeks, and he was great for me in MLB 2005.  He’ll be around until Miguel Negron is back from his 50-game suspension.
Who could play for the Sox this year?
I’d be surprised if Hudson didn’t make at least six starts for the Sox in 2010, and Torres seems like a certainty to see a doubleheader start or bullpen work as a swingman, even if it’s Lance Broadway-esque in duration. Otherwise, it’s Aquino and Threets and Blood in the Streets.
Donny Lucy and Flowers will probably see action based on the extent of the opportunity.  Lucy seems to be the preference for short-term backup work, but if (God forbid) A.J. Pierzynski went down, I would hope that Flowers would get the call.  His game requires a commitment.
Lillibridge, De Aza and Retherford are all emergency candidates, in order of versatility and 40-man roster status.  Retherford and Danks could be September call-ups, though it depends on roster spots.  Then again, there are always a couple players too many on the 40-man.
Viciedo is the wild card, and hopefully in the fun way.

BIRMINGHAM BARONS

  • Ever Magallanes, manager
  • Andy Tomberlin, hitting coach
  • J.R. Perdew, pitching coach

No changes here, either.
STARTING ROTATION
Jhonny Nunez returns to starting, which he last did in the Washington Nationals organization in 2008.  Back then, he struck out a batter an inning, but gave up a homer every eight.  I’m not sure what the Sox seek to gain here, except they are short on starters after Hudson and Torres.
Case in point: Charlie Shirek is the No. 2 starter.  Nothing against Shirek, who would be more interesting if he could stay healthy, but he doesn’t miss bats.  Some combination of longtime farmhands Anthony Carter, Matt Long, Kyle McCulloch and Ricky Brooks fill out the rotation.  Long had success in 60 innings at Double-A last year (6-3, 2.98 ERA, one homer allowed), for what it’s worth.

Jhonny Nunez is going back to starting.
BULLPEN
Santo Luis, who, for reasons unclear, is on the 40-man roster, is making his Double-A debut at age 26.  And he’s headlining the relief corps!  Henry Mabee, Johnnie Lowe, Jacob Rasner, and Miguel Socolovich fill out the pen. Curt Bloom will likely be in for a lot of long nights.
CATCHER
Cole Armstrong returns to Birmingham for his fourth stint at Double-A, cementing the dreaded “organizational player” status.
INFIELD
Coming off a good season at Winston-Salem and a stellar Arizona Fall League stint, Brent Morel headlines the Birmingham bunch.  He will not be challenged for playing time, and there’s even an advancement opportunity at Charlotte with Viciedo out of the way.  Yet there’s no reason to rush him.
Jim Gallagher seems to be the regular first baseman, though he may split time with Christian Marrero.  He hit surprisingly well in 93 at-bats here last year (.380/.385/.452), but that level of production is not to be expected going forward.
Greg Paiml, Dale Mollenhauer and Justin Fuller fill out the infield, and Fuller’s the most famous of the bunch.  He was worth Jim Thome at the end of August last season.
OUTFIELDERS
The most stacked position of the lot, which isn’t saying much.  Marrero will play most of the time in right field, depending on how much they want to establish positional flexibility as a chief selling point of his game.  John Shelby has one more year to put his well-respected bag of tools together.
Tyler Kuhn is billed as an outfielder, but he can play all over the diamond, which is a nicer way of saying he doesn’t have a defensive position. Lee Cruz and Salvador Sanchez will be the third or fourth outfielders.
Who could play for the Sox this year?
Well, Nunez already has some major-league experience, so it wouldn’t be crazy to think he could return.  But either he would have to dominate, or a lot of dominoes would have to fall above him. I wouldn’t count on it.
Otherwise, this is a ragtag group of oldish, low-ceiling guys with a few hard-to-rush prospects thrown in.
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Christian Marrero Reading Room:
*Joe Posnanski makes “a simple statement” about Mark Buehrle’s amazing play.
*Freddy Garcia dismisses those worrying about his spring numbers.
*Greg Walker quote alert: “Just be Alex Rios.”
*Jerry Krause is back where he started, scouting for the White Sox.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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knoxfire30

2009 was about the most fun I have had checking on minor league action that Double A team was loaded. Back to the basics for 2010 a limited amount of minor league talent spread across the board. Just hoping for good health for the young guys and a few surprises to emerge as trade chips.