All eyes will be on Tim Anderson this summer, with the White Sox top prospect in position to make a move toward locking down the team’s starting shortstop job at some point.
The White Sox haven’t drafted/signed and developed a consistently productive position player since the early 2000s, when Aaron Rowand and Joe Crede both emerged as everyday guys and key cogs in 2005’s World Series title run. But beyond Anderson, there are some players in the farm system that those in the White Sox front office believe have the right traits to become solid major league players down the road.
Baseball America’s recently-released list of the White Sox top 10 prospects features six position players: Anderson (No. 1), 3B Trey Michalczewski (No. 4), OF Jacob May (No. 5), OF Adam Engel (No. 7), OF Courtney Hawkins (No. 9) and 1B Corey Zangari (No. 10).
Engel, while he’s a 24-year-old who hasn’t played above advanced Class-A Winston-Salem, put himself on the team’s radar with an impressive 2015 in which he hit .251/.335/.369 with 65 stolen bases. He followed the regular season by winning the Arizona Fall League’s MVP honors, hitting .403 with a 1.165 OPS.
What those in the White Sox organization have seen from Engel recently is an improved offensive approach, which he’s married with his excellent athleticism to become a player to keep an eye on in 2016.
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"I don’t know if we’ve got a better athlete in our system than Adam Engel,” White Sox amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. “He’s as athletic a runner as anybody we have. He’s a plus, plus defender, he can go get the ball from gap to gap, he’s a pitcher’s dream.
“He’s been a guy that all of his career, even back to college, he struggled with consistency at the plate. It’s more for him as far as consistency where he’s not taking the same approach up each time. And that’s something that he’s worked extremely hard on with our (player development) guys and he has looked terrific in the fall league, he looked good the last couple days out here, he’s really buying into a repetitive approach at the plate and I think we’re going to see next year, Double-A, the guy that can blossom and just become the real deal.”
Engel was a 19th-round pick out of the University of Louisville in 2013 -- hardly a position in which many players are able to push into the major leagues. The last White Sox 19th-round pick to reach the majors was third baseman Chris Heintz, who was drafted in 1996 and played in 34 games for the Minnesota Twins from 2005-2007. But Engel’s dedication has put him on the map as a guy who could have a chance to break through someday.
“Great mentality,” White Sox director of player development Nick Capra said. “The kid’s a dirt dog, he works his tail off. He’s one of our best workers. … He really listens, he applies what he learns, just an outstanding kid. I can’t say enough about his work ethic.”
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Michalczewski, on the other hand, just completed a full season at Winston-Salem as a 20-year-old -- about two and a half years younger than the league average player. While he only hit seven home runs with a .395 slugging percentage, he did hit 35 doubles, and the organization is optimistic those doubles will begin turning into home runs once his 6-foot-3 frame fills out.
“He’s still growing into his man body,” Hostetler said. “He’s still a young kid. … He’s getting stronger, getting bigger. Once that man strength comes in the next year or so there’s going to be an uptick in home runs.”
Zangari was an intriguing inclusion on Baseball America’s list, given the 18-year-old 2015 sixth-round pick only played in 54 rookie ball games last summer. But the 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman hit six home runs with a .316/.358/.481 slash line and has as much raw power as anyone in the White Sox farm system.
But beyond his hitting ability, both Hostetler and Capra pointed to Zangari’s intangibles as a reason to be intrigued by the Oklahoma City native.
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“Really good kid,” Capra said. “He’s a goofy kid in a good way. Very personable, smart kid.”
“He’s an absolutely terrific makeup kid,” Hostetler said. “Infectious personality, teammates love being around him, he controls locker rooms. He’s just one of those guys that he just has that natural-born leadership about him.”
Zangari’s offensive approach is advanced for a teenager, too, in the way he understands the strike zone.
“He’s got a pretty good idea of the strike zone for being an 18-year-old kid,” Capra said. “He’s got some strikeouts in there, but he doesn’t offer at a lot of bad pitches, pitcher’s pitches. That’s where he’ll continue to get better at that. He hasn’t seen a lot of really good breaking balls maybe in high school, maybe he’s seeing a tick better now when he lays off some of those tough pitches. He’s got some discipline at the plate.”