It’s not at elite like the one on the North Side of town, but there’s little question the White Sox farm system has made serious gains over the past 14 months.
While the Carlos Rodons of the franchise grab the headlines, there’s a belief both internally and within the industry that the White Sox have started to accumulate impact talent throughout the organization.
Whether its drafting and signing top talent, acquiring prospects through trades or money spent on the international market, the White Sox have turned around a farm system that Baseball America ranked as the worst in the majors in March 2012. General manager Rick Hahn believes a system flush with talent can sustain what he expects are several successful seasons ahead from Jose Abreu and Co.
“They’re going to play an important role hopefully in the not too distant future, trying to extend a good run out for us by augmenting future rosters,” Hahn said. “Not all the depth is knocking at the door, but I think we’re all very pleased where we’ve grown to as an organization in terms of creating almost different levels or different waves of guys that conceivably are going to come up and help us and it’s our goal to continue to add guys like that.”
There are several of those talents on the cusp of the majors, whether it's Rodon, who one scout said is already a "top-10 pitcher on the planet," or Micah Johnson, who has performed well on an aggressive development path. There's also Marcus Semien, Carlos Sanchez and Matt Davidson on the brink of the big leagues.
But it's not a top-heavy system as evidenced by the rise of Tim Anderson, Tyler Danish, Francellis Montas and Courtney Hawkins. The White Sox also have good prospects in Spencer Adams, Micker Adolfo and Trey Michalzewski at their lower levels, too.
"Their system is a lot better than it has been in a long time," said MLB.com's Jim Callis.
Long a critic of how the White Sox operated in years past, whether they ignored the international market after the Dave Wilder incident, traded prospects for players or didn't spend enough in the amateur draft, Callis sees an entirely different philosophy at work.
Consider the White Sox will spend nearly $15 million on amateur talent this year, including paying over the slotted amount for Rodon, which resulted in a draft pool tax of more than $300,000.
That never would have happened before the most recent round of collective bargaining. The way things stand now, Callis estimates the White Sox farm system is now the middle of the pack and rising.
"Basically, they're clicking on all cylinders," Callis said. "They're spending a lot more on the draft than they used to after being outspent by all 29 other clubs during the previous CBA. They're generating international talent again after that program was thrown in disarray when Dave Wilder got busted for taking kickbacks. And with (Hahn) fully embracing the rebuilding process, they're trading veterans for prospects and bringing more talent in that way."
Assistant general manager Buddy Bell said the difference in the talent levels is noticeable.
The infusion hasn't necessarily translated to the minor-league standings, where Rookie Great Falls in the only affiliate to have won a league title. But that doesn't bother Bell much.
"It seems like we have more ballplayers, guys that are athletic," Bell said. "They have some baseball instincts. We’ve had bits and pieces of that over the years, but it seems like we have more guys like that now. It’s funny because our teams aren’t doing as well as they have in the past, but we have more talent. It seems like we don’t have as many as nuts and bolts guys, but we have more guys that potentially will make a bigger impact on our major league club."
With a strong core already in place in Chicago, Hahn feels well positioned to compete soon. Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana — all who helped the White Sox to a No. 9 preseason ranking in players 25-and-under by Baseball America before the season — have Hahn thinking the White Sox are on the verge of contention less than a year after an abysmal 99-loss campaign. Whether minor-league players arrive in Chicago or are traded for others who can help, Hahn likes what his farm system has to offer.
"In the last couple of years we have added a fair number of those types of players that are going to start benefitting us here in Chicago in the not too distant future," Hahn said. "And there certainly are areas of depth in our system where every player isn’t going to come to Chicago and contribute necessarily. You do sort of create a trade reserve to go out and help you get what you need. I think we are benefiting from both of those avenues in the not too distant future."