Monday, August 09, 2004

Not Much Going On In Charlotte

I'm not talking about Charlotte the city, which is probably lovely and charming (I've only been through the airport, which is nice, although not as good as it once was now that the NASCAR Cafe has taken their Buffalo Chicken sandwich off of the menu). I'm talking about the Charlotte Knights, the White Sox's AAA International League affiliate. Looking at the current Knights roster, it could be argued that there are only 1 or 2 "prospects" on Knights that could ever make an impact with the Sox, now that Felix Diaz and Joe Borchard are in the majors.

Let's go around the diamond. First base has been manned mostly by Mike Bell and Bobby Smith, both of whom are about 30 years old. Second base has been filled by 30-year-old Bryant Nelson who did spend some time with the Boston Red Sox. Shortstop has been split amongst a number of players, including utility man Kelly Dransfeldt and 26-year-old Wilson Valdez, whom the Sox picked up for Billy Koch. Valdez may have been a prospect for Florida at one time, but at 26 years old, he's not likely to be a starter for the Sox. Third base has largely been manned by a platoon of Dransfeldt (37 games), Bell (35), and Smith (21 games). The catching duties have been performed by Ryan Hankins, who converted into a catcher at age 27 and is playing well this year. But at 28, he's probably too old to be considered a prospect ... think Jamie Burke.

Prior to the Garcia trade, the outfield was covered by Jeremy Reed, Joe Borchard and another player. Now that they are gone, the Sox are left with Mario Valenzuela (27 years old and in his 4th season in AAA), Andres Torres (26 years old and a former .200 hitting major leaguer with the Tigers) and Reggie Taylor, another 27 year old free agent pick up (ex of the Phillies and Cincinnati Reds).

Based on this analysis, one could safely say that none of the position players on the Charlotte Roster are, in fact, "prospects" as that term is used.

The pitching staff isn't much better. The rotation right now is Jason Grilli (Rule 5 pickup from the Marlins), Josh Stewart (who had an OK run with the Sox in 2003), Tetsu Yofu (a 31-year-old), Ryan Kohlmeier (27 year old former reliever), and Arnie Munoz. Of the five starters, only 22-year-old Arnie Munoz could be considered a prospect. He didn't show it in his
disastrous start in Montreal, but he has decent stuff, including a great curve ball, and could be a contributor with the Sox. The bullpen is full of re-treads, including Jose Santiago and Courtney Duncan. The lone prospect is Jeff Bajenaru, a 26-year-old reliever who tore up Birmingham this year. He's a little old to be a prospect, but he did lose a year to reconstructive surgery. Bajenaru has some pop on his fastball and has an avid following among the people who post on soxtalk.com. At best, he could be a Politte-like set up man for the Sox.

So that's it for the prospects on the Charlotte roster. One 22-year-old pitcher with a 88 mph fastball and a wicked curve and a 26-year old flamethrower. Slim pickens, to say the least.

It's unclear how much better the Charlotte roster will be next year. Former first round pick Brian Anderson would likely play centerfield in Charlotte next year, and it is likely that he will be joined in the outfield by Mike Spidale, who has little power but is getting on base at a .380 clip in Birmingham. Marginal prospect Heath Phillips (think Josh Stewart) would also be in line for a promotion, in addition to Ryan Meaux and reliever Josh Fields (the "other" Josh Fields). 2005 would have been the year for Kris Honel and Ryan Wing to pitch in AAA, but their injuries have made that unlikely. All tolled, the Charlotte roster might increase its prospect total from 2 (or, more aptly, 1 1/2) to about 5-6 in 2005.

This is, of course, a symptom of the Sox strategy of trading prospects away for players during the Sox's stretch drive. I do not regret any of those trades - they all seemed like risks I would be willing to take to help the Sox make the postseason. But the failure of the Sox to make the post season in 2003 does make those trades tougher to swallow in hindsight. But hopefully the Sox's good draft this year will replenish the system and once again the Sox will have excellent prospects at the AA and AAA level to talk about soon.

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