With Joe Strauss giving public voice to rumors about a possible trade with the White Sox, it might be instructive to take a glance at the White Sox’s farm system. While the rumors seem to be centered around the major league components including Edwin Jackson (2011 salary: $8.35M) and/or Matt Thornton (2011-2013: $3M, $5.5M, $5.5M; 2014 club option: $6M w/ $1M buyout), the Cardinals would be unlikely to move Colby Rasmus with three cost controlled years remaining for a rental pitcher or a reliever. So the expectation should be that the Cardinals acquire at least one prospect as well.
It’s difficult to assess who exactly the Cardinals might target from the White Sox farm system but what follows is an outsider’s view of the top prospects.
The top prospect entering the season for the White Sox was Chris Sale who had pitched 23 innings in the majors in 2010 but hadn’t quite exhausted his rookie status. The lefty started the year in the majors and has maintained a high level of performance in his sophomore season including an impressive 9.35K/9IP. If Matt Thornton is part of the White Sox package, it seems unlikely that they would double dip into the bullpen. Sale has 4-5 more years of being a cost-controlled reliever so he’s just not a good candidate to expect to be in a trade package.
After Sale you’ll find a trio of position players that seem to be in the mix for any position from 2 through 8 on various top 10 lists. The first is Brent Morel, a third baseman, who ended 2010 after a cup of coffee in the majors and began 2011 as the White Sox primary third baseman. He’s been unequivocally terrible this year with a .242/.261/.291 slash line at the hot corner. Given the plethora of internal third base options the Cardinals have, there’s little reason to discuss Morel’s upside.
Eduardo Escobar is a slick fielding shortstop with a questionable bat. A nominal switch hitter, Escobar has been stronger from the right side of the plate. 2010 was a breakout year at the plate for Escobar where his offense reached average levels relative to his league. Scouts seem to project additional power and offensive potential for Escobar but it is difficult for me to see what would make him a more attractive prospect than say Ryan Jackson.
An impatient, powerful corner infielder, Dayan Viciedo is a Cuban import to the White Sox farm system that flashes impressive power at the plate. He’s better suited for first base but could stick as a below average defensive third baseman. Viciedo has spent the season in Charlotte, the White Sox’s AAA affiliate, questions about his defense, plate approach and physical regimen remind one of Matt Adams if Adams walked less, hit for less power and was 5 inches shorter. Again, Viciedo might be a decent prospect but not one that the Cardinals are likely to pursue.
The Sox farm system also includes a toolsy outfielder in Jared Mitchell who missed almost all of 2010 after injuring his ankle in spring training. Mitchell is a speedy player in High-A baseball who has the ability to stick in centerfield depending on his arm strength. He doesn’t project for more than gap power and his 2011 statistics have shown a dangerous propensity for the strikeout. While the Cardinals farm system doesn’t have a lot of high level centerfield prospects (Tommy Pham and Oscar Taveras notwithstanding), Mitchell is very much a long shot to develop into a major league player.
Shifting away from the position players, Jaocb Petricka is best described as a live arm with an uncertain future role. His fastball will sit mid-90s and he has a slider and changeup though neither would be described as plus given their inconsistency. He has the size (6′ 5″) and velocity of a starter, which he can hold onto late into a game, but the lack of command on his secondary pitches may eventually put him in the pen. Petricka is still in the low minors but could move quickly if the right hander was dedicated to the bullpen.
Featuring superb command and a fastball that will touch mid-nineties, Addison Reed has progressed quickly though the White Sox farm system moving from low-A to AA in 2011. His statistics far outstrip his stuff where Reed has used a mix of his fastball, slider and changeup to utterly dominate hitters striking out 83 and walking just 11 in 57 IP. Of the relievers on this list, reports on Reed make him out to be someone who could be a decent starter in my mind. I say that as someone who has not seen him pitch and admittedly he has started just a handful of times in his pro and college career.
The last arm of interest is Gregori Infante, a Venezuelan product. Infante has reached the highest level of competition among Reed and Petricka pitching most of the 2011 season in AAA. Infante has a violent delivery and one that he struggles to execute consistently leading to control problems. With plus velocity on his fastball, Infante is another live arm that has the potential to be a late inning reliever but whose command will ultimately determine his upside.
Summary: First of all, it’s important to be clear that the White Sox’s farm system is downright terrible. Chris Sale would have been the only player with a chance to crack the Cardinals top 5 and I think only Morel, Viciedo and, perhaps, Reed would have cracked the top 10. The key to the system is how highly you rate relief prospects with good velocity. While the Cardinals have shown that can be a boon in recent years with the additions of Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez to the big league pen, few of those players were highly sought after assets prior to their arrival in the majors with Sanchez being the exception.
If the Cardinals are looking to move Colby Rasmus for some combination of Edwin Jackson, Matt Thornton and/or prospects, they may need to get a third team involved to sweeten the deal for the Cardinals. Otherwise, I’d hope the Cardinals focus on the relief arms like Petricka and Reed. The prospects of moving the Cardinals former three-time number 1 prospect for a rental pitcher or a collection of relievers is a bit nauseating to contemplate and unlikely to be a good return on a once and still high upside position prospect. Parse the prospects as you please but I don’t see a good deal for the Cardinals among these names.