From World to Farm
In case you forgot, neither the Red Sox or Yankees are in the World Series. In fact, neither team in the Fall Classic even possesses a large payroll. Because of this, much of the foundation for Houston and Chicago is the farm system. The White Sox great rotation is made of two Sox farmhands (Buerhle and Garland) as well as another that is a product of Sox prospects (Freddy Garcia). For Houston, look no further than Lance Berkman, Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane for proof that they value the minors.
Today, I want to look at the farm systems of the Astros and the White Sox. Both, coincidentally, have been ranked tops in the Majors by Baseball America within the last ten years. However, the two came into rough times in about 2002-2003, in which the top prospects were Carlos Hernandez, John Buck and Joe Borchard. This season was a good one for both farm systems, one in which multiple top prospects identified themselves on both clubs.
First, I'd like to rehash the influence that rookies had on the club this season. During the postseason, we have seen strong contributions from rookies. For the White Sox, Bobby Jenks has become a household name, pitching in each game of the World Series, and dramatically closing out the first. On the other side, Phil Garner has received much help this October from Willy Taveras, Chris Burke, Chad Qualls and Wandy Rodriguez. Brandon McCarthy has watched from the Chicago dugout as well, while the Astros also have sparingly used Eric Bruntlett and Ezequiel Astacio. While both teams have received quite a bit from rookies, sheer quantity has to give the Astros the edge here.
Interestingly enough, two of the top prospects from each of these teams are of a similar mold. For purposes of this farm system comparison, let's first compare/contrast these two, then look at the rest of the top tier for each, and finish with comparing depth.
The Chicago White Sox had a lot of picks in the 2004 draft. With three selections before the second round, the club started by taking two collegiate products -- raw third baseman Josh Fields and less-raw Clemson hurler Tyler Lumsden. The third selection was of a different mold, a short high school southpaw from Florida named Giovany Gonzalez. For Houston, their 2004 high school southpaw story was a bit different, as they waited until the ninth round to select Texan Troy Patton.
What is most amazing about these two players is just how similar they are. Born only sixteen days apart, both are smaller left-handers with similar (small) builds. Oh, and if you hadn't guessed it, their stuff is similar too. Here is a condensed version of the report on Patton that I filed after the Futures Game:
...the southpaw started the inning with a 93 mph fastball, the only velocity the pitch hit in four throws. He also showed an impressive change in the dirt, and forced a ground out from Bergolla on a mid 70s, loopy curve.
Later, I also went on to further detail Patton's good curve. Our second report comes from Baseball America, specifically their September 2 Daily Dish, in which Gio Gonzalez' playoff performance is described. To quote, "[Gonzalez] showed off an explosive 93 mph fastball, hammer curve and a late-diving changeup." Other than a few miles per hour on the curveball, sound familiar?
Statistically, the two are also very alike. Both started the season in the South Atlantic League, and as you can see, the league posed a problem for neither:
Name ERA IP H K BB HR
GG 1.87 57.2 36 84 22 3
TP 1.94 78.2 59 94 20 3
Gonzalez would have likely matched Patton in innings pitched, had he not missed a few starts due to injury. While nearly the same in ERA and home runs, Gonzalez has better "stuff" indicators (H/9, K/9), while Patton betters Gio in the "polish" peripherals (BB/9, K/BB). Next, let's look at what happened when the two moved up a level, this time to the Carolina League:
Name ERA IP H K BB HR
GG 3.56 73.1 61 79 25 5
TP 2.63 41 34 38 8 2
This time, it's Gonzalez with the innings pitched advantage. Again, the numbers tell a story of Gonzalez having the stuff advantage, while Patton seems to be less raw. We also might be seeing Gonzalez' inning advantage hurt him, as we have since heard of shoulder soreness for the Floridian. If the shoulder is a problem, than Patton has a clear advantage. Without it, this argument is literally six in one, half dozen in the other.
Next, we move from the mound to behind it, to less similar players that share only the centerfield position and a Texas background. In one hand, you have Chris Young, a 2001 16th round choice out of high school. Young struggled his first year out of the gate, in 2003 playing in the Arizona League (.217/.308/.380) and then improved the next season in the Appy League (.290/.357/.479). Hunter Pence, born five months before Young in 1983, was drafted in 2004 from Texas-Arlington. Pence then moved from dominating the NCAA level to making a big short-season debut (.296/.369/.518).
One other similarity between these two players was a similar spot to their full-season debut (Young in 2004, Pence in 2005): the South Atlantic League. The results, on the other hand, were a bit different:
Name AVG OBP SLG AB BB SO
HP 0.338 0.413 0.652 302 38 53
CY 0.262 0.365 0.505 465 66 145
Basically, Pence's season was his breakout one as a prospect. Young, however, just looked like a breakout might be on the way. The two both showed solid power and discipline, though Pence was better in the latter, while Young had the walk advantage. The knock on Young, of course, was a strikeout problem that Pence couldn't imagine. However, I believed in Young enough to put him on my breakout list before the season began.
This, of course, proved correct as Young has vaulted himself up the prospect ladder with a great 2005 season. His season in AA (.277/.375/.545) was complemented by great defense and 32 stolen bases. Pence's promotion didn't go so well, as he did not skip high-A like Young, but still solid (.305/.382/.490). However, Pence does not have the defense and speed that Young does, likely because he stands 6-4.
Considering how advanced Pence is, and how raw Young's contact skills are, these players are on similar ETAs. However, there is no question Chris Young is the better prospect, looking better than Pence from the standpoints of age, defense, speed, discipline, and quite possibly power. So, through these two prospects, the White Sox have an advantage.
And like the World Series, the advantage will only widen the further we look. While Patton and Pence are likely the Astros two best prospects, we have yet to mention a top 30 prospect in the White Sox organization -- Brian Anderson. The former first-round pick has done nothing but impress across the board since being drafted, and surely impressed White Sox brass by hitting two home runs in September off Felix Hernandez. Anderson's presence is the predominant reason I have previously called for the White Sox to trade Scott Podsednik.
The depth advantage is another to surely go to the White Sox, as the Astros really only have three other prospects -- all pitchers -- worth mentioning. While I don't think the White Sox can match that, they might be able to when considering the Astros have nothing to match Brian Anderson. For the Astros, the three pitchers are Fernando Nieve, Jason Hirsh and Jimmy Barthmaier. Nieve we have known about for awhile, but he really took a step forward this year, pitching great in the Texas League before not doing great in the PCL. Hirsh was the Texas League pitcher of the year, though at 24 years of age. Barthmaier was another to really step up, with a 2.27 ERA in 134.2 Sally League innings at 21.
To compare, the White Sox have two other solid pitching prospects in their system. Going against Barthmaier is fellow SAL pitcher Ray Liotta, another 2004 draftee, and one that beat Barthmaier's ERA by one-hundredth of a point. Liotta is definitely more polished than Barthmaier, and this argument looks similar to that of Gonzalez-Patton. Another good pitching prospect was Lance Broadway, the Sox' 2005 first-round pick, in his age 21 season, he hung in there in the Carolina League. He'll head back there in 2006, and will still hit AA younger than Hirsh did. Broadway is in a similar mold to Brandon McCarthy, pitchers that throw off great curveballs and not fantastic fastballs.
As I have previously said, after this bunch, the edge goes to the White Sox. They had a better showing in the short-season leagues than Houston, despite the latter looking like they had the better draft. The Sox also have players like Francisco Hernandez, Robert Valido, Ryan Sweeney, Kris Honel and others playing in full-season baseball.
Looking forward, the White Sox currently have a better farm system than the Astros. However, with Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio on the roster, and the likes of Patton, Nieve, Barthmaier and Hirsh in the minors, the Astros will get some rotation help in the near future. As for the White Sox, look for the club to get help in the outfield, the rotation and the trade block soon.