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Baseball Thu Jan 27 2011

Cubs, Sox Farm Systems Score Poorly

Thumbnail image for cubs.gifThumbnail image for white sox.gifWhile we look ahead to spring training with multi-part previews on the Cubs and White Sox, analyst Keith Law is looking way ahead with a package of stories on the top prospects and top farm systems in baseball.

The local nines do not fare especially well.

Law, a former Toronto Blue Jays scout and contract negotiator, ranks the Cubs 20th on his list of the farm systems and ranks the Sox 28th. The full articles are available only to ESPN Insider subscribers, but here's the relevant excerpts:

Of the Cubs, Law writes:

A top-10 system before the [Matt] Garza trade, the Cubs probably would place more guys in the 101-150 range than any organization except the Royals. They're loaded with high-floor players who have the potential to be above-average or better big leaguers but aren't there yet. Considering all the picks they've given up to sign free agents, it's remarkable how strong the system still is after the giant trade with Tampa Bay.

On the Sox:

It was hard to get to 10 names for this system, but it will produce at least two players who'll help the major league club try to win the AL Central this year.

His list of the top 100 prospects, weighted more toward star potential than major-league readiness, includes two Chicago pitchers: Trey McNutt of the Cubs and Chris Sale of the Sox.

McNutt, a 21-year-old right-hander who pitched last season in Double-A, ranks 66th:

In McNutt's first outing in the Arizona Rookie League after signing, he sat 95 in his first inning of work. A year later, McNutt was sitting 91-95 and touching 97 mph with an improved changeup, smoother mechanics than he had in college, and a bona fide out pitch in the curveball. There's still some thought he could be a reliever, but this is a starter package from body to arm to repertoire.

Sale, of course, is widely familiar to Chicago baseball fans as a surprise addition to the Sox bullpen last season and a key part of their 2011 hopes. The left-hander remains eligible for Law's list of prospects, coming in at No. 67, because he still qualifies as a rookie this season:

The White Sox say they want to make Sale a starter, and he was a full-time starter for Florida Gulf Coast last spring, but the consensus around the game is that he'll end up a reliever -- and potentially a good one -- for the next few years.

Sale will sit in the mid-90s in relief from a very tough arm angle, barely above sidearm, with a lot of deception that should make him death to left-handed hitters. He's shown he can turn over a changeup from that slot but his slider tends to flatten out on him if he doesn't lift his slot.

Sale is tall but very slight for a pitcher, and his arm action is much better suited to the bullpen, as most scouts don't see it holding up for 180 innings a year. In relief, however, he can contribute right now to the bullpen of the preseason favorites in the AL Central.

UPDATE 3:20: Law also lists 10 prospects who just missed his top-100 list. They include four Cubs and White Sox outfielder Jared Mitchell. I guess that's why Law had good things to say about the Northsiders' depth even after the Garza trade:

CF Brett Jackson: "In effect, Jackson is player No. 101 this year, as he was for the last cut. He projects as an average big league regular at this point, solid across the board but lacking a plus tool. ... He's a big leaguer, and a prospect, but I have always swung this list toward higher-risk upside guys."

3B Josh Vitters: "Swing is still beautiful, and in the Fall League he played third base as well as I've ever seen him play. But he doesn't walk or even work the count -- he sees a pitch he likes and lets 'er rip -- which won't work in the big leagues. And he's not making any progress on that front."

RHP Chris Carpenter: "If I was sure he could start, he'd have been on the list, and not in the 90s. It's big stuff, up to 99 mph in relief in the Fall League and in the low to mid-90s as a starter with a four-pitch mix including a slider that flashes above-average. ... In relief, though, he could have an impact this year as a setup man or seventh-inning guy."

RHP Jay Jackson: "One of my favorite starter prospects before 2010, Jackson saw his velocity dip at the end of the summer."

Mitchell: "He missed the year with an ankle injury and looked rusty (but in excellent physical shape) in the Fall League. He has to show how much of his pre-injury speed he retained after the injury to see how well he projects, because his legs were a significant part of his game."

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