Morel, Short provide hope for Sox

Winston-Salem enjoys solid year, but much of system sputters

Brent Morel hit .322 and drove in 64 runs at two levels. (Joy R. Absalon/MiLB.com)

By Danny Wild / MLB.com | October 21, 2010 6:00 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

Winston-Salem, the White Sox's Class A Advanced club, enjoyed the most success in the system in 2010, going to the Carolina League championship and receiving numerous honors for both the organization and front office after its first season at BB&T Park. But not many other Chicago affiliates had it that good -- Rookie-level Great Falls lost in the Pioneer League semifinals, Double-A Birmingham finished last in the Southern League and both Triple-A Charlotte and Class A Kannapolis missed the playoffs.

White Sox organizational All-Stars

Catcher -- Cole Armstrong, Birmingham (97 games): Armstrong gets the nod over Tyler Flowers, although he's a bit older and was reassigned to Double-A in Spring Training. The former Rule 5 pick hit .276 with eight homers and ranked second among ChiSox catchers with 43 RBIs. He owned a .370 on-base percentage and earned Southern League Player of the Week honors Aug. 30 after hitting .350 in 23 games that month. Flowers, who reached the Majors, struggled with strikeouts and finished the season batting .220, although he did lead all Chicago backstops with 16 longballs.

"He's a tremendously talented kid that is trying to correct some swing problems and some approach flaws, in my mind," White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker said of Flowers to MLB.com. "I'm still confident he's on the right track, but this winter is important to him."

First base -- Seth Loman, Winston-Salem (133 games): Loman, like many of his Winston-Salem teammates, had no problems hitting the ball in 2010. The infielder finished the year batting .292, ranked second in the ChiSox system with 25 homers -- the most among first baseman -- and added 88 RBIs, trailing only Kannapolis' Ian Gac.

"He progressed very well," said Winston-Salem manager and former Major League infielder Joe McEwing. "He made a lot of adjustments from the previous year. He's staying on his legs a little longer and recognizing offspeed pitches. He's made incredible adjustments from the year before."

The 25-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., native has come a long way since being the Angels 47th-round pick in 2005. He was released and spent time working his way back with an independent league club. In 2010, he batted .314 with runners on base and kept the average a point or two on either side of .300 every month of the season besides May, when he hit .259 but knocked in 21 runs in 30 games.

"He's a guy who'll continue to progress," McEwing said. "He'll have to hit at every level to prove himself, but he's a very athletic kid that adjusted to first base very well. He'll be a valuable asset to any lineup."

Second base -- Andrew Garcia, Winston-Salem (119 games): Believe it or not, Garcia's nine homers were the most in the entire organization among second baseman, tying him with Chicago's Gordon Beckham, and they came despite missing time with a torn ankle ligament. His 70 RBIs further set him apart from other middle infielders, as did a hot April when he batted .342 and knocked home 20 runs in 21 games.

"It took a while for him to get back to where he was before he got hurt," McEwing said. "His numbers suffered a little bit -- he lost his rhythm -- but he battled back. He's definitely an outstanding plus defender. He's very good at turning double plays and he had a good year."

Kannapolis' Dan Wagner also posted respectable stats, batting .272 with 47 RBIs and 37 stolen bases, second in the organization only to Juan Pierre.

Third base -- Brent Morel, Charlotte (81 games), Birmingham (49 games): Morel improved upon his 2009 All-Star season by moving up three levels for his Major League debut. The former third-round pick hit .326 at Double-A and .320 at Triple-A, finishing a combined .322 with 10 homers, 64 RBIs, eight steals and a .359 on-base percentage. He cooled in June but finished the season strong, hitting .347 in July and .343 in August.

"Our organization thinks Morel is a plus defender," Walker said. "That goes a long way with him being successful for us. He has talent to hit up [in the Majors]. He has proven that. There are a few things we are tweaking with his swing. He's still got a few misses that we are looking to iron out this winter, but he can be a productive offensive player."

The 23-year-old, who appeared in 21 Major League games, batted .323 with runners on base as a Minor Leaguer and added 52 extra-base hits. Winston-Salem's Jon Gilmore also posted solid numbers, finishing .312 with five homers and 80 RBIs in 135 games.

"The more efficient he becomes with his legs and swing, the more pop you will see," Walker said. "Every time I see him, it's a little better. His swing and offensive game [are] evolving. He's working on some things, nothing major, just minor things to iron out."

Shortstop -- Luis Rodriguez, Charlotte (94 games): The switch-hitting 30-year-old Rodriguez hit .293 with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs in 94 games, with 44 of those coming at short. The White Sox are rather thin throughout the system at the position -- Eduardo Escobar hit .285 with 39 RBIs in 87 games at Winston-Salem and Tyler Saladino finished batting .309 with 18 RBIs in 47 games at Kannapolis -- but Rodriguez, a veteran for sure, posted easily the best power numbers in 2010. The Venezuelan has spent parts of five seasons in the Majors and 2010 was his 12th professionally, but he's proved again he can contribute should the Sox need an infielder.

Outfielder -- Brandon Short, Winston-Salem (116 games): Short boasted the third-highest average in the Sox's Minor League system at .316 in 2010 and had a very balanced season, finishing with 15 homers, 79 RBIs and seven stolen bases (although he was caught 10 times).

"You can't say enough good things about him -- he's just an outstanding kid," McEwing said. "He's a guy who goes about his business the right way; he's a professional. And to see the progression he's made from year to year, not just that, but from week to week and month to month and the adjustments he's been able to make. He's hitting, he's getting from point A to point B in a hurry, he's a very talented kid with tremendous upside."

The Mechanicsville, Md., native was Carolina League Player of the Week on May 10 and was a two-time Carolina League All-Star selection. He hit .373 against left-handed pitching, .339 with runners in scoring position and batted better than .350 in April, May and August.

Outfielder -- Stefan Gartrell, Charlotte (139 games): A two-time Southern League All-Star in 2009, Gartrell held his own against Triple-A pitching, finishing with 27 homers -- the most among White Sox Minor Leaguers -- and 80 RBIs, good for third among ChiSox farmhands. His strikeouts (152) were up and his average (.255) dipped, but he still proved to be the Knights' most productive hitter -- no other Charlotte hitter had as many as 60 RBIs. He hit .322 in April, had 48 extra-base hits and knocked in 19 runs in both July and August.

Outfielder -- Nick Ciolli, Kannapolis (115 games), Winston-Salem (10 games): Ciolli, Chicago's 10th-round pick in 2009, impressed in his first full season, batting a combined .303 with 13 homers and ranking fifth in the system with 78 RBIs. The Indiana State University product showed signs of that type of production in his final season with 50 RBIs in 54 games, but the Sox have to be pleased with how quickly he's transitioned to Minor League pitching.

"From what I've seen, he's very good, very impressive," said McEwing, who managed him for about two weeks. "He's an aggressive kid. He goes at things one way -- that's top speed -- in everything he does. From what I've seen, he looked good."

The 22-year-old hit near .300 for much of the year at Class A and did even better once he was promoted, batting .375 in 10 games with the Dash. He swiped 13 bases, added five triples and saw the majority of his time batting fifth in the lineup. He hit .313 with runners in scoring position and two outs and .545 with one homer with the bases loaded.

Designated hitter -- Ian Gac, Kannapolis (134 games): Gac posted great numbers for the Intimidators, although it was his eighth season in the Minors at the Class A level, a lifetime for most aspiring hitters. He's 25 now and, after hitting .276 with 20 homers and an organizational-best 91 RBIs, he should certainly be in line to make his Double-A debut in 2011. The Seattle native struggled last season in the Class A Advanced California League with Texas, so the Sox opted to send him down to Class A again, where he showed what made him the slugger who hit 32 homers and 109 RBIs in '08. He batted .308 in June and July this year, added 34 doubles for the season and hit .280 against right-handers.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Terry Doyle, Kannapolis (seven games), Winston-Salem (20 games): Doyle grew up in Red Sox Nation, but he's made a nice transition to the Pale Hose. The 6-foot-4 righty went 12-10 with a 2.94 ERA and an organizational-best 157 strikeouts in 168 1/3 innings between two levels. Only Chicago's John Danks (162) had more strikeouts in 2010.

"He's a tremendous competitor, he competes his butt off," said McEwing. "He wants the ball until the end of the ninth. He's able to mix four pitches for strikes at any time and able to locate to all four pitches -- it's one of the biggest assets he's got. He competes at a high level and is able to throw four pitches at any time."

The Boston College product was especially nasty at Class A, going 4-2 with a 0.96 ERA in seven starts. He features a fastball, curve, change and a cutter-slider, throwing his heater in the 89-91 mph range with good control. He was promoted mid-season and earned Carolina League Pitcher of the Week honors June 7.

"He's very polished," said McEwing, who helped the Mets reach the World Series in 2000. "He almost had a big league season with about 180 innings, and he did an outstanding job. He wants the ball, he doesn't want to come out of the game. You wish you had five starters like that every day."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Spencer Arroyo, Great Falls (two games), Bristol (13 games): Arroyo appeared in only 15 games at the Rookie level, but he posted tremendous numbers. The Phillies' 31st-round pick in 2008 joined Chicago after Philadelphia cut him after Spring Training. He spent most of the year with Bristol in the Appy League, going 7-2 with a 2.49 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 76 innings before joining Great Falls for a playoff run, where he made two regular-season starts in which he allowed one earned run over 11 innings. He got the ball for the division-clinching start for the Voyagers and allowed one hit over six frames to beat Billings. The Phillies may be sorry.

Relief pitcher -- Ryan Braun, Charlotte (52 games): Braun finished second in the system with 18 saves (four behind Birmingham's Anthony Carter) and posted solid numbers all around, going 1-3 with a 2.20 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 57 1/3 frames at Triple-A. The 30-year-old Major League veteran held opposing batters to a .213 average, did not allow a run in nine April appearances and owned a 0.77 ERA over 11 August outings.

Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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