Sox's Wilkins breaks out with career year

First baseman leads Chicago prospects with 30 homers, 85 RBIs

Andy Wilkins hit .293 in the International League and finished the year in Chicago. (Buren Foster/Charlotte Knights)

By Ashley Marshall / MiLB.com | November 17, 2014 10:00 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Today, continuing with the Chicago White Sox, we're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.

The White Sox ranked 28th among the 30 Major League organizations -- and last in the American League -- with a .453 win percentage after going a combined 345-416 across their Minor League affiliates.

Only the club's Arizona League affiliate (30-25) and Great Falls (39-37) posted winning records for the organization with its full-season domestic teams in Triple-A Charlotte (63-81), Double-A Birmingham (60-80), Class A Advanced Winston-Salem (61-78) and Class A Kannapolis (62-75) losing a combined 68 more games than they won. In the playoffs, the Voyagers, Chicago's only team in contention for a championship, got swept in the first round by eventual champion Billings.

But the Minor Leagues are more than win-loss records and South Siders have reasons to be optimistic for the future. Leading the way is International League home run king Andy Wilkins who, had it not been for Steven Souza's remarkable year in Syracuse, could have been named MVP. In the outfield, high Draft picks Courtney Hawkins and Trayce Thompson also started to come into their own.

Catcher -- Josh Phegley, Charlotte (107 games), Chicago (seven games): Phegley remained the most offensive-minded catcher in the White Sox organization, and he led all South Side backstops in homers (23), doubles (30) and RBIs (75), all career highs. Only one other catcher (Kevan Smith) hit double-digit dingers and no other player at the position had 50 or more RBIs.

Phegley spent half of 2013 in the Majors, hitting .206 with four homers in Chicago, but he didn't let the disappointment of not breaking camp with the big league club this spring affect him. His .861 OPS and 69 runs scored combine with his signal calling to make him a valuable two-way threat moving forward.

"I think he has a lot of value," said White Sox director of player development Nick Capra. "He has had back-to-back good years at Triple-A, and defensively he's cleaning up his game a little bit. He's calling games and he's a good thrower and he works with a pitching staff really well. A lot of it is just the defensive part of the game, calling the game, receiving, blocking balls, throwing balls. We just wanted him to refine that part of his game.

"I would say [his bat] is ready. I think his role right now is more of a backup, but his bat should play. If that's the case, he has some power and he's a gap-to-gap guy and in that role guys can flourish offensively. With his kind of mentality, I think he can handle that role."

First base -- Andy Wilkins, Charlotte (127 games), Chicago (17 games): Wilkins led the organization in homers (30) and RBIs (85), all while maintaining a .293 average at Triple-A and spending a couple weeks with the big league club.

The 26-year-old left-hander put up career numbers in almost every offensive category, including doubles (38), extra-base hits (69) and runs scored. He also cut down on his strikeout totals from last season, where he split time between Charlotte and Birmingham.

"The power came on a lot better this year because he stayed behind the ball better and used the whole field to hit and drove the ball gap to gap," Capra said. "He's learning himself a little bit -- which pitches he can handle.

"I think the ceiling is high for a left-handed kid with power. The key for him is being able to repeat that. With the way he went about his season, he's definitely put himself on the map."

Second base -- Carlos Sanchez, Charlotte (110 games), Chicago (28 games): Sanchez split time between the two middle infield positions this season, showing a combination of power, speed and defense. His seven homers more than doubled the three dingers he hit in his first four seasons, and his 57 RBIs were also a new personal best for a switch-hitter who's more known for his strong arm and slick fielding.

A contact hitter, Sanchez improved his International League average by 51 points since last year, where he batted just .242 in his first full season at Triple-A. His .293 average ranked joint fifth among all White Sox players.

"He's more of a second baseman. He can play shortstop as needs be, once or twice a week," Capra said. "Defensively, he has been really good at second base. He's a young kid that is getting better. From 2013 to 2014, offensively he has got a lot better and defensively he has been pretty good throughout the course of his Minor League career. His bat has come a long way this year.

"So much of the part of the game is knowing yourself and what you can do and keeping to your strengths. Learning the strike zone is a key ingredient of that and he has a pretty good eye at the plate and doesn't offer outside the strike zone too much. He swung at pitches he knew he could handle, and that is fun to watch."

Third base - Trey Michalcwzski, Kannapolis (116 games), Winston-Salem (19 games): Michalcwzski led all full-time third baseman in the system with 75 RBIs, 54 walks and a .430 on-base percentage.

In his first full season, the 19-year-old -- a seventh-round pick from the 2013 Draft -- hit 10 homers with 27 doubles, seven triples and seven stolen bases in 135 games between two levels. He had 161 strikeouts, nearly three times more than walks, but the organization isn't too worried about that at this stage of his young career.

"He's a young kid that started in Kannapolis and ended up in the Carolina League with Winston-Salem," Capra said. "He came on pretty quickly for us, first going from Bristol to the South Atlantic League [in 2013] which is a big jump. ... He's another gap-to-gap guy, a switch-hitter that hit a lot of doubles, and as time goes on and he gets a little older, the power should come.

"I think it's part of the learning process. The more experience he gets, the more at-bats he gets, the better he will be, and I think then the strikeouts will go down."

Shortstop -- Marcus Semien, Charlotte (83 games), Chicago (64 games): Semien played a utility role at times this year, filling in at second base, third base and left field when necessary. Despite just 303 at-bats in the Minors, Semien led all Chicago shortstops with 15 homers. He recorded 52 RBIs and almost drew as many free passes (53) as times he struck out (59).

"Second base might be his best position right now, but he's more than adequate at shortstop and third base, and we actually threw him in the outfield a little bit," Capra said. "He's a player that you love to have on your club because he can do so many things. While his average might not look that good, the kid came up with so many big hits early in the season. Every time he came up with the game on the line, you thought he might come up with a big hit and that says something about him."

Tim Anderson also deserves consideration at shortstop. He hit .301 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 83 games between three levels.

Outfield

Jason Coats, Winston-Salem (115 games), Birmingham (19 games): Coats ranked third among all White Sox players with 81 RBIs and he finished ninth with a .288 average. No outfielder in the system had more than his 56 extra-base hits, and he was first among all Chicago outfielders with 232 total bases.

After 133 games in Kannapolis in 2013, the 24-year-old right-hander spent most of this season in the Carolina League where he hit .291. He earned a promotion to the Southern League in mid-August and will likely begin next year back with the Barons.

"What you see out of Jason is what you get," Capra said. "He's consistent and he's a kid that does the little things day in and out out, like moving the runners. He has a real knack of coming up in big situations and his numbers show you that.

"He's pretty disciplined at the plate and he has a simple approach, not too many moving parts. That allows him to see the ball a little bit better and recognize pitches a little bit better, and that's why we really like his approach at the plate."

Courtney Hawkins, Winston-Salem (122 games): Selected 13th overall in the 2012 Draft, Chicago's No. 5 prospect fared much better in his second look at the Carolina League. The benchmark was admittedly low -- he hit just .178 there 12 months ago -- but Hawkins improved his plate discipline while maintaining the power stroke that first interested scouts.

Hawkins lifted his average to .249 and he hit 19 homers (the same as 2013) with 84 RBIs, which fell just one short of tying Wilkins for the most within the organization. He struck out 17 fewer times in 66 more at-bats than in 2013 and he almost doubled his walk numbers from 29 to 53.

"He cleaned up his swing mechanically and his strikeout numbers went down, which we hope will continue through the course of his career with some more mechanical changes he's making," said Capra. "He cleaned up his direction a little bit and he kept himself grounded in his legs a little bit more so he had more balance.

"This kid doesn't let the numbers affect him. His batting average might not have been good, but he put up some power numbers and drove in some runs and that gives him something to build on. ... He doesn't let the negatives affect him, which is something we tell everybody -- 'Don't worry about the numbers, worry about the progress,' and he's on the right track."

Trayce Thompson, Birmingham (133 games): Selected out of high school in the second round of the 2009 Draft, Thompson is still just 23 years old despite having six years of pro ball under his belt.

A dual threat with his power and speed, Thompson slugged 16 homers and swiped 20 bases this year for Double-A Birmingham. His 34 doubles were two shy of a personal best, and his 65 walks were a new high. His 151 strikeouts limited his average to .237, but no other White Sox youngster matched his homer-steal combo. Only eight other White Sox Minor Leaguers stole 20 bags, and none of them hit double-digit homers.

"His numbers look good, but if we ask him he'd say he's not satisfied with his offense," Capra said. "I think we all believe there is more in there. His average should climb and his power numbers will get better. He's a plus defender in the outfield and he's always scoring runs when he's on base.

"He has the chance to be a really good player and we're just hoping it clicks and he turns into the player we expect him to be. Sometimes players get in their own way by thinking too much, and that's possibly part of the problem where he tries to do too much. We need the game to come to him and let him do what he's capable of. When he figures that out, we're going to have a really good player."

Utility -- Zach Fisher, Great Falls (45 games), Kannapolis (five games): Fisher led all White Sox hitters with a .330 average in 2014, 21 points higher than Rangel Ravelo, who ranked second. One of only three qualifying players to hit at least .300, Fisher spent most of the year in the Pioneer League, where he batted .348.

A left-handed catcher, Fisher has seen time with the Voyagers in each of the past three years, but he set new personal highs in homers (eight) and RBIs (46). He also increased his walk rate and OPS this season. No White Sox batter with at least 200 plate appearances at any level had more total bases per at bat (0.58) than Fisher, who collected 103 total bases in 178 ABs.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Chris Freudenberg, Great Falls (nine games), Kannapolis (six games): Freudenberg went 6-4 with a 3.61 ERA in 15 starts across two levels this season. He struck out 68 batters over 77 1/3 innings in his second year of pro ball. Selected in the eighth round of the 2013 Draft, the 21-year-old lowered his ERA by almost two full runs from his time in the Appalachian League with Bristol 12 months ago. No left-hander in the system had more wins than Freudenberg.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Mike Recchia, Birmingham (19 games), Winston-Salem (seven games): Recchia led all White Sox pitchers with 10 wins and he ranked second with a 3.05 ERA, behind only Tyler Danish (2.08). Recchia's 134 strikeouts topped the organization and set a personal high, and he limited opponents to a .223 batting average, which was also the lowest of his five-year Minors career.

"This kid has done everything we asked," Capra said. "He's maybe the most consistent starter we have. He's someone that is out there every fifth day and we know that when he's on the mound we have a good chance to win the ballgame.

"He had a quality season for us, but I think Danish did too," Capra continued. "Young kid that was in the Carolina League and he has pretty good savvy on the mound and three pretty good pitches, all with movement. He's a command guy and he's still learning himself, but he got better as the season went along. ... He'll probably start in Birmingham next year."

Relief pitcher -- Taylor Thompson, Charlotte (39 games), Chicago (five games):

Thompson shone at the back end of games for the Knights this year, going 3-0 with a 2.14 ERA in 39 appearances. He saved seven games in eight opportunities and struck out 68 batters over 59 International League innings. Only two White Sox players logged more saves (Jon Bengard and Brandon Hardin each had eight).

Called up to the Majors for the first time in his six-year career, Thompson played in five games for the White Sox.

"He has always had good stuff, but command has been an issue in the past but he seemed to put that behind him," Capra said. "He was aggressive in the zone and he had a split-finger pitch that really helped him throughout the year. He learned a lot about himself, and as long as he harnesses his control and stays around the strike zone, he has a chance."

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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