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.
The Chicago White Sox enjoyed success across their seven-team Minor League system. Among the highlights: Great Falls won the Pioneer League championship; Double-A Birmingham won the Southern League first-half division title, and Kannapolis (76-62) enjoyed a strong regular season but narrowly missed out on the South Atlantic League playoffs.
The Sox also saw top prospect Eduardo Escobar and a trio of pitchers -- right-hander Dylan Axelrod, southpaw Hector Santiago and righty Addison Reed -- emerge onto the scene and make their Major League debuts.
White Sox Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Tyler Flowers, Charlotte (65 games): The cleanup hitter struck 15 home runs and reached base safely in 39 percent of his plate appearances. A Braves draftee acquired in a December 2008 trade involving Javier Vasquez, Chicago's No. 5 prospect also appeared in 38 Major League games this season, subbing for the injured A.J. Pierzynski.
"When we traded for him, we felt that he could be a run-producing bat," assistant director of player development and scouting Del Matthews said. "We're starting to see what our reports indicated he could be for us. ... He really took off this year."
First base -- Dan Black, Kannapolis (135 games): A 14th-round draftee out of Purdue University in 2009, Black collected a system-best 146 base hits, 41 doubles and 98 RBIs. Coming back from a so-so May, the switch-hitter plated 29 runs in 26 June games. Black was positioned solely at first in his first full season as a pro.
"I wouldn't say [his breakout] was expected, but it was definitely welcomed with how he went about his business," Matthews said. "He's going to have a chance to hopefully do the same in a hitter's park at Winston-Salem [next season]."
Second base -- Tyler Kuhn, Charlotte (23 games), Birmingham (107 games): Kuhn registered the organization's highest batting average (.333) and legged out the most triples (11). Named the Southern League's Best Utility Player, he finished second in the circuit in batting (.341) prior to his Triple-A callup. His greatest value, however, appeared to be his versatility: Matthews said Kuhn, who played 20 or more games at four different positions, is a strong candidate to be a super-utility player in the Majors.
"He has always been able to get into the lineup because of his bat," Matthews said of the Sox's 15th-round draftee in 2008. "This year, at Birmingham, it's not such a hitter-friendly environment, but that didn't stop him. He got off to a hot start and never looked back."
Added Knights manager Joe McEwing, "He's a huge asset to every ballclub that he's on."
Carlos Sanchez, who will move to shortstop next season, also deserves a mention. In his first pro season in the states -- he played 68 games between Bristol and Kannapolis -- the product of Venezuela wowed with his glove and drew comparisons to countryman Escobar. "At only 19 and playing at Low-A," Matthews said, "he has been tremendous."
Third base -- Dallas McPherson, Charlotte (101 games): No longer the top prospect he was with the Angels, who grabbed him in the 2001 Draft's second round, the gritty veteran nevertheless put together a strong season for the Knights and reached the 20-home run plateau for the third consecutive season.
"This guy has been up and down and through a lot with the back surgeries, but he's strapped it on every day for us and played well," Matthews said. "When you sign those [veterans], that's what you're looking for -- great teammate, tireless work ethic and he had a very good year at Charlotte."
Before his September callup, McPherson had a truly awesome August: .354 batting average, 12 long balls and 32 RBIs in 25 games.
"It was nice to watch," added McEwing, who will join the White Sox staff in 2012. "The last two months of the season, he really turned it on. ... He is a guy that can help a big league situation, a left-handed bat coming off the bench."
Shortstop -- Tyler Saladino, Winston-Salem (102 games): Saladino, now playing for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, was batting .192 through 19 May games after overcoming a broken hand suffered in Spring Training. The seventh-round draftee in 2010 righted himself and finished 2011 with a .270 average. Now the organization's No. 10 prospect, he collected 51 extra-base hits, including 16 dingers, in his first full season as a pro.
"He had some surprising home-run power, which was definitely welcomed for a shortstop," Matthews said. "We have a good feeling that he's going to stay in the middle of the infield with how he plays defensively. ... [Moving to Birmingham in 2012] wouldn't be out of the realm. We're pretty aggressive when our guys start to play well and take off."
Dayan Viciedo, Charlotte (119 games): The strong-armed if not very rangy Viciedo has made his name with his bat. He batted .325 before the All-Star break, then scuffled after it. Matthews pointed to Viciedo's improved strikeout-to-walk ratio of 83-45 as a sure sign of progress. A second straight season with an even 20 homers is a good omen too.
"The prodigious power is well documented, and he's really becoming a complete hitter," Matthews said of Viciedo, to whom the club handed a four-year, $10 million contract in December 2008. "This year, in Triple-A, he was able to be more selective ... and really develop some patience. ... He doesn't have to swing at 100 percent; he can swing at 80 percent and the ball is still going to go just as far."
McEwing concurred: "It was a tremendous growth year for him, just getting the at-bats. ... The biggest adjustment he has made is not leaving the strike zone and making pitchers come for him."
Viciedo finished 2011 in the bigs, where he had mixed results in 29 games for the Sox.
"We have a good feeling about Dayan," added Matthews, "and we're hoping that 'The Cuban Tank' is an impact player here in right field in Chicago for years to come."
Brady Shoemaker, Winston-Salem (19 games), Kannapolis (99 games): The South Atlantic League All-Star batted .319 and reached double digits in home runs (11) for the third straight year prior to his promotion. The righty-handed hitter spent his time between the second and fifth spots in the lineup, mashed lefty pitching to a .395 clip.
"He has always been able to hit," Matthews said of Chicago's 19th-round draftee in 2009. "He's somewhat of a streaky hitter, where he'll, for four or five days, run off three or four home runs in a row. When he gets locked in, he's as good anybody. ... We're hopeful that he's able to replicate what he did this year next year at High-A."
Trayce Thompson, Kannapolis (136 games): . The Sox's second-round draftee in 2009 busted out with 24 home runs and 87 RBIs while leading the system in runs (95) in his first full season as a pro. Matthews said Thompson, the son of former NBA player Mychal Thompson, also is still growing into his lanky Hunter Pence-like frame. That is why Matthews said he wasn't concerned with Thompson's subpar batting average (.241) or strikeout-to-walk ratio (172-60).
"He is a young player, but just the way the ball comes off of his bat is different from than some of the other guys at 20 years old," Matthews said of the organization's No. 9 prospect. "He plays a great center field, just as good as anybody in our organization, and that's saying a lot with [Charlotte's] Jordan Danks, who won the Gold Glove in center field for the Minor Leagues."
Designated hitter -- Ian Gac, Winston-Salem (140 games): Gac played in more games and hit more home runs (33) than any other White Sox farmhand. Named the Carolina League Most Valuable Player, he fell four RBIs short of his second 100-RBI season. The pending free agent should see his first action at Double-A in 2012.
"We're hopeful that we are able to bring him back next year, but he's certainly a guy that has caught the attention of a lot of clubs in the Minor Leagues with just his ability to put up those power numbers," Matthews said. "Light-tower power is what they call it."
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Dylan Axelrod, Charlotte (15 games), Birmingham (11 games): Axelrod, whom the Sox signed out of independent league ball in August 2009 based on the recommendation of Kannapolis skipper Tommy Thompson, won a Double-A job in Spring Training and finished the season in the Majors. With the ability to throw all four of pitches at any time in the count, he compiled a 9-3 record and a 2.69 ERA over 26 games -- including 24 starts -- in the Minors.
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Hector Santiago, Birmingham (15 games), Winston-Salem (eight games): A 30th-round pick in 2006, Santiago blossomed when given his first opportunity to start full time. The 23-year-old accumulated a 3.60 ERA and fanned 117 batters in his 127 1/3 innings. There were warning signs: Santiago's velocity started to spike at the end of 2010, then he added a screwball while pitching in Puerto Rico during the winter. "He came into Spring Training and was almost a different guy," said Matthews, adding that Santiago has the potential to join the big league bullpen in the future.
Relief pitcher -- Addison Reed, Charlotte (13 games), Birmingham (11 games), Winston-Salem (15 games), Kannapolis (four games): Now Chicago's No. 7 prospect, Reed spent time at every full-season affiliate and dominated batters at each. The power-armed right-hander, who employs what McEwing calls a deceptive drop-and-drive delivery, fashioned a 1.26 ERA in 43 appearances. He struck out 111 in 78 1/3 innings before finding similar success in his six Major League appearances.
"Level to level, he just kept striking guys out," Matthews said, adding he views Reed as the White Sox's closer of the future.
"His mound presence, his composure is outstanding. He believes in his ability," McEwing added. "Special kid, special arm."