Johnson & Johnson led White Sox

Starter Erik, speedster Micah headline South Side All-Stars

Erik Johnson held Minor Leaguers to a .197 average before a late-season callup. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

By John Parker / | October 11, 2013 6:00 AM

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. 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 White Sox system is short on high-profile prospects. While the Astros boast eight of's Top 100 prospects and the Marlins five (those were the only two teams with worse Major League records than the Sox), Chicago has just one: 19-year-old outfielder Courtney Hawkins at No. 63. That doesn't necessarily bode ill for the future -- top prospect or not, everyone has to perform on the field and the White Sox got some strong performances in 2013, most notably from Southern League MVP Marcus Semien and Double-A Birmingham, which won its first Southern League title since 2002.

Elsewhere, the results were mixed. Triple-A Charlotte, in its final season before moving into the new BB&T Ballpark, finished 21 1/2 games behind first-place Durham in the International League South Division. At 71-69, Class A Advanced Winston-Salem missed the Carolina League playoffs for just the second time in six years. Despite a strong second half, Class A Kannapolis finished 15 games under .500 and Bristol was last in the Appalachian League at 20-45. Great Falls posted the Pioneer League's best record (48-28) but was swept by Helena in the first round of the playoffs.

White Sox Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Kevan Smith, Winston-Salem (101 games): A 2011 seventh-round pick out of the University of Pittsburgh, Smith was the system's top backstop for the second year in a row after putting together a season much like -- but better than -- his 2012 campaign. He hit .286 and posted career highs with 12 homers, 38 walks and a .370 on-base percentage.

Smith threw out 33 of 133 would-be basestealers for a career-low 25 percent (the Carolina League average was 30 percent). At 25, he was old for the level, but there's always a role for a catcher who can hit.

Honorable mention: Zach Fisher, Josh Phegley

First base -- Dan Black, Birmingham (133 games): Another repeat performer from 2012, when he was named Carolina League MVP, Black had a similarly strong season for the Barons. The 26-year-old Purdue product saw his batting average dip to .290, his on-base percentage rise to .411 -- second-best in the Southern League -- and his homer output remain the same (he hit 18 in 2011, 17 in 2012 and 17 this year).

Along with his impressive on-base percentage, Black led the league with 91 walks, ranked second with 83 RBIs and an .881 OPS and was fifth with a .470 slugging percentage. The switch-hitter flashed a little more power from the right side but reached base at the same impressive clip no matter the hurler. He also batted .360/.492/.554 with runners in scoring position.

Honorable mention: Rangel Ravelo

Second base -- Micah Johnson, Kannapolis (77 games), Winston-Salem (49 games), Birmingham (five games): After a solid debut with Rookie-level Great Falls last summer, Johnson tore up the South Atlantic League in his full-season debut. The 22-year-old hit .342/.422/.530 with Kannapolis, stealing 61 bases and scoring 76 runs in 77 games and earning MVP honors at the Sally League All-Star Game before a promotion to Winston-Salem.

The Johnson juggernaut hit a snag in the Carolina League, where his numbers dropped to .275/.309/.360. Promoted to Birmingham near the end of the season, he was a key contributor to the Barons' championship run, delivering 14 hits, 12 runs scored, seven RBIs and seven steals (without getting caught) in 10 playoff games. In the decisive fifth game of the Finals against two-time champion Mobile, Johnson hit his first Double-A homer as the Barons overcame a two-run deficit to win, 4-2.

"He's full of energy," Birmingham manager Julio Vinas said. "He led off for us and he got on all the time and was stealing bases. He did so many things to give so many guys the energy and boost we needed."

White Sox director of player development Nick Capra added, "We knew he could be an exciting player, a real game-changer at the front of a lineup. He was a little hot-and-cold when he got to Winston-Salem, but he learned to make adjustments and was stellar with Birmingham at the end of the year."

Johnson led the Minor Leagues with 84 stolen bases and tied for fifth with 106 runs scored in 131 games -- all very impressive for a ninth-round pick in his first full season.

Third base -- Chris Curley, Winston-Salem (136 games): This is cheating slightly -- Curley spent most of his time at shortstop this season, but he played 44 games at third and has played more at the hot corner in his career. In any case, it was his bat that stood out in 2013 as the 26-year-old Kentucky native led the system with 24 homers and 92 RBIs. Though his numbers tailed off a bit in the second half, Curley hit .280/.350/.471 overall and became the third consecutive Dash slugger to be named Carolina League MVP.

Shortstop -- Marcus Semien, Birmingham (105 games), Charlotte (32 games), Chicago (16 games): Semien had a breakout season, hitting .284/.401/.479 and earning Southern League MVP honors before getting a call to the Majors in September.

The 23-year-old did it all on offense -- his 19 homers ranked second in the system, his 32 doubles placed him fifth and his 24 steals were good enough for sixth. He led the Minor Leagues with 110 runs scored, thanks in part to 98 walks.

Semien spent time at short, third and second for the Barons and Knights, and got a chance to play all three spots for the White Sox.

"We haven't really defined him at one position," Capra said. "We think he can play all three positions in the Majors and it never hurts to have that kind of versatility in your lineup. He's a very polished young hitter -- he does the little things well and understands situational hitting."

"He was good," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said after Semien made his first big league start at shortstop on Sept. 21. "Even late in the game, he had some tough plays. He looked fine. He looked comfortable enough that you trust him being out there."

Utility -- Steve Tolleson, Charlotte (116 games): A 2005 fifth-round pick by the Twins, Tolleson was a true utility player for the Knights in his first season in the White Sox system. The South Carolina native, who grew up about 80 miles from Charlotte, played 37 games at second, 33 at short, 23 at third, 22 in left field, one in right and two as DH.

Tolleson didn't generate much power -- he hit eight homers this season and has never reached double digits in his career -- but his .288 batting average ranked fourth among White Sox full-season farmhand and he reached base at a solid .381 clip.


Jason Coats, Kannapolis (133 games): A four-year standout at TCU, Coats tore his ACL in the final game of his senior season in 2012, fell to the 29th round of that year's Draft and was out for nine months before beginning his pro career with Kannapolis in April.

Despite the late start, Coats was the Intimidators' primary offensive force, leading the club in games, hits, homers, doubles, RBIs and total bases. The 23-year-old Texan batted .337/.379/.432 in April, cooled off as the season went along but was a South Atlantic League midseason All-Star and led the organization with 38 doubles while ranking second with 84 RBIs.

Nolan Earley, Bristol (61 games): Though Bristol finished last in the Appy League and had the lowest team OPS in the circuit, Earley was a bright spot. A 22nd-round pick out of South Alabama in this year's Draft, he ranked fifth in the league in batting (.310) and on-base percentage (.410) and struck out only 26 times while drawing 32 walks.

The 22-year-old is the younger brother of White Sox prospect Michael Earley, who split the season between Birmingham and Charlotte. Nolan hit only two homers for Bristol but has an advanced approach at the plate that will serve him well as he graduates to full-season ball.

"It's always tough to predict how entry-level players will perform as they move up. At that stage, we pretty much let them play and see what we've got," Capra said. "Earley is a real baseball rat -- he comes from a baseball family and has the advantage of picking his brother's brain. He knows how to play the game."

Adam Heisler, Kannapolis (36 games), Winston-Salem (59 games), Charlotte (six games): Like Earley, Heisler is a South Alabama product. The 25-year-old began and ended the season in Kannapolis, with stints with Winston-Salem and Charlotte in between. Signed as a free agent in 2011, he hit .324 and reached base in all 19 of his games with the Intimidators in April.

Heisler found ways to get on base, posting a .378 OBP and scoring 62 times in 101 games. At 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, he totaled only 28 extra-base hits, including five homers. But his OBP was seventh-best among full-season qualifying White Sox farmhands and only 10 -- all of whom had more plate appearances -- scored more runs.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Erik Johnson, Birmingham (14 games), Charlotte (10 games), Chicago (four games): Johnson came into the season with only 17 professional starts under his belt -- none of them above Class A Advanced. He ended it with the big club after a Minor League season that could hardly have gone better.

A 2011 second-round pick, Johnson made two brief appearances for Rookie-level Great Falls that summer as the organization worked to rebuild his mechanics. Last year, he was sidelined until June by shoulder soreness before posting a 2.53 ERA over 92 1/3 innings for Kannapolis and Winston-Salem.

Sporting a new changeup as he began the 2013 campaign with Birmingham, Johnson was lights-out in the Southern League (8-2, 2.23) and even better after a promotion to Charlotte. Johnson went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 10 International League starts, allowing one home run and holding Triple-A hitters to a .209 average. The 23-year-old also was solid in five big league starts (3-2, 3.25), although he surrendered five homers over 27 2/3 innings. Johnson closed the season with three straight wins, including one over Detroit on Sept. 22.

"He made tremendous progress this year," Capra said. "I wouldn't say we 'revamped' his mechanics so much as helped him clean up his direction. He had the stuff when we drafted him -- great fastball, curve, slider -- and adding a changeup makes him so dangerous."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Spencer Arroyo, Birmingham (26 games), Charlotte (one game): Arroyo was a workhorse for the Barons, throwing a team-high 144 2/3 innings in 26 starts. Though his campaign had its ups and downs -- he was particularly sharp in May and July but struggled in June and August -- the 25-year-old lowered his ERA to 3.50 on the season, nearly a full run better than his 2012 mark.

Arroyo doesn't put up big strikeout numbers -- he fanned 96 over 149 1/3 innings to rank 12th in the system -- but he's proven increasingly adept at keeping the ball in the park. After allowing 18 homers in 2011 and 13 last year, he yielded nine this season and held foes to a .251 average, the second-lowest mark of his six-year career.

Relief pitcher -- Daniel Webb, Winston-Salem (eight games), Birmingham (13 games), Charlotte (21 games), Chicago (seven games): Whatever it was that Webb did during the offseason, other pitchers would do well to copy it. In 2012, the right-hander went 1-8 with a 5.81 ERA over 62 innings with Class A Kannapolis. In 2013, he compiled a 1.87 ERA in tearing through three Minor League levels and finished the season in the big leagues.

Webb was particularly effective against right-handed hitters, who batted just .185 against him (including 3-for-18 in the Majors). After allowing Minor Leaguers to hit .293 in 2012, he held them to a .194 mark this year.

Honorable mention: Brad Goldberg

John Parker is an editor for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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