White Sox

Lindholm: Evaluating Top Under-25 Players Of White Sox, Cubs

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Chris Sale. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Chris Sale. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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By Scott Lindholm-

(CBS) Baseball Prospectus published an article recently (available to BP subscribers only) ranking every team’s top 10 players under the age of 25, including both players with major league experience and those still in the minors. All teams want to have a solid and productive core of young players in this age range to keep costs down and big paydays via arbitration or free agency as far away as possible.

Rankings like this can be harbingers of future success, as teams like Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Kansas City made the transition from also-rans to playoff contenders by building and developing from within. As the Cubs and White Sox move forward with their respective development programs, it’s helpful to see if impartial eyes believe progress is being made.

The BP list ranks the Cubs  at No. 10 and the White Sox  at No. 18. This table shows the players for each team (age in parentheses):

CUBS WHITE SOX
Javier Baez (21) Chris Sale (24)
Starlin Castro (23) Avisail Garcia (22)
Kris Bryant (22) Jose Quintana (25)
Anthony Rizzo (24) Erik Johnson (24)
Albert Almora (19) Matt Davidson (22)
Jorge Soler (22) Adam Eaton (25)
C.J. Edwards (22) Dayan Viciedo (24)
Arismendy Alcantara (22) Tim Anderson (20)
Pierce Johnson (22) Courtney Hawkins (20)
Junior Lake (23) Andre Rienzo (25)

Bold=major league experience

I’ll focus on two ways to interpret this chart. The first is to note the players with major league experience, which can range from Starlin Castro’s 2,600-plus plate appearances to Erik Johnson’s five starts or Matt Davidson and Adam Eaton with less that 400 big league plate appearances. The difference between the two teams is fairly stark. In the Cubs case, the list screams potential — seven of the players have no major league experience, and the list is filled with hope if the players develop as projected.

Only two players on the White Sox list lack major league experience. Dayan Viciedo turns 25 today and Chris Sale will turn 25 on March 30, but both feel like they’ve been around forever. The White Sox group has more experience with fewer question marks, which is no guarantee of success.

Another way to evaluate this list is to determine how much of a team can be fielded with these players. For the Cubs, Anthony Rizzo and Castro could soon be joined by Kris Bryant and Javier Baez in the infield. Junior Lake, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler could be a serviceable outfield, but that’s certainly not guaranteed. There’s little buzz around pitchers C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson, which is one reason why the Cubs were so active in the process to obtain Masahiro Tanaka. If the prospects develop as the Cubs hope, they could be in excellent shape offensively, potentially suspect defensively (which can change) and will need pitching to buttress Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija, if he’s still around. The glaring hole could be at catcher.

For the White Sox, it’s not as cut and dried. Davidson is the only infielder no the list, although Jose Abreu will take first base off the list of issues. The outfield is essentially set in the short term with Viciedo, Eaton and Avisail Garcia. They’re in very good shape with starting pitching with three quality starters. Like the Cubs, they could probably also use a catcher unless either Tyler Flowers or Josh Phegley bursts out from what they’ve shown so far.

Baseball Prospectus rates the top five under-25 rosters (in order) as St. Louis, Washington, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Miami, with the bottom five (from 26 to 30) as the Los Angeles Angels, Detroit, New York Yankees, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Not long ago both the Cubs and White Sox could have been part of the bottom-five list, but both have made significant improvements that could be close to bearing fruit.

Fielding a team and achieving success are two different things. The Cubs and White Sox are at different ends of the spectrum, with the Cubs having a solid core of players with high upside but little experience and the White Sox with more players who have made the majors. At some point potential has to transition into success, and 2014 will be a year in which we’ll see if the process begins on both sides of town.

Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottLindholm.

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