2/22/2013 8:03 P.M. ET
White Sox outfield future blindingly bright
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the experts stack up White Sox Minor League talent against that of pretty much any other organization in baseball, from top to bottom, the White Sox always fall near or at the bottom.
But a system in the process of restocking and strengthening certainly is not a system without possibility of Major League help. The White Sox might even have the outfield of their future sitting in their big league Spring Training clubhouse at Camelback Ranch.
Jared Mitchell is part of the 40-man roster, and Trayce Thompson and Keenyn Walker were extended non-roster invites. And as talented as the three show themselves to be on the field, they aren't even the highest-touted outfield prospects within the group.
That honor belongs to Courtney Hawkins. The White Sox top pick (and 13th overall) in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft and the organization's only representative on MLB.com's list of Top 100 prospects, at No. 68, will take part in Minor League Spring Training.
Though this quartet vies for the same eventual big league opportunity, its members have formed a competitive friendship along the way.
In fact, Thompson and Mitchell have lived together during Spring Training for the past three years.
"Really, it's not about competing. It's for the team, not just for one spot," Walker said. "It's for everyone and what's better for the team."
"Oh, it's definitely a good group. Everybody likes each other," Mitchell said. "We mesh well together. We are all working toward the same common goal. There's no need to fight against each other. It's all in good fun, everything we do."
Mitchell, 24, will begin the 2013 campaign at Triple-A Charlotte barring something surprising. The left-handed hitter and top White Sox pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft is three years removed from tearing a tendon in his left ankle during a Cactus League game, and judging by the rave reviews on his development coming out of the instructional league, his 13 triples, 11 homers, 67 RBIs and 21 stolen bases from 2012 are just the starting point for his burgeoning talent.
Thompson, who turns 22 on March 15, has professional athletics in his lineage. His father, Mychal, won two NBA titles as part of the Lakers' "Showtime" era with Magic Johnson. One brother, Mychel, played for the Cavs last season, and another brother, Klay, averages 16.6 points per game for the Warriors.
Of course, the 25 homers and 96 RBIs posted between 2012 stops at Class A Winston-Salem, Double-A Birmingham and Charlotte for the second-round pick in the 2009 Draft, following a 24-homer, 87-RBI effort for Class A Kannapolis in 2011, need little familial support. Walker, 22, topped the organization with 56 stolen bases in '12 and has 77 stolen bases and a .363 on-base percentage in the two years since he was selected as a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of the 2011 Draft.
As for Hawkins, the 19-year-old ripped through first-year stops at Bristol, Kannapolis and Winston-Salem to produce a .283 average, eight homers, 33 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.
Talent across the board, but no two are exactly alike.
"They all are a little bit different," said assistant general manager Buddy Bell of his outfielders, who landed in the top eight of MLB.com's ranking of the Top 20 White Sox prospects. "Mitch has some power and speed. He's still learning the game a little bit. Walker is more of a slasher/speed guy. And Trayce has kind of all of that in one. Mitch and Thompson are similar, and Keenyn is a little different. Courtney, it still remains to be seen what he can be. From all indications, he'll be able to do a lot of things."
"That's the best part of it. That's why it's so great," Mitchell said. "We are all playing together, but we all realize we are not the exact same player. We can all do some different things on this and that. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, but we are all pulling on the same end of the rope."
Walker and Thompson will play in the same Birmingham outfield to start this season. Hawkins is going to Winston-Salem but could move up quickly. The 2013 starting outfield for the White Sox is set, with Dayan Viciedo, Alejandro De Aza and Alex Rios from left to right.
Viciedo, who turns 24 on March 10, begins just his second full big league season, but many project the dynamic offensive talent as a first baseman or designated hitter. De Aza, at 28, provides a strong leadoff presence, but he has two more years of arbitration eligibility following his present $2.075 million deal. Rios, the team's most gifted all-around player with the bat, has one year left on his deal after 2013.
It's conceivable that two, even three from the group of Mitchell, Walker, Thompson and Hawkins could reach the White Sox together. Thompson has shown a strong defensive presence in center, but there's a versatility among the group in regard to handling specific positions.
There's also no rush on their road to the Majors. With such a good thing in hand, the White Sox want these friends to stay for a long time once they arrive.
"I've played with Jared since I was drafted. I played with Keenyn since he was drafted," Thompson said. "I got to meet Courtney last instructs. He's a really talented guy, a really talented player. He'll be up here soon in this locker room with us. It's pretty exciting."
"We are all happy to see the other one do well," Mitchell said. "[We] push each other, help each other and hope for the best."