The White Sox farm system was at or near the bottom of the MLB barrel for a number of years, basically from the 2005 World Series season until a year or two ago. We won’t explore the many reasons for this now. But one of the key contributing factors to the dearth of talent was the decimation of the team’s Latin American scouting and operations due to the Wilder scandal and ensuing chaos. Getting only a slow drip from their fractured and wheezing talent pipeline put the Sox at a significant disadvantage to the rest of baseball.
Finally in the past year or two, the significant philosophical and operational changes employed by Rick Hahn and company are starting to pay dividends, as the farm system is picking itself up off the floor and showing some real strength. Part and parcel to these gains is the repairing, restructuring and resurrection of the team’s operation in Latin America. The dollars being spent in the Caribbean are increasing dramatically. In 2011, the White Sox’ largest signing bonus in the region was $250,000, and they spent less than $600,000 for that year on all bonuses. In 2012, the largest single bonus paid was $450,000, with multiple others from $400,000 and up. In 2013 the Sox paid $1.6M to Micker Adolfo alone, the 3rd biggest bonus paid by any team, and a total estimated near $3M for the year.
2014 may be the year we see the restructuring and increased resources start generating legitimate prospects on affiliate rosters, some likely in the US. A couple 2011 signees have already been making noise stateside. Big lefty Jefferson Olacio is the 24th ranked prospect in the system and showed flashes of talent with Kannapolis. Right-hander Braulio Ortiz opened some eyes with his performance at Kannapolis and Winston-Salem.
Adolfo (no longer Zapata) should see some time with the new AZL team, according to Assitant GM Buddy Bell. We’ve written in some depth about the number 17 prospect in the system, but there are a number of other prospects signed in the past year or two whose names you may be hearing a lot more often. Some have played in the Dominican Summer League, others haven’t played affiliated games at all yet. Let’s take a look at some of those players likely to garner some attention this year.
NOTE: You will see some DSL stats quoted in these capsules. Stats in this league, especially for teenagers, don’t mean a whole lot. Most of the players are very raw, and are working on specific aspects of their game. Don’t ready too much into them.
Luis Castillo signed as a 16 year old third baseman for $450,000 from the Dominican Republic in 2012. According to Baseball America he’s got a sound RH swing and plus power potential. Defensively he’s been noted to have average hands and arm strength, with good lateral movement and surprising speed for his size (6’3”, 200 pounds at signing). Castillo hasn’t played affiliated ball yet, but likely will be on the DSL squad this season.
Johan Cruz was also signed for $450,000 in 2012, as a 16 year old shortstop. Baseball America rated the Dominican as one of the best shortstop prospects on the island, saying he has good hands, footwork and arm strength. Cruz spent his age 17 season with the DSL Sox and struggled mightily at the plate (.123/.216/.160), but the 20.5% K rate was not bad for his age and level. Given his struggles with the bat, Cruz likely plays one more season in the islands before coming north.
Outfielder Antonio Rodriguez was signed for $400,000 in 2012, and he was considered by some scouts to be the toolsiest player the Sox signed that year. Rodriguez actually played in the US in 2013 as an 18 year old, hitting .120 in just 7 games. But the fact that the Sox promoted him to Bristol at 18 signals how serious they consider his talent. Some scouts have said his tools are similar to highly-touted prospect Gregory Polanco: an athletic 6’4” frame with plenty of speed to stay in CF, a plus arm and significant raw power potential from the left side. Look for Rodriguez to be with one of the two rookie affiliates in 2014.
Another outfielder, Hanlet Otano was already 6’4” and 200 pounds when he was signed at age 16 in 2012 from the DR. Likely limited to the corners due to his size, Otano is said to have significant raw power potential. In his first year of pro ball in 2013 (age 16/17) he posted a .185/.248/.279 line with a couple homers and a lot of strikeouts. Going into his age 17/18 season, Otano may need another year in DSL, but he has a better chance of showing up state-side in 2014 than any of the other above prospects.
RHP Victor Done was signed in 2012 at 16, and was listed at 6’3” and 190 pounds. BA’s scouting report indicated he has a solid delivery for his age, a fastball that has reached 91 mph, a sharp curve and a change-up in his arsenal. Done started 12 games in the DSL, and he struck some guys out (7.7 K/9), but he got hit a bit and struggled with control in a pretty big way (8.8 BB/9). Done is likely to return to the DSL for one more season, working on his control.
Venezuelan pitcher Carlos Diaz didn’t appear on the radar at the time of signing, but we’re going to break our own rule here and use his numbers as a guide. He’s a left-handed pitcher who the Sox converted from relief to starting, and in 2013 (at age 19) he posted some strong peripherals that stood out among other teenagers on his DSL squad: 10.4 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, .213 BAA. 1.39 GO/AO. His splits also indicate he’s very tough on LHH, so that may offer him an accelerated path. Going into his age 20 season, if his stuff is legit, he should be on a state-side affiliate and could be an interesting one to watch.
One final enigma: RHP Luis Martinez, the first LatAm signing in the Marco Paddy era, who inked a deal for $250,000 in late 2011 just before he turned 17. Martinez spent all of 2013 on the disabled list, but we are unable to get any answers as to why. When signed, Baseball America described his repertoire as including a fastball at 88-91 touching 92, a curve in the high 70’s and a change-up. He was listed at 6’4” and 195 pounds, and had a solid delivery. He’ll be 19 for this season, and assuming he’s recovered from whatever ails him, he should be on an affiliated team.