***The following post was written by our newest writer, Will Siskel. Look for Will to provide some offseason content, and join our Recap team in April***
The White Sox sent seven prospects to the 2014 Arizona Fall League, and we previewed the reasoning behind the choices back in October. Three of them (Tim Anderson, Francellis Montas, and Chris Bassitt) were sent to the AFL to make up for lost time, as each player dealt with injuries that sidelined them at some point during their 2014 regular seasons. Lefty Scott Snodgress will likely vie for a left-handed specialist role in Spring Training, having recently transitioned from starter to reliever.
Jefferson Olacio’s inclusion, on the other hand, was based off intrigue. Equipped with a fastball reaching 97mph and a 6’7” 270lb frame, Olacio’s major league potential is largely contingent on improving the consistency in his (shaky) mechanics. Still just 20 years old, Nick Basto came off a breakout season offensively in the first half of his 2014 Winston Salem campaign after two unimpressive campaigns in pro ball. Kevan Smith was sent in an effort to get an extended look at his candidacy for a 40-man roster spot. If unprotected, he could be selected in the Rule V draft by another organization.
Having contextualized the situations for each of the seven prospects, let’s get into the statistical and scouting information available for each prospect.
AFL Statistics (23 games played, 93 ABs):
• Slash line: .301/.343/.430
• .129 ISO (Isolated power, SLG – AVG)
• 6 2Bs, 2 HRs, 28 total hits
• 28:4 strikeout to walk ratio
• 6 for 8 in stolen bases
While it’s hard to ignore that 28:4 strikeout to walk ratio, it shouldn’t be news to anyone who has followed Anderson thus far in his brief pro-ball career. In 300 PAs for Winston-Salem (A+) this year, Anderson’s K% was 22.7% to a 2.3 BB%. At the same time though, this isn’t too concerning as Anderson is fairly new to baseball. Regarding Anderson’s plate discipline, Kiley McDaniel (Fangraphs) isn’t worried: “I’m not too concerned. I’d like to see him make some adjustments, but he barely played baseball as an amateur and the tools are absurd.” Anderson’s tools and supreme athleticism haven’t gone unnoticed as he was recently anointed the #2 overall prospect in the White Sox organization according to Baseball America’s John Manuel.
In 45 PAs (small sample size, of course), coming off a broken wrist and making the transition from A+ to AA pitchers, Anderson posted an .864 OPS (without drawing a BB) for Birmingham. Against a more talented pool of pitching competition in the AFL, he seemed generally up to the challenge. Defensively, it boils down to footwork and repetitions at shortstop, notes MLB.com prospect analyst Bernie Pleskoff: “He is graceful and agile in every move he makes. I have observed good range at shortstop, but I have some concerns about his footwork. I have seen Anderson's feet get tangled a bit. That said, he makes all the routine plays and has enough range to get to most balls hit.”
For Anderson, refining defensive footwork and improving plate discipline remain obstacles for a 2015 promotion. He will most likely begin the 2015 season back at AA Birmingham refining his approach on both sides of the ball.
AFL Statistics (23 IP, appeared in 6 games exclusively as a SP):
• 1.39 WHIP (allowed 22 hits, 10 BBs, 2 HB)
• 19 SOs to 10 BBs (7.43 K/9 to a 3.91 BB/9)
• 3.64 FIP (3.52 ERA)
• Among AFL starting pitchers, Montas (21 years old) ranked 4th for average four-seam fastball velocity (93.8 MPH in 45 pitches registered by PITCHf/x cameras) behind the likes of Seattle’s Taijuan Walker and Mark Appel, the Astros’ 2013 first overall pick
• AFL “Fall Star”
Like Anderson, Montas’ inclusion in the AFL was two-fold: get some work in (following two separate surgeries to repair meniscus tears in each knee) and face more advanced hitters than he did in his sterling 2014 campaign at A+ Winston-Salem (2.90 FIP in 62ip and a 23.1 K%). The news peg surrounding Montas coming into the AFL was whether or not he had the stuff to remain a starting pitcher. Most scouts, enamored with his 60/70 grade fastball and plus slider, project him as a high-octane closer rather than a starting pitcher.
Through his first four starts (15.1 ip) he impressed, posting a 12:6 K to BB ratio, limiting baserunners (1.04 whip) and posting a 3.53 FIP. Then, as Jim Callis (MLB Pipeline) observed, the wheels came off in his final two starts. “[Montas] couldn't keep the [opposing team] off his fastball because his secondary pitches were lacking. He didn't get a single swing-and-miss with his slider or changeup. They usually arrived with similar velocity in the upper 80s, and Montas' slider was flat and his changeup didn't have much action too it.” In those final two starts (7.2 IP in total) he posted 2.09 WHIP.
When Montas’ slider (89-91 MPH ) is sharp and biting, it enhances his 60/70-grade fastball (touched 102mph in instructional league, according to Callis). Add that two-pitch combo to his gradual development of a change-up, and it’s easy to see why the organization will continue to develop the burly right-hander as a starter. Kiley McDaniel notes that while Montas’ delivery is “low effort,” it is also “arm heavy, inconsistent and a little stiff from a high slot.”
John Manuel, in his Baseball America White Sox prospects chat, put it frankly: “If the [White Sox] need a power arm in the bullpen this year, he’s going to get a chance in that role. Pretty easy gas, just doesn’t seem to have much of an idea of where it’s going at times.” Granted, Montas has made incredible progress so far – essentially acquired (in the 2013 Jake Peavy trade) as a one-pitch flamethrower with little command or secondary pitches of note. His final two starts in the AFL shouldn’t dispel any optimism surrounding his current ability and potential. Given the White Sox’ penchant for developing power arms and pitchers in general, there’s a chance Montas could join the Sox’s bullpen at some point in 2015.
AFL Statistics (13 IP in six relief appearances):
• 1.03 FIP (0.69 ERA)
• 42.3% K-rate and a 5.8% BB-rate
• 22:3 SO: BB ratio
• 0.92 WHIP
• AFL “Fall Star”
Bassitt, who also represented the White Sox last year in the AFL, was also making up for lost time on the mound. He broke his hand in spring training (non-baseball injury) and spent the majority of his shortened 2014 in the minors before debuting for the White Sox in late August as a starter.
The tall righty’s 2013 AFL stint (10 IP) saw him post a 9:8 K:BB ratio, allowing eight hits in the process. In 2014, Bassitt looked like a 25-year-old coming off his first major league season. He dictated the ABs of opposing hitters as he posted a 22:3 K: BB ratio in six relief appearances, totaling 13 innings pitched. His string of success in this year’s AFL was cut a bit short as Bassitt was shut down due “minor discomfort" in his left foot just before his last slated appearance.
Used exclusively as a reliever, Bassitt wielded his mid-nineties fastball and sharp slider, as Baseball America’s Therron Brockish noted in Bassitt’s first 2014 AFL outing. “[Chris Bassitt’s] fastball checked in at 94-95 mph with a hard 85-87 slider. ” Chris’ velocity, late pitch movement and deceptive delivery, allowed him to set down AFL batters with ease. Those skills were also present, to an extent, in his major league debut. While his AFL stint was cut short, this was a thoroughly encouraging performance for both Bassitt and the White Sox.
AFL Statistics (12.2 IP in 11 games, appearing exclusively as a reliever)
• 8.46 FIP (8.53 ERA)
• 9:13 SO:BB ratio
• 2.29 WHIP, 16 allowed, 3 HR
As evident in the stats above, Snodgress struggled mightily in the AFL. After four years in pro-ball as a starter, the Stanford product was moved to the bullpen in a promotion to AAA Charlotte in 2014. Entering the AFL, he had the opportunity to put his name in the mix for a left-handed specialist role for the White Sox in 2015. Currently, along with Eric Surkamp and the newly signed Zach Duke, Snodgress is the only other left-handed reliever on the White Sox 40-man roster.
His performance in the AFL did little to help his case to solidify a roster spot. He’ll likely be in the mix entering Spring Training, but after an uninspiring ML debut, a woeful AFL stint, and the signing of Zach Duke, the chances Snodgress cracks the 25-man roster remain slim.
AFL Statistics (8.1 IP in 9 games, appearing exclusively as a reliever)
• 7.56 FIP (9.72 ERA)
• 2.76 WHIP, 4:9 SO: BB ratio
• 14 hits allowed, 1 HR
Like Snodgress, Olacio similarly struggled in his AFL stint as a reliever. As Matt Cassidy noted in his AFL Preview, the 20-year-old Olacio was quite raw for this assignment. Ultimately, Olacio’s AFL performance reinforced what many scouts have observed: choppy mechanics, and inconsistent fastball velocity and secondary pitch break.
Baseball Prospectus’ Jordan Gorosh notes these struggles in an AFL evaluation of Olacio: “There are reports of Olacio living in the 95-97 range, touching 98 – yet on this day, he was 87-88 and scraped 90. Everything was flat and he had no means of exploiting hitters’ weaknesses, which has been the norm for the big lefty in the AFL: He’s allowed 17 base runners and recorded 20 outs thus far.” Gorosh sees a bullpen role as Olacio’s likely future: “The delivery and athleticism issues should relegate him to the bullpen for good.” He will likely return to A+ Winston-Salem and continue to work on the consistency of his mechanics, fastball, and secondary pitches.
AFL Statistics (12 games, 50 PAs)
• Slash line: .244/.320/.378 (0 HR, 5 RBIs)
• .133 ISO (SLG – AVG)
• 9 Ks to 3BBs
Smith, 26, put up close to league average numbers in his AFL stint (wRC+ of 93). In an effort to judge his abilities against some elite talent, the White Sox got to see how Smith fared amongst top pitching prospects. Mauricio Rubio of Baseball Prospectus evaluated an AFL game of Smith’s. “[His swing] is not an aesthetically pleasing sight, and it leads to a long swing and slow bat speed … Smith is an athlete but he’s also 26-year-old raw catcher.”
Offensively, Smith held his own in the AFL, but not quite to the level his 2014 AA clip: (.290/.376/.437, 129 wRC+ in 449 PAs). He is currently exposed to the Rule V draft, and it’s yet to be seen whether the White Sox align with Rubio’s evaluation of Smith or are optimistic enough to add the former Pitt quarterback to the 40-man roster. The White Sox have a dearth of catching depth, and Smith’s above average raw power , athleticism and strong arm from the position might be enough warrant roster protection.
AFL Statistics (14 games, 52 PAs)
• Slash line: .209/.346/.233 (1 XBH)
• .023 ISO
• 15.4 BB% (9 SOs to 8 BBs)
Basto was a late addition to the AFL roster, taking Rangel Ravelo’s spot when the latter chose to play winter ball (DR). Drafted as a shortstop, he now plays all four corner positions in the field and impressed offensively in the first half of his 2014 Winston Salem campaign after struggling mightily in 2013 A Ball (in 188 PAs posted a 36 wRC+, in other words, 64% below league average offensively).
In his 52PA in the AFL, Basto’s 15.4 BB% stands out as he faced much better pitching talent than he has in previous regular season stints. The White Sox will continue to track Basto’s performance, but the lack of XBHs (in limited play) is a little troubling given that he’s yet to post an ISO above .130 at any professional level to date. Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see if he realizes his 50 raw power.
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