***UPDATE Oct 10: RHP Matt Cooper is no longer on the Glendale roster and won't be pitching in the AFL. RHP Nolan Sanburn has taken his place. The rest of the players listed are still on the roster. Article text updated accordingly...
On Wednesday, the rosters of the Arizona Fall League were released to the public. The White Sox, whose players will play on the Glendale Desert Dogs, will have eight players on the roster this October. The White Sox have chosen to send catcher and 2016 first rounder Zack Collins, infielders Danny Hayes and Trey Michalczewski, outfielder Courtney Hawkins, rights-handers Connor Walsh and Brad Goldberg, as well as left-hander Brian Clark. It should be noted, the rosters are contingent on injuries and could change between now and the start of the league.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Arizona Fall League (AFL) is considered one of the most competitive leagues outside of the Major Leagues. This year it opens on October 11th, and ends with a one-game championship on November 19th. The rosters are typically comprised of top prospects, notable prospects who have missed time to injury, players who could potentially be trade bait, players who have impending roster decisions ahead and individuals who have yet to show whether they are major league material or not. One important stipulation is that the teams can only select two players below the AA level. Prior to last year, the league only allowed one player of that variety. In essence, the league is made for players to make up for lost time, showcase their talents to scouts and executives around the league and ultimately prove their value against worthy competition.
As a side note, it happens that the Desert Dogs' manager this year is a new coach and former player in the White Sox system - Aaron Rowand.
Let's look through the White Sox selections and their possible rationale for selecting each player.
Collins, selected 10th overall in the 2016 Rule 4 draft, has posted a .250/.409/.481 slash in 132 plate appearances in Winston-Salem. The Miami product is believed to be the best bat in the draft by the White Sox and he has certainly showed his patience and power for the Dash in his first short season as a pro. Collins bats left-handed and currently resides behind the plate, but some scouts think he will eventually move off the position. They 21-year-old suffered a concussion on July 24th and the White Sox took it easy on him returning from the injury to protect their new top prospect. With one scout likening Collins' potential growth trajectory to that of Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto, it is clear that Collins could move to the big leagues sooner than later, especially if he moves away from backstop.
When Collins heads to Glendale, the White Sox will look to get insight on how Collins handles a higher caliber of pitching and weigh their options on Collins' future behind the plate as well. It is unusual to send a current year's draftee to the AFL, so this will certainly be a challenging environment for him. Collins is the Sox "taxi squad" player for this year, only playing 2 days a week, and will be getting further play in the Fall Instructional League on other days (we will preview that group at a later date).
Joining the organization in 2013 from the athletic powerhouse Jenks High School in Oklahoma with the shine of an over-slot deal, Michalcewski has long been a fixture on our top prospect lists. Being a switch-hitter with capable athletic abilities at third base, the 21-year-old has gathered some acclaim from publications as a potential top 100 prospect. However, the numbers have yet to back up the pedigree. Like many White Sox prospects, Michalczewski has been on the younger end of the spectrum of his respective leagues, which has certainly been a factor in the results. After a decent 2015 in Winston-Salem, the White Sox elected to send Michalcewski to the Arizona Fall League last year as one of their below-AA players. In 2016, Michcalczewski has struggled to a .221/.308/.355 line. While Trey should be afforded some extra time given his youth within his competition levels, a strong showing in the AFL would provide some reassurance after a down year.
Hayes represents a typical AFL player in a couple ways. For one thing, Hayes has a lifetime .376 OBP in the minors and has performed ever since the White Sox drafted him out of Oregon so he checks the box out of college draftee who has produced along the way. The other thing that makes sense for Hayes' inclusion is the missed time. Hayes has not played since June 18th due to a core muscle injury. He still has a couple weeks to go until is deemed healthy.
After the surprise retirement of Adam LaRoche and the ensuing lack of left-handed thump in the White Sox order, Hayes looked to have a potential role with the White Sox in 2016. Leading up to his injury, the tall first baseman produced in a way to keep his name in consideration of a spot putting forth a .847 OPS in over 200 plate appearances in Charlotte (AAA). He started the year with a mechanical tweak that lead to an 0-21 run with 14 strikeouts. After reverting to his older swing, Hayes quickly made up for the putrid start. As a player who is not on the 40-man roster, Hayes could potentially end up being selected in the Rule 5 Draft though. As a first baseman who only recently started showing game power, that would be an outside shot to say the least. Regardless, with Jose Abreu at first base in Chicago, Hayes could find himself at a crossroads so allowing him to make up for his lost time makes sense for both Hayes and the White Sox.
Hawkins has yet to live up to the potential that allowed him to be the 13th overall pick in the 2012 Draft. Shortly after being drafted Hawkins was moved quickly like a lot of his peers in the White Sox farm system, but his career has been slowed down by a slew of injuries including his recurring bouts with Plantar Fasciitis. He has yet to find the consistency at the plate and his trouble with nagging injuries have certainly exacerbated the issue, but pitch recognition and judgment have been his main bugaboos.
While the pitchers who have left off-speed pitches in the zone have learned just how strong the 22-year-old is, the pitchers who have kept the off-speed in dirt have typically had their way with Hawkins. After growing into his frame, Hawkins has become confined to the corner outfield spots. In essence, if Hawkins wants to make good on his MLB potential, it starts and ends with the bat. Hawkins has stayed healthy since an injury in early April caused him to miss a month. Perhaps some continuity and his recent string of health could enable him to get his mechanics working with his approach. Moving forward, Hawkins will have to improve his pitch recognition and the AFL can serve as a precursor to what should be a make or break year in 2017.
Connor Walsh, RHP
Walsh, who was promoted to Birmingham in a very timely manner on August 19th, was an obvious AFL candidate. The White Sox very likely moved Walsh to Birmingham because he had a strong showing in Winston-Salem, but the timing shows it was probably, at least in apart, an effort keep their options open for their AFL selections while including Walsh on that list.
In 2015, Connor was sent to Kannapolis as a 22-year-old. While he struck out 79 in 53 innings, his stats otherwise left for more to be desired. In Winston-Salem this year, Walsh has pitched much better to the tune of a 3.40 ERA and a 41/19 K/BB ratio. Walsh's invite isn't surprising given he totes a fastball that can get up to 98 MPH. One report described his offspeed stuff as iffy, and Walsh's future is dependent on how his command develops and what he can do with a secondary pitch or two.
Brad Goldberg, RHP
Drafted out of Ohio State as a 23-year-old senior sign, it was disconcerting watching Goldberg struggle in Winston-Salem in 2014 after an outstanding initial short season in 2013. Other than a forgettable 2014, Goldberg has been otherwise very effective. At 6'4" and 230 pounds, Goldberg has worked to keep his delivery consistent since joining the White Sox. He also got himself in better physical condition and saw his fastball velocity jump last year as a result. Given the intersection of injuries and under-performance in the White Sox opening day bullpen, it was somewhat surprising that Goldberg was never given a chance to pitch in the major leagues this year. When heading to the AFL, Goldberg will bring his heavy fastball and hope to prove to some major league evaluators that he has the secondary offerings to be an effective piece in a MLB bullpen moving forward.
After joining the White Sox organization as a 9th round pick in 2014, Clark was immediately a pick of reverence given his track record at Kent State. Since then, he has only made more fans along the way. Clark has a lifetime ERA of 2.56 while striking out almost a guy an inning from rookie ball up to Charlotte. After a quick call-up to Charlotte, Clark was sent right back to Birmingham where he's pitched to a 1.74 ERA over 55.2 innings. In an interview with Future Sox, Birmingham's pitching coach J.R. Perdew informed us that the club sees Clark as a reliever moving forward. Perdew spoke on Clark's strengths including his slider and the way he uses his fastball against left-handed batters. While Clark seems to have a well-equipped repertoire to be more than just a LOOGY, Perdew mentioned that Clark is still working on improving his change up.
After dominating AA this year, Clark will almost assuredly start 2017 in Charlotte. Going to the AFL allows the left-hander to show his stuff in front of the big evaluators as he moves towards conquering the last step in the minor leagues. With the White Sox really struggling to find a mainstay in their left-handed relieving corps since the departures of Damaso Marte and Matt Thornton, Clark represents the best in-house option. The AFL is a great showcase for the 23-year-old who could very likely crack the bigs next year.
ADDED: RHP Nolan Sanburn
This right-hander came to the White Sox as the return for a stretch run of Adam Dunn. Sanburn came to the system as a quintessential lottery ticket - big stuff but a low floor thanks to questions around the heath of his shoulder. His 2015 season with AA Birmingham was rough, as he struggled to throw strikes (something that hadn't been an issue previously) and missed half the season on the disabled list. He opened 2016 shaky again, but something clicked around mid-May and over a 3-month stretch of relief work he posted 0.98 WHIP, 2.21 ERA, 34 K vs 8 BB in 36.2 IP. He then made four starts to end the season, three of which were good and one not so much.
Sanburn is eligible for the Rule 5 draft, so the team does have a decision to make here, though he seems an unlikely pickup in the MLB phase this time around. In short work he's got a fastball that scouts have called "electric" and an at-times wicked curve, though as a starter he reportedly loses a few ticks. Likely a reliever long term, he does have MLB potential with that 1-2 combo if he can stay healthy.
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