Season Preview: 2017 Great Falls Voyagers

Season Preview: 2017 Great Falls Voyagers
The Great Falls Voyagers (photo via Richard McWilliams' Twitter)

The Great Falls Voyagers open their campaign tonight at Helena. The Pioneer League affiliate is one of two rookie-level clubs in the White Sox organization. They typically are populated with the more polished rookie leaguers, often recent college draft picks (the younger, prep and less polished prospects usually go to the AZL team first). The Voyagers are thus usually a very competitive team in their league, going to the playoffs on a nearly annual basis, including last year (the image at the top is from after a playoff clinch in 2016).

This year's roster seems no exception, and it looks like an exciting team to follow. There are 11 players who were just selected in last week's draft, all of those being collegiate draftees. Four of them were picked in the top 10 rounds. Of the players not from the 2017 draft, all have prior experience as a pro (though one comes from indy ball), and all but two are at least 20 years old.

The club is managed by Tim Esmay, who has been moving around the White Sox farm the last few years. The pitching and hitting coaches are former White Sox minor leaguers John Ely and Eric Richardson respectively. Now let's get into the players on the roster.

INFIELDERS

One of the highest-ranked and the second youngest prospect on the team (at 19 years old), Luis Curbelo highlights this infield and will be playing up the middle. There has been some talk of whether or not he needs to move form short to second, so watch where he plays the first week or so of games for an indication on this. His partner in the middle should be Tate Blackman. A 13th round pick this year, Blackman was announced by the Sox at draft time as a second baseman.

The youngest player on the roster is Franklin Reyes, who was originally signed as an outfielder but has since moved to first base. Reyes signed for $1.5M in 2015, and played in the AZL in 2016, where his hitting numbers were less than stellar (.171/.189/.251, 32.7% K/PA) as a 17-year-old. The fact that he's moved to the more advanced affiliate indicates the Sox see some improvement, but he will be challenged as an 18-year-old. Also, now that he's a first baseman, the hitting bar will be much higher.

20-year-old Justin Yurchak, this year's 12th round pick, looks to man the hot corner. Sam Dexter and Anthony Villa are both 23-year-old, 2016 draftees repeating with Great Falls. Dexter looks like the team's utility infielder, and Villa should see time at first and designated hitter.

OUTFIELDERS

This crowd is led by 2017 3rd rounder, Luis Gonzalez, who likely is the team's starting center fielder. Gonzalez put up impressive numbers for UNM as a junior, including an almost cartoonish 58:32 BB:K ratio. He's got speed and good instincts in center, and is the highest draft pick on the roster.

Ninth rounder Craig Dedelow will take one of the corners, and as a college senior with considerable power (19 HR this spring for Indiana), he should be an offensive force in a hitting-friendly league. Tyler Frost was taken in the 15th round this year, and like Gonzalez he played center field primarily. He may split time there, or spend his time at the corner opposite Dedelow.

There are also a pair of 20-year olds coming from the AZL last year in this cadre. Hanleth Otano has significant power potential but didn't show it much in games last year. Felix Mercedes has played third and first so far in his minor league career, but is now listed as an outfielder.

CATCHERS

As often happens, catching duties here will be less of a 90/10 starter/backup split and more of a group effort. But the biggest name in the group is Carlos Perez, a 20-year-old the White Sox have high hopes for and who saw time at both rookie affiliates in 2016. Also in the group are 2016 eighth round pick Nate Nolan, and 2015 20th round choice Jacob Cooper.

PITCHERS

The Voyagers have yet to announce their starting rotation, so there is some guess work here. We do know that Chris Comito starts the opener, and the 2015 prep pick is looking to replicate last year's success in Montana after some struggles in Kannapolis earlier this year. Also, the White Sox have said they intend to have this year's fifth round pick, Tyler Johnson, move to a starting role, so he should be among the five. Will Kincanon, the 11th round pick this year, was purely a starter at Indiana State, and likely is part of this rotation.

After that it gets a bit fuzzy. 17th rounder Blake Battenfield was used mostly in relief this spring with Oklahoma State, but the Sox announced him as a starter. 31st round lefty Parker Rigler was a starter the last two seasons for Kansas State. Adam Panayatovich, an undrafted free agent signee who was used in a mix of roles with the Voyagers last year, could be in the mix. 23-year-old Kyle Von Ruden was recently signed from the independent Frontier League where he was purely a starter.

The rest of the pitching staff appear to be relievers with a smattering of different backgrounds. 2017 draft picks J.B. Olson (10th round) and Joe Mockbee (29th) are in there, along with a pair of 2016 draftees (Ryan Boelter, Sean Renzi), and a trio that came via the Latin American route (Luis Ledo, Jhoan Quijada, Josue Gerardo). Brandon Agar and Fernando Gallegos were both undrafted free agent pickups from 2016, with the former coming from AZL and the latter repeating in Great Falls.

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