Strength up the Middle

With 2018 number one draft pick Nick Madrigal in the fold to go along with Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada entrenched at the big league level, the White Sox middle infield situation looks solid at the top of the food chain. But the White Sox have some interesting players at the lower levels of the minors that are worth familiarizing yourself with. Let's take a look at a few of them.

Yeyson Yrizarri

yeyson-yrizarri

Since coming over from the Texas Rangers last July, the Winston-Salem Dash shortstop has been hovering just outside our top 30 prospect list.  He was born in Venezuela but spent most of his life in the Dominican having moved there when he was three. At first glance, his name looks challenging, but if you break it down phonetically, it sounds like (Jason Ear –is-are -ee).

In a phone interview (his first conducted entirely in English), he indicated that the White Sox haven't done much to change his approach from what he was doing with Texas, but he has benefited from working with Dash manager Omar Vizquel:

"I feel like it's a blessing being around him because he's one of the best shortstops ever. He tells me have fun. Be the best you can be every day, don't take anything for granted. Work hard and don't worry about the results. The results are going to come if you do everything right,"

The pair have been working on his defense. Vizquel preaches that he keeps his feet moving and do everything with a purpose. He feels it's too early to see any major benefit but senses improvement each day. Benefiting from a great arm, he primarily plays shortstop but has logged a couple games at third as well. He's also spent time at second in other stops but considers the left side of the infield his home.

The defensive-minded shortstop is focused on becoming a complete player and is working on improving his offensive game as he deems this is the appropriate approach to get him to the majors. He's concentrating on being patient at the plate which has netted him 10 walks in the early going. He collected only eight all of last year. He's also exceeded his 2017 total in stolen bases with eight in less than half the games he logged last year.

While these numbers are up, he has dipped slightly in terms of batting average and slugging percentage. In addition to taking more pitches, he is focusing on hitting the ball up the middle. This also aids him in beating the extreme defensive shifts he has often been subject to. The modifications and the way defenses have played him are likely contributors to the modest decline in output.

Yrizzari has flashed a couple four-hit games and is the owner of a dozen multi-hit games on the season. If he can harness this type of production on a regular basis, he should inject himself into the growing middle infield situation.

Luis Curbelo

From AZL 2016 (Kim Contreras / FutureSox)

From AZL 2016 (Kim Contreras / FutureSox)

Limited to three games last season due to a knee injury, our number 24 ranked prospect recently jumped back into action after being assigned to Kannapolis. He attracts a bit more attention than the average prospect due to the amount of money it took to sign him ($700,000) which was more than double slot for a sixth round pick. Curbelo was committed to Miami, so it took some extra incentive for the White Sox to sign him. "The draft was a humbling experience, it was stressful too, because, I thought I'd go higher, but I have no regrets signing with the Chicago White Sox," he told FutureSox in a phone interview.

With the shortstop position already locked down in Kannapolis by one of this year's organizational standouts - Laz Rivera (more on him later), Curbelo has been starting at third base where his recently bulked-up frame may play for the long-term. Observers have been impressed with his defensive play in the small sample at the position.

Curbelo indicated he's playing closer to 205, up 20 pounds from his listed weight. This was part of an intensive rehab program to get back into shape after the injury he suffered last season. "A lot of it had to do with the injury and not playing. I love the gym. I love working out. I made an effort to make sure I was putting on muscle. I worked on getting light on my feet again," said Curbelo.

"I feel real good with my weight right now. I feel like my body is handling it. I have good balance and added more pop to my offense. I'm happy where I'm at right now," said the Kannapolis third baseman.

Given the lack of organizational depth at third. It'll be interesting to see if this switch becomes permanent. Still a bit undersized compared to most of the players manning the hot corner at the MLB level, his size profile is in range with few others including Nolan Arenado.

Curbelo has noticed a difference in the pitching since coming into Class A from rookie ball. "The pitchers have better location. They have a better idea of where they want their pitches to go. They're a little smarter, they throw more strikes. I'm an aggressive hitter. Now that I see that they can command their pitches it's a positive, they throw more strikes so I can attack more."

He considers himself a pull hitter as it gives him more pop, but tries to spray to all fields by hitting the ball where it's pitched. "I've been getting a lot of early in the count curveballs. I'm having a bit of trouble staying back. It's not an ideal pitch you want to hit on the first or second pitch. I've been working on the off-speed, taking reps on the curveball machine, trying to stay back drive it to the other side," said Curbelo.

So far he's adjusted well to the higher level pitching and different strategy being employed against him, slashing .289/.347/.356. On the negative side, he's struck out about 33% of the time in the early going. A clearer picture of his progress will develop in the next month or so when he's got more at-bats under his belt.

Laz Rivera

rivera1

The 2017 28th round draft pick out of Tampa has been one of the biggest surprises this season. Through 56 games at shortstop, he's slashing .350/.393/.502 with an OPS of .895 and six home runs. He leads the team in average, OBP and OPS. His average is good enough to lead the South Atlantic League and his OBP lands him at number two. He's also in the top ten in OPS and slugging percentage.

To this point, he's focused on making contact and avoiding strikeouts. This approach has netted him a quite reasonable 18% strikeout rate. Getting on base frequently enables him to put one of his major competitive advantages to use: "I have worked on stolen bases more with White Sox outfield/baserunning coordinator Aaron Rowand. There are little things I wasn't doing before that are helping me get better jumps and in every aspect of baserunning," Rivera said in a phone interview. This has led to seven stolen bases through 56 games - twice as many as last year in roughly the same number of games providing hard evidence that he's on the right track.

"Being a late round pick, I've got to work harder than everyone else," he said. "But at the same time everyone has the same amount of opportunities – you've got to take advantage of them." To that end, he's spending time with minor league hitting coordinator Mike Gellinger on boosting his power. "One thing I've really worked on is getting my hands down lower, closer to my body, relaxing more before the pitch is being thrown. I'm trying to be wider with my stance also, having a wider base," said the Kannapolis shortstop. His six dingers this season triple his 2017 output, so it looks like he's benefited from the additional instruction in this area as well.

Defenses have been playing him to pull, so he's laying down more bunts, trying to get more infield hits in order to get them to play him straight up. But there's more to his game than offense - he's able to function at second base, third base and the outfield as well (though he hasn't played in the grass in pro games yet). He calculates that playing strong defense at multiple positions will clear his way to the big leagues.

"Right now, I'm trying to play hard every day, take advantage of my opportunities." It appears he's done that. With this type of offensive production, a move to Winston-Salem may be on the horizon.

New Blood

Nick Madrigal via OregonLive.com

Nick Madrigal via OregonLive.com

With Madrigal now in the mix, it'll be interesting to see how things shift around once he's assigned to a team. Madrigal played second in college and is also adept at short. Some folks have suggested he could supplant Tim Anderson at the MLB level, though it's early to be worrying about that just yet.

Based on his early season performance, Rivera is a solid candidate for a promotion and Curbelo is a native shortstop who may stick at third based on organizational need and his added size. Keep your eyes locked to FutureSox as we'll have the rundown when the coming roster changes are implemented.

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