Despite the season being over, there are still some White Sox minor leaguers playing baseball. Eight of them are in the Arizona Fall League, which began just a few days ago. A number of others participated in the Arizona Instructional League. But it doesn’t end there – typically some one or two dozen Sox prospects play in the winter leagues during the offseason. The Venezuelan Winter League began play this past Thursday, and the Mexican League started Friday. The Dominican League starts October 18th, the Australian Baseball League on the 31st, and Puerto Rico on November 1st.
Because some leagues have started play, while others haven’t even released rosters yet, we’re going to split things into two articles. This one will be the preview for the Venezuelan and Australian Leagues – because we know who is playing in those. We’ll do Dominican and Puerto Rico later, when we know who will be playing there. The White Sox don’t have anyone in the Mexican League this season.
The White Sox have seven minor leagers on rosters in Venezuela, all but one playing for Tiburones de La Guaira. The VWL level of play is probably equivalent to minor league AA, or maybe slightly better.
- Outfielder Trayce Thompson is the most highly considered prospect playing here, and he already got some accidental attention. MiLB originally reported that in the opening game he had played center field and then pitched, which would have been a first for Trayce. Turns out he was just confused with Taylor Thompson, and they have since corrected the box score. Trayce is getting in work knowing he’s now at a point where those tools need to be honed enough to become skills, and see the results translate on the field in 2014.
- The other Thompson involved in the confusion above, Taylor Thompson, is a reliever who posted strong numbers at AA Birmingham this year before being promoted to AAA Charlotte, but he got hit around a bit there in 12 games. The 26 year old 44th round draft pick from 2009 has five monor league seasons under his belt, but up until the speed bump in Charlotte had put up solid to strong numbers at each level on the way up. He’s looking to stay sharp and show that AAA stint was an anomoly and make a case for seeing the Sox bullpen sometime in 2014. He is not on the 40 man roster and is eligible for the Rule V, though he’s not a likely pickup candidate.
- Infielder Carlos Sanchez started the 2013 season as the youngest player in his league at age 20, and was coming off a big 2012 season that saw him go thee levels to AAA. But 2013 was a struggle for the SS/2B and he posted just a .589 OPS. Don’t read too much into his appearance in the VWL – it is his home country after all. He’ll start 2014 as a still very young 21 year old in AAA.
- 1B Andy Wilkins looked strong repeating AA Birmingham to start this past season, posting an .863 OPS in 67 games before being promoted to AAA Charlotte. He pust up a .735 in 58 games there, and it doesn’t look like the Sox see him as a real candidate for the potential first base vacancy, at least not in 2014. With 4 seasons under his belt and being a college draftee, he is exposed to the Rule V, but it is unlikely he’d get picked up. Wilkins will be 25 next season, and he will have to tear up AAA pitching to have a shot at a major league job, so he’s likely in the Caribbean to get in as much work as possible.
- Catcher Miguel Gonzalez has taken an unusual path up the ladder – he was a highly touted prospect in 2009, but by 2011 he wasn’t even getting starting playing time. This season, he went from AA to AAA to MLB, despite having just 22 games at AA going into the season. He’s got strong defensive skills at the key position, but his bat has just never come along as expected. Recently outrighted to AAA, he’s a Venezuelan native who needs to the at bats.
- RHP Nick McCully is fighting the starter versus reliever war: in year’s he was primarily a reliever (2011 A, 2012 A+) his peripherals show up nicely in supporting his core results, but as a starter his K rates tend to drop off. His current 120 IP are the most of his career, but he’s going to need to go more than that at AAA in 2014 if he wants to have a chance as a starter, so it appears he’s there mostly to adding innings and strength.
- RHP Nestor Molina is playing for Cardenales de Lara, so he’s not with his Sox mates. This converted position player came to the Sox prior to 2012 with high expectations, but his performance has been mostly disappointing. A late season move into the bullpen did seem to help him out somewhat, and it is likely that is where he ends up in 2014. Meanwhile, he’ll get some work in while playing in front of his countrymen.
For the first time in some years, the White Sox are sending prospects down under to play in the Australian Baseball League over the winter. The ABL just got re-started in 2010, and it is hard to peg a level of play to it, though it is likely a level or two below the Caribbean Winter Leagues. Best guess is A ball, so it isn’t surprising that the Sox are sending a couple of somewhat more raw prospects down there, both playing for the Sydney Blue Sox…
- Infielder Joey DeMichele had an up and down 2013 offensively, as evidenced by his monthly OPS numbers: .496 in April, .756 in May, .768 in June, .531 in July and .887 in August. It is likely not a coincidence that his July slump happened at the same time he was moved to shortstop to make room for 2B Micah Johnson. Despite his rough year, DeMichele is still relatively young at age 22 witha season of A+ under his belt, and the Sox likely just want him to get in more playing time.
- Outfielder Jacob May was the team’s 3rd round pick in this year’s draft, and despite some reports of being an over-draft, he made an impressive splash in his draft year. The athletic 21 year old tore up Pioneer League pitching for a couple weeks (.926 OPS) before being promoted to Class A Kannapolis, where he posted a .286/.346/.461 in 206 AB. He also was 24 for 30 in SB/ATT on the combined year. It is a little surprising to see May playing winter ball after his first pro year, but it is possible the Sox see him as a fast-mover and are giving him the passing lane treatment.
The Dominican and Peurto Rican clubs don’t yet have their rosters finalized, so we’ll do a seperate preview for those leagues later. The links in the country titles above lead to the page where you can check out scores for that league.