White Sox in the Arizona Fall League - 2013 in Review

The Arizona Fall League season has ended.  The Glendale Desert Dogs, on whose roster are the eight White Sox prospects in the AFL, failed to make the championship game.  Let’s take a look at the performance of these Sox farm hands, using the preview we published in October as a guide (and credit to Daren Willman’s collected PitchFX data)…

  • Jared Mitchell: The biggest surprise among the Sox representatives, Mitchell posted a .304/.425/.580 line in 83 PA, and went 6-for-8 in stolen base attempts in 20 games.  Even more encouraging, he had nearly as many walks (14) as strikeouts (17), and lowered his K/PA rate from 34.6% in the regular season to 20.5% in the fall.  As we noted in the preview, he needed to improve his contact rate, and he did that.  This is a small sample size, and Mitchell has a lot to prove after a dismal performance in AAA and AA during the season.  But it is encouraging, and at the very least puts him in a better mental place going into 2014.  Assistant GM Buddy Bell recently hinted that this has put Mitchell back on the radar, and even indicated we may see Mitchell in Chicago in 2014.  The 25 year old will need to show sustained success in AAA Charlotte to earn such an opportunity.
  • Chris Bassitt: One of the strongest breakout performers of 2013 went into the AFL already having increased his innings from 91 to 160, so the key was to see if he could maintain strength and effectiveness as he approached doubling his innings.  John Sickels of Minor League Ball reported that during the AFL “Fall Stars” game, Bassitt was 91-94, topping at 95, with his fastball.  Also threw some curves around 77-78 that had a solid foot of break.  So it certainly appears he wasn’t running out of gas, and his core results reflected this as well: He posted a 0.90 ERA, .216 AvgA and 9 K in 10 innings in Arizona.  He did also walk 8 batters which inflated his WHIP to 1.60, on the negative side.  But he managed to pitch around the trouble and capped off an emerging season.
  • Micah Johnson: Another major breakout name this season, his AFL was cut short when we left the team to have elbow surgery.  This is the same surgery he has had before to move a nerve, which went as planned and will reportedly have Micah ready for spring training.  In his 6 games he posted a .320/.379/.520 line, and stole 3 bases in 4 attempts.  The key things to watch with Micah would  have been his defense, and simply how he handled advanced competition.  He seemed to handle things fine in very limited action and didn’t make an error, but 6 games just doesn’t tell you much.
  • Marcus Semien: Yet another prospect who busted out this year, Semien was sent to the AFL because the Sox saw him as a potential 2014 Opening Day player and wanted him challenged.  Unfortunately, it appears he may have run out of gas, posting a .156/.258/.273 line with 23 K in about 90 plate appearances.  His OPS (.531) was the lowest among regular players on his team.  Given how well he did in AA and AAA it is unlikely this was a skill problem, and the sample is less than a hundred plate appearances.  But it may give the Sox pause in penciling him into their 2014 starting lineup.  One open question we brought up in our preview was, what position do they seem him settling into defensively, having played all three skill infield positions during the year?  He played 9 games at 2B, 5 at SS, 4 at 3B and 2 at DH (he also pinch ran once).  So, a slight lean towards 2B, but maybe not enough to indicate a true bias.
  • Brandon Jacobs: A raw outfielder with big tools but erratic results (a common theme in this system), Jacobs was sent to Arizona to get more reps against high level competition.  In 13 games on the taxi squad, Jacobs posted a .256/.373/.512 line with 7 of his 11 hits going for extra bases, which would seem to be a positive result.  However, he also struck out 16 times in 50 PA, for a 32% K rate.  Like Mitchell, Trayce Thompson and Keenyn Walker, this outfielder has a high offensive ceiling but a significant bust risk.  His performance in Arizona is too small to take much from, but it was more or less in line with his previous history.
  • Charlie Leesman: This lefty may find a role in the 2014 bullpen, but there are questions about his control and his ability to get lefties out.  His Arizona sample against left-handed hitters is too small to draw anything from, but he did keep the walks under control: 3 BB in 10.1 IP.  He struck out 6, had a .244 AvgA and kept up his trend of inducing ground balls with a 2.33 GO/AO rate.  His fastball averaged 90.5 and his changeup 80.5 in the fall, but his curve had the 2nd largest average horizontal movement in AFL on his curveball.  This is what you hope for from Charlie – he won’t strike out a ton of guys, but if he keeps the walks and the pitches down he could fill a role with the big club.
  • Kevin Vance: Vance is a guy who put up impressive numbers in AA despite being a year or so young for his league.  But scouting reports have been mixed, and we didn’t have a lot of hard data on him.  The results in Arizona were pretty solid: 2.13 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 13 K vs 6 BB in 12.2 IP.  But this time we have some data to work with on his pitches, thanks to Daren Willman and PitchFX.  Vance’s fastball averaged just 87 mph, with average movement.  He throws a cutter that average 85.5 and better than average sink.  His curve averaged 68.7, the slowest of any AFL pitcher, and appears to be of the 12-6 variety with 10.76 inches of vertical movement but just 2.27 horizontal.  Finally he has a change-up at 69.1 on average, with some tail.  There isn’t a lot of velocity or movement that sticks out there in his repertoire; he appears to succeed by mixing in four pitches well with decent control.  But it is also possible his velocity has dropped this late in the year, and he only pitched a few times when the tracking data was available, so that 87 maybe be lower than his normal offering.  He may profile similar to Dan Remenowsky in terms of stuff, though at a younger age-for-level.
  • Stephen McCray: Here is a pitcher whose core results don’t seem sustainable based on his peripherals.  McCray posted a 3.25 ERA for AA Birmingham this year, despite not missing many bats (5.3 K/9), OK control (3.6 BB/9), and a pedestrian ground ball rate (0.99 GO/AO).  So let’s look at some of that PitchFx data from Arizona to tell us a story.  His fastballs averaged 89, with slightly above average tail on both two-seamers and four-seamers.  He’s also got a cutter at 88.4, which is on the faster than average side for that pitch.  He’s got a slider averaging 74.6, with decent movement; a curve at 75.7 but not much movement; and finally a change of pace averaging 81.7 with better than typical drop.  Like Vance, there isn’t a single pitch that sticks out as plus in velocity or movement.  His 2013 seems to be an outlier, but his 2012 in A+ was very similar.  He’ll likely be in AAA Charlotte in 2014, and we’ll see how he does against more advanced hitting.




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