White Sox Winter Leagues Preview, Part 1 - Venezuela

Each year, about a couple dozen players from the White Sox organization play in winter leagues around the Caribbean (Venezuela, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico) and sometimes in Australia. The leagues start at various times and not all of them have their rosters up yet, so we’re breaking up the previews into multiple editions this year.

First up are the Venezuelan and Mexican Leagues. The rosters are still being finalized, but it appears the Sox don’t have anyone going to Mexico (which opens play Saturday, October 11th), which is consistent with the past few years. So we’ll skip them and move onto Venezuela, where play opens tonight (Friday, October 10th) and where there are eight White Sox major and minor leaguers on active rosters…

TIBURONES DE LA GUAIRA

As in previous years, the largest White Sox presence in Venezuela is with La Guaira, where there are seven players from the White Sox organization on the roster…

Starting with position players, infielder Carlos Sanchez is the highest ranked White Sox prospect on this squad. Having just had his first kid though, and having spent some time in the majors, he may not see regular playing time. Sanchez is in the middle of the battle for the MLB second baseman and utility infielder jobs for 2015, and he had a very strong season down south last year.

Catcher Miguel Gonzalez is also on La Guaira’s squad, and he’s trying to make a case for the Sox (or someone else) to give him a shot as a backup catcher next spring. He’s had some limited MLB action and is a strong defender, but his bat has always been a question and he’s behind a stack of other catching prospects as it stands today. The other position player on the roster is first baseman Andy Wilkins, who had a huge year in AAA but struggled mightily during his September call-up to Chicago. He’s on the team’s reserve list so it’s not yet clear if he will play.

Turning to the pitchers, a pair of AAA-level right-handed relievers are on the roster: Taylor Thompson and Ryan Kussmaul, both of whom pitched here last offseason as well. Thompson added a splitter to his repertoire and had a strong 2014 in Charlotte, earning a very brief look in Chicago. He’s in the mix for next year’s bullpen, though being a reserve in AAA is more likely. Kussmaul is 28 and has been bouncing between AA and AAA for three season, mostly putting up very strong numbers. But the parent club has not yet felt he was ready for the bigs, even this past year when the bullpen was a revolving door.

With the Sox desperate for lefty relief help, Jarrett Casey is looking to show he should be part of that discussion. As a 26 year old, Casey flew up from A+ to AA to AAA this past year, with LHB hitting an anemic .473 OPS against him. But he didn’t miss a ton of bats even against lefty hitters, so he’ll be looking to improve his deception in those situations.

LEONES DEL CARACAS

Shortstop and defensive wizard Cleuluis Rondon is slated to play for the Lions. His defense at both short and second has been consistently described as plus-plus, a designation rarely bestowed on any prospect. But the bat needs work if he’s going to be playable in the majors, so he’ll look to get in some hitting at a level appropriate for his experience this winter.

CARDENALES DE LARA

Once a highly touted prospect, right-hander Nestor Molina is still in the system and showed some success in his transition to the bullpen this season. He showed good control, a passable K rate, didn’t allow a lot of base runners and induced a ton of ground balls in AA. This converted infielder will be 26 next season and likely in Charlotte, looking to show the club he can still be a contributor in relief.

***We’ll preview the Dominican, Puerto Rican and Australian Leagues in future articles closer to their opening of play.

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