The White Sox will send at least eight minor leaguers to the Glendale Desert Dogs roster for the annual Arizona Fall League, which begins play on Tuesday, October 13th. They are outfielder Adam Engel, Third basemen Trey Michalczewski and Nick Delmonico, second baseman Jake Peter and pitchers Brandon Brennan, Peter Tago, Robin Leyer, and Jeffrey Wendelken. The last member of the roster might be Keon Barnum, who is reported to be a taxi squad player (which means he will only be active on Wednesday and Saturdays) but doesn’t appear on the official roster. We’ll cover him anyway.
The current roster isn’t quite what was originally announced. Courtney Hawkins was on the roster but had to drop out due to a plantar fasciitis issue in his left foot and was replaced by Michalczewski. Jacob May also was on the original roster but dropped out to participate in an international competition and was replaced by Engel.
The Arizona Fall League is an advanced prospect showcase made up of six teams that are each compiled from five separate organizations. The Glendale Desert Dogs roster is made up of White Sox prospects, along with prospects from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Houston Astros.
The Desert Dogs will be based out of the White Sox-Dodgers shared Camelback Ranch facility and will host on the Opening Day, October 13th. There will be an “Falls Stars Game” on November 7th and the season will culminate with a one game Championship on November 21st.
Coming in at #6 on the latest FutureSox’s prospect rankings, Michalczewski is far-and-away the biggest White Sox name in this year’s AFL class. Michalczewski was an over-slot seventh round draft pick out high school in the 2013 draft and handled Low-A Kannapolis very well in his first professional season at age 19, hitting .273/.348/.433. In 2015 he was promoted to Winston-Salem and his numbers dropped across the board slightly, which is understandable considering he was young for the level. The White Sox are challenging him again with this assignment, so it will be interesting to see how the 20-year-old handles the bright light in Arizona.
Peter was taken in the 7th round of the 2014 draft as an advanced college bat out of Creighton University. Peter quickly proved his mastery of rookie ball in Great Falls and was promoted to Winston-Salem, skipping Kannapolis altogether. In his first truly full season in 2015 in Winston-Salem, Peter hit a respectable .260/.330/348 with 23 stolen bases in 26 attempts. Peter consistently makes contact from a compact left-handed swing, so the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League might be a boost of confidence for him as he enters 2016 where he likely will start in Birmingham.
After playing in the Australian Baseball League last winter, Adam Engel graduates to the Arizona Fall League this off-season. Engel is a scout’s dream as he flashes big tools in speed, arm strength and raw power, though he’s not seen that translate fully in games yet. Similar to Jake Peter, Engel overwhelmed rookie ball competition and has had mixed success when promoted to High-A Winston-Salem. The positives are that he plays a fantastic centerfield, has a cannon of an arm, smacked 39 extra base hits, and stole 65(!) stolen bases in 2015. Engel’s problems are strikeouts (struck out 132 times in 2015) and getting on base enough to let his speed play on the base paths. It all comes down to reps for the uber-athletic Engel and if he can hang in the Fall League, it could springboard him to a big 2016.
Nick Delmonico was once a top prospect in the Orioles system that fell from grace once he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers organization. The relationship got so bad that in Delmonico’s words, “I was not willing to go back and play for them.” You can read his whole bizarre story here, but as far as actually on-the-field production, Delmonico had a disappointing year, hitting just .238/.313/.386 for the Birmingham Barons. The Arizona Fall League may be a last shot for Delmonico as the White Sox are trying to determine exactly what they have with him. Delmonico has never hit for a high average, but in 2013 he hit 13 homers and had a respectable .423 slugging percentage so there is hope he could rediscover his power.
Brennan is probably the only White Sox AFL pitching entrant likely to make some starts. This 6’4″ Californian was taken at age 20 in the 4th round in 2012 with an unusual single year of college pitching under his belt. Already on the raw side at 21 going into his first year of full season ball, Brennan went down for TJ surgery midway through that year. He came back for the 2nd half of 2014 but then missed yet more time in 2015 with a knee injury, coming back to make 12 solid starts for Winston-Salem. Brennan needs the reps as a 24-year old starter with just 244 pro innings. He’s got a sinking fastball that runs low to mid-90s, and a slider that flashes plus features at times. He can throw both for strikes consistently, but he’s a wild card against the tougher hitters in the AFL.
A product of the Dominican Summer League, Leyer has been steadily improving ever since joining the organization back in 2012. He took a big step forward in Kannapolis, and in 2015 he was a solid member of the Winston-Salem rotation before being promoted to Birmingham where he split time between starting and relieving (the latter almost assuredly being his ultimate home). Leyer’s best pitch is his mid-90’s fastball, but he also throws a 82-83 MPH slider with some tilt and flashes an inconsistent change-up. I would expect Leyer to be used out of the bullpen for the Glendale Desert Dogs which would allow him throw his FB-SL combo at max effort. Leyer was more effective in Birmingham over six relief appearances (2.25 ERA) than he was over six starts (6.15 ERA) and I would bet the AFL is an extended look at his ability to be a possible late-inning reliever.
Tago appears to be another pitcher reclamation success story for the White Sox organization. A former 1st round pick of the Colorado Rockies, the White Sox plucked him in the minor league phase of the Rule V draft when the Rockies declined to protect him. The decision was understandable, as at the time he was sporting a ERA well above 6.00 and had more career walks than strikeouts. However, the White Sox helped him re-tool his slider and mechanics as 2015 was a fantastic year for Tago, jumping three levels from Low-A Kannapolis to AA Birmingham. FutureSox spoke to Tago in August and he credited Kannapolis pitching coach Jose Bautista (who will also be the Glendale pitching coach) and system Pitching Coordinator Curt Hasler with helping him develop his secondary stuff and command. Tago throws a mid-90’s fastball that touches the upper 90’s at times and two variations of a slider, a cutter-slider combo that sits 80-81 MPH, and a curve-slider combo that is 77-81 MPH. The Arizona Fall League will be a great opportunity for Tago to put a an exclamation point of his breakout season and possibly propel him to Chicago at some point in 2016.
The White Sox acquired Wendelken in the package of prospects from the Red Sox in the 2013 trade deadline deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston. The White Sox stretched Wendelken out as a starter in 2014 with little success and he’s been a reliever ever since. This year Wendelken was extremely effective out of the Birmingham bullpen, striking out 56 batters to only 11 walks over 43 innings and having a tidy 2.72 ERA. The White Sox rewarded Wendelken with a promotion to Charlotte on July 25th where he wasn’t quite as dominant over 16 innings. Wendelken doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but he does have excellent command of an upper 70’s change-up that makes his low 90’s fastball much more effective. Expect Wendelken to be working out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League and begin the year in the Charlotte bullpen in 2016. If he pitches well, it is conceivable he could see Chicago at some point with a ceiling of an 7th-8th inning reliever.
Keon Barnum (Taxi Squad):
Barnum joins fellow Dash hitters Michalczewski, Peter, and Engel on the Glendale roster (so much for the “one player below AA” rule), but as a member of the taxi squad. The White Sox must be hoping the thin Arizona air will ignite Barnum’s untapped raw power, as the hulking physical specimen (6’5”, 225 pounds) only has a career .386 slugging percentage. Drafted out of high school in the supplement 1st round of the 2012 draft, Barnum’s development has been slow, but the good news is he still just twenty-two years old. Barnum repeated Winston-Salem in 2015 and though he didn’t have eye-popping numbers (.257/.322/.390), he did improve across the board and reduced his strikeouts. I expect Barnum to struggle in the Fall League, but the experience and the opportunity to learn from his more polished teammates could be very beneficial to his development.
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