Season in Review: 2016 AZL White Sox

Team: AZL White Sox
League: Arizona League (a.k.a. Fire League)
Final record: 21-35
Final placement: 5th (last) place in the Central Division
Complete team stats

Last year around this time, the AZL White Sox were celebrating a league championship. Clearly this year’s squad did not perform at that level, but that’s not to say the talent level was as much lower as their standing seems to indicate.

This year’s AZL team was led by a much younger crop of players. In fact, 9 of the 13 the position players who got into at least 15 games were teenagers.  The five leading pitchers in innings logged were similarly young. Last year, it was just 6 of 15 position players in that younger bracket, and the pitching staff was similarly a little older. This is key in putting the team’s performance in context.

Let’s take a look at some individual performances…

Position Players

A number of Latin American players saw their first exposure to stateside pro ball with this team. Outfielder Franklin Reyes, who signed last year for the second highest bonus of any White Sox amateur signee ($1.5M), hit just .171 with a single home run. He also walked just five times in 217 plate appearances while striking out in 71 of those, but the 17-year old was one of the youngest players in the entire league and he didn’t play in the DSL before coming to Arizona. 18-year old infielder Ricky Mota had similar contact issues (31 K in 83 PA) but did put up better core numbers (.665 OPS) in 23 games.

Third baseman Maiker Feliz made a brief AZL appearance last year for just nine games, but this was his first extended look. In his age 18/19 season, Feliz didn’t produce a ton at the plate (.590 OPS), but he did show better peripherals than many of his younger cohorts with 16 walks to 25 strikeouts in 114 PA. 19-year old outfielder Hanleth Otano similarly saw brief AZL action last year before getting full time work this year. Otano’s numbers weren’t awful for player at his stage of development (.243/.313/.301, 7.3% BB/PA, 28.4% K/PA), but like the rest of the players above he didn’t produce much in terms of helping the team’s offense.

A few 2016 June draft picks played most or all of their games in the “Fire League” as well. 6th round pick and over-slot bonus baby Luis Curbelo posted mediocre-ish numbers (.226/.303/.323, 15 BB, 42 K in 185 PA), but looks from the games indicated they saw some glimpses of power and defensive skills from a still raw 18-year old. Outfielder Joel Booker (22nd round) on the other hand had the best statistical season on the team for players who were there any material length of time (.296/.387/.393, 26/27 SB/ATT) and local scouting spoke highly of his defense in center field. 19-year old catcher Mike Hickman (13th round) had a nice pro debut, posting a .286/.386/.367 line in 16 games and throwing out 20% of attempted base stealers.

A trio of second-year pros showed positive progress in their development. Amado Nunez highlights this group, hitting .287 and showing a little power. The 18-year old improved dramatically from 2015, showed some decent contact (22% K/PA), and local reports on his defense indicated raw but talented play at shortstop. 19-year old infielder Felix Mercedes improved across the board as well and had one of the better offensive showings on the squad, though oddly he was playing first base more often than not. 2015 20th round pick Jacob Cooper showed some power while repeating the level and threw out 27% of runners attempting to steal, and played a few games in the outfield as well.

Starting Pitchers

Probably the biggest pleasant surprise on this club was RHP Luis Ledo. Usually a player who spends three seasons and the beginning of a fourth in the Dominican Summer League can safely be called a non-prospect, but Ledo showed up in Glendale this year and breezed through opposing lineups: 1.19 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 12 BB vs 36 K in 45.1 IP (he was then promoted to Great Falls near the end of the season). Like Ledo, Victor Done began his career in the DSL in 2013 and split his time between Boca Chica and Glendale in 2016, but in Done’s case he was on this AZL squad in 2014 and 2015. This year he struggled quite a bit with control in the desert: 28 walks in 30 innings, contributing to an inflated 7.20 ERA.

Right-hander Edinxon Arias was the youngest pitcher to get significant time as a starter on this club at 18 years old, and it showed in his numbers: 6.50 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, 27 K in 44.1 IP. Cuban product Andres Sanchez led the staff in starts (12) and innings pitched (60), posting a 5.10 ERA in his age 19 season (his second in the AZL).

Relief and Mixed Use Pitchers

*It’s important to note that some of the pitchers who didn’t start or rarely started in rookie league, could be starters later but are on limited innings work. Keep that in mind with these names, and why more are discussed here than among the starting pitchers above.*

A pair of undrafted free agent signees became mainstays on this staff. 23-year old righty Brandon Agar (from North Georgia College) was quite effective in 14 games mostly in relief, posting a 1.09 WHIP, 2.55 ERA, and striking out 22 batters against just 6 walks in 24.2 innings of work. 22-year old Evan Bell (Indiana) didn’t put up core numbers that strong (4.50 ERA) but did put up some nice peripherals (8.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9).

21-year old hurler Jhoan Quijada followed an almost identical path to Ledo, though his numbers weren’t as strong – he posted a 5.67 ERA and struck out 5.9 per 9, but he did throw strikes (2.3 BB/9). Salvador Villarreal threw in 14 games in his age 18 season, struggling to find the strike zone, walking 23 batters in 25.1 IP. But he also skipped DSL play entirely so this was his first year of organized pro ball.

Three 2016 draft picks got in significant work from the AZL bullpen. 20th round pick Matt Foster was nails in his 18.1 innings of work on the back fields, posting sub-1 numbers in ERA and WHIP, while walking just 4 and striking out 26 batters. He was then promoted to Great Falls, where he has been similarly domimant, and his combined numbers in the rookie leagues in his draft year look like this: 29.2 IP, 12 H, 2 ER, 7 BB, 41 K. The 21-year old Alabama product is one to keep an eye on in 2017.

Big 32nd round pick Sean Renzi posted some nice peripheral numbers in 23 innings of work, including a 2.3 BB/9 and 11.3 K/9. The very next White Sox pick, lefty Ryan Boelter, put up an identical walk rate and struck out 10.5 per 9 innings.

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