Arizona Fall League Preview-White Sox prospects

In late August, the rosters of the Arizona Fall League were announced to the public. The White Sox, whose participants are playing for the Glendale Desert Dogs, will have seven players on the roster, with play opening in a few days. The Sox representatives will be:

Current Class A Kannapolis pitching coach Matt Zaleski will also take part in the Arizona Fall League as one of the pitching coaches for the Desert Dogs. The White Sox organization is always well represented in the AFL. Their spring training facility at Camelback Ranch in Glendale is one of the host sites and the club typically has a keen eye on the talent in this league. With a high pick in the Rule 5 draft coming this December and their reliance on the acquisition of Fall League players in the past, this could be a fairly important month for the franchise.

The Arizona Fall League is an off-season prospect showcase run by MLB. The rosters are usually comprised of many of the game’s top prospects but guys returning from injury and players with potential impending roster decisions are also prevalent in the league. Most participating players are from Double-A and Triple-A but each club can send up to two players below AA each year. Scouts, front office members and team executives flock to the desert each year to see some of the top prospects in the sport compete in actual game environments. The league starts on October 10th and ends with a Fall League Championship Game to be played on November 18th at Scottsdale Stadium. There are six total teams in the AFL and they are split into two divisions. The games will be played in the following venues: Surprise Stadium, Scottsdale Stadium, Camelback Ranch-Glendale, Salt River Fields, Sloan Park, and the Peoria Sports Complex. The games are played Monday through Saturday and every team is given an off day on Sundays. There is also an All-Star Game called the Fall Stars that will take place on November 4th at Salt River Fields.

Below is the breakdown of how the AFL is split into leagues and divided amongst the 30 clubs.

East Division
Mesa Solar Sox: A’s, Astros, Cubs, Tigers, Nationals
Salt River Rafters: Brewers, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Orioles, Rockies
Scottsdale Scorpions: Angels, Giants, Mets, Reds, Yankees

West Division
Glendale Desert Dogs: Dodgers, Indians, Pirates, Phillies, White Sox
Peoria Javelinas: Blue Jays, Braves, Mariners, Padres, Red Sox
Surprise Saguaros: Cardinals, Rangers, Rays, Royals, Twins

There have been over 4,500 AFL participants since its inception and approximately 2,600 of those players have reached the major leagues. More than 250 Fall League players have gone on to become All-Stars in the big leagues. The AFL has produced 27 Rookie of the Year recipients, 16 MVP Award winners and 6 CY Young Award winners. Angels CF Mike Trout, Nationals OF Bryce Harper and Cubs 3B Kris Bryant are just a few of the major league stars that have come through. It’s a star-driven league every year and the 2017 version will be no different. There are 11 players slated to play in the league that are currently on the top 100 prospects list at Five of those players are presently listed in the top 20: Nationals OF Victor Robles (2), Braves OF Ronald Acuna (5), Astros OF Kyle Tucker (7), Indians catcher Francisco Mejia (13), and Pirates RHP Mitch Keller (18).

Let’s look through the White Sox selections and their possible rationale for selecting each player.

Seby Zavala

The recently-turned 24-year-old San Diego state product has had some success since being drafted by the White Sox in the 12th round of the 2015 Draft. He profiles as an OBP and power reliant catcher but he has played other positions in the past. Zavala played third base, outfield and catcher as an amateur and didn’t move back behind the dish full time until his junior year with the Aztecs. He had Tommy John Surgery as a Freshman and missed all of the 2013 season because of it. Zavala has average arm strength behind the plate but his bat is his calling card. The 5’11”, 205 pound backstop split time between Low-A Kannapolis and High-A Winston-Salem this year. Seby hit .259/.327/.514 with 13 homers and 34 RBI in 52 games for the Intimidators earning him a promotion to Winston-Salem. Zavala played 55 games at DH and C for the Dash with a triple slash line of .302/.376/.485. He added to his stellar .861 OPS by hitting 8 homers and driving in 38 runs. Zavala has a compact, efficient swing and had 104 strikeouts with 35 walks combining both A-ball affiliates.

Seby Zavala needs reps. He split time behind the plate with 2016 1st round pick Zack Collins this year and that will likely continue into the near future as they happen to be around the same place on the development path. With Collins working on some things during the Fall Instructional League the AFL is the perfect place for Zavala to hone his craft. The organization will get a look at how he handles higher level pitching from behind the dish (pitch blocking in particular) and in the batter’s box. It is likely that Zavala will be splitting time with Collins again next season, this time at Double-A Birmingham with the Barons and he will be given every opportunity to stick in the organization as a catcher.

Danny Mendick

Mendick is an infielder capable of playing third base, second base and shortstop. The Rochester, New York native burst onto the scene in 2017 after being a 22nd round selection in the 2015 draft out of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. The 24-year-old bats and throws right-handed and has a compact frame at 5’10” and 190 pounds. Matt Cassidy profiled Mendick back in August and noted his above average contact rates, the fact that he plays good defense at premium positions and while he doesn’t hold any standout tools he also doesn’t possess any glaring weaknesses. In 84 games with the Winston-Salem Dash, the infielder collected 7 homers and 18 doubles over 305 plate-appearances while hitting .289/.373/.468. His sparkling .841 OPS earned him a late season promotion to Double-A Birmingham. Mendick struggled in Birmingham but he did keep his home run pace intact and he was a bit unlucky with a .219 BABIP in his 41 game audition. With this assignment, the White Sox clearly have Mendick on their prospect radar and it will be interesting to follow his progress against some of the best pitchers in the minors.

Tito Polo

The 23-year-old Colombian was acquired by the White Sox in a late July blockbuster with the New York Yankees. Polo hits and throws right-handed and is 5’10” 195 pounds. He only played in 21 games for Double-A Birmingham while battling some injuries. In 79 plate appearances, Polo hit .278/.342/.389 with a home run and four doubles for the Barons. While in the Yankees system, the outfielder slashed .382/.460/.545 in a brief run at Double-A Trenton after posting a .780 OPS in 60 games for New York’s High-A affiliate in Tampa. The righty has developed a better approach at the plate over time and possesses more power than he showed in his teenage years after being an international signing of the Pirates. Polo possesses plus speed and is an aggressive base stealer with over 110 stolen bases in his minor league career.

Polo’s scouting profile sounds like that of a typical 4th outfielder but he has a chance to be a regular with continued growth at the plate. His speed allows him to play solid defense in center and left but he might not have the arm to play consistently in right field. There are starting outfield positions available in the upper levels of the Sox system and the player development staff likely wants to see Polo against advanced competition this fall. He is also eligible to be selected in December’s Rule 5 Draft and the club needs to make a decision on whether to use a 40-man roster spot to protect him.

Dylan Covey

Covey will be pitching in the Arizona Fall League for his 2nd consecutive year. The White Sox liked what they saw when he pitched with the A’s in the 2016 edition and selected Covey in the Rule 5 draft last December. Not counting a long stint on the disabled list for an oblique injury, the right-hander spent most of the season in Chicago. The 26 year-old California native is listed at 6’2″, 195 pounds and he struck out 41 batters in 70 major league innings this past season. Covey made 18 appearances including 7 starts for the 2017 White Sox and posted a record of 0-7 with a 7.71 ERA. With many of the club’s pitching prospects at predetermined innings limits, Covey will get the chance to make up for lost time and make some starts in the AFL. White Sox Manager Rick Renteria told Scott Merkin of that the organization is just trying to get Covey a few more innings. Renteria wants to see Dylan “command the zone and use what we considered to be a really good sinker”.

Connor Walsh

This former Bearcat was a 12th round pick of the White Sox back in 2014. Walsh is right-handed and can run his fastball up into the high nineties with a quick, short arm delivery. The University of Cincinnati product has a live arm but he still needs work on his secondary offerings and command. The soon-to-be 25 year-old threw 42.1 innings this past season for the Barons at AA, where he posted a 3.19 ERA and only gave up one home run all season while striking out 50 hitters and walking 27. After a successful run in Birmingham, the right-handed reliever was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte. He did post a high 1.57 WHIP in an extremely small sample however: 14 innings with 13 strikeouts and 6 walks. Walsh is Rule 5 eligible this year and the White Sox have a decision to make in regards to whether or not they should use a 40-man roster spot on him. He will be front and center in the AFL for his second consecutive year showcasing his abilities to the White Sox who will have some open bullpen spots as well as scouts and front office personnel from the other 29 clubs.

Jace Fry

Fry made his major league debut for the Chicago White Sox on September 5th. In 11 September games, Jace threw 6.2 innings and struggled in his first go around in the big leagues to a tune of a 6.46 FIP. He is currently on the 40-man roster and likely will be given the chance to compete for a big league bullpen job in spring training. The 6’1″, 190 pound lefty was a 3rd round pick of the organization in the 2014 MLB Draft. The southpaw missed his sophomore season at Oregon State after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2012. He battled back and had a very successful season as a Junior for the Beavers prompting the White Sox to give him a bonus of $760,000. Fry was used as a starting pitcher initially in Rookie Ball with the White Sox but injuries have relegated Fry to a future bullpen role. The left-handed pitcher had his 2nd Tommy John Surgery and missed the entire 2016 season in the process. He did pitch 45.1 innings for the Birmingham Barons this year however. Fry posted a 2.78 ERA in 33 games and struck out 52 hitters while walking 24. He is likely headed to the Arizona Fall League so that the White Sox can see him against good competition while accumulating more innings after missing as much time as he has.

Matt Foster

This former member of the Crimson Tide will get a chance to showcase his abilities in the AFL after missing a chunk of the 2017 minor league season. The right-hander was a 20th round pick by the White Sox in the 2016 class out of the University of Alabama. Foster signed quickly and dominated at both rookie affiliates after putting ink to paper. As FutureSox detailed here, Foster briefly retired due to some personal issues back in April and his status was unclear. He returned to the organization and joined the Kannapolis Intimidators in June. Over 14.1 innings in Low-A, Foster posted a 1.88 ERA with 19 strikeouts and just 2 walks. He earned a late season promotion to High-A and threw 13.1 innings for the Dash in Winston-Salem where Matt struck out 14 batters in just 10 games and had an ERA of 0.68. The 22-year-old profiles as a setup man or high leverage reliever with his fastball that sits in the 90-95 range and he possesses a sharp slider that he throws between 82-85. The White Sox have a plethora of bullpen candidates with big arm talent strewn across their minor league system. Foster’s domination in A-ball has earned him the chance to pitch on a bigger stage. Some success against top talent in the AFL could lead to a promotion to AA Birmingham to start the 2018 minor league season.

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