Preview: White Sox Fall Instructs

The regular and post-season games have ended for all seven White Sox affiliates in 2018. Three teams went to the playoffs, and one of those won a league championship (Great Falls). Now we move into the off-season. Players have scattered to the four winds, but some will breeze back to the team’s Camelback Ranch facility in Arizona for fall ball.

There are two fall leagues played in Arizona. The more well-known one is the Arizona Fall League, featuring high-flying prospects mostly from the upper levels of the minors. We previewed that league here, with six Sox prospects participating.

The lesser-known, younger brother of the AFL is the Fall Instructional League. Here each MLB organization can field a full team of mostly younger, lower-level players, in a development-focused league. It allows for not only more playing time, but lots of coaching and instruction, as well as acting as a launching pad into offseason workout and skill development plans for those less experienced minor leaguers. No stats are published, and sometimes the game rules flex in odd ways to get certain players more time.

This year, the league is a little thinner – a few clubs are opting out and others are cutting back their schedules a bit. The Sox will play just 10 games against opposing teams, plus 9 “camp days” which amount to modified intra-squad contests. The games are played generally on the back fields, and the Sox open their slate on September 24th (though the players will arrive before then). Here is this year’s schedule, courtesy of Kim Contreras:

The 2018 Fall Instructs schedule

The 2018 Fall Instructs schedule

How about the Sox roster? Who is there and why? Some things have changed since 2017, and it appears this is another area where Chris Getz and his Player Development staff are taking a slightly different route than we’ve seen before. We have broken the roster down into categories, and there will discuss the “why” for each group and some of the individual players.

2018 Draft Picks (position, age, last level, draft round)

16 of the team’s 34 signed draft picks from 2018 are here. As always, this makes up the largest group among the Instructs roster. But there is a change here from last year and the year before – the number of last year’s draftees playing keeps dwindling. In 2017, the team had 21 of their June draft selections playing.

Which leads into the fact that it’s less interesting to talk about who is here, than who is not. The top eleven picks are all present, but after that just 5 of the other 23 are participating. In some cases the players are injured or recovering from something: Isaiah Carranza (12th round) and Jason Morgan (35th) are recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Luke Shilling (15th) is coming back from a torn lat. Others, like Davis Martin (14th), had extra-long spring seasons as their teams were in the College World Series, so their arms are done for the year.

As for the others – some of whom are even relatively high-bonus mid-round guys (i.e. Ty Greene, Travis Moniot, and Gabriel Ortiz) – it isn’t known why they aren’t here. They could have lingering injuries, personal matters to attend to, or were just particularly worn down by the season.

International Signees in Rookie Ball

The international free agent signees, combined with the current year’s draft crop discussed above, make up the bulk of the rookie ball rosters. No surprise then they also comprise the majority of the Instructs roster. Note the relatively young ages, and that none of them have reached full season ball yet, but some will be there come spring.

Nunez and Sosa will likely start 2019 with Kannapolis. The others are more likely to be in Extended ST and then Great Falls, but it’s not impossible for some to sneak into A-ball. Other than Herrera, the rest will still be teenagers when 2019 opens.

DSL Players

Just two players who spent 2018 in the Dominican Summer League are coming to Glendale for a fall look, and neither were with the White Sox organization a year ago. Perez came over in Soria trade in July, and he should be with a stateside team in 2019.

Melendez was signed last offseason after he was released by the Astros following three years of deteriorating numbers as a teenager with their DSL squads. Numbers-wise it sure looks like something clicked in 2018 (his age 20 season – he turned 21 on Sunday): H/9 dropped from 9.2 to 5.0, BB/9 from 6.7 to 3.6, and K/9 up from 7.9 to 11.9. DSL numbers shouldn’t be taken too deeply, but that’s a pretty dramatic improvement.

Welcome to the White Sox

Here’s another sub-group that the Sox often send for a continued cultural indoctrination – prospects who joined the Sox during the previous season. Without that context, this would look like a pretty eclectic crew, ranging from 19 to 24 and rookie ball to AA.

Cabrera has been in the majors (in 2016 with the Braves) and that will be quite unusual among his cohorts in this league. So will be his triple digit fastball, which is why the Sox elected to take a chance on him. Connell and Dominguez were acquired from Milwaukee in exchange for LHP Xavier Cedeno. Schryver was picked up from the Rays in exchange for international bonus slot allowance. Watts was signed out of the independent Atlantic League.

2017 draft picks

Here is a pretty big difference from last year. In 2017, other than a couple catchers (remember – catchers develop weird!), there were no 2016 draft picks in Instructs other than those coming off major injuries. This season, the Sox have six picks from the prior year’s draft on the roster.

Trying to make sense of this group is a futile exercise without being “in the room” with Getz. Why include Henzman, who already had his innings reduced during the season because of workload? Why Gonzalez, who is likely ticketed for AA after a very successful 2018 season? Other than Skoug being a catcher, the reasoning for the rest of this crowd resides only with the Player Development staff.

Everyone Else

Curbelo and Zangari are here for reps – they both missed some time in 2017 and 2018, are still young and need to get all the coaching and playing time they can grab. Nolan found himself playing only part time in Winston-Salem and struggled to get a rhythm at the plate, so he’s in a similar boat. Hickman also split time and didn’t get a lot of work behind the plate for Kannapolis (where Skoug also was). Yrizarri had a very streaky year at the plate in a challenging assignment for the 21-year-old, so he’s there to get his feet back under him a bit before heading into the offseason.

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