Season in Review: 2018 AZL White Sox

Team: AZL White Sox
League: Arizona League (Rk)
Final record: 30-26 overall (14-14 1st half, 16-12 2nd half)
Final placement: 4th in 1st half, 3rd in 2nd half in Central Division. Missed a wild card spot by a half game.
Complete Team Stats

The U.S. affiliate at the lowest developmental level, the AZL White Sox are typically (and this year) an eclectic mix of lower-round college draftees, prep selections, and 18- to 21-year-old Latin American imports, spiced with short cameos from a few of the highest picks that June. As the Sox system has improved overall, the AZL team has gotten both younger and more exciting, though also more raw. It’s been a few years since the AZL team made the playoffs and this squad got awfully close, missing the post-season by just a half game.

There was a lot of talent on this Fire League roster, but many of the most highly considered prospects didn’t stay long. Offensively, the team finished in the lower half (but never rock bottom) in virtually every offensive category, though they did strike out fewer than all but two teams and those other two teams played 2 or 3 fewer games. Higher contact rates from a young roster is encouraging, but the power was lacking (just 11 HR for all the non-rehab players on the year). The pitching staff fared a bit better, finishing in the top half in most key categories and allowing the fewest walks of any staff on the circuit.

Let’s dig into the individual performances that were important for the team. Keep in mind that the rookie league rosters are bigger, and because the Sox don’t have a 7th U.S. affiliate, a lot of players had to share time.

Position Player Highlights

We will leave the rehabbers out of the discussion. Also, let’s get the cameos out of the way. June first round pick Nick Madrigal had just 15 PA and hit .154 but (feign shock) did not strike out. 2nd rounder Steele Walker hit .455… in 4 games.

Who actually played double digits in games and did well? Let’s start with 33rd round pick and surprise signee Bryce Bush, who was positively dominant in his 14 games: .442/.538/.605, 8:4 BB:K. The 18-year-old third baseman was quickly promoted to Great Falls. 20th round pick and infielder Jimmy Galusky opened the year with Great Falls and struggled, so he went the opposite way when Bush was promoted. Galusky had no trouble with AZL pitching in 17 games (.388/.466/.510). Catcher and 16th round pick Ty Greene was an on-base machine, batting .313 with more walks than strikeouts and a .403 OBP for the 21-year-old in 39 games. Shortstop Micah Coffey, a 30th rounder who turned 23 during the campaign, posted a .708 OPS in 19 games.

But let’s steer back to the younger players. A pair of prep draftees – 4th rounder Lency Delgado and 7th rounder Cabera Weaver – had successful pro debuts. Delgado, who turned 19 just after he signed, played pretty much exclusively at shortstop and while his numbers weren’t great (.233/.309/.301) there were positive local reports on his defense and speed (4/4 SB/ATT too). The 18-year-old outfielder Weaver did a bit better at the plate (.248/.367/.342, 10% walk rate) while playing mostly in center and stealing eight bags. A third 18-year-old June draftee, 11th rounder Kelvin Maldonado, struggled mightily at the plate while playing a mix of short and second: .150/.184/.167 with just one extra-base hit in 38 games.

This takes us to by far the biggest category of player – Latin American imports in their stateside debuts, most of them teenagers. So many played that it’s easier to just bullet them out (with age during season and positions most played):

That’s a young group and clearly some will need to repeat the level in 2019. The good news is there are a number of players in that group that showed some decent plate discipline numbers.

That leaves Sam Abbott, the only 2017 draft pick who played substantial time for the AZL Sox this year. The 8th rounder was known to be quite raw going into pro ball and his results echoed that. He hit just .139, though he did walk at a 19% clip and lead the team with three home runs in his 28 games.

Pitching Highlights

29th round draft pick Taylor Varnell‘s performance was the highlight of the rotation, despite having been a reliever in college. The 23-year-old lefty was probably beyond this level and it showed: 1.97 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 2.0 BB/9, 12.0 K/9 in 10 starts (45.2 IP). 20-year-old right-hander Brayan Herrera also showed well in his stateside debut: 2.70 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, 6.8 K/9 in his 11 starts and a team-leading 56.2 IP. UDFA signee Sean Thompson was the other pitcher who made a substantial number of starts and he did well too (3.68 ERA, 1.34 WHIP in 36.2 innings), not surprising for a guy coming off his senior year at a Division I school (VCU).

Most of the rest of the pitchers who threw in more than a few games and weren’t on a rehab assignment can be broken into a few groups.

Here are the 2018 draft picks:

  • Rigo Fernandez, 20, LHP, 24th round: 33.2 IP, 21 H, 7 ER, 14 BB, 38 K (promoted to Great Falls)
  • Devon Perez, 22, RHP, 26th round: 9.1 IP. 10 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 18 K (also to Great Falls)
  • Austin Conway, 23, RHP, 31st round: 12.2 IP, 11 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 14 K (also to Great Falls)
  • Aaron Soto, 22, LHP, 32nd round: 44.2 IP, 58 H, 34 ER, 9 BB, 44 K

Perez was just flat dominant and was promoted quickly, and Conway also didn’t stick around long. Fernandez was with AZL for most of the campaign before a late-season promotion, and he also did well statistically. Soto was the only one of the bunch who struggled a bit, but his peripherals were pretty strong. All but Soto worked exclusively in relief, with Soto seeing 5 starts and 9 relief appearances.

And the Latin American signees:

  • Yordi Rosario, 19, RHP: 26.1 IP, 28 H, 10 ER, 8 BB, 31 K (joined late, from DSL)
  • Bryan Lara, 20, LHP: 24.1 IP, 33 H, 18 ER, 9 BB, 23 K
  • Nelson Acosta, 20, RHP: 22.2 IP, 25 H, 12 ER, 13 BB, 19 K
  • Hector Acosta, 19, LHP: 10.1 IP, 15 H, 14 ER, 6 BB, 8 K (joined late, from DSL)
  • Felix Mercedes, 21, RHP: 11.1 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 8 BB, 10 K

Rosario stands out here, arriving mid-season from the Dominican Summer League and immediately putting up solid numbers in four starts and two relief appearances. Felix Mercedes is interesting in that he was originally signed as a shortstop, then was moved to third base, then first, then the outfield, and is now converting to pitching. This was his debut season on the mound.

And finally the UDFA pickups:

All three of these pitchers did well (as you would expect given their age and college pedigrees), and all three were promoted to Great Falls during the second half of the short season.

That does leave one outlier. Hunter Kiel was selected in the 18th round in 2016, and didn’t pitch in his draft year. Here in 2018 he’s in his second year in the AZL, and his peripherals tell quite a story: 2.1 H/9, 10.6 BB/9, 17.5 K/9. There is clearly some stuff there but not much control from the 22-year-old.

Looking Forward to 2019

Predicting who would be on an AZL roster in 2019 is mostly an exercise in futility, because the bulk of the roster will be upcoming June draft picks and some DSL players we don’t yet know much about. And sadly, because the White Sox are in the 2nd year of international signing bonus penalties, the talent flow from the DSL will likely be pretty tepid next year.

But, there are some things we can be pretty confident in, and there will be talent on the roster. Maldonado, Mieses, Nova, Guerrero, Coronado and all the catchers not named Greene will likely repeat the level given their age and performances. A handful of the LatAm pitchers who didn’t do as well and tend to be younger likely will do the same. The DSL crop doesn’t look great, but shortstop Jose Rodriguez could come north, along with some of the 2018 J2 signees that are more “ready”.

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