2019 AZL White Sox Preview

The Arizona Rookie League (AZL) started play on Monday and it is home to the White Sox younger or typically less-advanced rookie league affiliate. The Fire League is very interesting and our contributor Sean Williams is usually witnessing much of the action on the ground level.

Back in 2014, the White Sox left their rookie league affiliate at Bristol, Tenn., and rejoined the AZL. The complex league is a rookie-level league played in spring training facilities of member clubs in the Cactus League. The White Sox play their home games at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., which doubles as their spring training home as well. Unlike extended spring training, this is a league with official score-keeping and recorded statistics.

It is sometimes referred to as “The Fire League” because temperatures are often in triple digits around the first pitch. The games are free to attend and there are generally no concessions due to games being played on the back fields. AZL games are sparsely populated and it’s usually just team officials, family members of the players and scouts in attendance.

The White Sox typically send their recent high school draft picks, prospects rehabilitating injuries and international signings from the Dominican Summer League to play at their AZL affiliate. There are also recent college draftees as well. The squad as a group is substantially younger than other recent AZL teams.

There are currently 39 players on the first iteration of the roster. Out of those 39 players, 21 of them are recent draftees from the 2019 class. The rest of the club consists of other recent draft picks, international signings, and players rehabbing various ailments. The club will be managed by DSL veteran Ever Magallanes and Gary Ward and Felipe Lira will return as the hitting and pitching coaches once again.

Pitchers

Pitching in the AZL is different than in some other leagues because of how the ball travels in the Arizona heat. As a rookie league, the staff isn’t set up in a traditional manner when it comes to starting and relief roles. Many of the pitchers have already compiled many innings during their amateur seasons and some will be on pitch limits in rookie ball. 2nd rounder Matthew Thompson and 3rd rounder Andrew Dalquist will likely join this roster once they officially sign with the White Sox but they have not done so yet. They will be the most interesting pitchers on the roster in Arizona. 

20-year-old southpaw Hector Acosta will return to the AZL this season after a brief stint in 2018 and he made the start on opening night. The 6’4″ 200 pound Dominican struggled in a small sample last year after two successful seasons in the Dominican Summer League. He will be joined by 6’1″ 175 pound Dominican righty Yoelvin Silven. The 19-year-old posted a 3.66 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 64 innings in the DSL previously. Righties Isaiah Carranza and Luke Schilling were day three selections in the 2018 draft and they will begin the AZL season on the 60-day injured list. Carranza was pretty highly regarded out of Azusa Pacific and is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Schilling was a 15th rounder from the University of Illinois that throws very hard but has battled injuries throughout his career.

Tyler Johnson and Jacob Lindgren will begin their seasons on a rehab assignment in Glendale. Johnson was held back in extended spring training after injuring his lat muscle. The 23-year-old former 5th rounder posted a 1.45 ERA with a 1.58 FIP and 12.48 K/9 in Winston-Salem last year. The 6’3″ 205 pounder averaged 15.33 strikeouts per nine in Kannapolis as well. Johnson should finish his season at Double-A Birmingham if everything goes according to plan. Lindgren was a 2nd round pick of the New York Yankees back in 2014. The now 26-year-old has an extensive injury history and hasn’t pitched in a game since 2016. The southpaw throws really hard and has compiled ludicrous strikeout numbers in the minor leagues. It’s a worthwhile gamble to take on the 5’11” 180-pound left-hander at this stage.

Four of the pitchers selected in the 2019 draft that will pitch in the AZL are lefties. Avery Weems (6th round) is 6’2″ 205 pounds and made 17 starts for Arizona but also has bullpen experience. He posted a 7.15 ERA as a senior. Sammy Peralta (18th round) pitched at the University of Tampa and posted a fairly high ERA. He has high octane stuff though and compiled 65K in 37 innings. Trey Jeans (33rd round) posted a 3.76 ERA for Louisiana Monroe with 69 strikeouts and 37 walks in almost 80 innings pitched. Garvin Alston Jr. (37th round) also possesses a big arm and bloodlines.

Righty Tyson Messer (9th round) pitched out of the bullpen for Campbell University and produced plenty of strikeouts and walks. He posted 34K in 17 innings pitched as a senior. Cooper Bradford (13th round) posted a 5.58 ERA with 89K for Florida Southern. McKinley Moore (14th round) is a 6’6″ 225-pound right-hander from Arkansas Little Rock. Moore possesses a monster fastball but has been very erratic. Jeremiah Burke (17th round) posted a 4.66 ERA with 86 strikeouts in 85 innings for Georgetown. Hansen Butler (25th round) has some Cape Cod League success and has compiled 95 strikeouts and 50 walks in 69 career innings for the Tar Heels. Justin Friedman (26th round) from Hope International (NAIA), Declan Cronin (36th round) from Holy Cross and Nick Silva (40th round) from Maine are also on the pitching staff. The organization also added righties Allen Beer as an undrafted free agent out of Bradley, Vladimir Nunez from Stetson, Mac Welsh from Louisville and former Tampa Bay Rays farmhand Justin O’Conner to the roster as well.

Infielders

The AZL White Sox will have a very young team in general but they are extremely youthful on the infield especially. Five recent international signings will be rotating around the infield in the Fire League. 18-year-old Dominican shortstop Sidney Pimentel signed for $300K back in 2017. He’s a 6’1″ 160-pound switch hitter who played 17 games in the DSL last season. Pimentel is an athletic, high energy player. Cuban 3B Bryan Ramos is a 17-year-old who skipped the DSL entirely. The 6’2″ 190-pound infielder was given a $300K bonus in 2018. Shortstop Harold Diaz is another Cuban that was signed for $300K in the 2018 international class. Diaz is 5’10” and 170 pounds and played shortstop in the DSL last year with a .793 OPS in 18 games. Samil Polanco is a 19-year-old Dominican that played 2B and compiled 2 hits in his debut on Monday. He’s a 6’0″ 160-pound switch hitter that posted a .685 OPS in the DSL in 2018. 18-year-old shortstop Jose Rodriguez also posted two hits in his debut including a triple. The 5’11” 160 pounder slashed .291/.318/.401 with 23 RBI for the DSL White Sox last season.

DJ Gladney was the opening day designated hitter for the AZL White Sox. He’s going to play over at third base some as well. Gladney was given $225K in the 16th round of the 2019 draft. The 6’3″ 195 pounder attended Illiana Christian and was a member of the White Sox’s ACE Developmental Program. The local product is a raw high school talent with speed and plus power potential. He’s joined by 27th rounder Tyler Osik from Central Florida. Osik played at Chipola Community College in Florida and finished his college career for UCF. Tyler was named 2nd Team All-AAC in 2018. He posted a .485 OBP during his junior season and hit .325/.410/.542 with 10 homers as a 5th year senior this spring. 39th rounder Tom Archer from Lynn University is on the roster as well.

Outfielders

The outfield is comprised of three 2019 draft picks and two recent international signings. Josue Guerrero and Anthony Coronado return for another go around in the Arizona League. Both players were members of the White Sox’s 2016 international signing class. In the 2016 international review over at Baseball America, Ben Badler noted that the Sox were higher on Guerrero than the majority of the scouting industry and they have him a $1.1 million bonus to prove it. The cousin of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Josue possesses raw power and good bat speed but it hasn’t translated to game action as of yet. He posts solid exit velocities in batting practice and is said to have solid breaking ball recognition, but his overaggressive approach and below average arm and speed are definitely flaws. The 6’2″ 195 pounder played 23 games in the AZL in 2018 and struggled to a .518 OPS. The 19-year-old played the 2017 season in the DSL.

Coronado is a 19-year-old corner outfielder from Venezuela. He is 6’1″ and 180 pounds and was given $150K to sign back in 2016. Coronado has above-average speed but just a fringy arm and possesses swing and miss in his game. Anthony posted a .781 OPS in the DSL back in 2017 but struggled in 21 games in the AZL last year. Jonathan Allen was taken in the 32nd round of the 2019 draft out of the University of San Francisco. The 6’3″ 200 pounder is a centerfielder by trade but can play all three outfield spots in a pinch. Allen was Honorable Mention All-West Coast Conference in 2018 after slashing .308/.393/.480. The lefty slugger hit 17 homers this spring and posted a .254/.372/.565 line on his way to First Team All-Conference recognition.

James Beard was a 4th round pick in the 2019 draft out of a Mississippi High School. His draft profile is here. The right-handed hitter has top of the scale 80-grade speed and can be a game changer on the bases. He was listed as a top 100 draft prospect by multiple publications and was young for the draft class. Beard is 5’10” and 170 pounds but he’s not just a one trick pony. He is very raw, but he has strong hands and wrists and shows the ability to possess power potential in the future. He should see plenty of time in the AZL this season. In addition to Beard, the White Sox used a 12th round pick to select centerfielder Misael Gonzalez out of the Leadership Christian Academy in Puerto Rico. He’s 6’0″ 170 pounds and shows an impressive power/speed combination. Nick Hostetler joined the FutureSox podcast recently and mentioned that he may possess 80-grade speed as well. He was given an over slot bonus of $185K on the draft’s third day so he has some upside and should be interesting to follow.

Catchers

Gabriel Ortiz was a 19th round selection of the White Sox in the 2018 draft. He was signed out of Puerto Rico and played in 17 contests in the AZL last year. The 6’0″ 180-pound left-handed hitter returns to the AZL this season and can also play some first base. He’s 19-years-old and posted a .245 OBP in 45 plate appearances. The rest of the troika of catchers all come to Arizona via the 2019 draft. Victor Torres was given an over slot bonus of $175K to sign in the 11th round out of the International Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico. The 6’0″ 180-pound backstop has been lauded for his advanced skills behind the plate. Torres is a an elite thrower with quality defensive skills and is a 6.64 runner as well. The 18-year-old righty should see plenty of time behind the dish. 8th rounder Ivan Gonzalez should get most of the time though. The 5’9″ 190 pounder from West Virginia was a Freshman All American before tailing off for the Mountaineers. He’s a respected game caller with leadership skills and walked more than he struck out in college. 30th rounder Daniel Millwee from High Point is also on the AZL roster.

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