Observations from Week 1 of the AZL White Sox

On Monday, the AZL White Sox got their 2019 season started and it should be an exciting one for this squad. The team is packed with young, intriguing prospects coming from recent draft classes and international signing classes. Our team preview can be found here.  Also, there are a few familiar faces as some of the current players spent time with this affiliate last season. This week, I spent time at the Spring Training backfields watching the AZL White Sox kickoff their season and so far, there’s been quite a few players that have stood out to me.

Jose Rodriguez, a 2018 international signing, is playing stateside for the first time in his young career. The 18-year-old has been one of the most exciting prospects to watch so far and his stateside debut has gotten off to a great start. After hitting two home runs in 60 games with the DSL White Sox last season, it took only three games for Rodriguez to go deep this year. The smooth swinging righty possesses pretty good plate discipline at this point in his career. A lot of hitters in this league have an aggressive approach, but Rodriguez has shown patience as he waits for his pitch to drive each at-bat and doesn’t get fooled by much outside of the strike zone.

Rodriguez is also very productive in the field. He’s listed as a shortstop, but he has spent time at second base and third base too. Defensively, he’s like a vacuum in the field as he sucks up everything hit his way. He has good footwork and is consistently making an effort to field the ball near the center of his body. His throws, primarily from shortstop, have sailed on him a few times, but that’s something that will improve as he grows and develops into his body. Aside from that, Rodriguez has a quick transfer and looks very athletic in the field overall. He seems comfortable at all three of those positions so far and could eventually become a solid utility man for the White Sox down the road.

2019 12th round selection, Misael Gonzalez made his professional debut this week and I like what I’ve seen from him so far. The first thing that jumps out about him is his speed. He can really fly on the base paths and that looks like an area where he can be a consistent threat from. At the plate, he has an extremely aggressive approach and has frequently found himself down in the count early. At 6’0″ and 175 pounds, Gonzalez doesn’t have the frame to develop a lot of home run power over time, however, he does have a line drive swing that could turn into consistent gap-to-gap power eventually. In the field, the Puerto Rican native has been great so far. His speed allows him to make every play seem easy, but he also has good footwork and has gotten great reads off the bat. Right now, his arm ranges from average to slightly above average. He’s not going to gun someone down each time they test him, but he has made quite a few close plays with runners tagging.

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Another member of the 2019 draft class that has made a strong impression is 16th rounder and former member of the White Sox ACE Program, DJ Gladney. Gladney has good bat speed and a very powerful swing that is going to produce a lot of extra-base hits throughout his career. When I saw him on Wednesday, his timing seemed off and he struggled to put the ball in play. However, that would quickly change as he hit his first professional home run and had two doubles during Thursday’s game. As of right now, he also has an aggressive approach and looks like he really wants to make an impact during each at-bat. You can tell that he’s still adjusting to using a wood bat, but he’s also starting to look better on a nightly basis. On Saturday, he continued his hot streak at the plate with an RBI single. He was much more patient at the plate that night and as a result, he hit the ball well during each at-bat (two deep fly outs along with the single) and drew a walk. Gladney has been the designated hitter in both games that I’ve been to, so I have yet to see what he can do in the field.

Victor Torres, a 2019 11th round selection, made his professional debut on Saturday night. When the White Sox selected him in the draft, there wasn’t much information on him, so I was excited to see what he can bring to the organization. At the plate, Torres definitely needs to work on his pitch selection. The right-hander was swinging at just about everything and he really struggled against the off-speeds. He was down 0-2 on multiple occasions and got hammered with curveballs each time. As a result, he struck out twice and popped out in foul territory. With it being his professional debut, I’m sure the nerves caught up to him and he will settle down in no time.

Defensively, Torres looked pretty good behind the plate. He blocked a lot of balls in the dirt and did a good job with receiving some wild pitches. He has a strong arm for an 18-year-old and defense seems like it’s going to be one of the stronger aspects of his game. He had one opportunity to throw a runner out and he almost made it happen from his knees. He had a great throw over to second and he clearly beat the runner, however, the throw was bobbled and the runner was safe because of it. When the White Sox selected him, they mentioned how they valued his defense and he made it clear that they were not wrong about him in that aspect of his game.

Yoelvin Silven, a 2018 international signing is another prospect that is playing stateside for the first time in his career. In a lopsided loss on Saturday, Silven was one of the few bright spots for the AZL White Sox. The right-hander showcased impressive control of his arsenal as he pounded the strike zone through 3.1 scoreless innings. He kept the AZL Indians offense quiet, which was proven to be a tough task as they put up 7 runs on 9 hits that evening. Silven faced 12 hitters on Saturday night and the Indians managed to hit the ball out of the infield just three times while facing him.

Right-hander McKinley Moore, a 2019 14th round selection made his professional debut as the closer on Monday and he looked great. Moore throws extremely hard and his fastball is definitely his best offering. He had his moments where he struggled to throw strikes but it did not hurt him at all during his lone inning of work. The AZL Royals had no answer for his fastball as they were unable to generate any hard hit balls against him. He did give up a hit during his outing on a grounder up the middle, but that runner was quickly eliminated due to an inning-ending double play to give himself the save and secure the first win of the season for the AZL White Sox. If McKinley Moore is able to develop more control, he has the potential to be a very effective high-leverage reliever throughout his professional career.

Tyler Johnson is also spending some time with the AZL White Sox as he works his way back from an injury. The right-hander has made two appearances so far and has given up five hits, struck out four, and issued zero walks in an even two innings pitched. 2018 was a big year for Johnson and he is currently getting himself ready to build off of what he put together last season. Johnson will be shipped off to Birmingham in the not so distant future to make his official 2019 season debut. Former Yankees farmhand and fireballer Jacob Lindgren is also with the AZL club and trying to make a comeback. He should report to an affiliate in the not too distant future as well.

The AZL White Sox head into Sunday with an overall 2-3 record. After going 0-2 to start the season, the team has turned things around quickly and is playing much better baseball. The prospects seem like they are becoming more and more comfortable during each game and this team should start winning a lot more games soon. Not to mention, they are still waiting for the arrival of Matthew Thompson and Andrew Dalquist, who will both provide an immediate boost to the pitching staff.

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