For those who have struggled to deal with the void in their lives since the White Sox minor league season ended, the Arizona Fall League offers some relief with more daily prospect action.
It’s especially the case this season, as the White Sox have put a pretty compelling crop of prospects onto the Glendale Desert Dogs’ roster:
- Tanner Banks
- Luis Basabe
- Zack Burdi
- Danny Dopico
- Laz Rivera
- Luis Robert
- Zach Thompson
It’s certainly more exciting than last year’s bunch, which lacked star power. Jace Fry used the AFL to rebound after spilling his cup of coffee on his lap last year, and Seby Zavala followed a strong season in A-ball with a .326/.407/.435 line with Glendale, putting him more firmly on the radar. Danny Mendick got more playing time than anybody and fared well enough.
Otherwise? It was a way to get extra reps to guys who missed time, like Charlie Tilson, Tito Polo and Matt Foster. Connor Walsh was also a fringe 40-man roster decision, and he didn’t distinguish himself.
There’s a lot more to follow this time around, with Banks the only odd case. He’s an organizational workhorse who has averaged 148 innings the last three years, and he turns 27 in a fortnight. I suppose you can never disqualify a left-handed strike-thrower from completing a climb to the majors, but he’s the last guy who needs catch-up reps in October.
Everybody else comes with the clear standard reasons to watch.
Dopico and Thompson: They’re both eligible for the Rule 5 draft, and both would have stronger cases for protection in other organizations. They’re both 24 — although not for long — but Thompson is a year ahead of Dopico in terms of progress. He put together a strong 75 innings across Winston-Salem and Birmingham in his first full year as a reliever, posting a 1.55 ERA with a combination of decent peripherals (76 strikeouts, 29 walks) and weak contact (57 hits). There’s a chance the 6-foot-7-inch reliever has put it all together:
Will write up #WhiteSox RP Zach Thompson after AFL looks later this month, but here's a taste. Would you like that Cut hard at 89 or stupid hard at 95? 6-3 ground out here: pic.twitter.com/bcwZGWSNt5
— John T Eshleman (@2080_John) October 5, 2018
Dopico was a late addition to the roster, and he also gets strikeouts with a lively fastball-splitter combination. His problem has been wrangling all his pitches into a cohesive approach on a consistent basis, but he ended his season with an impressive line over his last seven outings in Winston-Salem: 13 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 22 K. Maybe the White Sox want to see if he can keep it going.
Rivera: The Danny Mendick of a new draft class, Rivera has spent his first year and a half raking at the lower levels, owning a .309/.365/.471 line over 171 games between Arizona, Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. He turned 24 last month, so it makes sense to push him and see how quickly he can hone his plate discipline, even if he just got done playing his first 120-game season.
Basabe: Speaking of career-high workloads, Basabe set a new high with 119 games played in 2018, a key development after struggling through knee problems the year before. He’ll add to that with a high-profile assignment in the AFL. If he can pick up where where he left off over his last 100 PA in Birmingham (.273/.356/.455), he could create a case for starting 2019 in Charlotte to alleviate some of the Double-A logjam. In James Fegan’s monster instructional league article, Basabe says he can handle it:
His power showed up in the form of 15 home runs this season thanks to a surgically repaired left knee, and Gellinger thinks his swing is geared to provide more punch as the center fielder continues to add strength. Basabe seems like he wouldn’t be bothered by an aggressive assignment to Charlotte, or beyond.
“You know the Latin guys, we don’t like to wait too much,” Basabe said. “We’re hungry to be there. We like to play with passion, so I want to go.”
Robert: This assignment is more about additional reps than any kind of springboard, given all the time Robert has missed with a variety of injuries. Still, it’s difficult to suppress expectations given the hype, and after watching him hit .244/.317/.309 after coming back from his thumb injury in Winston-Salem, it’d be fun to at least see a flash of the advertised power before his season closes. Aaron Rowand loved what he saw from Robert in other areas of the game:
“He just moves at a different pace,” Rowand said. “Whether it be fielding a ground ball or running down balls. He has the ability to move very quickly but under control. His feet are always underneath him. That’s something you can’t teach. When he fields a ground ball to throw somebody out, he’s not out of control but he’s moving at a faster pace than most. That’s just talent. That’s God said, ‘Here ya go.’
“He has a cannon for an arm. He works as hard or harder than anyone out here. His footwork is really good. His instincts are very good on the bases. He’s got really good instincts as far as taking extra bases, pushing the envelope, putting pressure on the outfield, making them make mistakes so he can take another 90 feet. He’s really good at reading balls in the dirt. For a young guy he’s a very, very polished player and is going to do nothing but get better.”
Burdi: It’s been a slow return from Tommy John surgery, and the hope is that the deliberate pace is intentional. There was no time pressure to get him back into game action, as there’s no material difference whether Burdi gets called up to Chicago in April 2019, September 2019, or maybe even a little beyond that. A full, active AFL season would give him the regular workload and more intense environment he’s lacked during his rehab.
The elephant in the room is Burdi’s velocity, which Fegan says is still hovering around the 93-95 range Eric Longenhagen saw in early August. The missing miles per hour didn’t register a real concern then, considering it was his first real action. If it remains in that range through the AFL season, then it’s a little more worrisome.
It’s worrisome to me that a White Sox instructor seems to be saying that you can’t teach outfield footwork.
I didn’t include the paragraph in front of it for fair use reasons, but it seems like Rowand means the unteachable thing is the speed at which Robert does things.
As long as his instruction works out better than Vince Coleman’s, I’ll take it!
would of thought after the royce ring debacle the sox would learn their lesson spending high picks on closers
just stupidity, I feel bad for Burdi but a 5-8 mph drop coming off TJS isnt really normal, something is going on, and if he doesnt regain that 100 mph heat I think sox fans are gonna be upset with how high his ceiling is
Mid 90s is still pretty good, and I agree with you, using high draft picks for pitchers that project to be relievers is just dumb.
if the slider remains elite ok, but mid 90s now a days isnt much most teams have 4 or 5 guys who hit that in their pens with ease
100 was special, 93-95… yikes
Really hoping he gets back to full strength but Im worried. Sometimes you gain a mph or two from TJS
Yeah, if he doesn’t recover some MPH there’s a LOT more pressure on his off-speed stuff. For context Brad Brach averaged 94 MPH on his fastball this year, which was 86th among relievers with at least 40 innings pitched.
exactly, and isnt the scouts magic number for when there is a significant swing and miss variance right at 94.2
Chris Sale was not projected to be used as a reliever. He was used as such because he was promoted quickly, and the team needed bullpen help.
Even so…it’s still dumb. The Chris Sales are rare. Very rare.
He dropped in the draft because everyone saw a future reliever, except the White Sox.
I thought he fell in our hands because people were scared of his complicated pitching mechanics
Yes. Ergo reliever because many scouts or clubs (looking at you klaw) didn’t think he’d hold up to starting.
I think it was actually more presumed signability/cost concerns, though I’m sure his whacky throwing motion played a part as well.
Must have used Giolito’s surgeon.
It was all timing. The White Sox drafted him because they thought they were still competing for the playoffs (lol) and he was pegged as an impact reliever who would be ready for the major league roster almost immediately. If they’d not been deluding themselves into thinking they still had a chance, they probably would have chosen Dunning, who their scouts were pretty high on but was obviously several years away.
Also, with an effective three-pitch mix, Burdi was seen as having an outside chance at converting to a starter.
Sorry, I don’t totally get this. Does this mean he’s been added to the 40-man?
No, I think he avoided minor league free agency.
Yeah, 2018 was his seventh season of pro ball:
Think we can read anything into this? Kinda surprising he signed with the team if he had a choice of anywhere to go given how burned he felt being left off the 40-man last season. Think the org told him to expect a cup of coffee at a minimum?