The Arizona Fall League isn’t a particularly reliable indicator of future success levels for a number of reasons — unusual hitting environment, uneven talent distribution, irregular assignments, guys coming off injuries, guys coming off long seasons, etc. — but the White Sox had a couple of things they could get out of the extended season in a broader sense.
The first was Zack Burdi handling a regular relief workload, which didn’t happen. Burdi only made five appearances, getting decent results despite reduced velocity before the Sox shut him down due to “general fatigue.” Rick Hahn has tried to downplay the concern of Burdi working 93-95 mph, which could be the case. The problem is that Hahn wouldn’t sound any different if he were merely sidestepping a hard truth, so there will be a lot of Burdi-watching come February.
The second objective? Getting Luis Robert to restore some of his sizzle, and here’s a metaphor for that objective.
#WhiteSox Luis Robert with an absolutely mammoth home run. Good lord. Nobody on the field moved. Make sure your volume is turned up. @MLBPipeline pic.twitter.com/OuukA6mfEV
— Mike Rosenbaum (@GoldenSombrero) November 8, 2018
Robert posted a quality line (.324/.367/.432), and while it took some time for the power to materialize, it came around with a couple homers and a couple doubles during the second half of the short season.
But that only tells half the story. He spent November slinging viral content for those tweeting from Arizona, both with his power:
Luis Robert showed off the tools in the @MLBazFallLeague today. The #WhiteSox No. 4 prospect (#MLB No. 44) had the 2nd-hardest-hit ball of the game (106.7 mph) and recorded sprint speeds of 29.5 and 31.0, which is, as the @statcast kids are saying, elite. https://t.co/LDgQ9HapWD pic.twitter.com/G9Ik8w1aYb
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) November 14, 2018
After getting a leadoff single and stealing second base, Luis Robert steals third as well. pic.twitter.com/yJu8WVvz8D
— Chuck Garfien (@ChuckGarfien) November 14, 2018
On a FanGraphs podcast last week (nod to Alex Gaspar for bringing it to my attention), Eric Longenhagen says that Robert doesn’t have the ability to turn on inside heat the way he thinks he does, but he already has the ability to pulverize mistakes and does everything else well in the field. Kyle Glaser of Baseball America went into great detail about the way Robert’s speed and motor can change an inning.
Had Robert not played in the AFL, he probably still would have been a top-five White Sox prospect and a lock on top-100 lists, but the evaluators would’ve had to explain away the .625 OPS at Winston-Salem. His relatively healthy fall experience allowed him to showcase the breadth of his skills and make his case require fewer words.
As for the rest of the reps, Tanner Banks and Danny Dopico lived up/down to expectations — the former as an innings-eating lefty who throws strikes and doesn’t miss bats, and the latter as a righty with some power on his stuff but difficulty harnessing it. Zach Thompson had the best small sample of the bunch, although five walks over his last four appearances suggests he cashed in his small sample success (2.70 REA, 15 strikeouts over 13 1/3 innings) just in time.
Laz Rivera’s AFL assignment was a bit of a heat check, in that fall ball might be taxing for a guy who played 124 games at A-ball and posted a .314/.361/.481 line between the two levels. He couldn’t quite keep up with the ambitious assignment, hitting .215/.271/.246 with three walks to 14 strikeouts. In Rivera’s defense, three walks in 17 games is progress, as it easily bests his career 2.5 percent walk rate.
It would’ve been nice to see a little more from Luis Basabe, whose fine finish to his introduction to Double-A didn’t carry over to Arizona. He hit just .180/.333/.180 over 50 at-bats, with 12 walks in 15 games being the only bright spot (and somewhat diminished by the 16 strikeouts).
On the aforementioned podcast, Longenhagen wrote off Basabe’s unimpressive showing as the result of some of those limiting factors mentioned at the top. Basabe finished the AFL season 4-for-32 with 12 strikeouts, but that included a stretch where he made just four starts over a 15-day period. As far as he could tell, Basabe’s spring may have just been the case of failing to find a rhythm. He’ll come into spring training with the same raves and questions — he’s got a lot going for him if the hit tool can push him upward — and even a dynamite AFL performance wouldn’t have changed that forecast all that much.
It was frustrating to see La Pantera get nothing but singles for so long after a season of seeming to get nothing but singles, but I’ll admit that the hit tool is reassuring. And that home run stands up to as many replays as Avi’s homer in Toronto, for the same reasons. It stinks that Basabe didn’t dominate, but the guy I think we all wanted to do well came through.
Now let’s just hope this isn’t step one in Robert’s live action reenactment of Adam Engel’s career…