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The second season for prospects is upon us, and earlier than usual.
Major League Baseball shifted the Arizona Fall League up roughly a month in an effort to reduce the downtime (and resulting ramp-up) for the game’s top prospects.
The AFL usually pulls in three kinds of players:
No. 1: Top prospects. Especially those on the hitting side, and those for whom the AFL reflects a jump up in competition.
No. 2: Previously injured prospects. Even though it doesn’t entirely replicate the grind of a major league season, the advanced level of competition gives a player a chance to catch up on innings or plate appearances in a meaningful way.
No. 3: Trade bait. For teams looking to deal from depth, it gives them a way to get that player in front of other evaluators.
No. 4: Fringe 40-man guys. If a player hasn’t quite shown enough be a lock for Rule 5 protection, the AFL could confirm one hunch or another. There’s some overlap with No. 3, as it could help them offload a 40-man decision.
No. 5: Live arms with catches. Teams generally don’t send healthy top pitching prospects to the AFL, so they’ll fill the pitching side with decent arms they aren’t convinced by for one reason or another (draft status, age, command).
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So where do the White Sox’ contributions to the Glendale Desert Dogs roster fit in?
Gavin Sheets (1, 3): Sheets isn’t a top prospect in the view of baseball, but he was the White Sox’ top offensive performance outside anybody who 1) wasn’t already a top prospect, and/or 2) didn’t have the pleasure of hitting in Charlotte. He hit a backloaded .267/.345/.414 with 16 homers, 18 doubles and a good concept of the strike zone in Birmingham (54 walks, 99 strikeouts over 527 plate appearances). The AFL spot recognizes the performance, while also showing off a guy who has Jose Abreu and Zack Collins above him, and Andrew Vaughn coming in hot to the lower levels.
Blake Rutherford (4): Because Rutherford was 19 when he signed, he’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft a year earlier than most prep prospect drafted in 2016. He didn’t show an impact bat in Birmingham, hitting .265/.319/.365, and he no longer plays center field, which hurts his potential rosterability for a team looking to stash him in the majors. He’d be an easier call if he didn’t hit .315/.407/.391 with 17 walks to 20 strikeouts over his last 26 games. That plate discipline came out of nowhere, the AFL will let people see if there’s anything to it.
Micker Adolfo (2): A complication from his Tommy John surgery limited Adolfo to just 95 ineffective plate appearances as a DH for Birmingham this year (.205/.337/.295). He underwent ulnar nerve transposition surgery in mid-May, and spent August getting back up to speed in the Arizona League. Availability is more important than performance right now, especially if he can play games in the outfield, although he does have a fourth option year to buy him time (corrected).
Bernardo Flores (2, 4): A strained oblique caused Flores to suffer a 63-inning drop in his workload year-over-year. He was decent in Birmingham before and after it, posting a 3.33 ERA featuring a better strikeout rate, but worrisome number of homers and unearned runs. I’m guessing the White Sox will protect him due to their lack of starting-pitching depth, but an unimpressive showing combined with unimpressive stuff could reduce the pressure.
Tyler Johnson (2): The 2017 fifth-rounder might be the best reliever in the White Sox system, but he only threw 31 innings due to a lat strain suffered in the spring. There was nothing wrong with his performance when healthy, so I’d treat his AFl as a runway toward playing a sizable part in 2020 plans.
Vince Arobio (5): An undersized righty taken in the 24th round of the 2017 draft, the 24-year-old Arobio dominated both levels of A-ball (49 strikeouts to eight walks over 36 innings) before finding a challenge in Birmingham. He’s likely somebody who picked on younger players, but the Sox are investigating the possibility of more.
Bennett Sousa (5): The 10th round senior signing in 2018 had a nice year across three levels, posting 74 strikeouts against 13 walks over 65 innings. All but two of his 43 appearances were in A-ball, but the two in Birmingham were scoreless. He’s a lefty with a fastball-curve combination, so he might have a wrinkle that Arobio doesn’t.
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- Blake Rutherford went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.
- Micker Adolfo was 1-for-4 with a homer and two strikeouts.
- Vince Arobio: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1 HR
- Bennett Sousa: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K