Luis Robert and Zack Burdi lead the way, but just about everybody has a story worth following
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:
— 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.