The White Sox usually force their college-groomed young men to go west, and this year is no exception.
Pioneer League play begins tonight, and the Great Falls Voyagers' roster is headlined by the collegiate pitchers selected in the draft earlier this month.
Andrew Mitchell (fourth round) is the biggest name of the newcomers, and since he split the season between the bullpen and the rotation at TCU, he should arrive with a pretty fresh arm. Sometimes a heavy pre-draft workload limits what the Sox will give to a pitcher in his first pro stint, but Mitchell only threw 49 innings this year, so the Sox should be able to give him some work as a starter.
Mitchell will be joined by college seniors James Dykstra (sixth round), Nick Blount (ninth round) and Brad Goldberg (10th round). If their track records are any indication, Dykstra and Goldberg will help fill out the Voyagers rotation, while Blount should start his career in the bullpen.
Back during the draft, I noted that Dykstra had to change colleges to find a fit, and the Great Falls Tribune delves into his nomadic past. Further down in that story, you'll see pitching coach Brian Drahman call the field "probably the best [group] of arms we've had for a while."
While international players generally don't taste Great Falls, LHP Jose Bautista has made the trip westward and he gets the opening day start. The 21-year-old Dominican pitched well for three seasons with the DSL White Sox and made the opening day roster for the Bristol Sox last season. He only started two games, however, and disappeared back onto the roster of the DSL White Sox, where he did not play; presumably, he got some kind of injury. He's shown an ability to get lots of strikeouts but his walk rate has always been high.
Oh, and Hector Santiago's brother, Anthony, is also on the team but he's a non-prospect right-handed pitcher.
The Voyagers feature less name recognition when it comes to the lineup card, as Jacob May (third round) figures to be the only everyday player from this month's draft to focus on at the onset. The outfielder is a switch-hitter with on-base skills and above-average speed, so it seems like he'll get everyday play in center field and toward/at the top of the lineup. He's quite familiar to Great Falls manager Pete Rose Jr. -- his father, Lee May Jr., played with Rose in Cincinnati's sytem, and their fathers were teammates on the Big Red Machine.
Since the Sox went so heavy on pitchers in the top 10, the new faces on the Voyagers roster are downdraft. The early names include outfield Mike Carballo (18th round), catchers Dillon Haupt (20th) and Trey Wimmer (23rd), and shortstop Tyler Shyrock (12th round).
Among the returning players, keep an eye on Nick Basto. The Sox took the Florida high-school shortstop in the fifth round last year, and he played 59 games in Bristol last year, looking very much like an 18-year-old (.238/.291/.290). He'll be joined by big right-handed pitcher Eric Jaffe, who was drafted away from UCLA in the 11th round last year. He signed close to the deadline and only pitched 11 innings at Bristol in 2012.
Overall, the roster balance resembles what the the Voyagers fielded last year, with Chris Beck, Brandon Brennan, Kyle Hansen, Zach Isler and Brandon Hardin all jumping from the first 10 rounds to Great Falls, while Micah Johnson was the only position-player representative. If May turns out to be as interesting as Johnson, nobody will complain.