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2019 AZL White Sox preview

The last of the affiliated teams finally gets underway, with some intriguing names already on the roster

Fast track: Rehabbing a lat injury in the AZL to start 2019, expect Tyler Johnson to hop on back up to Winston-Salem or Birmingham in short measure.
Kannapolis Intimidators

The final Chicago White Sox MiLB team finally gets underway tonight, filled with the youngest and most inexperienced roster Stateside — so yeah, there will probably be a lot of errors.

Many of the players will be former high school draftees or international signees coming over for their first taste of baseball in the States, and most of those players will stay in the AZL the entire season. Some, like Bryce Bush in 2018, will surprise and earn a spot in Great Falls before 2019 ends; that is more of an outlier case, but a welcome one.


Pitchers

Tyler Johnson will get his start this season in the AZL after a lat injury. He should not be there long, especially if he continues his success from last season, where he ended up in Winston-Salem to end the year, with a 1.58 FIP there and seven saves in eight opportunities. Johnson was able to have so much success in 2018 because his command improved at an unprecedented rate, and if that continues, he should be promoted to Double-A in no time. Jacob Lindgren is also a rehab candidate who is starting the year in the AZL. The last time Lindgren pitched (six games, in 2016), he had a good fastball-slider combo and even was successful enough to make the majors in 2015. Now, after multiple arm issues, Lindgren is trying to make his return. Lindgren could be a high-leverage reliever if he approaches his old self.

There are a couple of notable 2019 draft pitchers in Arizona as well, led by sixth round pick Avery Weems. Weems is a lefty coming out of Arizona, who went back and forth between starting and relieving. He didn’t really show much in college aside from decent control. However, Weems did allow 80 hits in 58 23 innings while only striking out 44 batters. Tyson Messer is the second 2019-drafted pitcher on the roster after being taken in the ninth round. Messer is a closer coming out of Campbell University, with a mid-90s fastball and a lot of control issues. He had a 12.06 BB/9 last season for the Camels, even with a 3.45 ERA. He will certainly be a project — much like Hunter Kiel — given his inability to stay in the zone. Messer’s 3.45 ERA is very impressive, knowing how poor his command is, so there could be some hidden potential in him.

There are two more pitchers to note, though there are no statistics of consequence to mention. Both 2018 draft picks, Isaiah Carranza (12th round) and Luke Shilling (15th) did not pitch last year because of injury, and they both remain on the 60-day IL.

As for 2019 second and third round picks Matthew Thompson and Andrew Dalquist, they are not on the roster ... yet.


Catchers

Gabriel Ortiz was an overslot, prep draft pick in 2018. He did not play much last season in the AZL, with just 17 games, so there is not much to read into yet. He did show decent contact skills with just a 13% strikeout rate which is pretty good for a player at age 18, but it didn’t translate to many hits. And with just 17 games played, there wasn’t much time for Ortiz to get going. He was raw coming out of the draft, and it showed during the season.

In total, the AZL Sox are sporting four catchers, and two notable ones are both 2019 draft picks. Ivan González was the higher draft pick, at Round 8, out of West Virginia. He was really not that great a hitter in college, but his defensive ability behind the plate was commended by SSS’s WSM in his draft-day writeup. He threw out 45.5% of stolen base attempts, and was mentioned in the race for the best defensive catcher award in college. Victor Torres was selected in the 11th round out of high school, and is another defense-first catcher. His catching seems to be quite ahead of his offensive abilities, but Torres will have plenty of time to develop at just 18 years old. Perfect Game noted a very good pop time as one of his better attributes as a catcher.


Infielders

Let’s start with the draft pick here, a 16th rounder out of high school, DJ Gladney. He can play short or third and has decent enough speed according to Perfect Game that he would fit a shortstop profile. Any third base projection for Gladney comes from his already having good power, as Perfect Game likes his bat speed and fluidity. PG also projects a weight gain, which make sense as he is only 17.

There are a couple of players to note who already have professional time, the first being Harold Diaz. Diaz played 18 games in the DSL last season and looked good in the brief time there. He showed good batting skills, with only an 11% K-rate. He had a 133 wRC+, which is fantastic, but it is the DSL, and it is 18 games. Diaz did not show home-run pop, but he did have six extra-base hits, including two triples, so he does have at least decent speed. Another infielder of note is Jose Rodriguez, who seems to be similar to Diaz: Not much power, good contact, middle-infield type prospect. Rodriguez is just 18 years old, but is coming off a 2018 where he sported the best batting average for the DSL Sox. He does seem to have more speed than Diaz, as he was 16-of-20 on stolen base attempts.

Last but not least is an international signee, Bryan Ramos, who is just 17. Ramos signed for the max bonus the Sox could offer ($300,000) out of Cuba. BA notes that the White Sox liked his power, and Ramos was coming off a great season with the 15U league in 2017. This seems like an aggressive placement for a 17-year-old: Instead of giving him the customary DSL stint for other international signings, immediate placement in Arizona speaks to how high the Sox think of him.

Andrew Vaughn is not on the roster ... yet.


Outfielders

Josue Guerrero is another one of the raw and toolsy international prospects that the White Sox have in the lower minors, but he is much more raw than players in Great Falls. Guerrero still strikes out a lot, as his plate discipline was rocky at best in both the DSL and last season in the AZL. The Sox gave Guerrero a $1.4 million bonus, so they clearly saw his tools, but the 19-year-old just needs to get more experience, and still has plenty of time. Last year, Guerrero had a wRC+ of 48 in the AZL as he showed little to no power and bat-to-ball skills. This is Guerrero’s second stint in the States, so look for a much-improved season with a possibility of a promotion to the Pioneer League.

The other two outfielders of note are both 2019 high school draft picks, led by fourth round selection James Beard. Beard is currently the highest draft pick on the roster, though that should change soon. Beard was also the fastest player in the 2019 draft, with 80 grade speed according to MLB Pipeline. Beard has below-average power and hit tool at the moment, but it greatly improved during his senior season in high school. Beard will probably be able to stick in center field thanks to his speed, but currently sports a below-average arm. The other high school draftee is Misael Gonzalez, taken in the 12th round. He is an unknown to fans, but obviously not to the Sox. Still, as with all of these guys at the dawns of the careers, a player to watch.