Well, well, well, the White Sox may be done playing, but some of their better prospects are starting back up in Arizona, against the best competition each of them have seen so far in their careers. These games are not the end-all or be-all for each of these prospects, but if some do well, that is something to note. Of course, if they are bad, that is also something to keep in the back of your head.
Without further delay, here are your seven White Sox representatives on the 2021 Glendale Desert Dogs.
Might as well start out with the most fun one, José Rodríguez. From Low-A and all the way to about a week in Double-A, Rodríguez slashed .301/.338/.469 in 111 games. It really was a breakout year for the 20-year-old, and he flew up Top 30 rankings for the Sox. (Remember, some of that was because of prospect graduation and that the farm system is just pretty bad.) Rodríguez was one of the few Kannapolis ballplayers to do well this year, and he is getting this shot in the AFL simply because he deserves it. He played well, so he is getting rewarded and a chance to prove his season was legit against very good competition. Of course, even if Rodríguez does not do well, that should not overshadow how good his 2021 season was — especially compared to his White Sox peers.
Like Rodríguez, Yolbert Sánchez had a good enough season to deserve a chance to prove how good he is in the AFL. Unlike Rodríguez, though, Sánchez is closer to to the majors and has an actual chance, though probably slim, to be on the Opening Day White Sox roster or at least be one of the first players called up due to injury. Sánchez is also four years older than Rodríguez, which means he should just plain be better and there should be more expectations placed on him to do well in the AFL. Between High-A and Double-A in 2021, Sánchez slashed .308/.352/.419, and most of that production came, surprisingly, in Birmingham, where he had a .838 OPS in 39 games.
The last of the position players is a bit of a different story in Yoelqui Céspedes. Céspedes did have a pretty good year — in 72 games between Winston-Salem and Birmingham, he had a .813 OPS. But Céspedes’ power was sapped down the stretch, so that will be something to keep an eye on. Céspedes has not played much since 2018, and he was not around for the full 2021 season due to visa issues. So part of this is that Céspedes just needs to play, because that’s how you improve, by playing. He is also older, and is generally regarded as a more ready prospect because he has played professionally since he was 17, albeit in Cuba and not in an MLB organization. Céspedes should still be expected to be fine, but this is more about getting him much-needed at-bats.
The top prospects are the position players, but there are still some intriguing pitchers among the players the White Sox are sending to Glendale — and the majority are in the bullpen.
First up is probably the best one, Caleb Freeman, a right-handed, late-inning reliever. Freeman started with the Dash and was eventually promoted to the Barons. In all, he pitched 44 innings with nine saves and a 3.27 ERA between the two levels. Freeman is a good strikeout rate pitcher, and started the year with a bit of a walk problem that he fixed later on, especially with the Barons where he only walked five batters in 16 2⁄3 innings. That does add up to a pretty darn good season, but if Freeman does well in the AFL, look for him to start getting some talk about being in Chicago in 2022.
The other top guy to watch is McKinley Moore, although Moore did not have as good a year as Freeman. Moore was used in late-inning situations as well, with nine saves, though this was between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. In 40 2⁄3 innings, Moore had a 4.20 ERA, which is not really that good. He had a good K-rate, but needs to work on command. That might be why Moore is in the AFL — to keep working on his stuff, as his 2021 season did not warrant an appearance.
To round out the AFL squad are Johan Dominguez and J.B. Olson. Neither of these guys are actual prospects for the Sox.
Dominguez has generally been good during his professional career, he just wasn’t in 2021. It was his first season as a full-time starter, and it just didn’t work out, with a 5.30 ERA in 107 innings. Maybe he moves back to more of a bullpen role in Arizona. Olson is also a strange choice because he had an even worse season, with a 6.00 ERA that was mostly in Double-A. Olson does hammer the strike zone, so he doesn’t walk many batters. But he also doesn’t get outs with a strikeout enough, either. So, some confusing choices to round it out, but there wasn’t a season in 2020 so maybe teams are being a bit more careful with pitching prospects.
Now to Opening Day, with a few appearances from the White Sox.
First and foremost, the starting pitcher was Johan Dominguez. He only went two innings, but for the most part, he was good. His only mistake was a solo homer. Dominguez had his strikeout stuff going, with three in those two innings. He was pounding the zone, throwing 20 pitches and just six were balls. A decent start to a post-season campaign.
On the offense, Yoelqui Céspedes actually started the game, which is fun: a futures game appearance and Opening Day AFL starter is a pretty decent start to a professional career Stateside. Céspedes hit a double to left-center, his only hit of the day in a 1-for-4 performance.
José Rodríguez played today as well, at shortstop, but he came in as a pinch-hitter, so not a start on his part. He had two at-bats, the first one he hit a ball very hard up the middle that bounced off the second baseman’s glove for a hit. The second time up, he struck out.
@Whitesox infield prospect Jose Rodriguez’s first AB in the Arizona fall league results in a hard hit infield single. 2nd basemen made a good play to keep the ball in the infield. @FutureSox @JamesFox917 #whitesox pic.twitter.com/TeBztA7Kzs— Arizona Scout (@BeisbolScout) October 14, 2021
The same thing happened with Yolbert Sánchez — well, at least the not starting and coming in later in the game part — but he got a hit, too. So if you played in the White Sox organization, well you were 100% guaranteed a hit today. Sánchez was able to hit it out of the infield, but it still resulted in a single. He would fly out to right in his second plate appearance.