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White Sox Deep Dive: A-League First Basemen

It’s an unconventional group of first-sackers at Kannapolis and Winston-Salem.

AJ Gill showed enough defensive versatility this season that he could be profiled in an entirely different spot in next year’s Deep Dive!
Tiffany Wintz/South Side Sox

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Welcome to another year of Deep Dive, where we analyze the past, present and future for each position in the White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Arizona)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one White Sox player
  5. Free agent options

The White Sox are loaded at first base presently, with José Abreu, Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets — not to mention other guys who could play the position, like Yasmani Grandal and Zack Collins. Presently, however, there are no organizational Top 30 prospects who man the position regularly per MLB Pipeline.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the organization is devoid of talent. Below are the first basemen who finished the year at either Winston-Salem or Kannapolis.

Ages below are as of April 1, 2022

Winston-Salem Dash

Harvin Mendoza
185 pounds
Bats/Throws: L/L
Age: 23
2019 South Side Sox Top Prospect: 82
2020 South Side Sox Top Prospect: 54
2021 South Side Sox Top Prospect: 53

Mendoza was one of four players signed on International Signing Day in 2015, along with infielder Brayant Nova, Franklin Reyes and some guy named Fernando Tatís Jr. At the time of the signing, Ben Badler of Baseball America said, “Mendoza is limited to an outfield corner, but there were scouts who liked his left-handed swing, ability to use the opposite field and hang in well against left-handed pitching.”

Mendoza spent his first two seasons (2016-17) in the DSL where he posted good numbers but with little power, as he combined to slash .281/.389/.358 with two homers, 61 RBIs, 78 walks (17.7%) and 76 strikeouts (17.2%) in a combined 125 games. The Venezuela native appeared Stateside with the AZL White Sox for the 2018 season, and produced slightly better numbers in 39 games by slashing .314/.381/.409 with no homers, 23 RBIs, 12 walks (7.7%) and 12 strikeouts.

The following season with Great Falls, Mendoza sacrificed strikeouts for power and produced a .278/.362/.457 slash line with 17 doubles, three triples, six homers, 29 RBIs, 27 walks (10.4%) and 48 strikeouts (18.5%) in 62 games. His numbers were terrific in the first half of the season (.311/.393/.538) but slipped in the second (.243/.328/.360). He hit righties well this year (.301/.373/.519), but struggled against southpaws (.191/.321/.213).

At the onset of the 2021 campaign after missing 2020 due to the pandemic, Mendoza struggled badly with his aggressive promotion to Winston-Salem, as he slashed just .170/.298/.234 in his first 16 games with the Dash. He didn’t mope when he was demoted to Kannapolis, however, as he slashed .314/.387/.421 for the Cannon Ballers during the next three months. After receiving a promotion back to the Dash for September, Mendoza slashed a respectable .274/.348/355. Combined with both teams, he hit .291/.366/.390 over 395 at-bats with 20 doubles, two triples, five homers, 44 walks and 62 strikeouts.

As has been the case so far throughout his career, Mendoza showed one of the best batting eyes in the system but with relatively little power to show for it, with a .97 ISO (his career power is .93). Because of that plate discipline, he’s considered by many to be one of the best first sackers in the system, but unless he upgrades his power at this premium offensive position, Mendoza’s ceiling is relatively low.

It’s about 50-50 whether he returns to Winston-Salem or earns a promotion to Birmingham, but as a side note, Mendoza is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year.

Samir Dueñez
230 pounds
Bats/Throws: L/R
Age: 25

Dueñez, a native of Venezuela, signed with the Kansas City Royals as an international free agent on July 7, 2012. The Royals brought him straight to Arizona, bypassing the DSL entirely. As a 17 year-old, Dueñez found himself in the Pioneer League and then moving to the South Atlantic League, with Lexington. He held his own, and the Royals started him there the next year to repeat the league again as a 19-year-old, where he quickly earned a promotion to High-A Wilmington. In 56 games in the Carolina League, Dueñez hit .300 with seven home runs and showed he was ready to move all the way to the Texas League, where he joined Double-A Northwest Arkansas in August as a 20-year-old. At this point, the Royals decided to protect him from the Rule 5 draft by placing him on the 40-man roster on Nov. 18, 2016.

Dueñez, however, struggled somewhat as he tried to sacrifice plate discipline for power. Playing behind the likes of future major leaguers Ryan O’Hearn and Frank Schwindel in the system, Dueñez slashed just .252/.304/.402 in 2017, with career highs in 17 homers and 116 strikeouts. After spending parts of three seasons in Double-A, he finally merited a promotion to Triple-A Omaha in 2019, but disappointed with that audition by slashing .214/.283/.335 in 64 games.

Released by the Royals, Dueñez was then signed by the Reds and played for their Double-A Chattanooga squad, where he slashed just .270/.314/.340 with just one homer in 17 games. He opted for free agency at that year’s end with the White Sox, but didn’t play in 2020 due to Covid.

After beginning this season with the AZL Sox with an abbreviated injury rehab assignment, Dueñez was assigned to Winston-Salem to continue his rehab work. However, because his numbers just weren’t there, he never did earn the expected promotion to Birmingham. This year for the Dash in 39 games, Dueñez slashed just .218./.302/.383 with four doubles, six homers, 18 walks (10.1%), 47 strikeouts (27.5%) and an 86 WRC+.

It’s likely he would either return to Winston-Salem or begin with Birmingham as an organizational first baseman.

Lázaro Leal
210 pounds
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 25
Other positions played: Left field, right field

Leal, a native of Cuba, played for the Pinar del Rio squad in 2016 before legally emigrating to Mexico. During the 2017 and 2018 seasons, he played ball in the Mexican League’s AA and AAA circuit before signing with the White Sox on February 5.

Leal was assigned to the DSL squad for the 2019 season, with the hopes that he could perhaps move Stateside by season’s end. However, the year didn’t turn out as well as he had hoped: In 55 games totaling 182 at-bats, Leal slashed .225/.372/.357 with 13 doubles, one triple, three homers, 23 RBIs, two stolen bases, 38 walks (16.8%) and 29 strikeouts (12.8%).

After a one-year break from baseball due to Covid-19, Leal spent all of 2021 in Winston-Salem but his results were pretty much the same as 2019. As a first baseman and corner outfielder, he slashed just .225/.299/.335 in 62 games with eight doubles, four homers, 14 walks (7.5%), 43 strikeouts (21.4%) and 75 wRC+ in a league where he was more than a year older than the league average.

It appears that Leal may simply be organizational depth at this point, but as someone who can play both outfield corners, may play a useful role in that regard.

Tyler Osik
203 pounds
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 25
Other positions played: Catcher
2020 South Side Sox Top Prospect: 63
2021 South Side Sox Top Prospect: 47

Osik, son of former Pittsburgh Pirate Keith Osik, took a circuitous route through college. After spending his freshman year with Division II Coker College, he spent his sophomore campaign with Chipola Junior College (Fla.). He then transferred to the University of Central Florida for his junior and senior years. Of his two seasons with the Knights, Osik enjoyed his better year during his senior campaign in 2019 as he slashed .325/.410/.542 in 52 games with 14 doubles, 10 homers, 39 RBIs, nine stolen bases, 26 walks (11.1%) and 50 strikeouts (21.3%).

As a culmination of his efforts, the White Sox selected him in the 27th round of 2019’s MLB draft. While Osik did reasonably well that year with the AZL White Sox to start his professional career (.271/.346/.373 with 10 doubles in 31 games), he began hitting for power upon his promotion to Kannapolis on August 3. In 26 games totaling 97 at-bats for the Intimidators, he slashed .278/.352/.557 with 10 doubles, a triple, five homers, 19 RBIs, 10 walks (9.3%) and 30 strikeouts (27.8%).

While many athletes simply took the year off thanks to Covid-19, Osik worked extremely hard to hone his catching skills, as suggested by Dan Victor’s Under the Radar piece at South Side Hit Pen. His early results were understandably shaky, with seven passed balls in nine games, but he did throw out three of 14 potential base stealers. Catching’s easily the most difficult position to play, but Osik definitely showed enough promise to merit further development.

In the meantime, he also played 23 games of flawless first base prior to the season-ending injuries which prematurely derailed his season. Offensively, Osik slashed .189/.298/.278 in 90 at-bats with five doubles, a homer, 12 walks and 24 strikeouts split between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. Provided he’s healthy to begin the 2022 campaign, Osik likely would begin the season with Winston-Salem, with an early promotion to Birmingham if all goes well.

Kannapolis Cannon Ballers

AJ Gill
220 pounds
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 23
Other positions played: Left field, third base, right field

Gill, a Florida native, spent his freshman year playing ball for Blackburn College in Jacksonville, Ill. before transferring to Division III Aurora University. A consistent force in the Spartans lineup during his three years there, Gill was named a Second Team preseason All-American by prior to his senior season in 2020. Last year, he slashed an impressive .310/.431/.548 line prior to the Covid shutdown with two homers, 14 RBIs and eight walks (15.38%). Gill went undrafted, due in large part to 2020’s five-round restriction. However, he signed with the Sox shortly afterward.

Gill played most of this year with Kannapolis, although he did spend nearly four weeks with Winston-Salem. While his offensive numbers weren’t what he’d hoped, he did show a keen batting eye when and significant power when he connected. Combined with both teams, Gill posted a .193/.326/.302 slash line with six doubles, five homers, 31 walks (13.5%) and 98 strikeouts (42.5%). Obviously he needs to reduce strikeouts in order, but one can look at it this way: If he batted nearly .200 despite striking out nearly half the time, imagine how well he’d hit if he put the ball more consistently!

Defensively, Gill established his versatility by holding his own at all four defensive corner positions. That versatility will hold him in good stead as he strives to work his way up the organization.

Jayson González
220 pounds
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 22
Other positions played: Third base

Part of an outstanding baseball family (his older brother, Wallace, once played in the Astros organization), González was an All-State prep star with Bishop Amat H.S. in La Puente, Calif. when he opted to play his college ball for the esteemed Vanderbilt program. After his freshman year where he struggled against elite competition, he enjoyed a terrific season in 2019 (albeit with little punch) when he slashed .357/.471/.446 with just one homer. After missing his entire junior season to the Covid pandemic, González sacrificed hitting for power during his senior season this year as he slashed .280/.380/.497 in 193 at-bats with nine homers, 41 RBI, 32 walks (13.73%) and 69 strikeouts (29.61%). As a result of his efforts, González was selected in the 17th round of this year’s MLB Draft.

After beginning his professional career with a decent six-game stint with the ACL squad, González struggled after his promotion to Kannapolis. Combined with both teams in 21 games this year totaling 82 at-bats, González slashed .174/.305/.217 with three doubles, nine walks and 35 strikeouts. It’s always difficult to analyze disappointing production for like someone like González, as the difficulties could have stemmed from such a long season of college and professional ball from mid-February through September with little or no break (not to mention preseason practices and workouts prior to his college campaign).

We’ll have a better gauge on just how good González is next year, when he either returns to Kannapolis or begins with Winston-Salem instead.