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MLB: Spring Training-Cleveland Guardians at Chicago White Sox
Colson Montgomery is headed back to Arizona
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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Glendale Desert Dogs 2023 AFL preview

Sending three big bats and an assortment of arms, the White Sox look to make this a more compelling fall season than usual

This isn’t your normal AFL White Sox roster, as there are some big names heading to fall ball — including the org’s top prospect, Colson Montgomery. He is one of eight heading down to Arizona, with most of the bats going in order to make up for missed time due to injury during the regular season. There is that aspect on the pitching side as well, with two of their new prospects acquired at the trade deadline (Jake Eder and Jordan Leasure) heading down there as well. They are even sending a coach to oversee the hitters, and it’s a familiar name at that: Nick Delmonico. It should be a much more fun AFL season than we are used to.

Colson Montgomery

The best prospect going to Glendale is the best prospect the White Sox have, Colson Montgomery. He should get ample time at shortstop, coming off of just 64 games played after missing the first half of the season due to injury. Him getting time in the AFL is just as much about getting more at-bats and time at short as it is about his talent and production. If Montgomery had started the season on time, he probably gets to Charlotte, and because of the extra couple weeks in Triple-A he wouldn’t need this time in Arizona. Alas, that didn’t happen.

Montgomery still had a great abbreviated year, though: He continued to get on base at all costs in his 64 games (10 in the ACL, 17 at High-A and 37 at Double-A). He slashed .287/.456/.484 this season. His worst numbers were in Double-A, but Montgomery still wound up leaving with a 129 wRC+ for the Barons. This should be a great opportunity for him to prove he is the prospect we all think he is, with an All-Star ceiling.

Bryan Ramos

Bryan Ramos, like Montgomery, missed a portion of the season due to injury. He got in to 81 games, but if he was going to get a look in MLB next year, he needed to get in well past 100 games again. Thus, he’s headed to the AFL to play some third base. He spent 77 games in Birmingham, and it was a much more successful stint than his Project Birmingham time in 2022. He had a 122 wRC+ for a slash line of .271/.369/.457. The power Ramos showed last season in A-ball was still there in Double-A (.186 ISO), and his walk rate even increased. The K-rate did go up to 21.9%, but Ramos chiseled that down over the course of the season: His last 39 games he only struck out 18.9% of the time, versus a 25.8% K-rate in his first 39 games.

Jacob Burke

If you read it twice, why not thrice: Jacob Burke missed about a month of the season (all of April) and is getting a chance to make up for that lost time in the AFL. He played in 85 games, the most of the trio of bats the Sox are sending — 35 in Low-A and 50 in High-A. So unlike Montgomery and Ramos who had time in Double-A, in the AFL it is likely Burke will be going up against the best pitching he has ever seen. In that context, it should be noted he had a 163 wRC+ in Low-A and a 118 wRC+ in High-A. The K-rate didn’t rise, but the walk-rate fell 1.2%. That’s not big, but it’s still a difference. The biggest change with his promotion was a loss of power: Burke’s ISO went from .197 for the Cannon Ballers to .113 for the Dash.

Josimar Cousin

Josimar Cousin did not start his season late due to injury ... no, he only signed with the White Sox in May. So, he was always going to need this extra time. Cousin went up the chain from the ACL to High-A, and finally to Double-A, for 55 total innings. For somebody who will be 26 next year, these extra AFL innings are needed if he is to see MLB time soon. I don’t really want to read too much into Cousin’s 2023 year other than the fact it wasn’t as crisp as people wanted it. He was 25 years old going up against High-A batters, 1.9 years younger than him, and didn’t have the strikeout totals (22.6%) you would want (although his control was great). Cousin isn’t exactly a top prospect, so we weren’t expecting the equivalent of Luis Robert Jr.’s time in the minors, but a 5.56 ERA in 2023 was much worse than expected.

Jake Eder

Jake Eder was acquired in July for Jake Burger, in what looks like an awful trade by the White Sox right now. Eder missed all of 2022 after Tommy John Surgery and a fractured foot. So, he was never going to top his innings from pre-injury 2021 (71 1⁄3). But he didn’t come close to matching that total in 2023, going just 56 2⁄3 innings between the Miami and White Sox organizations. When Eder got to the Barons, he really struggled compared to his Double-A stint for Miami, as his already-high walk rate went up about 3% as his strikeouts plummeted about 8%. It was not a very big sample size, but it wasn’t the best first impression from a player involved in a trade that sent away a fan favorite. The lefty will look to improve in the AFL, and hopefully match his 2021 innings total in the process.

Jordan Leasure

Another recently-acquired prospect is heading to the AFL is bullpen arm Jordan Leasure. Out of all the prospects heading down to the AFL, Leasure has the highest probability of starting 2024 on the White Sox. He moved up to Triple-A after the trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and threw 12 1⁄3 innings with the Knights. It didn’t go so well, with a 6.57 ERA and a 5.35 FIP. The strikeouts were good (35.5%) and Leasure’s fastball was as advertised. His walks were still an issue, but the Triple-A bats also were much better against him than in Double-A. It was a small sample, but the batting average against increased from .169 to .302 after the trade/promotion.

Adisyn Coffey

Coffey is heading to the AFL and there is no clear reason why. He didn’t do particularly well this year, with a 4.82 ERA in 46 2⁄3 innings between Winston-Salem and Birmingham. He is durable and can go multiple innings, so maybe the Desert Dogs simply needed some sturdy bullpen help.

Fraser Ellard

The same can be said about Fraser Ellard. His 2023 season was not good, and he is not a highly-rated prospect. However, Ellard did miss some time this year, so there is a goal of getting him more innings. The White Sox also don’t have a ton of lefty depth, so getting him looks against good competition might be helpful. Ellard sports a high K-rate in his MiLB career, but not exactly a good batting average against. His FIP has looked good over his career, though, so if you squint, there might be something here.

Nick Delmonico

It is Nick, not Nicky, now that he is a coach. Delmonico isn’t listed as the hitting coach, just an extra one, but that has to be his focus. The last time he was in the AFL was as a player, back in 2015. It didn’t go very well for him, with a .162/.237/.279 slash line. Delmonico spent last season in Winston-Salem and this season in Double-A, so he coached Montgomery and Ramos. He has not coached Burke, yet so that will be a first.

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