The AZL White Sox replace Bristol as the lowest-level stateside affiliate. Their existence should be very beneficial for White Sox prospects, as it allows draftees (particularly high school draftees) to ease into pro baseball against more similarly skilled competition and provides a much easier introduction to stateside baseball to Latin American prospects. Both of those groups will be on display this season at Camelback Ranch.
There are 14 teams in the Arizona League. All games are played at teams' spring training complexes. The season is 56 games. Active rosters are limited to 35 players. No more than three active players may have three or more years of minor league experience. The average player age is 20. The average hitter bats .235/.336/.363. The average pitcher walks 9.3% of batters faced and strikes out 21.8%.
Most notable among pitchers is 2014 second round pick RHP Spencer Adams, out of Ohio high school. Regarded by many as a top-30 draft prospect, the 44th overall pick brings a low-to-mid 90s fastball with movement and a mid-80s slider - both of which are considered potential plus pitches. As for nearly all pitchers, development of his changeup will be key.
The other notable pitchers are a trio of Latin Americans: RHP Luis Martinez, RHP Victor Done and RHP Yelmison Peralta.
Martinez made his pro debut last night, pitching three innings as the game's starting pitcher. The 19-year-old spent all of 2013 on Bristol's disabled list. His $250K signing in late 2011 marked Marco Paddy's arrival as Latin American director and signaled the shift in the White Sox' international strategy.
Here is Baseball America's scouting report from shortly after he signed:
Martinez, who turns 17 on Jan. 29, is 6-foot-4, 195 pounds and gets good downhill angle on an 88-91 mph fastball that has hit 92, an increase from the 84-88 mph velocity he was showing last summer around July 2. He has a projectable frame with long arms and plenty of room to fill out, so he should have at least a plus fastball in time. Martinez has a solid delivery, a high-70s curveball that is his best secondary pitch and he mixes in a changeup as well.
Done makes his stateside debut. Obviously still physically developing at 18 years old, he had a low 90s fastball and a mid-70s curve. What I said about him after his 2013 in the DSL:
The only pitcher of note was RHP Victor Done, who was the youngest pitcher at 17. His first pro season was also a difficult one. In 12 starts, he threw 30.1 innings and gave up 34 hits while walking 28, striking out 26 and hitting 8 batters.
Peralta should be an immediate beneficiary of the existence of the AZL White Sox, as he struggled last season with the jump from the DSL to the Appalachian League. What I wrote about him after 2013:
RHP Yelmison Peralta also had a shaky first season stateside. Signed to a $200,000 bonus in 2012, he was wild and hittable in the DSL. Coming to Bristol didn't change much for the 18-year-old Dominican. In 10 games, he threw 16 innings, giving up 19 hits and 13 walks while striking out just eight. He's a big guy and he's got a low-90s fastball but he's going to need to get some secondary pitches and some control. He was the eighth-youngest player in the league.
The leading position player is, of course, RF Micker Adolfo. The few reports that trickled out of extended spring training about the 17-year-old were positive. We should (finally) get some insight into whether the $1.6 million signing matches the hype of a big power prospect with very good bat speed from the right side.
OF Antonio Rodriguez and INF Victor Velasquez are a couple of other Latin Americans to watch. Both have some experience stateside with Bristol.
What I wrote about Rodriguez after last season:
For whatever reason, the White Sox started CF Antonio Rodriguez in Bristol. To their credit, once it became obvious that he couldn't handle it (*cough*CourtneyHawkins*cough*), he quickly went back to the DSL. The 18-year-old also showed improvement from the limited time he saw in 2012, batting .288/.315/.353 while exclusively playing center-field. Rodriguez is certainly one to watch as he rates as plus in speed, arm and power potential.
What I wrote about Velasquez after last season:
Infielder Victor Velasquez signed for $120,000 in 2011 as a glove-first shortstop. The Venezuelan spent most of his time at second base and his bat certainly lived up to his offensive reputation in his stateside debut: 219/.308/.226. Defensively, the 18-year-old switch-hitter showed above-average ability. He was the 12th-youngest player in the league.
A couple of left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing, high school catchers drafted in 2012 will look to finally begin to fulfill their potential. Jose Barraza missed all of last season with a left (non-throwing) elbow injury. The soon-to-be 20-year-old hit .175/.261/.242 for Bristol in 2012, looking over-matched as one would expect for a 7th round pick out of high school. He's a big guy with a strong arm and has power potential.
Sammy Ayala, also soon-to-be 20, had two poor seasons for Bristol. What I wrote about him after last season:
The White Sox drafted catcher Sammy Ayala in the 17th round last year out of California high school and gave him an above-slot bonus. In the left-handed hitter's second try at Bristol, his offense didn't really improve, as his .210/.278/.267 line pretty much replicated his 2012 line. He did show some improvement behind the plate, as he threw out 41 percent of basestealers compared to 15 percent last year; however, he had a lot more passed balls.
Complete roster here.