Great Falls is usually the starting place for the White Sox' collegiate draft picks, and the good ones don't spend much time there. For instance, 2015 fourth-rounder Zack Erwin made his pro debut with the Voyagers, but moved ahead to Kannapolis after eight appearances.
With this year's draft budget limited due to the lack of second- and third-round picks, Erwin didn't have a whole lot of company on the road from Montana to North Carolina. The Voyagers had a fairly stable roster, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Fortunately, said roster included a couple of the most advanced position players from Marco Paddy's first draft class, and so those particular roster spots provided valuable reps.
As we did with the Dominican Summer League and Arizona League affiliate reviews, let's start by looking at the baselines for the Pioneer League:
- Average age: 20.8
Average line: .278/.352/.422
Average strikeout rate: 20.4 percent
- Average walk rate: 9.2 percent
It's generally a favorable offensive environment, especially for college players who are punching below their weight.
Corey Zangari: He was a pitcher and a catcher at Carl Albert High School in Oklahoma, but the White Sox drafted him in the sixth round for $226,000 over slot value with the intent to make him a power-hitting first baseman, which is probably where the 6-foot-4-inch, 240-pound righty would've ended up anyway. He's still a work in progress at first base -- 15 errors in 50 games -- but he led with his bat, hitting .323/.356/.492 with 20 extra-base hits over 208 plate appearances with the AZL White Sox . After the AZL season wrapped up, he played six games with the Voyagers, hitting .235/.381/.353 with two doubles, three walks and three strikeouts over 22 plate appearances. The strike-zone judgment was a little subpar for both walks and strikeouts on the whole, but he improved as the season progressed.
Johan Cruz: Signed out of the Dominican Republic back for $450,000 back in 2012, Cruz made a couple of moves with the Voyagers. In the field, he shifted from shortstop to third base, starting 58 of 65 games at the hot corner. At the plate, the 19-year-old greatly improved upon a disappointing stateside debut with the AZL White Sox last season.
- 2014: .179/.273/.256 over 89 PA
- 2015: .312/.338/.442 over 285 PA
Like Zangari, his command of the strike zone needs work (4.2 percent walk rate, 21.4 percent strikeout rate), but he certainly made enough of an improvement otherwise. It's worth noting that he didn't attempt a single stolen base, which might be related to the position change.
Antonio Rodriguez: Another big Dominican signing ($400,000) from 2012, Rodriguez came to Great Falls with a decent year in Arizona to build off. Unlike Cruz, his progress stagnated:
2014: .257/.291/.395 over 179 PA
2015: .260/.275/.416 over 305 PA
A little more power, considerably less patience (2.3 percent walk rate). His strikeout rate was also below league average (17.7 percent), so he does have contact on his side. One unfortunate byproduct is that he grounded into 11 double plays in just 70 games, which is kinda impressive for a left-handed hitter with decent speed. His strong arm showed up in the stats, as he recorded 11 assists over 69 games in the outfield, 55 of which were started in right.
Casey Schroeder: The Sox selected the catcher out of Coastal Carolina in the eighth round and gave him the starting assignment in Great Falls, getting the nod over 12th-rounder and fellow collegiate catcher Seby Zavala, who dominated the AZL. Schroeder is regarded as an advanced defender and has the added bonus of being a switch-hitter, although not yet a good one. He hit .236/.323/.371 over 162 plate appearances. Hey, that 10.5 percent walk rate is something to build around.
Jake Jarvis: The second baseman signed for slot value ($141,300) after the White Sox selected him in the 10th round of the 2014 draft. He was the highest high-school position player selected by the Sox that year, but it hasn't amounted to anything yet, as the 20-year-old had an unremarkable season (.234/.271/.351) with Great Falls, including the same strike-zone concerns we've seen above.
Jordan Stephens: Stephens was on track to lead the Rice rotation, but he underwent Tommy John surgery during his junior season in 2014, and so 2015 was a recovery year. He showed a power fastball-curve combination in shorter stints during his senior year (75 strikeouts, 17 walks over 17 games and 60 innings), and he carried that into his professional debut after the Sox selected him in the fifth round. He dominated the AZL (0.61 ERA, 18 strikeouts to 10 baserunners over 14⅔ innings), and then threw three scoreless innings over two appearances with Great Falls.
Chris Freudenberg: The Sox selected the lefty in the eighth round of the 2013 draft and signed him for a little over slot ($175,000). After splitting the 2014 season as a a starter between Great Falls and Kannapolis, he returned to the Voyagers pitching exclusively in relief. It didn't help his numbers at all, especially in the control categories (16 walks, nine HBP, nine wild pitches over 28⅔ innings).
Matt Ball: He signed for $150,000 in the 11th round out of high school in 2013, and his game log this year will give you whiplash over and over and over again.