The Arizona Fall League season is five days old, but for the first time in the blogging era, it’s not where the eyes are on the White Sox farm system. The rebuild has instead resulted in a newfound focus on the instructional league.
The instructional league is like spring training for the postseason, but with even fewer discouraging words. Most players look great in instructs. A player seldom looks overmatched or awful in Arizona, and if he is, he’s probably working on something.
That’s how it should be. They’re technically adults, but they’re kids in the baseball world with the minimum-wage-or-below salaries to match, and they should be allowed to figure out the game at whatever pace they can achieve. It just requires responsibility in phrasing to make any statements of progress and problem-solving are attributed, as it’ll be months before they can be properly tested.
Reading the reporting from James Fegan and Baseball America, it’s best to interpret instructional league tasks lists as the way to acknowledge problems and the ways they might be solved.
Dylan Cease: This one’s simple — he wasn’t fully healthy. His first pro season was cut short by shoulder fatigue/stiffness, and the Sox suspect it stemmed from a sprained ankle that altered his mechanics, so it’s about restoring his delivery for next season. He had showed some progress with command, but being limited to five innings at a time in low-A made it more difficult to detect than other Sox success stories.
Ian Clarkin: He’s also trying to get past the random health issues that keep popping up and preventing him from throwing 100 innings or 20 starts. He had a strained oblique during his month-plus in Winston-Salem.
Jake Burger: He hit .271/.335/.409 at Kannapolis, which is acceptable for a pro debut and an unprecedented workload, but the power was a little underwhelming for a first-round collegiate corner bat in A-ball. He’s working on his hand positioning to simplify the movement before the swing, and generate more lift.
Blake Rutherford: One might find themselves watching David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle post zeroes for the Yankees this postseason, then looking at Rutherford’s .240/.326/.348 line in the Sally League, then wondering why Kahnle could only get two A-ball homers in return. The line of thinking is that Rutherford has the kind of left-handed swing that can support well-rounded hitting if he can unlock his power, and guess what:
Hitters often talk about trying to let the ball get deep to get a longer look, but there's a limit to how far that can go before it inhibits their ability to drive the ball. Whatever Rutherford's raw power winds up being, Gellinger thinks he needs get his bat head out in front to create a launch angle he can access in games, even if he doesn't like talking about launch angle explicitly.
Zack Collins: He worked on reducing the hitch in his swing that led to an escalated strikeout rate in High-A Winston-Salem, starting with a simpler setup that will hopefully keep his wrists stabler during his swing load.
Gavin Sheets: The big first baseman already has a classic lefty uppercut stroke, so it’s surprising to see the White Sox saying he’s working on an even bigger leg kick.
Luis Gonzalez: He’s working with Aaron Rowand on jumps in center field, and Rowand says “he’s improved dramatically.”
Sam Abbott: He’s the biggest project of all projects, a water polo player who didn’t expect to be a full-time baseball player out of high school until the White Sox selected him in the eighth round. His instructional league highlight was Jim Thome complimenting his batting practice session.
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As for the AFL, the lines through five games:
- Seby Zavala: 4-for-7, two doubles, one walk, one strikeout.
- Tito Polo: 4-for-12, no walks, four strikeouts, 3-for-5 in stolen bases.
- Danny Mendick: 3-for-11, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 SB (corrected)
- Dylan Covey: Five shutout innings in his first start, with three hits, no walks and two strikeouts
- Connor Walsh: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 HR, 3 BB, 4 K
- Matt Foster: 2 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 1 K
- Jace Fry: 1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K
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Two notable prospects who aren’t participating in either league?
Luis Robert: He’s active in the instructional league in the Dominican, where he’ll run out the clock on 2017 for tax purposes and then take his trade to the states, perhaps starting with the hitting minicamp in January.
Eloy Jimenez: He’s playing for Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League and doing his thing, going 5-for-9 with a homer and a triple in his first two games.