The White Sox’ Dominican Summer League affiliate will not operate in total obscurity this year, because that’s where Luis Robert is starting his White Sox career.
In terms of age and talent, the 19-yead-old Cuban outfielder probably should’ve started his career in A-ball, but as Baseball America’s Ben Badler told us, he’s probably playing out 2017 in the Dominican for tax purposes.
The spotlight Robert draws might allow other White Sox international signings to get some residual attention. That would be new territory, although it’s not like White Sox fans have missed much. The Dave Wilder scandal left the Latin American program bereft of talent for years, and while Marco Paddy has brought credibility to the system, the Sox haven’t yet been able to hoist one of their high-profile teenage signings above A-ball.
With the lack of exposure these players receive, we’re left to determine prospects by 1) signing bonus, 2) age and 3) performance. The last one is always toughest to gauge due to the second element. This is the lowest rung of the minor leagues with the youngest average age (18.2 years old), so the power hitting and control is lacking, and errors are in ample supply. The league hit .240/.334/.320 with an 18.5 percent strikeout rate and a 10.4 percent walk rate last season.
As the international investments increase, the DSL White Sox roster has seen a corresponding growth in terms of depth, at the very least. Here’s a rundown of the more significant signings, with notes from Baseball America’s review of the 2015 and 2016 signing classes.
*Jendersson Caraballo, a 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound righty out of the Dominican Republic, led the newest crop of pitchers by signing for $350,000 on July 2. The 17-year-old is a fastball-slider pitcher who can hit 92, and the White Sox “saw a feel for a changeup and a repeatable delivery that allows him to throw strikes as well.”
*Ramon Pineda, the 19-year-old brother of Michael Pineda, was signed out of the Dominican for just $10,000 last July. He had tried out as a third baseman and found no takers, but the White Sox moved him to the mound, where he showed potential as a starter with three pitches and strike-throwing ability.
*Bryan Herrera, 18, signed for $70,000 on July 2. He’s a 6-foot-2-inch, 185-pound righty who can run it up to 95 with a hard slider.
*Yender Silva signed for $100,000 back as a 16-year-old in 2015, but did not appear in DSL action last year. The 6-foot-1-inch Venezuelan righty was said to show arm strength and surprising feel for secondary pitches relative to his experience level. Besides being just 16, he had recently converted from catching.
*Cristopher Batista led the teenage DSL White Sox in innings last year with 52, which is notable for a 17-year-old. He showed decent control, at least relative to his colleagues, and posted a 2.94 ERA, although it was preserved by 16 unearned runs (remember the part about the errors?).
*Luis Robert should theoretically stand out against the competition in the DSL, what with the $26 million price tag and the tools that earned it (even if the bidding might have outpaced the talent somewhat due to the closing of the loophole). However, other recent Cuban signings (Jonathan Machado, Alfredo Rodriguez) who started in the DSL didn’t drop jaws with their production. Robert is considered to have a much stronger bat, but the velocity he faced in Serie Nacional might not even compare to the DSL due to a talent drain. Perhaps patience won’t be required at this stage, but keep it in your back pocket.
*Josue Guerrero, nephew of Vladimir Guerrero, signed for $1.1 million on July 2. Badler says the White Sox were higher on him than other clubs, which isn’t necessarily a bad since Fernando Tatis Jr. was in the same boat. He’s a 17-year-old corner outfielder whose most evident tool at the moment is raw power, but the Sox like his breaking-ball recognition and see a potential for a shorter swing. Unlike previous top signings like Micker Adolfo and Franklin Reyes, the Sox aren’t sending him to the United States right away, which potentially signals a shift in thinking.
*Luis Mieses is another corner outfielder who signed on July 2 for $428,000. He’s a lanky 6’4”, but since he’s just 16 years old, he stands a good chance at filling out an already promising power profile. He has a plus arm and has enough athleticism to become a good right fielder if he can improve his jumps and routes, and his plate discipline also needs work.
*Anderson Comas is yet another corner outfielder who signed on July 2 for $425,000. Badler mentions Gregory Polanco a few times, as Comas had the same trainer and same skinny frame (6’4”, 180 lbs.) that is in need of muscle. The 17-year-old has an easy swing from the left side that results in a lot of line drives, but he’ll need to do more things stronger and faster in order to make it play in a corner.
*Anthony Coronado is ... wait for it ... an outfielder who signed on July 2. A couple differences: He signed for only $150,000, he’s Venezuelan and has a chance to play center field. He has above-average speed and gap power with some physical projection remaining, although his contact issues are notable for somebody who doesn’t have the markings of a slugger.
*Ulises Martinez attracted some attention by hitting .306/.370/.469 over 19 games and 56 plate appearances as a 17-year-old last year. He took the backseat to six-figure signings Jhoandro Alfaro and Jose Colina, but the $50,000 signing out of Venezuela who converted to catching from third base should get first-string reps this time around.
*Harvin Mendoza had the DSL White Sox’ best control of the strike zone last season, batting .279/.394/.327 with 39 walks to 32 strikeouts over a team-high 251 plate appearances as a 17-year-old. He was a two-way player for Venezuela who signed for $300,000 due to his left-handed bat and strong build that might eventually produce extra-base hits. He’s already a first baseman, so more power is the key.
*Bryant Nova was another guy who flashed early on-base skills last year. Signed as a shortstop for $100,000 in 2015, the switch-hitter moved to second and hit .279/.380/.344 at age 17.
*Santo Vasquez, a fellow Dominican shortstop and fellow 2015 signing ($350,000), actually stayed at shortstop during DSL play last year. He didn’t fare as well at the plate, hitting .233/.305/.300 with 52 strikeouts over 204 plate appearances. He also committed 27 errors in 49 games last year, which isn’t that unusual for any middle infielder, but worth noting since he his offensive skills were ahead of his defense at the time of his signing. He did steal 10 bases in 12 attempts.
*Kleyder Sanchez is another Venezuelan catcher who originally tried out at a different position. His simple, light hitting approach wasn’t that compelling for a right-handed corner outfielder, but the Sox liked his actions behind the plate enough to give him $50,000 on July 2.