5 Chicago White Sox Prospects with the Most at Stake in the Arizona Fall League
The Chicago White Sox have finalized the group of players that will participate in Arizona Fall League (AFL) play after the season ends.
Jared Mitchell and Brandon Jacobs will now be joining Charles Leesman, Chris Bassitt, Micah Johnson, Marcus Semien, Kevin Vance and Stephen McCray on the roster of the Glendale Desert Dogs, per MLB.com’s White Sox beat writer Scott Merkin.
While the AFL is a great chance for all eight to refine their games and legitimize an invitation to spring training next year, five of them will help—or hurt—their standing within the organization the most.
A speed burner, a draft pick on the verge of being a washout and a newly acquired outfielder are among those who will be closely watched by the White Sox when the Desert Dogs begin the AFL season on October 8 against the Mesa Solar Sox.
Let’s start things off by looking at the three players who will not be featured, and why.
Going but Not Discussed
Charles Leesman and Marcus Semien are already on the 40-man roster and have both made their major-league debuts this season. Their individual bodies of work are substantial enough that even if they fail miserably in the AFL, they will still be given every opportunity to make the White Sox out of spring training next year.
For Leesman, a spot in the White Sox’s 2014 starting rotation is not out of the question, while Semien could make the team as the utility infielder, or as a starter, depending on what general manager Rick Hahn does with the roster this offseason.
This is not to say that a very bad showing will not have repercussions for them, but the impact of their performance in the AFL does not carry the same weight as it will for the five featured later on.
While Leesman and Semien have established their reputations and will battle for a roster spot next year, Stephen McCray will be firmly rooted in the minor leagues for the next couple of seasons.
The right-hander simply does not have a fit on the major league roster right now.
As a starter, for example, he is overshadowed by more high-profile prospects like Leesman, Andre Rienzo and Erik Johnson. In relief, he is a battered soul who compiled a 15.43 ERA and .409 BAA in four relief appearances for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights.
The Sox will likely be looking to see if McCray can find the plate on a regular basis. He walked 56 batters in 132.1 innings across two levels in 2013, and he will need to tighten that up if he hopes to make the case that he can be counted on in 2015 and beyond.
Beginning with Micah Johnson, here are the five AFLers with the most at stake presented by position group. The list will continue with two outfielders before ending with the pitchers.
5. Micah Johnson, IF
Micah Johnson can improve his stock quite a bit with a strong showing in the AFL.
Johnson began the 2013 season at Class-A Kannapolis and earned a nod on Baseball America’s midseason Minor League All-Star Team thanks to a .342/.422/.530 slash line, 61 stolen bases, 17 doubles and 11 triples in 304 at-bats for the Intimidators.
Unfortunately for Johnson, the season did not end the same way it began. After a promotion to High-A Winston-Salem, his slash line dropped to .275/.309/.360, and while he swiped 22 bags for the Dash, something seemed different.
Perhaps it was the caliber of pitching that led to the sharp decrease. Perhaps he was simply adjusting to a new league. Whatever the cause, Johnson relies on speed to create run-scoring opportunities, so regaining some of the lost luster will help quite a bit.
Another thing to watch for here is whether or not Johnson will switch positions this fall. Marc Hulet, from FanGraphs.com, posited that after committing 29 errors at second base this season, “a move to the outfield could certainly be on the horizon.” That is an interesting idea, indeed, as the outfielders in the minor league system are immense disappointments.
Johnson is hitting .238 with two runs scored for the Double-A Birmingham Barons following a call-up for the Southern League playoffs.
4. Jared Mitchell, OF
It feels as though Jared Mitchell has been with the White Sox for an eternity. Truth is, Mitchell has been languishing in the minor leagues since he was taken in the first round of the 2009 draft.
His 2013 campaign was the stuff of legend. Beginning the season in Triple-A, Mitchell hit .132 with 27 strikeouts in only 53 at-bats before getting demoted to Double-A in the hopes that he could find some confidence at the plate. The move did not pay off.
In 76 games at Birmingham, he finished with a .174 batting average and only collected 13 extra-base hits while striking out 96 times. He looked overmatched and never found a way to remain consistent in the batter’s box.
The AFL may represent the last real shot that Mitchell has at regaining any standing within the organization. Even if he continues to perform poorly, an assignment to open next season at Double-A remains on the horizon, but it won't be long before the White Sox part ways with him.
Once heralded as a five-tool prospect with immense upside, Mitchell’s time is running short.
3. Brandon Jacobs, OF
Acquired from the Boston Red Sox for Matt Thornton, Jacobs hit just .237 with two home runs, 22 RBI and struck out 50 times in 43 games at Double-A. Those numbers are even more disappointing considering the type of start he had with the Barons. Over his first 20 contests, for example, Jacobs hit .299 and drove in 17 runs while only striking out 17 times in 77 at-bats.
He looked great, and then the bottom fell out. Like the other free-swinging outfielders in the minor leagues, he has a world of potential and no patience.
Now Jacobs is on the taxi squad for the River Dogs, which means that he is only eligible to play on Wednesdays and Saturdays. That will limit the opportunities he receives but does not diminish the fact that he must perform at a very high level every chance he gets.
Like the rest of the players on this list, he can parlay a solid fall and spring into an advanced placement to open next year, or he can stagnate and find his career stalled.
2. Chris Bassitt, RHP
Chris Bassitt was fantastic in 2013.
Between Single-A and Double-A, the right-hander went 11-4 with a 3.08 EA, .226 BAA and 138 strikeouts in 149.0 innings. More impressively, Bassitt’s WHIP went from 1.303 at Winston-Salem to 1.091 following his promotion to Birmingham.
To say that he has flown under the radar would be an understatement. BaseballAmerica.com’s Nathan Rode noted earlier this year that Bassitt “has gradually emerged as one of the more promising pitching prospects in the Sox’s organization despite the lack of hype.”
The fact of the matter is that he excelled across two levels, has an excellent slider that he throws from a three-quarter arm angle, an above-average sinker and a fastball that compliments both.
A solid showing in the AFL combined with even a mediocre spring training could be used as a springboard into a Triple-A assignment to open the 2014 season.
At the very least, Bassitt should open next season as one of the White Sox's top 15 prospects, but don’t be surprised if he is on the short list for a spot start next July in advance of a promotion when the rosters expand in September.
1. Kevin Vance, RHP
Kevin Vance has an outside chance of making the White Sox Opening Day roster next year if he can turn in a strong performance in the AFL, followed by a similar showing during spring training. For the season, Vance went 2-6 and finished with a 3.91 ERA at Double-A.
At first glance, those numbers are not that impressive, but there is a rather large caveat. In three straight appearances towards the end of August, he was touched for at least four earned runs and lost each time. If those outings are excluded, Vance appeared in 37 games, gave up 17 earned runs in 66.1 innings pitched and finished with a 2.32 ERA.
That is quite good, actually.
Featuring a curveball that Phil Rogers rated as the best in the organization following the 2012 season and a fastball in the low-90s, Vance does a great job of keeping hitters on their heels. He is particularly effective against right-handed hitters, finishing this season with a .200/.274/.321 slash-line split against them.
Make no mistake; there will be at least two spots in the bullpen open next year. After Nate Jones, Addison Reed, Matt Lindstrom and Hector Santiago (if he is not in the rotation), the composition of the relief corps is unknown.
Vance can do quite a bit in a short amount of time this fall.