Podcast 16: The Cactus League goes boom! (thx Eloy y Luis)

Greased lightning: Robert’s speed pays off in ways you might not immediately suspect. (Tom Borowski/South Side Hit Pen)


Hot off of his SSHP coverage in Surprise, Sean Williams hops on to talk Cactus League and the 4-3 Chicago White Sox. We discuss Luis Robert’s secret weapons, Eloy Jiménez’s leadership, the turns in fortune for Micker Adolfo and Carson Fulmer, as well as some things to watch for in coming spring training games.

Hell yes, we’re on Apple Podcasts!

 

SSHP Podcast 14: Cactus League opener!

Seby surprise: Zavala made a big impact in Sunday’s opener, earning the lead spot on this podcast. (Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen)


Baseball is back! Our guy down in Arizona, Sean Williams, checks in from the Cactus League opener, a 7-2 win for the White Sox. We run down a bunch of standouts from that first game and project a little bit into the 2020 White Sox season.

Hell yes we are on Apple Podcasts!

Subs provide spark, pitching shuts down Reds in 7-2 win

Young blood: Yermín Mercedes, Luis Basabe, and Micker Adolfo all contributed to a key ninth-inning rally this afternoon. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


GOODYEAR, ARIZ. — After yesterday’s game was cancelled, the White Sox were able to squeeze in their first Cactus League matchup this afternoon, as they traveled to Goodyear to take on the Reds. The lineup was stacked, giving White Sox fans a look at most of the guys that will be playing regularly once the season starts on March 26.

However, it wasn’t the starting lineup that was the story of the day, but the subs who came in and helped seal a 7-2 victory.

Dylan Cease took the mound this afternoon for his first Cactus League start and came out of the gates firing, hitting 99 and 98 mph consecutively to start his day. Cease went for two innings, which is the norm for starters at the early stages of spring training. He allowed at least two batters to reach base in each inning, but they never amounted to anything thanks to his defense and three strikeouts.

All things considered, Cease’s command was pretty good for his first outing. There were moments where he struggled to find the strike zone, but those moments never hurt him — and for his first in-game action in months, his performance could’ve been a lot worse.

As for the rest of the White Sox starters, it was a very quiet day. At the start of spring training, it’s common for pitchers to be ahead of hitters, and that was evident this afternoon. Tim Anderson had an infield single in his first at-bat, but that was the only hit among starters until James McCann had a double to lead things off in the top of the fifth. Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, José Abreu, and Luis Robert all went a combined 0-for-11 on the day. Moncada, Abreu, and Robert each hit the ball hard on different occasions, but they have nothing to show for it.

But even though most of the starters struggled, they managed to give the White Sox 2-0 lead thanks to some timely hitting in the top of the fifth.

After Carson Fulmer put runners on first and second with no outs in the bottom of the fourth, Matt Foster entered the game in a tough situation. However, Foster would rise to the occasion. He generated a weak fly ball and a grounder to quickly get two outs after facing just two batters. McCann helped get Foster completely out of the jam by gunning down Shogo Akiyama trying to steal, for the third and final out. Foster went on to pitch in the following inning, where he once again shut down the Reds and didn’t allow a run.

At this point in the game, there were all new faces in the field for the White Sox — and when the fun began. Seby Zavala took over for McCann and blasted an opposite-field, solo home run to give the White Sox a 3-0 lead in the top of the seventh. A lot of hitters were aggressive today, wanting to make a statement early. Seby, however, was not. He was patient at the plate, wasn’t fooled by junk outside of the zone, and once he got his pitch he deposited over the wall in the right, center gap.

Zavala wasn’t the only sub who would come through for the White Sox this afternoon. After the Reds made it a 3-2 game in the bottom half of the eighth, the White Sox were looking to add insurance runs in the ninth and they would do just that.

Micker Adolfo got the rally started with a double, and would later come around to score on an error, the first of two unearned runs in the inning.

Nick Madrigal would also join the party by scorching a RBI single to left field. Madrigal made a few mistakes in the field this afternoon, but he made up for it with this RBI. All told, the White Sox plated four runs on four hits in the ninth and put the game out of reach for the Reds.

Tyler Johnson finished this one off with a 1-2-3 inning where he picked up two strikeouts and was sitting in the upper-90’s with his fastball.

The White Sox will be back in action tomorrow as they take on the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. First pitch is scheduled for 2:05 PM CT, with Alex McRae taking the bump. This is the first of six games televised by NBC Sports this spring, so don’t miss it.

Hitter’s Camp Day 3: batting cages

The sights and sounds of sweet, sweet baseball: Among the players featured at Hitter’s Camp in Glendale is Seby Zavala, shown here working on his swing plane. (Chicago White Sox)


White Sox TV presents some raw looks at several young players at Hitter’s Camp, including Blake Rutherford, Luis González, Danny Mendick, Seby Zavala, Micker Adolfo, Gavin Sheets, Luis Basabe and Yermín Mercedes.

Deep Dive: Charlotte and Birmingham right fielders

Late blooming: Blake Rutherford, ranked eighth among White Sox prospects per MLB Pipeline, hit .307 for Birmingham after May 31.


“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  5. Free agent options at that position

For various reasons, 2019 was a difficult season for these three outfielders. Daniel Palka scuffled after a surprisingly good rookie season in 2018, as he couldn’t slug his weight with the Sox this year and has been removed from the 40-man roster. Blake Rutherford continued to struggle in his attempt to match his top-prospect expectations, and Micker Adolfo played fewer than 40 games. All three have a lot to prove in 2020.

(age as of April 1, 2020)


Charlotte Knights

Daniel Palka
6´2´´
220 pounds
B/T: L/L
Other positions played: Left field, First base
Age: 28

After smashing 24 homers in his first two seasons with Georgia Tech, Palka enjoyed his best collegiate season as a junior in 2013. That year, he slashed .324/.436/.637 for the Yellow Jackets in 62 games with 13 doubles, three triples, 17 homers, 66 RBIs, six stolen bases, 31 walks and 60 strikeouts. Trusting in his power stroke, the Minnesota Twins selected him in the third round of the MLB draft.

Palka gradually worked his way up the Twins farm system, ultimately making it to making it to Triple-A Rochester in 2016. That year, split between Double-A Chattanooga and Rochester, he slashed an impressive .254/.327/.521 in 133 games with 24 doubles, four triples, 34 homers, 90 RBIs, nine stolen bases, 56 walks (9.9%) and 186 strikeouts (32.7%). The following year was a disappointing one for Palka, as he spent much of the season on the injured list. That year in 84 games, he slashed .274/.329/.431 in 84 games with 13 doubles, three triples, 11 homers, 42 RBIs, one stolen base, 27 walks (7.5%) and 80 strikeouts (22.1%). On November 3, the White Sox claimed Palka off waivers.

After starting the 2018 season well with Charlotte, Palka received the call to Chicago in late April and fared much better than expected. In 124 games for the White Sox, he slashed .240/.294/.484 with 15 doubles, three triples, 27 homers, 67 RBIs, two stolen bases, 30 walks (6.7%) and 153 strikeouts (34.1%).

However, he struggled out of the gate in 2019 and never truly gained traction at the major league level despite three different stints with the club. In 30 games with the White Sox, he slashed just .107/.194/.179 with two homers, four RBIs, eight walks (8.6%) and 35 strikeouts (37.6%). For what it’s worth, Palka didn’t let his struggles in the majors affect his performance at Charlotte as he slashed a respectable .263/.374/.527 in 106 games with the Knights by hitting 23 doubles, 27 homers, 72 RBIs, 74 walks (15.3%) and 109 strikeouts (23.1%). Palka was outrighted off the 40-man roster in November, and because nobody claimed him, our favorite aerospace engineer likely will begin the 2020 season on the Charlotte roster. If an injury should occur to a corner outfielder or DH next season, Palka would likely be considered as an emergency call-up.  


Birmingham Barons

Blake Rutherford
6´2´´
210 pounds
B/T: L/R
Other positions played: Left field, Center field
Age: 22

Baseball America noted that some scouts saw Blake Rutherford as a possible “power-hitting center fielder in the Jim Edmonds mold” prior to the 2016 MLB draft. At this point, the White Sox might be happy with Rutherford as a center fielder in the Jim Eisenreich mode.

Rutherford was selected in the first round (18th overall) by the Yankees. By 2017, the lefty was playing for the Yankees A-squad in Charleston when he was traded with Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo and Tyler Clippard to the White Sox for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier on July 31. That year, combined with Charleston and Kannapolis, he slashed .260/.326/.348 in 101 games with 25 doubles, two triples, two homers, 35 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 38 walks (8.6%) and 76 strikeouts (17.3%).      

Rutherford enjoyed his best season to date in the Sox organization in 2018 with Winston-Salem, as he slashed a respectable .293/.345/.436 in 115 games with 25 doubles, nine triples, seven homers, 78 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 34 walks (7.0%) and 90 strikeouts (18.5%). However, in a far less favorable hitting environment in Birmingham in 2019, he slashed just .265/.319/.365 in 118 games with 17 doubles, three triples, seven homers, 49 RBIs, nine stolen bases, 37 walks (7.7%) and 118 strikeouts (24.6%). While those numbers admittedly weren’t all that good, it could’ve been much worse. Through the end of the May, he was slashing just .185/.228/.291. From June 1 on, something clicked and he hit a much more respectable .307/.370/.401. He did struggle versus strong competition in the Arizona Fall League this year, as he slashed .179/.281/.385 with four doubles, three triples and two homers in 21 games.

In order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, the White Sox added Rutherford to the 40-man roster in December. One thing to watch for in 2020 will be his splits, as he slashed .286/.337/.398 versus righties as opposed to just .216/.276/.291 against southpaws. He currently ranks eighth among White Sox prospects, and third among outfielders (behind only Luis Robert and Luis Basabe) per MLB Pipeline. That site gives him 50 grades in all tool categories (run, hit, fielding and arm) except power (45). In actuality, Rutherford has plenty of power; he just hits way too many balls on the ground. This year alone, he hit grounders 50.2% of the time, while hitting fly balls (30.3%) and line drives (19.6%) at much lower clips.

Rutherford will likely begin the 2020 season at Charlotte, and if he gets off to a great start, he could be considered for promotion due to his status on the 40-man roster if an outfield injury at the major league level should arise. He’s good enough defensively to play all three outfield positions. 

Micker Adolfo
6´4´´

255 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: None
Age: 23

Thanks in large part to his power bat and arm, Dominican native Adolfo received what was then the highest international signing bonus in White Sox history at $1.6 million on July 2, 2013. However, his professional career has had trouble gaining traction primarily due to his inability to stay on the field. As a result, Adolfo found himself playing for the team’s AZL squad for all of 2014 and 2015, finally earning a promotion to full-season Kannapolis in 2016. Of course, he missed significant time that year as he slashed just .219/.269/.340 in 65 games with 13 doubles, one triple, five homers, 21 RBIs, 14 walks (5.3%)and 88 strikeouts (33.2%). Adolfo played his most complete season to date (112 games) with Kannapolis in 2017 as he slashed .264/.331/.453 in 112 games with 28 doubles, two triples, 16 homers, 68 RBIs, 31 walks (6.6%) and 149 strikeouts (31.5%). To avoid the risk of losing him in the upcoming Rule 5 draft that year, the White Sox added him to the 40-man roster.

Due to elbow pain, Adolfo missed the first half of the 2018 season with Winston-Salem, and when he returned he was limited to DH duties. Despite his injury, he still posted a career-high .833 OPS by slashing .282/.369/.464 in 79 games with 18 doubles, one triple, 11 homers, 50 RBIs, 34 walks (10.1%) and 92 strikeouts (27.4%). After undergoing arthroscopic injury during the offseason, he was limited to just 36 combined games with Birmingham and AZL (rehab assignment) and produced subpar results as he tried to shake off the rust. Despite hitting four homers in 15 games in the Arizona Fall League this year, his results were still lacking as he slashed just .167/.262/.389.

Since Adolfo turned pro, he’s missed time due to injuries in each of his six seasons. Based upon his massive potential, however, he still finds himself ranked 10th among White Sox prospects per MLB Pipeline. Not including 2019 due to its small sample size, Adolfo had been gradually improving his walk and strikeout rates. It’s hard to believe, but he is still just 23. MLB Pipeline gives him an impressive 70 grade for arm, which makes him an ideal right fielder and is no doubt where he’ll play in 2020. His power is graded 55 as would be expected; his running and fielding are both graded 50, however, which is actually quite good considering his size. His weakest tool is a hit tool of 45, based in part to his large strikeout totals.

Due to only playing 23 games in Birmingham last year, Adolfo likely will begin the 2020 season there; however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him promoted to Charlotte fairly quickly due to his 40-man roster status.


 

 

 

 


 

Glendale, gone south again

Uh-oh: Vince Arobio wasn’t great today, and that still qualified him as the best of the AFL White Sox. (Tiffany Wintz/South Side Hit Pen)


Mesa Solar Sox 4, Glendale Desert Dogs 0

Vince Arobio (RP, 5th) IP, 2 H, ER, WP, 18 pitches/13 strikes (8.44 ERA)
Gavin Sheets (1B) 0-for-4, 2 K (.148 BA, .364 OPS)
Micker Adolfo (DH) 0-for-3, 2 K (.136 BA, .542 OPS)

It’s a quick n’ easy summary when it comes to the AFL these days, because the Desert Dogs, and their White Sox participants, have been yug-ly in these first two weeks.

Glendale lost its eighth in 11 games, with just four hits, and none from White Sox. To be fair, the Desert Dogs ain’t good — but the South Side contingent is not helping.

Gavin Sheets and Micker Adolfo contributed zero of the team’s four hits, but let’s not ding them for failing to be team players — the pair combined for four of Glendale’s 10 strikeouts.

Desert Dogs sneak a win from the Eagles

Glendale Desert Dogs 7, Águilas de Mexicali 2

Bennett Sousa (RP, 9th) IP, H, 3 K, 15 pitches/13 strikes (0.00 ERA)
Blake Rutherford (LF) 1-for-4, R, BB, 3B (1), GIDP (.158 BA, .554 OPS)
Gavin Sheets (1B) 2-for-4, 2 R, RBI (1), BB, K, GIDP (.133 BA, .321 OPS)
Micker Adolfo (RF) 0-for-2, R, 2 BB, K (.125 BA, .864 OPS)

The Desert Dogs drew first blood against the Mexican Pacific League Eagles, with a 7-2 win on Tuesday. The two clubs face off again on Thursday.

Rutherford tripled, but later grounded into a double play.

Sheets again assumed the cleanup role and had two hits and his first AFL RBI. He too later GIDP’d.

Adolfo played another flawless game in right field (no assists though, the scouting report on his arm is getting back around!) and got on base twice with walks.

Sousa struck out the side in the ninth, as Mexicali struck out for eight of its final nine outs and the final six batters of the game.

Glendale hosts Salt River tomorrow and sees the Águilas again on Thursday, as they enjoy a mini-homestand this week.

Adolfo and Sousa gun Glendale to glory

Peek-a-boo: Sousa has a win for you! (Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen)


Glendale Desert Dogs 1, Scottsdale Scorpions 0

Bennett Sousa (RP) IP, H, eight pitches/six strikes, W (1-0) (0.00 ERA)
Gavin Sheets (1B) 0-for-3 (.000 BA)
Micker Adolfo (RF) 0-for-2, BB, 2 K, outfield assist (RF to 2B) (.167 BA)
Blake Rutherford (LF) 0-for-2, 2 K (.100 BA)

No offense to Bennett Sousa or the very untidy Glendale offense (not looking it up but the Desert Dogs have to be hitting like .100 so far this season), but I can’t bury the lede here either.

MICKER ADOLFO IS BACK IN THE FIELD!

AND MICKER ADOLFO IS ROCKING IT IN THE FIELD!

Adolfo handled three chances in right field on Saturday night, without event. Wait, without event? Wrong! With one big-time event, namely gunning down a runner at second base! Yep, the big fella trotted out his big arm in the fifth, gunning down Joey Bart trying to stretch a single into a double. Hey, AFL, revise your scouting reports on Micker’s dead arm, eh? Or better yet, don’t (nothing to see here).

The other story tonight was Sousa, who’s been about the only White Sox farmhand worth a lick in this first week of AFL play. Sousa threw only two pitches outside of the strike zone on Saturday, throwing a scoreless eighth inning that allowed him to claim the win when Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Omar Estevez repo manned Elehuris Montero home with a double in the bottom of the frame.

As for Gavin Sheets and Blake Rutherford, move on, nothing to see here …

Micker Adolfo homers in AFL opener

Big bop: Micker makes the most of his Fall debut. (@whitesox)


Gavin Sheets: 0-for-4, 0 BB, 2 K (.000 BA, .000 OPS)
Blake Rutherford: 0-for-3, 1 BB, 2 K (.000 BA, .000 OPS)
Micker Adolfo: 1-for-3, 1 HR, 0 BB, 2 K (.333 BA, 1.666 OPS)
Vince Arobio: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K (18.00 ERA, 4.00 WHIP)
Bennett Sousa: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K (0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP)

It was a White Sox day for the opening of the AFL season for the Desert Dogs. It was not a winning effort, nor were the Sox players that good, but quite a few of them received game action.

Glendale lost the game, 4-2, so obviously the bats didn’t do much. Gavin Sheets, Blake Rutherford, and Micker Adolfo all got in the game tonight. Sheets and Rutherford both went hitless and combined for four strikeouts. Rutherford at least got on base with a walk. Micker Adolfo was responsible for Glendale’s first run of the game in the eighth inning, already down 4-0. He launched a solo homer to left center field. Adolfo was the DH today, so he still is not playing the field.

Two Sox pitchers got game action, one was much better than the other. Vince Arobio went in first, in the seventh inning. He got hit, and hit hard, as he allowed two runs in the inning, including a home run. Bennett Sousa came into the eighth and worked a perfect inning. He struck out one over that span, but it was a good start to his AFL campaign. Minor league baseball is back!

Arizona Fall League: White Sox edition

Power ball: The closest player to the majors participating for the White Sox in the AFL is Gavin Sheets. (Tiffany Wintz/South Side Hit Pen)


The AFL rosters are out, sort of.

Since there is a TBA, it is not officially official yet, but the majority of the Chicago White Sox prospects have already been announced. There will be two outfielders (Rutherford and TBA/Adolfo), a first baseman (Sheets), three relievers (Johnson, Sousa, and Arobio) and finally, one starting pitcher (Bernardo Flores). These guys certainly aren’t the cream of the crop in the system, but a few of these guys could be on the South Side pretty quickly — which is why we’ll see them in the AFL this season.

Before we dive into the announced players, first, let’s go over the new rules of the AFL. First off, the early start date. The first games will be played September 18. Not many of these prospects have to worry about playing in MiLB playoffs, so they should get a couple weeks of “rest” before starting up again. The positives besides the game-play rest is that prospects won’t have as long a layoff as before. Last season they started the AFL at the end of October. The negative is that it’s still really hot in Arizona, so it won’t be overly comfortable.

Just by peering at the White Sox prospects, it seems like the new rule of allowing any minor leaguer to participate in the AFL wouldn’t have mattered much. Most of the time in the past, it was players from the upper levels of the minors. Rutherford, Sheets, Flores, Johnson, Arobio, and Adolfo are all listed under the Birmingham Barons roster. Sousa is in Winston-Salem.

Also, a question I didn’t even think of beforehand was answered by Josh Norris, an associate editor at Baseball America.

Those baseballs, man, who would have thought that question would be so important? Thankfully, this baseball is something all of the White Sox prospects going to Arizona have been using the entire year. But enough about the league — the players are what matters.


Hitters

In my opinion, Blake Rutherford going to the AFL is a little bit of a surprise. I thought another player who had injury issues and missed at-bats, like a Bryce Bush or Luis Basabe, would get the spot, but of late Rutherford definitely showed he can play in the AFL.

He started out, just like a lot of other Barons, with some really terrible play. In April, he only hit .156 and was able to do better in May, but still hit just .216 with no power at all. Though since June, it has been exponentially impressive. He slashed .300/.347/.396 in 71 games for a 116 wRC+. Rutherford still didn’t show much power, but the bat-to-ball skills are back. It was not an overwhelming performance, but it seems like the Sox are using the AFL to recoup some value for Rutherford.

If you thought Gavin Sheets was on the outs because of a lack of power last season, well, he showed he had some with the Barons. Sheets currently has 16 home runs and 19 more extra-base hits in 2019. He isn’t really selling out for more power, though his strikeouts are up slightly. He is still going the other way and isn’t hitting enough fly balls like a power-hitting first baseman should. But Sheets has a wRC+ of 126, which is a personal best, and he still has a good eye at the plate, with a walk rate near 10%. With Vaughn on Sheets’ tail, this could be a showcase for trade or Sheets might see some action in Chicago next season and extending his season should help that; he should probably be in Charlotte already.

Micker Adolfo rounds out the batters, and this is a classic “get the injured player more at-bats” scenario. However, in Adolfo’s case, it could also be used to get him much-needed game reps in the outfield, because he hasn’t played in right since 2017. He only played in 36 total games this season, so there isn’t much to read into, but all Adolfo really needs to do at this point is stay healthy and just play.


Pitchers

Two pitchers fall into the injured category of needing to pitch more innings, Bernardo Flores and Tyler Johnson. Flores so far has pitched in 87 1/3 innings this season. That will put him far lower than the previous year’s total of 156, so the AFL is to help get him just a few more innings. If Flores had stayed healthy, he would probably be in Chicago already. He did well in his Double-A stint. He has a 3.36 ERA, with a very low walk rate and a below-average K-rate.

Johnson started the year late because of a lat injury and again, if he didn’t get injured, he would probably be in Chicago along with Flores. It is tough to read his performance this year because he didn’t have a preseason due to injury, but Johnson has struggled recently in Birmingham. He has a 4.40 ERA and hasn’t been used in any closing situations.

The other two pitchers, Bennett Sousa and Vince Arobio, seem like this AFL is a congratulations on how well they did during the year. Sousa started his season in Kannapolis and continued his great run that started in 2018. He had a 22.4% K-BB rate and when he was promoted to the Dash, it improved again, to 23.9%. He currently has a 2.60 ERA between the two levels.

Arobio had a much more exciting time in MiLB, as he was promoted twice during the season. He started in Kannapolis and ended in Birmingham. He had a 3.34 ERA among the three levels, but has struggled with the Barons. He has a 5.40 ERA in Double-A, but his successful season overall earned him a shot at some of the better hitting prospects in Arizona.