Scottsdale Stadium on Championship Saturday. Arizona Fall League president, Steve Cobb, made his way to the infield where, in less than an hour, the Surprise Saguaros would face the Scottsdale Scorpions for the championship of the 24th Arizona Fall League. From the podium near home plate, Cobb would present three post-season trophies, two of them to White Sox prospect Adam Engel.
After appearing in 19 of Glendale’s 28 games, Engel earned the Batting title with his .403 average. The speedy centerfielder was also named the prestigious league MVP and was awarded the Joe Black Most Valuable Player Award by Martha Jo Black, daughter of the Negro League and Brooklyn Dodger pitcher for whom the award is named. Engel and teammate Jacob Scavuzzo were in a tight race for the batting title; decided on the final game of the season when Engel was out with a sore shoulder and the Dodger outfielder went 1 for 4 against Mesa. Engel would have to wait a few more days before he could sleep in his own bed. That was fine with the Loveland, Ohio native who follows the Yankees’ Greg Bird (2014) and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant (2013) as the most recent AFL MVPs.
Mr. MVP’s numbers at the plate include league-leading: OBP .523 / SLG .642 / AVG .403 / OPS 1.165. However, Engel’s outstanding production was not just percentages; with only 67 ABs, he is at the very least a Top 10 leader with the fewest opportunities in every category.
The closest races include the following, where his mere 67 at bats are by far the fewest of any:
Stolen bases: 2nd (10), behind Toronto’s Roemon Fields (14) who had 79 ABs. Runs scored: 3rd (16 / 67 ABs) behind leader Boston’s Sam Travis(19/93) and St Louis’ Aledmys Diaz (17/73). Hits: Tied for 3rd (27 / 67 ABs) behind Travis’s (32/93) and Colorado’s Raimel Tapia’s (29/88). Doubles: 2nd (9 / 67 ABs) behind Boston’s Travis (10/93).
One last piece on Engel: if you put the numbers aside, and just watch him play the game, you would see he is a prototypical Chicago White Sox positional prospect. He is the grinder, whose uniform is clean until the ump yells “Play ball!” He dives and runs and slides and just makes things happen – with his glove in center field, with his bat, and on the base paths. And there are more like him coming up through the system.
Including Engel, there were a total of 5 pitchers (RHPs Jeffrey Wendelken,Brandon Brennan, Robin Leyer, Peter Tago, and LHP Andre Wheeler) and 4 position players (Adam Engel and infielders Nick Delmonico, Trey Michalczewski and Jake Peter) representing the White Sox in Arizona. Wheeler replaced Wendelken who, after appearing in four games, joined Team USA for the Premier 12 tournament. Initially, Courtney Hawkins was named to the Glendale roster, but due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot, Michalczewski was added to the roster instead.
Roster movement is very common in the Fall League. Players are pulled from this league to play in any one of the other Winter Leagues (Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico) or have simply maxed out and return home to rest before spring training. There were quite a few Premier 12 participants that had to be replaced on AFL rosters on all 6 teams. Between the tournament, injuries incurred while playing in the AFL and a handful of drug policy suspensions, rosters were largely comprised of Class A (usually High A) prospects by the end of the short season.
Tournament and drug suspension removals are essentially planned. Teams know right away when a guy has tested positive; they choose to send him for the exposure, however limited it may be, knowing they may need to be replaced. Take the Cardinals’ Alex Reyes for example: it was announced after a few starts that he tested positive for a drug of abuse (which is recreational such as marijuana and different from PEDs.) That lapse in judgement on the part of the fire-thrower has not hurt his status any, either.
Before joining Team USA for the Premier 12 tournament (where they earned a silver medal), Wendelken, who was part of the Jake Peavy trade with Boston, appeared in 4 games for a total of 2.2 innings, including opening day where he allowed 2 hits, 3 runs – all earned – including a home run, walked one and struck out one batter. He completed .1 innings pitched. The durable righty dominated his 2nd and 3rd outings, but then his 4th – again facing Mesa – he essentially threw batting practice giving up 6 runs, all earned in a third of an inning.
On October 28th Jeffrey Wendelken was removed from Glendale’s roster and LHP Andre Wheeler was added in his place. The athletic lefty who converted from an outfielder in his 2nd year at Texas Tech appeared in 6 games for a total of 6 innings pitched. Wheeler, drafted in the 15th round in 2013, features a fastball that sits 95, along with a slider; both have good movement and when he’s “on” he can place them wherever he wants. Wheeler’s AFL line: 6IP, 8H, 5R/E, 0HR, 3BB, 4Ks = 1.83 WHIP
Brandon Brennan arrived in Glendale as a Rule V eligible pitcher, but was added to the 40-man roster before the deadline. The 24 year old righty drafted in 2012 and was out the 2013 season and in limited use in 2014 & in 2015, as well, after having Tommy John surgery in 2013 and suffering a neck injury this year. Brennan’s fastball and slider did him well, but given the past two seasons, his appearance was more to make up innings than to show off, if you will. He’s not the only one in this category. His inconsistent performances can be directly tied to trying to find his balance after a couple challenging seasons.
The final AFL line on the former prep quarterback after 6 games is: 18IP, 20H, 9R, 6E, HR, 6BBs, 13Ks = 1.44 WHIP
Robin Leyer is a hard throwing righty. While his fastball sits at 97, he has trouble with consistency, with repeating his delivery, and with controlling his body after delivery. He also doesn’t seem to throw from the same consistent arm slot. But after watching him pitch and then looking at his numbers…it doesn’t seem to match. Only 3 walks? Early in the Fall I asked an opposing Fall League catcher for his opinion on facing the 22 year old. Post Fall League, I think there’s great wisdom here: just needs some stabilizing to repeat, along with a few tweaks to give his pitches some movement and then watch out! This guy could be lethal!
Leyer’s final line after appearing in 9 games: 9IP, 13H, 4R, 3E, 3BBs, 7Ks = 1.78 WHIP
The final White Sox pitcher, Peter Tago is another hard throwing righty. His fastball velo is just a tick below Leyer’s. Tago was a Minor League Rule 5 selection last December – drafted by Colorado in 2010 as the 47th overall pick out of high school with a bonus of almost $1 million. He’s made great improvements since joining the White Sox, I see great potential with him. His body language makes a difference – when I saw him standing the most confident, before even throwing a pitch, I knew his performance would be good. And it was. Tago wasn’t protected at the deadline, so all I can say is that whoever snatches him up in December will prove to be smarter than the rest.
Tago’s line after 10 games: 9.2IP, 5H, 3R(E) 0HR, 8BB, 6Ks = 1.34 WHIP
Third baseman Nick Delmonico and his “pure lefty swing and power” is easy to root for. His comeback story is one that you want to end with “happily ever after.” Drafted by Baltimore in 2011, traded to Milwaukee for KRod in 2013, and released in Februrary 2015. Sox signed him a week later after he showed his love of the game of baseball had returned. His BP rounds were outstanding. So much fun to watch! But the numbers didn’t translate to the field. They’re so close to producing, you can see it.
Nicky’s production in 18 games: 68ABs, 7R, 11H, 02B, 3B, 2HR, 7RBI, 5BB, 18K, OBP: .237, SLG: .279, OPS: .516
Trey Michalczewski plays the same position as Delmonico, took BP in the same group, and any time I looked in the dugout, it was the 2 of them, side by side, at the railing. Trey is 20 years old and even the pronunciation of his last name didn’t prove to be an obstacle for him in the Fall League. The 7thround high school pick in 2013 from Oklahoma played in 10 games this fall as part of the “taxi squad”, but all those times he was on the railing beside Delmonico, he was in the game, too… just not fielding a position. Fun kid to watch:
Trey’s production in 10 games: 41ABs, 7R, 10H, 3 DBLs, 3B, 3BBs, 15Ks – OBP: .295, SLG: .366, OPS: .661
The final White Sox member of the Desert Dogs is Jake Peter. The defensively minded middle infielder from Creighton was drafted in the 7thround, 2014. The 22 year old, along with Adam Engel, fits the “grinder” role. He does what is needed when it’s needed to help his team in any way. As a matter of fact, he was a pitcher in his prep days and could give the team a few innings at some point, too. Jake is, as they say, what they look like.
Peter’s production in 15 games: 55ABs, 7R, 17H, 3DBLs, 4RBI, 7BB, 9Ks; OBP: .391, SLG: .364, OPS: .754
The Glendale Desert Dogs finished in 2nd place in the West Division with a record of 13-15. Though there were 31 scheduled games, Glendale played on 28 due to weather-related cancellations, which are not made up in the Fall League.