Originally published 9/8/15 on FutureSox.com
Wednesday, September 2nd; Mariners Practice Field #2
It’s the bottom of the 9th in the Arizona League Championship Game. The visiting White Sox lead 3-1. Just three more outs and the title will belong to the South Siders. Righty Jack Charleston, who came on in the 8th and retired the minimum on infield ground-outs, returns to close out the 9th. Even with one of the league’s best catchers, Seby Zavala, behind the plate, things get a little tense.
A couple singles and a wild pitch lead to a Mariner run before the first out is recorded. Fly ball to center fielder Tyler Sullivan; 1 out. Foul pop-up caught by first baseman Corey Zangari; 2 outs. Some of us, including Courtney Hawkins and Micker Adolfo who came to support the team, start breathing again. For a moment.
A wild pitch sends the lone runner to 3rd. The next pitch hits the batter, who’s down for a bit. Charleston is done. He’s replaced by Richie McWilliams, who entered the game in the same situation the night before – bases loaded, two outs – and faced one batter who grounded out to end the game.
McWilliams’ first batter walks to load the bases. I’m standing on the fence directly behind home plate recording the final out. Next to me is Chris Gwynn, Mariners Director of Player Development, who sees that I’m recording and is almost silent. He’s not breathing much at this point, either.
Then, after working his at bat, Juan Camacho pops up to the first base side, where Zangari is waiting and makes the catch for the 3rd and final out.
Ball game, championship, season!
On opening night (June 20th) the White Sox roster resembled the league standard. Names included those selected and signed from the 1st Year Player Draft, international signees promoted from the Dominican Summer League, a few rehabbing players, and a few domestic non-drafted free agents.
Of the 2015 draft picks signed by the White Sox, only two selected in the top ten rounds were assigned to the AZL: RHP Jordan Stephens (5th round) and 1B/DH Corey Zangari (6th round). This doesn’t include first round pick Carson Fulmer, who debuted in AZL, but was only here for one inning before moving up to Winston-Salem. 7th rounder Blake Hickman signed and learned he had to have Tommy John surgery; he’s listed on the AZL roster but will not see any activity until the 2016 season.
The rest of the many 2015 draftees that made up the bulk of the roster when the team opened play: C Seby Zavala (12th), LHP Ryan Riga (13th), OF Tyler Sullivan (14th), RHP Chris Comito (15th), RHP Brandon Quintero(16th), C Jacob Cooper (20th), SS Danny Mendick (22nd), RHP Richard McWilliams (25th), LHP Alex Katz (27th), INF Bradley Strong (28th), OFJake Fincher (29th), RHP Jack Charleston (30th), OF David Walker (31st), RHP Taylore Cherry (32nd) and LHP Johnathan Frebis (33rd)
International players made up a larger contingent than previously, as new investments in Latin American begin to pay dividends: RHP Yosmer Solorzano, OF Micker Adolfo, C Jhoandro Alfaro, RHP Andres Sanchez, RHP Victor Done, LHP Kevin Escorcia, 3B Maiker Feliz, RHP Yelmison Peralta, LF Hanleth Otano, SS Amado Nunez, SS Felix Mercedes, RHPYeuris Guerrero and LHP Jaider Rocha. NOTE: Rocha is listed everywhere (MiLB, Baseball America, etc.) as a right-handed pitcher, but he is LEFT-HANDED. Cross my heart and Girl Scouts’ honor.
Most who were on the early roster stayed with the team throughout the season. There were a few rehabbers along the way, including 34 year old RHP Jesse Crain (who took the loss on opening night), as well as 2B Micah Johnson and OF Jacob May. The only player promoted away from the team before the end of the regular season were Daily, Frebis, Riga and Katz.
That’s relatively minimal movement, allowing the boys to develop chemistry and learn how to play and win together. That’s a solid approach.
A Quick Look at some highlights from each month…
Important to note at this point that the AZL has a nickname – the “Fire League” – because where else do you start a game at 7pm with a temperature of 100+ degrees? We’ll revisit this shortly. The 2015 season began June 20th, with a loss to the Dodgers, their facility-mates, and the temperature at first pitch was 109 degrees. They finished the month of June with a record of 5-4.
July was one of the hottest months Central Arizona has seen in decades. It was also a hot month for these White Sox, who won 14 and lost 9, due largely to the bats, especially the one belonging to undrafted free agent Cody Daily. The Southern Illinois alum was signed to a minor league contract in February and did nothing but rake for the month he played with the Glendale team. The 3rd baseman was a wall for balls hit to the left side, and his precise throwing action was a show stopper. At the plate, in 20 games he was very productive. His slash line: AVG .390/ OBP .440/ SLG .695/ OPS 1.135, 3 HR, 5 BB vs 15 K in 82 PA. Daily was deservedly promoted to Kannapolis on July 22nd.
July also welcomed first round pick Carson Fulmer. He signed after his Vanderbilt teammates lost to Virginia in the NCAA College World Series. The professional debut of the bespectacled Fulmer was better than advertised! As a bonus, listening to the 1st round pick converse with his teammates, as well as with fans who approached him throughout the remainder of the game, showed the kind of quality person he is.
As hot as July was, August was even hotter. According to the National Weather Service, August 2015 was the hottest month on record in Arizona; and it was also the month when many double headers were played, to make up for storm-shortened and/or cancelled games from July or early August. Game 1 of the DHs would begin at 5pm. On August 17th, at Game 1 for the White Sox, the first pitch temp was 118 degrees. Game 2 started with a cooler 109 degrees at first pitch.
August 5th, hosting the Indians, brought the unfortunate end to Micker Adolfo’s season. In the 2nd inning, as he was mere steps away from home and about to score, Adolfo let out the most gut-wrenching cry as he fell to the ground. We did not know the reason or the extent of any damage, at the time. We just held our collective breath until Adolfo was carried off the field and was no longer writhing in pain. We were later told that as he was going to score, his spike stuck in the dirt causing him to fracture his fibula and do serious ligament damage. He underwent surgery and is recovering nicely. His presence at the championship game was a big boost to his teammates and to the team’s supporters, as well.
When the regular season ended on August 28th, the White Sox record for the month was 12 – 11, but they had already clinched a post-season berth from their first half run (and some labyrinthine playoff rules). The AZL All Star Team was announced at this point as well. Those named to the team (no game is played) are selected by the 14 league managers. The results – 4 spots occupied by members of the AZL White Sox – were no surprise to those of us who follow the team.
Well… I take that back… there was one surprise: Corey Zangari, who played 1st base and ONLY 1st base for the season, was named as the league’s All Star 3rd baseman. Even better, Zangari was also named as the league’s All Star DH – he was so good he made the roster twice. Additional White Sox players named to the All Star Team (just once each): SS Bradley Strong and C Seby Zavala. I’m happy to report that each is representing the position he, in fact did play, throughout the season.
Offensive production: the AZL White Sox as a team were among the league leaders in nearly every offensive category, including (out of 14 teams):
- 1st in: AVG, OPS, H, 2B
- 2nd in: OBP, SLG, HR, R
- 5th in walks and 2nd FEWEST in Strikeouts (followers of the Sox minor league system may rejoice at that one)
- 6th in 3B and 7th in stolen bases (while 5th fewest in CS)
Pitching production: Not as spectacular, though there were a lot of teenage arms on the club:
- Where you want to rank high: 9th in WHIP, 10th in ERA, 14th in Strikeouts
- Where you want to rank low: 1st in HRA, 5th in BB, 8th in Hits (maybe they got BABIP’d to death?)
Some individual performances that stood out league-wide:
- Corey Zangari was tied for 4th with 6 HR, 5th in SLG (.492), t-6th in 2B (13), 7th in AVG (.323), 9th in OPS (.848)
- Seby Zavala was 2nd in 2B (17), t-7th in 3B (5), t-10th in HR (4), despite playing about a dozen fewer games than most of his cohorts (would have been among Top 10 in AVG, OBP and SLG if he had another handful of AB’s to qualify)
- Bradley Strong was 3rd in OPS (.873), t-3rd in 2B (15), 5th in AVG (.326), 6th in SLG (.484), 7th in OBP (.389)
- Jake Fincher was tied for 3rd in 3B (6), 6th in SB (17, with 6 CS)
- Danny Mendick was tied for 6th in HR (5)
- Tyler Sullivan was 8th in OBP (.372)
- Not many league leaders on the pitching side, but a couple notes (for minimum 10 IP)…
- Johnathan Frebis was in the Top 15 in ERA (1.25), WHIP (0.92) and H9 (5.8)
- Can’t find league leaders on this, but Yosmer Solorzano’s 2.07 GO:AO ratio has to be near the top (and he popped up as a legitimate prospect overall)
This is definitely a developmental league, and the fact that these young men have had the season to play together and get to know what it’s like to be professionals together, can only help them in the long run. It certainly helped them this season.
There’s no way to end this season in review without including the loss of AZL scorekeeper and die-hard White Sox fan, Jim Richards. The Chicago native passed away August 17th. He is missed by all of his AZL friends and family.