Bonus baby: Top international signee Yolbert Sánchez was old for the level, but performed well in the DSL. (@Cuba_Lite)
Though the DSL White Sox did not make the playoffs at 36-34 on the season, this team was a massive improvement over 2018. A year ago, the DSL Sox finished an abysmal 18-54 — so they won twice as many games this season, and it certainly seemed like they had twice the talent.
But before we get to the top talent, a little update on a couple of more minor DSL figures. First, Francisco Benitez:
At 18, Benitez had a 8.06 ERA in 22 1/3 innings pitched in the DSL. If he stays with the Sox next season, he will still have some time to serve on his PED suspension.
Luis Rodriguez is the other notable update, because he was the only player from the 2019 DSL squad to receive a promotion to the States. Rodriguez left the DSL with a 4.34 ERA and 3.12 FIP in 29 innings. He was used mostly as a starter, but his walk rate fell considerably and so at 19, he was ready to go play in the States. In the AZL, Rodriguez did not do as well. He had a 6.54 ERA, and his K-BB rate was only 3.3%. Though it was not a great first stint, it is notable that Rodriguez was the only promotion, and that he is just 19, playing baseball in unfamiliar Arizona.
But on to the guys that played all their baseball in the Domincan Republic, and quite a few played excellently — especially a few young teenagers.
Bailey took fans and the DSL by storm early, and though he struggled some down the stretch, the tools are there. FanGraphs now has him as the 30th-best prospect in the White Sox system, with a 35+ future value grade (check out their full rankings here). FanGraphs highlights Bailey’s build, which for a 17-year-old is astounding, and a little unbelievable, at 6´4´´, 215 pounds. That build helps Bailey to be projected as a power-hitting corner outfielder, but he’s 17, and a lot can change with a body. For what it’s worth, FanGraphs lists Bailey’s ETA to the big leagues as 2024, so yeah, a lot can change. For what Bailey actually did this season, the plate discipline is the big reason why he was so successful and why outlets like FanGraphs paid attention. Bailey walked (21.4%) more than he struck out (16.5%). Some might say it’s the DSL, where the umpires are not great and the pitchers are not polished enough to hit the zone regularly, but Bailey is 17, and what he did was impressive, even in the DSL. He ended his season with a slash line of .322/.477/.454, with a couple of homers and a .130 ISO. It will be interesting to see where he ends the year next season, but hopefully Bailey’s 2020 starts in the AZL.
With the Luis Robert signing restrictions finally over, the Sox went out and signed one big-dollar free agent in Sánchez. The middle infielder signed with the Sox to the tune of a $2.5 million bonus. He is rated as the 22nd-best White Sox prospect by MLB Pipeline and the 24th-best per FanGraphs. Sánchez is known more for his defense, as it is his strong suit. He should rise up the ranks quickly next season, especially if hit bat develops. Scouts also point out his plus speed. Most of Sánchez’s production with the bat came down the stretch. He ended the year with a .297/.386/.441 slash line and also walked more than he struck out (though he is old for the level at 22, and accomplishing that in the DSL). Sánchez hit two home runs on top of that, but his profile doesn’t suggest he will have much power as he moves up the ranks.
Guzman was a highlighted by Ben Badler before the season because of his 89 mph fastball and an advanced change. He didn’t sign for much ($75,000), but Guzman is one of the few interesting DSL White Sox pitchers. The now 17-year-old was great this season, even with an ERA at 4.53. For what it’s worth (and in the DSL, not sure how much it means), but Guzman did have a much better-looking 3.19 FIP and 2.97 xFIP. This is mostly from a great K-rate at 33.5%, probably from that advanced fastball-change combo. Guzman should start next year in the AZL, and with the great stuff he already has, he could move on quickly.
Because of the ages and DSL experience, it will always be difficult to surmise who can be a “guy” in the future. The three players above, because of their pedigree, age, and in Sanchez’s case, bonus money, are easy players to keep an eye on down the road. The rest are not so easy.
Of the hitters, there are a couple of note to keep an eye on. Johnabiell Laureano had just as great a season as Bailey, but he is more than a year older. In Laureano’s second DSL season, he had a wRC+ of 167 and gained 137 points on his batting average.
There are a few catchers of note, although Luis Pineda is notable for not reaching the expectations of his bonus. He only played in 24 games, hitting a balmy .185 with a 36.3% K-rate. Jefferson Mendoza and Ruben Benavides were the positives of the position. In Mendoza’s second season in the Dominican, everything went right. He showed a much better hit tool and played up to his previous max bonus of $300,000. Benavides had the highest wRC+ of the group, but it was in just 80 plate appearances. He showed pop, with 11 extra-base hits, and is newly 18, so he has a bit more of a youth advantage.
Back to the downside of the group, as some relatively high dollar players faltered this year. Alberto Bernal, Elijah Tatís, and Lazaro Leal all failed to reach their potential this year. Bernal and Tatís are both younger and will probably stay in the DSL next season. Bernal was a regular player, but had the worst batting average on the team. Tatís certainly has not looked like the other Tatís, who shall not be named. Leal was signed from Cuba and is already 22, so a down year in the DSL at that age is concerning. Though Leal did walk more than he struck out, the bat-to-ball skills were not there, with a .225 batting average.
The better side are a pair of 17-year-olds in Wilber Sanchez and Anthony Espinoza. Espinoza was more high-profile than Sanchez to begin the year because of a larger bonus; he finished with a .263 average but without much power. Sanchez had a similar season, but his BABIP and BB-rate were a little better. He finished with a slash line of .288/.391/.395 and after a season like that, should be in the AZL to start 2020.
On the pitching end, there is not much else besides Guzman. There was another 16 year-old for the DSL in Jose Jimenez, but he only pitched in 5 2/3 innings. Some pitchers did do well, but they were relievers like Manuel Veloz, or a little on the older side like Erick Perez and Homer Cruz, so their ceilings are not too high. Though Veloz, who had an ERA of 0.91 in 39 2/3 innings, and Perez, who had a 1.92 ERA in 51 2/3 innings, were fantastic.
It was unnerving to learn the Sox did not spend their full bonus allotment in the first year out of the restrictions from the Robert signing, as they traded $1 million of it to the Rangers. Hopefully next season the organization will look to add some younger top talent to their DSL ranks in order to replenish what was a good but older team overall.