Arizona Fall League is a lousy substitute for real White Sox baseball


The Arizona Fall League is underway as of this week.  The annual semi-showcase for prospects takes place right smack dab in the middle of the playoffs, presumably to shame prospect mavens and fans of bad teams for paying attention to it when actually exciting things are on the television.

For players, the league is a chance to continue to work and develop.  For scouts and evaluators, it’s a chance to observe that process, with a lot of prospects conveniently aggregated into one location.

For our sake, it’s pretty much a disaster waiting to happen.  The nutty park factors, egregious disparity in the presence of hitting and pitching prospects, and short length of the season all threaten to produce wacky end-of-season batting lines that will inevitably attract too much attention…because there’s nothing else going on White Sox-related.

Exhibit A for why to tune out could easily be the 2010 AFL performance of Eduardo Escobar, who put up a .300/.353/.536 line with four home runs in 119 plate appearances.  Eduardo has yet to beat that home run total in any full season, at any level.  Exhibit B could be Brent Morel hitting .435 during the 2009 AFL.  For both, there are clearer conceptions of who these players are now, and there’s not much resemblance to their AFL-selves.

But it doesn’t just produce helium-filled stretches from hitters, it’s also a great opportunity for weak-stuff, high-pitchability older hurlers to dice up raw hitting prospects in a manner that doesn’t project to the major league level.

Just last year, Terry Doyle posted a nifty 1.98 ERA (a full two runs below what his peripherals suggest he earned) in 27.1 innings, which was enough to inspire interest from the Twins in the rule 5 draft  after he was unprotected by the Sox.  Minnesota would return Doyle before the end of Spring Training, and the Sox eventually granted him his release so he could pitch in Japan.  Perhaps the Sox were only able to exercise the restraint necessary to leave Doyle unprotected because they had rushed to add Anthony Carter to the 40-man roster after the 2010 AFL.  Carter struck out 16 batters in 10 walk-free innings, before reverting back to someone who could not get AAA hitters out once full-season ball resumed.

So by all means, feel free to skip out on the Arizona Fall League.  It contains similar landmines as Andy Wilkins and Taylor Thompson.  Wilkins, is a 24 year-old 1st basemen who spent the past season in AA.  As a 1st basemen, he needs to have a truly remarkable bat to make an impact, and he’s spent most of his career hitting unremarkably.  Regions Field in Birmingham is no good for power, but the fact that he’s never slugged over .500 in any season is troubling, and remains the larger truth for him whether he goes ballistic for a few weeks in Arizona or not.  Thompson spent the season dominating High-A hitters, and is a year older.  Both could tear the Arizona Fall League apart, and have it not mean anything

There are two prospects around, though–OF Trayce Thompson and IF Carlos Sanchez.  There’s not much to really learn by monitoring their power, since it’s known that Trayce has all of the power in the world, and Carlos has none.  Contact and plate discipline will be key, since Thompson needs a way to make his on-base percentage palatable, and Sanchez needs to be an elite contact guy to survive.

Neither will amass a big enough sample at the plate to get properly worried or geeked up about.  It’s a bananas playing environment, coming on after multiple weeks off.  Of most  interest will be whether the positive defensive reputations both have built up stand up to more intensive national scouting scrutiny, and that information will come second-hand, since AFL games are unavailable to most.

So, it’s probably best to push the whole thing aside.  It’s great that there are some legit prospects with White Sox affiliation in Arizona, it’s good that they’re getting work in, and it’s too bad that Courtney Hawkins is too raw to go and retweet every mention of every home run he hits.

Remember, even if you miss the boat on getting pumped up about someone having a ballistic Arizona Fall League performance, there will be plenty of time to get irrationally excited about them in Spring Training.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @ JRFegan.  Also check out his full-time, daily blog, White Sox Observer