Semien will potentially be doing things worth writing about. // Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The White Sox need to find an entire offense between now and April, and while much of that will need to be bought at a premium from abroad, nothing provides optimism about in-house position prospects like the Arizona Fall League.
The helium-injected showcase got rolling this Tuesday and two White Sox infielders are already grabbing attention. Marcus Semien is rolling in after his Southern League MVP and three-level season and Micah Johnson is looking to flash his speed and re-trigger some of the offensive momentum that he lost after he left Low-A. After one day, well, at least MLB.com’s Bernie Pleskoff is impressed.
This came after an opening day where each players had two hits, Johnson stole three bases and Semien hit a two-out, game-tying single in the ninth inning. Since Dayan Viciedo clubbed a home run in his first game after being recalled in 2011, we know that superstar status is guaranteed for both. What a relief.
The pair represent most of the White Sox intrigue at the AFL. Semien needs to revert back to the dominant form that characterized his MiLB season, as he’ll need all the momentum to force his way onto the Opening Day White Sox infield. Also, it will be interesting to see if his power responds to the ludicrous offensive environment.
Johnson will be more legitimately challenged. He’s only cleaned up on Low-A pitching, so even if the league is entirely composed of Terry Doyles, it would represent an important new tier of pitching sophistication for him to conquer. Also, stealing 82 bases in A-ball is doable without an advanced baserunning approach and feel for reading pitchers, less so against higher-level catching prospects. So far Johnson seems like he’ll get the hang of it.
There will be some pitchers of note present as well. Right-hand starter Chris Bassitt, a 16th round pick that FanGraphs’ Marc Hulet identified as a sleeper prospect, just completed a season of nearly 150 innings of work and smoothly handled a mid-season transition to Double-A (3.08 ERA overall). Also present will be right-hander reliever Kevin Vance, who struck out 84 batters in 69 innings in Double-A in 2013 after being taken in the 19th round of the 2011 draft.
Charlie Leesman will be around as well and it would be nice if his ability to throw strikes would return, but even complete annihilation would obviously have some caveats. Mentioning Terry Doyle here is also key, since he’s the most recent iteration of “middling organizational arm goes bonkers in AFL and goes on to prove it doesn’t mean much.” If an older Leesman spends the month tricking green hitters, it doesn’t make him dark horse for the starting rotation. Left-hander Stephen McCray will also be present and his inclusion in this paragraph rather than the previous is not an accident.
Heading up the sad train of toolsy outfielders is Jared Mitchell and Brandon Jacobs, who looks to pivot from being a disaster (.237/.291/.327 in Double-A Birmingham) since joining the organization. At this point, burning down the AFL isn’t going to dismiss concerns about either of them, especially Mitchell, who can flash athleticism-driven barrages over short bursts. Speaking of toolsy outfielders coming off rough years, Trayce Thompson is headed to the Venezuelan League alongside first basemen Andy Wilkins. Carlos Sanchez looks to be on the roster as well.
More at-bats will offer more opportunities for Thompson to match the gains he made in contact rate this season with his prodigious natural power. Any opportunity for Wilkins to grab attention would help divert him from a Quad-A future and it will probably feel nice for Sanchez to get to hit balls hard again.
It would be nice just to hear reports of White Sox players hitting balls hard again.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan