2019-20 MLB International Reviews: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have been heavily involved in signing Cuban players, a trend that continued in 2019.
While other clubs focused their spending on the top 16-year-old players in Latin America, the White Sox spent their top bonus ($2.5 million) on Yolbert Sanchez, a 22-year-old Cuban shortstop.
Sanchez got started this year in the Dominican Summer League, where he hit .297/.386/.441 with 15 walks and 12 strikeouts in 29 games. Coming up through Cuba's junior national leagues as a teenager, Sanchez was one of the top players in his age group. He was the shortstop on Cuba's junior national team at the U-18 World Cup in 2015 in Japan, where he was teammates with White Sox outfielder Luis Robert, as well as Reds shortstop Jose Garcia and Dodgers third baseman Miguel Vargas.
Sanchez is a steady defender at shortstop, and while some clubs thought he might fit better at second base, others projected him to stay at the position with the potential to develop into an above-average defender. A solid-average runner, Sanchez isn't flashy, but he's a dependable fielder with good defensive actions and body control. He has quick feet, secure hands and an above-average arm with a good internal clock. At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Sanchez has shown solid bat-to-ball skills from the right side of the plate with a simple approach, though evaluating him before he signed was tricky given how much younger the pitchers were that he was facing in the Dominican Republic. He has a contact-over-power profile, with a line-drive approach in games and enough power for 8-12 home runs. Those highest on Sanchez thought he had a chance to be an average hitter, though he's most likely a bottom of the order bat whose value would come from his ability to play shortstop. Some clubs viewed Sanchez comparable to a minor league free agent, though others thought he would fit into the top three rounds of a draft because of his defensive ability at a premium position. When Robert signed, the White Sox started him in low Class A Kannapolis, so Sanchez could follow that same path in 2020.
Beyond Sanchez, the White Sox signed two players who trained with Fernando Tatis Sr., including his son, Elijah Tatis, for $400,000. Tatis, 18, is the younger brother of Fernando Tatis Jr., who the White Sox also originally signed but traded to the Padres before he ever played an official game for them. Elijah Tatis was eligible to sign previously, though with the White Sox limited to bonuses of no more than $300,000 in 2018-19 because they exceeded their bonus pool two years earlier to sign Robert, he waited until July 2 to sign in the 2019-20 period. Tatis played in the DSL after signing and hit .187/.300/.213 with 13 walks and 16 strikeouts in 25 games. A bilingual speaker born in Miami, Tatis played more soccer than baseball growing up, but he impressed the White Sox with his ability to play shortstop. At 5-foot-11, 155 pounds, he doesn't have his brother's physicality or power, but he has a chance to stick at the position, where he has good hands, footwork and field awareness, with average speed and a slightly above-average arm. Tatis has a simple, repeatable swing from the right side and a solid eye for the strike zone, though he doesn't have much strength or power at this point.
Dominican third baseman Wilfred Veras, who also trained with Tatis, signed with the White Sox for $200,000. Veras also has baseball bloodlines as the son of Wilton Veras, who made his major league debut as a 21-year-old third baseman in 1999 and spent two seasons in the big leagues with the Red Sox. Wilfred is also related to the Tatis family because his mom is the sister of Tatis Sr., so Tatis Sr. is his uncle while Elijah and Tatis Jr. are his cousins. Veras, 17, attracted the White Sox attention for his righthanded power coming from his 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame, driving the ball out of the park to the middle of the field already, with the physical upside for more when he gets stronger. A below-average runner, Veras has a chance to stick at third base, where he has a strong arm and impressed White Sox officials with his hands and footwork.
The top pitcher the White Sox signed in their 2019 class was 16-year-old Dominican righthander Cristian Mena, who like Sanchez also trained with Ray Castillo. Mena, who got $250,000, has starter traits. He's athletic, has a projectable body (6-foot-2, 170 pounds), a relatively easy delivery and feel for three pitches. He's a solid strike-thrower with a fastball that can reach 91 mph and complements it with a power breaking ball. It's a high spin-rate curveball that morphs into slider-like action at times, but the rotation on it gives him a potential out pitch, and he shows feel for a changeup as well.
Prior to July 2 during the end of the 2018-19 signing period, the White Sox came away with one of the more promising sleepers of the class in Benyamin Bailey, a Panamanian outfielder they gave $35,000 in April. Bailey went to the DSL and immediately raked as a 17-year-old, leading the league in OBP by hitting .324/.477/.454 with more walks (52) than strikeouts (40) in 55 games. Bailey, who turned 18 in September, is a physical monster at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds and a power/speed threat, with both tools grading out above-average. At his size, Bailey's swing will probably always have some length, but he's a patient hitter with a good eye for the strike zone, which helped him hit immediately when he got to the DSL and faced better pitching than he was used to seeing in Panama. He's a corner outfielder who moves well for his size, though he will probably down as he gets older.
Venezuelan righthander Manuel Veloz, who signed in May, was another 2018-19 addition who had immediate success for the DSL White Sox. Veloz, 18, posted an ERA of 0.91 in 39.2 innings with a 42-7 K-BB mark. Veloz isn't overpowering—his fastball reaches 92 mph—but he has room to fill out (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) with good control and secondary stuff. His lively fastball has good movement and he commands it well for his age to both sides of the plate and down in the zone. With fairly easy arm action and mechanics from a high three-quarters slot, Veloz shows feel for a breaking ball as well and an advanced changeup for his age.