Deep Dive: rookie league right-handed relievers

Suddenly closed: Seen here pitching for the Indiana Hoosiers, Pauly Milto had a 1.88 ERA and five saves for the Great Falls Voyagers in 2019 (Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics).

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  5. Free agent options at that position

Rookie leagues often carry a multitude of pitchers, as they are not restricted to 25-man active rosters. That’s the main reason why each of these rosters carried more than five right-handed relievers at the end of this season. In order to condense this post, the spotlight will only be focused on the top five relievers (based on ERA) who ended the season with each team.

Ages below are as of April 1, 2020

Great Falls Voyagers

Pauly Milto
245 pounds
Age: 23

Milto, a native of Greenwood, Ind., stayed close to home to pitch for Indiana University. He gradually evolved from reliever to starter for the Hoosiers, capping his college career with an 8-5 record, 3.51 ERA and 1.11 WHIP for his senior season. In 14 starts totaling 95 innings, he surrendered just 89 hits (.265 OBA) and 16 walks (3.6%) while striking out 94 (21.0%). As a result, he was selected in the 23rd round of the 2019 draft. It has now become a nearly annual occurrence for Hoosiers to be drafted by the White Sox, as recent selections have also included Craig Dedelow, Jonathan Stiever and Logan Sowers.

The Hoosier alumnus quickly made a great impression with the Great Falls Voyagers, as he posted an incredible 1.88 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and five saves in 19 relief outings. In those innings. Milto relinquished just 22 hits and seven walks while fanning 26. What helped Milto was keeping the ball down in the high Montana altitude, as grounders were hit against his offerings at an incredible 63.2% rate.

According to Indiana University, Milto’s fastball peaks around 92 mph; other offerings include a two-seam fastball, wipeout slider and changeup. He succeeds by keeping the ball down, throwing strikes and changing speeds. It’s unclear if the White Sox envision Milto as a starter or reliever going forward; it’s entirely possible he played the relief role to spare his arm after a long collegiate senior season. Regardless, he seems to be a lock for the Kannapolis pitching staff for 2020.

Felix Mercedes
185 pounds
Age: 23

When the White Sox signed the 17-year-old Mercedes to a $250,000 bonus on International Signing Day in 2014, they thought they had found a potential outfielder of the future. After spending two seasons with the DSL White Sox and another with the AZL White Sox in 2017, Mercedes was only producing middling results, with just a combined four homers and three stolen bases. It was then determined to try to convert Mercedes’ strong arm into a potential reliever.

While Mercedes held his own in 11 outings last year with a 3.18 ERA and 1.59 WHIP, he did even better this year despite having difficulties finding the plate. In five outings totaling eight innings, Mercedes allowed just two hits (.080 OBA) but eight walks (22.2%) while fanning five (13.9%) in posting a 1.13 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. It’s unclear why he didn’t pitch the last two months, as rookie league squads don’t often report “injured list’ status due to their extended rosters. In two seasons, Mercedes has pitched only a combined 19 1/3 innings, so his durability is certainly in question. Expect a return to Great Falls for 2020, unless the team simply feels Mercedes’ shoulder can’t stand the stress of pitching.

Ramon Pineda
200 pounds
Age: 22

Ramon, a native of the Dominican Republic, happens to be the younger brother of Twins starter Michael Pineda. He signed an international contract with the White Sox in October 2016 and promptly pitched for the DSL White Sox the next summer. He had a solid year in the Dominican in 2017, when he posted a 3.74 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 67 innings as he surrendered 64 hits (.257 OBA) and 18 walks (6.5%) while striking out 46 (16.7%). Pineda struggled badly in four relief outings for the AZL White Sox the following year, however, and ended the season prematurely due to an apparent injury.

Pineda bounced back this year for Great Falls, compiling a 2.22 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 17 relief outings totaling 24 1/3 innings. In those innings, he relinquished just 17 hits (.193 OBA) and eight walks (7.8%) while fanning 23 (22.8%). While possessing a decent fastball, his best pitch may well be a changeup based on a weak .118 batting average from lefties against his offerings. Pineda helps his cause by throwing strikes and keeping the ball down (43.1% ground ball rate). With his combination of success and pedigree, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pineda begin the 2020 season with Kannapolis.

Kaleb Roper
193 pounds
Age: 24

Roper was quite the well-traveled collegian, as he pitched for the University of Arizona his freshman year, San Jacinto Community College his sophomore season, and Tulane University for his junior and senior years. In his senior season for the Green Wave, Roper posted a 4.60 ERA and 1.33 WHIP but provided decent peripherals: 86 hits (.258 OBA), 31 walks (8.1%) and 90 strikeouts (23.6%). The White Sox, through diligent scouting, lassoed Roper in the 29th round of this year’s MLB draft.

For Great Falls this year in 14 appearances (two starts) spanning 34 innings, Roper relinquished only 22 hits (.193 OBA) and 12 walks (9.4%) while striking out 43 (33.6%). He apparently boasts an above-average changeup, as lefties only hit .088 against his offerings as opposed to righties’ .238. He did keep the ball down, as Pioneer League hitters hit grounders 50% of the time off him.

Perfect Game listed Roper’s fastball at 90 mph four years ago, so it’s likely he’s added some velocity since then. Roper also features a curveball as a solid third offering. As in Milto’s case, it’s unclear if Roper will be a starter or reliever going forward. And just like Milto, Roper should see a promotion to Kannapolis next season regardless.

Karan Patel
215 pounds
Age: 23

Patel improved in each of his four years for the University of Texas-San Antonio. This year for the Roadrunners in 14 starts spanning 89 innings, Patel provided the Roadrunners with a rock-solid 2.82 ERA and 1.24 WHIP by relinquishing just 78 hits and 33 walks while striking out a school-record 102. Patel made history when the White Sox selected him in the seventh round of this year’s MLB draft, as he became the first player of Indian origin (and perhaps the only drafted player who happens to be a national-team level cricket player) to ever be drafted.

In 18 appearances for Great Falls totaling 32 1/3 innings, Patel allowed 34 hits (.264 OBA) and just seven walks (5.0%) while striking out 38 (27.0%) in compiling a 3.90 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Opponents hit grounders 36.7% of the time off his offerings, and he pitched in some bad luck as his FIP was a terrific 2.85. Patel’s fastball presently peaks at 94 mph per Baseball America, and he features an above-average curveball as well. Like Milto and Roper, it’s possible Patel could begin next year in the rotation — especially if he offers another plus pitch in his arsenal. Patel should be a lock to be a part of next year’s Kannapolis pitching staff.

Other right-handed relievers who finished with Great Falls (ERA and WHIP in parentheses):

Yoelvin Silven (3.88, 1.28)
Nate Pawelczyk (4.50, 1.46)
McKinley Moore (4.84, 1.79)
Brayan Herrera (5.27, 1.46)
Connor Reich (5.89, 1.53)
Allan Beer (6.23, 1.39)
Nick Johnson (9.49, 2.39).

AZL White Sox

Mac Welsh
202 pounds
Age: 24

Welsh, the son of former major league pitcher and current Reds broadcaster Chris Welsh, signed as an undrafted free agent on Jan. 18, 2019. It’s hard to believe, but in his four years with the Louisville Cardinals, Walsh entered just one game. However, he somehow landed on the radar of the White Sox scouting department, and that due diligence certainly paid off this year.

Welsh didn’t pitch in his first AZL game until July 20. In 12 games for the AZL White Sox from there, all Welsh did in 12 1/3 innings was allow nine hits (.196 OBA) and two walks (4.2%) while striking out a whopping 19 hitters (39.6%) for a tidy 0.00 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. When hitters made contact off Welsh, they hit grounders at an incredible 65.4% rate.

An old high school scouting report by Perfect Game in 2014 revealed his repertoire included a low-80s fastball, curveball and changeup. Of course, five years and 20 pounds later, Welsh’s velocity has certainly gone up. Due to his success and age, he should bypass Great Falls for 2020 and begin instead with Kannapolis, where he’ll still be older than the average South Atlantic League player.

Joseph Jarneski
170 pounds
Age: 20

Jarneski, a Hawaii native, was selected in the 12th round of the 2017 draft by the Texas Rangers. He struggled a bit in limited duty for the Rangers that year, and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery, missing the entire 2018 season. This year in his return for the Rangers AZL squad, Jarneski was off to a terrific start with a 1.62 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 10 outings totaling 16 2/3 innings, as he ceded just eight hits (.151 OBA) but 11 walks (16.7%) while striking out 16 (24.2%).

After Jarneski was traded to the White Sox along with Ray Castro for Nate Jones and international bonus pool money, he struggled in his new digs. Many players struggle in such situations, so it’s unsurprising when this happens to a teenager. For the AZL White Sox in eight games spanning 9 2/3 innings, Jarneski allowed nine hits (.243 OBA), 10 walks (20.4%) and six strikeouts (12.2%) in posting an inflated 7.45 ERA and 1.97 WHIP.

At the time he was drafted, Baseball America stated Jarneski’s fastball peaked at 92 mph. He likely will return to the AZL White Sox for 2020, with an opportunity for promotion to Great Falls if his control improves.

Nick Silva
205 pounds
Age: 23

Silva, a nephew of retired slugger Alex Rodriguez, pitched four seasons of college ball with the University of Maine. He struggled in all four years, primarily due to a lack of control. In Silva’s senior season in 15 outings (13 starts) totaling 66 2/3 innings, he compiled a 5.40 ERA and 1.41 WHIP while relinquishing 60 hits (.245 OBA) and 34 walks (11.0%) but striking out 54 (18.0%). As a result of his struggles, Silva wasn’t selected until the 40th and final round by the White Sox in 2019.

This year for the AZL White Sox, Silva posted a 3.96 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in 19 relief outings. In his 25 innings, he surrendered 29 hits (.293 OBA) and 13 walks (11.1%) as opposed to 23 strikeouts (19.7%).

According to Baseball Draft Report, Silva’s fastball can run up to 95 mph, but his off-speed pitches (low-80s changeup and low-70s curveball) are still works in progress. A promotion seems possible to Great Falls for 2020, but it would take significant improvement with his control and command of his off-speed pitches if he wants to advance further.

Vlad Nuñez Jr.
240 pounds
Age: 23

As is the case of several pitchers who finished the year for the AZL White Sox, Vlad has solid bloodlines. Nuñez Jr.’s dad, Vlad Sr., pitched in the majors for parts of nine innings. The younger Nuñez pitched two years for the State College of Florida prior to transferring to Stetson for his junior and senior seasons. This year for the Hatters in 27 outings totaling 48 innings, Nuñez Jr. posted a 4.50 ERA and 1.52 WHIP by allowing 47 hits (.254 OBA) and 26 walks (11.6%) while striking out 53 (23.6%). The White Sox signed him on June 14 as an undrafted free agent.

This year for the AZL White Sox, Nuñez Jr. possessed better control than expected but was hit fairly hard. In 15 games encompassing 29 innings, he provided his squad with a 4.97 ERA and 1.62 WHIP as he surrendered 36 hits (.305 OBA) and 11 walks (8.4%) while striking out 35 (26.7%). He did provide a decent ground ball rate at 46.4%, but will likely need to work on a good off-speed pitch to lefties, as they hit .389 against his offerings compared to righties’ .268. Nuñez Jr. flashed a decent enough strikeout rate to be mildly intriguing, so expect him to begin the 2020 season with Great Falls.

Justin Friedman
200 pounds
Age: 22

It’s nearly impossible to have a more traveled college career than Friedman enjoyed. George Washington University was his team during his freshman season, while subsequent years featured appearances for Ventura College, University of San Diego, and Hope International University. Friedman struggled in his senior season for Division II Hope International in 11 games (nine starts), as he compiled a 5.44 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 48 innings as he ceded 46 hits (.250 OBA), 25 walks and 53 strikeouts. The White Sox liked him enough, however, to select him in the 26th round of this year’s MLB draft.

In 13 outings (five starts) for the AZL White Sox totaling 47 innings, Friedman relinquished 59 hits (.294 OBA) and only nine walks (4.3%) while striking out 51 (24.2%). Opponents hit grounders at a whopping 54.8% rate against him this year, so with a solid 5.7 K/BB ratio and the ability to keep the ball down, there are things to like here. He was much more effective out of the bullpen (3.24 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .222 OBA) than he was as a starter (7.36 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, .363 OBA).

Baseball America said this of Friedman prior to the draft, “At his best, Friedman brings a fastball that sits 90-93 mph with sink and life. His breaking ball is a swing and miss pitch when he locates it, but his control of it is inconsistent.” It may behoove Friedman to develop an effective changeup as well, as lefties hit .338 against him while righties hit just .264. Friedman also will likely be given an opportunity to pitch for Great Falls in 2020.

Other right-handed relievers that finished the year with the AZL White Sox included:

Tyson Messer (13.78 ERA, 2.94 WHIP)
Former Illini Luke Shilling, who’s missed the past two seasons due to injury

DSL White Sox

Manuel Veloz
185 pounds
Age: 19

Veloz, a native Venezuelan, not only enjoyed the best year of any reliever for the DSL White Sox this year, but may have actually posted the best year of any White Sox reliever in 2020. He actually signed an international contract with the White Sox just a couple weeks before the DSL season started. In 15 outings (one start), he posted an incredible 0.91 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 39 2/3 innings. In those frames, he allowed just 25 hits (.179 OBA) and seven walks (4.7%) while striking out 42 (28.2%).

According to Baseball-Reference, Veloz was 0.3 years younger than the average Dominican League player, so he wasn’t pitching against competition much younger than he. Not much is known about him presently, but if he continues to pitch this well next year, Veloz could move up the ladder relatively quickly. Assuming he’s got a decent fastball based on his above-average strikeout rate, he’s shown excellent control and kept the ball down (64.5% ground ball rate) — those are terrific ingredients for success. Expect Veloz to begin the 2020 season with the AZL White Sox.

Erick Perez
175 pounds
Age: 21

Like Veloz, Perez is a native of Venezuela. Unlike Veloz, however, Perez signed with the White Sox in August 2016 and just completed his third season for the DSL White Sox. After two lackluster seasons in which he posted a 6.75 and 4.70 ERA in 2017 and 2018 respectively, with a WHIP barely under 2.00 for each of those two seasons, Perez needed a big year this year to avoid being released. Fortunately for Perez, he posted a season worthy of promotion. This year in 23 outings totaling 51 2/3 innings, Perez compiled a 1.92 ERA and 1.16 WHIP by surrendering 36 hits (.202 OBA) and 24 walks (11.5%) while fanning 59 (28.2%). Although his walk rate is quite a high, it was a significant improvement from the previous year (20.4%)

Perez pitched against opponents who were more than 18 months younger, so his results can be taken with some grains of salt. His ground ball rate improved to 41.3% for in 2019, and if he can continue improving his control, he still may have a future in the organization. Perez is likely to ascend to the AZL next season, and how quickly he advances from there will depend upon how well he throws strikes.

Jesus Rondon
178 pounds
Age: 20

Rondon, yet another Venezuela native, signed an international contract with the White Sox in February 2018. His initial season with the DSL White Sox didn’t turn out as well as he’d hoped however, as he supplied his team with a 5.63 ERA and 1.67 WHIP in 24 innings as he relinquished just 17 hits (.200 OBA) but issued an exorbitant 23 walks (20.7%) while striking out 27 (24.3%).

Rondon enjoyed a much better 2019, although he still allowed too many free passes. In 22 appearances spanning 34 1/3 innings this year, he compiled a 3.67 ERA and 1.54 WHIP by relinquishing 28 hits (.219 OBA) and 25 walks (15.6%) while fanning 39 (24.4%). He’s a fly ball pitcher (30.3% ground ball rate), but lefties hit him about the same as righties. It’s a coin flip whether Rondon earns a promotion to the AZL, but I believe he stays in the DSL due to his lingering control issues. He may just have one more year to prove he’s worthy of a trip Stateside, as Rondon was nearly a year older than the league’s average in 2019.

Daneuris Lagrange
175 pounds
Age: 21

Lagrange, a Dominican native, signed with the White Sox organization just two months before the DSL started last year. At the time he signed last year, Lagrange was already older than the league’s average, so he was already a bit behind the proverbial 8-ball. It didn’t help matters for him when he struggled last year to the tune of a 4.86 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 37 innings, as he allowed 44 hits (.299 OBA) and 14 walks (8.4%) while striking out 38 (22.9%).

Lagrange missed more than 1 1/2 months of the already-abbreviated DSL season due to an undisclosed injury, but his numbers were actually quite respectable. In 11 games totaling 15 2/3 innings, Lagrange posted a 4.02 ERA and 1.21 WHIP by ceding 13 hits (.210 OBA) and six walks (8.6%) while fanning 18 (25.7%). For the past two seasons, his FIP has been significantly better than his ERA. Although Lagrange had a higher ERA this year than the aforementioned Rendon, all other peripherals indicate Lagrange is actually the better pitcher. Lagrange will likely begin the 2020 season with the AZL White Sox, with a chance for early promotion to Great Falls if he gets off to a great start.

Edgar Navarro
180 pounds
Age: 22

Like many other pitchers for the DSL White Sox, Navarro is a native Venezuelan. He was already old (20) for an international prospect when he signed with the organization in March of last year. He suffered through a difficult 2018 when he posted a 6.36 ERA and 1.74 WHIP in 24 games totaling 58 innings, as he allowed 70 hits (.289 OBA) and 31 walks (10.7%) while fanning 60 (20.8%).

Despite serving up a large number of hits, Navarro’s numbers improved in 2019 — which should be expected for someone 2.7 years older than the league average. Navarro posted a 4.20 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 23 outings totaling 55 2/3 innings, as he relinquished 65 hits (.295 OBA) and 18 walks (7.3%) while striking out 68 (27.6%). It appears that Navarro’s pitched in some incredibly bad luck, as his FIP was 3.65 in 2018 and 3.06 in 2019. He did post a nice 3.78 K/BB ratio this year, and his strikeout numbers look good. It’s not likely that Navarro returns to the DSL White Sox due to his age, so if he remains in the organization, it would likely via promotion to a more age-appropriate team like Great Falls where his 68.7% ground ball rate would come in quite handy.

Other right-handed relievers who finished the season with the DSL, with the ERA and WHIP in parentheses:

Frander Veras (4.32, 1.71)
Carlos Mola (5.31, 1.02)
Cristopher Valdez (11.57, 2.57)
Jendersson Caraballo (12.71, 2.65)

One thought on “Deep Dive: rookie league right-handed relievers

  1. Thank you very much for the in-depth look at every aspect of the organization. I’m sure there’s a bunch of us who scour the minor league box scores, and want to know who the 3B at Arizona is. These are all very cool.


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