Deep Dive: Charlotte and Birmingham left fielders

Bouncing back: Speedy Joel Booker struggled between Birmingham and Charlotte in 2019, but was on the fast track in prior seasons. (@BhamBarons)

“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

This is quite the small list, with Joel Booker as the only player still in the organization who finished the season as the primary left fielder in either Birmingham or Charlotte. (Charlie Tilson, who finished the season in Charlotte and played more games in left than anywhere else, is now a free agent.)

(age as of April 1, 2020)

Birmingham Barons

Joel Booker
190 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Center field, Right field

Age: 26

After spending his first two collegiate seasons at Indian Hills (Iowa) JC, Booker played his final two years with the University of Iowa. As a senior for the Hawkeyes, he slashed .370/.421/.532 in 56 games with 19 doubles, two triples, five homers, 37 RBIs, and 23-for-25 stolen bases. The results were good enough for the speedster to be selected in the 22nd round of the 2016 draft. He immediately paid dividends, as he slashed an impressive .312/.403/.404 in 65 combined games with the AZL Sox and Great Falls with 16 doubles, one triple, two homers, 31 RBIs, 41-of-43 stolen bases, 27 walks (8.9%) and 49 strikeouts (16.2%).

The 2017 season saw Booker split his time with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, combining to slash .274/.329/.349 in 123 games with 17 doubles, two triples, five homers, 44 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, 27 walks (5.1%) and 107 strikeouts (20.2%). And it was in 2018 when Booker began seeing his name on a few prospect lists, as he earned the Carolina League’s All-Star Game MVP while concluding the season with Birmingham. Although he did struggle a bit with the Barons, he still finished the year with a combined 26 stolen bases and a career-high 44 walks.

After beginning the 2019 season well with Birmingham (.351/.400/.446 and eight stolen bases in 20 April games), Booker was promoted to Charlotte. However, he had difficulty hitting there, slashing just .203/.276/.304 in 26 games. After his demotion to Birmingham on June 21, Booker continued his struggles by hitting just .222 for the remainder of the year. In a combined 102 games with both teams, he slashed .245/.308/.322 with 13 doubles, one triple, four homers, 36 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, 24 walks (6.2%) and 89 strikeouts (22.8%).

It was a disappointing year for Booker, as thanks to the struggles of most of the Birmingham outfielders this year, he had an opportunity to make a case for himself as at least a potential reserve outfielder in Chicago. He likely will begin the 2020 season with Charlotte, provided he isn’t selected in this year’s Rule 5 draft.



Today in White Sox History: November 29

Bronx brawler: Buzhardt earned just 6.1 bWAR over six South Side seasons, but his Yankee-killing made him worth the price of admission. (Topps)

1961 — The White Sox sent slugging infielder Roy Sievers to the Phillies for two players, including pitcher Johnny Buzhardt. Buzhardt would become part of the stellar Sox starting rotation in the mid-60s. He was particularly good against the Yankees, going 7-0 against them between 1962 and 1967.

1963 – He had a spectacular 1963 season, and because of it Gary Peters was named the American League Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America. The star left-handed pitcher went 19-8 with a 2.33 ERA and had 189 strikeouts in 243 innings pitched. He won 11 straight games at one point. He also hit .259, with three home runs and 12 RBIs. Peters would go on to win 20 games in 1964, lead the league in ERA in 1966 and make the All-Star team twice. He got 10 of 20 first place votes in beating out his teammate, power-hitting third baseman Pete Ward.

Ward, who would be named American League Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News, hit .295 with 22 home runs, 84 RBIs and had 177 hits that season. Ward got six first place votes among the baseball writers while Jimmy Hall of the Twins got the final four votes.

1967 — The White Sox reacquired shortstop Luis Aparicio from the Orioles as part of a six-player deal. Aparicio would have his best offensive seasons in the next few years, but speedy Don Buford was part of the return bounty for the Orioles. Buford would go on to have his best seasons with Baltimore, and was a key part of their dynasty in the late 1960s/early 1970s.



The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Part III, the Ugly

Hope springs eternal: Grandal’s signing hopefully signals the start of something good. (@WhiteSox)

Thankfully, I won’t have to rant too much in the third installment of this series, now that the White Sox have added a GREAT, not good, but GREAT, player in Yasmani Grandal. Hopefully, that is a sign of a turning of the tides for an organization that has struggled to find any semblance of success over the last decade.

Now before I give the front office and ownership too much credit, they still have to show success on the field in 2020. And they’ve also displayed some bad behavior towards their fans, which I believe warrants an apology. Let’s dig into the latter point.

On Aug. 8, 2019, Rick Hahn joined Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast at Reggie’s, in a sort of town hall-type of affair. What happened at this podcast was unacceptable. Hahn intimated, and I’m paraphrasing here, that a certain negative segment of Sox fans were rooting for the rebuild to fail, because they thought he was doing a poor job as GM and wanted to be right.

Now, it just so happens that this rant by Hahn set in motion a series of events that got me writing about the White Sox for South Side Hit Pen, which is awesome, but I digress. The problem is, Hahn was completely tone deaf in saying this, because it just isn’t true. I’ve been critical of Hahn, the front office, and ownership, because they haven’t done a good job for the last decade, at minimum, of putting together good baseball teams. I speak for most critical fans, in that we desperately want the White Sox to be a premier organization. The fact is, Hahn has yet to show that he is capable of running a winning team. Since taking over as GM, Hahn’s White Sox have gone 491-642. The Sox were trying to compete from 2013-16, and their record in that time was 290-358.

So while we can split hairs about who’s fault it is that the Sox have failed during his tenure as GM, the fact is, we as Sox fans haven’t had much to root for, or be positive about. Rick, I don’t think you’re a bad guy, and I hope you can turn this thing around. I want nothing more than for the Sox to succeed. I’m rooting for you. But going after Sox fans last August was a bad look. My advice is to put your head down and keep working towards making this team a giant in the American League for the better part of the next decade. If you accomplish that, not only will the negativity disappear, but you will be treated as a god in this town. Prove us wrong, but do it with grace. There aren’t that many of us, so don’t drive us away.

The other ugly off-field thing that happened in 2019 was the Jerry Reinsdorf finish-in-second-place saga. News came out in early October, when David Samson went on the Mystery Crate podcast, that Reinsdorf offered some advice to David that his Marlins teams should aim to finish in second place every year. That way “there’s always a carrot left, there’s always one more step to take.” (For more specific details, check out the story that SSHP’s own Brett Ballantini wrote about Jerry’s ownership adventures.)

My take on this issue is more metaphorical than literal. Instead of looking at every time his White Sox teams have finished in second place, I look for other ways they came up empty. What are the other ways Jerry has indicated that having a winning team just isn’t that important to him?

1994 Despite having an elite team in 1994 that had a real chance at a World Series, Jerry was more concerned with rising player salaries, and led the fight against the player’s union, causing a strike that effectively ended that season. This really drove away fans of the team, doing damage to the fan base that may still exist today.

Alex Rodriguez The Sox started to get competitive at the beginning of the 21st Century, and a certain great player named Alex Rodriguez was available. Of course the White Sox were interested, as ARod was a surefire Hall-of-Famer. This period was the first time that I heard the Sox use the term “seat at the table,” which is Latin for “we want people to think we’re in on signing this guy, but we definitely won’t do what it takes to get it done.” How’s that carrot tasting so far? That is the crux of this line of thinking: It’s not just where the team finishes in the standings, it’s about making the fans believe that you really care about winning, but in reality the bottom line wins out.

2010s In the 2010s, the Sox kept “going for it,” but didn’t want to dish out the cash and commitment to land the elite players in free agency. The 2014 and 2015 seasons come to mind, when the Sox really felt like they were just a few pieces from contending. David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, Zach Greinke and Max Scherzer all were available. But the Sox shopped the midrange, secnd tier, and ended up with Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche, a trade for Jeff Samardzija, Jimmy Rollins … in other words, the standard fare. Some of these guys were OK for the Sox … but some were downright brutal. One, LaRoche, basically caused a team mutiny. Let’s say the Sox had decided to really go for it, signing Max Scherzer for seven years, $210 million. All of a sudden, the Sox aren’t so desperate to trade for a broken-down, past-his-prime James Shields, and we’re all talking about where the Fernando Tatís Jr. statue will go up once he retires.

Last offseason It’s so fresh, do I really need to mention the Manny Machado/Bryce Harper saga? Did the Sox finish second in the bidding for Machado? Did they mention “a seat at the table?” I think the point has been made.

But there’s great news, already spurred by the Grandal signing: 2020 is a new year. The Sox did what it took to sign an elite catcher, their first in decades. Is he just a carrot, or is his signing a sign that this team is now willing to really do what it takes to crush the competition? I hope it’s the latter. My spirits are rising, and I’m rooting for you, Hahn.

Here’s hoping Jerry is substituting trophies for carrots in 2020 and beyond.