South Side Hit Pen Podcast: Episode 1


Hey now people, the South Side Hit Pen podcast is on the air! 

It’s truly an Episode 0, giving hosts Clinton Cole and Brett Ballantini a little bit of time to explore the full studio space. (Conclusion: More cowbell!)

Anyhow, with this episode recorded on Sunday and finally getting the go-ahead to publish from our new Soundcloud account today, try not to shed a tiny tear as we talk about “No. 1 free agent target” Zack Wheeler. We also pump up the volume on Yasiel Puig, take a victory lap with Yasmani Grandal, and work the mailbag.

 

 

Deep Dive: Winston-Salem and Kannapolis center fielders

Ascending soon: Once Luis Robert joins the White Sox, Steele Walker will become the top-ranked outfielder in the White Sox system. (@WSDashBaseball) 


“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 list includes the organization’s second-ranked outfield prospect per MLB Pipeline (Steele Walker), as well as an outfielder who’s hit for a high average throughout his young collegiate and professional careers (Ian Dawkins). Both should receive promotions to begin the 2020 season. 

(age as of April 1, 2020)


Winston-Salem Dash

Steele Walker
5´11´´
190 pounds
B/T: L/L
Other positions played: Right field

Age: 23

Walker kept improving in each of his three years with the University of Oklahoma. That’s not to say his freshman year was bad by any stretch — that year, he slashed a respectable .290/.352/.414 with three homers in 57 games. As a junior in 2018, however, he slashed .352/.441/.606 in 54 games for the Sooners with 14 doubles, 13 homers, 53 RBIs, seven stolen bases, 31 walks (12.2%) and 48 strikeouts (18.9%). Expected to be selected in the latter part of the first round that year, he was still available in the second round when the White Sox gladly snatched him up.

In his first year of professional ball, Walker slashed a combined .209/.271/.342 over 44 games with the AZL squad, Great Falls and Kannapolis with six doubles, five homers, 21 RBIs, six stolen bases, 10 walks (5.6%) and 37 strikeouts (20.9%). Obviously his numbers weren’t as good as he’d hoped they be, but that was in large part due to fatigue and playing through injuries suffered late in the season with Oklahoma.

Buoyed by a terrific start with Kannapolis (.365/.437/.581) in his first 20 games this year, Walker enjoyed a terrific bounce-back campaign in 2019. Combined with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, he slashed .284/.361/.451 in 120 games with 36 doubles, five triples, 10 homers, 62 RBIs, 13 stolen bases, 50 walks (9.5%) and 78 strikeouts (14.8%). While not quite Madrigalian in making contact, a strikeout rate under 15% with a walk rate hovering around 10% is actually quite impressive for a first full professional season.

It’s important to note that Walker’s numbers were far better against righties than they were against southpaws, although it’s way too early to consider him merely a platoon-type hitter. According to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, the bat is considered Walker’s one true plus tool (graded 55 by MLB Pipeline). That’s not to say he’s overly deficient in any one area (power, run and field tools are graded 50), except perhaps for his throwing arm (graded 45 by MLB Pipeline).

Interestingly, Walker didn’t play in left field this year though his arm is perhaps better suited for that position. Walker currently ranks sixth among White Sox prospects, and second among the system’s outfielders, by MLB Pipeline. He likely will begin the 2020 season with Birmingham, and should find his way to Charlotte by the end of the year. There’s always a possibility Walker could be traded to help reel in a high-profile hitter or pitcher during this offseason, but as the best outfield performer in full-season play last year not named Luis Robert, the Sox would prefer keeping Walker if they had their druthers.


Kannapolis Cannon Ballers 

Ian Dawkins
5’11”
195 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Left field
Age: 24

Dawkins played his first two seasons of college ball with Chabot Junior College in his hometown of Heyward, Calif., where he put up terrific numbers. He transferred to Sacramento State for his junior season and continued to hit, with his senior season being arguably the better of his two years with the Hornets as he slashed .359/.415/.528 in 58 games with 18 doubles, six homers, 33 RBIs, eight stolen bases, 22 walks (8.0%) and 41 strikeouts (14.9%).

In part due to lacking leverage as a college senior, and also in part to his lack of significant power, he slipped to the White Sox in the 27th round of the 2018 draft. Dawkins immediately paid dividends that year, as he slashed a combined .303/.351/.390 in 65 games with Great Falls and Kannapolis with 13 doubles, three triples, 21 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, 16 walks (5.9%) and 43 strikeouts (15.8%). 

Even more surprising than Dawkins beginning the 2019 season with Kannapolis was that he actually spent the whole year there. In part, this had to do with the lack of movement from the Birmingham outfield contingent, which ultimately stalled advancement for the likes of Walker and Dawkins. However, it may actually have just as much to do with the fact that he simply may have neither the great speed you’d like to see in a center fielder (despite his stolen base numbers) nor the power you’d like to see out of a corner outfielder. Nonetheless, Dawkins still posted a rock-solid year despite a late-season slump causing his average to dip below .300. For the year, he slashed .298/.361/.396 in 131 games with Kannapolis with 38 doubles, one triple, four homers, 36 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, 37 walks and 95 strikeouts. Walker should begin the 2020 season with Winston-Salem. 

 


 

Today in White Sox History: December 5

Big day: Richard Dotson [right] was just a throw-in to the Bobby Bonds trade in 1977, but he’d put up 17.4 bWAR for the White Sox over 10 seasons. (@KnightsBaseball)


1977 Chalk this one up to Bill Veeck. Knowing he needed a drawing card and a big bat to replace Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble, Veeck dealt future All-Star Brian Downing and pitchers Chris Knapp and Dave Frost to California. He got back Bobby Bonds and two youngsters, Thad Bosley and Rich Dotson.

Bonds would only play in 26 games, with two home runs and eight RBIs for the White Sox before he was dealt to Texas in May. Chicago’s record was a dismal 9-20 at the time, and Veeck understood there was no way he was going to be able to re-sign him. At least Dotson turned out to be of value in the 1980s winning in double figures six times, headed up by his 22-7 year in 1983. He also made the All-Star team in 1984.


1986 The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation allowing funds to be given to the White Sox in connection with the construction of a new stadium across the street from the original Comiskey Park.

 

Wheels down, it’s time to show (R)yu the money

Back to the drawing board: The White Sox should shift their focus towards signing Hyun-Jin Ryu. (@Dodgers)


On Wednesday afternoon, the White Sox learned that they lost the bidding war for their primary pitching target, Zack Wheeler. The Philadelphia Phillies made a late push and eventually inked the righthander to a five-year, $118 million contract that will keep him in the NL East. It hurts when you come up empty on someone who was your priority, although it’s worth noting that the White Sox did offer Wheeler the most money, but it was his fiancee’s preference of being closer to home that ultimately led to signing with the Phillies.

Go figure. The one time the White Sox don’t make any moves to acquire family or friends of a free agent and they go the route of offering the most money yet they still come up empty. Wheeler would have been a great addition to a young pitching staff and would’ve had the opportunity to solidify himself near the top of the rotation for many years down the road, but it’s not the end of the world. There are still plenty of good free agent starters that the White Sox can shift their focus towards.

One starter the White Sox should make a run at is Hyun-Jin Ryu from the Los Angeles Dodgers. If Ryu was in any other free agent class, he would be more popular among teams looking for pitching, but he gets a little lost alongside Wheeler, Gerrit Cole, and Stephen Strasburg. Ryu is a bit of a unique situation, given the fact that he will be 33 at the start of next season, but has only had four full seasons where he’s made 20 or more starts.

Staying healthy has been a struggle for Ryu, especially in the early portion of his career. After debuting in 2013, he landed on the 60-day injured list four times with various shoulder, elbow, and groin injuries. Even with all of the injury history, he has still managed to put together a very successful career: Through 125 starts in six seasons, Ryu has a 2.98 career ERA with 665 strikeouts and 164 walks in 740 ⅓ innings. Those numbers have given him a 8.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, and a 1.16 WHIP, which is very respectable for a starting pitcher.

The Dodgers have been careful with Ryu returning from injury, making sure they didn’t stretch him out too long and trying to limit the stress he puts on his body. In 2019, Ryu had a much healthier season, and the results were incredible. He made 29 starts while posting a 2.32 ERA with 163 strikeouts and just 24 walks through 182 ⅔ innings. That earned Ryu his first All-Star appearance, and he ended the season second in Cy Young voting. Given his history, this might not have seemed like a possibility, but Ryu showed just how great he can be when he’s feeling like his normal self.

His success as a pitcher is due in large part to the fact that Ryu generates a lot of weak contact and ground balls. His career average exit velocity is 85.9, placing him below the league average of 87.5. In 2019, his average exit velocity was 85.3, which was good enough to place him in the top 4% in all of baseball. In 2019, Ryu generated a ground ball on 50.4% of batted balls, giving him a slightly better percentage than the 48.4% total for his career.

Ryu has a wide arsenal that consists of a four-seam fastball, cutter, sinker, changeup, curveball, and slider. His fastball isn’t overwhelming, registering in the low-to-mid 90s, and he pairs it with a changeup that sits in the mid-80s. However, Ryu’s ability to locate his pitches makes up for his below-average velocity and helps him generate the consistent weak contact and ground balls. He’s become a “master” of painting the edges of the strike zone, throwing 44.2% of his pitches throughout those areas and targeting places where batters struggle to barrel the ball.

All of the ballparks in the AL Central rank among the top 20 in baseball, with two in the top eight, for most average runs scored and average home runs per game. Bringing Ryu into the mix would be a welcoming change, as his pitching style would play well at those parks and he would be set up to have a successful run with the White Sox, assuming that he can continue to stay healthy. In addition, Ryu has always been a pitcher who doesn’t walk many batters. The most walks Ryu has allowed in a full season is 49 over 192 innings during his rookie year in 2013. The White Sox issued the sixth-most walks in baseball last season, and that has been a consistent trend over the last few years.

One factor that could help influence Ryu to sign with the White Sox is their recent addition in Yasmani Grandal. The two of them worked together during Grandal’s time in Los Angeles, and Grandal trails only A.J. Ellis as Ryu’s most frequent catcher. When working with Grandal for 28 games, Ryu has a 3.02 ERA with 45 walks and 139 strikeouts in 143 innings. That’s good for the second-best ERA among catchers who have worked with him for 20 or more games. The pair has had success being battery-mates, and a reunion on the South Side would be in both their best interests.

Ryu’s market seems less robust than the other pitchers at the moment, and while there hasn’t been any information linking the White Sox to the lefty, it would be wise for the team to get in contact with his agent. The only downside to this? Ryu’s agent is Scott Boras, and the White Sox haven’t had the best working relationship with him in the past. Knowing Boras and how he’s able to suck money out of teams better than anyone in the game, he might use Chicago’s recent failure with Wheeler as a way for them to pony up more money for Ryu. While there’s plenty of reasons as to why Ryu makes a lot of sense and why it would be worth it to sign him, spending a lot of money on him is a risk given his injury history.

As a Plan B after failing on Plan A, Ryu makes a lot of sense for the White Sox. He’s a ground ball pitcher who doesn’t allow much hard contact, and he’s lefthander who would bring balance to the rotation. In 2019 not only was Ryu healthy, he looked like a guy who can pitch at the top of a rotation. There is risk involved with this signing, but it’s a risk the White Sox should be willing to take.