Deep Dive: Charlotte and Birmingham left-handed relievers

Leaning in: Bennett Sousa, in just his first full season, already reached Birmingham. What will 2020 have in store for him? (Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen)


“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

There are some major league (and experienced) arms at Charlotte, but the two most enticing southpaws in the White Sox system may reside in Birmingham.

Ages below are as of April 1, 2020


Charlotte Knights

Caleb Frare
6´1´´
210 pounds
Age: 26

After Frare dominated his Montana varsity team, the New York Yankees selected him in the 11th round of the 2012 draft. After a solid campaign with the Yankees rookie league squad, Frare underwent Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss the 2013 and 2014 campaigns.

After a good start for the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs in 2015, Frare was promoted to High-A in Tampa, where he struggled in seven outings (5.59 ERA, 2.07 WHIP). The following year, Frare returned to Tampa, where he dominated with an ERA of 0.92 and WHIP of 1.14 while allowing just 33 hits and 23 walks in 49 innings of relief work.

While Frare’s control was mediocre to that point in his career, it really tailed off in 2017 for Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Frare struck 78 hitters in 62 23 combined innings, for a nifty 28.6 K%; however, he walked 52, for an atrocious 19.0 BB%. Despite having a 1.60 WHIP that year, his combined ERA was surprisingly low at 4.02 (which likely was the result of a solid bullpen).

The 2018 season was entirely different for Frare. In 43 23 innings for Trenton, Frare enjoyed a 0.62 ERA/0.92 WHIP/33.7 K% by striking out 57 hitters while only allowing 25 hits and 15 walks. This earned him a promotion earlier to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he pitched in just one game prior to the Yankees trading him to the White Sox on July 29 for $1.5 million in international bonus pool money. After 11 games with a 0.71 ERA for Charlotte, Frare made his major league debut on September 2 and pitched respectably for the White Sox in 11 games.

Frare began the 2019 season on the opening day roster but struggled out of the gate. In only five outings spanning just 2 2/3 innings for the White Sox this year, Frare compiled an ugly 10.13 ERA and 2.25 WHIP as he allowed two hits and four walks while fanning three. He was demoted to Charlotte on April 11 and was largely ineffective, and like most White Sox hard-throwing minor leaguers, was eventually placed on the injured list. Frare did OK during his rehab stints with the AZL squad and Winston-Salem, but struggled in his final appearances with Charlotte. In 27 total minor league appearances, Frare posted an uncharacteristic 6.35 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in 27 outings totaling 28 1/3 innings. During that span, he surrendered 25 hits (.231 OBA) and 23 walks (17.2%) while striking out 42 (31.3%).

MLB Pipeline gives Frare a 60 grade for his fastball, which runs 92-96 mph with a peak of 98, while his slider is also graded 60 and arrives at 87-91 mph with some tilt. Control, however, is graded at 40 for good reason; not only did Frare have control and command issues this year, he was averaging 4.6 BB/9 prior to 2019 as well. As of this writing, Frare is still on the 40-man roster, and the White Sox would risk losing this power arm if they tried to remove him so he could clear waivers. Thus, expect Frare to remain on the 40-man roster for now. However, don’t expect him to return to Chicago until he reins in his control somewhat.

Hunter Schryver
6´1´´
200 pounds
Age: 24

As a four-year starter with Villanova, Schryver improved with each passing year. Ultimately as a senior in 2017, he posted a solid 2.44 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 12 starts spanning 73 2/3 innings. For the Wildcats that year, he ceded 56 hits (.213 OBA) and 37 walks (11.8%) while striking out 91 (29.0%). Because Schryver was a senior with good results, he was selected in the seventh round by the Tampa Bay Rays but was paid an under-slot bonus. He started his minor league career with Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League and provided a respectable 3.12 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in just under 35 innings of work.

Schryver pitched excellent ball for A-level Bowling Green and the A+ Charlotte Stone Crabs in the 2018 season. Then, just two days after the White Sox acquired the Caleb Frare, they also picked up Schryver in exchange for international bonus pool money. Schryver pitched well for Winston-Salem after the trade, posting a microscopic 1.20 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in nine appearances with the Dash. Overall for 2018 with three teams, Schryver combined to post a 2.12 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 40 appearances. In his 63 2/3 innings that year, he relinquished just 47 hits (.203 OBA) and 17 walks (6.6%) while striking out 80 (30.9%.

Birmingham was Schryver’s first stop in 2019, and he continued to fare well despite the stronger competition. In 30 appearances for the Barons spanning 48 2/3 innings, he allowed 47 hits (.261 OBA) and 17 walks (8.5%) while striking out 39 (19.4%). He ultimately received a promotion to Charlotte, and he scuffled there for the first time in his minor league career. In 11 outings for the Knights totaling 13 2/3 innings, Schryver surrendered 16 hits (.291 OBA) and 12 walks (17.4%) despite a high punchout total of 23 (33.3%).

Baseball America assesses Schryver’s fastball at typically 87-91 mph with a peak of 93. Additionally, he features a spike curveball and a changeup. He was able to keep the ball down at Birmingham (51.0% grounder rate), but struggled to do at Charlotte with a 30.3% grounder rate. Lefties hit .259 against Schryver this year, while righties fared better at .273. Schryver has the potential of a middle reliever for the White Sox if he can improve his command while at Charlotte next year.

Colton Turner
6´3´´
215 pounds
Age: 29

Turner enjoyed arguably his best college season as a junior with Texas State in 2012, as he posted a 2.46 ERA with 87 strikeouts over the same number of innings. However, because he allowed more than his fair share of hits and walks, he slipped to the Blue Jays in the 21st round of the draft. Turner slowly worked his way up Toronto’s farm system, ultimately reaching Double-A New Hampshire before being traded to the White Sox on Aug. 26, 2016 for catcher Dioner Navarro. After the trade, he entered three games with Birmingham before the season concluded.

The 2017 season saw Turner split time with Birmingham and Charlotte; while he performed well for the Barons (2.45 ERA and 1.12 WHIP), he struggled mightily with the Knights for whom he compiled a 6.85 ERA and 1.61 in a similar number of games. Last year Turner dominated Birmingham with an 0.86 ERA and 0.83 WHIP, while he again struggled a bit with Charlotte with a 4.76 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Overall, Turner combined for both teams with a 2.23 ERA and 0.99 WHIP over 37 games. In his 64 2/3 innings, he allowed just 44 hits (.190 OBA) and 20 walks (7.8%) while striking out 65 (25.4%).

This year saw Turner pitch exclusively for Charlotte. Though his numbers weren’t pretty, they could’ve been much worse if not for a sensational August in which he pitched scoreless ball in 12 2/3 innings. In 37 games for the Knights (nine starts) totaling 93 2/3 innings, he posted a 5.48 ERA and 1.45 WHIP as he allowed 101 hits (.278 OBA) and 35 walks (8.7%) while striking out 102 (25.4%). Not surprisingly in Charlotte’s bandbox, he compiled a 6.23 ERA while he had a 4.83 ERA elsewhere. Righties hit him particularly hard this year at .298, while he held lefties to a respectable .240.

Baseball America lists Turner as having an upper-80s fastball peaking at 91, along with a mid-70s slurve with a 2-to-8 break and a changeup with some fading action. Turner has enjoyed a long career as an organizational southpaw, but he’ll have a difficult time finding a role next year due to the high number of lefties who could have roles with Charlotte at various times next year (Frare, Schryver, Bennett Sousa, Kodi Medeiros, Jacob Lindgren and Andrew Perez). Turner, therefore, could be the odd man out. He is eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft in December.


Birmingham Barons

Bennett Sousa
6´3´´
185 pounds
Age: 24

While Sousa had a decent four years with the University of Virginia, especially in the strikeout department, his numbers were hampered by his relative lack of control. His senior season was a microcosm of this, as he posted a 5.23 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 23 games; in 43 innings, he relinquished 36 hits (.220 OBA) and 22 walks (11.2%) while striking out 61 (31.1%). When he was available in the 10th round in last year’s draft, however, the White Sox couldn’t resist selecting him.

Last year in 20 combined games with Great Falls and Kannapolis spanning 35 1/3 innings, Sousa compiled a nifty 1.27 ERA and 0.88 WHIP by allowing 24 hits (.195 OBA) and just seven walks (5.2%) while fanning 42 hitters (31.3%). This year was split among three squads (Kannapolis, Winston-Salem and Birmingham) with the lion’s share of the outings spent with the Intimidators and Dash. Sousa again had a solid campaign, as he combined with all three teams to post a 2.49 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in his 43 games encompassing 65 innings — relinquishing 62 hits (.249 OBA) and just 13 walks (4.9%) while striking out 74 (27.8%).

Sousa’s repertoire includes a 90-94 mph fastball according to Baseball America, in addition to a low-80s slider with promise per Baseball Draft Report. With his control much improved since his college days, Sousa has definitely begun tapping into his potential. Lefties struggled against him this year to the tune of a .205 average, while righties fared much better at .269. Because he only pitched in two games for the Barons this year, it’s expected he’ll return to Birmingham for the 2020 season. However, don’t rule out a promotion to Charlotte by midseason if he continues doing well; Sousa’s selection for Arizona Fall League play might indicate the White Sox are fast-tracking him.

Kodi Medeiros
6´2´´
205 pounds
Age: 23

Medeiros was the highest prep baseball pick to ever come out of Hawaii, when he was selected in the first round (12th overall) in the 2014 draft. Progress has been slow for Medeiros, however, as he’s seemingly struggled at every stop. With the 2014 AZL Brewers, he posted a 7.13 ERA and 2.09 WHIP in an albeit small sample size of 17 2/3 innings. The 2015 season saw him pitching for the Brewers A-level squad in Wisconsin, while the next two years saw him struggle with command for the Brewers A+ teams. Through 2017, these were Medeiros’ combined numbers: 5.19 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, .258 OBA, 11.5 BB% and 20.8 K%

In 20 appearances (15 starts) for AA Biloxi in 2018, Medeiros was off to a great start with a 3.14 ERA and 1.31 WHIP as he was beginning to throw more strikes. On July 26, however, he was traded along with pitcher Wilber Perez to the White Sox for reliever Joakim Soria. Perhaps trying to do too much after the trade, Medeiros started seven games and struggled with a 4.98 ERA and 1.54 WHIP, losing his earlier-season control.

The 2019 season was an adventure for Medeiros, as he again struggled to throw strikes to begin the season. In his first nine appearances (all starts), he posted an unsightly 7.75 ERA and 2.04 WHIP by allowing 57 hits (.333 OBA) and 26 walks in the span of 40 2/3 innings. He fared much better, however, after heading to the bullpen. In his last 19 outings totaling 42 1/3 innings, Medeiros compiled a much-improved 2.55 ERA and 1.13 WHIP by surrendering just 23 hits (.164 OBA) and 25 walks. While his control wasn’t any better out of the pen, he allowed far fewer hits. Lefties hit just .220 against his offerings this year while righties hit him at a .275 clip.

Medeiros features a 92-95 mph fastball with life and is graded 55 by MLB Pipeline. An even better pitch, a slider with significant lateral break, was given a 60. A third pitch, which has good sinking and fading action, is rated 50 by MLB Pipeline.

With all that said, it’s all about throwing strikes for Medeiros, as his control and command have been lacking at times. Even though the control hasn’t improved since his conversion to the bullpen, his command is better, as evidenced by the significant reduction in OBA. Medeiros is still a little young for Birmingham, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him continue honing his skills in Birmingham next year. As a side note, he is currently on the White Sox 40-man roster; it’s conceivable that the White Sox would risk losing him to waivers if they wanted to make room to add a different player this offseason.


Desert Dogs sneak a win from the Eagles

Glendale Desert Dogs 7, Águilas de Mexicali 2

Bennett Sousa (RP, 9th) IP, H, 3 K, 15 pitches/13 strikes (0.00 ERA)
Blake Rutherford (LF) 1-for-4, R, BB, 3B (1), GIDP (.158 BA, .554 OPS)
Gavin Sheets (1B) 2-for-4, 2 R, RBI (1), BB, K, GIDP (.133 BA, .321 OPS)
Micker Adolfo (RF) 0-for-2, R, 2 BB, K (.125 BA, .864 OPS)

The Desert Dogs drew first blood against the Mexican Pacific League Eagles, with a 7-2 win on Tuesday. The two clubs face off again on Thursday.

Rutherford tripled, but later grounded into a double play.

Sheets again assumed the cleanup role and had two hits and his first AFL RBI. He too later GIDP’d.

Adolfo played another flawless game in right field (no assists though, the scouting report on his arm is getting back around!) and got on base twice with walks.

Sousa struck out the side in the ninth, as Mexicali struck out for eight of its final nine outs and the final six batters of the game.

Glendale hosts Salt River tomorrow and sees the Águilas again on Thursday, as they enjoy a mini-homestand this week.

Adolfo and Sousa gun Glendale to glory

Peek-a-boo: Sousa has a win for you! (Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen)


Glendale Desert Dogs 1, Scottsdale Scorpions 0

Bennett Sousa (RP) IP, H, eight pitches/six strikes, W (1-0) (0.00 ERA)
Gavin Sheets (1B) 0-for-3 (.000 BA)
Micker Adolfo (RF) 0-for-2, BB, 2 K, outfield assist (RF to 2B) (.167 BA)
Blake Rutherford (LF) 0-for-2, 2 K (.100 BA)

No offense to Bennett Sousa or the very untidy Glendale offense (not looking it up but the Desert Dogs have to be hitting like .100 so far this season), but I can’t bury the lede here either.

MICKER ADOLFO IS BACK IN THE FIELD!

AND MICKER ADOLFO IS ROCKING IT IN THE FIELD!

Adolfo handled three chances in right field on Saturday night, without event. Wait, without event? Wrong! With one big-time event, namely gunning down a runner at second base! Yep, the big fella trotted out his big arm in the fifth, gunning down Joey Bart trying to stretch a single into a double. Hey, AFL, revise your scouting reports on Micker’s dead arm, eh? Or better yet, don’t (nothing to see here).

The other story tonight was Sousa, who’s been about the only White Sox farmhand worth a lick in this first week of AFL play. Sousa threw only two pitches outside of the strike zone on Saturday, throwing a scoreless eighth inning that allowed him to claim the win when Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Omar Estevez repo manned Elehuris Montero home with a double in the bottom of the frame.

As for Gavin Sheets and Blake Rutherford, move on, nothing to see here …

Micker Adolfo homers in AFL opener

Big bop: Micker makes the most of his Fall debut. (@whitesox)


Gavin Sheets: 0-for-4, 0 BB, 2 K (.000 BA, .000 OPS)
Blake Rutherford: 0-for-3, 1 BB, 2 K (.000 BA, .000 OPS)
Micker Adolfo: 1-for-3, 1 HR, 0 BB, 2 K (.333 BA, 1.666 OPS)
Vince Arobio: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K (18.00 ERA, 4.00 WHIP)
Bennett Sousa: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K (0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP)

It was a White Sox day for the opening of the AFL season for the Desert Dogs. It was not a winning effort, nor were the Sox players that good, but quite a few of them received game action.

Glendale lost the game, 4-2, so obviously the bats didn’t do much. Gavin Sheets, Blake Rutherford, and Micker Adolfo all got in the game tonight. Sheets and Rutherford both went hitless and combined for four strikeouts. Rutherford at least got on base with a walk. Micker Adolfo was responsible for Glendale’s first run of the game in the eighth inning, already down 4-0. He launched a solo homer to left center field. Adolfo was the DH today, so he still is not playing the field.

Two Sox pitchers got game action, one was much better than the other. Vince Arobio went in first, in the seventh inning. He got hit, and hit hard, as he allowed two runs in the inning, including a home run. Bennett Sousa came into the eighth and worked a perfect inning. He struck out one over that span, but it was a good start to his AFL campaign. Minor league baseball is back!

2019 Birmingham Barons season recap

Two top position players in the system: One team. (@BhamBarons)


To start the year, the Birmingham Barons were the most talented team in the Chicago White Sox system. They had top prospects up and down the roster, but they all fell flat for the first month (or, for some, the entire season).

Because the Barons were underperforming for at least the first month, their record was awful, at 27-42. Once some prospects got going in May, and reinforcements came up from the lower levels, the second half was much better, at 37-30.

Like the Winston-Salem Dash, the Barons also have a managerial prospect: Omar Vizquel. From fans, he seems to be the favorite in the clubhouse to takeover for Rick Renteria. Vizquel was one of the many interviewees for the Angels’ opening for manager that eventually went to Brad Ausmus. Though he did not get the gig, Vizquel seemed to enjoy being considered — but there was some cause for Sox fans to be concerned. He stated on the Talk Beisbol podcast that MLB.com transcribed, “I was surprised by a lot of the questions they asked me. There were a lot of sabermetrics involved in all of their questions. They’re apparently going far beyond what it means to be responsible and wise about the moves that you can make. They want someone who is very interested in the numbers and can weigh the percentages.” This apparent old-school approach is not a glowing look for Vizquel, but hopefully he took this as a learning experience to put to use with the Barons.

But it’s player time, and there are a lot of good ones who came through Birmingham.

Once Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal got to Birmingham, it was the talk of the White Sox prospect world because of how well both did. Robert was not as good as his High-A stint — it was almost impossible to be that good — but he still clobbered Double-A pitching. Robert slashed .314/.362/.518, for a 155 wRC+. He of course showed off a lot of power but also flashed speed, stealing 21 bases in 27 chances in Birmingham.

For Madrigal, his Double-A stint was what got some detractors to switch sides and support him as the South Side’s future second baseman. He hit .341, leading the team, and reached base in 40% of his plate appearances. Madrigal’s K-rate didn’t even increase, so his bat-to-ball skills are out of this world.

There were a couple other promotions for hitters, one good and one bad. Yermín Mercedes was the good one. He crushed in Birmingham, with a 157 wRC+, and fans started to clamor for a more fast-paced promotion schedule (didn’t happen). There was also no improvement on his defensive side, so Mercedes is kind of on the outside looking in as a prospect.

Joel Booker was the second promotion. For about a month, Booker hit .351 for the Barons and was looking like he could make it to Chicago. However, he was very bad with the Charlotte Knights, with just a 49 wRC+, and even lost playing time. Booker was eventually demoted back to Birmingham, but he was unable to save his season.

On the pitching side, there was not much movement, but a few arms of note did get a quick taste of Double-A before going to Charlotte. Three of those were relievers in Zach Thompson, Matt Foster, and Hunter Schryver. All three were great in Double-A, with Foster not even allowing a run in his six games and Thompson only allowing one in four games. Schyver was in Alabama a bit longer (30 appearances) and left a 2.77 ERA.

Kyle Kubat is the lone starter who got to Birmingham, after a promotion from High-A. He only needed eight starts to show he should be in Charlotte with his very good command/limited strikeout ability. As you will see in the Charlotte recap, the new ball took a toll on all of Birmingham’s arms when they reached the Knights. Now, on to the guys that finished with the Barons, and there were a lot.


Barons Bats

Because it took so long for Barons bats to get going, this one is a little different. First we take a look at Gavin Sheets, the only batter to end the year with the Barons and have a wRC+ of more than 100.

Sheets had a horrible April, but was able to come back enough to salvage his season; he also seemed to get quite motivated after the White Sox selected fellow first baseman Andrew Vaughn in the draft. Sheets ended the year with a 122 wRC+, and though his batting average was lower than last season, his power was better. Sheets hit 16 home runs, and 19 more extra-base hits. Those doubles he had last season basically turned to homers in 2019. He still doesn’t hit enough fly balls, but Sheets’ approach at the plate hasn’t changed. He still uses all fields and has a walk rate at 10%, with a better than average K-rate. Once Sheets gets a hold of the MLB ball, his power should skyrocket.

Second, here are the players that started out so bad that even much better play later in the year couldn’t eight their seasons. We start with Blake Rutherford.

Rutherford was awful for the first two months of the season, but his bat-to-ball skills helped lead him to a good finish. From June until the end of the season, Rutherford slashed .307/.364/.404 for a 122 WRC+. He really relied on a lot of singles, as his ISO was just .098, but Rutherford still got hits and got on base. The walk rate was decent (9%) over that stretch, but a 24% K-rate in Double-A when you’re hot is concerning. Rutherford will be in the AFL this season, to hopefully back up his good play in the last few months at Birmingham.

Luis González was also not looking the way he was supposed to for the first month. He did recover some, but it was an overall uninspiring year for the outfielder. Again, his best stretch started in June, but his success was not as good as Rutherford’s. González only had a 109 wRC+ from June until the end of the season … but there are some things that look better compared to Rutherford. González walked at about the same rate but he struck out far less, which is a good sign. González also did show some more power.

Luis Basabe had a tough year on the field and with his health. He only played in 74 games this season between rehab games and with the Barons. His power was down, plate discipline was worse and he only hit .246. Whenever Basabe looked like he was figuring it all out again, he would get hurt or slump. He finished the year with a 95 wRC+, which is not bad, but it was not the step fans and the organization wanted. Maybe it was because of the injuries, but 74 games is still a solid sample size to show something. This was Basabe’s second stint in Double-A, and a drop in production is concerning.

Then there was the outright poor seasons as Laz Rivera and Joel Booker floundered at a time to tell if they were real prospects or not. Booker actually started out very well as he hit .351 before being promoted to Triple-A. However, that was the high point, as Booker’s season tanked from there. He ended up losing his starting job in Charlotte and was eventually demoted. Unfortunately, Booker’s woes continued, and he could not get out of his rut.

Rivera was in Double-A the entire year, and was not inspiring. After hitting very well last season in both Single-A leagues, Southern League pitching seemed too good for the middle infielder. The power and batting average went down, and Rivera’s defense was not spectacular (14 errors in 102 games at shortstop).


Barons Pitching

Let’s just get the real bad out of the way here, the serious injuries! Dane Dunning was slated to be with the Barons but he had Tommy John surgery in the spring. Jimmy Lambert did actually pitch during the season before he too went under the knife for Tommy John. He was not all that great, but that could also be his injury talking. Zack Burdi was going through his TJS rehab process, but needed surgery again when he arrived with the Barons. This time the injury was not directly related to the arm; it was a torn tendon in his knee. Burdi was not very good before that, though, coming off time last season where his fastball velocity was way down. Burdi finished with a 6.75 ERA in 2019.

To the better news, kind of. Bernardo Flores did finish the season pitching, but he missed a huge chunk of it because of injury. That missed time probably prohibited him from reaching Triple-A to find out what he can do with a juiced ball. In 78 1/3 innings, Flores had his typical good ERA at 3.33. The strikeouts were up compared to last season (about a 7% rise) while the walks stayed near 4.5%. So it was a more impressive a season than 2018, but the injury really bit Flores and his development arc.

Lincoln Henzman had a down year compared to last season, but he also had injury troubles, though not as severe. He missed a few starts in April that set him back, and it took awhile for him to reach his 2018 level in High-A. Henzman’s last three starts at W-S were superb, but once he was promoted to Birmingham, those struggles resurfaced. Henzman will always have a low K and BB rate, so he will heavily rely on BABIP, and it was not kind in 2019. He had a .331 BABIP in Double-A, and that basically doomed him because Henzman does not have an out pitch. FIP and xFIP like him more because he has low home run, walk, and fly ball rates. However, in this case, ERA is more important, and Henzman’s was 5.56 to end the year.

Blake Battenfield and John Parke are the other starters to keep an eye on, though they do not have the prospect hype of Flores. Battenfield and Parke both started in High-A and earned their way to Birmingham. Parke was much better than Battenfield. He had a 2.59 ERA compared to Battenfield’s 4.52. Both will be in their age 25 seasons next year, so that is cause for concern because they are going up against younger talent. I cannot really make any sort of judgement on either player without them using the MLB ball. So next season in Triple-A will be big. Hopefully these older arms perform much better than, say, a Jordan Stephens.

The Barons actually had quite the interesting set of relief pitchers. Again, let’s get the bad out of the way first. Alec Hansen continued his struggles in Double-A, as his prospect capital just keep falling. He had a 5.45 ERA, with an 8.39 BB/9 — better than last season, but still awful.

Tyler Johnson did not have a bad season; he was just out for most of it because of a lat injury. He very well could have been in MLB at this point without the injury, but alas, he will settle for the AFL. Johnson finished his season with just 31 1/3 innings pitched for a 2.59 ERA (with the Barons, it was just 18 1/3 innings for a 3.44 ERA). Vince Arobio had a fantastic season, up until his final promotion to the Barons. Arobio had a 6.11 ERA in 28 Double-A innings after what was a breakout iILB season.

Now, to the much better and healthier years.

Codi Heuer, Bennett Sousa, and Kodi Mederios did their jobs, even if it came in a roundabout way in Double-A. Heuer was the most conventional. After his promotion to the Barons, he more or less served as Birmingham’s closer. He had a 1.84 ERA with nine saves in 13 chances. He has really risen up the iILB ranks quickly, after he was selected just last season in the sixth round. He has good command, but his strikeouts did fall drastically between High-A and Double-A — something to keep an eye on in 2020.

Sousa only pitched two games with the Barons, and didn’t allow a run. He will probably start 2020 in Birmingham, though he could be fast-tracked to the Sox if they do not have confidence in their other lefty relief options.

Finally, Medeiros. He started out the year in the rotation, and that did not work out at all. In 40 2/3 innings as a starter, Medeiros had a 7.75 ERA, with a whopping .333 batting average against. When he was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers last season, some theorized Medeiros will end up in the pen eventually, and he did this season to great success. In 42 1/3 innings in relief, Medeiros had a 2.55 ERA and a much better .164 batting average against, in fact, that is a fantastic number. On a more progressive team than the White Sox, Medeiros could easily be an opener option. With the three-batter minimum coming, a lefty that can go longer like Medeiros could be a welcome sight.


The Barons unfortunately will have a lot more retreads from their 2019 team for 2020. For some, 2020 might be a last gasp to capitalize on what prospect hype they have left, but the Barons should be a team everyone will be watching again. Hopefully it will not be with horror ,like it was for much of this season.

2019 Kannapolis Intimidators season recap

Tough year: But Kannapolis ended on a pretty good note. (Tiffany Wintz/South Side Hit Pen)


The Kannapolis Intimidators finished the year at 64-74, after an abysmal first half and a decent second thanks to the addition of 2019 draft picks. However, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016 because the reinforcements did not come quick enough — or in Andrew Vaughn‘s case, left too quickly.

Low-A baseball is a big step for players. Maybe there is not a big talent gap between advanced rookie leagues, but Low-A is the first stop in playing a full professional season. The leagues start in April and players travel to different states, though not as frequently as a Triple-A or MLB team. It is the first taste of what a grind a baseball season is, and as such it weeds out some of the younger players.

But some players definitely rose above the rest in Kannapolis this season. Though it is best to note, as in rookie league evaluation, age and previous Low-A experience is an important factor in assessing Low-A players.

First off, the promotions and other cameo appearances (like Vaughn, who played 23 games for the I’s). Steele Walker started the year with the I’s before earning a promotion after a great 20 games, in which he had a 189 wRC+. Johan Cruz started with the I’s as well and was more of a peripheral player to start, but because of his hot bat finally earned a promotion to the Dash. Cruz left the I’s with a .296 batting average, and some surprising pop. Evan Skoug rounds out the list of player promotions, but it seems like his was more out of necessity to get another catcher to Winston-Salem than talent. Though with Skoug’s eye and power, maybe a swing change could unlock that potential.

The pitching side is a bit more fun with some much bigger names. Konnor Pilkington, Jonathan Stiever, and Kade McClure each started the year with the I’s. Pilkington had the best year of the bunch, and earned his promotion more quickly as he left with a 1.62 ERA.

Next up was McClure with a 3.09 ERA and finally, Stiever. Stiever’s ERA did not look good in Low-A, but his peripherals showed a more advanced and much improved pitcher (as you will see in the Dash recap, Stiever was, simply, awesome). Taylor Varnell became sort of a prospect-buff favorite with multiple fantastic starts in Low-A, and the 24 year-old finally got a much deserved promotion later in the year.

A few notable relievers jumped to High-A baseball as well. Vince Arobio started his season with the I’s before eventually ending the season in Birmingham. Andrew Perez and Bennett Sousa were promoted at the same time after a dominant half-season in the Kannapolis bullpen. Perez left with a 2.25 ERA, Sousa with a 2.51.

That is a lot of players on the move, but some of note stayed the entire year, or ended their seasons with the I’s and helped them to a much better second-half record.


The Hitters

Two hitters that played well and stayed the entire season shared the outfield together, Ian Dawkins and Alex Destino. They ended the season with the same batting average (.298), but got there in very different ways. Dawkins is more of a slappy hitter, with speed and not much power. He had a fantastic first half of the season, but slowed down in the second. Dawkins finished with a 124 wRC+ and 23 stolen bases in 31 attempts. He has a fine walk rate at 6.3%, and the reason it is fine is because Dawkins hit almost .300, and he also has a below-average K-rate. Destino has the bigger bat, with 17 homers and 39 total extra-base hits. He walks more than 10% of the time, but also strikes out out at a decently high rate, so he is just a typical hitter who has some power. The downside is that both guys are older. Destino is about to turn 24, and Dawkins already is 24. In Dawkins’ case, he had 37 games in Low-A in 2018, so it was familiar territory. They are outfielders to keep an eye on, but both will need to show something more with the Dash.

A few other hitters deserve attention, but for different reasons, first off, the underperformers: Gunnar Troutwine, Corey Zangari, Ramon Beltre, Bryce Bush, and Lenyn Sosa. Troutwine probably had the best season among them, but might also be less of a prospect than the other four. He had a 106 wRC+, so a fine season, but he struck out more than 30% of the time and didn’t show improved bat-to-ball skills or extra power in his first full season. His defense was also, in a word, atrocious. Zangari was finally healthy, kind of, but fell flat. He hit only .204, but showed fantastic power with a .224 ISO. He also struck out more than 30% of the time, and a big reason why his season was salvageable was his very good walk rate. Beltre played the most, but probably had the worst season of this group and was even worse in his second Low-A stint.

Finally, Bryce Bush and Lenyn Sosa, the teenagers. Bush finished the year in the AZL but will definitely be back in Kannapolis in 2020. He barely hit above the Mendoza line and showed a concerning K-rate of 31.9%. Though he is definitely the best hitting prospect of this group, is still just 19, and had an injury-riddled year. Still, he looked impressive at times:

Sosa is a smidge younger than Bush, by about a month, and did have a better year in terms of play and health, though I’m sure the organization expected better. The international signee had his first full season this year and finished with a 93 wRC+. Instead of struggling down the stretch, which would have been understandable given a personal record amount of games played, Sosa was much better after the All-Star break. His batting average rose by almost 50 points and OPS went up over 100 points. Hopefully that translates over to next season, and Sosa gets a quick promotion to Winston-Salem.

Two non-Vaughn 2019 draft picks did make their way onto the I’s roster as well. Tyler Osik, a 27th round pick, ended with a 160 wRC+ in 108 plate appearance for the I’s. Osik showed a lot of power, probably unsustainable power at a .278 ISO, but the walk and strikeout rates stayed relatively the same from his rookie league statistics. Cameron Simmons, a 20th round pick, crushed it in Great Falls and earned a promotion. He didn’t do as well in Kannapolis but was right at average production. He did seem a little overmatched, as his K-rate went up a good amount, and the walks fell.


The Pitchers

After Pilkington, McClure, and Stiever left, there was obviously huge holes to fill in the rotation, and it was mostly filled by pitchers who were relievers earlier. Jason Bilous was the most fit for the role, but Johan Dominguez and Sam Long took over and did well. Bilous was much better as a reliever than starter, with a 2.86 ERA as a reliever and 4.01 ERA as a starter. However, a lot of Bilous’ struggles came late in the season, just like his struggles after being drafted in 2018. It is tough to say whether he will stay in a starting role, but hopefully Bilous can continue his progress and be better late in seasons. Dominguez and Long are older and probably aren’t players who will make it to the bigs, but they had good seasons as a reliever and as a starter. Dominguez ended the year with a 2.98 ERA, Long with a 3.06 ERA.

One starter who stayed with the I’s all season and didn’t miss a start was Davis Martin. Martin had an abysmal April and May, with an ERA of more than 7.00. He was able to figure himself out later in the year and had a 3.87 ERA in the second half. The peripherals like him a lot more because of his above average K-rate and pretty low walk rate. Martin ended with a 3.90 FIP, which is much better than his 5.04 ERA, so 2020 will be a big year to see who he truly is.

After Perez and Sousa left on the reliever side, again there were holes to fill, but the Kannapolis bullpen was already the strongest part of the team, and they continued to be successful thanks to three outstanding performances. There isn’t much fanfare with these players because they don’t carry any prospect expectations, but as relievers in Low-A all they need to do is throw hard.

Up first is Lane Ramsey, who SSHP’s Dan Victor likes quite a bit.

Ramsey had a 2.75 ERA this season, but his K numbers are low; he probably does not have a very good or developed breaking/off-speed pitch. If he is able to get an out pitch to use with his high-90s fastball, Ramsey could be a guy to watch going forward, maybe driveline isn’t a bad idea for the kid. Wilber Perez was a bit of a surprise to land in the Kannapolis bullpen after being in the DSL in 2018. Perez fit in well, and was terrific down the stretch. He had a 2.83 ERA and was mostly used in multiple-inning scenarios. Perez did show good strikeout numbers, but he has a significant control problem. Austin Conway rounds out the bunch, and he had the best season of all. He had 13 saves to go with his 1.59 ERA and even earned a cameo showing with the Dash, but was eventually sent back down. Conway already is 24, so take his success with caution, but he was fantastic.


Kannapolis was not the most talented team in terms of prospect hype, like it had been in previous seasons, but it did have appearances and performances from good players. Most of the above players will go to Winston-Salem in 2020, but the 2019 draft and a few 2020 draft prospects will be heading to Kannapolis’ new ballpark to replace them in the spring.

Arizona Fall League: White Sox edition

Power ball: The closest player to the majors participating for the White Sox in the AFL is Gavin Sheets. (Tiffany Wintz/South Side Hit Pen)


The AFL rosters are out, sort of.

Since there is a TBA, it is not officially official yet, but the majority of the Chicago White Sox prospects have already been announced. There will be two outfielders (Rutherford and TBA/Adolfo), a first baseman (Sheets), three relievers (Johnson, Sousa, and Arobio) and finally, one starting pitcher (Bernardo Flores). These guys certainly aren’t the cream of the crop in the system, but a few of these guys could be on the South Side pretty quickly — which is why we’ll see them in the AFL this season.

Before we dive into the announced players, first, let’s go over the new rules of the AFL. First off, the early start date. The first games will be played September 18. Not many of these prospects have to worry about playing in MiLB playoffs, so they should get a couple weeks of “rest” before starting up again. The positives besides the game-play rest is that prospects won’t have as long a layoff as before. Last season they started the AFL at the end of October. The negative is that it’s still really hot in Arizona, so it won’t be overly comfortable.

Just by peering at the White Sox prospects, it seems like the new rule of allowing any minor leaguer to participate in the AFL wouldn’t have mattered much. Most of the time in the past, it was players from the upper levels of the minors. Rutherford, Sheets, Flores, Johnson, Arobio, and Adolfo are all listed under the Birmingham Barons roster. Sousa is in Winston-Salem.

Also, a question I didn’t even think of beforehand was answered by Josh Norris, an associate editor at Baseball America.

Those baseballs, man, who would have thought that question would be so important? Thankfully, this baseball is something all of the White Sox prospects going to Arizona have been using the entire year. But enough about the league — the players are what matters.


Hitters

In my opinion, Blake Rutherford going to the AFL is a little bit of a surprise. I thought another player who had injury issues and missed at-bats, like a Bryce Bush or Luis Basabe, would get the spot, but of late Rutherford definitely showed he can play in the AFL.

He started out, just like a lot of other Barons, with some really terrible play. In April, he only hit .156 and was able to do better in May, but still hit just .216 with no power at all. Though since June, it has been exponentially impressive. He slashed .300/.347/.396 in 71 games for a 116 wRC+. Rutherford still didn’t show much power, but the bat-to-ball skills are back. It was not an overwhelming performance, but it seems like the Sox are using the AFL to recoup some value for Rutherford.

If you thought Gavin Sheets was on the outs because of a lack of power last season, well, he showed he had some with the Barons. Sheets currently has 16 home runs and 19 more extra-base hits in 2019. He isn’t really selling out for more power, though his strikeouts are up slightly. He is still going the other way and isn’t hitting enough fly balls like a power-hitting first baseman should. But Sheets has a wRC+ of 126, which is a personal best, and he still has a good eye at the plate, with a walk rate near 10%. With Vaughn on Sheets’ tail, this could be a showcase for trade or Sheets might see some action in Chicago next season and extending his season should help that; he should probably be in Charlotte already.

Micker Adolfo rounds out the batters, and this is a classic “get the injured player more at-bats” scenario. However, in Adolfo’s case, it could also be used to get him much-needed game reps in the outfield, because he hasn’t played in right since 2017. He only played in 36 total games this season, so there isn’t much to read into, but all Adolfo really needs to do at this point is stay healthy and just play.


Pitchers

Two pitchers fall into the injured category of needing to pitch more innings, Bernardo Flores and Tyler Johnson. Flores so far has pitched in 87 1/3 innings this season. That will put him far lower than the previous year’s total of 156, so the AFL is to help get him just a few more innings. If Flores had stayed healthy, he would probably be in Chicago already. He did well in his Double-A stint. He has a 3.36 ERA, with a very low walk rate and a below-average K-rate.

Johnson started the year late because of a lat injury and again, if he didn’t get injured, he would probably be in Chicago along with Flores. It is tough to read his performance this year because he didn’t have a preseason due to injury, but Johnson has struggled recently in Birmingham. He has a 4.40 ERA and hasn’t been used in any closing situations.

The other two pitchers, Bennett Sousa and Vince Arobio, seem like this AFL is a congratulations on how well they did during the year. Sousa started his season in Kannapolis and continued his great run that started in 2018. He had a 22.4% K-BB rate and when he was promoted to the Dash, it improved again, to 23.9%. He currently has a 2.60 ERA between the two levels.

Arobio had a much more exciting time in MiLB, as he was promoted twice during the season. He started in Kannapolis and ended in Birmingham. He had a 3.34 ERA among the three levels, but has struggled with the Barons. He has a 5.40 ERA in Double-A, but his successful season overall earned him a shot at some of the better hitting prospects in Arizona.