South Side Hit Pen Top Prospect 58: Blake Battenfield

Change up: Offspeed mastery may be all that separates Battenfield from Triple-A — or the majors. (Tiffany Wintz/South Side Hit Pen)



Blake Battenfield
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
6´3´´
220 pounds
Age: 25
SSHP rank among all right-handed starting pitchers in the system: 10
2019 South Side Sox Top Prospect Ranking: 59

Blake Battenfield, a resident of Tulsa, remained in his native state to play with the Oklahoma State Cowboys. His first three years were primarily spent in the bullpen, where Battenfield crafted a respectable 2.60 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 97 innings. During that time, he allowed 86 hits while posting a mediocre K/BB ratio (1.47), with 45 walks and 66 strikeouts. He split time evenly with the Cowboys as a senior (2017) between the rotation and bullpen, posting middling results: 4.91 ERA and 1.49 WHIP over 69 ⅔ innings, while walking 31 and striking out 58.

These results obviously weren’t spectacular, which explains why Battenfield slipped all the way to the 17th round of the 2017 draft. Battenfield served exclusively out of the bullpen that year for Great Falls, where he posted mediocre ERA (4.88) and WHIP numbers over 31 ⅓ innings in the high altitude, but some of his peripherals stood out. Opposing hitters batted .271 against his offerings, but he punched out 40 hitters (28.6 K%) while walking only eight (5.7 BB%). Partly based on those numbers, the Sox decided to convert him to a starter for 2018.

Battenfield pitched outstandingly for Kannapolis in his 13 starts in 2018: 2.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 52 hits (.210 OBA), 16 walks (6.0 BB%), and 69 strikeouts (25.8 K%) over 67 innings, earning a promotion to Winston-Salem on June 21. As expected, Battenfield’s numbers declined a bit in nine starts (53 ⅓ innings) for the Dash, but were still respectable: 4.22 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 50 hits (.248 OBA), 13 walks (6.0 BB%), and 46 strikeouts (21.1%).

After a terrific six starts to begin the 2019 season with the Dash, Battenfield earned an early promotion to Birmingham and struggled with his command. In 19 starts for the Barons totaling 95 ⅔ innings, he posted a 4.52 ERA and 1.38 WHIP by allowing 107 hits (.287 OBA) and 25 walks (6.1%) while fanning 69 (16.9%). He especially labored against lefties (.299 OBA, 1.59 WHIP) in comparison to righties for Birmingham (.278 OBA, 1.23 WHIP). His 36.8% ground ball rate didn’t do him any favors, either.

Battenfield has an impressive repertoire that includes a natural sinking fastball, a rising four-seamer, an effective slider, a big-breaking curveball with good spin and depth, and a changeup that still needs work. He doesn’t appear to throw especially hard. I haven’t seen any projections, but we’re probably looking at the low 90s, as he was in the mid-80s as a varsity athlete according to Perfect Game and has gotten stronger since then. But the righthander’s movement and speed variations help his fastball play up. His changeup has yet to be mastered, as evidenced by the success Double-A lefties enjoyed against him this year. Success with the changeup may dictate how Battenfield will progress going forward.

Expect Battenfield to return to the Barons for the 2019 season, with an opportunity for midseason promotion if he does well.

 

Deep Dive: Charlotte and Birmingham right-handed starters

Long wait: Michael Kopech should be a key cog in next year’s White Sox starting rotation. (@KopechDad)


“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

For all the hand-wringing over lack of majors-ready arms in the upper levels, there are at least a few names here you’ll be seeing on the South Side soon.

All players’ ages listed below are as of April 1, 2020.


Charlotte Knights

Michael Kopech
6´3´´
205 pounds
Age: 23

OK, I’m cheating here! Kopech is actually on the major league roster, but since he still is rookie-eligible he’s listed here instead. Kopech, a native of Mount Pleasant, Texas, enjoyed a terrific prep career, culminating with an 0.44 ERA, 18.14 K/9, and .115 OBA in his senior season. With those results and a fastball already reaching 94 mph, Kopech was unsurprisingly ranked among the top prep prospects entering the 2014 draft. When he fell to the 33rd selection, the Boston Red Sox couldn’t resist choosing him and signing him to a $1.5 million bonus in order to pry him from his verbal commitment to the Arizona Wildcats.

In his first three years in the Red Sox system, Kopech combined to post a 2.60 ERA and 1.20 WHIP while posting 11.49 K/9, 4.60 BB/9, and .201 OBA over a combined 135 innings. Kopech made headlines in Single-A ball when one of his fastballs was clocked at 105 mph.

However, during his Red Sox tenure, he also made the wrong kind of news. On July 15, 2015, he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for oxilofrine, a banned stimulant that was hidden in many dietary supplements sold over the counter. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse when, in early March 2016, he broke a bone in his pitching hand during an altercation with a teammate. As a result of those two incidents, the most he pitched in the minors in his first three seasons was in 2015, when he pitched just 65 innings.

Perhaps in part due to concerns regarding his maturity, the Red Sox traded Kopech, Yoán Moncada, Luis Basabe, and Victor Diaz to the White Sox on Dec. 6, 2016 for southpaw ace Chris Sale. In 2017 for Birmingham, Kopech maintained a 2.87 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 119 ⅓ innings, allowing just 77 hits (.184 OBA) but 60 walks (4.53 BB/9) while striking out 155 (11.69 K/9). Despite vastly exceeding his combining inning totals from the previous three years, Kopech got better as the season went along; In July and August, Kopech threw 44 ⅓ innings with 26 hits (.166 OBA), 11 walks (2.23 BB/9) and 58 strikeouts (11.77 K/9). As a result, he finished the season with three solid starts in Charlotte.

Struggles, primarily with control, haunted Kopech in 2018 — particularly in May and June. In those two months (totaling 58 ⅓ innings), he allowed 45 hits (.216) while striking out 76 (11.73 K/9); however, he walked a whopping 45 hitters (6.04 BB/9) which gave him an ERA of 5.25 and WHIP of 1.54 for that stretch. However, just like in 2017, Kopech kicked it into overdrive during July and August by ceding just 42 hits and eight walks over 47 innings and fanning 65 — posting a tidy 2.49 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in the process. His control paid dividends, as he finally earned a promotion to Chicago for his first career start, on August 21. Unfortunately, after doing well in three mostly rain-abbreviated starts, Kopech tore his UCL and ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery.

Kopech currently ranks second among White Sox prospects, and 18th overall, according to MLB Pipeline. MLB also grades Kopech as 80-fastball, 65-slider, 50-changeup, and 45-control; what MLB Pipeline doesn’t say is that Kopech was actually getting great results from another pitch — a curveball. The key for Kopech, other than of course staying healthy when he returns in 2020, is to maintain his command while providing a nice speed variance between his fastball and off-speed pitches. If his fastball can return to pre-surgery levels while trusting his secondary offerings and maintaining the command he showed from July to September in 2018, the White Sox will indeed have a perennial Cy Young contender on their hands.

Odrisamer Despaigne
6´0´´
200 pounds
Age: 32

Despaigne, after posting a 61-43 record with a 3.55 ERA and 1.75 K/BB ratio over eight seasons in Cuba before defecting, signed a $1 million pact with San Diego on May 2, 2014 as a 27-year-old. After beginning that season in Double-A San Antonio, he made his MLB debut with the Padres less than two months later. In what’s turned out to be his career year in the majors to date, Despaigne posted a 4-7 record with a 3.36 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 16 starts. In his six-year career, which has seen him spend more time in the minors than the majors, Despaigne already has pitched for the Padres, Orioles, Marlins, Angels and White Sox with a combined 13-26 record, 5.11 ERA and 1.45 WHIP.

After signing a minor league deal with the White Sox this May after opting out of his contract with the Reds, Despaigne performed quite well for Charlotte, earning a prompt promotion due to the majors. After three disastrous starts spanning 13 1/3 innings for Chicago in June (9.45 ERA, 2.33 WHIP, .407 OBA, 10.3 BB%, 10.3 K%), he was demoted to Charlotte, where he actually finished as that team’s best right-handed starter by season’s end, and by a wide margin. In 16 appearances for the Knights this year (14 starts), Despaigne posted a decent 3.25 ERA and 1.34 WHIP over 83 innings by relinquishing 83 hits (.263 OBA), 28 walks and 84 strikeouts. Considering the weak state of the Knights rotation, combined with the knowledge that southpaw Bernardo Flores may be the only lock for promotion from Birmingham to begin the season due to injuries in the system, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Sox ink Despaigne to another minor league pact for 2020.

Donn Roach
6´0´´
195 pounds
Age: 30

Roach began his college career with the University of Arizona, but transferred to the College of Southern Nevada to be closer to home. After excelling during his sophomore season, Roach was selected in the third round of the 2010 MLB draft by the Angels. After spending parts of three years in the Angels organization, Roach was traded to the Padres, where he eventually made his MLB debut in 2014. Over the years, he’s pitched for a myriad of organizations, including the Cubs and Mariners (for whom he also pitched briefly in the majors). In 21 games spanning 39 innings at the highest level, Roach has posted a 5.77 ERA and 1.77 WHIP by allowing 51 hits and 18 walks while fanning 20.

The White Sox signed Roach to a minor league pact in 2018 and he pitched quite well for the Charlotte Knights, earning a spot on the Triple-A All-Star team with a 2.65 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. In 16 outings spanning 95 innings, he relinquished just 95 hits (.262 OBA) and 21 walks (5.4%) while striking out 61 (15.6%). He then asked for his release in order to play professional ball in Japan.

Roach returned to the Knights this year, but with far worse results. In 18 appearances totaling 79 1/3 injury-marred innings, he surrendered 127 hits (.362 OBA) and 26 walks (6.8%) while fanning 53 (13.9). His results likely suffered not just to injuries but thanks to the live (MLB) baseball as well. It’s a shame for Roach that he didn’t have the 2018 season this year, because he likely would have found a spot in the back of the White Sox rotation. As it is, Roach can only hope he’ll have another opportunity to pitch for Chicago next year.

Spencer Adams
6´3´´
171 pounds
Age: 23

After a spectacular senior season for his varsity baseball team in the Atlanta area, the White Sox happily pounced on Adams with their second round selection in the 2014 draft. After a terrific season for the AZL Sox that year, in which he struck out 59 batters while walking just four in 41 2/3 innings, it certainly looked like the sky was the limit for Adams.

Adams continued to post solid numbers with every new stop in the organization, but his stuff seemed to back up as his strikeout rates continued to plummet. In 2017 for the Birmingham Barons, he posted a 4.42 ERA and 1.38 WHIP over 152 2/3 innings by relinquishing 171 hits (.281 OBA) and 40 walks (6.1%) while fanning just 113 (17.2%). He again posted decent overall numbers with Birmingham and Charlotte for 2018, but with concerning peripherals: 3.79 ERA and 1.38 WHIP over 159 innings allowing 162 hits (.267 OBA) and 58 walks (8.6%) while fanning 95 (14.2%).

Adams’ 2019 just never got off the ground, due to a combination of ineffectiveness and injuries. Of course, the injuries caused many of the issues, but a combination of a lack of overpowering stuff and the live Triple-A ball didn’t help matters any. In five games (three starts, with his last outing on April 28), Adams posted an 8.00 ERA and 2.39 ERA over 18 innings as he allowed 35 hits (.412 OBA) and an unusually high eight walks (8.3%) with 10 strikeouts (10.4%). A back injury is what finished Adams’ season prematurely, and it’s hoped that he could return to Charlotte in 2020.

Adams, who was a former Top 10 prospect in the White Sox organization, did have 50 grades with his low-90s fastball and changeup, while he graded a bit better according to MLB Pipeline with his control (60) prior to his injury.


Birmingham Barons

Dane Dunning
6´4´´
200 pounds
Age: 25

Dunning had a successful three-year run with the Florida Gators, beginning as a reliever in his freshman season, transitioning to starter, and finally switching to a swing-man role for his junior season. Why a swingman, instead of an ace? It may have had something to do with the fact that A.J. Puk, Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Alex Faedo (all eventual first-round picks) were in the Gators rotation as well. Dunning did, however, post his best collegiate marks in his junior season, with a 2.29 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 77 ⅔ innings. In his 33 outings (five starts), he allowed just 68 hits (.235 OBA) and 12 walks (1.39 BB/9) while striking out 88 (10.20 K/9). Due to those results and obvious potential, the Washington Nationals selected him in the first round (29th overall) of the 2016 draft.

Dunning pitched well for the Nationals short-season affiliates in 35 ⅔ innings over eight starts, posting a combined 2.02 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 32 strikeouts (8.07 K/9) while relinquishing just 26 hits (.198 OBA) and seven walks (1.77 BB/9). Following the season, on December 7, he was traded to the White Sox, along with Reynaldo López and Lucas Giolito, for Adam Eaton.

To say Dunning dominated Kannapolis in his four starts there in 2017 was like saying the earth is round. In 24 ⅓ innings for the Intimidators, he posted a microscopic 0.35 ERA, 0.58 WHIP, and 33 strikeouts (11.42 K/9) in 26 innings while allowing just 13 hits (.143 OBA) and two walks (0.69 BB/9). His results with Winston-Salem, while not quite as fantastic, were still top-notch. In 22 starts for the Dash totaling 118 innings, he posted a 3.51 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 135 strikeouts (10.30 K/9) while ceding just 114 hits (.250 OBA) and 36 walks (2.75 BB/9).

Dunning started 2018 with Winston-Salem in four starts, before earning an early promotion to Birmingham. In 15 starts covering 86 ⅓ innings for both squads, he posted a nifty 2.71 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. In those innings, he allowed just 77 hits (.235 OBA) and 26 walks (2.71 BB/9) while fanning 100 hitters (10.42 K/9). Unfortunately, Dunning began suffering through elbow issues in late June that year, ultimately leading to Tommy John surgery in mid-March of this year.

As evidenced by his low walk numbers throughout college and the minors, Dunning has exceptional control, and with the relatively low number of hits allowed for a control pitcher, he has exceptional command as well. His fastball peaks at 95-96 mph, but is extremely effective due to its heavy sinking action. He also features an above-average slider, which grades slightly higher than his improving change.

Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned surgery, Dunning will be expected to miss some time in 2020. There’s a possibility he begins the season with Charlotte upon his return, but it’s much more likely Dunning starts with Birmingham. Though he ranks fifth among all White Sox prospects per MLB Pipeline, he (unlike the aforementioned Kopech) has fallen out of MLB’s Top 100 list entirely. If recovery goes well and he doesn’t miss a beat upon return, Dunning likely will earn a promotion to Charlotte if not Chicago before 2020’s end.

Jimmy Lambert
6´2´´
190 pounds
Age: 25

Lambert spent the majority of his three years for the Fresno State Bulldogs in the team’s starting rotation, and his junior season was easily his best with a 3.13 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 97 2/3 innings, as he relinquished 98 hits and just 19 walks while striking out 78. Those results were good enough for the White Sox to select him in the 2016 draft. After the draft, he pitched well for the AZL White Sox but unsurprisingly struggled with Kannapolis to end the season.

Jimmy, older brother of Rockies hurler Peter Lambert, mastered Kannapolis in 12 starts spanning 74 innings to begin the 2017 campaign with a 2.19 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, as he surrendered 77 hits (.274 OBA) and 11 walks (3.7%) while striking out 43 (14.3%). Just like the previous year, Lambert struggled with his midseason promotion to Winston-Salem as he posted a 5.45 ERA and 1.51 WHIP over 76 innings as he ceded 86 hits (.290 OBA) and 29 walks (8.7%) while fanning 59 (17.7%). Lambert returned to the Dash in 2018 and fared much better in 13 starts, totaling 70 2/3 innings as he compiled a 3.95 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, allowing just 57 hits (.217 OBA) and 21 walks (7.3%) while striking out 80 (29.0). Lambert earned a promotion to Birmingham, and excelled with this promotion to the tune of a 2.88 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 25 innings as he relinquished just 20 hits (.217 OBA) and six walks (5.9%) while striking out 30 (29.7%).

Lambert started 2019 with Birmingham well, as he turned six quality starts in his first eight outings. However, his final three outings (May 23 to June 3) were vastly subpar — ultimately dropping his numbers to a 4.55 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 11 starts spanning 59 1/3 innings, allowing 62 hits (.272 OBA) and 27 walks (10.4%) while striking out 70 (27.0%). It turned out Lambert needed Tommy John surgery, which was done in late June.

Lambert presently ranks 18th among White Sox prospects by MLB Pipeline, thanks in part to increasing oomph on his fastball over the past couple of years due to an arm slot change that altered his delivery to more over-the-top. The heater (which usually runs 91-94 mph and tops out at 96) and curveball are considered by MLB Pipeline as his two best offerings with grades of 55, while his slider and changeup are given a solid 50 grade. Because of his late surgery, it’s possible Lambert may not even pitch in the 2020 season. If he does, he may be given a rehab assignment in the AZL before returning to Birmingham. Lambert is eligible to be selected in the upcoming Rule 5 draft.

Blake Battenfield
6´3´´

220 pounds
Age: 25

Battenfield, a resident of Tulsa, remained in his native state to play with the Oklahoma State Cowboys. His first three years were primarily spent in the bullpen, where Battenfield crafted a respectable 2.60 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 97 innings. During that time, he allowed 86 hits while posting a mediocre K/BB ratio (1.47), with 45 walks and 66 strikeouts. He split time evenly with the Cowboys as a senior (2017) between the rotation and bullpen, posting middling results: 4.91 ERA and 1.49 WHIP over 69 2⁄3 innings, while walking 31 and striking out 58.

These results obviously weren’t spectacular, which explains why Battenfield slipped all the way to the 17th round of the 2017 draft. Battenfield served exclusively out of the bullpen that year for Great Falls, where he posted mediocre ERA (4.88) and WHIP numbers over 31 1⁄3 innings in the high altitude, but some of his peripherals stood out. Opposing hitters batted .271 against his offerings, but he punched out 40 hitters (28.6 K%) while walking only eight (5.7 BB%). Partly based on those numbers, the Sox decided to convert him to a starter for 2018.

Battenfield pitched outstandingly for Kannapolis in his 13 starts in 2018: 2.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 52 hits (.210 OBA), 16 walks (6.0 BB%), and 69 strikeouts (25.8 K%) over 67 innings, earning a promotion to Winston-Salem on June 21. As expected, Battenfield’s numbers declined a bit in nine starts (53 1⁄3 innings) for the Dash, but were still respectable: 4.22 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 50 hits (.248 OBA), 13 walks (6.0 BB%), and 46 strikeouts (21.1%).

After a terrific six starts to begin the season with the Dash, Battenfield earned an early promotion to Birmingham where he did struggle with his command. In 19 starts for the Barons totaling 95 2/3 innings, he posted a 4.52 ERA and 1.38 WHIP by allowing 107 hits (.287 OBA) and 25 walks (6.1%) while fanning 69 (16.9%). He especially labored against lefties (.299 OBA, 1.59 WHIP) in comparison to righties for Birmingham (.278 OBA, 1.23 WHIP). His 36.8% ground ball rate didn’t do him any favors, either.

Battenfield has an impressive repertoire that includes a natural sinking fastball, a rising four-seamer, an effective slider, a big-breaking curveball with good spin and depth, and a changeup that still needs work. He doesn’t appear to throw especially hard. I haven’t seen any projections, but we’re probably looking at the low 90s, as he was in the mid-80s as a varsity athlete according to Perfect Game and has gotten stronger since then. But the righthander’s movement and speed variations help his fastball play up. His changeup has yet to be mastered, as evidenced by the success Double-A lefties enjoyed against him this year. Success with the changeup may dictate how Battenfield will progress going forward.

Expect Battenfield to return to the Barons for the 2019 season, with an opportunity for midseason promotion if he does well.

Lincoln Henzman
6´2´´
205 pounds
Age: 24

With the exception of two starts in his freshman season, Henzman was exclusively a reliever for the Louisville Cardinals. His best season was as a junior, when he pitched in 27 games (saving 16) totaling 37 23 innings with a terrific 1.67 ERA and 0.85 WHIP — allowing just 22 hits (.169 OBA) and 10 walks (2.39 BB/9), striking out 37 (8.84 K/9). With those results, the White Sox drafted Henzman in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, with the intention of converting him into a starter. After receiving a signing bonus of $450,000, Henzman pitched for the AZL Sox and Great Falls. In 11 combined outings (seven starts), he maintained a respectable 3.86 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 28 innings, allowing 27 hits (.262 OBA) and nine walks (2.89 BB/9) while striking out 17 (5.46 K/9).

Henzman went deeper into games in 2018 for Kannapolis, starting 13 and pitching 72 23 innings, with better-than-expected results. For the Intimidators, Henzman posted a 2.23 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, and allowed just 68 hits (.241 OBA) and eight walks (3.0%) while striking out 60 hitters (20.4%). He was promoted to Winston-Salem on June 21, but was held to pitch counts as Henzman had already far exceeded his career high in innings. In 14 outings totaling 34 23 innings for the Dash, he posted a 2.60 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, ceding 34 hits (.256 OBA) and 10 walks (6.8%) while striking out 20 (13.7%).

The 2019 season saw Henzman go through some struggles — particularly with putting hitters away. In nine starts spanning 41 innings for the Dash, he posted a 4.61 ERA and 1.37 WHIP as he relinquished 46 hits (.288 OBA) and 10 walks (5.8%) while fanning just 18 (10.4%). He did earn a promotion to Birmingham in early June, and struggled against his more advanced opponents. In 15 starts totaling 79 1/3 innings for the Barons, Henzman compiled a 5.56 ERA and 1.44 WHIP as he surrendered 96 hits (.301 OBA) and 18 walks (5.2%) while striking out 44 (12.7%). While he maintained his above-average control this year, his command was lacking as he didn’t miss many bats due to a high OBA and low strikeout rate. On the positive side, he finished his last three starts with a combined 1.76 ERA and 0.85 WHIP, so he may have figured some things out.

Henzman features a heavy sinking fastball that runs anywhere from 90-95 mph according to MLB Pipeline, and despite his struggles this year, still induced a 53% ground ball rate. He throws an upper-80s cutter, while also throwing an above-average changeup. That changeup has helped Henzman, as lefties have consistently hit him for a lower average than have righties during his young career. MLB Pipeline grades his fastball as 60, changeup at 55, and control and cutter at 50. Expect Henzman to return to Birmingham to begin the 2020 campaign.

Felix Paulino
6´1´´
200 pounds
Age: 25

Paulino, who turns 25 next March, is a Dominican native and started his career with the Phillies organization in 2014. His best year was with their Gulf Coast League squad in 2015, when he posted a 2.34 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in 50 innings as he relinquished just 41 hits (.223 OBA) and five walks (2.5%) while fanning 46 (23.0%). He’d actually been a useful swingman, as his career numbers have generally been good if unexceptional. On Aug. 22, 2018, he was traded to the White Sox for southpaw reliever Luis Avilán. With Birmingham, Paulino finished the year with two rocky starts as he battled through some uncharacteristic wildness — no doubt trying too hard to impress his new team.

In six outings (five starts) this year for the Barons, Paulino certainly held his own as he posted a respectable 3.86 ERA and 1.40 WHIP over 35 innings as he ceded 36 hits (.265 OBA) and 13 walks (8.4%) while striking out 30 (19.5%). In all six of his outings, he pitched at least five innings. Unfortunately, his last outing was on May 5 as he was then placed on the injured list, from which he never returned.

According to Baseball America, Paulino works 91-96 mph with his fastball and has a sinker in the lower end of that velocity band. His low- to mid-80s slider flashes plus potential but is inconsistent, and he has a firm changeup that lacks deception. Paulino shows flashes of everything working together, but hasn’t been able to put it all together yet. His ability to tighten up his control and firm up his secondaries will determine how high he climbs. Paulino is eligible for this year’s Rule 5 draft, and if healthy, would likely return to Birmingham to begin the 2020 season.

A.J. Puckett
6´4´´
200 pounds
Age: 24

Puckett is an interesting story. He was a promising two-sport athlete in high school before a car accident left him in a medically-induced coma for two weeks to slow his blood loss. After that accident, he made a a full recovery and went to Pepperdine University, where he was the West Coast Conference pitcher of the year in 2016 after fashioning the third-longest (45 23-inning) scoreless streak in NCAA Division I history. All Puckett did in his junior season was pitch 99 innings over 14 starts, posting an incredible 1.27 ERA and 0.92 WHIP; he allowed just 65 hits and 26 walks (2.36 BB/9) while fanning 95 batters (8.61 K/9). As a result of his efforts, the Kansas City Royals selected him in the second round of the 2016 draft, signing him to a $1.2 million bonus.

For the AZL Royals and Lexington (Royals A-affiliate) immediately after the draft, Puckett held his own in 13 starts, with a combined 3.68 ERA and 1.11 WHIP and respectable .231 OBA and 2.30 BB/9, but his strikeouts were down at 6.90 K/9. For the Royals A+ team (Wilmington) in 2017, he was posting a 3.90 ERA and 1.41 WHIP through July 30 when he was traded to the White Sox for outfielder Melky Cabrera, in the Royals’ ill-fated run at the playoffs. Puckett struggled a bit at hitter-friendly Winston-Salem in his five starts, as he posted a 4.28 ERA and 1.46 WHIP over 27 13 innings. In those innings, Puckett surrendered 35 hits (.327 OBA) and five walks (1.65 BB/9) while striking out 21 (6.91 K/9).

Puckett began 2018 as the 23rd-ranked prospect in the White Sox system according to MLB Pipeline, and was slated to begin with Birmingham. However, due to an ailing elbow, he missed the entire season (just like Andre Davis, the other player acquired in the Cabrera deal).

Puckett, when healthy, is more about pitchability than power. His best assets are his tumbling changeup, a legitimate plus pitch, and his advanced command. His fastball usually ranges from 90-94 mph (according to MLB Pipeline) with some run and sink, and his curveball can be an average third offering at times, but lacks consistency.

Like fellow highly-touted righthander Dunning, Puckett arrived in Glendale this spring to try working through the elbow pain that sidelined him in 2018. And like Dunning, Puckett ultimately opted for Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2019, and will likely miss a good part of 2020 as well. When ready to return, Puckett likely will undergo a rehab assignment before pitching for Birmingham.


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 Winston-Salem Dash season recap

Surging starter: Jonathan Stiever had the best season of any White Sox pitching prospect in 2019. (Winston-Salem Dash)

The Dash had one of the better records for the MiLB White Sox teams (72-61), as they barely missed out on a “wild card” playoff berth. It may not have been the most prospect-heavy team to to start the year, but by the end, there were some big names, especially on the pitching side.

This recap will start a little differently because, well, we have our first manager snapshot. Justin Jirschele was the manager of the Kannapolis Intimidators in 2017 and 2018 — both of those teams made the playoffs, so was promoted to the Dash for this season. Jirschele’s MiLB record so far is 217-198. He will only be 30 next season, but that would fit the recent mold of teams in the majors hiring younger managers. He also fits the Jerry Reinsdorf hiring mold, since he has been in the White Sox organization since 2012, when he was a player. Jirschele has managed most of the top prospects over his tenure, so he has familiarity with the important parts of the rebuild. There is not really much else to add about his managing style and philosophies, but here is an MLB.com from 2017.

But I’m sure you all care more about the players more than the manager, right?

The Dash had the two best hitters in the farm system to start the year, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, who made it all the way to Charlotte by season’s end. Robert was clearly too good for High-A (and basically every other level) but he left the Dash with a 305 wRC+. Madrigal started out slower but got going enough to get an early promotion. But that was really it for hitter promotions. Zach Remillard is not in the same talent conversation as those other two, but he was promoted as well. After hitting .289 in 95 games (a personal MiLB best), he was sent up to Double-A.

There was a bit more positive movement for the Dash on the pitching end. Kyle Kubat also started here and earned his way all the way up to Charlotte. He was one of the quicker promotions, and left after four starts with a 1.23 ERA. We forget now, but Alec Hansen looked far better with the Dash than the Barons. Hansen only played nine games and left with a 2.13 ERA, but carried a walk problem that traveled with him to Birmingham.

A trio of starters got promotions later in the season after a good first part of the season. Blake Battenfield, Lincoln Henzman, and John Parke each got the call to the Barons, where they finished the year. Battenfield had the best season of the bunch, with a 2.83 ERA. Parke does not get much fanfare, but keeps chugging through the system. He averaged just about a quality start over 12 starts. Henzman, after an injury blip, finally got his skills together to get himself to Double-A. The stats don’t look great overall, but a 1.89 ERA in his final 19 innings was good enough.

On the reliever side, there were three promotions of note. As mentioned in the Kannapolis recap, Vince Arobio made it all the way to Double-A. Well, he had an 8 2/3 innings stint with the Dash and didn’t allow a run. It was apparently good enough to earn his second promotion. Codi Heuer is a converted starter from college and his rookie league season, and thrived in the reliever role. He left High-A with a 22% K-BB rate and a 2.82 ERA. Bennett Sousa had two promotions during his season as well. After pitching 30 innings with a 2.70 ERA in A+, he got into two games for the Barons. There is a chance he ends up in Chicago next season. More on all these guys later, but it’s time for the holdovers.


Dash Mashers

Of the hitters who spent most of their season with the Dash, Steele Walker is by far the most heralded prospect. He is currently rated as the sixth-best White Sox prospect per MLB Pipeline, and earned a quick promotion from Kannapolis to Winston-Salem. He started out strong and did slow down later in the season, which is what should be expected from a player in his first full professional season. His 2019 stats still look great, though. He finished with a 124 wRC+, and showed some decent pop over the season. His increased walk rate from his days with the I’s stayed with the Dash, but Walker was able to drop his K-rate even further as he continues to show his advanced plate discipline and coverage.

Of the hitters that ended their seasons with the Dash, Andrew Vaughn is the best prospect. He’s rated as the best first base prospect in baseball and 21st overall by MLB Pipeline. The 2019 first round selection looked fine in his first stint in professional baseball. With all the movement and it being Vaughn’s first time playing baseball this late in a year, him just being healthy is really the most important takeaway. From the scouting reports out of college, Vaughn is a very good hitter, and it did show. The pop and the fantastic eye was there, as he was an above-average hitter at every stop. Vaughn has a chance, though slim, to be on the South Side next season but it will depend on whether he starts 2020 in Birmingham or Winston-Salem.

After Vaughn and Walker, there is a huge drop-off in terms of hitting talent that ended the year with the Dash. Most just have one kind of tool, like Craig Dedelow. He showed good power, with a .198 ISO and 18 home runs. The same thing with Tyler Frost, although Frost’s power dipped compared to his time in rookie and Low-A ball. Both players are old for the their level and there’s not much draft capital/money tied to them. Jameson Fisher, a former fourth round selection, did have that draft hype, and he did do well with the Dash. But he was sent down from Double-A after a bad 2018 campaign, and will be 26 next season.

Yeyson Yrizarri and Evan Skoug are guys who also had some value in the past, but have since fallen flat. Yrizarri is just 22, even though his professional debut was in 2014. This past season was his third in High-A, and he has only gotten worse. His batting average has fallen to .218 to go along with an increased strikeout rate, and his defense has gotten worse too (31 errors at third this year). Skoug is kind of a worse Zack Collins. Skoug has power, walks a lot, and strikes out a lot, but routinely hits far worse than the Mendoza line. Skoug hit .172 with the I’s, and then .165 with the Dash. This should be a big offseason for him, because he has some good tools — he just has awful bat-to-ball skills.

A little note for a 2019 draft pick who played in two games for the Dash, Jonathan Allen. The 32nd rounder played in both rookie leagues — not particularly well, but he did get himself to High-A. He clubbed two homers in his two games, for a 420 wRC+. I’m guessing that won’t hold next season.


Dash Hurlers

Dash pitchers were led by a big three in terms of prospect pedigree in the starting rotation to end the year. Jonathan Stiever is now by far the most hyped, and had the best season.

Stiever should win MiLB pitcher of the year for the White Sox after finishing with a 2.15 ERA in 71 innings with the Dash. He made 12 starts, and 10 of them were quality starts, as he rode his superb stuff to a great season. He 23.3% K-BB rate and only allowed a .215 batting average against. It was a truly dominant year.

Kade McClure is next up in terms of season success. He also started 12 games, but finished his time with a 3.39 ERA. McClure did finish earlier than other starters, possibly because he was at his innings limit after a season-ending injury from last season. But McClure was great during his time. The strikeouts were down and the walks were slightly up after his promotion, but .284 BABIP really helped. McClure also kept runners on base at an 81.3% clip, so his peripherals are not as kind. But he got through this season and looked very good, again.

Last on the top starting pitching end is Konnor Pilkington. He did not have as good a year as the others, with a 4.99 ERA. His strikeouts fell, but it was still better than one K per inning. The walks also rose, but it was not a significant rise. What hurt Pilkington was a .341 BABIP, because he didn’t really allow many homers (just seven in 95 1/3 innings). Therefore, FIP and xFIP liked Pilkington much better. Hopefully he can have a Stiever-like season in 2020, where the FIP and ERA more closely align.

For relievers, there are a couple to keep a close watch on prospect-wise and a couple more who just overmatched their competition. Jacob Lindgren is probably the most interesting, because he has the most arm talent. This was the first time Lindgren had pitched in pro ball since 2016, and he was all right. Lindgren is 26 and obviously has advanced stuff, but his success, and health, were promising. He threw 17 1/3 innings with the Dash, for a 1.53 ERA. Lindgren might not be the pitcher he was before (you know, the one who made it to the majors in one season), but the potential could still be there.

Andrew Perez is the other. The eighth round selection in the 2018 draft was lights-out with the Dash for his final 31 1/3 innings of 2019. The lefty had a 1.15 ERA, though he does allow a concerning amount of baseballs into the air (a 50% fly ball rate). The walks also went up quite a bit while the strikeouts fell, but Perez was very successful overall. With the three-batter minimum coming soon, his ability to go multiple innings as a lefty could come in handy in the future.

Will Kincanon and Luis Ledo may not be big names, but they had big seasons. Both served time as a closer, with both getting eight saves. Kincanon is probably the better prospect because he has a better arm. Kincanon had a 1.86 ERA, and though the walks slightly went up the strikeouts improved, so it seemed to be a negligible difference. Kincanon will need to cut down on his walks as he continues up the ranks, but he is a guy to watch moving forward. Ledo is a bit older, and had a good year as well. He has a 1.83 ERA and is not as big a strikeout pitcher, but still has the walk issues. Ledo’s walk issues improved significantly from last season, but he still has work to do.


Some big names from the manager to the players graced the diamond in Winston-Salem, earning the Dash the best MILB record of all White Sox affiliate. Most of the big names actually worked out pretty well this season, especially Madrigal, Robert, and Stiever. It is a possibility that when it is all said and done with the rebuild, the 2019 Winston-Salem Dash was the start of something special.