Baseball bracketology: 2020 White Sox’s Final Four, Cinderellas, Upsets, and Bubble Watch

 


Selection Sunday has now come and gone, with gone being the operative word, as the entire Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments were outright canceled due to the global pandemic known as COVID-19.

Pair that with the fact that Major League Baseball’s Opening Day now has no definitive start date, with the initial two-week being delay usurped by the CDC’s recommendation to not conduct nationwide gatherings of more than 50 people for at least eight weeks. That would make the soonest that Opening Day could theoretically happen May 11.

My “bracket” is a little dubious on that date being a reality, but you never know. With all that said, with everyone self-quarantined, working from home, running to the stores with more raw speed than Adam Engel, and finding themselves with more free time than ever, we all could use a respite and also a way to fill the void.

From where I sit behind my keyboard, there’s no better way to do that than fill the vacuum of both no baseball and no March Madness with one composite article.

This clocks in at just more than 4,500 words, but we all have some free time on our hands and we have an itch for White Sox baseball, March Madness, and sports in general. And if not sports, then even text on a screen about sports. So this is broken into sections. Read it in full, or parse it out, consume it in bits, and wash your hands for 20 seconds with hot water for each hot take in-between sections (especially after the Upset section, as you may need to cleanse). We don’t have sports, but we have the game of words and through that we can have some strange version of White Sox March Madness –– in a real world that currently doesn’t have either.

With that said, I’m going to lay out my picks for the Chicago White Sox’s Final Four –– a core of players that will be the most valuable in 2020 –– who may surprise (Cinderellas) or underperform (Upsets), projected regression that may not happen, (think the annual trendy expert upset pick), and outline which prospects will see the big lights this season (“on the bubble”).


I tried my hand at a similar piece over at another publication back in 2016. Like any bracket, I had my share of red (losses), but also some notable prognostications in the green (wins) as well.

My Final Four consisted of Chris Sale, José Abreu, Todd Frazier and Jose Quintana.

Sale made it to the final weekend, turning in an 3.34 ERA All-Star season and setting career highs in wins (17) and innings pitched (226 ⅔) that may have been driven by his league-leading six complete games. He’d ultimately finish fifth in Cy Young voting and notch MVP votes despite being on a non-playoff team. 

Abreu got bounced after the Sweet 16. He had a decent enough year, but it took a potent second half to bounce back from a fairly dreadful first two months to salvage his season. He failed to hit the 30-home run mark or make the All-Star team but still ripped 100 RBIs for his fourth straight season and finished with a respectable .820 OPS.

Frazier didn’t make it out of the Sweet 16, either. He made a lot of shots –– 40 home runs, to be exact –– but overall did not live up to expectations or his seed line. His final line was .225/.302/.464, with clear shortfalls in average and OBP. He was worth 2.8 fWAR, which fell short of a projected four-win season.

Quintana, my outside Final Four pick, delivered in earnest. He joined Chris Sale at the All-Star game, put together a 3.20 ERA over 200-plus innings, got a 10th place Cy Young vote and had what to date has been the best season of his career.

I also identified two Cinderellas: Adam Eaton and Carlos Rodón.

Eaton surely did not disappoint. He actually edged Sale and led the 2016 White Sox in fWAR with a 5.9 mark. He got on base at a .362 clip, swiped 14 bags, but most importantly flashed an absurd glove after a position shift to right field –– propped up by an arm that could hit triple-digits on release and nail runners like clockwork. He also led the AL in triples and garnered a 19th-place MVP vote at years end.

Rodón didn’t quite have a “breakout” year, but he did have what unfortunately remains the best season of his White Sox career thus far by racketing up 168 innings over 28 starts while posting playable numbers in a 4.04 ERA and 9.2 K/9 in what was really his first big-league season as a full-time starter.

For upsets, I thought Adam LaRoche would be downed by a back injury. It turns out he got “upset” by something entirely different: His 14 year-old son Drake LaRoche not being allowed in the clubhouse. This set off what was quite truly an international firestorm when he retired over the matter, and it oddly sparked a broader discussion about the place of children in the workplace. You can’t make this stuff up, and no my bracket did not have the details –– only that he’d have an early exit.

I had Jacob Turner upsetting John Danks for a rotation spot, predicting that the White Sox would actually eat Danks’ contract midseason in the midst of contention, a bold call considering the conventional Jerry Reinsdorf behavior. I was dead wrong about Turner, who was absolutely atrocious during just two starts and 24 ⅔ innings pitched in a starter/bullpen hybrid role. Turn down the backlight on your screen so as not to burn your eyes when you read about his 6.57 ERA, near 2.000 WHIP, and a 5.8 BB/9 to just 6.6 K/9. Chicago did release and eat the rest of Danks’ $15.75 million salary in May, so this pick was mixed.

My two players on the bubble, Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer, both made it to the majors, so there’s that.

Now that I’ve proven at least a modicum of credibility in my baseball bracketology, here’s a similar exercise for 2020. It is going to be semi-challenging given the uncertainty of baseball this season and how disrupted conditioning and a late and shortened season may impact performance and sample sizes, but here goes.


Final Four

C Yasmani Grandal

This was a move White Sox fans have been waiting for ever since A.J. Pierzynski was forced out of town only to be supplanted by the polarizing Tyler Flowers. Not only was the four-year, $73 million dollar Grandal deal the largest free agent outlay in White Sox history, but the backstop has been an absolute turnstile for essentially the last four seasons. There’s not better way I can demonstrate how much of an upgrade Grandal will be than this:

That 5.2 fWAR made Grandal the second-most valuable catcher in the majors last year and would have also made him the second-most valuable player in Chicago by that same metric. He posted an absurd 17.2% walk rate, per FanGraphs, which helped him achieve a .380 OBP.

Pair that with a career-high 28 home runs and a glove that gets rave reviews from both the pitch-framing eye test and advanced metrics, to say nothing of his ability to be a beacon for a staff, and Grandal looks like he’ll be a linchpin for the White Sox and deliver a massive season. If we weren’t looking at a truncated year, I’d say 25-30 home runs would be in the cards.

Either way, Grandal will provide pop and on-base percentage from both sides of the plate and be the perfect steward for Chicago’s rotation. He’s what we’d call a blue-blood No.1 seed –– a lock –– and your best bet to reach Chicago’s Final Four from a composite value perspective.

LF Eloy Jiménez

Jiménez had his first taste of big-league action from the jump last season after signing a winter extension. He ended up missing some time with a pair of IL stints, one for a right ankle sprain and another one for sustaining a nerve contusion in his arm during an outfield collision.

Through 122 games, Jiménez still managed to break the 30-home run mark with 31 bombs, and some of them were truly tape-measure shots. There was a little swing-and-miss to his game (26.6% K-rate) but he slashed .267/.315/.513 on the whole with a .246 ISO.

Jiménez is like that upstart program that is suddenly elevated with a slew of top recruits but is felled by injuries and exits earlier than expected. Not in 2020. The roster of prolific batting tools will be coming back, so to speak, and with an expectation of health.

Jiménez barely tapped into the value of Guaranteed Rate Field as a hitter’s park last season (.748 home OPS compared to an .892 away) which is an aberration that is unlikely to be in play again. His torrid pace to end the season (.340/.383/.710 slash line with nine home runs in September) could very well be a prelude of what’s to come. Eloy will simply mash in 2020.

SS Tim Anderson 

Anderson had a breakout campaign last season in a full-fledged attempt to #changethegame You could call it akin to mid-major that ends up leaving a lot of red in its wake and rubs teams and their fans the wrong way in its run to the Final Four; but at the same time also exhilarates a whole new brand of play and ends the tourney with much more name recognition. Anderson invented the “Javelin Bat Flip,” after all.

In 2020, he’ll make good on last year’s run and be a favorite to repeat the performance. Anderson got his title game of sorts last season by leading all of baseball with a .335 batting average. That hardware came with 32 doubles and 18 home runs in just 123 games, as the shortstop battled an ankle sprain.

Had he not missed the time, he likely would have produced his second consecutive 20/20 season. Anderson ended up being worth 3.5 fWAR last year despite the injury bug and the fact that he was actually negative on the other side of the game, committing a league leading 26 errors –– many of the throwing variety.

Expect the Chicago shortstop to clean that up this season as defense has been mentioned publicly as a priority for him, and no one on the club has a more tenacious work ethic. People looking for an upset might point to the fact Anderson walked at just a 2.9% clip and posted an unsustainable .399 BABIP.

But Anderson has proven that he’s going to play his game, from the javelin bat flips to his aggressive approach at the plate. Net-net, his game plays up due to plus raw speed, plus plate coverage, and the fact that he hits the ball to all fields with minimal infield fly outs –– all ingredients that will aid in his maintaining at least an above-average BABIP.

Regression there could be offset by someone who hasn’t even turned 27 yet and likely still has more playable power in his game. Once again, if this were a full season, a 25/25 year could have been on the table, with an outside shot at a 30/30 year if he really broke out.

Given Moncada’s in-game speed has not played as much in the way of base stealing, Anderson along with Robert could be Chicago’s best shot at a 30/30 player. The shortened season makes it much more unlikely, but expect Anderson to be a star nonetheless and both cut down the errors and the nets as his visibility as a face of the game becomes even more high-profile.

3B Yoán Moncada

Moncada was like Anderson last season in the sense that he was more of a No. 3-to-4 seed that made his way to the final weekend. Imagine a very talented team that doesn’t see things click as a group until their junior season.

That’s what happened for Moncada last year as he slashed .315/.367/.548 en route to a team-leading 5.7 fWAR, in part thanks to a glove that played up at third base as opposed to the keystone. He cut his strikeout rate from an abysmal 33.4% in 2018 to a very playable 27.5% in 2019.

Moncada smashed 25 home runs, 34 doubles, and five triples despite missing a chunk of time with a hamstring strain. There are some regression worries due to a high BABIP, which will be addressed later, but there’s more ceiling for Moncada in 2020 — and that should be a scary thought for opponents.

He showed a solid walk rate during his pro ball days in the minors and in his 2017 debut (12.6 %) which fell to just 7.2% in 2020. With excellent plate discipline, there’s certainly reason to believe that number reverts a little closer to above-average range or at least the double-digits, which will raise his OBP. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old will likely continue to show even more in-game power, as he can certainly hit moonshots and the long ball should come with more regularity.

Finally, someone with 70-grade speed should quite frankly be swiping more bags. Moncada made just 13 attempts last year despite a 76% success rate. Moncada should be swiping 20 bags with ease in a full season and possibly even in a shortened season.

So tapping into more in-game power, more playable speed, and just natural growth for the White Sox’s most tool-ridden and physical specimen outside of Robert, Moncada will have more than “One Shining Moment” in 2020 and potentially make an MVP bid. He is the odds-on No. 1 seed for 2020.

Cinderellas

SP Reynaldo López

López makes for a very interesting cinderella pick as he could very well “bust” some brackets in 2020, especially brackets that are labeling him a “bust.” Will 2020 truly be the year of “hindsight is 2020” for these fans and pundits alike? Here are a few reasons why the slipper, or rather cleat, may fit for López.

He absolutely has the former prospect pedigree. Coming up with the Nationals, some evaluators painted López as even more of a star than his often more-touted teammate Lucas Giolito. That seemed to prove true as he flashed nastier stuff than a struggling Giolito and ended 2018 –– his first full season as a big league starter –– on a high note.

Rather than López carrying that over into 2019 for a breakout, it was instead Giolito who had a surge, and López ended up being an unmitigated disaster –– “good” for a 5.38 ERA over 33 starts and an unforgiving FIP of 5.04 that wasn’t noticeably better.

López quite frankly was all over the plate, even showing lack of concentration at times. His HR/9 clocked in at 1.71, which is eye-popping bad, while he also walked more than three batters per nine innings. There wasn’t obvious bad luck either, as he had a pretty in-line .316 BABIP against and a 69.2% strand rate.

So what could possibly be the positives? Well the raw stuff is certainly still there. López’s fastball velocity still runs up regularly over 95 mph while his curveball can still look sharp at times. His K/9 was actually a full batter improvement from 2018, settling at 8.27 per nine, and despite his struggles he’s been durable with two consecutive seasons of more than 180 innings pitched and such durability has led to two straight two-WAR seasons as well. So it’s not all entirely bad.

Sometimes these things just take time. Grandal has already been reported to have a positive effect on López, apparently identifying some ways López can leverage his off-speed stuff better; this being one of the paramount reasons Grandal was a good add.

We’ll see if it carries over into the season, but for López the stuff is there and so is the durability. Now it’s all about that elusive control and command, which if realized, could give the White Sox a very solid power righty. If not, maybe he’s a two-pitch pitcher who plays up in the pen. The 2020 season will be a litmus test, but one worth giving for sure.

OF Adam Engel

Engel has been a trendy Cinderella for years. When you get body and tool comps to Mike Trout, that tends to happen. These types of comps are always unfair, but not unusual this time of year when a team is regarded as “the Butler, VCU, or Davidson of year X.”

I don’t think Engel will be a Cinderella in the traditional sense, where he parlays his myriad of tools, build, and athleticism into some huge Elite Eight run as a double-digit seed, but he can be a Cinderella in the sense that he carves out a niche on this roster.

The glove has always been playable — more than playable actually; in fact, plus. He’s the perfect roving outfielder to come in as a late defensive replacement or pinch-runner where his plus speed can play up late in a game during a crucial moment.

It’s not worth getting into the annual narrative of mechanical adjustments and swing changes, but the fact remains that Engel can fill a role in 2020 and be of value. It was a small sample, but Engel hit .313/.360/.482 versus LHP in 2019 and he’s always been better against southpaws in his career. Not as flashy as that line, more like a .679 OPS type, but still –– better.

Given Nomar Mazara will be manning right field, Engel could be a serviceable platoon partner for him and generate additional value defensively and on the basepaths, with some occasional pop here and there.

Once he’s no longer overexposed in a starting role, Engel may go from a liability to a competent utility piece, and that would certainly be a Cinderella story for someone who otherwise would be on the fringe of being out of the game entirely. Maybe 2020, is Adam Engel’s Sweet 16 –– where he was once regarded as an intriguing prospect.

Upsets

Upsets: you love them and you hate them, depending on your bracket and allegiance of course, but they always happen. In this context, upsets are always negative –– well, mostly. You’ll see a few qualifiers. Upset will be ranked as most likely to happen to least likely as described by traditional NCAA Tourney seed vernacular. A 16-over-1 is historically unlikely while a 10-over-7 is a relatively safe bet and really anything 12-over-5 and less isn’t mind-blowing, at least to those who dig into the numbers.

Roster Spot Crunch (10) over Zack Collins (7)

With the signing of Grandal, the White Sox now have not one but two All-Star catchers on their roster when you factor in holdover James McCann. The fact that Abreu is still manning first base, Grandal can also play that corner infield spot, and the additional fact that Edwin Encarnación was signed with the explicit intent of full-time DH duties, the roster composition is not looking kind to Collins, a former Top 10 draft pick back in 2016 who has hit for power and OBP in the minors but whose profile has been dampened by a poor hit tool and subpar defensive outlook as a backstop. The shortened season means even less chance for opportunity, as a limited schedule may not be as taxing for players. Factor in that with the logic of getting Collins regular ABs at Charlotte, and he does not look to get a lot of time under the bright lights in 2020.

Bullpen Role (11) over (6) Carlos Rodón

This would be an upset in the sense that Rodón was not taken with the No. 3 overall pick out of N.C. State back in the 2014 draft to be used as a bullpen piece. He was drafted to be a front-end starter. But Rodón has been a disappointment no matter how you frame it. Save for a 2016 season in which he made 28 starts to compile 165 innings of respectable 4.04 ERA ball with a 9.2 K/9 as a 23 year-old, it’s all been a massive slide from there.

You can blame injuries, underperformance, or a combination of the two, but Rodón has just not gotten it done from the mound. After those 165 innings in 2016, he’s thrown just 224 ⅔ combined in the three years since with a 4.33 ERA, 4.66 FIP, and 4.1 BB/9 over that span.

Now coming off Tommy John Surgery and with a shortened season ahead and a crowded rotation, it makes loads of sense to take Rodón’s fastball and slider, which have looked like a deadly combo in the past, and see how they play in the bullpen.

A lefty coming out of the pen with nasty stuff could be just the trick for Rodón. It would be less taxing on his arm and possibly lead to actual, tangible value. Chicago has just one year of control on the pitcher after 2020; they might as well get something out of him.

As a Scott Boras client, Rodón seems like a change of scenery guy when he hits free agency. Rodón and Boras may be “upset” by this upset, but White Sox fans may be pleasantly surprised. And if he does turn into Chicago’s version of Andrew Miller –– a modern-day, two- or three-inning bullpen slicer with explosive stuff –– then he may have an even better chance at a payday.

Win-Win.

Shortened Season (13) over Luis Robert (4)

Robert is dripping with talent. If well-rounded prospects are tool sheds, then he’s five top-of-the-line toolboxes inside of a tool shed. Robert may be the best player of the whole critical mass when all is said and done.

He has the bat, mammoth power, leopard speed, and platinum glove. But Robert also has zero big league experience and despite video game numbers in Charlotte, the hit tool is still a bit raw. It is quite possible there will be a lag, a period of adjustment.

The 2020 season had a good chance to shake out as a coming-out party for Robert with real Rookie of the Year potential, but a shortened season won’t help in masking early struggles. If those make up a disproportionate portion of the 2020 campaign, then Robert’s road to true stardom may have to wait until 2021.

COVID-19 (15) over Major League Baseball (2)

There’s something that’s been eating at my mind, and that’s the possibility that baseball doesn’t happen at all. With every waking day, the value of social distancing and flattening the curve with COVID-19 rises even more to the forefront. And with it usually comes new CDC recommendations on limiting crowds to smaller numbers and for longer periods.

Speculation is abound and there’s been some lines of thinking that baseball may not start until midsummer and that even if it does, it may have to occur without fans or with limited attendance. The systems to properly screen and re-integrate into society may simply not be in place.

There’s also conjecture that if baseball were to be canceled entirely by the league due to a “national emergency,” the MLBPA may not be able to stave off contracts being invalidated. That’s a win on overhead for the owners.

Sure, there’s boatloads of money on the table to be lost. Out of sight, out of mind is at play, too. But at some point –– especially if a decent chunk of games would have to be played with no fans –– then the ROI, not the revenue, but the actual income over fixed operating costs may be very minimal — or worse, projected to be negative.

If that’s what the tea leaves start to say, then there is at least a chance the owners lobby with Major League Baseball to pull the plug on the 2020 season entirely. This would be an upset for the ages, but it’s not one to write off entirely.

The Trendy Upset That Won’t Happen

BABIP (12) over Yoán Moncada (5)

Every year there is one team that all the pundits pick to shock the world, and the shock is that it doesn’t happen. In recent years, think any South Dakota State team with Mike Daum on it, or a New Mexico St. team that could always crash the boards but instead crashed dreams of bracket perfection instead (Thanks Aggies!)

The trendy upset pick this year in the baseball world is that the league leader in BABIP, Moncada, will see massive regression and that this said underlying number was a key driver of his breakout season.

Moncada had a .406 BABIP last year, up from a .344 BABIP the year prior. That screams regression, until you look at the fact that Moncada also lowered his infield fly ball rate, raised his hard contact rate, and increased his line drive rate. Those are all immediate explanations for why he had a higher BABIP, and again, his baseline in a down year was .344.

Want to dive deeper into the stats? He increased his exit velocity between 2018 and 2019 from 90.6 to 92.8 (seventh in baseball) and his barrel % from 9.6 to 12.2, per Baseball Savant. That barrel % is nearly twice the league average of 6.3.

Moncada also brings other drivers that can make a BABIP more sustainable, like hitting to all fields, possessing raw speed to leg out infield hits, and the fact that he actually is hitting the ball out of the park way more than before. You don’t have to worry too much about your BABIP when your ball isn’t in play as often, and it’s less in play for the good reasons like home runs and walks, not the bad one: strikeouts.

Another interesting note: speaking of those infield hits, Moncada had an 8.9% rate in 2018 and only a 4.6% in 2019, so he may actually leg out more infield hits in 2020, making the sustainability of a higher BABIP all the more buyable.

The bottom line is this –– even if Moncada’s BABIP recedes, his overall ceiling may not. The best is yet to come and over-inflating one statistic that isn’t as alarming as it seems will do a disservice to your baseball bracket. Avoid this trendy upset pick.

On the Bubble

2B Nick Madrigal (IN)

Madrigal was likely going to be here by mid-April at the latest. The high-IQ player who simply does not strike out is an easy at-large bid despite the small stature. Service time considerations and how they will apply to a shortened 2020 are still up in the air, but it won’t matter with Madrigal. The mature rookie with the slick glove will be manning second at some point.

1B Andrew Vaughn (OUT)

Vaughn has impressed mightily in his initial taste of pro ball. He is an extremely polished college bat who may be the best pure hitter in the whole organization. He truly could be a 60 hit/60 power guy which could shake out to a perennial near-.300 average and consistent 30-bomb player. But the shortened season will make a September (November?) call-up unlikely even if Chicago is in contention. He just won’t have enough requisite ABs in the minors to make the jump.

SP Dane Dunning (OUT)

The crowded rotation already put Dunning in a dangerous position on the bubble, and that’s without even referencing that he’ll be coming back from Tommy John surgery. He’ll need more than just a tuneup in the minors before seeing the big leagues. He may find his way in if there are injuries, or the season actually starts in May rather than July, but if not, Dunning will have to wait until 2021 to hear his name called.

SP Michael Kopech (IN)

You could actually say Kopech is in a somewhat similar boat as Dunning given the developing circumstances, but he’s had his time in the minors –– and a short stint in the bigs –– so it’s more about purely rehabbing. While we’ll see less of Kopech in 2020 than we would have without COVID-19, we will see Kopech –– or the lightning power arm I like to call “Zeus” –– in 2020 at some point. If not, it will be a major snub.


I hope this fulfilled the gaping black hole that’s a result of the lack of sports during what is an unprecedented global crisis. From me to you the reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and remember: There are sunnier days ahead. Days where the sun will be beaming down on ballplayers.

Patience is a virtue, and hope is currently our best medicine.

 

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.