Writer and photographer Sean Williams hops on the podcast coming off of a weekend of Camelback Ranch coverage at the start of spring training. We talk about the impressive hitting displays by many White Sox newcomers, the second base battle, pitchers to watch for in 2020, the best move of the offseason and what’s still missing from the White Sox roster.
Tag: Danny Mendick
New kids on the block had a strong showing at full squads
New club, new me: Nomar Mazara is all smiles as he heads out to the field in his first day with the White Sox. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)
Today was the first opportunity for White Sox fans to get a look at the more complete package of what the team will be putting out on the field this season. Everyone has officially reported, and after a later-than-usual start, the team took the field for standard batting practice and fielding drills. The only difference today was that major league players were grouped together and the prospects worked separately on a different field.
One of the biggest positional story lines heading into the regular season concerns second base. The White Sox have done a great job of upgrading the roster this offseason, but second base is still a hole while we wait patiently for Nick Madrigal to take over after the first month or so of the season. Madrigal has spent time working in the field with the regular big leaguers, but today he was sent off with the other prospects when the team broke off into fielding drills. Leury García and Danny Mendick took turns fielding grounders at second base with the rest of the guys to start the day. García would end up staying put at second base, but Mendick shifted around and got some reps in at shortstop and third base as well. Could this be a sign of the job being either García’s or Mendick’s to lose? Time will tell, but it’s worth noting that those two got the first set of reps with the full squad present in Glendale this afternoon.
After spending the past few days working behind the scenes, Yoán Moncada went back to work with the rest of the team today and he looked like one of the best of the bunch. During fielding drills, he made on error by letting a ball get through his legs, but aside from that, he was fantastic in the field. He handled nearly every grounder with ease and all of his throws across the diamond and to second base were right where they needed to be. After fielding drills were finished, Moncada took batting practice, where he continued to shine. All of his work came from the left side of the plate, and he demolished the ball all afternoon.
Yoan Moncada, man. He is abusing the baseball #WhiteSox #SpringTraining pic.twitter.com/QnzJlZabHd
— Sean Williams (@Sean_W10) February 17, 2020
Speaking of everyone being present, Nomar Mazara hit the field today for his first official workout with the team. I did not have a chance to watch him in the field, but I did sit through his full rounds of batting practice, where he put on a show. He put together better rounds than everyone besides Moncada. Mazara’s hitting session consisted of mainly line drives and deep fly balls; granted it’s only batting practice, but you can see the power potential in his bat.
Nomar Mazara with a few ropes during this round of BP #WhiteSox #SpringTraining pic.twitter.com/dQwNEmGOgS
— Sean Williams (@Sean_W10) February 17, 2020
For a while, it seemed like the White Sox might explore external platoon options with Mazara because he’s had a rough time with left-handed pitching. However, with everyone being in Glendale, it seems like the White Sox are going to roll with what they have. There has been mentions of the team having confidence in what Mazara brings to the table and that he will get the bulk of the playing time in right field. The club’s new hitting coach, Frank Menechino, watched Mazara closely this afternoon as he was hitting and frequently gave him praise throughout his session. Mazara is a bit of a project, thus there’s still some potential that can be unlocked there. It seems like the White Sox are going to give him every opportunity to break out and reach that potential this season.
In addition to Mazara, White Sox fans also got to see Edwin Encarnación for the first time this afternoon. Before swinging the bat, he participated in fielding drills at first base. He made a handful of errors and you could tell he is still getting some of the dust off his glove, but he was fine at that position for the most part. Encarnación participated in live batting practice against pitchers and also regular batting practice with coaches pitching to him. His session went just about how you would expect: He showed easy power and drove the ball to all fields. It didn’t seem like Encarnación was going at full speed, but he still managed to put together some loud sessions.
More Edwin Encarnacion. He nearly muscled one to the center field wall #WhiteSox #SpringTraining pic.twitter.com/zfCE46Fs9t
— Sean Williams (@Sean_W10) February 17, 2020
Now that the full squad is finally together, we are getting closer to seeing what the finished product will be. There are still some holes to fill, but soon that will no longer be the case. Cactus League games are coming up fast, and it will be interesting to see who can carry the momentum from camp into game action and who will win roster spot battles. The team is back together, the players are having fun, and we are just a few days away from seeing all the hard work they put in all offseason on display as the spring training season opens.
Filling the gap at the second sack
Slugging stopgap: The White Sox need a second baseman. Brian Dozier remains unsigned. Still time before position players report, Rick. (@TwinsPics)
Who ultimately mans second base on opening day for the Chicago White Sox remains a mystery. Going into a season ripe with playoff expectations, relying on Danny Mendick and Leury García for significant contributions seems foolhardy, however.
Who would be the best second baseman for the South Siders in 2020? Let’s take a look at some of the top candidates.
Leader in the clubhouse
Danny Mendick‘s table may in fact be ready, which is puzzling given his sparse usage down the stretch in 2019. There was seemingly plenty of playing time available, but manager Rick Renteria only felt it necessary to grant Mendick 40 major league plate appearances.
Selected in the 22nd round of the 2015 draft out of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, the 5´10´´, 190-pounder was the definition of a late bloomer and wasn’t even confident that he’d be drafted at all. Mendick’s father has a successful career in commercial real estate, and the infielder was always falling back on that potential option.
White Sox area scouts are generally on the prowl for traits in the latter portion of the draft’s third day. Mendick could play all three infield spots and was considered to be a smart player who was pretty technically sound, with some ability to hit. The scouting department and player development staff never expected Mendick to be a legitimate big league option for 2020, but sometimes organizational depth overachieves when provided an opportunity.
Mendick hit .308/.325/.462 with two homers in a small major league sample in September. He was also pretty solid in spring training, generating some chatter that he make the 2019 squad to start the season. Mendick ultimately returned to the Charlotte Knights and hit .279/.368/.444 in the International League with 17 homers and a 109 wRC+.
The 26-year-old was added to the 40-man roster last year and protected from being included in the Rule 5 draft. Mendick was also a prominent member of the group that took part in the Soxfest festivities in late January. The organization is clearly a fan of Mendick’s potential, so it was quite puzzling that he didn’t receive more playing time to close out his first taste of the majors.
Leury García is back with the White Sox on a one-year deal, and the versatile switch hitter is capable of playing multiple positions. García was the primary leadoff hitter last season and played in 140 contests. Leury was over-exposed in that role, however, and his flaws were very much at the forefront. The 28-year-old hit .279/.310/.378 with eight home runs, but just an 83 wRC+. He was worth 1.3 fWAR mostly due to his versatility.
García was first acquired by the organization back in 2013, in a swap with the Texas Rangers for outfielder Alex Rios. The 5´8´´, 180-pounder can play every infield spot as well as center field and the outfield corners. He strikes out too much and doesn’t walk enough (3% BB rate), and he’d be miscast in a starting role once again. García is ideal (and more than capable) as a utility player, and that’s what his likely role will be. He is a candidate to start the season as the starter at second base, but he could also spell Nomar Mazara in the outfield in addition to his infield responsibilities.
In some years, there are interesting non-roster invites with a legitimate chance at stealing a roster spot; this won’t be one of those years. For starters, 34-year-old utility man Andrew Romine will take part in big league spring training. The switch-hitter plays all over the diamond and spent the 2019 season in Triple-A for the Phillies. He’s a decent fit as minor league depth, but likely won’t challenge for a roster spot. Former Royals top prospect, 27-year-old Cheslor Cuthbert,will be in Glendale as well. The infielder has really struggled offensively and is unlikely to be more than a placeholder at Charlotte.
The elephant in the room
The ghost of Nick Madrigal can also be described as the elephant in the room. The fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft is the second sacker of the future, and his ascension could begin on March 26 against Kansas City. The Oregon State product will be 23 on Opening Day and projects as an elite defender at second base. In 2019, Madrigal hit .331/.398/.424 with a 117 wRC+ with the Charlotte Knights in Triple-A. He also hit .341/.400/.451 with a .391 wOBA and 150 wRC+ in Double-A with the Birmingham Barons.
If Madrigal starts the year in Chicago, second base is solved. This course of action would be the preference of many members of the fan base and media, but it doesn’t appear to be the most likely outcome on Opening Day. The 5´7´´, 170-pounder will receive plenty of run with the big league team during spring training. Service time questions aside, Madrigal could benefit from some more seasoning in the International League if the organization chooses to go that route.
There are still some veteran infielders on the free agent market who could potentially help the White Sox in 2020. As GM Rick Hahn has mentioned publicly, it might be tough to land a quality player with Madrigal waiting in the wings. It’s not completely out of the question, though. Brian Dozier, Brock Holt, Brad Miller, Jason Kipnis and Ben Zobrist are names that fans have heard before.
Dozier is familiar with the AL Central and would conceivably fit right in with the White Sox. The 32-year-old posted 1.7 fWAR with a 99 wRC+ in 135 games with the Washington Nationals last year and compiled 19 fWAR during 2014-17 with the Twins. While his overall stat line isn’t overwhelmingly exciting, the right-handed hitter did some serious work against southpaws. The 5´11´´, 200-pounder hit .280/.375/.525 with a 128 wRC+ and .373 wOBA vs lefties in 2019. Dozier has an immense amount of playoff experience and would theoretically be stellar in a backup role as well.
Holt is a cult hero in Boston and could easily return to the Red Sox. He’s been linked to some teams, but hasn’t quite found a deal to his liking. The 31-year-old has very little power but slashed .297/.369/.402 with a 103 wRC+ in 2019. The 5´10´´, 180-pounder hits from the left side and posted a 119 wRC+ vs righties last year. He’s one of myriad options for the White Sox and could contribute to the 2020 club in multiple ways.
Miller is 30, and has played on multiple teams. He was a fairly well-regarded prospect at one time and had a solid season with the Phillies in 2019. The 6´2´´, 215-pound infielder hits left-handed and posted a 126 wRC+ last year. Miller hit 13 home runs and can play all over the infield.
Kipnis is a native of Northbrook and reportedly has drawn interest from the Cubs. The 32-year-old left-handed hitter has struggled in recent years, including a 1.1 fWAR in 2019 with an 82 wRC+. Kipnis was better vs. righties, with a wRC+ of 91, and he did smack 17 long balls.
It’s unclear whether the 38-year-old Zobrist is interested in playing baseball in 2020, but he’d be a potential roster fit if willing. The Eureka native missed most of last season, but can hit from both sides of the plate, play multiple positions and has an array of playoff success.
The best outcome for the White Sox sees Madrigal being penciled into the lineup on March 26. Out of all the possible scenarios, though, this one seems the most far-fetched. It would likely only come with a signed contract extension, despite Madrigal not being in the class of players where future service time hangs over the franchise. The organization wants to see him succeed in Charlotte prior before making his big league debut. The marketing department would surely benefit from the crowd on the night of another prospect debut as well.
While Spring Training statistics are often meaningless, Madrigal’s stat line will be pored over from his first start in Glendale. But at this juncture, it seems as if Mendick is the likely Opening Day second baseman, as García’s presence on the club is valuable but not so much as an everyday player in the infield. And don’t forget, Dozier has been linked to the White Sox at points during the offseason, and he remains unsigned.
With Madrigal’s eventual arrival not imminent, Dozier seems like the best realistic outcome prior to the start of Spring Training. Adding a veteran to the mix is still possible — but if not, it appears that second base on the South Side should be in good hands for the foreseeable future.
Hitter’s Camp Day 3: Danny Mendick
Shocking the world: Mendick hit the ground running in the big leagues last September, and aims to remain rooted on the South Side. (Chicago White Sox)
On Day 3 of Hitter’s Camp, White Sox TV talked with Danny Mendick about getting acclimated with new coaches and hooking up again with Frank Menechino, getting to leave chilly New York for Arizona in January, the thrill of his cup of coffee in September, staying within himself after finally hitting the field in the majors, and his aim to fulfill any role the White Sox need him to fill.
Hitter’s Camp Day 3: Ricky Renteria
Grinding it out: Renteria took some time at Hitter’s Camp to weigh in on several of the youngest White Sox stars. (Chicago White Sox)
On Day 3 of Hitter’s Camp, White Sox TV caught up with manager Ricky Renteria for his thoughts on the impeccable grinder play of “Mendy” (Danny Mendick), Mendick’s status as a fan and organizational favorite, Zack Collins’ major improvements from his first to second stint in the majors, and Blake Rutherford growing into his body and becoming a professional hitter.
Hitter’s Camp Day 3: batting cages
The sights and sounds of sweet, sweet baseball: Among the players featured at Hitter’s Camp in Glendale is Seby Zavala, shown here working on his swing plane. (Chicago White Sox)
White Sox TV presents some raw looks at several young players at Hitter’s Camp, including Blake Rutherford, Luis González, Danny Mendick, Seby Zavala, Micker Adolfo, Gavin Sheets, Luis Basabe and Yermín Mercedes.
South Side Hit Pen’s Best of the 2010s
Three generations: One indelible memory. (Leonard Gore)
That last Christmas gift under the tree? Yep, it’s from your friends at South Side Hit Pen.
After we delivered our take on the very, very best and beyond, beyond worst games of 2019 last month, we decided to wrap up an extra-special treat, as we wrap up 2019 and the Teens to boot.
An octo-rama of the best and brightest SSHP writers present to you our Best of the 2010s — please enjoy.
Oct. 3, 2012
June 22, 2010
White Sox 4, Tigers 3
July 23, 2016
It was a day that was supposed to feature a cool retro jersey: the 1976 navy pajama top. Me and a group of friends normally went to the cool promotional games — the Hawaiian shirt games, jersey giveaways, steins, etc. — because the promotions have been the best thing about the Sox the past decade. If it is a cool promotion, we will be there. So, we mainly went to that game in July for the giveaway, but with the trade deadline nearing, we also understood it could be Chris Sale’s last game at Sox Park. While we were in line waiting to get into the park among what was a pretty good crowd, we all got phone alerts via Twitter, multiple reports coming in that Sale would not be starting the game. Immediately, we all turned to each other and asked if he was traded. As the line got moving, more and more fans were looking at their phones and turning to their group, all equally confused.
Now, my friends and I wanted a rebuild (and still support it), so we were giddy that a potential trade was in the works. A pitcher scratched from a start in late July surely made it seem like a trade was imminent. As confusion permeated the lines and the stadium, we collected our retro jerseys at the turnstiles and went upstairs to our seats. Looking back now, we should have noticed something obvious: The Sox were not wearing the 1976 jerseys, they instead were in the 1983s. But we did not think anything of it at the time (you can say we were stupid, and I will admit we were/are). As game time grew closer, the story became clear: Chris Sale was not traded; he threw a temper tantrum. He cut up the jerseys the Sox were supposed to wear on that day.
Once that information found its way to our laps, we all just laughed and laughed. In the same year where the Sox had the Drake Laroche debacle, another White Sox childish display was the talk of baseball. Because Sale did not start, Robin Ventura had to go to an impromptu bullpen day, and the bullpen did very well: Matt Albers, Dan Jennings, Tommy Kahnle, Zach Duke, Nate Jones and David Robertson went all-out to get through the day and on to the next. The Tigers were able to put up three runs in eight innings, including a blown save by Jones. Meanwhile, the Sox offense did just enough. Avisaíl García drove in two runs through the first eight innings, with a home run. Dioner Navarro doubled in another run. It was a rainy day by the end of the game, so we left before the game was suspended after the eighth inning, and we did not go back for the ninth the next day, when Adam Eaton ended the game with an RBI single.
But the game was really a second act on the day: The real story was Sale’s. He ended up being suspended for five games, missing one turn in the rotation. But looking back now, that day must have made it much easier for the front office to trade him in the upcoming offseason. For me and my friends, we do not remember much about the game, but we all have vivid memories of the shock we all had once the true story came out, punctuated by the team wearing 1983s instead of 1976s.
The 2016 team was not all that bad, but it was the most embarrassing season to be a Sox fan in recent memory. This game was the exclamation point. — Darren Black
Sept. 8, 2019
Since nothing of any baseball importance happened during the seven years of the decade a White Sox fan was the POTUS, I’ll go with a personal choice that just snuck in under the wire. Sept. 8, 2019 was a completely forgettable and insignificant Sox 5-1 win over a Trout-less Angels team. José Abreu homered; Danny Mendick homered (the first of his career!); Dylan Cease was wild (of course); and every starter got a hit except for Adam Engel (of course-of course). But what made it most memorable for me was the fact that it was my son’s first ever White Sox game! And frankly, I didn’t spend much time watching this game because I was happy to have him with me. We watched a couple of innings, met Ron Kittle outside the park (of course-of course-of-course), and spent most of the game in the Fundamentals Kids Zone in left field doing all the baseball activities over and over. My dad and brother also were there, so it was three generations of Gore boys to enjoy a day that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. — Leonard Gore
Sept. 29, 2013
White Sox 9, Rays 6
April 25, 2014
Looking for the best White Sox game of the decade was no easy task. But after digging through the dumpster fire of the last decade that was White Sox baseball, I stumbled across April 25, 2014, an evening affair against the Rays that produced some nice fireworks.
Cut to the top of the ninth at U.S. Cellular Field, as Evan Longoria smashed a two-run dinger off of Matt Lindstrom to straightaway center field, breaking a 4-4 tie. Things were looking grim for the Sox, but they got through the rest of the inning unscathed. Then in the bottom of the ninth, with two on and one out, Paul Konerko walked to load the bases. Adam Eaton was up next, and narrowly avoided hitting into a double play to end the game, just beating out the throw at first as a run scored. Grant Balfour then walked Marcus Semien to load the bases once again, setting the stage for José Abreu.
Abreu did not disappoint, smashing a walk-off grand slam into the bullpen in right center field, his second dinger of the game. Ballgame!!! This game set the stage for six years of heroics from José, as he’s been the star who has shined the brightest during that time for the White Sox. — Scott Reichard (guitarsox)
Aug. 24, 2012
Deep Dive: Charlotte and Birmingham second basemen
Star in the making: Nick Madrigal, the White Sox first-round pick in 2018, hit .311 for three teams last year. Did we mention he stole 35 bases, walked 44 times as opposed to 16 strikeouts, and won a minor league Gold Glove? (Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights)
“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:
- Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
- Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- Free agent options at that position
It’s time to take a look at the second basemen who finished the year with Charlotte and Birmingham; even though Danny Mendick finished the year with the White Sox, he still has rookie eligibility and is thus detailed in this post. These two players are by far the best second basemen in the White Sox system.
(age as of April 1, 2020)
Madrigal enjoyed a terrific run with Oregon State University, which culminated in a NCAA World Series championship. For his sophomore season, he slashed .380/.449/.532 in 60 games with 20 doubles, two triples, four homers, 40 RBIs, 16 stolen bases, 27 walks (9.6%) and 16 strikeouts (5.7%). Despite missing much time to a broken wrist early during his junior year, Madrigal still managed to slash .367/.428/.511 in 42 games last year with nine doubles, four triples, three homers, 34 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 16 walks (8.0%) and just seven strikeouts (3.5%). Due to his unique combination of speed, defense and hitting ability, the diminutive Madrigal was selected by the White Sox with the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft.
Madrigal played for three affiliates last year (AZL, Kannapolis and Winston-Salem) and fared reasonably well for his first professional season. In 43 combined games in 2018 totaling 155 at-bats, he slashed .303/.353/.348 with seven doubles, 16 RBIs, eight stolen bases, seven walks (4.0%) and five strikeouts (2.9%).
Like last year, Madrigal played for three squads in 2019 (Winston-Salem, Birmingham and Charlotte). Ironically, the least success he enjoyed was with the Dash, where he still posted a respectable .272/.346/.377 line in 49 games with 10 doubles, two triples, two homers, 27 RBIs, 17 stolen bases, 17 walks (7.8%) and six strikeouts (2.8%). After being promoted to Birmingham on June 6, he slashed an impressive .341/.400/.451 in 42 games, including 11 doubles, two triples, one homer, 16 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, 14 walks (7.8%) and just five strikeouts (2.8%). Finally, for an encore, Madrigal was promoted to Charlotte where he slashed .331/.398/.424 in 29 games with six doubles, one triple, one homer, 12 RBIs, four stolen bases, 13 walks (9.7%) and five strikeouts (3.7%). For the year, Madrigal combined to slash .311/.377/.414 in 120 games with 27 doubles, five triples, four homers, 55 RBIs, 35 stolen bases, 44 walks (8.3%) and 16 strikeouts (3.0%).
Madrigal ranks as the system’s best second base prospect, fourth-best prospect overall and 40th in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline. His hit tool is graded 65 which actually seems conservative, while his field and run skills are also graded highly at 60. This year, Madrigal won the minor league Gold Glove award for second base — which likely had something to do with his terrific range and his committing only four errors in 488 changes (just one error in 77 games with Birmingham and Charlotte). Madrigal’s arm is graded 50 by MLB Pipeline which is satisfactory for second base, while his power grades out weakest, at 40. FanGraphs published an excellent piece regarding the difficulties of evaluating Madrigal’s abilities.
In part because he played just 29 games in Charlotte this year, Madrigal may well begin 2020 there. However, one should expect an early promotion to Chicago for this future South Side dynamo.
Other positions played: Shortstop, Third base, Left field
After playing his first two years of college ball with Monroe CC (Rochester, NY), Mendick transferred to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell for his final two years. For his senior year, he slashed .321/.408/.455 in 43 games with 16 doubles, one triple, one homer, 30 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, 19 walks (10.3%) and 16 strikeouts (8.6%). As a result, the White Sox took a flier on this River Hawk and selected him in the 22nd round of the 2015 draft. Mendick played that season with the AZL squad and slashed a respectable .256/.340/.394 in 49 games.
Mendick enjoyed a solid season with Kannapolis in 2016 by slashing .274/.343/.355 in 98 games with 22 doubles and two homers, but struggled with Winston-Salem in his 15 games there by slashing just .125/.208/.167. However, upon his return to the Dash in 2017, Mendick slashed a more robust .289/.373/.468 with 18 doubles, seven homers, 30 RBIs, 11 stolen bases, 31 walks (10.2%) and 40 strikeouts (13.1%) in 84 games. Unfortunately, he struggled with a midseason promotion to Birmingham, where he slashed just .197/.280/.293 in 41 games.
The 2018 season was spent exclusively with Birmingham, as Mendick slashed .247/.340/.395 with a career high 14 homers, 59 RBIs, 20 walks, 57 walks (10.8%) and 90 strikeouts (17.0%). He was available for the 2018 Rule 5 draft, but went unselected.
Then, in 2019 in the more hitting-friendly confines of Charlotte, Mendick re-established new career bests in most categories by slashing .279/.368/.444 in 133 games by producing 26 homers, one triple, 17 homers 64 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, 66 walks (11.8%) and 96 strikeouts (17.2%). The White Sox called him up on September 3, which obviously meant they didn’t want to risk losing him in this year’s Rule 5 draft. In 16 games totaling 39 at-bats for the Sox, Mendick acted like he belonged by slashing .308/.325/.462 with two homers, four RBIs, one walk (2.5%) and 11 strikeouts (27.5%). Most players who get selected in the later rounds struggle at some point as they advance through the system, but Mendick actually has seemed to improve with each passing year.
Ranked as the organization’s No. 2 second baseman according to MLB Pipeline, Mendick is now regarded as the team’s 26th overall prospect. None of his skills stand out highly per MLB, as his arm and fielding skills are graded the highest at 50. With that said, Mendick does a lot of the little things well: (1) despite playing multiple positions frequently, he only committed four errors for the entire season (two were in Charlotte’s season-ending game); (2) he picks his spots to run, and has attained double-digit steals for each of the past three seasons; and (3) limits his strikeouts while coaxing a fair share of walks (not including the limited sample size with the White Sox).
Mendick has an excellent chance of beginning the season in the majors, as it’s quite possible that long-time defensive stalwart Yolmer Sánchez may not return to the White Sox for the 2020 campaign. Mendick’s future seems to be that of a solid infield (and perhaps even outfield) reserve.
Since Nick Madrigal played much of the year but finished in Charlotte, and other players who played second base this year for Birmingham actually played at other positions more frequently, not one player who finished the year at Birmingham spent the year primarily at second base.
2019 Charlotte Knights season recap
Boom town: It was a successful season, with an explosive ending, in Charlotte. (Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights)
The Knights were overall a much better team than last season, as their hitters took full advantage of the MLB ball in Triple-A. It took until the final day for the Knights to be eliminated from playoff contention, in a 75-64 season.
The International League saw 2,440 home runs this season, compared to 1,555 last year, an 885 home run difference. The Knights went from hitting 103 homers and allowing 113 in 2018 to hitting 208 and allowing 203 in 2019. This really made some hitters look fantastic all across Triple-A, but it honestly did ruin some pitchers as well. Unfortunately, some of those pitchers were on the Sox.
Since the Knights were basically the White Sox bench, I am going to stick with evaluating strictly prospects, so sorry to players like Aaron Bummer, Evan Marshall, and basically the entire Knights outfield that started in Charlotte. Also, if any players started with the Sox and were sent down, sorry, but you also miss the cut.
Started the year with the Knights
A few players started the year with the Knights but did not play that much due to injury, or in one case, a trade. Spencer Adams and Ian Hamilton both had lost seasons due to injury, and seemed to be affected by the new baseball. Adams only threw 18 innings before leaving for the season, and they weren’t good. He lost his starting spot and he pushed himself out of any prospect hype. Hamilton had just an awful year on and off the mound. He missed the beginning of the season due to a car crash. He was not very good when he was on the mound for Charlotte, and then got hurt again off the mound (hit in the face from a foul ball in the dugout, Hamilton required surgery for multiple facial fractures). Jordan Stephens was not good, got hurt, and the Sox just cut him loose, leaving Cleveland to scoop him up off of waivers. Yeah, not great for these three former top prospects.
There was positive movement for Knights prospects as well. Chief among them is Dylan Cease, though his same struggles that have been blatant in MLB were also there in Triple-A. Cease had trouble in the first inning, and usually had one big-run inning, before settling down. He only pitched 68 1/3 innings with a 4.48 ERA, but his stuff is so good that people should believe he will be better next season. Carson Fulmer can be considered in this category still, but I won’t waste much time on him. Fulmer clearly was better this season than any of his other: His strikeout rate was higher and his pitches moved more and faster, but the results aren’t there. Sadly, 2020 might be a last gasp for the former first round pick to make an MLB team (until the Houston Astros or Los Angeles Dodgers get him and turn him into an ace or a high-leverage arm in the bullpen, like they’ll do with Dylan Covey).
Zach Thompson, a reliever, also started the year with the Knights, but he also had a weird cameo in Birmingham, in my opinion, it was for no reason. Thompson struggled mightily in Charlotte, along with multiple other young arms. He had a 5.50 ERA. How? Although his strikeout and walk numbers were fine, Thompson allowed 1.92 HR/9. He is also on the older side and wasn’t selected in the Rule 5 draft last offseason, so the prospect chops on Thompson are probably off.
It was a bit better on the hitting side. There were no season-ending injuries of note, but also not a lot of prospect promotion until September call-ups. Catchers Zack Collins and Seby Zavala both earned promotions before September, but did not inspire while in Chicago. Collins was much better in Triple-A after he was demoted. He finished the MiLB year with a 170 wRC+ with a 16.1% BB-rate and just a 19.9% K-rate, which is fantastic for him. He showed his normal pop and that bump at the end of the season in Charlotte was why he found his way back to the majors in September. Collins has not been overwhelmingly good but his approach is much better. He still needs to swing more often, but that should be work done in the offseason. Zavala had a down year on all counts, and was not even called up for September. His power was good, but the bat-to-ball skills were not as impressive and his K-rate skyrocketed. He could still be in the mix as a catcher for the future, but his prospect shine has definitely decreased. What is saving him is defense, which Collins sorely lacks behind the dish. But with an automated strike zone seemingly on the way, how much will framing matter in the future?
Danny Mendick was one of the rare players on Charlotte who stayed the entire season. Weirdly enough, the MLB ball did not really have a great affect on the utility infielder. His ISO only rose from .148 in 2018 to .166 in 2019, but he put together a solid, not great, season for the Knights nonetheless. Mendick’s batting average rose significantly compared to last season, jumping by 32 points while his plate discipline was still great. The K-rate barely rose, about .2% to just 17.2%, which is a good rate for a contact hitter. Mendick’s walk rate also rose, this time about 1% to 11.8%, which is good especially because it rose from his Double-A rates. Mendick probably does not have the hitting and defensive potential to be an everyday MLB starter, which may be why he stayed in Charlotte the entire season when older players like Ryan Goins got promotions instead of him. Nevertheless, Mendick has had some success with the Sox since his September promotion. It seems to be down to him or Yolmer Sánchez for the 2020 backup infield position.
The Promoted Players
This is where the fun begins, as Anakin Skywalker would say. The prospects who were promoted to Charlotte are far and away the best of the bunch, as well as a couple notable lower prospects as well. But let’s start with the best of them, Luis Robert.
Robert is an elite talent and has prospect rankings that show it. He is the No. 3 overall prospect from Baseball America, 19th on FanGraphs, and fifth on MLB Pipeline. Across all three levels, Robert slashed .328/.376/.624 with 32 home runs and 36 stolen bases. He showed just about every single tool a player could; he even had seven outfield assists from center field and played a part in two double plays, and we have all seen videos like the one below of him flying and diving for a catch.
While we all know Robert’s strengths, and the videos and stats confirm how great he is, he does have things to work on. The ability to walk has become very important to White Sox fans lately, and it does not seem like Robert will help that much. He walked in about 5% of his plate appearances and had a K-rate around 23%. That plate discipline isn’t great, but he really wasn’t challenged much in MiLB so his approach could change. If it does not, he could be in for a very slow start for his MLB career.
The other top guy to be promoted was 2018 first round selection Nick Madrigal. Like Robert he also had two promotions this season, and slashed .311/.377/.414 among the three levels. Madrigal didn’t show much power, but he did at least hit homers this season — four in total, but power will never be a part of his game. Madrigal is a slappy hitter who does have the ability to drive the ball into the gaps. That’s why he had 27 doubles and five triples this year, but BABIP will be an important indicator of his success at the plate. Madrigal also had 35 stolen bases in 2019. But the real calling card for Madrigal is his defense, and for a team that generally doesn’t have very good infield defense, his fielding ability is important. Errors aren’t everything, especially in the infield, but Madrigal only committed four in 932 1/3 innings at second base. Outlets like MLB Pipeline have also surmised that he could be a Gold Glove second baseman once he arrives in Chicago.
The other three promoted players of note are led by fan favorite Yermín Mercedes. The MLB ball certainly agreed with his bat, as Mercedes’ ISO from Double-A at .170 rose to .337 in Triple-A. He hit better than .300 at both levels and also had a BB-rate of more than 10% as well. Mercedes strikes out at a good rate, but good things always seemed to happen when he got the barrel of the bat on the ball. His hit tool seems to be undeniable at this point, but Mercedes has no position. He has been placed at catcher for most of his career, but is not a very good one. He is not athletic enough to move to other positions, and probably is not tall enough to be a first baseman. Mercedes did not get the call for more at-bats in Chicago this season, so the organization does not seem too keen on his abilities, but his bat does seem to be legit. He just needs a chance to show he belongs on a roster somewhere.
The other two are both relievers, Matt Foster and Hunter Schryver. Foster started in Birmingham and left fairly quickly, after 9 2/3 shutout innings. With the Knights, the MLB ball did seem to take a toll on Foster because of a professional high of 1.47 HR/9, but he still had a 3.76 ERA. Foster has a mid- to high-90s fastball, and did have good strikeout numbers (27.7%) and a fine walk rate (8.5%). Schyver also started in Birmingham, and stayed a bit longer. The ball seemed to really affect him. With the Barons, Schyver went from a 2.77 ERA in Birmingham with .37 HR/9 and an 8.5% BB-rate. In his 13 1/3 innings, his walk rate rose to 17.4%, the HR/9 went up to 1.32, and he had an 8.56 ERA. It was a disaster, but the lefty is still somebody to watch; he just needs to get used to the new ball.
Triple-A has become a more important stepping-stone MiLB level because of the different baseball. It made a lot of pitchers worse, and made some hitters look fantastic. It is still too early to decide what improvements or bad performances are simply due to the ball, but the Knights did take enough of an advantage to be in a playoff hunt until the last day. And hey, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal looked great while on the cusp of the majors, which is probably the best takeaway of the season.
Sox shred, split series as ReyLo redeems with one-hit wonder
@NBCSWhitesox Gatorade showers for everyone!
A quick update about Rick Renteria – he’ll miss this Angels homestand to have surgery on his rotator cuff but he’s expected to return in time to see a few more ejections before the season ends.
Before we get into today’s game, we have an exciting announcement! South Side Hit Pen has a brand spankin’ new merch store at TeePublic! While we are in the process of getting our own original designs commissioned, we’ll bring you some curated shirts selected by yours truly. I have a metric fuckton (actual unit of measurement) of options to go through and I don’t take this lightly- I went through 277 pages of Star Wars shirts last year before settling on “Suns out, Buns out” so check back often as we’ll be rotating new designs in and offering topical/seasonal wares. We’ll be featuring other artists’ designs for a bit while we’re working on our designs, but anything you buy through our link supports our talented staff (if anyone wants to buy an awesome Giolito shirt for Katiesphil, drop us a line and he’ll send you his address). If you’d like to commission something for us, drop me a DM on twitter (@Lwilz) and we’ll see if we can make it happen. We will be predominantly featuring White Sox and Chicago/baseball items but we’ve got a few Bears shirts up for this weekend in honor of the season kicking off. We are very happy with the quality and customer service over at TeePublic, and we look forward to this new partnership.
Now back to your regularly scheduled recapping: Despite giving up a leadoff walk, Reynaldo López was a man on a mission, striking out one and allowing a whole lot of nada in the first. In the second inning, Welington Castillo launched a home run after Yoán Moncada’s leadoff single to give the Sox a 2-0 lead.
This was swiftly followed by Collins and Mendick strikeouts and a Yolmer flyout to Sox nemesis Oscar Mercado to end the inning. If you missed Oscar Mercado’s heroics last night, here’s another look:
After a strikeout and another walk, Kevin Plawecki hit a ball just shy of the warning track and Goins, playing right field for unknown reasons, misread the ball and it dropped for a hit. Walking Jake Bauers came back to haunt us, as he scored, cutting our lead in half. One more strikeout for ꓘ-naldo and he appeared to have completely forgotten last week’s meltdown.
Other than a Tim Anderson single and another strikeout for ReyLo, the third inning was uneventful. Moncada doubled off the outfield wall to lead off the fourth, and Collins walked on four pitches. YOLMER singled to center field (yes, Yolmer, really) and Moncada turned on the wheels to extend our lead back to two. Adam Engel struck out looking in an eight-pitch at-bat and I thought he was going to get himself ejected
Two more strikeouts for Reynaldo in the fourth brought us to the fifth. Eloy doubled to left but was unable to score. Lopez continued to deal in the Indians’ fifth with a 1-2-3 inning, using 65 pitches to get the White Sox to the sixth.
Welington Castillo decided to have himself a game and hit the first standup double of his career (just kidding, maybe?), followed by another Collins walk, so it should come as no surprise that Mendick was called upon to bunt. With two strikes, Mendick did the unthinkable, HE EXECUTED IT PERFECTLY.
Eloy and Leury played a little hidden ball trick on Mendick, who now has a souvenir of his first major league hit.
After a pitching change, Yolmer walked in a run and the bases remained loaded with nary an out in sight. (My mom just walked into my house, a detour en route to the Bears game and she scoffed when I said “Did you see that?! there’s nary an out in sight!” so look at me now mom, I just published the word nary). Engel kept it going, launching a single that allowed Collins and Mendick to score. Hunter Wood struck out Timmy and Eloy to end the inning, but not without a crooked number going up on the board to give the Sox a 6-1 lead.
ReyLo scooped up another strikeout in the Tribe’s half of the sixth and we cruised into the seventh, where Welington continued his savagery and blasted another double. Weli giveth and Weli taketh away, as he was thrown out at home to end the inning after Mendick smashed his second career base hit.
ꓘ-Lo collected another pair of strikeouts through the seventh and eighth, bringing his total to ten.
Tim Anderson led off the top of the ninth with a double, Eloy was hit by a pitch and both advanced on a passed ball. Welington continued to atone for a miserable season by driving in his third RBI of the game on a groundout, and on we rolled into the ninth. This was Reynaldo’s first time pitching in the ninth, and his first bid for a complete game. Reynaldo mowed down everyone in sight, ringing up Franmil Reyes for a total of eleven strikeouts in 109 pitches and saving the entire bullpen for Joe McEwing this weekend.
Per usual, my best and worst of the game, now with more strikeouts!
Inferno: Reynaldo was en fuego, fanning eleven and allowing one lone hit in his first career complete game.
Conflagration: Tim Anderson collected a pair of hits today and is leading the American League with a .332 batting average.
Ablaze: Welington amassed three hits and three RBIs today and didn’t strike out once.
Embers: Mendick is now batting .400 and bunting 1.000.
Ashes: Goins was 0-4 with a pair of strikeouts. We still have yet to learn why he was playing right field, but had an actual outfielder been in his place, ReyLo *might* have pulled off a no-no.
Best tweet of the game goes to my buddy and fellow Yermin Mercedes fanboy, BBlock19
As promised in my series preview, I present my dog, Angie, circa 2013. The night I got her, she walked around the house sniffing things, scouting out locations that would allow her barking to resonate, and testing out all of her new toys. She was pretty skittish and fearful, and was hesitant to get close to me. The Blackhawks were playing the Vancouver Canucks, and as announcer Pat Foley said “Roberto Luongo” during the pregame show, Angie walked up to the TV, growled, and came over to me, tail wagging proudly. I said “ANGIE! WHAT A GOOD GIRL!” and made a big deal about it, so she took this as an indication that she had done something noble. She proceeded to hop up on the couch next to me and watched the game. She was introduced to baseball a few months later, and she was hooked. While she doesn’t really concern herself with how badly the White Sox play, she has never cared for any of our opponents. I presented her with a Chief Wahoo hat, and told her to “go Luongo on it” and that is exactly what she did. She is currently awaiting a giant foam Cheesehead hat in anticipation of tonight’s Bears game, but she’s going to have to settle for a tiny wheel of Babybel White Cheddar, as that’s what’s in my fridge.
Thanks for following this series with all of us at the ‘Pen, we leave you with this message from the White Sox: