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.
Meeting of the minds: New hitting coach Frank Menechino and prize free agent Yasmani Grandal offer Triple-A hopeful Blake Rutherford tips in the batting cage in Glendale on Monday. (Chicago White Sox)
With every White Sox fan drooling in anticipation of an exciting summer on the South Side, on Monday the White Sox released some batting cage footage of several earlybirds to spring training. An unofficial head count shows Zack Collins, Danny Mendick, Nick Madrigal, Seby Zavala, Gavin Sheets, Andrew Vaughn, Yasmani Grandal, Blake Rutherford, top brass, manager Ricky Renteria and hitting coach Frank Menechino.
Enjoy your first taste of the signs and sounds of spring:
Birmingham burst: Gavin Sheets hit more homers in 2019 than in his previous two years combined. (Sean Williams/South Site Hit Pen)
“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:
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
This article delves into the first basemen who finished the year with Charlotte and Birmingham. Despite the fact that two of these first basemen actually played for the White Sox this year, the entire Charlotte crop consists of essentially AAAA players. The true prospect on this list is Gavin Sheets, who enjoyed his best power season to date this year at pitching-friendly Regions Field in Birmingham.
(age as of April 1, 2020)
Matt Skole 6´4´´ 220 pounds B/T: L/R Other positions played: Third base Age: 30
Skole enjoyed a fantastic sophomore season with Georgia Tech in 2010, when he slashed .335/.446/.682 with 15 doubles, 20 homers, 63 RBIs, 45 walks and 34 strikeouts. While his other numbers were similar as a junior, his home run production fell by half. That, and concerns about his defense, caused him to slip to the fifth round of the 2011 draft when the Washington Nationals selected him with the 157th overall pick.
After a productive first two years in the Nationals system, where he advanced through their A+ affiliate in Potomac, Skole had difficulty hitting for a high average afterward. In fact, in his last five years in their organization, Skole’s best season-ending average was .244 in Triple-A Syracuse. When his slash line dipped to .222/.303/.453 with 11 homers in an injury-marred 2017, the Nationals let him loose via free agency.
In January 2018, the White Sox signed him to a minor league contract. When he got off to a fast start with Charlotte, and the White Sox needed help in late May last year, Skole made his major league debut and did respectably in his four-game stint. After being demoted to Charlotte in early June, he finished the season with Charlotte with his typical .237/.336/.404 line with 14 homers.
Despite a low average for the Charlotte in 2019, Skole was able to get on base via on a regular basis and mashed in the hitting-friendly BB&T Ballpark. With the Knights, Skole ended up slashing .248/.384/.497 in 92 games as he produced 15 doubles, 21 homers, 56 RBIs, 70 walks (17.9%) and 99 strikeouts (25.3%). Unfortunately, he couldn’t translate that work into major league success. In 27 games totaling 72 at-bats for the White Sox, he slashed just .208/.275/.236 with two doubles, six RBIs, seven walks (8.8%) and 31 strikeouts (38.8%).
The White Sox designated Skole for assignment this past Monday, making him a free agent after the World Series. While it’s possible that Skole could re-sign with the White Sox, it’s difficult to see any way he receives significant playing time in the White Sox organization going forward. The team will likely either use Zack Collins, or some acquisition via trade or free agency, to fill their DH spot. As for Charlotte, Gavin Sheets will likely be next year’s starter while the younger A.J. Reed would handle the DH role. If Skile does re-sign with Chicago, the likeliest scenario for Skole to return to Charlotte would be as a third baseman.
A.J. Reed 6´4´´ 275 pounds B/T: L/L Age: 26
Reed was one of the best two-way college players during his career at Kentucky, where he served as the Wildcats ace and first baseman. In fact, as a junior for the Wildcats, he went 12-2 on the mound with a 2.09 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. As a first baseman that year, he also excelled as he slashed .336/.476/.735 with 18 doubles, 23 homers, 73 RBIs, 49 walks (16.9%) and 48 strikeouts (16.6%). His prolific play in both facets of the game helped him win the 2014 Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur player in the country. With success like that, it was no wonder that the Houston Astros selected him with the first pick in the second round of that year’s MLB draft.
Reed progressed rapidly through the Astros system, and did well at every stop. For example, in 2015 with Single-A+ Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi, he combined to slash .340/.432/.612 with 30 doubles, 34 homers, 127 RBIs, 86 walks (13.8%) and 122 strikeouts (19.6%). After performing well with Triple-A Fresno (.291/.368/.556 in 70 games with 22 doubles and 15 homers) in 2016, he was promoted to the Astros and failed miserably in 45 games (.164/.270/.262 with three homers, 18 walks and 48 strikeouts). While performing decently with Fresno the following two years, his numbers did slip a bit and he struggled with his very limited opportunities with the Astros.
After struggling with Houston’s new Triple-A squad in Round Rock this year, with a .224/.329/.469 slash line and 12 homers in 56 games, he was designated on waivers and the White Sox picked him up less than a week later, on July 8. It seemed like an opportunity to swoop in on a bargain, because as recently as 2015 Reed had been one of the top prospects in the game with 55 hit and 60 power tools according to MLB Pipeline. Unfortunately for Reed and the White Sox, he scuffled in 14 games by slashing just .136/.204/.205 with a homer, four RBIs, four walks (8.2%) and 21 strikeouts (42.9%). He was subsequently outrighted to Charlotte in August, and struggled with his demotion by slashing just .179/.238/.282 in 10 games. It seems that Reed’s bat just isn’t fast enough to catch up with the advanced heat.
As of now, it seems Reed will be penciled in the DH spot for Charlotte as Sheets will likely be its everyday first baseman. There’s always the possibility of the White Sox converting him into a reliever, much like they’re trying to do with former Tampa Bay first-rounder catcher Justin O’Conner. In the meantime, Reed is a cautionary tale that “can’t miss” prospects sometimes do.
Damek Tomscha 6´2´´ 200 pounds B/T: R/R Other positions played: Left field, Third base, Right field Age: 28
Tomscha, a native of Sioux City, Iowa, played his first two years of college ball with Iowa Western CC before transferring to Auburn for his junior and senior seasons. As a senior for the Tigers, he did quite well as their third baseman as he slashed .313/.436/.443 over 54 games with five homers, 29 RBIs, 26 walks (11.7%) and just 23 strikeouts (10.4%). Despite his lack of power, Tomscha was selected in the 17th round of the 2014 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. Baseball Draft Report said of him at the time, “He’s a really good athlete with a pretty swing, plus arm, and good raw defensive tools.”
After producing solid numbers for the Lakewood (Single-A) and Clearwater (Single-A+) in 2015 and 2016 respectively, Tomscha enjoyed a terrific 2017 split between Clearwater and Double-A Reading as he combined to slash .307/.386/.439 by producing 16 doubles, 11 homers, 52 RBIs, 38 walks (9.0%) and 57 strikeouts (13.4%) in 109 games. Last year saw Tomscha’s numbers slip a bit with Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, as he combined to slash a still-respectable .272/.334/.443 in 119 games with 16 doubles, 17 homers, 62 RBIs, 33 walks (6.9%) and 74 strikeouts (15.5%).
After getting off to a terrible start with Lehigh Valley this year by slashing .219/.301/.399 in 53 games, the Phillies released him on June 20. The White Sox inked him eight days later and assigned him to Birmingham, where he fared much better with a .269/.333/.410 line in 42 games. Tomscha spent his final two games this year with Charlotte, and got one hit in seven at-bats. Though he played more games at first base this year, those appearances were mostly spent with Lehigh Valley as he spent more time at third and left with the Barons. With Sheets and Reed expected to handle first base/DH duties in Charlotte this year, Tomscha could be vying with Trey Michalczewski for playing time at the hot corner.
Gavin Sheets 6´4´´ 230 pounds B/T: L/L Age: 23
Gavin, the son of former Oriole slugger Larry Sheets, showed great plate discipline during his three years with Wake Forest. After hitting a combined 11 homers in his first two seasons, his junior year saw him turn it up a notch as he hit 21. That year with the Demon Deacons, Sheets slashed .317/.424/.629 in 63 games with those 21 homers, 10 doubles, 46 walks (15.6%) and just 37 strikeouts (12.5%). With numbers like that, it was no wonder that the White Sox selected him in the second round of the 2017 draft. After the draft, combined with the AZL squad and Kannapolis to slash .279/.365/.397 in 56 games with 12 doubles, four homers, 28 RBIs, 23 walks (9.8%) and 34 strikeouts (14.5%).
Against stronger competition in 2018 with Winston-Salem, Sheets produced similar numbers to the year before. In 119 games totaling 437 at-bats, Sheets slashed .293/.368/.407 with 28 doubles, two triples, six homers, 61 RBIs, 52 walks (10.5%) and 81 strikeouts (16.3%). Just like his junior season, however, Sheets turned his power up a notch in his third professional campaign. In 126 games totaling 464 at-bats, of which half were spent at pitching-friendly Regions Field, he slashed .267/.345/.414 with 18 doubles, 16 homers, 83 RBIs, 54 walks (10.2%) and 99 strikeouts (18.8%) for Birmingham. His numbers would’ve been even better, if not for a difficult April in which he slashed just .207/.286/.293.
Sheets is ranked second among White Sox first base prospects, and 13th overall, by MLB Pipeline. They give him 50 grades for his power, hit and fielding tools while giving him a 55 for his throwing arm. The site also says of him, “The White Sox believe more home runs will come as he starts incorporating his legs more in his left-handed swing and makes an adjustment to stop hooking balls foul down the right-field line. He has a smooth stroke and controls the strike zone well for a big man, so he should hit for average and draw a healthy amount of walks.”
Sheets will be expected to get the lion’s share of Charlotte’s first base duties in 2020, and his success there may well determine his role going forward. With Andrew Vaughn now also in the picture, Sheets will also be vying with players like Zack Collins and (perhaps) Yermín Mercedes for the 1B/DH role beginning in 2021. This doesn’t even include the possibility of the White Sox signing a full-time DH like J.D. Martinez during this offseason. At the very least, if Sheets should rake for the Knights, he could be an attractive trade piece during next year’s trade deadline.
The White Sox prospects didn’t mess around in this game. With one out and nobody on base in the top of the first, Blake Rutherford pulled a bomb to right field — igniting the Desert Dogs with a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Saguaro starter Glenn Otto, fearful of anything White Sox, subsequently walked Gavin Sheets with two outs and nobody on.
Reds prospect Jonathan India clubbed a solo homer in the top of the third, which gave the Dogs a 2-0 lead. The score would remain that way for the remainder of the game.
The two White Sox prospects tried to add an insurance run in the top half of the eighth frame, as Rutherford led off the inning with a base-on-balls. Alas, he was thrown out trying to steal second base on a call that could easily have gone the other way. After India popped out to second, Sheets walloped a near-homer to right, ultimately settling for a double. Unfortunately, he was left stranded thanks to a Stuart Fairchild strikeout.
Aside from the White Sox prospects and India, there wasn’t much to write about either team offensively. The Dogs’ dominant pitching was spearheaded by Victor Castaneda, Mitchell White and three other pitchers. Glendale had just six hits on the day, but that works when you can hold your opponents to four.
Glendale is now on the rise, creeping to a 5-9 record and now within four games of the prickly AFL West-leading Saguaros. The Desert Dogs next play at home Sunday afternoon, as they hope to sting the 7-6 Scottsdale Scorpions in their quest for a three-game winning streak.
Gavin Sheets batted cleanup for the Desert Dogs tonight. In his first plate appearance, Sheets put up a good fight before striking out swinging at a slider on the sixth pitch. In his second plate appearance, Sheets reached on a throwing error by the Scorpions’ second baseman. Sheets hit a sharp liner that was hauled in by the center fielder in the sixth, and he struck out again in the eighth. Sheets was the only player in the White Sox’s system to appear in this game.
Nick Matom opened up the scoring with an RBI single, and Alex Bohm hit a sacrifice fly to put the Scorpions up, 2-0.
I’m the seventh, José García hit an RBI single to cut the Desert Dogs’ deficit in half, and Jonathan India drew a walk with the bases loaded to force in the tying run. However, the rally fell short, as Matom came up big again for the Scorpions, as he hit a walk-off homer, as the Scorpions won by a score of 3-2. The loss dropped the Desert Dogs to 0-3.
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.
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).
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.
Power ball: The closest player to the majors participating for the White Sox in the AFL is Gavin Sheets. (Tiffany Wintz/South Side Hit Pen)
The AFL rosters are out, sort of.
Since there is a TBA, it is not officially official yet, but the majority of the Chicago White Sox prospects have already been announced. There will be two outfielders (Rutherford and TBA/Adolfo), a first baseman (Sheets), three relievers (Johnson, Sousa, and Arobio) and finally, one starting pitcher (Bernardo Flores). These guys certainly aren’t the cream of the crop in the system, but a few of these guys could be on the South Side pretty quickly — which is why we’ll see them in the AFL this season.
Before we dive into the announced players, first, let’s go over the new rules of the AFL. First off, the early start date. The first games will be played September 18. Not many of these prospects have to worry about playing in MiLB playoffs, so they should get a couple weeks of “rest” before starting up again. The positives besides the game-play rest is that prospects won’t have as long a layoff as before. Last season they started the AFL at the end of October. The negative is that it’s still really hot in Arizona, so it won’t be overly comfortable.
Just by peering at the White Sox prospects, it seems like the new rule of allowing any minor leaguer to participate in the AFL wouldn’t have mattered much. Most of the time in the past, it was players from the upper levels of the minors. Rutherford, Sheets, Flores, Johnson, Arobio, and Adolfo are all listed under the Birmingham Barons roster. Sousa is in Winston-Salem.
Also, a question I didn’t even think of beforehand was answered by Josh Norris, an associate editor at Baseball America.
Those baseballs, man, who would have thought that question would be so important? Thankfully, this baseball is something all of the White Sox prospects going to Arizona have been using the entire year. But enough about the league — the players are what matters.
In my opinion, Blake Rutherford going to the AFL is a little bit of a surprise. I thought another player who had injury issues and missed at-bats, like a Bryce Bush or Luis Basabe, would get the spot, but of late Rutherford definitely showed he can play in the AFL.
He started out, just like a lot of other Barons, with some really terrible play. In April, he only hit .156 and was able to do better in May, but still hit just .216 with no power at all. Though since June, it has been exponentially impressive. He slashed .300/.347/.396 in 71 games for a 116 wRC+. Rutherford still didn’t show much power, but the bat-to-ball skills are back. It was not an overwhelming performance, but it seems like the Sox are using the AFL to recoup some value for Rutherford.
If you thought Gavin Sheets was on the outs because of a lack of power last season, well, he showed he had some with the Barons. Sheets currently has 16 home runs and 19 more extra-base hits in 2019. He isn’t really selling out for more power, though his strikeouts are up slightly. He is still going the other way and isn’t hitting enough fly balls like a power-hitting first baseman should. But Sheets has a wRC+ of 126, which is a personal best, and he still has a good eye at the plate, with a walk rate near 10%. With Vaughn on Sheets’ tail, this could be a showcase for trade or Sheets might see some action in Chicago next season and extending his season should help that; he should probably be in Charlotte already.
Micker Adolfo rounds out the batters, and this is a classic “get the injured player more at-bats” scenario. However, in Adolfo’s case, it could also be used to get him much-needed game reps in the outfield, because he hasn’t played in right since 2017. He only played in 36 total games this season, so there isn’t much to read into, but all Adolfo really needs to do at this point is stay healthy and just play.
Two pitchers fall into the injured category of needing to pitch more innings, Bernardo Flores and Tyler Johnson. Flores so far has pitched in 87 1/3 innings this season. That will put him far lower than the previous year’s total of 156, so the AFL is to help get him just a few more innings. If Flores had stayed healthy, he would probably be in Chicago already. He did well in his Double-A stint. He has a 3.36 ERA, with a very low walk rate and a below-average K-rate.
Johnson started the year late because of a lat injury and again, if he didn’t get injured, he would probably be in Chicago along with Flores. It is tough to read his performance this year because he didn’t have a preseason due to injury, but Johnson has struggled recently in Birmingham. He has a 4.40 ERA and hasn’t been used in any closing situations.
The other two pitchers, Bennett Sousa and Vince Arobio, seem like this AFL is a congratulations on how well they did during the year. Sousa started his season in Kannapolis and continued his great run that started in 2018. He had a 22.4% K-BB rate and when he was promoted to the Dash, it improved again, to 23.9%. He currently has a 2.60 ERA between the two levels.
Arobio had a much more exciting time in MiLB, as he was promoted twice during the season. He started in Kannapolis and ended in Birmingham. He had a 3.34 ERA among the three levels, but has struggled with the Barons. He has a 5.40 ERA in Double-A, but his successful season overall earned him a shot at some of the better hitting prospects in Arizona.
Odrisamer Despaigne (SP): 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R (3 ER), 3 BB, 7 K (3.53 ERA) Danny Mendick (3B): 1-for-4, 2B (.281 BA, .817 OPS) Luis Robert (CF): 1-for-3, RBI, (.303 BA, .998 OPS) Nick Madrigal (2B): 1-for-4, (.309 BA, .798 OPS) Zack Collins (C): 1-for-4, HR (.291 BA, .970 OPS) *MVP* Daniel Palka (DH): 1-for-3, BB (.271 BA, .926 OPS)
Journeyman Odrisamer Despaigne got the start, and he put the Knights in an early deficit that they could not overcome. Old friend Emilio Bonifacio got an RBI single in the second to put the Bulls on the board for the first run for either team. Despaigne also ran into trouble in the fourth, allowing back-to-back hits to open the inning. The Bulls drove in both of those runners to expand their lead to 3-0.
The Knights got on the board during their half of the fourth, as Luis Robert hit a sacrifice fly to drive in fellow 2020 major leaguer Nick Madrigal. Unfortunately, the Knights could not get any more runs until the latter innings, and by then, it was too little, too late.
Reliever Hunter Schryver had a forgettable outing that put this game out of reach. In one and two-thirds innings, Schryver issued five walks and allowed three runs, all earned. Entering the bottom of the ninth, the Knights trailed 7-2, and they could not put together a monster rally to claw back into the game. However, before it ended, Zack Collins hit a solo shot, his 18th homer of the season.
The Barons were the only team in the system that managed to score three runs, and mercy, they broke that threshold by a lot. This was a high-scoring game in which both offenses got going early on.
The Smokies got on the board in the bottom of the first on an RBI triple by shortstop Zach Short. A double by Luis Valenzuela in the second tied it, and Damek Tomscha put the Barons ahead in the third with a double that drove in a pair. However, the Smokies rallied in the latter portion of starter Blake Battenfield’s outing, and they also got to reliever Danny Dopico to go up, 5-3.
The Barons’ bats got quiet toward the middle of the game, but they did not go down easily. After drawing four walks in the top of the eighth to force in a run, the Barons cut the deficit to one. Then, Blake Rutherford hit a sacrifice fly, which was the second out of the inning, but it tied the game at five. The following hitter was Gavin Sheets, who launched a three-run homer to give the Barons a lead that they would not relinquish.
Relievers Tyler Johnson and Codi Heuer both held the Smokies scoreless to shut the door and secure the 8-5 victory.
The Dash could not get anything going on offense, so the pitching staff had an extremely tall order to fill. Starting pitcher Zach Lewis was effective on the mound for most of the evening. He ate quite a few innings and limited sharp contact during most of them. Lewis made it through six having only allowed two runs, but he ran into trouble in the seventh to miss out on the quality start. The only other Dash pitcher to appear in this game was Andrew Perez, who was lights out in his two and one-third innings.
Meanwhile, Salem’s pitchers were terrific, as the Dash only managed two hits. Steele Walker and Tyler Frost got the only hits for the Dash, both singles. Scoring opportunities were hard to come by, and the Dash could not take advantage of the few chances they had. They finished 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Onward.
Another game, another decent performance by a starting pitcher who barely missed a quality start, another reliever who was effective enough to earn MVP honors, and very little offense. It feels like I have recapped this one before.
Starter Jason Bilous missed a lot of bats, but control was a problem, as he issued four walks. Reliever Justin O’Conner faced five batters and retired all of them, two via strikeout. Only one of his opposing hitters managed to hit a ball to the outfield.
The Intimidators struggled to put any kind of a rally together. They finished 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and their only run scored on a Hagerstown error.
Great Falls Voyagers
The Voyagers had the day off and will travel to Idaho Falls for a three-game series against the Chukars. The first game of that series will start on Tuesday at 8:15 CST.