South Side Hit Pen Top Prospect 75: Joel Booker

Let’s reset for 2020: Booker booked his way to Charlotte with a hot start — then tripped badly for the rest of the year. (Tiffany Wintz/South Side Hit Pen)



Joel Booker
Left Fielder
6´1´´
190 pounds
Age: 26
SSHP rank among all left fielders in the system: 4
South Side Sox 2019 Top Prospect Ranking: 57

After spending his first two collegiate seasons at Indian Hills (Iowa) JC, Joel Booker played his final two years with the University of Iowa. As a senior for the Hawkeyes, he slashed .370/.421/.532 in 56 games with 19 doubles, two triples, five homers, 37 RBIs, and 23-for-25 stolen bases. The results were good enough for the speedster to be selected in the 22nd round of the 2016 draft. He immediately paid dividends, as he slashed an impressive .312/.403/.404 in 65 combined games with the AZL Sox and Great Falls with 16 doubles, one triple, two homers, 31 RBIs, 41-of-43 stolen bases, 27 walks (8.9%) and 49 strikeouts (16.2%).

The 2017 season saw Booker split his time with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, combining to slash .274/.329/.349 in 123 games with 17 doubles, two triples, five homers, 44 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, 27 walks (5.1%) and 107 strikeouts (20.2%). And it was in 2018 when Booker began seeing his name on a few prospect lists, as he earned the Carolina League’s All-Star Game MVP while concluding the season with Birmingham. Although he did struggle a bit with the Barons, he still finished the year with a combined 26 stolen bases and a career-high 44 walks.

After beginning the 2019 season well with Birmingham (.351/.400/.446 and eight stolen bases in 20 April games), Booker was promoted to Charlotte. However, he had difficulty hitting there, slashing just .203/.276/.304 in 26 games. After his demotion to Birmingham on June 21, Booker continued his struggles by hitting just .222 for the remainder of the year. In a combined 102 games with both teams, he slashed .245/.308/.322 with 13 doubles, one triple, four homers, 36 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, 24 walks (6.2%) and 89 strikeouts (22.8%).

It was a disappointing year for Booker, as thanks to the struggles of most of the Birmingham outfielders this year, he had an opportunity to make a case for himself as at least a potential reserve outfielder in Chicago. He likely will begin the 2020 season with Charlotte.


 

 

Deep Dive: Charlotte and Birmingham left fielders

Bouncing back: Speedy Joel Booker struggled between Birmingham and Charlotte in 2019, but was on the fast track in prior seasons. (@BhamBarons)


“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

This is quite the small list, with Joel Booker as the only player still in the organization who finished the season as the primary left fielder in either Birmingham or Charlotte. (Charlie Tilson, who finished the season in Charlotte and played more games in left than anywhere else, is now a free agent.)

(age as of April 1, 2020)


Birmingham Barons

Joel Booker
6´1´´
190 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Center field, Right field

Age: 26

After spending his first two collegiate seasons at Indian Hills (Iowa) JC, Booker played his final two years with the University of Iowa. As a senior for the Hawkeyes, he slashed .370/.421/.532 in 56 games with 19 doubles, two triples, five homers, 37 RBIs, and 23-for-25 stolen bases. The results were good enough for the speedster to be selected in the 22nd round of the 2016 draft. He immediately paid dividends, as he slashed an impressive .312/.403/.404 in 65 combined games with the AZL Sox and Great Falls with 16 doubles, one triple, two homers, 31 RBIs, 41-of-43 stolen bases, 27 walks (8.9%) and 49 strikeouts (16.2%).

The 2017 season saw Booker split his time with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, combining to slash .274/.329/.349 in 123 games with 17 doubles, two triples, five homers, 44 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, 27 walks (5.1%) and 107 strikeouts (20.2%). And it was in 2018 when Booker began seeing his name on a few prospect lists, as he earned the Carolina League’s All-Star Game MVP while concluding the season with Birmingham. Although he did struggle a bit with the Barons, he still finished the year with a combined 26 stolen bases and a career-high 44 walks.

After beginning the 2019 season well with Birmingham (.351/.400/.446 and eight stolen bases in 20 April games), Booker was promoted to Charlotte. However, he had difficulty hitting there, slashing just .203/.276/.304 in 26 games. After his demotion to Birmingham on June 21, Booker continued his struggles by hitting just .222 for the remainder of the year. In a combined 102 games with both teams, he slashed .245/.308/.322 with 13 doubles, one triple, four homers, 36 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, 24 walks (6.2%) and 89 strikeouts (22.8%).

It was a disappointing year for Booker, as thanks to the struggles of most of the Birmingham outfielders this year, he had an opportunity to make a case for himself as at least a potential reserve outfielder in Chicago. He likely will begin the 2020 season with Charlotte, provided he isn’t selected in this year’s Rule 5 draft.


 

 

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.

White Sox Minor League Update: August 27, 2019

Starting force: Tanner Banks threw seven strikeouts in just five innings, pacing Tuesday’s runaway win for the Barons. (Hannah Stone/Birmingham Barons)


Durham Bulls 10, Charlotte Knights 6

MVP
Zack Collins (DH) 3-for-4, R, HR, 3 RBI (73), K (.297 BA, .897 OPS)

Runner-Up
Nick Madrigal (2B) 2-for-4, R, 2B (6), HBP, CS (3) (.316 BA, .822 OPS)

Notables
Luis Robert (CF) 1-for-4, R, RBI (36), K (.302 BA, .987 OPS)
Manny Bañuelos (SP) 4 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, BB, 2 K, 3 HR, L (0-1), HB, 53-of-82 strikes (15.75 ERA)
Yermín Mercedes (C) 0-for-2, RBI (55), BB (.290 BA, .978 OPS)

Very strange, what we have going on here in the stretch run to the IL playoffs. First, of course, neither Durham nor Charlotte want to seize control of the race. Second, each team is dominating on the other’s home field. The Knights were done no favors by a horrible outing from Bañuelos, as the Bulls were up 9-1 by mid-game. Collins did everything he could to keep the Knights in it, and Charlotte did rally for four in the eighth, courtesy of Collins and Robert singles, and a Mercedes sac fly. But the entire Knights pitching staff spit the bit tonight. Charlotte’s lead in the wild-card race is back down to just two games.


Birmingham Barons 11, Tennessee Smokies 3

MVP
Joel Booker (RF) 3-for-3, 2 R, 2 2B (10), 2 RBI (32), 2 BB (.254 BA, .643 OPS)

Runner-Up
Gavin Sheets (DH) 2-for-5, R, 2B (18), 2 RBI (81), BB, 2 K (.275 BA, .744 OPS)

Notables
Luis González (LF) 1-for-4, R, RBI (59), 2 BB, K (.253 BA, .686 OPS)
Tanner Banks (SP) 5 IP, 7 H, 3 R/2ER, BB, 7 K, W (4-7), 2 HB, 67-of-91 strikes (4.46 ERA)
Luis Basabe (CF) 2-for-5, R, 2 K, SB (8) (.235 BA, .645 OPS)
Alec Hansen (RP) 2 IP, 4 BB, 4 K, 25-of-51 strikes (5.73 ERA)

A nice laffer for the Barons, a team who has needed one all year. This win was sparked by Booker at the No. 9 slot, reaching base all five times in the game. Check out Hansen’s odd line, a hitless and scoreless outing, but, whoo boy, more balls than strikes thrown. Birmingham scored in every frame but the first, eighth and ninth, putting his one away early.


Salem Red Sox 5, Winston-Salem Dash 1

MVP
Craig Dedelow (RF) 1-for-4, R, RBI (60), HR (16) (.246 BA, .744 OPS)

Runner-Up
J.J. Muno (LF) 1-for-2, BB (.238 BA, .728 OPS)

Notable
Andrew Vaughn (1B) 1-for-4, K (.227 BA, .702 OPS)

Just a bad game … does it seem like the Dash have had an ugly stretch here, as they’re supposed to be making their playoff push? W-S drops to 30-33 in the second half, and its elimination number now stands at one.


Kannapolis Intimidators 5, Hagerstown Suns 4

MVP
Amado Nuñez (2B) 1-for-3, R, 2B (8), 2 RBI (33), K (.209 BA, .588 OPS)

Runner-Up
Austin Conway (RP) 1.2 IP, 2 K, Sv (11), 18-of-29 strikes (1.69 ERA)

Notables
Lenyn Sosa (SS) 2-for-4, 2 RBI (48), E (13) (.244 BA, .637 OPS)
Ian Dawkins (CF) 2-for-4 (.303 BA, .765 OPS)

Another big effort from the nine-spot in the order, with Nuñez doing damage for the I’s. He contributed a one-out, ground-rule double that drove in two and put Kannapolis up, 3-1, in the fourth. The Intimidators scored all they needed to in that fourth inning, with a crooked number that would hold up for the win. Conway pitched a superb eighth and ninth, walking the tightrope for his 11th save.


Great Falls Voyagers 4, Idaho Falls Chukars 3

MVP
Avery Weems (SP) 5 IP, 5 H, ER, 6 K, W (4-2), HB, 53-of-69 strikes (1.96 ERA)

Runner-Up
Sammy Peralta (RP) 2 IP, 4 K, Sv (3), 16-of-21 strikes (2.73 ERA)

Notables
Caberea Weaver (CF) 2-for-5, 2B (12), 3B (5), R, RBI (17), 2 K (.261 BA, .710 OPS)
Kelvin Maldonado (SS) 3-for-5, R, RBI (17), K (.270 BA, .635 OPS)

Hate to be hyperbolic, but the story of the 2019 draft to date for the White Sox has been Avery Weems. The sixth-rounder out of Arizona quickly earned a ticket from the AZL to the Pioneer League, and he’s been aces as a Voyager. I’ll have the numbers next month, but I wouldn’t be surprised if every one of his starts has earned him an MVP … amazing. Aside from Trey Jeans, the GFV pitching staff was killer tonight, with 13 Ks and no walks! I’d left the Voyagers for dead this season, looking at the crummy 28-36 overall record, but Great Falls improves to 13-14 in the second half and hold an elimination number of 3; closer to the postseason than Winston-Salem! This win moved the Voyagers ahead of the Chukars and out of last place overall in the Pioneer League South.