Deep Dive: Winston-Salem and Kannapolis shortstops

Cannonball run: Lenyn Sosa is the second-ranked shortstop in the Sox system according to MLB Pipeline. (@KCannonballers)


“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

In A-ball, Lenyn Sosa is clearly the better of the two prospects, as he’s four years younger than Johan Cruz; he’s also the second-ranked shortstop prospect in the organization (behind only Yolbert Sánchez) according to MLB Pipeline.

(age as of April 1, 2020)


Winston-Salem Dash

Johan Cruz
6´2´´
188 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Third base, Second base
Age: 24

All the way back on Sept. 11, 2012, Dominican native Cruz signed with the White Sox. After a rocky start with the DSL squad in 2013, he got off to a great start upon his return to the DSL and soon found his way to the team’s AZL affiliate. The 2015 season saw Cruz move up they system’s prospect rankings (25th), as the 19-year-old slashed .312/.338/.442 for Great Falls in 65 games as he produced 17 doubles, six homers, 38 RBIs, 12 walks (4.2%) and 61 strikeouts (21.4%).

After a respectable if uninspiring injury-marred 2016 season in Kannapolis in which he slashed .255/.323/.371 in 65 games, Cruz struggled with his promotion to Winston-Salem in 2017 as he slashed just .218/.256/.350 with six homers in 75 games. Demoted in 2018 to Kannapolis, he continued his struggles at the dish as he slashed .227/.297/.286 with one homer in a career-high 91 games.

This year was a much better one offensively for Cruz. Beginning the season with Winston-Salem but ultimately demoted again to Kannapolis, he caught fire with the Intimidators, earning him yet another opportunity with the Dash. Combined with both teams, Cruz slashed .270/.342/.410 in 82 games with 18 doubles, one triple, seven homers, 38 RBIs, one stolen base, 31 walks and 79 strikeouts.

Cruz is an above-average defender with a utility/organizational-depth profile due to his relatively low hit tool and lack of game-changing speed. While he may be given the opportunity to begin the 2020 season with Birmingham, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him return to Winston-Salem instead. Cruz will be eligible for selection in the upcoming Rule 5 draft.


Kannapolis Cannonballers

Lenyn Sosa
6´0´´
180 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Second base
Age: 20

It was easy for Sosa to get lost in the shuffle, as he was one of a nine-member 2016 International Signing Day class that included Josue Guerrero, Luis Mieses and Anderson Comas. Yet so far, it’s this Venezuelan shortstop (who signed for $350,000) who has advanced further than anyone from that class.

The Sox brass liked Sosa so much that he actually skipped the DSL and instead began his career with the AZL squad. For that team, in which he was nearly three years younger than league average, he slashed .270/.330/.358 in 42 games with four doubles, two triples, two homers, 23 RBIs, three stolen bases, 14 walks (7.8%) and 24 strikeouts (13.3%). Sosa continued his progress in 2018 with Great Falls as he slashed .293/.317/.406 in 65 games with 13 doubles, three triples, four homers, 35 RBIs, two stolen bases, seven walks (2.4%) and 36 strikeouts (12.4%).

This year, Sosa took a step back but still showed promise. In 122 games with Kannapolis spanning 501 at-bats, he slashed .251/.292/.371 with 35 doubles, two triples, seven homers, 51 RBIs, six stolen bases, 27 walks (5.0%) and 102 strikeouts (19.0%). He began turning on the ball in a tough ballpark for hitters, and while he still doesn’t walk a lot, provided glimpses that he could still have a future in a White Sox uniform. For example, when Sosa should have wearied at the end of the season (as he’d nearly doubled his career-high in games played), he slashed .429/.455/.714 over his last 10 games. Sosa did commit 14 errors at shortstop, which actually is quite good for such a young player — competing this year about 2 1/2 years younger than his competition — and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him begin the 2020 season with Winston-Salem. Sosa currently ranks 30th among all White Sox prospects, and second among the system’s shortstops behind only Yolbert Sánchez, according to MLB Pipeline.


2019 Kannapolis Intimidators season recap

Tough year: But Kannapolis ended on a pretty good note. (Tiffany Wintz/South Side Hit Pen)


The Kannapolis Intimidators finished the year at 64-74, after an abysmal first half and a decent second thanks to the addition of 2019 draft picks. However, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016 because the reinforcements did not come quick enough — or in Andrew Vaughn‘s case, left too quickly.

Low-A baseball is a big step for players. Maybe there is not a big talent gap between advanced rookie leagues, but Low-A is the first stop in playing a full professional season. The leagues start in April and players travel to different states, though not as frequently as a Triple-A or MLB team. It is the first taste of what a grind a baseball season is, and as such it weeds out some of the younger players.

But some players definitely rose above the rest in Kannapolis this season. Though it is best to note, as in rookie league evaluation, age and previous Low-A experience is an important factor in assessing Low-A players.

First off, the promotions and other cameo appearances (like Vaughn, who played 23 games for the I’s). Steele Walker started the year with the I’s before earning a promotion after a great 20 games, in which he had a 189 wRC+. Johan Cruz started with the I’s as well and was more of a peripheral player to start, but because of his hot bat finally earned a promotion to the Dash. Cruz left the I’s with a .296 batting average, and some surprising pop. Evan Skoug rounds out the list of player promotions, but it seems like his was more out of necessity to get another catcher to Winston-Salem than talent. Though with Skoug’s eye and power, maybe a swing change could unlock that potential.

The pitching side is a bit more fun with some much bigger names. Konnor Pilkington, Jonathan Stiever, and Kade McClure each started the year with the I’s. Pilkington had the best year of the bunch, and earned his promotion more quickly as he left with a 1.62 ERA.

Next up was McClure with a 3.09 ERA and finally, Stiever. Stiever’s ERA did not look good in Low-A, but his peripherals showed a more advanced and much improved pitcher (as you will see in the Dash recap, Stiever was, simply, awesome). Taylor Varnell became sort of a prospect-buff favorite with multiple fantastic starts in Low-A, and the 24 year-old finally got a much deserved promotion later in the year.

A few notable relievers jumped to High-A baseball as well. Vince Arobio started his season with the I’s before eventually ending the season in Birmingham. Andrew Perez and Bennett Sousa were promoted at the same time after a dominant half-season in the Kannapolis bullpen. Perez left with a 2.25 ERA, Sousa with a 2.51.

That is a lot of players on the move, but some of note stayed the entire year, or ended their seasons with the I’s and helped them to a much better second-half record.


The Hitters

Two hitters that played well and stayed the entire season shared the outfield together, Ian Dawkins and Alex Destino. They ended the season with the same batting average (.298), but got there in very different ways. Dawkins is more of a slappy hitter, with speed and not much power. He had a fantastic first half of the season, but slowed down in the second. Dawkins finished with a 124 wRC+ and 23 stolen bases in 31 attempts. He has a fine walk rate at 6.3%, and the reason it is fine is because Dawkins hit almost .300, and he also has a below-average K-rate. Destino has the bigger bat, with 17 homers and 39 total extra-base hits. He walks more than 10% of the time, but also strikes out out at a decently high rate, so he is just a typical hitter who has some power. The downside is that both guys are older. Destino is about to turn 24, and Dawkins already is 24. In Dawkins’ case, he had 37 games in Low-A in 2018, so it was familiar territory. They are outfielders to keep an eye on, but both will need to show something more with the Dash.

A few other hitters deserve attention, but for different reasons, first off, the underperformers: Gunnar Troutwine, Corey Zangari, Ramon Beltre, Bryce Bush, and Lenyn Sosa. Troutwine probably had the best season among them, but might also be less of a prospect than the other four. He had a 106 wRC+, so a fine season, but he struck out more than 30% of the time and didn’t show improved bat-to-ball skills or extra power in his first full season. His defense was also, in a word, atrocious. Zangari was finally healthy, kind of, but fell flat. He hit only .204, but showed fantastic power with a .224 ISO. He also struck out more than 30% of the time, and a big reason why his season was salvageable was his very good walk rate. Beltre played the most, but probably had the worst season of this group and was even worse in his second Low-A stint.

Finally, Bryce Bush and Lenyn Sosa, the teenagers. Bush finished the year in the AZL but will definitely be back in Kannapolis in 2020. He barely hit above the Mendoza line and showed a concerning K-rate of 31.9%. Though he is definitely the best hitting prospect of this group, is still just 19, and had an injury-riddled year. Still, he looked impressive at times:

Sosa is a smidge younger than Bush, by about a month, and did have a better year in terms of play and health, though I’m sure the organization expected better. The international signee had his first full season this year and finished with a 93 wRC+. Instead of struggling down the stretch, which would have been understandable given a personal record amount of games played, Sosa was much better after the All-Star break. His batting average rose by almost 50 points and OPS went up over 100 points. Hopefully that translates over to next season, and Sosa gets a quick promotion to Winston-Salem.

Two non-Vaughn 2019 draft picks did make their way onto the I’s roster as well. Tyler Osik, a 27th round pick, ended with a 160 wRC+ in 108 plate appearance for the I’s. Osik showed a lot of power, probably unsustainable power at a .278 ISO, but the walk and strikeout rates stayed relatively the same from his rookie league statistics. Cameron Simmons, a 20th round pick, crushed it in Great Falls and earned a promotion. He didn’t do as well in Kannapolis but was right at average production. He did seem a little overmatched, as his K-rate went up a good amount, and the walks fell.


The Pitchers

After Pilkington, McClure, and Stiever left, there was obviously huge holes to fill in the rotation, and it was mostly filled by pitchers who were relievers earlier. Jason Bilous was the most fit for the role, but Johan Dominguez and Sam Long took over and did well. Bilous was much better as a reliever than starter, with a 2.86 ERA as a reliever and 4.01 ERA as a starter. However, a lot of Bilous’ struggles came late in the season, just like his struggles after being drafted in 2018. It is tough to say whether he will stay in a starting role, but hopefully Bilous can continue his progress and be better late in seasons. Dominguez and Long are older and probably aren’t players who will make it to the bigs, but they had good seasons as a reliever and as a starter. Dominguez ended the year with a 2.98 ERA, Long with a 3.06 ERA.

One starter who stayed with the I’s all season and didn’t miss a start was Davis Martin. Martin had an abysmal April and May, with an ERA of more than 7.00. He was able to figure himself out later in the year and had a 3.87 ERA in the second half. The peripherals like him a lot more because of his above average K-rate and pretty low walk rate. Martin ended with a 3.90 FIP, which is much better than his 5.04 ERA, so 2020 will be a big year to see who he truly is.

After Perez and Sousa left on the reliever side, again there were holes to fill, but the Kannapolis bullpen was already the strongest part of the team, and they continued to be successful thanks to three outstanding performances. There isn’t much fanfare with these players because they don’t carry any prospect expectations, but as relievers in Low-A all they need to do is throw hard.

Up first is Lane Ramsey, who SSHP’s Dan Victor likes quite a bit.

Ramsey had a 2.75 ERA this season, but his K numbers are low; he probably does not have a very good or developed breaking/off-speed pitch. If he is able to get an out pitch to use with his high-90s fastball, Ramsey could be a guy to watch going forward, maybe driveline isn’t a bad idea for the kid. Wilber Perez was a bit of a surprise to land in the Kannapolis bullpen after being in the DSL in 2018. Perez fit in well, and was terrific down the stretch. He had a 2.83 ERA and was mostly used in multiple-inning scenarios. Perez did show good strikeout numbers, but he has a significant control problem. Austin Conway rounds out the bunch, and he had the best season of all. He had 13 saves to go with his 1.59 ERA and even earned a cameo showing with the Dash, but was eventually sent back down. Conway already is 24, so take his success with caution, but he was fantastic.


Kannapolis was not the most talented team in terms of prospect hype, like it had been in previous seasons, but it did have appearances and performances from good players. Most of the above players will go to Winston-Salem in 2020, but the 2019 draft and a few 2020 draft prospects will be heading to Kannapolis’ new ballpark to replace them in the spring.

White Sox Minor League Update: August 30, 2019

Timely hitting: Luis Basabe got three hits and drove in a pair to help the Barons squeeze out a tight victory. (Michael Wade/Birmingham Barons)


Norfolk Tides 2, Charlotte Knights 0

Matt Tomshaw (SP): 4 IP, 5 H, 1 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 2 K (3.93 ERA) *MVP*
Danny Mendick (3B): 0-for-3 (.280 BA, .815 OPS)
Luis Robert (CF): 1-for-4 (.299 BA, .982 OPS)
Nick Madrigal (2B): 0-for-4, (.292 BA, .763 OPS)
Zack Collins (C): 0-for-2, 2 BB (.291 BA, .972 OPS)
Daniel Palka (DH): 0-for-3, BB (.265 BA, .912 OPS)

There was very little offense to be found in this game. Only Luis Robert, Damek Tomscha, and Ramon Torres got hits for the Knights, and all of them were singles. The Knights reached base a few more times via walk (one by Daniel Palka, one by Yermín Mercedes, and two by Zack Collins). But, the Knights finished 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, as they failed to cash in on any of the few scoring opportunities they had.

Knights starter Matt Tomshaw was the losing pitcher, but he pitched well enough to earn MVP. Tomshaw put the Knights in a good position to win, as he induced a lot of weak contact in his four innings of work, and he only issued one walk. However, his start went to waste, as the bats could not provide run support. One of the few highlights was this great catch by Danny Mendick in short left field.

Charlotte’s four-game lead in the wild-card race just … four days ago … has evaporated, and with three games left in the season the Knights have fallen back into a tie with the Durham Bulls.


Birmingham Barons 6, Biloxi Shuckers 5

John Parke (SP): 1 IP, 5 H, 5 R (0 ER), 1 BB, 1 K (2.70 ERA)
Luis Basabe (CF): 3-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI, 1 SB, 0 CS (.244 BA, .663 OPS) *MVP*
Blake Rutherford (RF): 1-for-3, 2 BB, RBI, (.262 BA, .676 OPS)
Luis González (DH): 2-for-3, 2B, 2 BB, 2 SB, 0 CS (.253 BA, .686 OPS)
Gavin Sheets (1B): 0-for-4, HBP (.271 BA, .765 OPS)
Joel Booker (LF): 2-for-3, BB, RBI, 1 SB, 0 CS (.255 BA, .646 OPS)

The first inning was quite chaotic, with both teams putting up a big, crooked number. In the top half, after the Shuckers had a runner on first (due to a fielding error by Laz Rivera) and two outs, the floodgates opened. The next six Shuckers reached base safely, as they scored five runs to take a big lead early on. However, the Barons answered in the bottom half. The Barons got three runs after two hits, a hit by pitch, and three walks. Two of those walks occurred with the bases loaded and two outs, and Joel Booker and Alfredo González drew those walks.

After his RBI double put the Barons on the board in the first, Luis Basabe had an RBI single in the fourth to reduce the Barons’ deficit to one. The following inning, Alfredo González tied it with a sacrifice fly to drive in Zach Remillard. In the sixth, an RBI groundout by Gavin Sheets put the Barons in front, 6-5. Despite finishing the night 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position, the Barons escaped with a close victory. The bullpen allowed zero hits and issued only one walk in eight innings of work. Hats off to relievers Kodi Medeiros, Tyler Johnson, and Danny Dopico, who did their jobs and then some.


Winston-Salem Dash 5, Lynchburg Hillcats 1

Taylor Varnell (SP): 5 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R (1 ER), 3 BB, 5 K (3.38 ERA)
Craig Dedelow (LF): 1-for-4, HR (.246 BA, .749 OPS)
Steele Walker (CF): 1-for-4, (.272 BA, .777 OPS)
Jameson Fisher (1B): 1-for-4, HR (.241 BA, .716 OPS)
Johan Cruz (SS): 2-for-4, 2B, 3 RBI (.242 BA, .632 OPS) *MVP*
Mitch Roman (LF): 2-for-4, 2 SB, 0 CS (.280 BA, .681 OPS)

This game got off to a fast start, as Craig Dedelow hit an inside-the-park home run in the top of the first to give the Dash a 1-0 lead. The home run was Dedelow’s 18th of the year, all with the Dash. It also gave the Dash a lead that would remain until the bottom of the sixth.

In the sixth, the Hillcats got back-to-back hits to open their half of the inning, and a sacrifice fly by designated hitter Gavin Collins drove in the tying run. Fortunately, that was the only run the Hillcats scored against starter Taylor Varnell, or any Dash pitcher, for that matter.

The Dash took the lead for good in the top of the eighth. With the bases loaded, shortstop Johan Cruz sliced a double to right field that cleared the bases and put the Dash up, 4-1. The Dash would tack on one more in the ninth on a solo home run by Jameson Fisher. That was Fisher’s ninth home run of the season, all with the Dash.


Kannapolis Intimidators 4, Delmarva Shorebirds 3

Davis Martin (SP): 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R (3 ER), 0 BB, 6 K (5.04 ERA)
Michael Hickman (C): 2-for-4, 2B (.208 BA, .620 OPS)
Ian Dawkins (CF): 0-for-4, BB (.298 BA, .756 OPS)
Alex Destino (RF): 1-for-5, (.295 BA, .843 OPS)
Cameron Simmons (LF): 2-for-4, HR, 4 RBI (.253 BA, .726 OPS) *MVP*
Tyler Osik (DH): 1-for-4, 2B (.271 BA, .888 OPS)

The Shorebirds put a big, crooked number on the board in the fourth to break a scoreless tie. In that innings, Intimidators starter gave up four hits (three singles and a triple), as the Shorebirds took a 3-0 lead. During the earlier part of this game, the Intimidators squandered a few scoring opportunities, and it appeared to be one of those games. However, things changed in a big way in the sixth inning.

After hits by Lenyn Sosa and Tyler Osik, Corey Zangari drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. That brought Cameron Simmons to the plate in a high-leverage situation, and Simmons delivered in a huge way. He launched a grand slam to put the Intimidators in front by a score of 4-3, and the score remained that way for the rest of the game. Relievers Lane Ramsey and Austin Conway pitched very well to shut things down in the latter part of this game.


Great Falls Voyagers 6, Billings Mustangs 4

Jason Morgan (SP): 8 1/3 IP, 4 H, 4 R (2 ER), 1 BB, 3 K (4.58 ERA)
Lency Delgado (3B): 1-for-5, RBI (.277 BA, .723 OPS)
Caberea Weaver (CF): 0-for-3, BB (.252 BA, .689 OPS)
Kelvin Maldonado (SS): 0-for-4, 3 K, 2 E (.260 BA, .611 OPS)
Sam Abbott (1B): 1-for-4, HR, 2 RBI (.230 BA, .809 OPS) *MVP*

Both teams’ starting pitchers got off to very strong starts, as there was a scoreless tie entering the bottom of the fourth. That ended when Sam Abbott launched a two-run homer to break the ice. The home run was Abbott’s ninth of the season, and all nine have been with the Voyagers. Abbott had the only multi-RBI performance for the Voyagers in this close victory. This is also Abbott’s second straight MVP award from SSHP.

With the game tied at two in the sixth, the Voyagers put together a huge, four-run inning to take the lead for good. They used three hits, a hit by pitch, and an error to put themselves up, 6-2.

After an excellent performance through eight innings, Voyagers starter Jason Morgan ran into some trouble in the ninth, though his defense did him no favors. Two unearned runs crossed the plate, and Morgan missed out on a complete game, but he got the victory. Reliever Allan Beer came on in relief and shut the door, as he struck out Mustangs second baseman Jonathan Willems to end the game.