Surging starter: Jonathan Stiever had the best season of any White Sox pitching prospect in 2019. (Winston-Salem Dash)
The Dash had one of the better records for the MiLB White Sox teams (72-61), as they barely missed out on a “wild card” playoff berth. It may not have been the most prospect-heavy team to to start the year, but by the end, there were some big names, especially on the pitching side.
This recap will start a little differently because, well, we have our first manager snapshot. Justin Jirschele was the manager of the Kannapolis Intimidators in 2017 and 2018 — both of those teams made the playoffs, so was promoted to the Dash for this season. Jirschele’s MiLB record so far is 217-198. He will only be 30 next season, but that would fit the recent mold of teams in the majors hiring younger managers. He also fits the Jerry Reinsdorf hiring mold, since he has been in the White Sox organization since 2012, when he was a player. Jirschele has managed most of the top prospects over his tenure, so he has familiarity with the important parts of the rebuild. There is not really much else to add about his managing style and philosophies, but here is an MLB.com from 2017.
But I’m sure you all care more about the players more than the manager, right?
The Dash had the two best hitters in the farm system to start the year, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, who made it all the way to Charlotte by season’s end. Robert was clearly too good for High-A (and basically every other level) but he left the Dash with a 305 wRC+. Madrigal started out slower but got going enough to get an early promotion. But that was really it for hitter promotions. Zach Remillard is not in the same talent conversation as those other two, but he was promoted as well. After hitting .289 in 95 games (a personal MiLB best), he was sent up to Double-A.
There was a bit more positive movement for the Dash on the pitching end. Kyle Kubat also started here and earned his way all the way up to Charlotte. He was one of the quicker promotions, and left after four starts with a 1.23 ERA. We forget now, but Alec Hansen looked far better with the Dash than the Barons. Hansen only played nine games and left with a 2.13 ERA, but carried a walk problem that traveled with him to Birmingham.
A trio of starters got promotions later in the season after a good first part of the season. Blake Battenfield, Lincoln Henzman, and John Parke each got the call to the Barons, where they finished the year. Battenfield had the best season of the bunch, with a 2.83 ERA. Parke does not get much fanfare, but keeps chugging through the system. He averaged just about a quality start over 12 starts. Henzman, after an injury blip, finally got his skills together to get himself to Double-A. The stats don’t look great overall, but a 1.89 ERA in his final 19 innings was good enough.
On the reliever side, there were three promotions of note. As mentioned in the Kannapolis recap, Vince Arobio made it all the way to Double-A. Well, he had an 8 2/3 innings stint with the Dash and didn’t allow a run. It was apparently good enough to earn his second promotion. Codi Heuer is a converted starter from college and his rookie league season, and thrived in the reliever role. He left High-A with a 22% K-BB rate and a 2.82 ERA. Bennett Sousa had two promotions during his season as well. After pitching 30 innings with a 2.70 ERA in A+, he got into two games for the Barons. There is a chance he ends up in Chicago next season. More on all these guys later, but it’s time for the holdovers.
Of the hitters who spent most of their season with the Dash, Steele Walker is by far the most heralded prospect. He is currently rated as the sixth-best White Sox prospect per MLB Pipeline, and earned a quick promotion from Kannapolis to Winston-Salem. He started out strong and did slow down later in the season, which is what should be expected from a player in his first full professional season. His 2019 stats still look great, though. He finished with a 124 wRC+, and showed some decent pop over the season. His increased walk rate from his days with the I’s stayed with the Dash, but Walker was able to drop his K-rate even further as he continues to show his advanced plate discipline and coverage.
Of the hitters that ended their seasons with the Dash, Andrew Vaughn is the best prospect. He’s rated as the best first base prospect in baseball and 21st overall by MLB Pipeline. The 2019 first round selection looked fine in his first stint in professional baseball. With all the movement and it being Vaughn’s first time playing baseball this late in a year, him just being healthy is really the most important takeaway. From the scouting reports out of college, Vaughn is a very good hitter, and it did show. The pop and the fantastic eye was there, as he was an above-average hitter at every stop. Vaughn has a chance, though slim, to be on the South Side next season but it will depend on whether he starts 2020 in Birmingham or Winston-Salem.
After Vaughn and Walker, there is a huge drop-off in terms of hitting talent that ended the year with the Dash. Most just have one kind of tool, like Craig Dedelow. He showed good power, with a .198 ISO and 18 home runs. The same thing with Tyler Frost, although Frost’s power dipped compared to his time in rookie and Low-A ball. Both players are old for the their level and there’s not much draft capital/money tied to them. Jameson Fisher, a former fourth round selection, did have that draft hype, and he did do well with the Dash. But he was sent down from Double-A after a bad 2018 campaign, and will be 26 next season.
Yeyson Yrizarri and Evan Skoug are guys who also had some value in the past, but have since fallen flat. Yrizarri is just 22, even though his professional debut was in 2014. This past season was his third in High-A, and he has only gotten worse. His batting average has fallen to .218 to go along with an increased strikeout rate, and his defense has gotten worse too (31 errors at third this year). Skoug is kind of a worse Zack Collins. Skoug has power, walks a lot, and strikes out a lot, but routinely hits far worse than the Mendoza line. Skoug hit .172 with the I’s, and then .165 with the Dash. This should be a big offseason for him, because he has some good tools — he just has awful bat-to-ball skills.
A little note for a 2019 draft pick who played in two games for the Dash, Jonathan Allen. The 32nd rounder played in both rookie leagues — not particularly well, but he did get himself to High-A. He clubbed two homers in his two games, for a 420 wRC+. I’m guessing that won’t hold next season.
Dash pitchers were led by a big three in terms of prospect pedigree in the starting rotation to end the year. Jonathan Stiever is now by far the most hyped, and had the best season.
Stiever should win MiLB pitcher of the year for the White Sox after finishing with a 2.15 ERA in 71 innings with the Dash. He made 12 starts, and 10 of them were quality starts, as he rode his superb stuff to a great season. He 23.3% K-BB rate and only allowed a .215 batting average against. It was a truly dominant year.
Kade McClure is next up in terms of season success. He also started 12 games, but finished his time with a 3.39 ERA. McClure did finish earlier than other starters, possibly because he was at his innings limit after a season-ending injury from last season. But McClure was great during his time. The strikeouts were down and the walks were slightly up after his promotion, but .284 BABIP really helped. McClure also kept runners on base at an 81.3% clip, so his peripherals are not as kind. But he got through this season and looked very good, again.
Last on the top starting pitching end is Konnor Pilkington. He did not have as good a year as the others, with a 4.99 ERA. His strikeouts fell, but it was still better than one K per inning. The walks also rose, but it was not a significant rise. What hurt Pilkington was a .341 BABIP, because he didn’t really allow many homers (just seven in 95 1/3 innings). Therefore, FIP and xFIP liked Pilkington much better. Hopefully he can have a Stiever-like season in 2020, where the FIP and ERA more closely align.
For relievers, there are a couple to keep a close watch on prospect-wise and a couple more who just overmatched their competition. Jacob Lindgren is probably the most interesting, because he has the most arm talent. This was the first time Lindgren had pitched in pro ball since 2016, and he was all right. Lindgren is 26 and obviously has advanced stuff, but his success, and health, were promising. He threw 17 1/3 innings with the Dash, for a 1.53 ERA. Lindgren might not be the pitcher he was before (you know, the one who made it to the majors in one season), but the potential could still be there.
Andrew Perez is the other. The eighth round selection in the 2018 draft was lights-out with the Dash for his final 31 1/3 innings of 2019. The lefty had a 1.15 ERA, though he does allow a concerning amount of baseballs into the air (a 50% fly ball rate). The walks also went up quite a bit while the strikeouts fell, but Perez was very successful overall. With the three-batter minimum coming soon, his ability to go multiple innings as a lefty could come in handy in the future.
Will Kincanon and Luis Ledo may not be big names, but they had big seasons. Both served time as a closer, with both getting eight saves. Kincanon is probably the better prospect because he has a better arm. Kincanon had a 1.86 ERA, and though the walks slightly went up the strikeouts improved, so it seemed to be a negligible difference. Kincanon will need to cut down on his walks as he continues up the ranks, but he is a guy to watch moving forward. Ledo is a bit older, and had a good year as well. He has a 1.83 ERA and is not as big a strikeout pitcher, but still has the walk issues. Ledo’s walk issues improved significantly from last season, but he still has work to do.
Some big names from the manager to the players graced the diamond in Winston-Salem, earning the Dash the best MILB record of all White Sox affiliate. Most of the big names actually worked out pretty well this season, especially Madrigal, Robert, and Stiever. It is a possibility that when it is all said and done with the rebuild, the 2019 Winston-Salem Dash was the start of something special.