Minor key: The last bullpen spot

Eighth spot to lose: Improbably, a combination of factors give Carson Fulmer the inside track on the final White Sox bullpen spot. (@Carson_Fulmer)


For some pitchers, a relief role is the path to glory and riches. For others, it’s a last stand, a last-ditch attempt to cling to the majors. The Chicago White Sox feature both extremes in their Cactus League bullpen at present, and all manner of pitchers in-between.

The former was taken care of this past weekend. Aaron Bummer’s job security wasn’t in question this spring, but the organization assured so in a big way after announcing a long-term pact with the lefty reliever on Saturday.

The White Sox are loathe to go through the arbitration process with their players, but this contract is a big win for the team beyond dodging that process with Bummer. The 26-year-old was selected in the 19th round of the 2014 draft out of Nebraska and underwent Tommy John surgery as a minor leaguer. After posting a 2.13 ERA with a 72% ground ball rate in 67 ⅔ innings in 2019, boasting a 1.3 fWAR powered by an elite sinker, Bummer has arrived as a fixture in the Pale Hose bullpen going forward.

Bullpens are fickle, and deals like this one are uncommon as a result. But the deal guarantees a payout of only $16 million, and the decision-makers likely see that as a pittance in the face of four years of arbitration under super two status for a pitcher like Bummer, who’s seen as a major spoke in the wheel. Regression could obviously occur, but Bummer’s current status and future promise is a massive scouting win for the organization, which should rightfully celebrate his arrival as a dependable big league reliever.


Judgment Day: Carson Fulmer

Carson Fulmer was the third-ranked player in the 2015  draft according to MLB Pipeline. In Doug Laumann’s final year at the helm, the White Sox used the eighth overall pick in an otherwise poor class on the righthander from Vanderbilt. Many observers praised the organization for selecting another quick-moving pitcher and nabbing the “best college starter” in the class.

Pipeline lauded Fulmer for his competitiveness and placed a 70-grade on his fastball with a 60-grade curveball. The 6´0´´ righty threw his fastball in the 93-97 mph range and had been named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. Fulmer displayed an electric arm, with a power breaking ball. Carson lacked prototypical size and possessed a tough-to-repeat, highly unorthodox delivery. Many evaluators questioned his command and control, wondering if he would end up in the bullpen down the road.

Fulmer didn’t throw enough strikes in college, and he hasn’t thrown enough strikes as a professional, either. Now hanging onto a roster spot tenuously, at risk of changing organizations, Fulmer’s future hinges on his ability to throw strikes this spring. The 26-year-old posted a 6.26 ERA in 27 big league innings last year, and that was after reworking his delivery in the offseason. He did average 13.5 K/9 with the Charlotte Knights with a 3.24 FIP — but also walked more than five hitters per nine as well.

Fulmer is the likely favorite to earn the eighth and final spot in the White Sox’s bullpen this spring. He’s out of options, and while losing him wouldn’t seem drastic, his draft status likely affords him one last shot in Chicago. He had a horrendous debut (two walks, two Ks, HBP, getting yanked mid-inning) in Sunday’s White Sox spring training opener, but Cactus League stats are a poor way to determine roster decisions; paying attention to how Fulmer looks and feels may end up being more appropriate. Fulmer’s cloudy future should be an interesting storyline to monitor, though, on a pitching staff lacking drama.


Easy decisions

With a 26-man roster taking effect in 2020, the White Sox will begin the season with eight relievers. Roster churn will bring a lot of new faces through Chicago during the course of the years, but the group likely to open the season won’t feature many surprises. The southpaw-hungry pen gives 26-year-old Jace Fry an easy spot, along with Bummer. Fry is a former third-rounder looking to bounce back in 2020, and controlling his walks will play a significant part in that quest.

Alex Colomé and Kelvin Herrera are back for another spin at the back end of the 2020 bullpen. They are both slated to make real money this year and will likely see high-leverage innings early in the season. Colomé is looking to keep thwarting his ugly peripherals, while Herrera just needs to remain healthy. Steve Cishek was signed as a free agent this offseason, and he should serve as quite an insurance policy for Rick Renteria.

Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero will likely receive spots as well. Marshall threw 50 ⅓ innings in 2019 and posted a 2.49 ERA. His walk rate increased, but he didn’t allow homers and kept the ball on the ground for the most part. The organization will pay the 29-year-old $1.1 million in 2020. Cordero was claimed off of waivers during the 2019 campaign and threw 37 ⅓ innings for the White Sox in 2019. The 6´4´´, 220-pounder throws very hard but doesn’t strike out many hitters. The sleeveless man posted a 2.89 ERA and is also out of minor league options, giving him an edge for  the big league roster.


Competition at camp

The White Sox released an extensive list of non-roster invites to spring training that included veteran journeymen along with pitching prospects from their own system. Zack Burdi, Matt Foster, Ian Hamilton and José Ruiz are members of the 40-man roster and the likeliest competition for the final spot on the big league roster. Ruiz has big-time power stuff, and threw 40 innings in Chicago in 2019. He’s not the front-runner for a spot breaking camp, but he’s definitely an option. The 25-year-old posted a 5.36 ERA in the majors.

Burdi was a first round pick in 2016 and is looking to finally crack into the bigs. The fireballer is healthy for the first time in awhile and could join the White Sox at some point during the 2020 season. Hamilton looked like a serious option at this time last year, but battled a facial fracture and injuries sustained in a car collision in 2019. Foster was a 20th round pick in 2016 and was added to the 40-man this offseason after posting a 3.76 ERA in Charlotte last year.

Kodi Medeiros, Drew Anderson, Bryan Mitchell, Jacob Lindgren, Caleb Frare, Brady Lail and Tayron Guerrero are some other arms who have an outside shot at a roster spot. Southpaws Medeiros, Lindgren and Frare have the benefit of being lefties, in somewhat high demand in the White Sox system. Mitchell, Anderson and Lail all have big league experience, and while they are more likely to pitch for the Knights than the White Sox, they still qualify as options. Guerrero throws extremely hard, but his peripherals leave much to be desired and is no longer a member of the 40-man.


Outside help?

Fulmer has the inside track at a roster spot due to his draft pedigree and option status, but he’s far from a lock. An outside addition via trade or waiver claim should also be considered a possibility in filling that final spot. The White Sox have added non-roster players to the roster prior to Opening Day in the past, and while it could happen again, its unlikely due to the names currently in the mix.

Fulmer’s grip on the final spot is shaky, and there’s a solid chance that his next big league game will be thrown in a different uniform. The ideal situation for the franchise would be someone like Hamilton or Burdi taking the reins and claiming a major league spot.

Who will be the eighth member of the White Sox’s bullpen to start the year? Internally, Ruiz appears to have the best shot at filling that role. From outside the organization, it’s anyone’s guess. The front office has an entire month to sort it out, and this whole exercise may seem futile once we get to March 26.

The biggest surprise would be to have a spring devoid of bullpen surprises.

 

Deep Dive: Charlotte and Birmingham left-handed relievers

Leaning in: Bennett Sousa, in just his first full season, already reached Birmingham. What will 2020 have in store for him? (Kim Contreras/South Side 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:

  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

There are some major league (and experienced) arms at Charlotte, but the two most enticing southpaws in the White Sox system may reside in Birmingham.

Ages below are as of April 1, 2020


Charlotte Knights

Caleb Frare
6´1´´
210 pounds
Age: 26

After Frare dominated his Montana varsity team, the New York Yankees selected him in the 11th round of the 2012 draft. After a solid campaign with the Yankees rookie league squad, Frare underwent Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss the 2013 and 2014 campaigns.

After a good start for the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs in 2015, Frare was promoted to High-A in Tampa, where he struggled in seven outings (5.59 ERA, 2.07 WHIP). The following year, Frare returned to Tampa, where he dominated with an ERA of 0.92 and WHIP of 1.14 while allowing just 33 hits and 23 walks in 49 innings of relief work.

While Frare’s control was mediocre to that point in his career, it really tailed off in 2017 for Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Frare struck 78 hitters in 62 23 combined innings, for a nifty 28.6 K%; however, he walked 52, for an atrocious 19.0 BB%. Despite having a 1.60 WHIP that year, his combined ERA was surprisingly low at 4.02 (which likely was the result of a solid bullpen).

The 2018 season was entirely different for Frare. In 43 23 innings for Trenton, Frare enjoyed a 0.62 ERA/0.92 WHIP/33.7 K% by striking out 57 hitters while only allowing 25 hits and 15 walks. This earned him a promotion earlier to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he pitched in just one game prior to the Yankees trading him to the White Sox on July 29 for $1.5 million in international bonus pool money. After 11 games with a 0.71 ERA for Charlotte, Frare made his major league debut on September 2 and pitched respectably for the White Sox in 11 games.

Frare began the 2019 season on the opening day roster but struggled out of the gate. In only five outings spanning just 2 2/3 innings for the White Sox this year, Frare compiled an ugly 10.13 ERA and 2.25 WHIP as he allowed two hits and four walks while fanning three. He was demoted to Charlotte on April 11 and was largely ineffective, and like most White Sox hard-throwing minor leaguers, was eventually placed on the injured list. Frare did OK during his rehab stints with the AZL squad and Winston-Salem, but struggled in his final appearances with Charlotte. In 27 total minor league appearances, Frare posted an uncharacteristic 6.35 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in 27 outings totaling 28 1/3 innings. During that span, he surrendered 25 hits (.231 OBA) and 23 walks (17.2%) while striking out 42 (31.3%).

MLB Pipeline gives Frare a 60 grade for his fastball, which runs 92-96 mph with a peak of 98, while his slider is also graded 60 and arrives at 87-91 mph with some tilt. Control, however, is graded at 40 for good reason; not only did Frare have control and command issues this year, he was averaging 4.6 BB/9 prior to 2019 as well. As of this writing, Frare is still on the 40-man roster, and the White Sox would risk losing this power arm if they tried to remove him so he could clear waivers. Thus, expect Frare to remain on the 40-man roster for now. However, don’t expect him to return to Chicago until he reins in his control somewhat.

Hunter Schryver
6´1´´
200 pounds
Age: 24

As a four-year starter with Villanova, Schryver improved with each passing year. Ultimately as a senior in 2017, he posted a solid 2.44 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 12 starts spanning 73 2/3 innings. For the Wildcats that year, he ceded 56 hits (.213 OBA) and 37 walks (11.8%) while striking out 91 (29.0%). Because Schryver was a senior with good results, he was selected in the seventh round by the Tampa Bay Rays but was paid an under-slot bonus. He started his minor league career with Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League and provided a respectable 3.12 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in just under 35 innings of work.

Schryver pitched excellent ball for A-level Bowling Green and the A+ Charlotte Stone Crabs in the 2018 season. Then, just two days after the White Sox acquired the Caleb Frare, they also picked up Schryver in exchange for international bonus pool money. Schryver pitched well for Winston-Salem after the trade, posting a microscopic 1.20 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in nine appearances with the Dash. Overall for 2018 with three teams, Schryver combined to post a 2.12 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 40 appearances. In his 63 2/3 innings that year, he relinquished just 47 hits (.203 OBA) and 17 walks (6.6%) while striking out 80 (30.9%.

Birmingham was Schryver’s first stop in 2019, and he continued to fare well despite the stronger competition. In 30 appearances for the Barons spanning 48 2/3 innings, he allowed 47 hits (.261 OBA) and 17 walks (8.5%) while striking out 39 (19.4%). He ultimately received a promotion to Charlotte, and he scuffled there for the first time in his minor league career. In 11 outings for the Knights totaling 13 2/3 innings, Schryver surrendered 16 hits (.291 OBA) and 12 walks (17.4%) despite a high punchout total of 23 (33.3%).

Baseball America assesses Schryver’s fastball at typically 87-91 mph with a peak of 93. Additionally, he features a spike curveball and a changeup. He was able to keep the ball down at Birmingham (51.0% grounder rate), but struggled to do at Charlotte with a 30.3% grounder rate. Lefties hit .259 against Schryver this year, while righties fared better at .273. Schryver has the potential of a middle reliever for the White Sox if he can improve his command while at Charlotte next year.

Colton Turner
6´3´´
215 pounds
Age: 29

Turner enjoyed arguably his best college season as a junior with Texas State in 2012, as he posted a 2.46 ERA with 87 strikeouts over the same number of innings. However, because he allowed more than his fair share of hits and walks, he slipped to the Blue Jays in the 21st round of the draft. Turner slowly worked his way up Toronto’s farm system, ultimately reaching Double-A New Hampshire before being traded to the White Sox on Aug. 26, 2016 for catcher Dioner Navarro. After the trade, he entered three games with Birmingham before the season concluded.

The 2017 season saw Turner split time with Birmingham and Charlotte; while he performed well for the Barons (2.45 ERA and 1.12 WHIP), he struggled mightily with the Knights for whom he compiled a 6.85 ERA and 1.61 in a similar number of games. Last year Turner dominated Birmingham with an 0.86 ERA and 0.83 WHIP, while he again struggled a bit with Charlotte with a 4.76 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Overall, Turner combined for both teams with a 2.23 ERA and 0.99 WHIP over 37 games. In his 64 2/3 innings, he allowed just 44 hits (.190 OBA) and 20 walks (7.8%) while striking out 65 (25.4%).

This year saw Turner pitch exclusively for Charlotte. Though his numbers weren’t pretty, they could’ve been much worse if not for a sensational August in which he pitched scoreless ball in 12 2/3 innings. In 37 games for the Knights (nine starts) totaling 93 2/3 innings, he posted a 5.48 ERA and 1.45 WHIP as he allowed 101 hits (.278 OBA) and 35 walks (8.7%) while striking out 102 (25.4%). Not surprisingly in Charlotte’s bandbox, he compiled a 6.23 ERA while he had a 4.83 ERA elsewhere. Righties hit him particularly hard this year at .298, while he held lefties to a respectable .240.

Baseball America lists Turner as having an upper-80s fastball peaking at 91, along with a mid-70s slurve with a 2-to-8 break and a changeup with some fading action. Turner has enjoyed a long career as an organizational southpaw, but he’ll have a difficult time finding a role next year due to the high number of lefties who could have roles with Charlotte at various times next year (Frare, Schryver, Bennett Sousa, Kodi Medeiros, Jacob Lindgren and Andrew Perez). Turner, therefore, could be the odd man out. He is eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft in December.


Birmingham Barons

Bennett Sousa
6´3´´
185 pounds
Age: 24

While Sousa had a decent four years with the University of Virginia, especially in the strikeout department, his numbers were hampered by his relative lack of control. His senior season was a microcosm of this, as he posted a 5.23 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 23 games; in 43 innings, he relinquished 36 hits (.220 OBA) and 22 walks (11.2%) while striking out 61 (31.1%). When he was available in the 10th round in last year’s draft, however, the White Sox couldn’t resist selecting him.

Last year in 20 combined games with Great Falls and Kannapolis spanning 35 1/3 innings, Sousa compiled a nifty 1.27 ERA and 0.88 WHIP by allowing 24 hits (.195 OBA) and just seven walks (5.2%) while fanning 42 hitters (31.3%). This year was split among three squads (Kannapolis, Winston-Salem and Birmingham) with the lion’s share of the outings spent with the Intimidators and Dash. Sousa again had a solid campaign, as he combined with all three teams to post a 2.49 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in his 43 games encompassing 65 innings — relinquishing 62 hits (.249 OBA) and just 13 walks (4.9%) while striking out 74 (27.8%).

Sousa’s repertoire includes a 90-94 mph fastball according to Baseball America, in addition to a low-80s slider with promise per Baseball Draft Report. With his control much improved since his college days, Sousa has definitely begun tapping into his potential. Lefties struggled against him this year to the tune of a .205 average, while righties fared much better at .269. Because he only pitched in two games for the Barons this year, it’s expected he’ll return to Birmingham for the 2020 season. However, don’t rule out a promotion to Charlotte by midseason if he continues doing well; Sousa’s selection for Arizona Fall League play might indicate the White Sox are fast-tracking him.

Kodi Medeiros
6´2´´
205 pounds
Age: 23

Medeiros was the highest prep baseball pick to ever come out of Hawaii, when he was selected in the first round (12th overall) in the 2014 draft. Progress has been slow for Medeiros, however, as he’s seemingly struggled at every stop. With the 2014 AZL Brewers, he posted a 7.13 ERA and 2.09 WHIP in an albeit small sample size of 17 2/3 innings. The 2015 season saw him pitching for the Brewers A-level squad in Wisconsin, while the next two years saw him struggle with command for the Brewers A+ teams. Through 2017, these were Medeiros’ combined numbers: 5.19 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, .258 OBA, 11.5 BB% and 20.8 K%

In 20 appearances (15 starts) for AA Biloxi in 2018, Medeiros was off to a great start with a 3.14 ERA and 1.31 WHIP as he was beginning to throw more strikes. On July 26, however, he was traded along with pitcher Wilber Perez to the White Sox for reliever Joakim Soria. Perhaps trying to do too much after the trade, Medeiros started seven games and struggled with a 4.98 ERA and 1.54 WHIP, losing his earlier-season control.

The 2019 season was an adventure for Medeiros, as he again struggled to throw strikes to begin the season. In his first nine appearances (all starts), he posted an unsightly 7.75 ERA and 2.04 WHIP by allowing 57 hits (.333 OBA) and 26 walks in the span of 40 2/3 innings. He fared much better, however, after heading to the bullpen. In his last 19 outings totaling 42 1/3 innings, Medeiros compiled a much-improved 2.55 ERA and 1.13 WHIP by surrendering just 23 hits (.164 OBA) and 25 walks. While his control wasn’t any better out of the pen, he allowed far fewer hits. Lefties hit just .220 against his offerings this year while righties hit him at a .275 clip.

Medeiros features a 92-95 mph fastball with life and is graded 55 by MLB Pipeline. An even better pitch, a slider with significant lateral break, was given a 60. A third pitch, which has good sinking and fading action, is rated 50 by MLB Pipeline.

With all that said, it’s all about throwing strikes for Medeiros, as his control and command have been lacking at times. Even though the control hasn’t improved since his conversion to the bullpen, his command is better, as evidenced by the significant reduction in OBA. Medeiros is still a little young for Birmingham, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him continue honing his skills in Birmingham next year. As a side note, he is currently on the White Sox 40-man roster; it’s conceivable that the White Sox would risk losing him to waivers if they wanted to make room to add a different player this offseason.


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.