Under the Radar: Kade McClure

Peaceful, easy feeling: Kade McClure combined with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem to post a rock-solid 3.25 ERA, and should be in the mix for Birmingham’s rotation for 2020. (Hype the Engineer/Winston-Salem Dash)

Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. Next up is Kade McClure, a right-handed starter who’s excelled since being selected in the sixth round of the 2017 draft.

Kade McClure
Winston-Salem Dash

With a name that inspires multiple references from The Simpsons, McClure has been one of the most effective pitchers in the White Sox system since he was drafted in the sixth round out of Louisville in 2017. In retrospect, it was a bit surprising that McClure lasted so long that year, as he combined to go 20-4 in his sophomore and junior starts, covering 33 appearances. During those two years spanning 181 innings, McClure limited opponents to just 130 hits and 56 walks while striking out 188. It’s possible McClure’s stock fell as his numbers did decline a bit from his stellar sophomore campaign, when he went 12-0 with a rock-solid 2.54 ERA and 0.88 WHIP spanning 78 innings by allowing just 49 hits and 20 walks while fanning 27.

After being drafted, McClure combined with the AZL Sox, Great Falls and Kannapolis to post an incredible 0.82 ERA and 0.55 in his 10 relief outings as he surrendered just three hits and three walks while fanning 19 in 11 innings. McClure was off to a great start last year with Kannapolis in his return to the rotation over eight starts, posting a 3.02 ERA. However, McClure was injured on a comeback liner last May, which forced him to undergo season-ending surgery in order to repair ligament damage and a dislocated kneecap.

McClure split the 2019 season evenly between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. The righty held up to a true pro workload, more than doubling his inning total from his previous two seasons combined. His numbers with the Intimidators and Dash have been nearly identical. For Kannapolis in 10 starts spanning 55 1/3 innings, McClure posted a 3.09 ERA and 1.23 WHIP by ceding 56 hits (.256 OBA), 12 walks (5.1%) and 50 strikeouts (21.3%); for Winston-Salem in 12 starts totaling 66 1/3 innings, he posted a 3.39 ERA and 1.22 WHIP by relinquishing 64 hits (.252 OBA) and 17 walks (6.2%) while fanning 49 (17.8%).

These are the numbers he posted altogether for 2019:

22 G, 22 GS, 4-6, 3.25 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 121.2 IP, 120 H (.254 OBA), 29 BB (5.7%), 99 K (19.4%)

According to FanGraphs, McClure’s repertoire features a 90-94 mph fastball that touches 95 with good extension, with a slider and changeup that both flash above-average at times. At 6´7´´ and 235 pounds, McClure’s build is similar to Alec Hansen’s, making his pitches likely difficult for opponents to pick up. While McClure doesn’t offer Hansen’s high-octane heat and significant upside, he has featured far better control and consistency throughout his college and professional career to date. McClure’s changeup helps stymie lefties somewhat, though they hit him at a better clip (.275) than righties (.244). His ground out-to-fly out rate has basically been 1:1 throughout his professional career, so that could be a concern if he makes it to Charlotte or Chicago.

Because of his injuries, McClure has yet to appear for Birmingham. While it’s possible he could begin next year at Winston-Salem, it’s easy to imagine him eventually finding his way to Birmingham and Charlotte by season’s end, due to his ability to throw strikes and commanding mound presence. McClure will turn 24 next February, and he’ll be Rule 5 eligible after the 2020 season.

If he maintains his health while continuing to produce, it’s not difficult to imagine McClure inserting himself into the White Sox plans for 2021 — as anywhere from a fifth starter to a setup role in the bullpen.

Under the Radar: John Parke

Sneaky-good: John Parke has been one of the most reliable arms in the Sox system since being selected in the 21st round in the 2017 draft. (@BhamBarons)

Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. Next up is John Parke, a southpaw control specialist who’s excelled since being selected in the 21st round of the 2017 draft.

John Parke (LHSP) — Birmingham Barons

Parke has certainly been one of the most over-performing pitchers in the White Sox system. Looking at Parke’s stats from his collegiate resume, it’s surprising he was even selected as high as he was. During Parke’s first two seasons with South Carolina, spanning 15 relief outings, he didn’t allow an earned run — although he walked 12 and struck out 13 in 12 innings of work. However, his luck failed with the Gamecocks in his junior season, when Parke suffered an 8.53 ERA and 1.74 WHIP by allowing 35 hits and nine walks while striking out 21 in 25 innings of work.

Yet despite all of that, White Sox scouts clearly saw enough in Parke to grab him in the 21st round. After receiving a $30,000 signing bonus, Parke went on to pitch in 14 games (10 starts) for the AZL White Sox and posted a 2.77 ERA and 1.08 WHIP covering 68 13innings, allowing 65 hits (.248 OBA) and just nine walks (3.3%) but striking out 46 (16.7%).

Parke bypassed Great Falls in 2018, splitting the season with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. Combined for both teams, he managed a 3.53 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 153 innings, allowing 159 hits (.267 OBA) and 39 walks (6.0%) while fanning 119 hitters (18.2%). His numbers weren’t as good with Winston-Salem, for the obvious reasons reasons that the Dash play in a hitter’s ballpark and the competition was stronger. However, Parke likely was undergoing some serious fatigue, as he pitched 47 more innings than he did in his combined three years with South Carolina and the AZL Sox.

In 2019, Parke posted solid numbers for both Winston-Salem and Birmingham. In 12 starts totaling 69 innings for the Dash, he had a respectable 3.65 ERA and 1.32 WHIP as he relinquished 69 hits (.265 OBA) and 20 walks (6.7%) while fanning just 32 (10.8%). Although his stats were decent, Parke may not have received a promotion on June 20 to Birmingham if not due to injuries to pitchers like Bernardo Flores and Jimmy Lambert.

With that said, Parke has certainly made the most of his opportunity. In 14 starts spanning 76 1/3 innings for the Barons, he posted a rock-solid 2.59 ERA and 1.14 WHIP by ceding just 69 hits and 18 walks while striking out 43. Pitching in cavernous Birmingham could account for some of Parke’s improvement, but it’s important to note that his strikeouts have risen while his walk rate has gone down despite pitching in a tougher league.

His combined 2019 numbers for Winston-Salem and Birmingham:

7-6, 26 G, 26 GS, 3.10 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 145 1/3 IP, 140 H, 11 HR, 38 BB, 75 K

Interestingly, lefties fared far better against Parke while he was pitching for the Dash (.309) than at Birmingham (.195), which tells me that his curveball was more effective as the year progressed. Righties have also fared worse against him in Birmingham (.235) than at Winston-Salem (.250).

How does Parke succeed when he doesn’t have much more than a low-90s fastball? First of all, he has an effective changeup, which helps neutralize righties. Parke also features an above-average curveball, which helps stymie lefties, especially when at its best. He’s also done an excellent job keeping the ball down, as 67% of batted outs have been via the ground ball, which bodes well for an eventual promotion to Charlotte.

Because Parke wasn’t overworked in college, his arm has been relatively fresh and hasn’t missed many (if any) starts due to injury. He doesn’t try to do too much on the mound, and is comfortable letting his fielders do the grunt work.

Parke has shown good control throughout the minors (especially so in Birmingham), but when hitters do get on, his above-average command helps him minimize damage because he usually hits the catcher’s glove with precision. Because of his command, Parke’s ERA has outperformed his FIP at every stop throughout his minor league career. This year’s been no exception, as his ERA for Winston-Salem and Birmingham (3.65 and 2.55 respectively) have far bettered his FIP (4.73 and 3.73). Certainly this could be a red flag, as he’ll face more advanced hitters with each new level; with that said, Parke could simply be outperforming his peripherals because he knows how to find ways to get hitters out.

At age 24, Parke is facing hitters in Birmingham who are at a similar age-level. Thus, it’s great to see him pitching so well. If Parke continues to pitch well in Birmingham, he should be in contention for a starting role in Charlotte beginning in 2020.

Under the Radar: Yermín Mercedes

Bopping backstop: Yermín Mercedes has slashed .311/.379/.566 for Birmingham and Charlotte this year with 21 homers and 72 RBIs in just 87 games. (Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights)

Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. First up in the 2019 edition is Yermín Mercedes, an offensive-minded backstop who has been one of the best hitters in the White Sox system over the past two years.

Yermín Mercedes (C) — Charlotte Knights

Mercedes was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in the minor league phase of 2017’s Rule 5 draft. Before that, Mercedes had quite an interesting history.

At 18, the Dominican Republic native from La Romana (home of Edwin Encarnacion and Antonio Alfonseca, among others) signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals, in March 2011. After two successful offensive years with Washington’s DSL squad, where he slashed .313/.379/.397, he struggled to the tune of .255/.359/.439 in 2013 and was subsequently released. Mercedes spent 2014 dominating the independent Pecos League, playing for such teams as the White Sands (N.M.) Pupfish, Douglas (Ariz.) Diablos, and San Angelo (Texas) Colts, with a .380/.420/.699 slash line. He was then signed as a free agent by the Orioles on Sept. 8, 2014.

From 2015 to 2017, Mercedes continued raking with Delmarva (A), Frederick (A+), and Bowie (AA). During those three years, he hit .304/.359/.504, with a combined 54 homers. For the Winston-Salem Dash in 2018, Mercedes continued pounding to the ball to a .289/.362/.478 slash line, with 24 doubles, 14 homers, 64 RBI, and 40 walks (9.8 BB%) compared to 67 strikeouts (16.3 K%) over 360 at-bats.

After returning to Double-A to begin this year (he played just 12 games for Bowie in 2017), Mercedes started mashing from Day 1. In 42 games spanning 147 at-bats, he slashed .327/.389/.497 for Birmingham with seven doubles, six homers, 18 RBIs, 17 walks (10.4%) and 25 strikeouts (15.2%). Since earning yet another promotion on June 20, he has absolutely mashed in Charlotte, despite lower walk and higher strikeout totals.

Through August 15, encompassing 38 games and 136 at-bats, Mercedes slashed .309/.386/.640 with nine doubles, 12 homers, 46 RBIs (which equates to 196 RBIs over a 162-game season), 16 walks (10.5%) and 34 strikeouts (22.4%). These are his combined totals through August 15, covering 80 games and 283 at-bats:

.318/.388/.566, 16 2B, 18 HR, 64 RBI, 33 BB (10.4%), 59 K (18.7%), 2-for-2 SB

While Mercedes certainly has clobbered southpaws this year, with an incredible .351/.425/.688 slash line, he’s more than held his own against righties by slashing .306/.376/.519. Thus, if Mercedes earns a promotion to the South Side, he doesn’t have to be a platoon specialist. Finally, as evidenced by his high RBI total in Charlotte, Mercedes is definitely not afraid to hit with runners in scoring position; so far in Charlotte, he’s slashed an incredible .360/.386/.800, which would indeed be a welcome change with what fans have been forced to endure on the South Side for far too long.

While Mercedes’ numbers this year have been sensational, there are a couple of red flags. While his walk rate has remained the same, his strikeout rate has ballooned while in Charlotte. Also, his splits at home for the Knights (.353/.392/.735) have far exceeded his numbers on the road (.265/.381/.544). Part of the issue is that he seems to be selling out for the long-ball in Charlotte, as he’s walked just four times while fanning 18 times in 68 at-bats at BB&T Ballpark; on the road, he’s walked 12 times while striking out just 16 times away from home. It’s interesting to note, though, that Mercedes has hit for an incredibly high average at Charlotte despite his relatively low number of walks. It’s also important to note that his road numbers really aren’t all that bad.

Mercedes is listed at 5´11´´ and 175 pounds, which is hard to believe based on his photos and videos, so I’m more inclined to believe the Knights roster page which lists him at 225 (and even that may be conservative). He definitely profiles as an offensive-minded catcher, but one who actually throws out his fair share of baserunners. In fact, not only did he throw out 41% of attempted basestealers last year for the Dash, he’s thrown out an even greater percentage this year for the Knights and Barons (43%).

While Mercedes has been rock-solid against the running game, he’s had his problems defensively keeping pitches in front of him. Last year for the Dash, he committed 11 passed balls in 79 games, which is an incredibly large amount. It’s been even worse this year, as he’s relinquished 15 passed balls in just 52 games behind the plate. These aren’t merely aberrations, as he actually allowed 24 passed balls in just 62 games for Orioles affiliates in 2016. This, of course, doesn’t even include the wild pitches he’s allowed.

With such issues defensively, pitchers are hesitant to throw anything straying far from the plate with him as the backstop. Thus, despite his ability to gun down attempted basestealers, he’s an extreme defensive liability. Mercedes is now 26, and is therefore unlikely to improve his defense much going forward. His defensive ability (or lack thereof) is likely the reason why he hadn’t advanced to Triple-A until this year, and is also likely the reason why he’s recently played games for the Knights at both infield corners. While he profiles as a DH, it certainly wouldn’t hurt if he proves the ability to man the infield corners acceptably, while also being a third-string catcher. That versatility may be enough to earn him another promotion before the year is out.

One final caveat: Mercedes will be eligible for selection in this year’s Rule 5 draft. Because of his defense, and due to the fact he’s not a coveted left-handed bat, he’s really on the cusp of being unprotected. This would be a shame, because he certainly seems to have the offensive chops to be a significant, low-cost upgrade to the DH slot for 2019 and beyond. Below is just a sample of what he can do: