FutureSox has been visiting some of the White Sox minor league affiliates this season, to get an in-person view of some of the prospects in the system. On August 23rd we made our first trip to Kannapolis of 2013, where we interviewed several players and coaches, chatted with some of their front office people, took in a game and grabbed some videos for analysis. We happened to be joined at the game by White Sox scout Joe Butler, who also provided some good information. If you happened to be listening to the free, live audio broadcast, you may have also heard me speaking with the Kannapolis radio man, Josh Feldman, during the 3rd inning. By the way, if you don't do so already, you should give the radio feed a listen during games - lots of good information.
The interviews will be published in a separate article – this is the game story, including videos of several prospects. We hope this gives our readers a deeper look into who the Sox have down on the farm, and what sort of tools and skills they bring to the table, as they make their way towards the majors.
Today’s match-up in the Class A South Atlantic League featured 6’8” righty Kyle Hansen going for the Intimidators (A, White Sox), against Frank LaFreniere of the Rome Braves at CMC-NorthEast Ballpark in Kannapolis. Let’s start by taking a look at Hansen, affectionately called “Lurch” by his teammates. Hansen was drafted in the 6th round out of St. John’s last year and was said to have mid-90’s speed on his sinking fastball, but appeared likely to be a reliever in the long run due to a lack of refined secondary pitches (at the time). After pitching in just 6 games his draft year and starting 2013 late due to injury, he’s been in the Kannapolis rotation since May. Let’s look at a couple videos…
Hansen in warm-ups:
Hansen in game:
On this night, Hansen’s fastball was not getting the velocity he’s been reported to have, possibly due to the missed time, and this being his first year pitching this many innings. He sat 88-91 with his fastball, but did show good control with it. His go-to pitch in this game was his slider, which sat 79-83 and got quite a few whiffs. The break on it wasn’t always big, but he located it and set it up well with his fastball. He also has a change he mixed in, in the low 80’s, but didn’t use it often. His motion makes decent use of his long frame, providing some added downward plane on all his pitches.
His final line in the game looked like this: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R (1 ER), 0 BB, 11K. This is where it is valuable to see more than a box score. His fastball command was good, but there wasn’t much velocity or sink to it, and he gave up an opposite field home run. The slider was what got him most of the K’s. As the Sox scout in the seat next door pointed out, a power pitcher throwing this many innings for the first time will often lose some velocity, then build it back up again as he adds work over years. If Hansen can indeed get back a low-mid 90’s sinking fastball, command it as well as he did this night, and use an effective slider, he’s at the very least got a chance to be a valuable reliever.
Two other Intimidators pitchers threw this night. One is right-hander Storm Throne, who unlike Hansen requires no nickname. Another ’12 draftee, he was selected in the 25th round for one reason (no, not his name): a mid-90’s fastball. But he’s struggled with control at times and the numbers haven’t been great so far this year. Let’s take a look at the video:
Throne hurls from a ¾ slot that has a fair amount of elbow torque involved, which could be worrisome in terms of future injury risk for a power pitcher. Similar to Hansen, his velocity in this game wasn’t what he’s been known to peak at before this year. He sat 91-93 with the fastball, and also has a 12-6 type curve in the mid 70’s. The speed differential, and the fact that his mechanics appeared to be pretty consistent pitch to pitch, does give him a good place to start. He’ll need to focus on control, and gaining strength to get that fastball velocity back up, but there is potential there.
Now let’s look at some of the position players. Even though he was batting 9th in the lineup, I want to start with newly acquired infielder Cleuluis Rondon, who has been playing mostly second base but also some shortstop. I heard both manager Tommy Thompson and scout Joe Butler put superlatives on this kid’s defense that included descriptions like “outstanding” and “off the charts”. Both said he was as good on the field as any middle infielder they’d seen at that age… ever. And he did make one “wow” type play at second, getting a grounder far to his left, spinning halfway and making the throw to first while jogging backwards.
Hitting-wise, however, he does have a ways to go – but he is young and has time to develop. Here’s a brief video of him at the plate (grounding out to second):
Back to the top of the order, we have outfielder Jacob May, who was promoted to A ball in this his draft year (3rd round) after destroying Pioneer League pitching with Great Falls. May has shown surprising power, though he says he’s still focused on getting on base and using his speed as his primary tools. He’s got a short swing but makes solid contact. Here he is slapping an opposite field single:
Batting second was Tim Anderson, the Sox’ first round pick in this year’s draft. He skipped rookie ball to go straight to Class A, which was an aggressive assignment for a relatively raw 20 year old with only small college experience under his belt. Defensively, he made quite a few errors early on, but has been improving noticeably in that department. At the plate, he’s had some strike out issues as you might expect with his challenging post, but he’s got a nice, level swing plane and makes solid contact, as you can see in this video:
Outfielder Jason Coats signed late last year, after being drafted in the 29th round from TCU. But don’t let that fool you – that low draft slot was partly a function of his knee injury as he was closing out his college career. He’s got upside, and the Sox scout in the seats seemed convinced that Coats will be able to hit. He’s got a short, quick stroke, and uses the whole field. Here he is hitting a double off the wall in center field, on a pitch that appears to be off the outside edge of the plate:
The last hitter we’ve got video on is first baseman Keon Barnum. Drafted in the 1st round supplemental of the 2012 draft, Barnum is a raw, power potential prospect, and he’s missed time both his pro seasons due to injury. His numbers indicate he’s trying to zone in on making good contact, and not as much the power, right now. He’s had some struggles, and the assignment to Kannapolis was aggressive for him. He does have serious power potential, but he’s lost essentially a year of development time, so it is very early to make a solid judgment on what his hitting will be like down the road (though Buddy Bell recently mentioned he will likely be in Winston-Salem next season). Here is Keon hitting a grounder to second:
A few other nuggets of information I got, thanks in part to sitting near scouts and players…
--Lefty Ryan Bollinger also pitched for Kannapolis. He’s got an upper 80’s fastball, and a breaking pitch in the upper 70’s that I could only describe as slurvy. Didn’t get video on Ryan, and I didn’t see enough of his pitches to give a complete picture.
--Infielder Nick Basto has been playing 3B lately, and though he was drafted as a shortstop, he was not able to stick there defensively.
--While there is no official word on this yet, it was hinted that Keon Barnum will almost assuredly be in Arizona this fall do get in more work.
--Pitcher Tony Bucciferro was running the clipboard and sat nearby. Mr. Butler was saying very good things about Tony’s slider. Also, in case people are curious, even though he grew up not far south of Chicago, Bucciferro said he grew up a Braves fan, then went to the “other side” for his Chicago team – the Cubs.
--Marcus Semien’s rise this year surprised even many within the Sox, who did not anticipate he’d get this good this quickly.
--Catcher Sammy Ayala is still seen as high potential, and his lack of playing time at Bristol is mostly a function of having too many catchers there and not enough innings to get them all solid playing time.