With the popularity of our Next Wave article last offseason, we’ve decided to make this an annual tradition – and split it into two articles. This is a list of pitchers in the White Sox system to keep an eye on in 2014 that fell outside of the organization’s Top 25 players. We published the position player list a few days ago.
Why does this matter? Well, look at last year’s article, which had about 30 names on it. Five of the players from that list ended up ranked among the top 25 on our latest list, and one (Daniel Webb) even made the majors. Another few are on the cusp. How many of the players on these lists will become top prospects in the system? Or see the majors? Most will not, but a few will. Every year, a few players toiling in the background burst onto the scene.
Let’s look at this year’s pitching candidates, and you can place your bets on who will “pop” in 2014. For determining starter versus reliever, we are looking at the role they’ve been in most recently, though for some that could change in the future…
Prospect pundit Keith Law put right-hander Andrew Mitchell in his top 10 prospects in the Sox system. Law had him as his #35 draft prospect for 2013 (Sox got him about 100 picks later), and feels his three-pitch mix will work as a starter, despite TCU using him as a reliever (and others seeing him ending up as just that). With a sinking fastball that has ranged from 90 to 97 on various reports and at least one plus breaking pitch, Mitchell gets ground balls at a good clip and misses some bats. But his overall results were pedestrian in 14 starts for Rookie level Great Falls as a 21 year old: 4.50 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, .273 BAA, 4.8 BB/9, 7.6 K/9. The Sox will likely keep Mitchell as a starter, at least for the time being, to refine his stuff.
After pitching only briefly in his draft year and recovering from surgery, 6’8” Kyle Hansen had mixed results in his first year of pro ball with Kannapolis. He struck out better than a batter an inning and showed good control (2.5 BB/9), but he got hit a bit (.282 BAA, 7 HR allowed) in 96.2 IP. Hansen’s fastball has been mid-90’s with good sink, but his velocity dropped late in the season, likely due to missed time and increased workload. He’s got a good slider that he controls quite well and gets him a lot of whiffs, but his other secondary offerings are limited and need work. His tall frame, deceptive delivery, strong sinker and good slider give him at least an intriguing reliever profile, but the Sox will likely keep him starting as long as he can handle it. See our game story from Kanny in August for some video and detail on Hansen.
Braulio Ortiz hit the radar this season when he missed a lot of bats as a 21 year old in Kannapolis’ rotation: 10.6 K/9, .196 BAA. The core numbers not as spectacular due to some control issues (3.45 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 5.6 BB/9), but they were still good enough to get him promoted to Winston-Salem. There the walk bug finally caught up with him, though he still struck out more than a batter an inning. This 6’5” Dominican righty has a mid-90’s fastball with a lot of life, a good low 80’s slider and a change. If he can keep the walks down, Ortiz could be very intriguing going into his age 22 season. See Nathaniel Stoltz’s video compilation of Ortiz for a closer look.
Lefthander Charlie Leesman has been in the Sox system seemingly forever, and has always been an enigma, with inconsistent stats and stuff year-to-year. While he’s been exclusively a starter in the minors, his likely path to the big leagues is as a lefty specialist, and he was much better against LHH than RHH in 2013. Leesman’s fastball is really a sinker that typically runs 90-92 but has hit mid-90’s at times, he has an above average change up, and mediocre breaking pitches. With the lack of solid LH relievers in MLB and the higher minors, Leesman has a good shot at starting the season in Chicago.
Some of you may have forgotten about Brandon Brennan with his missed time, but this 2012 4th round pick has a lot of raw talent. Brennan struggled in Kannapolis’ rotation to begin 2013 (5.53 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, .298 BAA, 3.0 BB/9, 6.0 K/9), and it turns out an injury was at play, as he left the team in June to undergo TJ surgery. Likely to return sometime the first half of this season, Brennan should be in Kanny’s rotation again in his age 22/23 year, so he’s still at an age-appropriate level. But he was drafted as a raw pitcher with an inconsistent delivery, so the missed development time could be a problem. Brennan’s heavy fastball runs 90 to 95 and gets plenty of ground balls, and he has a slider and change.
Thaddius Lowry was signed for about $90k over slot this past year out of high school. The tall Texan’s fastball hit 96 early in his spring season but dropped to the upper 80’s near the end, and his plus breaking ball also faded over time. The hope here is in projection and getting Lowry better conditioned to hold his stuff. His performance at Bristol wasn’t great (5.48 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, .313 BAA, 4.5 BB/9, 6.1 K/9 in 44.1 IP), but that was expected in his case, and his season was mostly about getting training, conditioning and innings in. Lowry adds a splitter and change as well, and he may need another year in rookie ball at age 19. We interviewed Thad in Bristol last August.
Adam Lopez put up a very nice season in Kannapolis, and only got better when he was converted to a starter. He’s consistently struck out well over a batter an inning in the minors, and his numbers in 99.1 IP for Kanny look good: 2.54 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .223 BAA, 3.2 BB/9, 11/7 K/9 and the 4th lowest FIP in the minors (min 90 IP) at 2.14. The 6’5” right-hander gets it done with a fastball around 91-93 with some tail, a slider with good movement and speed in the mid 80’s, and an off-the-table change-up in the low 80’s. Time is an issue, as he’ll be 24 this season going into A+ and will miss a little time recovering from an offseason knee injury. But having a couple above average breaking pitches and a serviceable fastball is a combination that might allow him to succeed at higher levels. See Nathaniel Stoltz’s very detailed write-up for more depth.
Few indy pickups turn into even fringe prospects, but Mike Recchia has a chance to beat those long odds. This Chicago area native rattled around the Yankees org for a couple years, and pitched for Windy City in 2012. After some mechanical changes in 2013 improved his stuff, the White Sox purchased his contract and he dominated SAL hitters in 11 games: 1.45 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, .199 BAA, 1.3 BB/9, 9.6 K/9. Promoted to A+ Winston-Salem he gave up more hits and walks, but struck out batters at a similar rate. His fastball runs 90-93 and touches 94, he has a mid-80’s slider that a scout said was above average, and a serviceable curve in the mid-70’s with an occasional change thrown in. If he has an upper level future it may be as a reliever, as he can dial up the heater a bit more and use the above average slider to his advantage. He’ll be 25 for the 2014 season, so he should be getting batters out in A+ to AA to have a shot. See our post from August where we saw Recchia pitch and took some video.
If you are a fan of peripherals and advanced metrics in evaluating prospects, Tony Bucciferro may be your sleeper pick. This Joliet native posted the best FIP in all of minor league baseball in 2013 (min. 80 IP) at 1.74, and a ridiculous 16.0 K:BB ratio in 15 starts (3 in Rk, 12 in A) in 2013. Even being old for his level (23) those numbers are hard to ignore. Bucciferro doesn’t have any stand-out pitches but he is competent with a mix of four-seamers (at 89-91 mph), two-seamers (upper 80’s), sliders (low 80’s) and change-ups (upper 70’s) and has excellent control (a scant 0.6 BB/9). One comp for that pitch set is Dan Remenowsky, though Bucciferro has better control and importantly has shown he can start. A White Sox scout told us his slider is improving and could develop into a plus pitch, so keep an eye on this one. Also see this detailed write-up from Fangraphs.
Big right-hander Brad Goldberg was taken in the 10th round as an easy-sign senior pick, but his 2013 season makes him look like a potential steal. In 16 relief appearances across three levels (Rk-A-A+), Goldberg posted a 1.54 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9 and 12.6 K/9. This former Buckeye starter has a good fastball in the low to mid-90’s, a slider that typically runs 82-84 with good tilt, and a developing change. Working as a reliever he’s been able to move up quickly to an age-appropriate level (will be 24 this season) and put a little more on the fastball. Brad told us about his approach back in August, and it seems to be working for him.
Nestor Molina has been in freefall on our prospect lists since soon after he was acquired, as he has struggled to repeat previous successes. His 2013 at Birmingham had him battling some minor injury issues, and his final numbers weren’t great on his 3rd shot at AA: 4.71 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, .301 BAA, 2.7 BB/9, 7.2 K/9 in 17 games. But a transition to the bullpen seems to have helped, and he did well in a relief role in the VWL this offseason (29.2 IP, 27 H, 8 ER, 5 BB, 20 K). Going into his age 25 season he’s teetering on the edge of the radar, but if he can perform well in the bullpen he may show up in Chicago.
Simon Castro is a minor league free agent and as of this writing, has not yet signed with a club. But there is a decent chance the Sox pick him up again, given he appeared in 4 games in Chicago last season (6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K). Once a top 100 MLB prospect and top 5 in the Sox system, Castro struggled in AAA each of the last two seasons, and his fastball velocity dropped a few ticks as well, so there are a lot of question marks. But if he can be healthy and get back some of his stuff (moving 92-94 FB, good slider), now converted to a reliever, Castro could see Chicago again in 2014 when he will be 26.
Can a 36th round pick who missed a year of development and had a rib removed after a serious medical scare still be a prospect? 24 year old Cody Winiarski came back from that 6 hour surgery and year-long recovery to put up some striking numbers across A+ and AA last year after skipping A ball (85 K vs 27 BB in 66.2 IP). This right-hander has significantly improved his stuff while fighting the odds, and he currently shows a low-mid 90’s sinking fastball, a couple off-speed pitches and a wipe-out split-finger; a package of pitches that has the Sox seeing a potential major league reliever. Winiarski has a fearless mound presence, and he looks like a bargain pick at such a low round.
Kevin Vance’s fastball isn’t overpowering, but it has significant movement and pairs nicely with a good curveball to get results. His control fell off a bit in 2013 (4.7 BB/9, after being in the 2-3.5 range), but he still missed plenty of bats (11.0 K/9, .213 BAA) and he’s been striking out well over a batter an inning at age-appropriate levels two years running. Going into AAA will be a good test and we’ll see if his fastball can play up in a setup role.
Matt Ball was taken in the 11th round and signed for $50k over slot in 2013 to entice him to pro ball right after high school. His fastball was typically upper 80’s and touched 92, but the Sox saw a very projectable arm and frame, and early returns suggest they were right. The 4.84 ERA is deceptive in this case, as he registered a 3.20 FIP in a hitter-friendly league while striking out better than a batter an inning and keeping the walks under control. If this is the raw version, the refined product could be very productive. Ball should be in his first full-season league in 2014 at just 19 years old.
Besides having one of the best names in minor league baseball, 6’7” righty Storm Throne stays on the radar thanks to two big, raw pitching tools: a mid- to upper-90’s fastball and an inconsistent but sometimes-wicked 12-6 hammer. The numbers show he’s still got a lot of refinement to do (6.26 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 3.9 BB/9, 8.6 K/9 in 41.2 IP for Kannapolis last season), and his velocity dropped as the year went on during his first full pro season. But the potential of his 1-2 pitching punch and tall, strong frame mean he’s a guy to watch in 2014.
Who do you think will break out from this list in 2014? Post a comment here, tell us on Twitter, or visit SoxTalk.com and let us know.