Minor Madness - Can Charlotte carry 28 pitchers?

This time of year, there are always more players in the organization than there is room for on active major and minor league rosters.  If you attempt a depth chart for the April-starting affiliates (Class A and up), even leaving out the guys likely to be in rookie ball (which starts in June), you end up with a few more players than can fit on the 25 man rosters of those teams.

This is by design.  Some of these players will be released, others traded (mostly in minor deals), and yet others will be kept in Arizona for Extended Spring Training to be assigned later.  Some will end up on a disabled list with injuries or “injuries” – last spring the Charlotte (AAA) disabled list was littered with players whose presence on the list was dubious at best.  It was clear the team was using the list as a reserve roster of sorts.

But this year, the number of pitchers in the organization who seem targeted for AAA is comically large.  By our count, there are 28 hurlers who are either established at AAA or have a solid full season or more of relative success at AA.  The Charlotte Knights’ roster will likely hold 12 pitchers.  So unless the White Sox are going to field a second AAA team, about 16 of them will not be in a Knights uniform for the opening of their new ballpark in April.

That doesn’t even account for guys who have only a little AA experience but may quickly jump to AAA – Chris Beck, Chris Bassitt and Cody Winiarski all could be knocking on the door pretty quickly.  Rehabbing pitchers like Henry Mabee and Kyle Bellamy are also left out.

Let’s take a March Madness-like look at the field.  Trades cannot be predicted, so this will be based on talent level, track record and current organizational needs.  Who are locks to make it?  Of the arms on the bubble, which ones are leaning in or leaning out?  Which long shots have to have everything fall just right to be there?

***NOTE: We are going to assume for this exercise that Felipe Paulino gets the 5th starter slot, Donnie Veal the second lefty reliever role, and Daniel Webb the final open bullpen chair.  These are the most likely scenarios at this point.

LOCKS (4)

Andre Rienzo showed flashes of his talent in 10 starts in Chicago last year after a Charlotte campaign that saw him get stronger each month.  He’s got a shot at the Sox rotation if Paulino falters, and also has a long shot at the pen, but he’s just outside as it stands today.  Being effectively the team’s sixth starter, Rienzo should begin 2014 at the top of the Knights’ rotation, working on consistency and control.

Lefty Eric Surkamp was claimed off waivers from the Giants this offseason, and he was considered a significant prospect until elbow surgery shut him down for 2012 and part of 2013.  Surkamp is a finesse pitcher and he hasn’t looked sharp in Arizona thus far, so he should be in the Charlotte rotation getting back to starter-level innings.

Another lefty, Charlie Leesman is roughly number 7 or 8 on the starter pile for Chicago and also is going to get a look as competition for the 2nd lefty slot in the pen.  But with Veal more experienced and out of minor league options, and too much depth ahead of him for the rotation, look for Charlie to be starting games for the Knights come April.

Jake Petricka and his plus fastball made the successful transition back to the bullpen in 2013 and showed flashes of his talent but also some control issues in 16 games on the South Side.  Petricka stands as the probable first call-up for any right-handed needs in the bullpen, and will likely be the Knights’ closer.

LEANING IN (8)

32 year old Lefty specialist David Purcey signed a new MiLB deal with the Sox after posting iffy results in Chicago in 19 games last year.  Having pitched in 111 MLB games he’s got nowhere to be but Charlotte, where he’ll be waiting for any struggles from Veal and/or Leesman.  We can’t call him a lock because, given his past control issues and the presence of other lefties at this level, he is also a release candidate.

Flamethrower Maikel Cleto was signed just a few weeks ago as a classic “Coop will fix ‘em” candidate.  The owner of a mid-90’s fastball, heavy sinker and major control problems will hope to harness his at-times wicked stuff in AAA.  Cleto is out of minor league options, and since he is a very long shot to be in Chicago in April, there is a chance he declines assignment or is claimed by another team.

Nestor Molina has officially transitioned to a relief role, and there have been some positive reports that the change may suit him.  Given that the Sox once saw him as a key prospect, they won’t give up on him easily, so expect him to be given every chance to show his value as a reliever.

Dylan Axelrod started 20 games with the Sox last year, came out of the bullpen in 10 more, and just wasn’t successful in either role.  He’s mastered AAA though, and with a new minor league deal, that’s where he’ll be again.  They may try to convert him to a reliever, to see if his stuff can play up a bit in shorter stints.  He’s also a guy to keep on release watch.

Brian Omogrosso spent time in Chicago each of the last two seasons, but he got lit up in his 12 games in 2013.  Signed to a new minor league deal and already sent over to minor league camp, Omogrosso’s results haven’t been great in AAA either in recent years.  But he seems likely to be part of Charlotte’s pen this year.

Tall right-hander Taylor Thompson put up very solid numbers up through AA despite being a 44th round pick, but he hit a wall in his first AAA stint.  The Sox moved him up quickly prior to that, so he’s likely still on their radar, and should be part of the Charlotte bullpen.

Frank de los Santos was acquired from the Rays last September.  This 26 year old lefty is nominally in the LOOGY race, but he’s behind a number of other guys.  He has a history of getting lots of ground ball outs, which the Sox like, so they’ll keep him in AAA to see what he can do.

Spencer Arroyo is yet another lefty, but he’s been a starter throughout his career and doesn’t profile as a specialist.  He spent half of 2012 and basically all of 2013 at AA Birmingham (made 1 start with Charlotte) with decent results last year, and he’ll likely take up the back end of the Knights’ rotation.

LEANING OUT (10)

Deunte Heath has become the master of sticking around.  Despite somehow walking 12 batters in 7.2 innings in Chicago last year, this 28 year old with three seasons of AAA under his belt is getting a chance at a fourth.  He’s also likely the first guy to move to the “lean in” category if anyone above him is unable to make it to North Carolina come April.

Lefty Mauricio Robles pitched in 3 games with the Phillies last year after showing himself very tough to hit in AAA (16 hits in 38 innings), but he’s also had control issues (BB/9 rates often north of 6).  Reminiscent of Leyson Septimo’s profile, he’s got a shot at the Charlotte roster, but he’s behind a few other southpaws at the moment.

Stephen McCray repeated rookie ball after being drafted, then suddenly found himself on the fast track, going from A to AAA in just two seasons.  His tools don’t stand out, he doesn’t miss many bats or induce many ground balls, but he’s somehow consistently gotten above average core results.  He may repeat AA, or perhaps be converted to a reliever to play his fastball up a bit, which would give him a better shot.

Kevin Vance is probably the most ‘prospecty’ among the lean-out group, posting strong strikeout and hit rates in AA at age 22 last season (and just two years removed from his draft).  But he’ll have a hard case to make for starting the year in Charlotte, partially due to some command issues from 2013, but mostly due simply to crowding on the depth chart.  He’s not a candidate for release, but he may have to start back in Birmingham in his age 23 season, still at an age-appropriate level.

Salvador Sanchez was converted from shortstop and saw four levels in 2012 ending in Birmingham.  His numbers back in AA in 2013 were improved and very solid in basically every category, so he should be seeing AAA this year.  It just may not be to start the season.

The Sox picked up lefthander Evan Crawford in the AAA phase of the Rule V draft in December from Toronto.  Crawford’s brief 10 games in the majors in 2012 weren’t too god, and neither were his 2013 AA or 2012 AAA results.  He’s a sinker-baller who is tough on lefties and gets plenty of ground balls, so the Sox will probably try to mold him into a LOOGY, and he may start the year in extended camp or AA.

Scott Carroll was in the Knights’ rotation in 2012, then spent 2013 rehabbing from TJ surgery on his elbow (you can read his article on our site about that process here).  This 29 year old righty has 59 games at AAA and would seem to be ticketed back there again on his new minor league deal, but he’s got a crowd to fight through and his rehab may mean he’ll be kept in extended camp.  Birmingham is also a possibility.

Parker Frazier was an offseason signing for depth, and he made the change from starting to relieving for 2013.  His numbers in two AA stops were decent, but he got hammered in a brief 9 game stint in AAA.  The improvements as a reliever are enticing, but he’s on the outside looking in as it stands today.

Ryan Kussmaul has been nails two years running with Birmingham, but the 27 year old has yet to be given a real shot at AAA.  The lack of a look is likely due to underwhelming tools, but given what he’s done in AA so far, you’d think he should get a shot if a slot opens up.  There just isn’t one right now.

Nick McCully put up good core results with Birmingham last year, but he got hit around in Charlotte in 9 games and his strikeout rates at both stops were quite low.  This coupled with a fly ball tendency means he's likely headed back to Birmingham, and back to a relief role, wherein he previously posted much stronger peripherals.

NEED SOME HELP (6)

After stints in Japan and in the Red Sox organization, Terry Doyle has come back to the White Sox for another shot.  His 2013 results between AA and AAA were not encouraging, but he had previously looked good at those same levels with the White Sox in his first tour.  Hard to say where he may slot in this year.

Tony Pena Jr converted from shortstop after 2008 and has ranged around through five organizations as a pitcher, last with Charlotte where he pitched in 33 games (9 starts).  He’s got 3+ seasons of mediocre AAA pitching under his belt, and it’s hard to see where a 32 year old innings eater like this has much value for the Sox.

Matt Zaleski has been in the White Sox minors for 10 straight seasons, which must be some sort of record for a guy with the same club who hasn’t reached the majors.  He’s had 78 games of mediocre results in AAA, and it is hard to see how he fits in while going for 11.

Omar Poveda was signed as a minor league free agent this offseason after posting OK numbers with Atlanta’s AAA team in 2013.  He’s gotten hit around in 3 innings of spring training ball so far, and doesn’t seem to have a landing spot.

Since pounding his way up to AA posting big K numbers along the way, Dan Remenowsky has bounced off the AAA wall three separate times.  Going into his age 28 season and with declining numbers, it’s hard to imagine him breaking camp with the Knights.

Native Chicagoan and former Cubs prospect David Cales posted decent numbers with Birmingham last year, but his 23 games of AAA results are a little rough.  Cales missed time in 2011 and 2012 with injuries, and may finally be up to full strength now, but who would he pass on the chart?

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With over twice as many pitchers as can possibly fit on the Charlotte Knights' roster, it should be a busy few weeks on the transaction wire.  If you have any guesses, leave a comment and tell us what you think.

 

Comments

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  • thanks Matt, just gave me a little clarity on who to expect in the White Sox bullpen to start the year.

  • In reply to Kevin Kaufmann:

    Thanks Kevin, glad it helped.

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    Great article Matt - love the way you mentioned everybody. Lots to say here. Purcey was good, just a few too many walks. As far a Cleto getting fixed by Coop - do they have a Coop Jr in AAA(if he somehow makes it to a Sox affiliate)? A guy who can fix and develop. I'm sure they have a body that fills the position, but is he good at it? While on the subject I really think the Sox are deficient in minor league hitting instructors given the way so many hitters fail as they move up. I never see any real development, like better plate discipline. Not being a scout, stats are pretty much all I see although I do look at age and try to read scouting reports. So many times I see a guy with great stats and wonder 'Why is this guy not playing for the Sox'! Only to learn later that he is Dan Remenowski! Falling out of love with Nestor Molina was/is a painful ordeal. Advantage Jays. I'm seeking counseling. When you say "new minor league deal" are they restricted on what they can pay older minor leaguers like a Dylan Axelrod? Pay hiim more as a way to keep him happy to be minor league depth? Could he then turn down claims from other teams? I see good things ahead for Poveda and Cales as a reliever. Heath is the worst player on this list. Kussmaul seems like the perfect example of a guy the Sox have pegged as "never gonna happen" and he toils repetitively in double A. It seems that the Sox pick players like that and they never progress through the ranks. Like they stunt their growth on purpose? Chris Curley has been in High A for 3 yrs now. Lastly,(relievers only)Vance, Kussmaul and Frazier have good seasons and Thompson finally nails AAA.

  • In reply to Jim Pedigo:

    Purcey wasn't good, he was very lucky.

    Cooper's AAA guy is Rich Dotson. Thigpen is also there with these guys. They are all in line with what Cooper is trying to do. Having Cooper run the pitching shop is a huge continued help for the Sox. And they specialize in hard, talented cases like Cleto.

    Guys like Curley and Kussmaul are being held back for valid reasons. Kussmaul puts up very good numbers, but the club sees a pitch set that isn't likely to get many major leaguers out - sometimes AA success doesn't mean similar success at higher levels. Curley had a great year, but he's a few years older than he should be at that level, so crushing it is expected. Both are guys who would need everything to go right to have a shot at the majors, and the chances are very, very slim.

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    In reply to Matt Cassidy:

    Thanks for the reply Matt. I wish there were asterisks along side minor league statistics telling us why we shouldn't get so excited by what we see here. But Curley falls into 'if he's old for that level, then it's the Sox fault. Put him in a more age appropriate level, then let's see where his talent falls in place'.
    Before I say this - you don't have too tell me again that you guys all have regular jobs and can't post as much as you or us would like. However you have a product that is being underserved and a fix is simply to allow fan posts. I picture it to work like this: You give us an email to send them to and you guys decide if they suck or offensive or whatever and simply decline anything you don't like. But c'mon - you have 2 guys who comment. Probably not far off your total readership. You've been taken over by ChicagoNow - a big time blogger host. The same one who does the Cubs enormously popular Cubs Den. Even though they post daily they STILL have fan posts. They average 75-100 comments per post. Please discuss and consider - faster and harder than when you said you would the last time.
    Your biggest fan,
    Jimbo from the South Loop

  • In reply to Jim Pedigo:

    Jim, we appreciate your commentary. However, let's get a couple things out of the way here. First, attempting to talk down to the blog you are hoping to write for may not be a winning strategy. Second, considering the thousands of hits some of our posts get, a few thousand Twitter followers, etc., I think you are perhaps slightly underestimating our reach.

    We'd love to see more commentary on our blog, and it has been trending up slightly with recent posts. However, FutureSox sprung originally from the world of SoxTalk.com (one of the couple large White Sox discussion forums out there), and we have a very lively forum within there called FutureSox where we discuss prospects and the minors. It is more active than any similar discussion forum for Sox minor leaguers than anywhere else. So the discussion tends to go over there a lot.

    As for fan posts, we've not done it before for a variety of reasons. We are a niche blog with a focus on analysis and data, and don't generally focus on fan outlook. Perhaps that should change, but that is where we are coming from today. Your request hasn't fallen on deaf ears - we have tried a number of new things the past year (guest articles by players and front office staff for example), and we are open to other ideas. But we don't turn the direction of the site on a dime. We give it some thought first.

    By the way, we do indeed have an email address: futuresox@gmail.com. People can always reach us there.

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