Season in Review: 2015 Winston-Salem Dash

The Winston-Salem Dash finished the season with an 75-63 record overall, driven by a very impressive 45-23 mark in the second half (the best in the entire Carolina League since at least 2006). The Dash played a hard-fought 3-game playoff series against the Cubs affiliate Myrtle Beach Pelicans, but lost the last two games by a run each (with the tying run on third in the 9th both times) and failed to advance. The Pelicans had a ringer in Jorge Soler for that last game and he scored a potentially decisive run, but we'll try not to hold that against them.

As you'd expect with a team that won so effectively in the 2nd half, the Advanced A affiliate of the White Sox was loaded with key prospects, especially with the in-season additions from Low-A Kannapolis. Let's take a look at the key individual performances.

PITCHING

We'll start with the arms because that seemed to be the biggest driver of the team's success, though the rotation changed pretty dramatically as the season went on. To open the year, Matt Heidenreich was very effective in 21 starts before being promoted to AA Birmingham, posting a 2.76 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. James Dykstra also added 19 solid starts (4.07 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) before he was moved to a relief role (and where he was quite good: 20 IP, 18 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 17 K). Jace Fry was a third arm who anchored the initial Winston-Salem rotation, booking a 3.63 ERA in 10 starts before going down for his second TJ surgery. Robin Leyer was surprisingly decent in his 16 starts (4.30 ERA) despite being mostly a one-pitch pitcher, before he also headed to AA and his home in their bullpen.

Losing the above four arms from the rotation had a silver lining. Lefty Jordan Guerrero was promoted from Kannapolis in June, and struggled briefly with the promotion (5.72 ERA in his first 5 starts) before becoming a big part of the team's success in the 2nd half (2.62 ERA, 59:14 K:BB in 65.1 IP). Yency Almonte made a spot start in June and joined the club fully in August, and contributed seven strong appearances (2.62 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 4.0 BB/9) as he emerges as a legitimate prospect. 19=year old Spencer Adams also made a spot start before jumping in fully in August, and he did well (2.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9). Brandon Brennan came off his injury in June and was a stalwart with a 3.55 ERA in 12 starts.

The biggest addition though, was the arrival of 1st round pick Carson Fulmer, along with the emergence his tandem partner Brian Clark. Sharing a rotation slot, the two combined to allow just 7 runs in 55.1 innings (that's a 1.14 ERA). Fulmer, aside from occasional bouts of wildness, seemed to have no big trouble with Carolina League hitters: 2.05 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, 3.7 BB/9. While Fulmer is the undisputed top arm in the system, don't sleep on Mr. Clark. the big lefty skipped Low A, and transitioned from a relief role to tandem starting, a role where he put up some very nice numbers: 0.54 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 1.34 GB:FB.

In the bullpen, there were a couple slingers who pitched longer innings and made spot starts effectively. Left-hander Andre Wheeler walked a few too many (4.0 BB/9) but struck out quite a few (8.7 K/9) and was overall a big help to the pitching staff. Jake Cose and his myriad arm angles were quite a story this year. Jake missed all of 2014 to recovery from back surgery that could have ended his career. But he not only came back, he actually pitched pretty well in multiple roles (2.28 ERA, 1.33 WHIP in 71 innings including 7 starts).

Finally, in terms of the pure relievers, Brad Goldberg might vie with Cose for comeback player of the year org-wide. The former Buckeye struggled in 2014 while partially in a starting role, but put it together this season as the team's closer: 9.1 K/9 vs 3.9 BB/9 and hitting mid-90s consistently with his fastball. Peter Tago showed some filthy stuff in his 17 relief appearances (12.0 K/9 thanks to a new slider and his big fastball) before being promoted to Birmingham. Matt Cooper joined the team from Kanny late in the year and continued his stingy performance from the lower level: 1.10 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 8.5 K/9.

OFFENSE

The Dash's lineup cards were dotted with a number of significant prospects. Trey Michalczewski had a nice year in terms of team contribution, knocking in 75 runs to finish second in the Carolina League. The 20-year old performed well overall (.259/.335/.395) and substantially decreased his K rate (21.4% K/PA this year, versus 27.8% last year) despite being nearly three years younger than the average player on the circuit. Eddy Alvarez joined the club in July and continued proving doubters wrong, posting a very nice .325/.411/.467 line with 11 stolen bases and more walks (19) than strikeouts (17) in his 34 games with the Dash.

Outfielder Adam Engel helped the team with a .335 OBP and 65 stolen bases (in 76 attempts) which led the league and nearly doubled the next player down the list. His average and power numbers were slightly lower than last year but he improved his contact rate a bit (21.7% K/PA vs 24.2% last year). Second baseman Jake Peter had some scouts buzzing - he's got advanced feel for hitting and makes good contact while playing above average defense at the keystone, and his 23 stolen bases in 26 attempts are encouraging as well. Keon Barnum repeated A+, and made slight improvements across the board: .257/.322/.390, 9 HR in 428 PA this year versus .253/.306/.365, 8 HR in 533 PA last year. The strikeout rate is still too high in the mid-20's K/PA both years, and he (again) missed some time to injury.

There were two offensive prospects who had varying degrees of disappointing years. Cleuluis Rondon is still a defensive wizard, but his bat took an unexpected step backward, posting a .447 OPS while repeating the level. Nick Basto, converted to the outfield during the year last season, hit .203 with a high strikeout rate (94 K in 328 PA) and not much power in his 83 games at the level he spent most of 2014 at as well.

One more player to note, and an unheralded one at that. Catcher Omar Narvaez kept doing what he does - get on base (.352 OBP), making contact at a high rate (8.1% K/PA), playing good defense and throwing out base runners. In a system with very little in the way of true catching prospects, Narvaez has been a key stalwart.

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