With the 2015 minor league seasons completed, let's take a look at the leaders in key statistical areas in the White Sox system. In this edition, we're going to focus on relief pitchers. We'll look at some classic core numbers (i.e. WHIP), but also some peripheral values like strikeout and walk rates that may better indicate where these players' futures may lie.
Note: Statistical performance is not the same as prospect ranking or perceived future impact. In fact in many cases, these can be very different things. We'll touch on that with some notes on each leader board below.
These numbers are from 2015, minor leagues, players still with the organization, prospect status (hasn't achieved MLB rookie status yet), state-side affiliate games only. There is a minimum of 15 IP for short season players and 25 IP for full season to qualify.
WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched)
|Matt Cooper||A, A+||52.1||0.82|
|Cody Winiarski||A+, AA||25.1||1.07|
|Junior Guerra||AA, AAA||83.1||1.10
|Jeffrey Wendelken||AA, AAA||59||1.12|
|Peter Tago||A, A+, AA||66.1||1.18|
You may be wondering why we aren't covering ERA here as we did with starters. That's because ERA is simply not a good evaluation of relievers. WHIP is probably the best "core" stat to reflect overall reliever performance, so that's where we start.
Two pitchers who worked from the pen this year stand out across almost all these lists, and they are the 1-2 punch here. 2015 5th round pick Jordan Stephens helped lead the AZL club to their championship, though he only threw 17.2 innings. As a 22-year old from a major DI program (Rice), you'd expect him to do well, and he did that and more. He's also likely a starter moving forward, and was working in relief simply to limit his innings in his draft year. Look for Stephens to be in Kannapolis' rotation in 2016.
The other dominant reliever was Matt Cooper, who was just filthy at both A-ball levels and finished among the top 5 in the system in almost every measure we cover here. The Hawaii product uses an unusually high overhand delivery and downhill plane coupled with well-masked breaking pitches and excellent command to make his 91-93 mph fastball work effectively. He was 23 this year so he's not young, but with the numbers he's been putting up, he'll keep getting his chances to prove the unorthodox formula works.
Peter Tago looks like a steal in the Minor League phase of the Rule V draft, using a re-tooled slider and some mechanical tweaks to harness his command and look like an entirely new pitcher. Having control issues for years previous, Tago got his walks well under control while maintaining very effective stuff and looks like a potential option for a major league bullpen in 2016 or 2017. He also just recently turned 23 so he's certainly age-appropriate for his finishing level of AA.
|Matt Cooper||A, A+||52.1||5.3|
|Junior Guerra||AA, AAA||83.1||6.4|
|Cody Winiarski||A+, AA||25.1||6.4|
We pointed out in the article covering starting pitchers that H/9 seems, unscientifically, to be the best parallel with prospect value and "stuff" of any of the stats we cover here. If that holds true to some extent, then people should be encouraged by a threesome of 2015 draftees at the top of this list. Richard McWilliams (25th round), Taylore Cherry (32nd round) and the previously-discussed Jordan Stephens all stifled AZL hitters quite effectively in the pro debuts. The former pair both turned 22 this year so neither are particularly young for the level, but the results are an encouraging start.
Converted infielder Jacob Morris had his first year as a pitcher, and while the 24-year old had some predictable control issues, he kept hitters at bay as shown here and in his 9.6 K/9 rate. Euclides Leyer had been out of the system before being re-signed during the season and was effectively wild for Winston-Salem. Cody Winiarski was another gone-and-back arm who continues to be effective in AA. Lucas Shearrow helped Great Falls' staff but he was 24 repeating rookie ball.
Then there is 30-year old Junior Guerra. Picked up from the Italian national baseball league (he's also played in 3 other countries), Guerra appeared with a mid-90s fastball with movement and a wicked change-up. He even started 11 games for Charlotte and had a brief look in Chicago. Assuming he re-signs with the White Sox, he could be a potential major league bullpen option.
|Matt Cooper||A, A+||52.1||2.1|
|Miguel Chalas||AA, AAA||70.1||2.4|
|Jeffrey Wendelken||AA, AAA||59||2.4|
|Ryan Riga*||Rk, A||33.1||3.0|
As a reminder, walk rates illustrate control - not necessarily command - but even just control is a key aspect for developing pitchers. Stephens and Cooper find themselves at the top here again.
A pair of arms in the upper minors acquired via trade are worth mentioning here. Miguel Chalas came over in August of 2014, and has a pretty big fastball from a smaller frame. He was very good for Birmingham but was hit pretty hard in AAA, though he was 22 which was pretty young for that level and he'll repeat there. Jeffrey Wendelken was probably the least highly-considered of four prospects acquired in the Jake Peavy trade, but he's been steadily rising through the system thanks to excellent command and good offspeed stuff to play off his low 90's fastball (he was also 22 when he reached Charlotte).
Possibly the most encouraging thing on this list is the presence of 7 pitchers making the state-side pro debuts. Younger, more raw pitchers are generally more likely to struggle with control and command, so this is encouraging. Christopher Comito was drafted in the 15th round, but signed to a $170,000 bonus to lure him away from his Iowa commit. Always good to see a 6'5" 19-year old prep draftee throwing strikes consistently. Ryan Powers (UDFA signing), Drew Hasler (2015 34th round and son of White Sox minor league instructor Curt Hasler), Cuban import Andres Sanchez, Jack Charleston (2015 30th round, nicknamed the Slim Reaper) and lefty Ryan Riga (2015 13th round) all forced the hitters into action, just as you'd want them to.
|Matt Cooper||A, A+||52.1||13.1|
|Blake Smith||AA, AAA||36.1||11.9|
|Junior Guerra||AA, AAA||83.1||11.3|
Strike-out rate is an appealing measure when attempting to determine who might have the right stuff, though it doesn't necessarily reflect that, or command. Nevertheless, there were some pitchers who missed enough bats in relief roles to at least put them on the "keep an eye on" list. Danny Dopico (2015 11th round) struck out a big 14.4 batters per nine innings in the hitter-friendly Pioneer League as a 21-year old. He also showed good control, giving him a 4.0 K:BB ratio. Connor Walsh whiffed quite a few hitters and kept the hits at bay (6.6 H/9) closing games for Kannapolis, but he walked a whopping 7.5 hitters per nine frames, so the 22-year old is obviously still a bit on the wild side.
Tanner Mendonca is a fun pitcher to talk about. Drafted by the Twins in 2013 and paid an out-size bonus, the big righty posted some of the ugliest control numbers you'll see in pro ball in his debut: 37 BB, 23 K in in 23.1 innings in the Appalachian League. After he was released, the Sox signed him and sent him to rookie ball in the AZL for 2014, where he posted a dramatic turn-around: 6 BB, 41 K in 21.1 innings. Strangely, the 23-year old wasn't given a full season assignment this year, but was instead sent to Great Falls where he posted somewhat shakier but still very good numbers: 5.2 H/9, 5.6 BB/9, 12.3 K/9. He should be in full season ball in 2016, to see if his big fastball and hammer curve will play against tougher competition.
Katz had a strong professional debut across both rookie affiliates, doing everything well statistically as a 20-year old. The lefty should be in Kannapolis' bullpen for next year. Another lefty, UIC product and 9th rounder Ryan Hinchley was a signability pick taken in part due to a big bump in velocity, and while he did allow quite a few baserunners (2.17 WHIP), he also generated some swing and miss. Righty Victor Done was signed as a 16-year old for $225,000 in 2012, and was repeating AZL (but this time as a reliever), posting nearly identical numbers.
27-year old Blake Smith was an in-season acquisition who is converting from outfielder to pitcher, and he did quite well in his first trip to AAA. Charlotte pitching coach Rich Dotson told our Rob Young to keep an eye on Smith as a potential bullpen piece for 2016.
GROUND BALL RATE
Notice a theme on this list? Nine of the ten names were in rookie ball, with seven of the nine making their US debuts. There certainly could be a league bias at play here, though our Starters list didn't reflect that. So let's talk about the exception first. Nolan Sanburn was acquired in trade last August, and came into the year with scouting reports talking about an electric fastball and very good curve, but questions about his health and endurance. Sadly, Sanburn only managed to pitch 30 innings this year around multiple DL stints, and he got beat up by Southern League pitching when he did. But he was still generating some weak contact.
Taylore Cherry is a massive righty (6'9", 260 pounds) from UNC. The 32nd round pick flummoxed hitters left and right (3.9 H/9, 10.3 K/9), and when they did make contact they couldn't get it into the air. Jaider Rocha signed as a 17-year old outfielder in 2010, converted to pitching in 2013 and made his US debut this season at 22 years old. The left-handed pitcher (MiLB and Baseball Reference have him incorrectly referenced as a righty) showed some flashes of potential with the AZL club, along with (not surprisingly) some inconsistency.
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Filed under: News and notes
Tags: Alex Katz, Andres Sanchez, Blake Smith, Chris Comito, Cody Winiarski, Connor Walsh, Danny Dopico, Drew Hasler, Euclides Leyer, Jack Charleston, Jacob Morris, Jaider Rocha, Jeffrey Wendelken, Jordan Stephens, Junior Guerra, Lucas Shearrow, Matt Cooper, Miguel Chalas, Nolan Sanburn, Peter Tago, Richard McWilliams, Ryan Hinchley, Ryan Powers, Ryan Riga, Tanner Mendonca, Taylore Cherry, victor done