2016 Winston-Salem Dash Season Preview

Winston-Salem opens play on Thursday, April 7th, along with the other three full-season clubs. Joel Skinner becomes the team's manager, coming over from Charlotte to work with some of the younger players. He's joined by Hitting Coach Charlie Poe (who is returning to the club), and Pitching Coach Jose Bautista (who moves up from Kannapolis, along with some of his pitcher-students). Their first series is on the road at Lynchburg, with their home opener on Thursday the 14th, hosting Salem.

Here is a look at how the Dash roster is constructed, who to watch and what to expect from the club.

Opening Day ages of the players are listed in parentheses, along with position for non-pitchers.

Winston-Salem Dash (2015 record: 75-63, won 2nd half division, lost to Myrtle Beach in playoffs)

Top 30 prospects: Spencer Adams (3rd), Jordan Stephens (16), Thad Lowry (22), Matt Cooper (29)

Pitchers

The starting rotation for the Winston-Salem Dash will include Adams, Stephens, Lowry, and Kleven, but the fifth starter is a question mark. Adams is the 3rd-ranked prospect in the organization, with some analysts seeing potential for a mid-rotation starter or maybe even better. Stephens makes the two-level jump from rookie ball, usually an indication the team sees someone as a fast-riser, and his relatively polished stuff certainly adds to that thought. Lowry's numbers haven't yet reached what his tools seem to indicate, but he's made some changes in the past year and we'll get to see how effectual they are. Kleven is new to the organization, coming over from the Phillies org, and did well in High A in 2015 (but struggled in AA). Best guess on the other starter is either Andre Wheeler (especially since he was kept back in A+ and has started recently) or Blair Walters (who has mostly been a starter, and is a former White Sox draft pick). Both are lefties who are much tougher on left-handed batters and could become specialists, but both are stretched out enough to start, so we'll have to see when the season starts.

The bullpen has some interesting arms too. Cooper returns to High-A after a 2015 that was as statistically dominant as any reliever in the system in years across both levels of A-ball. He's on the old side for this level and it's hard to say if his unusual delivery and offspeed pairings will play at the higher levels, but he probably doesn't stay long in A-ball. Dopico not only put up big K numbers in Great Falls, he also got rave reviews from a couple different scouts we spoke with in Instructs (and was double-promoted), so he's a guy to watch. Walsh has a big upper 90's heater and struck out 79 batters in 53 innings last season, but he's also had command issues. Sanburn actually comes down a level from Birmingham after further injury struggles in 2015. When he's healthy he's got a plus fastball and curveball, but he has had trouble staying on rosters.

Manny Martinez was picked up in the minor league phase of the Rule 5, and he's a hard thrower with some wildness issues. Valerio moves up from Kannapolis, and Leyer returns to the White Sox again as a pen arm.

Jace Fry is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, so his presence on the DL was expected. Not so with Dykstra though, so we'll try to find out what the injury may be in his case.

Position Players

While the front of both the rotation and the bullpen look like strengths for this club, the lineup isn't as heavy on prospects, and none of the hitters are among the organization's current Top 30. Austin was a 4th round pick in 2014, but has struggled to hit so far, posting a combined .201 average last year. Leonards might have the best offensive resume of the bunch, posting a .719 OPS in 2015 and stealing 12 bases, and is likely the team's starting third baseman. Shortstop Rondon is a defensive wizard but posted a .447 OPS last year in his second go-around in High-A (worth noting: he's reportedly trying to switch hit again this year). Second baseman Toby Thomas has some pop in his bat but hit .242 last year with a .284 OBP (though he's still fairly young at 22 years old for this year). Rounding out the infield is Marcus Davis, a recent minor league pickup, and he's shown some power as well that might play up at BB&T.

The outfield features two very good defensive players in Louie Lechich and Mason Robbins. Lechich is a true plus defender and adds plus speed (stole 19 bases in 23 attempts in 2015), but didn't hit much in Kannapolis. Robbins has some speed as well and probably plays in right, and adds some raw power potential, but it didn't show up much in games last year. Nick Basto should be the left fielder - he's a guy with surprising pop in his bat, but he's struggled to find a home on defense during his pro career.

Keon Barnum starts the year on the disabled list, which has been a recurring theme in his career. The lineup doesn't seem to have a true DH at this point (would probably be a combo of Jones and Danner for now), so if he comes off soon he can go to 1B with Davis sliding to the pure hitting slot.

Overall Thoughts

The theme in Winston-Salem is likely to be some low-scoring games. The starting rotation features three hurlers that are among the organization's Top 30 prospects, and the bullpen has some legitimate arms for the key late inning roles. The team also looks above average defensively at most positions, with players up the middle like Rondon and Lechich being elite. But the lineup, while having some speed and some guys who have the potential to break out, doesn't look likely to put up big numbers as a group.

After last year's prolific 45-23 2nd half run and a playoff series, Dash fans got a fun show, but this year's team doesn't look as dominant on Opening Day. Then again, last year's Dash team was 30-40 in the first half, and this year's Kannapolis squad has some potentially fast-rising talent that could jump in during the year. And having three big arms in the rotation will keep you in a lot of games.

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