After each month of the minor league season, we name one position player and one pitcher as players of the month on the White Sox farm. Generally, players have to see full-time innings or plate appearances (50 PA or 10 IP minimum), and still be a prospect (not reached MLB rookie status) to qualify. This is a reflection of the best performances by eligible players, which is not necessarily the same as overall prospect stock.
In May, there was a clear winner on the pitching side. But on the hitting side, there were three players who all could have made valid claim to the title, making for a tough decision. All but one of the five hitters we'll look at now play for the Charlotte Knights, giving them a potent lineup.
Note: Stats presented are for May only unless otherwise noted...
HITTER OF THE MONTH: Danny Hayes, 1B, Charlotte Knights (AAA)
Stats: .313/.400/.614 (1.014 OPS), 5 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 12:16 BB:K in 97 PA (24 Games)
This was a very tough call, but Danny Hayes put himself ahead by the slimmest of margins. After opening the season in a horrible rut (0-for-21, 14 K in first 7 games), the first baseman turned things around in a hurry and now finds himself in the discussion for MLB playing time in 2016. The 25-year old has been getting on base (his 12.4% walk rate is actually down from last year), making contact, and hitting for power (he hit just 7 HR all of last year).
Hayes has been an above average defender at first, drawn walks and gotten on base his whole pro career, and he even skipped High-A along the way to get to age-appropriate competition. But there was always the nagging question of whether or not his raw power would translate to games, as a necessary tool for first baseman in the modern game. If he's gotten that dialed in, Hayes is a major league-level player, and could be of some value to a White Sox team currently starving for LHH offensive help.
Nick Delmonico (AA, AAA): .309/.372/.591 (.963 OPS), 8 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 10:30 BB:K in 123 PA (29 G)
Tim Anderson (AAA): .349/.387/.488 (.875 OPS), 5 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 8:25 BB:K, 6/7 SB/ATT in 138 PA (29 G)
Jason Coats (AAA): .308/.379/.538 (.917 OPS), 7 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 9:15 BB:K in 104 PA (24 G)
Seby Zavala (A): .307/.390/.523 (.913 OPS), 5 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 8:26 BB:K in 100 PA (22 G)
The first two players in the just-missed list could easily have won this award as well, depending on your perspective. Nicky Delmonico has always had the talent but hadn't put it all together in his recent pro career, until this season. He's done it all at the plate throughout the year thus far, and much of those impressive totals came with Birmingham, whose home park is a pitchers' environment. Tim Anderson, the team's top prospect, bounced back from his (expected) early struggles in April to not only hit and show some power, but even post a respectable 5.8% walk rate in May. With Jimmy Rollins struggling in Chicago, it seems only a matter of weeks before Mr. Anderson reaches the majors.
Another player making a case for Chicago, Jason Coats has been raking all season with the Knights, much like Delmonico. With Jerry Sands appearing to be fading and Austin Jackson hurting on the South Side, Coats should probably keep a bag packed and ready. The only hitter here who isn't playing in Charlotte, Seby Zavala had major struggles early in the season (0-for-16, 11 K in first 4 games) much like Hayes. Since then, he's been an offensive force (.298/.381/.482 in the other 35 games). In a system lacking in talent behind the plate, the 22-year old Zavala is climbing up the prospect ladder.
PITCHER OF THE MONTH: Zachary Thompson, RHP, Kannapolis Intimidators (A)
Stats: 1.84 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .120 BAA, 14 BB, 33 K in 29.1 IP (5 starts)
Coming into the season, this 22-year old righty hadn't been getting much notice, repeating Low-A after posting middling numbers in 2015. But reports emerged from Spring Training of some notable improvement, and now we are beginning to see the results. The 2014 5th-rounder was close to unhittable in May, giving up less than a hit per inning in every start, including a scant seven knocks in his first 4 starts of the month. He struck out more than a batter per inning, induced ground balls at a solid rate (1.60 GO/AO), and his infinitesimally small 3% line drive rate signals that hitters just aren't making good contact.
Thompson throws a fastball that runs to the mid-90's with sink from a 6'7" frame, and his offspeed pitches are making strides as well. His stuff may end up profiling more as a reliever, but there's no need to remove him from starting as long as he's succeeding. The Texas native will likely see Winston-Salem sometime during the season.
Matt Cooper (A+): 3.77 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .204 BAA, 8 BB, 40 K in 31 IP (5 starts)
Jordan Guerrero (AA): 3.67 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .219 BAA, 13 BB, 31 K in 27 IP (5 starts)
Tanner Banks (A): 2.87 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, .230 BAA, 8 BB, 30 K in 37.2 IP (6 starts)
Ryan Riga (A): 1.08 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, .175 BAA, 5 BB, 14 K in 16.2 IP (8 games)
Matt Cooper, who nearly won the award last month, continues to be one of the most pleasant surprises in the system so far in 2016. As of May 30th, after his last start, Cooper leads not only his team and league, but all of Minor League Baseball in strikeouts with 75 on the year; who saw that coming? Jordan Guerrero also continues to miss plenty of bats, but the really good news for him is that he's showing that good control again after seemingly losing it early on in the year. Having just turned 22 on Tuesday, Guerrero is quite young for the Southern League, making his performance thus far all the more impressive.
Banks was also on the just-missed list in April, and he's been been Kannapolis' most consistent starter this season. At 24 years old, Banks should be an asset for Winston-Salem or even Birmingham at some point this year to get to an age-appropriate level. Another southpaw, Riga was a 13th round pick in 2015 and he's shown success as a reliever, especially against left-handed hitters. Pitchers who can do that effectively often move quickly up the system.
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