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 (though factors like age for level do come into play, just as they do in prospect evaluation).
There were a number of impressive pitching performances across the farm to open the year, making for some tough decisions on who to consider, but one hurler clearly stood out from the crowd. On the hitting side there wasn't the same stand out performance, but there were quite a few good ones, so it was a tougher call.
Note: Stats presented are for April only, unless otherwise noted...
HITTER OF THE MONTH: Mitch Roman, SS/2B, Kannapolis Intimidators (A)
Stats: .350/.416/.413 (.828 OPS), 3 2B, 1 3B, 8:14 BB:K, 2/3 SB/ATT in 92 PA (22 G)
Coming into the 2017 season, Roman was on the periphery of our prospect radar. He did well at rookie-level Great Falls, and was drafted with sparkling reports on his middle infield defense. But our lesson in this pop-up prospect appears to be that we should listen very carefully when we talk with Nick Hostetler (Director of Amateur Scouting) - when we asked him who from the 2016 draft they were surprised to get where they did, Mitch Roman (12th round) was the first name he brought up.
The slender 22-year old opened his 2017 as Kannapolis' starting second baseman and immediately went on a tear, hitting a ridiculous .453 in his first 15 games. His numbers have regressed to the mean since then (no one will hold that kind of average for long), but he's opened quite a few eyes. It's a bit of a surprise he's been playing mostly at second, as there were positive reports of his defense at short last year. He's makes contact proficiently, gets on base and has a little speed, though he's not a power hitter. Middle infielders at either slot who can defend and hit will always get chances, and Roman has put himself on the map.
Willy Garcia, OF (AAA, MLB): .294/.395/.529 (.924 OPS), 4 2B, 4 HR, 11:23 BB:K, 1/1 SB/ATT in 81 PA (18 G - stats here are AAA only)
Yoan Moncada (AAA): .314/.385/.500 (.885 OPS), 2 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 10:30 BB:K, 6/8 SB/ATT in 96 PA (21 G)
Nick Delmonico (AAA): .299/.358/.448 (.806 OPS), 5 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 7:13 BB:K in 95 PA (22 G)
Luis Alexander Basabe (A+): .277/.356/.431 (.787 OPS), 1 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 8:16 BB:K in 75 PA (17 G)
Either of the first two Charlotte Knights on this list could have made a case for winning the monthly award. Garcia, an offseason pickup who got scant notice when he was acquired, has been a worthy lottery ticket thus far. The formerly highly ranked prospect from the Pirates organization saw his first major league action in a brief call-up to the White Sox this month, where he went 2-for-7 over a pair of games (including the historic all-Garcia outfield). Since returning to Charlotte, Garcia has been playing a few games in center field, as the Sox look to find a way to work him back to the big leagues.
Yoan Moncada needs little introduction or background. Suffice to say he has handled his first month in AAA with aplomb, hitting for average and power, drawing walks and stealing some bases just for kicks. His strikeout rate and defensive inconsistencies mean he isn't coming to the White Sox super-soon, perhaps not even when he passes the magical line of team control in late May. But so far, it appears Moncada is exactly what the team thought he was when they made him the centerpiece of the Chris Sale trade.
Delmonico has made a strong case for replacing Cody Asche or someone else on the big club, not only hitting for performance but lowering his strikeout rate to a very nice 13.7% K/PA. He's another player who likely gets to the show in 2017. Basabe, the "third" piece in that Sale trade, is showing he's anything but a throw-in. Despite missing a few games to a minor injury, the 20-year old has not only done well to open the year, he's put up better numbers post-injury.
PITCHER OF THE MONTH: Dane Dunning, RHP, Kannapolis Intimidators (A)
Stats: 0.35 ERA, 0.58 WHIP, .143 BAA, 2 BB, 33 K in 26 IP (4 starts)
Dane Dunning is technically now a member of the Winston-Salem Dash, having been promoted on April 28th. But what got him that promotion was a batch of four very impressive starts with the Intimidators. Impressive may be too light a word; after giving up an earned run in the first inning of his first game, and was not scored upon for the remainder of that start and the next three. He posted a staggering 16.5 K:BB ratio, kept hitters off the bases and was clearly just too much for the South Atlantic League.
Dunning doesn't have the big velocity numbers of some other high end pitching prospects, but he locates his low-90's fastball extremely well with some movement, and he's got an array of effective offspeed pitches. Command is certainly a strong suit here, but the stuff isn't anything to sneeze at either. The jump from Low-A to High-A isn't enormous, and if he does even close to as well with the Dash as he did with the I's, he could even see AA before the season is out.
Tanner Banks (A+): 1.36 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, .172 BAA, 7 BB, 32 K in 33 IP (5 starts)
Tyler Danish (AAA): 1.96 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, .221 BAA, 3 BB, 11 K in 23 IP (4 starts)
Matt Cooper (AA): 2.70 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, .224 BAA, 2 BB, 30 K in 20 IP (4 starts)
Michael Kopech (AA): 2.50 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .145 BAA, 14 BB, 28 K in 18 IP (4 starts)
Mike Morrison (A): 0.00 ERA, 0.36 WHIP, .083 BAA, 1 BB, 17 K in 11 IP (8 games)
Banks is 25 and repeating the level, but he's improved his success pretty dramatically over the back half of 2016 with Winston-Salem. And it's not just an age versus level function either - he locates effectively and has an above average curveball, and when he's not missing bats he's forcing weak contact (2.10 GO:AO). Danish is also a pitcher who induces weak contact (2.00 GO:AO), and is of the bend-don't break school. He hasn't been missing many bats in the upper levels of the minors, but he was rushed last year and seems to be settling into AAA effectively.
Multiple coaches have stated the team sees Cooper as a reliever long-term, but every time he's been given a starting role he's been nails. He's not only second in the Southern League in strikeout rate among starters, he's showing pinpoint control as well. When Jordan Stephens returns, the White Sox will be pressed into a tough decision on whether or not to relegate Cooper back to the pen. Cooper's teammate Michael Kopech gets far more attention as a prospect, and for very good reason. He's also missing a ton of bats (his 14.0 K/9 leads the league), though also is struggling with control (7.0 BB/9 is less than ideal). But hitters can't do much with him when he is throwing strikes thus far.
We don't often include relievers in our consideration for this award, unless there is a strikingly dominant performance. Morrison has provided just that - he's allowed just three hits and one walk in eight outings as the Intimidators' closer in 2017, and it would be hard to produce a more dominant stat line than he has. Look for the 23-year old, 2016 27th round draft pick to move up soon.
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