2017 was a big year for the White Sox minor league system. They acquired a wave of highly considered prospects from other teams, rode some success from both the 2016 and 2017 drafts, and for the first time in many years the Latin American pipeline is starting to generate some success in the system. The confluence of those talent flows combined with not trading away any significant prospects propelled the Sox up to the top few teams in baseball in terms of prospect talent depth.
But how did they perform on the field, statistically? Stats don't maketh the prospect, but they present a set of data we can sink our teeth into. And they can provide some clues, within context. We already covered the top hitters by category here. This is the edition covering pitchers.
NOTES: These are stateside minor league regular season numbers only from 2017, for players who are both A) still in the organization and B) still have prospect status as of end of 2017 (have not achieved MLB rookie status). For pitchers, to make these lists they must have had a minimum of 25 innings pitched to be eligible (this captures full time players even from short season leagues). For players acquired during the season, this will include their full seasons even before acquisition, but we've eliminated players who did not suit up with a Sox affiliate at all. We split the starters and relievers by each measure, though for ERA we only included starters. To determine starter versus reliever, we simply went with scale of appearances.
EARNED RUN AVERAGE - Starters Only
|Alec Hansen||A, A+, AA||141.1||2.80|
|Michael Kopech||AA, AAA||134.1||2.88|
|Dane Dunning||A, A+||144.0||2.94|
|Bernardo Flores||A, A+||118.1||3.42|
This list is a good excuse to go back in time. Nine of the ten names above did not pitch in the White Sox organization two years ago, with Stephens being the exception as he was drafted that year. Five of the top six weren't even on Sox affiliate rosters on Opening Day of this year. The system has changed dramatically and this is a case in point.
There are some great 2017 stories in this list. Hansen has gone from intriguing buy-low project to probable MLB Top 100 name in the course of a year and three levels, and his name is all over the lists herein. Kopech has cemented himself as one of the top few pitching prospects in the game after outright dominating the Southern League despite more than doubling his innings and being just 20/21 years old. Dunning showed he was more than a typical secondary trade piece by making piecemeal of both levels of A-ball. And all of them showed legitimate stuff, not just maxed-out league-level survival stats. All three look like future rotation regulars or better in the majors, and their arrival isn't too distant.
Jordan Stephens started the season a bit late with forearm tightness, and the White Sox were cautious with his return. He sometimes gets lost in the shuffle with so many big arms in the picture now, but he's done nothing but get guys out at every stop since being drafted. Likely ticketed for AAA in the spring, don't write off the bulldog.
Clarkin and Cease put up most of their numbers in other systems, but both figure to be major names in the rebuild and Cease has already been on some T100 lists. Both dealt with some nagging injuries and are in Fall Instructs to dial things back in before heading for the offseason.
FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) - Starters
|Alec Hansen||A, A+, AA||141.1||2.32|
|Michael Kopech||AA, AAA||134.1||2.88|
|Luis Martinez||A, A+||95.0||3.00|
|Dane Dunning||A, A+||144.0||3.24|
FIP is a measure that attempts to pan for gold - focusing on factors a pitcher can reasonably control, while allowing some of the perceived noise is sluiced away. You might think of it as protection for BABIP. Not surprising then that the list of the best FIP showings among starters this year also reads pretty close to a list of the top pitching prospects in the system, with a few exceptions. Kopech, Hansen, Cease and Dunning figure to be the top arms on the farm when the shiny new top prospect lists start to hit the press in January.
Coming out of nowhere, 2014 16th round pick Matt Cooper sailed through both levels of A-ball as a reliever, was almost as dominant as a starter in 2016 and then just kept getting outs back in the pen in AA. He opened 2017 in the Barons rotation and just kept defying expectations until a couple bad starts in June, at which point he left the club for personal reasons. He's not been back since, and there is no word if he will return at all. His placement on this list though, gives you an idea of just how well he was doing before his departure.
Two pitchers who joined the system way back in 2012 make their first appearance here, and both are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this December if they aren't protected. Guerrero came off a (predictably) rough 2016 to (also predictably) bounce back this season, in a big way. He should be in Charlotte in 2018 and could see the majors before the year is out. Martinez is not nearly as polished and probably a couple years away even if he tracks well, but his stuff has been improving and the numbers are starting to show it.
FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) - Relievers
|Matt Foster||A, A+||27.2||1.78|
|Ian Hamilton||A+, AA||71.2||2.03|
|Kyle Kubat||A, A+, AA||74.2||2.09|
|Ryan Burr||A, A+||65.1||2.39|
|Jake Elliott||A, A+||64.0||2.52|
|Tyler Johnson||Rk, A||25.2||2.61|
We didn't include relievers in the ERA category because it just isn't a good measure for that role, so FIP is our first look. Here's that theme again - nine of these ten players were not in the White Sox system until 2016 or later (Escorcia being the exception here).
Foster has already taken a winding path despite being drafted in 2016, which you can read about here. The one consistency to be found in his career thus far is statistical dominance at each stop, and you'll see him on nearly every reliever list in this article. He's currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League.
Ian Hamilton is a popular "sleeper" prospect who it's thought could move up the system quickly, though he hit some head winds in AA this year. Perhaps it was inevitable that he'd end up back in Winston-Salem, where he could duel with pen-mate Ryan Burr. Mr. Burr, like Foster, appears on every reliever list in this article but one. Most of those numbers were racked up prior to joining the Pale Hose, but his strong performance is noteworthy.
Jake Elliott and Ben Wright find themselves on a number of the lists in this article, often close to each other. Considering they were the 15th and 16th round picks in 2016 respectively, perhaps that's not a surprise. They both missed plenty of bats, avoided walks and gave up just three home runs combined in 2017.
WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched) - Starters
|Dane Dunning||A, A+||144.0||1.15|
|Alec Hansen||A, A+, AA||141.1||1.17|
|Michael Kopech||AA, AAA||134.1||1.17|
|Bernardo Flores||A, A+||118.1||1.25|
Southpaw Bernardo Flores was selected in the 7th round in 2016 as a raw talent in need of significant refinement. And while he's had some bouts with inconsistency, 2017 was an overall encouraging showing. Even with his velocity dropping some as he adjusts to full season ball, he threw strikes and avoided hard contact effectively throughout the season across both levels of A-ball.
Like Flores, Hickman was a 7th rounder in need of some polish (he's a converted catcher). But the 2015 selection didn't pitch as a pro in his draft year or the following year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. Making his debut on May 31st, nearly two years after he was drafted, Blake posted some pretty good numbers in the Imtimidators' rotation. The results look like a success for a hurler who didn't see game play for two years and skipped rookie ball.
Let's talk about Lewis and Parke and their expedition through the Arizona League. This pair of righties were both on the older side for the Fire League at age 22, and neither came into the system with high draft pedigrees (Parke was a 21st rounder, Lewis post-draft free agent signing). But they both succeeded and then some statistically and find themselves on most of the starter lists in this post. That shouldn't be dismissed simply because they are a year or two older than their cohorts, so it's worth keeping an eye on them in their next adventures in 2018, possibly in full season ball.
WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched) - Relievers
|Matt Foster||A, A+||27.2||0.76|
|Kyle Kubat||A, A+, AA||74.2||0.83|
|Jake Elliott||A, A+||64.0||0.95|
|Mike Morrison||A, A+||67.2||1.17|
|Ian Hamilton||A+, AA||71.2||1.18|
|J.B. Olson||Rk, A||32.2||1.18|
|Ryan Burr||A, A+||65.1||1.20|
Kyle Kubat isn't a name discussed much among pitching prospects in the White Sox system. Coming into 2017 he was a 24-year-old reliever picked up for cash from the Royals after a nondescript season in A-ball. But in 2017 he went through three levels to AA, putting up solid to excellent numbers at each stop in a mix of short and long relief, along with three spot starts.
Mike Morrison was nearly untouchable with Kannapolis in his first full pro season. Look at his silly numbers there: 0.44 WHIP, 0.53 ERA, 2.4 H/9 (that's not a typo), 1.5 BB/9, 11.2 K/9 in 33.2 innings. After his promotion north to Winston-Salem his numbers went south, but combined he ended up with a strong showing. The vast difference in numbers cannot be explained just by the jump from Low A to High A, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in 2018.
Arobio (24th) and McCormick (34th) were lower round 2017 picks who worked in the AZL as relievers and seemed to have no issues with the desert heat.
STRIKEOUT RATE - Starters
|Alec Hansen||A, A+, AA||141.1||12.2|
|Michael Kopech||AA, AAA||134.1||11.5|
|Dane Dunning||A, A+||144.0||10.5|
|Luis Martinez||A, A+||95.0||8.8|
Alec Hansen not only led the system in strikeouts, he also led all of Minor League Baseball. For that matter, he posted the highest total the minors had seen in four years. He clearly had no problem missing bats, and has exploded forward in development and prospect stock. And of course the next three names on the list are part of that same group of four elite prospects, unsurprisingly. The best stuff will certainly result in big strikeout numbers a lot of the time.
Tall left-hander Andre Davis, acquired from the Royals in the Cabrera trade, makes his first and only appearance here. He's been moving up slowly, but has been very tough on lefties so he may profile as a specialist later, but he's a starter for now at least. Rigler is similarly a lefty who his first and only list appearance in this category, as the 31st rounder generated plenty of whiffs in the AZL.
Most of this lists reads similarly to the FIP list, and encompasses most of the top arms on the farm.
STRIKEOUT RATE - Relievers
|Tyler Johnson||Rk, A||25.2||13.0|
|Ryan Burr||A, A+||65.1||12.1|
|Matt Foster||A, A+||27.2||10.7|
Did you forget about Zack Burdi? You shouldn't. He went down with a torn UCL and had Tommy John surgery this past summer so he's taken a detour, but there's every reason to believe he'll be back much the same in late 2018. Before hitting the DL, Burdi was missing a ton of bats, and seemed to be improving his command quite a bit in AAA Charlotte while still throwing serious gas.
When Tyler Johnson was selected in the 5th round in June, there was some talk of the White Sox converting him to a starter. More recently the talk has focused on his being a fast-moving bullpen arm, a role in which he did quite well in his pro debut. He may go the route of some other key relief arms over the years in this system, perhaps spending a season starting just to improve his craft, but long term it appears he's targeted as a late inning guy.
Dopico and Escorcia were teammates all year in Kannapolis, appear next to each other on the K-rate list and have yet more in common. Both have pitches that show legitimately plus character, but similarly both struggle to find the strike zone consistently. With the stuff they can show, these types of pitchers will keep getting chances, with the team hoping they can develop enough command to make it work.
Goldberg and Fry were both given Major League looks this season, though they are still technically prospects. Fry moved up quicker than expected, straight from AA. Goldberg was outrighted but is still in the system. Both are likely to see time with the White Sox in 2018.
WALK RATE - Starters
|Kyle Von Ruden||Rk||86.1||1.8|
|Tanner Banks||A+, AA||141.0||2.4|
|Dane Dunning||A, A+||144.0||2.4|
|Jimmy Lambert||A, A+||150.0||2.4|
|Bernardo Flores||A, A+||118.1||2.4|
Spencer Adams may have been lost in the shuffle for some fans with the addition of big time arms to the system, but he's still a key pitching prospect a year or less from the majors. With all the media attention on Giolito, Lopez, Kopech, Hansen and others, White Sox fans may not be aware of the recent leaps Spencer has made in terms of stuff. His overall numbers for the Barons were just decent, but he was a good three years younger than the average pitcher in the Southern League, and most of the damage to his line came in the dog days of August. He's still very much on the radar.
Von Ruden and Agar are both UDFA signees who helped propel the Voyagers to a playoff berth - the team led the Pioneer League in ERA and WHIP. Both of these righties were strike-throwers in a very hitter-friendly league, so they both gave up their share of hits. But their core results were better than average for the league.
Worth noting - Guerrero is the only starter to be among the ten best in the system in both strikeout and walk rates.
WALK RATE - Relievers
|J.B. Olson||Rk, A||32.2||1.4|
|Kyle Kubat||A, A+, AA||74.2||1.4|
|Jake Elliott||A, A+||64.0||1.5|
|Drew Hasler||A+, AA, AAA||73.1||1.6|
|Matt Foster||A, A+||27.2||1.6|
|Lane Hobbs||A, A+||76.2||2.0|
|Ian Hamilton||A+, AA||71.2||2.0|
|Kelvis Valerio||A, A+, AAA||103.0||2.2|
Walk rate is the direct result of control - but not necessarily command, and is much further from "stuff". Nevertheless, throwing strikes is key to a pitcher's success.
This year's 10th round draft pick, J.B. Olson split his time between rookie and Class A, and looked good doing it. He threw strikes at a rate few others in the system could match, but still kept hits at bay and struck out a good number. He's a potential fast-mover. Blake Battenfield was a 17th round pick who did well in rookie ball as a 22-year-old, but he also holds a special honor. He and Matt Foster are the only two relievers to appear on both the strikeout and walk rate top ten lists. That's always a positive sign.
Drew Hasler (son of White Sox coach, Curt) and Kelvis Valerio were all shuttle squad guys who put in innings for multiple affiliates while putting some miles on back and forth.
GROUND BALL RATE - Starters
|Dane Dunning||A, A+||144.0||53%|
|Jimmy Lambert||A, A+||150.0||53%|
|Yosmer Solorzano||A, A+||120.2||49%|
Lincoln Henzman had a strong rookie debut after being selected in the 4th round this past June. He snuck in at the bottom of a few of the category lists, but here he tops them all and by a relatively wide margin. His combination of a heavy fastball and split-change forces hitters to pound his pitches into the dirt. Despite working mostly as a reliever in college, the Sox appear set on giving Henzman a chance to start.
Jimmy Lambert had a good showing in his first full pro season, avoiding walks and keeping contact on the ground much of the time. The 5th round pick from 2016 split time between the A-ball clubs and likely starts 2018 in Winston-Salem. Yosmer Solorzano was in a developmentally similar position pitching with both the Dash and the Intimidators and looking like ground ball pitchers. Solorzano was mostly in Low-A, where he had only spotty success, but he's still just 20 years old and can afford to repeat a level at this point.
Aron McRee made a two-level jump from rookie ball to Advanced-A, and held his own for 10 games with the Dash. But he went down with a torn UCL mid-season and is now recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Chicago area native Adam Panayotovich was a mainstay in the Great Falls rotation and relied heavily on getting weak contact for outs.
GROUND BALL RATE - Relievers
|J.B. Olson||Rk, A||32.2||60%|
|Aaron Bummer||A+, AA, AAA||49.0||59%|
|Ryan Burr||A, A+||65.1||57%|
|Tyler Johnson||Rk, A||25.2||56%|
|Jack Charleston||A+, AA||52.0||54%|
Will Kincanon was one of two draftees this year who got more than the $125,000 cap bonus outside the top ten rounds. He rewarded the Sox for the 150k investment by posting some strong numbers in the Pioneer League as a 21-year-old.
Aaron Bummer moved up through three minor league levels and reached MLB in 2017, despite being only months removed from recovering from Tommy John surgery. The lefty throws heavy, hard stuff, and figures to be in the mix for an Opening Day job with the Sox. His ascent may have been the most meteoric in the entire system this season.
Any opportunity to mention Jack Charleston is a good one. His nickname is the Slim Reaper, and at a listed 6'5" and 160 pounds, he appears in person even more slender than Chris Sale. His numbers are also an oddity. Despite a less than stellar 18:15 K:BB ratio in 33 innings with the Dash, he managed success by avoiding hard contact (6.5 H/9, and the above ground ball rate) and got himself a promotion to Birmingham. There, in an admittedly small sample size, his strikeout rate was much stronger (18 K in 19 IP) and he certainly held his own.
POSITION PLAYERS PITCHING
Just for fun, and because it is becoming more commonplace, let's look at how position players did when pitching this season in the minors.
Five position players (among those qualifying - still prospects, still in the system) took to the mound in 2017. Here's a look at how each performed:
- Grant Massey (infielder): 3 G, 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HRA
- Casey Schroeder (catcher): 1 G, 1.2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 0 K
- Cameron Seitzer (OF/1B): 1 G, 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K
- Max Dutto (infielder): 1 G, 1 IP, 4 H, 4 R (3 ER), 1 BB, 1 K
- Toby Thomas (infielder): 1 G, 0.2 IP, 0 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 2 K
As a group, they combined for a 4.76 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 6.4 BB/9 and 5.6 K/9 across 11.1 innings. Perhaps the most surprising number is a .273 BAA - so batters had some success, but they weren't exactly teeing off either. Just one home run allowed is worth noting too.
Do any of these players have a future on the mound? Well, Cameron Seitzer is in fact already converting to pitching, working on his new craft in Fall Instructs. Massey certainly showed well statistically in his three appearances. Granted that's a small sample size, but you never know.
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