Dash Rule Everything Around Me

Astute readers may have noticed that this Thursday column has something of a Winston-Salem Dash bias, when I’m not writing about the absurdity of Eloy Jiménez still playing in the minor leagues (it’s absurd, just pay him). There are some solid reasons for this: 1) The Dash are very good (they clinched the playoffs back in the first half and have a record of 71-46 overall); 2) I just moved about 15 minutes away from BB&T Ballpark, home stadium of the Dash, and between that and a five-game stretch they played in Maryland earlier this year while I was there, I’ve gotten to know the team well; 3) as number 1 would seem to indicate, the Dash are STACKED with top prospects. In fact, they are perhaps the toppest prospect team in the Sox system, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on today.

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Take a second to review the FutureSox top 30 midseason prospects list. Of those 30, 8 are on the Charlotte Knights. 7 are on the Birmingham Barons at AA. 9 are on the Dash, 2 are on the Kannapolis Intimidators, and 2 are on the Great Falls Voyagers. 2 - Jake Burger and Zack Burdi - have been on the shelf the entire season, although Burdi has started pitching in the AZL. So that’s the breakdown. Not only do the Dash have 9 out of 30, almost a full third, they have 2 of the top 4 (Robert and Madrigal).

Almost their entire lineup, in fact, can be found on either this list or the “just missed” rankings. Not only that, players not found on either list are having great seasons. Yermin Mercedes, for example, plays almost every day either at DH or catching, and is hitting .301/.381/.486. Kyle Kubat, splitting time between relieving and starting, has a 2.06 ERA over 74.1 IP with just 8 walks. These are relatively older players for the league, but that doesn’t change the numbers they’re putting up.

All this to say, the Dash are loaded with talent and some of the most exciting young players the White Sox farm system has ever boasted.

Take Wednesday’s lineup:

The top four players in that lineup are #13, #3, #4, and #11 in the system as ranked by FutureSox. All four of these guys have a chance to play in the majors for the same team together. They’re obviously all a long way away at high-A ball, but they are all producing.

Let’s look at it more closely: Luis Gonzalez is leading off. Gonzalez is a left-handed outfielder, just 22 years old, the third-round pick from last year. He hit .300/.358/.491 in 55 games with Kannapolis before being promoted to Winston-Salem, where he’s hitting… .298/.356/.503 in 43 games. Overall, he’s hit 34 doubles, 4 triples, and 13 home runs. He has not stumbled once in his first full season. And he’s not even the best hitter on the team! He’s not even second best! Two or three years ago, Gonzalez would have approached the top of most Sox prospect rankings. Now he’s #13.

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Then there’s Luis Robert, who could hit leadoff, would and does fit in hitting second, and, once the power develops, won’t be a shabby three-four spot hitter. Nobody should be worried about the lack of home runs from Robert. Power can be one of the last things to return after a thumb injury, and he only has 31 games across the AZL (his rehab stint), Kannapolis (kind of rehab), and Winston-Salem. The slugging percentage will go up. Robert is too gifted for it not to. As it is, across those three levels, he’s hitting .304/.368/.411, with three triples in that small number of games as a testament to his speed. He’s also stolen 11 bases while getting caught just twice. I’m unable to find sources recording reached on error (however that works out grammatically), but he does often; his speed forces fielders into it and leaves little margin for, well, error. Robert is one of the most exciting young players I’ve ever seen on a baseball field - at bat, on the basepaths, and in the outfield. He truly has it all and we are lucky to have him, and some of us are luckier than others in that we live mere minutes away from where he plays and get to watch him with some frequency. This is not bragging. (It is kind of bragging.)

After the one-two punch of the Luises, there’s still Nick Madrigal to deal with. It’s doubtful that Madrigal will stick in a power spot in the lineup and will likely end up leading off or hitting second, but it’s a good way to get him at-bats, which for him means a good way to get him swings. At the plate, he throws his bat at almost anything that comes close, and it works well enough for a .300 average across all levels (not to mention his two career strikeouts). Madrigal has made one error so far this year in 26 games, that error coming in his 6 innings played at shortstop in the AZL at the very start of his professional career (he has played exclusively second since leaving that level). He positions himself well; he plays smoothly. He’s 21 and has played fewer than 200 innings professionally and, from what I’ve seen, is not overmatched at all.

Blake Rutherford follows through on his swing for the Dash, 2018 (Clinton Cole / FutureSox)

Blake Rutherford follows through on his swing for the Dash, 2018 (Clinton Cole / FutureSox)

And it STILL doesn’t let up. Blake Rutherford is hitting .306/.356/.455 on the year. It is so rare for the top half of a class-A lineup not just to be this loaded with talent but to back it up with performance. Rutherford has 8 triples this year. He’s an aggressive baserunner. He’s gone through cold streaks and hot streaks, but clearly the hot outweigh the cold. And, like Robert, like Madrigal, he’s 21 years old. Luis Gonzalez is the old one of the pack at 22.

As mentioned above, Yermin Mercedes, a preseason waiver claim, isn’t a top prospect. That doesn’t mean he’s not hitting .412 over his last 10 games, or that he didn’t receive Player of the Week honors in early August. Mercedes hit .341/.426/.500 in 25 games in July. Is he old for the league? Yes. Should he be promoted? Probably, yes. Is it fun to watch him mash? Yes!!

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Gavin Sheets is #18 on the FutureSox list. Gavin Sheets is 22 years old and has yet to tap into the power that he’s clearly capable of and has shown in flashes, flashes that usually end up deep beyond the outfield fence. He’s still a force in the lineup, and every time he hits the ball, he hits it hard. He’s also shown himself to be no slouch as a defensive first baseman. He won’t win any awards, but he’s more than serviceable.

Laz Rivera is on the just-missed list. He’s a shortstop hitting .327/.370/.501! He’s hit 11 home runs! 29 doubles! Four triples! Sure, he’s only walked nine times and struck out 78. Sure, that needs to improve for him to be able to sustain his performance. He’s still killing the hell out of the ball.

Ti’Quan Forbes is also on the just-missed ranking. He’s also been streaky this year, but streaky to the tune of a .275 overall average. Forbes has played at least one inning at each infield position this season, the lion’s share at third, and honestly looks like he should be able to do anything on a baseball field. He was the return for Miguel Gonzalez last year, so the Sox double-won that trade. Maybe he’ll turn into a legitimate prospect, maybe he won’t; at the very least, he’s helping an extremely good Dash team continue their extremely good season.

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Then there’s Zach Remillard, the only member of the starting nine to not be mentioned on prospect lists. And that’s fair. It's unusual to have this much top talent in one lineup. Remillard isn’t a strong hitter, although he can play around the field - he’s had innings at first, second, third, left, right, and center this season, and he's got quite an arm.

This is before getting into the pitching at all - the aforementioned Kyle Kubat; Tyler Johnson is dominating out of the pen; Lincoln Henzman and Mike Morrison are shutting down opposition; Hunter Schryver has yet to give up a run for the Dash. #8 prospect Alec Hansen is back with the team, trying to return to last year’s form. And, lest we forget, #9 prospect Micker Adolfo was having a great year DHing before succumbing to TJ.

I spent enough time working in minor league baseball to see some truly awful and some truly great teams. The Dash don't quite meet the threshold for truly great, but I do believe that, individually, their players are better than the best team I've seen (the 2014 Kane County Cougars, who won 91 games in regular season play, for those wondering).

There is so much exciting stuff happening on the farm, and every day I can’t believe it. On a personal note that I’m sure many of you can relate to, it’s been hard following the White Sox for year after year of mediocrity, and even though the rebuild has finally been committed to, it’s still not fun watching the major league team. Because of this, I’ve watched less major league baseball over the last two or three seasons than I ever have in my life. Why would I want to tune in to watch Adam Engel or Trayce Thompson (no offense)? But look at what’s coming. Eloy. Kopech. Robert. Madrigal. Cease. Collins. Dunning. Just go down the list and look at the names. This season has made me excited about baseball again. It’s made me re-appreciate all those things I love about the game, summer nights and stand-up triples and infinite potential. The first time I walked into the Dash ballpark, I couldn’t stop smiling: here it is. The future. It’s not that far away.

More personal stuff: the reason I moved to North Carolina wasn’t solely to enjoy as many Dash games as possible, it was because I’m starting law school. This, I have learned, can be quite the time commitment, so I’m going to have to take a step back from weekly columns. I’ll still contribute occasional posts, just not on a schedule. I’ll also try to attend and live-tweet as many Dash games as I can for the rest of the season through their playoff run, so if you’re into that, you can follow me @DestroyBaseball (although I can't promise I'll make it out to a lot, since, as mentioned, law school). Thanks for reading!

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