Levels - Oh, sometimes I get a good feeling

There’s a lot of talk about calling prospects up recently - mostly about Eloy Jiménez, and mostly about whether or not it’s worth it to keep a major-league-ready potential superstar in the minors for an entire season in order to save some money several years in the future, even though the White Sox are not financially wanting and can afford to pay him whatever he will deserve at that point in time - but intra-minors promotions can be almost as exciting. The higher in the system a prospect is, the closer he is to performing in the majors, and the more hope you can hang on him. Obviously, if he coasts in the lower As but struggles at the AA/AAA level, that’s not a great sign, but if he’s performed about the same at all levels, go ahead and believe! Nobody’s ever been hurt by prospects before.

Several big-name players have changed levels in the Sox system this season, so let’s see how they’ve done. Getting out in front of it, I’m not including Nick Madrigal because he spent so little time in the AZL before his promotion to Kannapolis, where he’s been Killing It™.

Eloy Jimenez on base against the Frederick Keys (Mike Brady for FutureSox)

Eloy Jimenez on base against the Frederick Keys (Mike Brady for FutureSox)

The biggest name, shocking everyone, is Jiménez. Eloy started the year in AA Birmingham, an assignment that seemed fairly conservative even at the time, given that he hit .353/.397/.559 in 18 games there in 2017. Fair enough, though - that’s a small sample size, and any player can go on a hot streak. And, sure enough, Jiménez regressed at the AA level this year, all the way down to a .317/.368/.556 line over 53 games (205 at-bats). This line came with 10 home runs, 15 doubles, 18 walks, and 39 strikeouts.

Still, this performance was enough for the Sox to bring him up to AAA Charlotte. Over 27 games and 101 at-bats, Eloy has slashed .376/.423/.693 with 8 home runs, 8 doubles, 8 walks, and 12 strikeouts. That’s 38 hits in 27 games, and even though he went 0-5 on Tuesday (rebuild cancelled), he’s still hitting .514 over his last 10 games. Some of you may be wondering, is that good? It’s hard to say. Luckily, it seems like Eloy still has more time to spend at the level, so maybe we’ll find out.

22-year-old Dylan Cease is another player whose performance has improved in a higher level of play this season. Cease played all of last season with his respective franchise’s low-A teams, pre-and-post Quintana trade with the Cubs, and this year has split time between high-A Winston-Salem and the AA Birmingham Barons. He put up an impressive 2.89 ERA over 71.2 innings with the Dash, adding 82 strikeouts against 28 walks. His most impressive performance came on May 1st, when he went 7 innings, gave up 2 hits, no runs, no walks, and struck out 12.

Since his promotion, Cease has started 6 games for the Barons, putting up 34.2 innings and giving up just 9 earned runs for an ERA of 2.34. He’s struck out 49 and walked 13. His most impressive game with the Barons so far came on July 25th, when he went 7 innings, gave up 1 hit, no runs, 1 walk, and struck out… 12. In fact, between both levels, Cease only has 3 games in which he’s given up more than 3 runs, out of 19 total started.

Dane Dunning delivers a pitch for the Dash (James Geiser/Winston-Salem Dash)

Dane Dunning delivers a pitch for the Dash (James Geiser/Winston-Salem Dash)

Throwing almost as well between levels is Dane Dunning, who’s still on the disabled list with a right elbow sprain (at the time of the injury, his return was tentatively estimated at up to two months in the future, which places it at the tail end of the minor league season). Dunning has spent more time at AA than at high-A this season, but has looked good at both. He spent most of last season at high-A as well and showed notable improvement, although, again, a small sample - his 3.51 ERA over 118 innings went down to a 2.59 ERA over 24.1.

That was enough for him to prove that he was ready for AA, where he compiled a 2.76 ERA over 11 starts and 62 innings. He’s not a huge strikeout guy, but still has 69, and although it would be nice for him to work on the 23 walks over that span, he’s done a good job at not allowing the extra baserunners to score. Elbow sprains can be scary injuries developmentally, but hopefully Dunning can get back to this level of play no problem upon his return.

Luis Gonzalez has forced himself into the collective attention of Sox fans with his performance between low-A Kannapolis and high-A this season. He’s put up almost identical slash lines - .300/.358/.491 with the Intimidators, .311/.359/.493 with the Dash. He has 30 doubles between the two teams - 16 vs. 14 - and 11 home runs, 8 vs. 3. He’s walking a little bit less with the Dash, but also striking out a little less; the third-rounder from 2017 is definitely a prospect to keep an eye on. He’s also one of 38 million outfield prospects in the system, so who knows how that will play out.

basabe49

Checking in on another Luis - Luis Alexander Basabe and his twin brother, Luis Alejandro Basabe (part of the Diamondbacks organization), have both split levels this season, with our Luis outpacing his brother by one. He was the lucky outfielder called up to the Barons to help alleviate the Dash’s outfield crunch, and although he hasn’t performed quite as well in the more advanced level, he’s still showing strong signs of promise. His batting average so far is 10 points lower than with the Dash - .266 vs. .256 - but he recently had a hit streak end at 15, and seems to be turning it up after a slow start. He’s batting .306 over his last 10 games.

There are several relatively big-name pitching prospects currently at Charlotte who didn’t start the season there - Spencer Adams, Jordan Stephens, Ian Hamilton, and Jordan Guerrero (I definitely do not regularly mix up two of these pitchers because they have the same first name, I have no idea what you're talking about). Stephens is probably the highest-ranked of the bunch, and he’s also had the roughest transition from AA to AAA. He’s seen his ERA balloon from 2.95 with the Barons to 4.36 over 14 starts with the Knights. That’s largely courtesy of a couple of absolute clunkers, including his most recent start, a 2.2-inning stint that saw him give up 5 hits, 3 walks, and 6 runs while striking out none.

Ian Hamilton delivers a pitch for Washington State (via WSU Athletic Communications)

Ian Hamilton delivers a pitch for Washington State (via WSU Athletic Communications)

Ian Hamilton, pitching out of the bullpen, currently has the best numbers of the bunch. He put up a minuscule 1.78 ERA over 21 games and 25.1 innings with the Barons, and is adjusting to the level with a 2.20 ERA over 13 appearances and 16.1 IP. In fact, he’s only given up runs at all in two of those appearances.

Adams and Guerrero are both having interesting seasons in which they’re performing much better at AAA this year than they did in AA. Adams’ ERA has dropped from 4.59 over 68.2 AA innings to 3.29 over 52 in AAA, and Guerrero has seen his skydive from 6.06 over 65.1 innings to 2.73 over 33. Both have experienced precipitous drops in their strikeout rate - from 6.9 SO/9 with the Barons for Adams to 4.2/9 with the Knights, and 8 SO/9 for Guerrero with the Barons to 5.7 with the Knights. Both have also seen their walks/9 go up, from 2.6 with the Barons for both to 4 for Adams and 4.6 for Guerrero. This doesn’t seem super sustainable, but it’s an interesting performance so far for both of them.

Old friend Seby Zavala is experiencing a similar season as Basabe. Zavala started slow after being called up from the Barons to the Knights in June, but has heated up as the season goes on, hitting .263/.335/.432 overall at the AAA level but .317 over his last 10 games (which span a 12-day DL stint). He’s 9 for his last 30 over his current 7-game hitting streak. He hasn’t been walking as much with the Knights - 27 walks over 56 games with the Barons has translated to just 3 over 20 games with the Knights - but that seems like a trend likely to reverse itself. Nobody is ever really sure where to place Zavala on prospect lists, and hopefully he’ll make that a moot argument anyway.

There’s a pair of starting pitchers on the Barons who were promoted from the Dash this season and are impressing with their new team - Jimmy Lambert and Bernardo Flores. Lambert so far has shaved almost an entire run off his high-A ERA - 3.95 to 2.88 - and Flores improved his from an acceptable 2.55 to an even more acceptable 2.40. Lambert recently had a start in which he took a no-hitter into the 7th inning, finishing with 7 IP, 1 hit, no runs, 2 walks, and 10 strikeouts. Flores, like Adams, isn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, but does a good job at keeping runners from scoring.

RHP Tyler Johnson pitches for the Kannapolis Intimidators, April 2018 (Clinton Cole / FutureSox)

RHP Tyler Johnson pitches for the Kannapolis Intimidators, April 2018 (Clinton Cole / FutureSox)

Relief pitcher Tyler Johnson absolutely dominated in low-A to the tune of a 1.33 ERA over 20 games (27 IP), striking out an eye-popping 46 in that span while walking 10. He’s been with the Dash since June and has a 2.08 ERA over 11 appearances (17.1 IP), with a still-impressive 25 strikeouts and 4 walks in that time. Although pitcher wins mean very little, even more so (less so?) in the minors, he’s still 7-0 on the year.

Although he’s not necessarily a top prospect, this list would feel lacking without the inclusion of Laz-o-matic Laz Rivera, who was promoted with Luis Gonzalez from the Intimidators to the Dash. Rivera had an incredibly hot start with the Dash that has since cooled off to a still-pretty-good .286/.324/.481 line, although it’s a definite drop from the .346/.395/.502 line he put up in K-Town. I have no idea if Rivera is actually good or not, but he’s done a good job of adjusting to the league.

Every time I write a post going through multiple levels of the Sox system, I’m blown away by the depth of talent. These are just the players who have switched levels - think of the prospects who have stayed at the same level all year, like Kopech, Collins, and Adolfo. One of the many bad things about baseball is the time it takes for things to start going well for your team again after a long, barren stretch, and I can’t wait to see how these players adjust to the biggest level jump of all. Bring on 2019 and 2020, I can’t wait.

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Filed under: The Silo

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    Great stuff, always love the work here at Future Sox. Just surprised not to see any mention of Alex Call on this list. He has gone from A+ to AA and is hitting very well. I know he isn't the "toolsiest" prospect out there, but he has a good BB% and looks like he'll just hit.

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