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).
Usually, there are some very tough decisions to make on at least one if not both awards in a given month. But for July of 2018, the winners were both crystal clear. So let's dig right in to see who won, and who get honorable mentions for their strong showings.
Note: Stats presented are for July in the minors only, unless otherwise noted...
HITTER OF THE MONTH: Eloy Jimenez, OF, Charlotte Knights (AAA)
Stats: .435/.455/.839 (1.293 OPS), 7 2B, 6 HR, 3:7 BB:K in 66 PA (16 games)
Eloy has checked quite a few boxes in July, showing there is little doubt he's ready for the majors. Take a look at that stat line for July - none of those are typos (I double-checked). He is simply not challenged by AAA pitching. He's hitting for an absurdly high average, showing all sorts of game power, and making contact at a nearly league-leading rate. Could he draw more walks? Sure, but when he's doing this kind of damage with his bat, why would he?
The arguments will continue apace as to when Jimenez goes to Chicago. In fact our two columnists - Julie here and Brian here - argue two sides of the coin as to whether or not now is the right time to bring him up. But no one honestly believes that Eloy Jimenez isn't ready to face MLB pitching.
Bryce Bush, 3B (Rk): .442/.538/.605 (1.143 OPS), 4 2B, HR, 8:4 BB:K in 51 PA (14 games)
Ryan Fitzpatrick, 1B (Rk): .348/.508/.565 (1.073 OPS), 4 2B, 2 HR, 9:10 BB:K in 62 PA (16 games)
Corey Zangari, 1B (Rk, A): .264/.339/.774 (1.112 OPS), 1 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 6:12 BB:K in 62 PA (15 G)
Carlos Perez, C (A): .403/.411/.528 (.939 OPS), 6 2B, 1 HR, 1:6 BB:K in 73 PA (21 games)
Amado Nunez, INF (Rk): .354/.386/.537 (.923 OPS), 9 2B, 3 3B, 5:27 BB:K, 2/2 SB/ATT in 88 PA (19 games)
***Nick Madrigal, INF (Rk, A): .321/.371/.377 (.748 OPS), 3 2B, 2:0 BB:K, 2/4 SB/ATT in 62 PA (16 games)
While Jimenez was the clear winner, that doesn't mean there weren't some other big performances on the farm in July. 18 year-old third baseman Bryce Bush has been a monster since foregoing college baseball to sign with the Sox. The former Michigan prep has hit for average, drawn walks, shown raw pop and barrel control as he terrorizes the Arizona League.
The team's 22nd round pick this past June, first baseman Ryan Fitzpatrick, is having no apparent trouble with Pioneer League pitching as he's walked as often as struck out and is getting on base at an absurd clip. The senior sign probably belongs in full season ball. Then there is the first baseman who was right in front of him on the ladder, Corey Zangari, whose power burst in Great Falls sent him packing for Kannapolis before he could demolish league records for long balls. Unfortunately, Zangari suffered a wrist injury on a hit-by-pitch in his first game back at Class A and he will now miss the remainder of the season.
Catcher Carlos Perez has been dancing around the edge of the prospect radar for a few years, known primarily for his defensive skills behind the plate and high contact rates. But now the 21-year-old is experiencing his first truly big offensive month as a pro, hitting over .400 on the month. Another Latin American signing, infielder Amado Nunez, who like Perez has been in the picture but had a disappointing 2017 with some missed time, has similarly broken out here in 2018, and he's still just 20.
Nick Madrigal's slash line numbers may not normally have justified his presence on this list, but he deserves a mention anyway for a few reasons. He was just drafted in June and is playing full season ball, hitting over .300 while playing up the middle. But he also did not strike out in July, at all. In fact he's now gone 62 professional plate appearances without striking out. That's an amazing feat that cannot be ignored.
PITCHER OF THE MONTH: Dylan Cease, RHP, Birmingham Barons (AA)
Stats: 1.20 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 17 H, 11 BB, 42 K in 30.0 IP (5 starts)
Just as with the hitter of the month, the pitcher of the month was an easy decision. Cease was nothing short of dominant in July, striking out 12.6 batters per nine innings, throwing strikes, and allowing just 17 hits in 30 frames. This from a pitcher who started the year a level lower and is now well over his career high for innings pitched in a season. Despite all that, he just keeps going, and is showing no signs of wearing down. No surprise that he's rocketing up MLB-wide top prospect lists.
Rick Hahn recently was quoted saying Cease could get major league hitters out right now, but they want him to continue his development so that when he does arrive, he's ready to be dominant in the majors the way he has been in the minors. It's looking more and more like that will happen in 2019.
Michael Kopech (AAA): 3.33 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 22 H, 8 BB, 38 K in 27.0 IP (5 starts)
Jimmy Lambert (AA): 3.32 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 16 H, 3 BB, 23 K in 19.0 IP (4 starts)
Bernardo Flores (AA): 2.90 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 32 H, 6 BB, 23 K in 31.0 IP (5 starts)
Tyler Johnson (A+): 0.68 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 8 H, 4 BB, 19 K in 13.1 IP (8 games)
The only pitching prospect in the system ranked higher than Cease, Michael Kopech put up some very nice numbers in AAA in July, missing a ton of bats and keeping walks down. But more impressive is the bounce-back this represents from a somewhat rough June, and what it means in terms of checking those boxes. Kopech is close to major league-ready, and he could be in Chicago this year.
A pair of Barons pitchers, both of whom started the year a level lower, got it done and then some last month. Lambert has been the most pop-up of prospects in the system this year, suddenly looking like a legit starting pitching prospect thanks to some changes he's made that our Rob Young explored here. Flores has been improving too, as Matt Cassidy saw in his live look in April, and the positive changes are showing themselves statistically this year.
Tyler Johnson is the only reliever to make our list for the month, and he has been just flatly dominant. Perhaps more importantly, he's dramatically improved his command this year, and finds himself now among the top relief arms in the White Sox system. Don't be surprised if you see his name in our new Midseason Top 30 Prospects List, coming out next week.
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