An Unheralded Duo: Evaluating Andre Wheeler and Jordan Guerrero

Images from MiLB.com - In 2014, Kannapolis left-handed starting pitchers Andre Wheeler (left) and Jordan Guerrero (right) were “tandem starters.”

Images from MiLB.com – In 2014, Kannapolis left-handed starting pitchers Andre Wheeler (left) and Jordan Guerrero (right) were “tandem starters.”

A-ball teammates at Kannapolis, Andre Wheeler and Jordan Guerrero split their starting pitching appearances throughout the 2014 season. This tandem program, if you will, was largely conducted in an effort to develop both pitchers. Wheeler, a converted outfielder from college, needed in-game repetitions. Similarly, Guerrero needed repetitions as he was coming back from an injury suffered in July of the previous season at Bristol (rookie level).

Andre Wheeler (drafted in the 15th round in 2013) ­took up pitching for the first time in his freshman year at Texas Tech, making just four appearances in relief. Having signed out of high school as an outfielder (with the opportunity to pitch), he was used primarily in the outfield, booking 112 ABs and posting a .241 batting average in his freshman year. The coaching staff redirected his efforts to pitching in his sophomore year, as he received only five ABs, while pitching 17 innings in relief. Wheeler would go on to throw 49 innings in relief between his sophomore and junior year, posting a 5.47 ERA and a 41:29 strikeout to walk ratio.

Following his junior year, the White Sox selected him as a pitcher in the amateur draft. Since then, in his professional career split between Bristol (13IP at rookie ball) and Kannapolis (115.2IP), the lefty has posted some dazzling stats – 10.4 SO/9 to just 2.9 BB/9, limiting opposing batters to nine home runs in 129IP (46 appearances, 16 as a starting pitcher), and a 2.84/3.12 (ERA/FIP) in 2014. Besides repetition, Wheeler cites good coaching both at Texas Tech and within the White Sox organization as the keys to his success thus far in his professional baseball career.

“We had a great coaching staff at TTU. Learning stuff from other pitchers/coaches in the White Sox organization contributed to some positive changes also. I think the repetitions really helped out a lot too. The more reps I got, the more confidence I received,” Wheeler writes in an email.

Charlie Drysdale of SBNation’s Minor League Ball, scouted a tandem start of Wheeler and Guerrero’s in August of last year at Kannapolis: “[Wheeler] throws a 92-94 mph fastball which tails away from right-handed batters and mixes in a nice slider.  A former outfielder in college, Wheeler didn’t primarily focus on pitching until after he was drafted, so there’s still room for growth.” Last season at Kannapolis, he was roughly on par for his age (22) at that level (0.3-age difference between Wheeler and the average age of other pitchers in the South Atlantic League). It should come as little concern, then, that Wheeler is 23 with just A-ball experience to his name.

After registering a thoroughly impressive  27.3 K% and 7.9 BB% last season in 98.1 IP, projecting the 6’1” 170lb lefty and his three-pitch-mix – a potentially plus fastball, a slider that flashes plus, and a change-up that shows above average potential – should prove intriguing going forward. In 2015, as Wheeler and Guerrero no longer start in tandem, it will be interesting to see what increased repetitions will do for Wheeler, whose sound pitching mechanics will aide him as he goes forward.

Wheeler writes: “When I throw my slider where I want it, I feel like it is a decent pitch. Locating pitches are the main keys to [my] success. My goal for next season is to put myself in situations to do the best I can, while being a good teammate.” Wheeler – who ranks as the 19th overall prospect in the White Sox system on our list – admitted that he is unsure whether or not he will be reporting back to Kannapolis (A-ball) or Winston-Salem (A+ ball). At the rate at which Wheeler has excelled, though, a promotion to Winston-Salem would surprise few.

Like Wheeler, Jordan Guerrero was also selected in the 15th round, a year before Wheeler in the 2012 amateur draft. Guerrero, 20, was selected out of Moorpark HS (California). After spending the 2012 and 2013 (cut short by an injury) at Bristol, Guerrero – who ranks as the 26th overall prospect in the White Sox system on our list – was assigned to Kannapolis where the 6’3” 190lb lefty appeared in 27 games (78 IP), starting nine. His season line was above average: 80 SOs (23.8 %) to 27 BBs (8.0%), 3.46/3.52 (ERA/FIP), and a 1.38 WHIP.

Guerrero’s three-pitch-mix, according to the aforementioned Drysdale, proved noteworthy. “Guerrero’s repertoire was impressive, as he had the ability to change speeds with a three-pitch mix which he could locate for strikes. The 6-foot-3 lefty averaged 90-91 on his fastball with a peak of 93 and his off-speed stuff created a nice gap in velocity to throw off hitters with a changeup and curveball that averaged around 75.”

In his extensive White Sox prospect list, Kiley McDaniel (FanGraphs) included a blurb about Guerrero: “[The] lefty is mostly 88-91 mph with stuff that flashes average and feel to pitch.” Guerrero’s progression through the system is likely contingent on continuing to keep hitters off balance with varying speed and average command. Nathaniel Stoltz, a colleague of McDaniel’s at Fangraphs, has described Guerrero’s change-up as very good to potentially plus, along with a good curveball.

“When I’m hitting the strike zone and the ball is staying low, I know my command is good and I’m on it,” Guerrero writes in an email.

His repertoire and profile lean on qualities sometimes overlooked by scouts – that of his feel to pitch and changes in speed. There is no reason to doubt that Guerrero’s pitches will improve both in their movement and difference in velocity: “[This offseason], I have been focusing on my strength and stamina, [combined] with lots of conditioning and always working on all my pitches and command,” writes Guerrero.

According to Guerrero, tandem starting with Wheeler – a workout partner and good friend – will not continue in 2015. Like Wheeler, Guerrero’s 2015 assignment (Kannapolis or Winston-Salem) is unclear at the moment. Whether or not the two receive the same assignment, they remain sleeper prospects whose 2015 seasons warrant close attention.

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