2015 Winston-Salem Dash season preview

It’s Opening Day for Minor League Baseball. All four full season affiliates of the Chicago White Sox are slated to start the season tonight. We’ve already published our Charlotte and Birmingham previews so let’s move on to the Winston-Salem Dash of the high-A Carolina League.

Opening Day ages of the players are listed in parentheses, along with position for non-pitchers.

Winston-Salem Dash (2014 record: 61-78, no playoffs)

Top 30 prospects: Trey Michalczewski (9), Jace Fry (13), Andre Wheeler (19), Keon Barnum (20), Michael Ynoa (22), Adam Engel (24)

Pitchers (* denotes LH; # denotes starting season on DL)

Returners: Brandon Brennan# (23), Tony Bucciferro (25), Jake Cose# (24), James Dykstra (24), Brad Goldberg (25), Sean Hagan* (24), Zach Isler (24), Jefferson Olacio* (21), Braulio Ortiz# (23)

From Kannapolis: Jose Brito (24), Robinson Leyer (22), Andre Wheeler* (23)

From Great Falls: Brian Clark* (21), Jace Fry* (21)

New to org.: Matt Heidenreich (24), Michael Ynoa (23)

Nine of the 16 pitches on the Opening Day roster for the Dash pitched for Winston-Salem last season. None of them are high profile prospects, but guys like Bucciferro and Dykstra (Opening Day starter) should help the team win some games as proven high-A starting pitchers.

Jace Fry is another name for the rotation to watch. Last year’s third round pick is our highest rated prospect on the pitching staff and makes his full season debut by skipping Kannapolis. Robinson Leyer, up from Kannapolis, and Matt Heidenreich, a fourth rounder of the White Sox in 2009 who rejoined the organization this season, fill out the rotation.

Andre Wheeler, Michael Ynoa and Brian Clark are interesting names to follow in what figures to be a strong and deep bullpen given some talented arms and plenty of experience at this level.

Hitters

Returners: Omar Narvaez (C, 23), Keon Barnum (1B, 22), Justin Jirschele (IF, 25 on April 15), Trey Michalczewski (3B, 20), Jake Peter (IF, 22), Cleuluis Rondon (SS, 21), Nick Basto (OF, 21), C.J. Beatty (OF, 26), Adam Engel (CF, 23), Keenyn Walker (OF, 24)

From Kannapolis: Jeremy Dowdy (C, 24)

New to org.: Chris Jacobs (1B, 26)

Like the pitching staff, most of the batters are returners from a year ago. In fact, just two of the 12 players on the Dash roster didn’t play for the team last year. Even Trey Michalczewski had 72 at-bats for the Dash late last season. Catcher Jeremy Dowdy moves up from Kannapolis (although he did have a brief stint in Birmingham last season) and Chris Jacobs joins from the Dodgers’ organization, where he spent last season posting an .886 OPS in the Carolina League so he should be a solid addition to the Dash lineup.

Michalczewski, Adam Engel and Keon Barnum are the best prospects of the group. Barnum, like Keenyn Walker, has struggled in recent seasons and will need a strong campaign to boost his prospect status. Michalczewski and Engel have had mixed performances in the lower levels, but play premium defensive positions and in Michalczewski’s case is still young enough to expect some struggles.

Rondon’s defense will be fun to watch for those lucky enough to watch the Dash in person. Another notable defensive position is Nick Basto in the outfield. His position move gives him another chance to put his bat to good use after continued struggles at third base. Basto is still just 21 and has hit decently in his pro career.

Overall

Experience isn’t lacking within this group for the level. The pitching staff appears strong and very deep, especially in the bullpen. BB&T Ballpark benefits the hitters so the pitching staff will be tested.

The lineup doesn’t appear as strong, but has some upside if guys like Engel, Barnum and Michalczewski produce. In addition, Walker and Engel give the team some serious speed on the basepaths.

The Dash have a recent history of making the playoffs in the Carolina League, but failed to do so last season. This year, there appears to be enough talent on the Opening Day roster to expect a playoff push considering half of the eight-team league makes the postseason.

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