State of the System: Relievers

Positional Overview:
Last year, White Sox relievers combined to provide -0.3 WAR in value, in other words, they were awful. Rick Hahn made it one of his top priorities to improve the relief corps, and he did so in spectacular fashion with the signings of David Robertson (let’s all take a quick second to appreciate how awesome Robertson is with his MLB leading 1.01 FIP and 1.15 xFIP) and Zach Duke, and trading for Dan Jennings. Daniel Webb and Jake Petricka were both big disappointments last year, as they struggled with control and didn’t strike out anywhere near as many batters as expected. Both have the potential to be useful options going forward, but that’s not going to happen unless their control improves. Scott Carroll is a passable mop-up guy/long reliever. Zach Putnam emerged from obscurity last year and pitched fairly well. Nate Jones should also return from injury at some point this year. In the minors there are a few interesting relievers, though nobody who you could describe as an elite, closer in waiting, type prospect.

Who’s next in line for the Big League bullpen?
The White Sox bullpen ranks in the top 15 in ERA, FIP and xFIP, making it at least an average MLB ‘pen, but there are still spots to upgrade. Jake Petricka, for example, has been below replacement level thus far in 2015. If the Sox decide to make a change, either due to injury or lack of performance, who would be next in line to for a callup? Maikel Cleto has been lights out for Charlotte, he’s sporting a 1.27 ERA and 2.51 FIP and we know the Sox love his arm and potential. Eric Surkamp is right there with him and is getting both strikeouts (10.65 K/9) and ground balls (1.67 GO/AO). Both Cleto and Surkamp logged a significant number of innings out of the Sox ‘pen last year and are probably the top two names to be next called up. Other options include 32 year old Jairo Asencio, who has the best FIP in Charlotte (1.61), and is rocking a 12.12 K/9 against 2.76 BB/9. Zach Phillips is another with a sub-2.00 FIP, and his 4.00 K/BB rate is excellent. Junior Guerra has pitched well in the rotation, has interesting stuff and could be another option. On the other side, Daniel Webb continues to slip as he’s still walking too many to be effective (12 BB in 21 IP), and Matt Lindstrom’s ERA currently sits at 23.62 (2.2 IP). From Birmingham, Cody Winiarski, J.B. Wendelken and Onelki Garcia are all pitching well and have the potential to move up quickly, especially Garcia who has pitched in the Majors before.

Top Prospect:
Nolan SanburnSanburn, the 74th overall pick in the 2012 draft, came over to the Sox from Oakland last year in exchange for Adam Dunn. Sanburn possesses an excellent fastball and above average curve. He also throws a slider and a change, both of which need work. His four pitch mix gives him the potential to start, and there was some talk that the Sox would look to develop him in that role this season, but he has started the year pitching out of the bullpen. He gets a lot of strikeouts but his command still needs work. Sanburn has the potential to become a high leverage reliever or back of rotation starter.

Best of the Rest:
Brian ClarkClark brings a nice fastball/slider combo with a developing change. The progress of his changeup will determine whether he ends up in the rotation or bullpen. He had a very successful pro debut last year with strong strikeout (9.68 K/9) and walk (2.61 BB/9) rates, making for an impressive 3.71 K/BB. Clark’s control has been very poor to start this season with Kannapolis though (8.16 BB/9).

Onelki GarciaThe White Sox claimed Garcia off waivers from the Dodgers this past offseason. At his best he was showing an above average fastball that touched 97 along with a very good curve, though his control has never been there (career 4.71 BB/9). Was injured and made just one appearance last season after dealing with elbow and knee problems. His numbers with Birmingham this year have been excellent, especially for someone who has missed so much time (12.06 K/9, 3.45 BB/9, 1.67 FIP). Garcia is an interesting arm to watch.

Kyle HansenHansen transitioned to the bullpen last year and saw his peripherals decline in that role. His K/9 fell from 9.59 in 2013 to 8.85 and his BB/9 rose from 2.51 to 3.97. Outside of 2013, Hansen has always struggled with his control. His BB/9 this season currently stands at 4.35 with Birmingham. Hansen throws a decent fastball-slider combo, but he needs to continue working on his command if he’s to reach his upside as a solid middle relief arm.

Andrew MitchellMitchell’s stuff was near unhittable last year as he generated an 11.43 K/9. Unfortunately he had almost no idea where it was going and wound up walking more than a batter per inning (9.23 BB/9). Mitchell could be a high leverage reliever if he can harness the control, but that looks a long shot at present. Injury has prevented him from taking the mound thus far in 2015.

Jefferson OlacioLike both Andrew Mitchell and Braulio Ortiz (below), Olacio has excellent raw stuff, but little idea of where it is going. He’s huge, listed at 6’7”, 270 and has an equally big fastball that touches the high 90’s. He also throws a slider and change, both of which show potential, but are inconsistent at present. This season Olacio has walked 7 in just 2.2 IP with 3 strikeouts. Long shot to make the Majors but his stuff is very interesting.

Braulio OrtizOrtiz has impressed scouts with his stuff, but his control is woeful. For his career he owns a 9.18 K/9 (9.82 K/9 last year), but has walked batters at an alarming rate (career 6.46 BB/9). The control issues were even more severe last season as he finished with a 8.14 BB/9 spending time with both Winston-Salem and Birmingham. In 18 innings with the Barons he walked 30 batters. Given how far he needs to come, it’s difficult to see Braulio ever sorting out his control and making it to the Majors.

Eric SurkampSurkamp has marginal stuff with a high 80’s fastball and perhaps average secondary pitches. His fastball command is typically excellent, though it wasn’t with the Sox last year as he walked almost 5 batters per nine. He appeared to return to full strength last season following Tommy John as his K/9 has bounced back to 10.65 (from 7.37 in 2013). Should be ready to take the mound in Chicago if called upon and could be a solid middle relief arm.

David Trexler– Trexler was the darling of the offseason after multiple reports of plus stuff emerged from sources including Kiley McDaniel and Baseball America. His stuff took a big step forward after being drafted, with the Sox making some mechanical tweaks to his delivery. He now touches the mid 90’s with an above average curve. Trexler’s numbers were excellent (9.68 K/9, 2.64 BB/9) last year as a 23-year-old spending time in the AZL and with Great Falls. He needs to continue working on his change and command, and could still potentially start down the line, but for now the Sox have him pitching out of the bullpen.

J.B. Wendelken– I’ve been reluctant to call Wendelken a legitimate prospect in the past due to a lack of stuff, but he continues to get decent results and is at least semi-interesting. His fastball is low-90’s from the right side and he combines it with a good change. He also exhibits very good control, walking just 2.04 batters per 9 last season. This year he has an impressive 11.29 K/9 and 1.91 BB/9, though he has been home run prone with 3 HR in just 18.1 IP.

Andre WheelerWheeler could have been mixed in with the starters, but there have been comments from within the Sox organization that indicate they like him more as a reliever. Wheeler has put up excellent numbers throughout his career, consistently showing the ability to strike out batters (career 9.91 K/9). His fastball can touch 96 MPH from the left side, and his slider features excellent bite. He’ll also mix in a changeup, but it is not at the same level as his fastball/slider. Potential to be an above average reliever.

Michael YnoaThe baseball world has known about Ynoa for many years. As a 16 year old he was one of the most hyped international free agents of recent memory, however injuries have curtailed his career somewhat. The White Sox have said that they are committing to Ynoa as a relief pitcher, and he’s another that has the potential to be a back of the bullpen arm.

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