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).
On both the hitting and pitching sides, there were a pair of players who were nearly interchangeable and either could have taken home the hardware. It was a big offensive month across the farm, especially for power, as nine different players hit five or more home runs. See who edged into the top slots, and who also had very strong performances in May, down on the farm…
Note: Stats presented are for May only, unless otherwise noted…
CO-HITTERS OF THE MONTH:
Seby Zavala, C, Kannapolis Intimidators (A)
Stats: .311/.373/.635 (1.009 OPS), 3 2B, 7 HR, 7:17 BB:K in 83 PA (21 G)
Jameson Fisher, OF, Kannapolis Intimidators (A)
Stats: .341/.427/.585 (1.012 OPS), 11 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 11:23 BB:K, 0/1 SB/ATT in 96 PA (22 G)
The performances of these two Kannapolis hitters were so close in value, with or without context, that we decided to give it to both of them.
Coming into the season, Zavala would likely have begun in Winston-Salem, but for the presence of one Zack Collins. Seby opened 2017 in a surprising rut, but he turned it around in late April and has been tearing the cover off the ball since. His above average raw power has come alive, bashing seven long balls in a month (same number he hit all of last season) and has 11 on the season thus far, five of them at home in a typically power-suppressing park. Defensively, he’s thrown out 7 of 17 attempted base-stealers while catching anyone not named Hansen. The 23-year old likely moves up as soon as Collins does the same.
Fisher also opened the year not hitting much at a level he was expected to handle pretty easily, and like Zavala he quickly turned things around. His overall May numbers (see above) are impressive, but even more so, look at what he’s done since he returned from a short DL stint (bruised shin/ankle) on May 19th: .412/.483/.686 in 14 games, reaching base in all of them. He didn’t put up the power numbers that Zavala did in May, but he hit and got on base prolifically. Fisher’s advanced bat should have him in Winston-Salem before the year is out, and while his defense is still a work in progress, it is improving.
Micker Adolfo, OF (A): .333/.385/.531 (.916 OPS), 11 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 4:28 BB:K in 104 PA (24 G)
Adam Engel (AAA, MLB): .262/.354/.619 (.973 OPS), 9 2B, 7 HR, 9:26 BB:K, 2/2 SB/ATT in 98 PA (24 G) – only MiLB stats shown
Nick Delmonico (AAA): .264/.357/.536 (.894 OPS), 7 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 15:24 BB:K, 1/2 SB/ATT in 126 PA (28 G)
Danny Mendick (A+): .346/.433/.506 (.939 OPS), 7 2B, 2 HR, 10:14 BB:K, 3/5 SB/ATT in 98 PA (27 G)
Micker Adolfo has been a breath of fresh air this year, making significant strides at the plate and in the field in 2017. The tooled-up outfielder has been showing a much more mature approach at the plate, and that has resulted in hitting consistently this year. He still could stand to take a few more pitches, but the progress is big and undeniable here – not just a statistical apparition.
Speaking of toolsy outfielders making long-anticipated leaps, Adam Engel has done the same, and was recently rewarded with a call-up to the big club. The plus raw power has bloomed, he’s still taking his walks, and of course we already knew about the glove, arm and plus foot speed he brings to center field. The strikeouts are perhaps a little worrying and he’ll need to prove the performance for an extended period, but this has been a big month and year for Engel.
Engel’s teammate, Nicky Delmonico, seems close to following him to Chicago. He also smacked seven long balls on the month, and continues to keep his strikeout rate at a reasonable level this year. It’s not clear where he’d fit in defensively, but offensively he certainly appears ready to add value at the major league level. You can read our recent in-person reports (and see video) of both Delmonico and Engel here.
That brings us to a name most of you won’t know. Drafted in the 22nd round in 2015, then spending 2016 with three different affiliates and changing rosters 13 times during the year, 23-year old Danny Mendick has found a settled role in Winston-Salem and taken advantage of it. Playing mostly second base, where he is known for his glove work, he’s done nothing but hit, get on base and use his speed effectively on the offensive side of things. It’s hard to say where his future lies (he has played all over the infield at times), but it’s not impossible he is edging toward the prospect radar.
PITCHER OF THE MONTH: Michael Kopech, RHP, Birmingham Barons (AA)
Stats: 2.31 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .167 BAA, 17 BB, 47 K in 35 IP (6 starts)
The White Sox went into Spring Training assuming that Kopech would start in High-A, but he was so impressive that they decided to push him to AA. Thus far he’s rewarded their confidence. His 12.1 K/9 rate and 5.1 hits/9 show that even AA hitters have major problems doing anything with his stuff. Command is still immature – not just as reflected in his walk rate (though at 4.4 per 9 is a bit too high), but also local reports making it clear he’s still transitioning from thrower to pitcher.
Part of what makes his performance stand out is that he’s only just turned 21 last month – in fact he’s a year and a half younger than Alec Hansen, who Kopech just edged out for the award and who is two levels lower. He’s one of the youngest prospects in the entire Southern League, and the fact that he’s doing this well even with command struggles is quite impressive. That all said, there is no reason to rush him up to AAA, and it makes sense to allow him to continue improving in AA for 2017.
Alec Hansen (A): 2.67 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .207 BAA, 8 BB, 43 K in 30.1 IP (5 starts)
Jordan Guerrero (AA): 3.30 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .259 BAA, 8 BB, 41 K in 30 IP (5 starts)
Kyle Kubat (A): 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, .131 BAA, 1 BB, 18 K in 18 IP (8 games)
Mike Morrison (A): 1.13 ERA, 0.44 WHIP, .063 BAA, 4 BB, 19 K in 16 IP (10 games)
Alec Hansen could just as easily have won this award, posting an even higher strikeout rate (12.8 K/9) than Kopech and avoiding free passes. The tall right-hander had a big pro debut last year, making his 2nd round selection appear to be a steal, but many analysts wanted to make sure he could sustain it into his first full season. So far in 2017, he’s had little trouble with South Atlantic League hitters (base runners, though, are another story).
Jordan Guerrero is repeating AA after predictably hitting a bit of a wall there last year. In April it looked like he might be having similar issues, but here in May he’s turned it around, throwing more strikes and missing more bats. Guerrero is unusual in that he’s developed backwards, with a plus change and a developing curveball to pair with a low 90’s fastball that may be his least effective pitch. The lefty is worthy of keeping an eye on.
There were a pair of stand-out bullpen performances worth noting. Kyle Kubat is 24 and repeating Low-A, but he’s certainly making a case to move up. Working in a mix of short and long relief, it would be hard to perform better than Kubat has recently. And yet… Mike Morrison allowed just 3 hits in all of May (6 on the full year in 27 IP), and continues to strike out better than a batter per inning. He did however finally allow a run – the two he gave up on the 31st of May are the only ones he has allowed in all of 2017. Both these relievers should be in Winston-Salem soon.
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