Players of Clandestiny - Lesser-Recognized Performances of 2018

It’s an exciting time to be into White Sox prospects, much more than it is to be into White Sox major league baseball play. Everyone knows about the Micker Adolfos and Michael Kopechs of the system and what they’ve been doing so far. But the four stateside teams are awash with talent, and a few performances may have flown under the radar so far.

Low-A Kannapolis doesn’t have as many of the big-name prospects as its high-A cousin in Winston-Salem, but that hasn’t stopped the team from batting a combined .274 with a combined ERA of 2.37, both of which aren’t stats to swear by but both of which currently lead the South Atlantic League.

Laz Rivera on the move for the Intimidators (Clinton Cole / FutureSox)

Laz Rivera on the move for the Intimidators (Clinton Cole / FutureSox)

Aiding significantly in the offensive portion of this is middle infield combo Tate Blackman and Laz Rivera. Both are listed as second basemen, although Blackman has been given the lion’s share of playing time there while Rivera mans short or, occasionally, third. Blackman spent last year with the short-season Great Falls Voyagers, where he performed decently. This year so far he’s striking out more and walking less, but he’s also hitting .343 (due the decreased walks, his .357 OBP so far after 18 games is actually two points less than it was with Great Falls). He’s 23 and was the 13th round pick last year. Rivera came straight to low-A from the AZL team, where he performed admirably in 47 games. His OBP, too, has fallen from last year despite a rise in average, but it’s early season yet and that’s really not too unusual.  Also 23, he’s hitting .333 over 19 games. A 28th-round pick from 2017, Rivera has gone hitless in just two of 19 games played so far this year.

Meanwhile, only three Intimidators have an ERA above 2.70. April does weird things to pitching stats especially, but it’s still impressive to only give up two earned runs through your first 14.2 IP, as lefty Parker Rigler has done. Giving up zero runs, earned or not, through your first five appearances (spanning 10.2 IP) is also Good – that would be Jake Elliott, who’s back for a second year of relief in Kannapolis. This is a team to keep your eye on – they could sneak up on you.

Unlike the Dash! It’s actually pretty hard to find an underrated Winston-Salem Dash player – you can read more about a handful of breakout players here. Like Kannapolis, they lead their league in team hitting – batting a collective .287 as of mid-Wednesay – but unlike Kannapolis, they outpace opposition by almost 30 points. Sustainable? Maybe not. Exciting? Very much so.

You’ve heard enough about the outfield logjam, most of which is batting .319 or more, but probably not as much about the pitching, with the notable exception of Dane Dunning. Two of the best stat lines this season so far belong to the pitchers who held two of the best stat lines in the system last season, too: Kyle Kubat and Mike Morrison. Both are around a year older than the league (Kubat did throw 20 sparkling innings for the double-A Barons last year), and I suspect it won’t be long before they’re both promoted. Kubat, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Royals and traded to the Sox last spring, has given up one run in his 10 IP this year, to go along with his two walks and 13 strikeouts. Morrison has yet to give up an earned run, although his control has been shakier, with seven walks and 10 strikeouts in eight innings.

The Barons do not boast as robust an offense nor as stellar a pitching staff as either of the two lower level teams. Only two of their batters are hitting above .300 – in fact, only two are hitting above .241 – and it’s an odd combination: catcher Seby Zavala and former top Sox third-base prospect Trey Michalczewski. Zavala, who played for coach Tony Gwynn at San Diego State University, had a breakout season last year, slashing .282/.353/.499 with 21 home runs and 21 doubles in 107 games between two levels. He’s an interesting prospect, providing an intriguing counterweight to 2016 first-round pick Zack Collins, but Michalczewski is the truly unexpected name here.

Trey Michalczewski running the bases in 2015 Spring Training (Daniel Shapiro / Future Sox)

Trey Michalczewski running the bases in 2015 Spring Training (Daniel Shapiro / Future Sox)

Michalcz- Trey has been in the system for longer than some people have been alive, if those people are six years old or younger. Up until the beginning of last season, he’d been consistently ranked one of the top prospects in the system and was cautiously touted as the White Sox third baseman of the future. Obviously things look different now, and Trey has struggled mightily throughout his career with offensive production. However, he’s still just 23 years old, has always been younger than the average age of the league he’s played in, and is hitting .302 over his first 16 games with the Barons this year (.375 over his last 10). He has five multi-hit games, including three straight, and has been playing mostly second base (Matt Rose has been at the hot corner). He’s no longer The Answer at third base, joining a long list of names who were also not The Answer – but it’s possible that, if he keeps it up, he’ll at least rise to the level of Strongly Supported Hypothesis. I’ve heard those guys can always find a team.

Triple-A is always a weird mishmash of former top prospects, former major leaguers, and young phenoms on the rise. Kopech is the star of stars here, and rightfully so. Flying more incognito is teammate and Knights Opening Day starter Donn Roach, who has pitched parts of three seasons in the majors and is not technically a prospect anymore. He’s more of a depth guy, a 2010 third round pick who spent 2017 in Korea and doesn’t strike many out, but the balls put in play this year have been finding gloves. Roach’s ERA is 1.88 over his first four starts and 25 innings, and he’s given up just 18 hits.

Another no-longer-a-prospect guy is new addition Jeanmar Gomez, who has proven since 2010 that he can play in the majors, mostly out of the bullpen. With the numbers he’s putting up and the numbers the actual Sox are putting up so far, it won’t be long before he joins them. He’s given up two earned runs over seven relief appearances totaling 11 IP, while walking just two.

Lest this go amiss, let’s take a moment to highlight Eddy Alvarez’ .385 batting average and .471 OBP this season. What’s that? He’ s only played in four games so far? Sorry, I can’t hear you.

It’s a promising start to the season for the White Sox farm system, and it goes deeper than “just” the hot name prospects and the entire baseball team known as the Dash. We’ll see who regresses and who keeps it up – I will operate under the assumption that everyone who’s doing well now will continue performing at least as well, and anyone who hasn’t turned it on yet is bad forever (sorry, Eloy. It was a good run).

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