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).
While some key prospects opened the new season on the disabled list, there were still plenty of big performances on the farm to open the year, including from some important prospects for the rebuild. There were two hitters and three pitchers who stood out from the crowds, making for some very tough calls.
Note: Stats presented are for April in the minors only, unless otherwise noted…
HITTER OF THE MONTH: Luis Alexander Basabe, OF, Winston-Salem Dash (A+ )
Stats: .313/.400/.614 (1.036 OPS), 7 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 12:20 BB:K, 3/4 SB/ATT in 96 PA (21 G)
Don’t call it a comeback. Luis Basabe didn’t put up inspiring numbers in his first go at Advanced-A ball last year, but he was very young for the level and battled a knee injury for most of the campaign. Given his toolshed reputation and that context maybe it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that this year is different. Basabe’s hitting coach at Winston-Salem, Charlie Poe, recently was quoted saying we are now seeing “the real Basabe”. Apparently that means getting on base at a torrid clip, piling on extra bases, stealing a few more, and notably lowering his whiff rate. There is every reason to be excited about Luis, and if he keeps this up he could be in AA by the All Star Break.
Seby Zavala, C (AA): .315/.411/.616 (1.028 OPS), 4 2B, 6 HR, 13:28 BB:K in 90 PA (22 G)
Joel Booker, OF (A+): .353/.421/.515 (.936 OPS), 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 6:17 BB:K, 7/9 SB/ATT in 76 PA (19 G)
Micker Adolfo, OF/DH (A+): .308/.369/.549 (.918 OPS), 7 2B, 5 HR, 8:31 BB:K in 103 PA (24 G)
Tate Blackman, 2B (A): .333/.387/.488 (.875 OPS), 4 2B, 3 HR, 1:28 BB:K, 1/3 SB/ATT in 94 PA (23 G)
Luis Gonzalez, OF (A): .310/.386/.448 (.834), 3 2B, 3 HR, 12:25 BB:K, 3/4 SB/ATT in 101 PA (22 G)
Catcher Seby Zavala has emerged as a legitimate major league prospect, and one who could arrive in Chicago sooner than the more highly-ranked catcher he shares time with in Birmingham, Zack Collins. He also could just as easily have received this award. Zavala has had no problem with the jump to AA pitching, leading the White Sox organization in OPS and home runs to open the 2018 season. As is the case with Collins, there are still open questions around Seby’s defense behind the plate, but there are reports of further progress in that area as well.
One could almost have made the entire group of hitters considered for this monthly award simply a list of outfielders playing for the Winston-Salem Dash. Joel Booker struggled in High-A last year but has had none of that so far this time around, not only hitting for the highest average among qualified hitters in the system to date, but showing off some speed and even a little power. Nominally an outfielder but relegated to DH duties while his elbow heals, Micker Adolfo has not only been hitting the crap out of the ball, but he’s also lowered his strikeout rate and increased the walks.
The Kannapolis Intimidators have spent a fair amount of time in first place, and there are two hitters here that are contributing to that success. Tate Blackman has made the most of his opportunity with Kannapolis, hitting for a high average but also showing more power than you might expect from a middle infielder. Outfielder Luis Gonzalez scuffled a bit in the first week of play but he’s taken off since then, getting on base, hitting three long balls and using his speed on the basepaths and on defense.
PITCHER OF THE MONTH: Michael Kopech, RHP, Charlotte Knights (AAA)
Stats: 2.14 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 14 H, 7 BB, 29 K in 21.0 IP (4 starts)
This was a tough choice, with the first two honorable mentions (who we will cover shortly) making cases nearly the winner’s equal. But in the end, the organization’s top pitching prospect also turned in the most impressive April of the lot.
Michael Kopech is back in AAA after finishing 2018 at that level, but he may not be there for long. Despite being a good four years younger than the average pitcher in the International League, Kopech has been predominantly in charge on the mound. One of the top pitching prospects in the game, he’s missing plenty of bats and avoiding hard contact effectively. He’s not a finished product, but the amount of development left that makes more sense in the minors is fast approaching de minimis. He could be in Chicago in June, or possibly even earlier.
Dane Dunning (A+, AA): 2.97 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 25 H, 5 BB, 35 K in 30.1 IP (5 starts)
Blake Battenfield (A): 2.18 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 14 H, 2 BB, 21 K in 20.2 IP (5 starts)
John Parke (A): 1.86 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 22 H, 5 BB, 23 K in 29.0 IP (5 starts)
Tyler Johnson (A): 1.74 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 6 H, 3 BB, 19 K in 10.1 IP (8 games)
Dunning posted a dominant 4 starts at his original assignment (Winston-Salem) and was given a well-deserved promotion. His four starts in Advanced-A: 24.1 IP, 20 H, 7 ER, 3 BB, 31 K. Many thought Dunning would open the year with the Barons, so perhaps this performance wasn’t a huge shock. But it’s undoubtedly encouraging, as he kept hitters at bay with relative ease and showed off his new sort-of-spiked curveball. Now in Birmingham he’s on the younger side at 23 and might be challenged a bit, but that’s the idea.
Now we’ve got a couple starters from Kannapolis who most of you have probably never heard of. Blake Battenfield was taken in the 17th round last June, and had worked mostly as a reliever in college. Now he’s starting (albeit on slightly shortened outings as he ramps up), and breezing through South Atlantic League hitters in the process. Lefty John Parke (21st round, same year) similarly was a reliever in college, in his case struggling with control there, but now suddenly he’s pouring in the strikes and getting hitters out left and right. These two are part of a Kannapolis rotation that features a starting rotation where no starter has an ERA higher than 2.88.
Relievers are somewhat rare in these monthly award articles, since they don’t pitch a lot of innings in a given month but flame-throwing right-hander Tyler Johnson demands your attention. In 10.1 innings he’s allowed just 6 hits, and struck out 19 batters for an absurd 16.8 K/9 rate. And especially key for a pitcher who has some work to do on his command, he issued just three free passes.
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