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 the offensive side, there were four players who posted OPS’ over 1.000 on the month. Two clubs dominated the list of hitter finalists – Birmingham and Kannapolis. The pitching side was a little more of a mix team-wise, but one starter clearly stood out from the crowd.
Note: Stats presented are for May in the minors only, unless otherwise noted…
HITTER OF THE MONTH: Luis Gonzalez, OF, Kannapolis Intimidators (A)
Stats: .359/.398/.685 (1.083 OPS), 11 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 5:19 BB:K, 3/4 SB/ATT in 99 PA (22 games)
The team’s 3rd round pick in 2017 had somehow remained below the radar for most White Sox fans, until recently. Yet there was every indication that Gonzalez should have been right in the thick of the discussion around some of the organization’s top outfield prospects, and his tear through the South Atlantic League in May only reinforced what the people who’ve seen him play already knew. In addition to his big offensive output, he’s been playing a stellar center field, and is almost certain to be promoted at least once before the year is out. You can hear from Luis in this video interview, and read this in-person report with video, for more.
Eloy Jimenez, OF (AA): .374/.419/.664 (1.082 OPS), 11 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 9:21 BB:K in 117 PA (26 games)
Zack Collins, C (AA): .322/.508/.540 (1.048 OPS), 4 2B, 5 HR, 33:29 BB:K, 2/2 SB/ATT in 122 PA (27 games)
Laz Rivera, INF (A): .383/.443/.564 (1.007 OPS), 5 2B, 4 HR, 3:18 BB:K, 3/4 SB/ATT in 107 PA (25 games)
Craig Dedelow, OF (A): .333/.364/.590 (.954 OPS), 12 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 4:23 BB:K in 111 PA (25 games)
The organization’s top overall prospect and another top ten player with the Barons both made a strong case to win this award. Eloy just keeps making it look easy in the Southern League, despite being only 21 years old and with just 56 games in AA. Catcher Zack Collins started 2018 with a 2-for-37 slump, but he has been on an absolute tear since then (around the time he made a tweak to his batting stance). His combination of power and ridiculous walk rate (he now leads all of MiLB in free passes) are back in force. Jimenez is probably headed for Charlotte quite soon, and Collins could make that move before the season is out.
The Intimidators currently have the best record in all of Minor League Baseball, so it should be no surprise their players are all over this article. Infielder Laz Rivera just keeps hitting, betraying his 28th round draft pedigree. Outfielder Craig Dedelow is rarely mentioned in the talk around outfield prospects in the Sox system, but he’s hitting line drives all over the park (note the 12 doubles and 3 triples) and showing plenty of athleticism. Both players are 23 years old and both should see Winston-Salem this year, with Rivera’s promotion likely to come soon.
PITCHER OF THE MONTH: Blake Battenfield, RHSP, Kannapolis Intimidators (A)
Stats: 1.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 19 H, 8 BB, 35 K in 31.0 IP (5 starts)
Blake Battenfield nearly won this award last month, and this time around there’s just no denying he had the most dominant pitching performance on the farm for the month. Statistically he did it all, which has been the case basically all year – he’s whiffing more than a batter an inning, pouring in strikes, been very stingy allowing runs, and when the hitters do make contact it is rarely of the hard variety. Like some of his Kannapolis teammates, it is unlikely this 23-year-old 17th round draft pick from 2017 will be long for the Intimidators. You can hear from Blake in person in this podcast episode.
Jordan Stephens (AA, AAA): 2.19 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 32 H, 8 BB, 34 K in 37.0 IP (6 starts)
Bernardo Flores (A+): 2.08 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 34 H, 6 BB, 29 K in 34.2 IP (5 starts)
Lincoln Henzman (A): 3.04 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 24 H, 2 BB, 19 K in 23.2 IP (4 starts)
Jose Ruiz (A+, AA): 1.13 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 6 H, 2 BB, 22 K in 16.0 IP (9 games)
Matt Foster (A+): 1.38 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 9 H, 3 BB, 19 K in 13.o IP (8 games)
Jordan Stephens has had a very good 2018, and his performance with Birmingham earned him a promotion to AAA Charlotte. The numbers above represent two final starts in AA, followed by four in AAA, where he appears to have had no trouble with the transition. Stephens has consistently outperformed expectations in his pro career, and now the 25-year-old is just one step away from the majors. We recently interviewed him in our podcast.
Bernardo Flores has been quietly putting together a very solid 2018 campaign. This lefty is going to have a somewhat slower development path due to rawness, but the results so far are encouraging and as we saw in person recently, he’s clearly making progress. 2017 4th rounder Lincoln Henzman is a prolific strike-thrower (his 72% strike rate is highest among starters in the system), a serious worm-burner (65% GB/FB, again highest among starters), and has been consistently effective for the Intimidators.
That WHIP number for reliever Jose Ruiz is not a typo. He was filthy in his last three games with the Dash, and like Stephens, has just kept going in AA. His bullpen mate, Matt Foster, has been similarly filthy and missing even more bats. Don’t be surprised to see Foster move up to Birmingham sooner than later too.
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