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). NOTE: The rookie leaguers generally didn’t qualify this month, but will qualify for July.
On the hitting side, there was one performance that clearly stood above the rest. Among the pitchers, it was a much tougher call between two arms. And all three of those players were promoted a level during the month of June.
Note: Stats presented are for June in the minors only, unless otherwise noted…
HITTER OF THE MONTH: Joel Booker, OF, Winston-Salem Dash (A+) and Birmingham Barons (AA)
Stats: .369/.430/.583 (1.013 OPS), 12 2B, 2 HR, 7:13 BB:K, 5/9 SB/ATT in 95 PA (21 games)
Speedy center fielder Joel Booker has been beating expectations his entire pro career as a 22nd round draft pick. Not only has he shown no signs of slowing down, in fact, he seems to be getting stronger. The 24-year-old Booker was promoted to AA around mid-month and so far has just kept hitting, posting a .342 average in his first nine games in the Southern League. And it’s not just a recent hot streak, he’s been doing it all season. In April there was the game where he gave his Dash team a walk-off extra-innings win by STEALING HOME, which you should really watch (again):
Yermin Mercedes, C (A+): .318/.408/.561 (.969 OPS), 4 2B, 4 HR, 10:10 BB:K, 1/1 SB/ATT in 71 PA (18 games)
Eddy Alvarez, INF (AAA): .310/.390/.494 (.884 OPS), 13 2B, 1 HR, 11:20 BB:K, 2/3 SB/ATT in 101 PA (26 games)
Laz Rivera, INF (A, A+): .316/.369/.474 (.843 OPS), 8 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 3:23 BB:K, 3/4 SB/ATT in 107 PA (24 games)
Blake Rutherford, OF (A+): .318/.337/.529 (.866 OPS), 7 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 2:15 BB:K in 89 PA (21 games)
Mercedes was acquired in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft this past winter to bolster the organization’s catching depth, which made a ton of sense when it became clear the Sox were going to put Collins and Zavala both at AA. Yermin started a bit slow but has turned it on of late, not only hitting for power but impressively, walking as often as he struck out in June (maybe the Collins effect is spreading). Another player substantially older than his peers but for very different reasons, Eddy Alvarez has been quietly making a strong case for promotion to the White Sox this year with his bat and defensive versatility.
Like Booker, Laz Rivera was promoted to a more age-appropriate level during June, and like Booker he hasn’t flinched yet. Recently praised by Chris Getz for his defensive skills at shortstop, Rivera just keeps getting the hits. Blake Rutherford stayed put during the Great Minor League Migration of June 2018, having only turned 21 in May with no reason to rush. Blake’s power has started to show up in games this year – he hit 2 home runs in all of 2017 (440 PA), and has 6 so far this season (272 PA).
PITCHER OF THE MONTH: Bernardo Flores, LHP, Winston-Salem Dash (A+) and Birmingham Barons (AA)
Stats: 1.61 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 20 H, 8 BB, 15 K in 28.0 IP (4 starts)
Flores teased high potential back in his draft year 2016, but the rawness was real too. When we saw him in 2017 in person he showed further hints, but still plenty of inconsistency. Then in April of this year, our viewing showed noticeable improvement. All this together means we shouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of a breakout from the left-hander, who earned a promotion to AA and just keeps getting better. Bernardo was ranked 30th on our Preseason Top 30 list, but it’s very likely he’ll be higher than that when our new list hits in late July.
You can get to know Bernardo a little more personally by listening to this podcast episode, in which Clinton Cole interviews him.
Lincoln Henzman (A, A+): 1.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 24 H, 3 BB, 21 K in 26.0 IP (6 games – 4 starts)
Zach Lewis (A): 1.86 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 11 H, 9 BB, 19 K in 19.1 IP (6 games – 3 starts)
Dane Dunning (AA): 2.31 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 20 H, 8 BB, 29 K in 23.1 IP (4 starts)
Ryan Burr (AA): 0.75 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 4 H, 5 BB, 16 K in 12.0 IP (8 games)
Lincoln Henzman made nearly as strong a case to win the award. There are plenty of parallels to Flores too – his career progression has so far been nearly identical by stop and timing, and both showed big success in June across two levels. The recent trend of Lincoln working from the bullpen is due to innings load considerations – the team still sees him as a starter.
Two other starters win honorable mentions. One, Dane Dunning, is a Top 100 prospect in all of baseball. He put up strong numbers in his first full month in AA, but he’s now on the disabled list with a sore elbow. The other, Zach Lewis, is a 23-year-old signed last summer as an undrafted free agent for organizational depth. But his month of June was statistically even more dominant, missing plenty of bats in the South Atlantic League. Dunning is only 6 months older but two levels higher of course, but remember this award is about performance, not stock. And Lewis got it done.
One reliever sneaks into our mentions for this month. Ryan Burr has been outright filthy for Birmingham, holding hitters to an anemic .100 batting average and just one extra-base hit in the last month of action. Look for Burr to join his dueling partner Ian Hamilton in Charlotte before long.
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