Rejoice Sox fans! Baseball is back and the full-season affiliates have had nearly a full month of action. The Hot List is back for the 2019 season and will be updating you regularly on the top performers throughout the year.
Reminder: this piece is not exclusively focused on top prospects, just the best stat producers from each level since the last Hot List. Since this is the first Hot List of the year, all stats are a players season total thus far.
Charlotte Knights (AAA) 16-11, 1st Place INT South
Alas, past Charlotte Hot List stalwarts Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech have graduated, but there is still plenty of talent at this level. Sox top prospect Dylan Cease was barely touched in his first two starts (10 IP, 5 H, BB, 9 K, 0 ER), followed by two so-so appearance, and then was back to his dominant self in his last outing. It equals out to a 3.33 ERA with 30 strikeouts to just 7 walks over his first 24.1 innings. Spring Training non-roster invite RHP Evan Marshall has been lights out for the Knights bullpen which has recently earned him a big league promotion. The 29 year-old veteran did not allow a run over his first 10 innings of work, striking out 13 batters to just one walk.
The Knight’s offense has been white-hot and it’s been led by prospects and veterans alike. A White Sox nemesis most of his career, SS Alcides Escobar is pacing the Knights with a .352/.368/.489 slash line. Fellow veteran infielder Ryan Goins is also off to a career year, hitting .333/.400/.597 through his first 22 games. Outfielder Charlie Tilson is healthy and producing admirably, slashing .323/.390/.473. Spring Training NRI 1B Matt Skole has bombed 7 home runs and 6 doubles to go with 17 walks, which gives him an impressive .391 OBP and .639 slugging percentage. Top catching prospect Zack Collins hasn’t been a slouch either, slashing .275/.384/.623 in the hitter-friendly Charlotte Knights ballpark.
Birmingham Barons (AA) 10-16, 5th place SOU South
It’s been a rough start for the Barons offense, as multiple top prospects have been sluggish out of the gate. Luis Gonzalez (.231/.308/.341), Blake Rutherford (.160/.209/.247), Micker Adolfo (.205/.337/.295) and on the DL), and Gavin Sheets (.200/.284/.282) have all collectively had a April to forget. But this is the Hot List, so let’s focus on the positives. Outfielder Joel Booker terrorized Birmingham over his first 20 games, slashing .351/.400/.446 with 8 stolen bases which earned him a promotion to Charlotte. Catcher Alfredo Gonzalez followed Booker to Charlotte thanks to a .345/.429/.448 spurt over 10 games. Fellow catcher Yermin Mercedes has been even hotter than Gonzalez and Booker, hitting an unbelievable .411/.450/.571 over his first 16 contests and has stayed in Birmingham so far. Another boon to the Barons offense is they just received this Luis Robert guy, who I’ll talk about when we get to the Dash.
The Birmingham pitching is a bright spot from the dreary offense, as there are several standouts from the rotation and bullpen. The rotation has been anchored by RHP Jimmy Lambert and LHP Bernardo Flores, whose styles and stats complement each other well. They have been eerily similar in ERA (Flores 2.77 to Lambert 2.93), innings pitched (26.0 to 27.2), and walks allowed (6 to 8). The big difference is Lambert is racking up K’s (33) but also allowing more hits (27), where Flores has been pitching to friendly contact, only striking out 18 batters but allowing a paltry 17 hits. Two very different pitchers, but so far, the same fantastic results.
Fellow starter Felix Paulino, who was acquired from the Philadelphia organization for Luis Avilan last season, has also been very good. The 24 year-old righty has a 3.10 ERA with 26 strikeouts to 11 walks over his first 29 innings of work.
In the bullpen, Hunter Schryver (11 IP, 0.00 ERA), Matt Foster (9.2 IP, 0.00 ERA), Zach Thompson (5.1 IP, 1.69 ERA), and Danny Dopico (11.2 IP, 2.31 ERA) have done a wonderful job. Foster and Thompson have earned promotions to Charlotte, but overall this is a position of strength for the Barons.
Winston-Salem Dash (A+) 15-12, 3rd place CAR South
Welcome to the La Pantera show (sorry LuBob truthers). Cuban sensation Luis Robert was a man among boys in the Carolina League, slashing an otherworldly .453/.512/.920 with 8 home runs, 5 doubles, 3 triples, and 8 stolen bases over 19 games. He led the Carolina League in almost literally everything and was mercifully promoted to the Barons yesterday. Who is left to carry the Dash offense? 2018 1st round pick Nick Madrigal is quietly hitting .282/.367/.388 while playing stellar defense and 2018 2nd round pick Steele Walker took the place of Robert patrolling the Winston-Salem outfield.
Left-hander Kyle Kubat was acquired from the Kansas City Royals organization back in March of 2017 and since then he has been up and down the affiliate ladder with the Sox. Kubat started 2019 with the Dash and overwhelmed Carolina League hitters, posting a sparkling 1.23 ERA over 22 innings while only allowing 11 hits in four starts. The 26 year-old was promoted to Birmingham and was equally impressive there in his first start, tossing 7 shutout innings with 7 K’s and no walks. The Dash have been very cautious with 2017 4th round pick Lincoln Henzman, only throwing 12 innings over four April starts with a 3.75 ERA. Starter Blake Battenfield has been the workhorse of the staff, working 29 innings with an impressive 2.48 ERA and a 21/8 K/BB rate.
The Dash bullpen had a surprise member to start the 2019 season, enigmatic but supremely talented Alec Hansen. Hansen had a miserable 2018 campaign, but he has been dominant in relief for Winston-Salem, posting a 2.53 ERA over 10.2 innings. Hansen has struck out 20 batters and most importantly for him, only walked five (three BB’s in his last outing) and has only allowed one (!) hit. 2017 11th round pick Will Kincanon has been a force in relief as well, striking out 15 batters with a 1.64 ERA over 11 innings.
Kannapolis Intimidators (A) 10-14, 5th place SAL South
The aforementioned Steele Walker was the star of the Kannapolis lineup, slashing .365/.437/.581 over 20 games. Though Walker slugged .581, interestingly he didn’t hit a single home run, instead smacking 10 doubles and 3 triples. The Intimidators are also getting loads of production from their catchers, with Michael Hickman (.313/.389/.531) and Gunnar Troutwine (.286/.434/.429) leading the way. Teenager Bryce Bush‘s overall stats are ugly, but over his last 8 games he is hitting .433/.528/.667.
The Kannapolis pitching staff is led by two star performers from the 2018 draft class, 3rd round pick Konnor Pilkington and 29th round pick Taylor Varnell. Similarly to Flores and Lambert in AA, their numbers have been incredibly alike. Pilkington has posted a 1.98 ERA over 27.1 innings with a 34/8 K/BB rate while only allowing 13 hits. Varnell has a 1.93 ERA over 28 innings with a 33/5 K/BB rate while only conceding 17 hits. The White Sox just awarded Pilkington as their Pitcher of the Month with what I assume as Varnell a close second.
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