This unit is the team's strength, at least for the first half of 2017. Alec Hansen’s 2016 collegiate season was a disappointment, but he turned heads when joining the White Sox ranks. Many fans couldn't point on a map where Great Falls, Montana is, but with every Hansen start late last season that's where their attention was and for a good reason. In just seven starts, Hansen recorded 59 strikeouts to just 12 walks over 36.2 IP. His ERA (1.23) and WHIP (0.65) were at microscopic levels, and he eventually joined Kannapolis for their playoff run.
While it seemed that Hansen had figured out his control issues last year, his first start is hopefully a hiccup. On Opening Day, Hansen had a poor showing: 3.2 IP 4 H 5 R 3 ER 5 BB 3 K. While it is A ball and defense can get quite sloppy in this level, Hansen must focus on reducing walks. If he can bounce back and return to how he performed last year, Hansen should be in Winston-Salem for the second half. If not, he'll be in Kannapolis all season.
Often the forgotten player in return for Adam Eaton, Dane Dunning is someone that fans should pay attention. Overshadowed by an outstanding collegiate staff at the University of Florida (A.J. Puk, Logan Shore, Alex Faedo), Dunning mostly was used as a reliever. Drafted 29th overall in the 2016 draft, the White Sox were very interested in selecting Dunning with the 26th pick.
"[Zack] Burdi and Dunning were back to back on our board. We were very high on Dunning. I loved the makeup, stuff, and upside to him. He has a very good chance to be special," said Nick Hosteler, the Chicago White Sox Director of Amateur Scouting.
In his first start of 2017, Dunning was very impressive: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K. If he continues pitching like that, he'll join at the hip of Alec Hansen and will be promoted to Winston-Salem during the second half.
From Fangraphs, Eric Longenhagen believes Bernardo Flores is one of the more exciting White Sox prospects to watch this season. The southpaw tallied more start last season than his entire collegiate career at USC. In 59 innings at Great Falls in 2016, Flores had a 3.66 ERA and struck out 45 batters to just 12 walks.
Here is Longenhagen's scouting report on Flores:
"He has a good pitcher’s build, pitches with downhill plane, and has feel for a shapely, average curveball and changeup, in addition to the cutter. The changeup was flashing plus in pro ball with great velocity separation from the fastball and arm-side fade. Flores mimics his fastball’s arm speed, as well."
In his first start of 2017, Flores only last four innings allowing three runs on five hits. He did strike out six while walking just one.
Victor Diaz was the fourth player in return from Boston for Chris Sale. He is a lottery ticket acquisition. Possessing an electric arm that can touch 100 mph on his fastball. He did well last year with a full year at A ball striking out 63 in 60.1 IP. However, he did allow 65 hits over that span. Early reports are that Diaz needs to work on his slider once off the seven-day disabled list. If he could get that breaking pitch to be above average, the Sox will have another exciting arm available for their bullpen.
Shortstop Mitch Roman was a 12th round selection in the 2016 draft from Wright State. He performed well in his first year at Great Falls hitting .332/.392/.428 with 26 stolen bases. He doesn't have much pop in his bat but can make up the difference with his above average speed to next extra base hits.
Catcher Seby Zavala is repeating A level. Last year, Zavala hit .253/.330/.381 with 7 HR and 49 RBI. He could get the call up to Winston-Salem sometime this year after Zack Collins gets promoted.
Jameson Fisher is the most interesting positional player the Intimidators have (at least for the first half). He was outstanding in Great Falls with the bat last year hitting .342/.436/.487. Not many questions his ability long-term to be a productive offensive player, the issue is where does he play on the field? After working with Aaron Rowand last season, the Sox are hopeful that Fisher can become an outfielder. If that doesn't work, there is always first base.
Micker Adolfo recovered from a broken fibula in 2015 to join the Intimidators last season at the age of 19. Just 15 games into the season, Adolfo suffered a hamate bone injury that limited him just 65 games in 2016. When he did play, the numbers were not that impressive hitting .219/.269/.340 while striking out 33.2% of the time. Age is on his side, as the average ballplayer in A level last year was 21.5 years old. Hopefully, he can stay healthy in 2017 to allow him more playing time and give Sox fans another player to dream about.