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Deep Dive: right-handed starters edition, part 2

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Taking a look into righties in the upper levels of the White Sox system

Don’t Pass Me By: Triple-A standout Spencer Adams is a bit of a forgotten man in the White Sox system.
Laura Wolff (@laurawolffphoto)/Charlotte Knights

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Soxorganization. Each position will be a four-part series:

  1. Depth in the lower levels (Dominican through Kannapolis)
  2. Depth in the higher levels (Winston-Salem through Charlotte)
  3. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  4. Free-agent options at that position, plus sneak peeks into available players in the upcoming 2019 MLB draft.

Many of the top right-handed starting pitcher prospects in the White Sox system finished this season at Winston-Salem or higher. Few teams can match the amount of prospect talent in this category that the White Sox presently have.

Players’ ages are as of April 1, 2019.


Charlotte Knights

Michael Kopech
6´3´´
205 pounds
Age: 22

Kopech, a native of Mount Pleasant, Texas, enjoyed a terrific prep career, culminating with an 0.44 ERA, 18.14 K/9, and .115 OBA in his senior season. With those results and a fastball already reaching 94 mph, Kopech was unsurprisingly ranked among the top prep prospects entering the 2014 MLB draft. When he fell to the 33rd selection, the Boston Red Sox couldn’t resist choosing him and signing him to a $1.5 million bonus in order to pry him from his verbal commitment to the Arizona Wildcats. In his first three years in the Red Sox system, Kopech combined to post a 2.60 ERA and 1.20 WHIP while posting 11.49 K/9, 4.60 BB/9, and .201 OBA over a combined 135 innings. Kopech made headlines in Single-A ball when one of his fastballs was clocked at 105 mph.

However, during his Red Sox tenure, he also made the wrong kind of news. On July 15, 2015, he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for oxilofrine, a banned stimulant that was hidden in many dietary supplements sold over the counter. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse when, in early March 2016, he broke a bone in his pitching hand during an altercation with a teammate. As a result of those two incidents, the most he pitched in the minors in his first three seasons was in 2015, when he pitched just 65 innings.

Perhaps in part due to concerns regarding his maturity, the Red Sox traded him, Yoan Moncada, Luis Basabe, and Victor Diaz to the White Sox on Dec. 6, 2016 for southpaw ace Chris Sale. In 2017 for Birmingham, Kopech maintained a 2.87 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 119 13 innings, allowing just 77 hits (.184 OBA) but 60 walks (4.53 BB/9) while striking out 155 (11.69 K/9). Despite vastly exceeding his combining inning totals from the previous three years, Kopech got better as the season went along; in July and August, Kopech threw 44 13 innings with 26 hits (.166 OBA), 11 walks (2.23 BB/9) and 58 strikeouts (11.77 K/9). As a result, he finished the season with three solid starts in Charlotte.

Struggles, primarily with control, haunted Kopech in 2018 — particularly in May and June. In those two months (totaling 58 13 innings), he allowed 45 hits (.216) while striking out 76 (11.73 K/9); however, he walked a whopping 45 hitters (6.04 BB/9) which gave him an ERA of 5.25 and WHIP of 1.54 for that stretch. However, just like in 2017, Kopech kicked it into overdrive during July and August by ceding just 42 hits and eight walks over 47 innings and fanning 65 — posting a tidy 2.49 ERA and 1.06 WHIP ERA in the process. His control paid dividends, as he finally earned a promotion to Chicago, for his first career start, on August 21. Kopech currently ranks second among White Sox prospects, and 19th overall, according to MLB Pipeline. Unfortunately, after doing well in three mostly rain-abbreviated starts, Kopech tore his UCL and ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery.

According to MLB Pipeline, Kopech grades as 80-fastball, 65-slider, 50-changeup, and 45-control; what MLB Pipeline doesn’t say is that Kopech was actually getting great results from another pitch — a curveball. The key for Kopech, other than of course staying healthy when he returns in 2020, is to maintain his command while providing a nice speed variance between his fastball and offspeed pitches. If his fastball can return to pre-surgery levels while trusting his secondary offerings and maintaining the command he showed from July to September, the White Sox will indeed have a perennial Cy Young contender on their hands.

Jordan Stephens
6´1´´
190 pounds
Age: 26

Stephens, a native of Alvin, Texas, played college ball for the nearby Rice Owls. He was considered by many scouts at the time of his junior season to be a possible third-round pick. However, three starts into that season, Stephens was injured and required Tommy John surgery, missing the remainder of the season. Thus, Stephens returned to Rice for his senior season and pitched surprisingly well: 3.17 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 59 23 innings, allowing just 51 hits and 17 walks (2.56 BB/9) while striking out 75 (11.31 K/9). Due to his competitiveness and the results he posted during his four-year stint with Rice, Stephens was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 MLB draft — ultimately receiving a signing bonus of $300,000.

Stephens’ results had been solid from 2015-17, moving through the White Sox system quite rapidly while striking out more than one batter per inning and maintaining solid peripheral numbers in the process. He missed the first two months of 2017 with forearm tendinitis but still pitched effectively, with a 3.14 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 91 23 innings, allowing 84 hits (.249 OBA) and 35 walks (3.44 BB/9) while striking out 83 (8.15 K/9).

In 2018, after a return to Birmingham for seven blistering starts, Stephens was promoted to Charlotte, where he struggled a bit. For the Knights in 21 starts (107 innings), Stephens posted a 4.71 ERA and 1.46 WHIP — allowing 114 hits (.271 OBA) and 42 walks (3.53 BB/9) while striking out 99 (8.33 K/9). Lefties hit .296 against his offerings at AAA, while righties hit just .242, and a similar differential occurred with Birmingham as well.

Stephens’ top pitch is an excellent, upper-70s curveball with good depth. While his fastball isn’t overpowering, the low-90s velocity is still effective because of the way he hides and locates it. He also has a cutter and changeup, which still need work due to his lack of results against lefties.

Because of issues Stephens has had staying healthy both in the college and professional levels, and due to his relatively small size and bulldog mentality, a switch to the bullpen may eventually be in order. At this moment, unless the White Sox acquire additional starters via trade or free agency, Stephens will be competing against the likes of Dylan Covey, Manny Banuelos, Spencer Adams and Jordan Guerrero in spring training for back-end spots in the rotation. The fact that the White Sox chose to add him to the 40-man roster this month, over the likes of both Adams and Guerrero, indicates he has the inside track on a rotation spot in 2019.

Spencer Adams
6´3´´
171 pounds
Age: 22

Adams, a native of Cleveland, Ga., was the 15th-ranked prep prospect eligible for the 2014 MLB draft according to PerfectGame. It didn’t hurt that he posted a 0.72 ERA, .129 OBA, 13.89 K/9 for White County H.S. while possessing a 92-96 mph fastball, hard slider, and improving changeup. When he fell to the White Sox in the second round as the 44th overall pick, the White Sox happily selected him, in large part due to his high upside. Adams bypassed his verbal commitment with Georgia to sign for a nearly $1.3 million bonus. He pitched for the AZL Sox that year and posted an incredible 14.75 K/BB ratio with the AZL Sox.

From 2015-17, Adams moved up the system from Kannapolis to Birmingham, consistently allowing a .275-.281 OBA with few strikeouts, but limiting damage due to his exceptional control. Adams returned to Birmingham to begin 2018, but surprisingly struggled with a 4.59 ERA and 1.46 WHIP over 68 23 innings — allowing 80 hits (.290 OBA) and 20 walks (2.62 BB/9) while striking out 53 hitters (6.95 K/9). After finally kicking it in gear in late May and early June, ceding just one run in his last 13 innings, Adams finally earned a long-awaited promotion to Charlotte.

Adams had a strange season for the Knights. In 15 starts totaling 90 13 innings against AAA competition, he actually posted a credible 3.19 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. What’s particularly interesting is that he limited International League hitters to just 82 hits (a career-best .248 OBA) but walked 38 hitters (a career-worst 3.79 BB/9) compared to just 42 strikeouts (a career-worst 4.18 K.9). He also allowed more fly balls than grounders, usually a recipe for disaster for a control pitcher.

With more innings under his belt, Adams’ four-seam fastball peaks around 94 mph, while his two-seamer runs 88-92; he still features a slider, which is more set-up than put-away pitch. His changeup simply hasn’t improved as originally hoped — against lefties this year, he posted a .297 OBA and 1.73 WHIP; versus righties, he posted a .238 OBA and 1.07 WHIP.

Adams is still quite young, and hope remains that he can be something more than a long reliever. However, his inability to miss bats is a concern. His two biggest issues are putting hitters away and limiting damage against lefties. Adams ranks 26th among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline, but that ranking has fallen due to such concerns. In the unlikely scenario that they White Sox don’t add to its rotation via trade or free agency, Adams will compete for a back-end role in the rotation with Covey, Banuelos, Stephens and Guerrero. Adams is eligible to be selected by another team in this year’s Rule 5 Draft, as he’s not currently on the 40-man roster.

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Birmingham Barons

Dylan Cease
6´2´´
190 pounds
Age: 23

Cease, a native of Milton, Ga., was ranked 30th best prep prospect in the 2014 MLB draft according to PerfectGame, prior to hurting his elbow in March of that year. The Chicago Cubs, in need of pitching prospects and noting that he had one of the best fastball/curveball combinations available, still paid him $1.5 million in the sixth round despite knowing that he’d need Tommy John surgery. Cease was worked in slowly with the Cubs organization, pitching just 68 23 innings over his first two seasons. In 2017, Cease’s first year in full-season leagues, he did quite well despite being held to strict pitch counts for South Bend: 2.79 ERA, 1.26 WHIP in 51 23 innings (13 starts) 39 hits (.214 OBA) and 26 walks (4.53 BB/9) while striking out 74 (12.89 K/9). Despite his relatively low number of innings, Cease was listed among Top 100 prospects by outfits like Baseball America and MLB Pipeline.

Cease was traded along with Eloy Jimenez, Matt Rose and Bryant Fete on July 13 to the White Sox for southpaw Jose Quintana. Cease did his best Quintana impersonation, posting a record of 0-8 in nine starts despite posting a respectable 3.89 ERA and 1.27 WHIP for Kannapolis over 41 23 innings. In those innings, he allowed 35 hits (.229 OBA) and 18 walks (3.89 BB/9) while fanning 52 hitters (11.23 K/9). Most importantly, Cease got through the season injury-free.

Cease began 2018 with Winston-Salem and was terrific in 13 starts, totaling 71 23 innings, posting a 2.89 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. He allowed just 52 hits (.204 OBA) and 28 walks (3.52 BB/9) while striking out 82 batters (10.30 K/9) for the Dash through June 21, when he was promoted to Birmingham. With the Barons, he actually exceeded his terrific Kanny numbers in posting a spectacular 1.72 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 10 starts covering 52 13 innings. In those innings, he relinquished just 30 hits (.168 OBA) and 22 walks (3.78 BB/9) while striking out 72 (13.41 K/9) Southern League hitters. While he was allowed to pitcher far deeper into games than he had in his first three professional seasons, Cease didn’t seem to show any fatigue; in fact, over his last nine starts, he posted a sensational 0.94 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 13.41 K/9. As was often the case this year, Cease was throwing as hard, if not harder, at the end of the game than he was at the beginning. For someone with an injury history, this was an extremely positive sign.

According to MLB Pipeline, Cease’s fastball grades 70, peaking at 98-100 mph while also featuring some sinking and running action. He also has a grade-65 hard curveball that, at its best, has been compared to Dwight Gooden’s. This third pitch, a changeup, is considered merely average, although one really can’t tell from his performance this year; lefties in the Carolina and Southern Leagues actually had a lower batting average against Cease than righties.

Cease’s biggest issue, like most young power pitchers, is throwing strikes. His walk rate was a bit higher than he’d like, which means that he often allowed hitters to go deep into counts. Thus, he often reaches the 100-pitch mark by the fifth or sixth inning. He currently ranks fourth among White Sox prospects, and 25th overall, on MLB Pipeline. While it’s possible that Cease could return to Birmingham for a few starts, it’s likelier that he’ll begin the 2019 season with Charlotte, with perhaps a promotion to the majors late in the year.

Dunning saw his spectacular rise through the White Sox system slowed by injury in 2018, but he appears set to shoot for Chicago in 2019.
Kim Contreras (@Cu_As)/South Side Sox

Dane Dunning
6´4´´
200 pounds
Age: 24

Dunning had a successful three-year run with the Florida Gators, beginning as a reliever in his freshman season, transitioning to starter, and finally switching to a swing-man role for his junior season. Why a swingman, instead of an ace? It may have had something to do with the fact that A.J. Puk, Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Alex Faedo (all eventual first-round picks) were in the Gators rotation as well.

Dunning did, however, post his best collegiate marks in his junior season, with a 2.29 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 77 23 innings. In his 33 outings (five starts), he allowed just 68 hits (.235 OBA) and 12 walks (1.39 BB/9) while striking out 88 (10.20 K/9). Due to those results and obvious potential, the Washington Nationals selected him in the first round (29th overall) of the 2016 MLB Draft.

Dunning pitched well for the Nationals short-season affiliates in 35 23 innings over eight starts, posting a combined 2.02 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 32 strikeouts (8.07 K/9) while relinquishing just 26 hits (.198 OBA) and seven walks (1.77 BB/9). Following the season, on December 7, he was traded to the White Sox, along with Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, for Adam Eaton.

To say Dunning dominated Kannapolis in his four starts there in 2017 was like saying the earth is round. In 24 13 innings for the Intimidators, he posted a microscopic 0.35 ERA, 0.58 WHIP, and 33 strikeouts (11.42 K/9) in 26 innings while allowing just 13 hits (.143 OBA) and two walks (0.69 BB/9). His results with Winston-Salem, while not quite as fantastic, were still top-notch. In 22 starts for the Dash totaling 118 innings, he posted a 3.51 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 135 strikeouts (10.30 K/9) while ceding just 114 hits (.250 OBA) and 36 walks (2.75 BB/9).

He started 2018 with Winston-Salem in four starts, before earning an early promotion to Birmingham. In 15 starts covering 86 13 innings for both squads, he posted a nifty 2.71 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. In those innings, he allowed just 77 hits (.235 OBA) and 26 walks (2.71 BB/9) while fanning 100 hitters (10.42 K/9). Unfortunately, Dunning suffered a mild elbow strain in late June and missed the remainder of the year. Fortunately, no surgery was needed and got a clean bill of health while working out in Arizona this fall.

Dunning currently ranks sixth among White Sox prospects (59th overall) according to MLB Pipeline. As evidenced by his low walk numbers throughout college and the minors, he’s got exceptional control, and with the relatively low number of hits allowed for a control pitcher, Dunning has exceptional command as well. His fastball peaks at 95-96 mph, but is extremely effective due to its heavy sinking action. He also features an above-average slider, which grades slightly higher than his improving change. Lefties batted .256 against his offerings this year, while righties hit just .221 against him. There’s a possibility Dunning begins this season with Charlotte; however, he may begin the season with Birmingham, and follow the pattern of his career by winning an early promotion if things go as well as expected.

Jimmy Lambert
6´2´´
170 pounds
Age: 24

Lambert, brother of top Colorado Rockies prospect Peter Lambert, improved in each of this three years with the Fresno State Bulldogs. In 15 starts in his junior season totaling 97 23 innings, he posted a 3.13 ERA, 1.20 WHIP. In those innings, he allowed 98 hits (.280 OBA) and 19 free passes (1.75 BB/9) while striking out 78 (7.19 K/9). With his control and solid four-pitch repertoire, the White Sox drafted him in the fifth round in 2016, signing him to a $325,000 bonus.

Lambert struggled with the AZL Sox and Kannapolis in 2016, perhaps because he was battling some fatigue. That year in 37 23 innings, he posted a high 5.26 ERA and 1.51 WHIP; he relinquished 44 hits (.288 OBA) and 13 walks (3.11 BB/9) but stuck out 43 batters (10.27 K/9). In 2017, returning to Kannapolis, Lambert excelled with a 2.19 ERA and 1.19 WHIP; however, he struggled at Winston-Salem, with a 5.45 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. Combined with both teams last year in 150 innings, Lambert posted a 3.84 ERA and 1.35 WHIP — allowing 163 hits (.282 OBA) and 40 walks (2.40 BB/9) while striking out just 102 (6.12 K/9) overall.

In 2018, Lambert put it all together, and was much tougher to hit. In 18 starts with Winston-Salem and Birmingham covering 95 23 innings, Lambert posted a 3.67 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in allowing 77 hits (.222 OBA), walking 27 (2.54 BB/9), and striking out 110 (10.35 K/9). Unfortunately, Lambert’s last game was in late July, as he suffered a strained left oblique. It’s possible he could’ve returned in late August, but the Sox opted not to take any chances.

Lambert’s velocity improved this year, as he transitioned from a two-seamer to a four-seamer that peaks at 96 mph. Lambert also also throws an above-average slider and curveball. His changeup is consistent; he held lefties well at Winston-Salem but he had a .321 OBA against them in a short sample size in Birmingham. Lambert currently ranks 21st among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline, and is expected to return to Birmingham next year, since he only had five starts for the Barons in 2018.

A.J. Puckett
6´4´´
200 pounds
Age: 23

Puckett is an interesting story. He was a promising two-sport athlete in high school before a car accident left him in a medically-induced coma for two weeks to slow his blood loss. After that accident, he made a a full recovery and went to Pepperdine, where he was the West Coast Conference pitcher of the year in 2016 after fashioning the third-longest (45 23 -inning) scoreless streak in NCAA Division I history. All Puckett did in his junior season was pitch 99 innings over 14 starts, posting an incredible 1.27 ERA and 0.92 WHIP; he allowed just 65 hits and 26 walks (2.36 BB/9) while fanning 95 batters (8.61 K/9). As a result of his efforts, the Kansas City Royals selected him in the second round of the 2016 MLB draft, signing him to a $1.2 million bonus.

For the AZL Royals and Lexington (Royals A-affiliate) immediately after the draft, Puckett held his own in 13 starts, with a combined 3.68 ERA and 1.11 WHIP and respectable .231 OBA and 2.30 BB/9, but his strikeouts were down at 6.90 K/9. For the Royals A+ team (Wilmington) in 2017, he was posting a 3.90 ERA and 1.41 WHIP through July 30 when he was traded to the White Sox for outfielder Melky Cabrera, in the Royals’ ill-fated run at the playoffs. Puckett struggled a bit at hitter-friendly Winston-Salem in his five starts, as he posted a 4.28 ERA and 1.46 WHIP over 27 13 innings. In those innings, Puckett surrendered 35 hits (.327 OBA) and five walks (1.65 BB/9) while striking out 21 (6.91 K/9).

Puckett actually began this season as the 23rd-ranked prospect in the White Sox system according to MLB Pipeline, and was slated to begin with Birmingham. However, due to an ailing elbow, he missed the entire season (just like Andre Davis, the other player acquired in the Cabrera deal).

Puckett, like fellow prospect Adams, is more about pitchability than power. His best assets are his tumbling changeup, a legitimate plus pitch, and his advanced command. His fastball usually ranges from 90-94 mph with some run and sink, and his curveball can be an average third offering at times, but lacks consistency. As of now, expect Puckett to be a part of Birmingham’s rotation next year; however, since little information has been made available regarding his injury, it’s unknown if he’ll actually begin the season in April.


Winston-Salem Dash

Alec Hansen
6´7´´
235 pounds
Age: 24

Hansen, a native of Loveland, Colo., had quite an interesting three years with the Oklahoma Sooners. As a reliever, he actually walked more than a batter per inning. His sophomore season was far better, posting a 3.95 ERA and 1.45 WHIP with 44 walks (4.83 BB/9) and 94 strikeouts (10.32 K/9) in his first year in the rotation; there were many scouts who thought he could be the first pick in the 2016 MLB draft if he could limit his walks further due to the amazing stuff he possessed. However, this wasn’t meant to be, as he suffered a 5.40 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in his junior season, allowing 39 walks (6.79 BB/9) in 51 23 innings while striking out 75 hitters (13.06 K/9); as a result, he was banished to the bullpen late in the season. However, the White Sox saw an opportunity to buy low, and selected him in the second round that year, signing him to a $1.2 million bonus.

Hansen pitched for three teams in 2016 (AZL, Great Falls, and Kannapolis) but spent the majority of his time with the Voyagers. What he did in the high altitude of the Pioneer League that year was incredible. In seven starts for Great Falls totaling 36 23 innings, he posted a tiny 1.23 ERA and 0.65 WHIP, allowing just 12 hits (.102 OBA) and 12 walks (2.95 BB/9) while striking out 59 (14.48 K/9). In 2017, Hansen again pitched for three teams (Kannapolis, Winston-Salem and Birmingham), throwing 141 13 innings over 26 starts, and combined to post a rock-solid 2.80 ERA and 1.17 WHIP; he allowed just 114 hits (.216 OBA) and 51 walks (3.25 BB/9) while striking out a minor league-high 191 (12.16 K/9).

Hansen moved into sixth among White Sox prospects (59th overall) according to MLB Pipeline to begin 2018. After a successful two-year run in the Sox organization, what could go wrong? Well, everything.

Hansen suffered a forearm injury during spring training, which shut him down until June 16. When he returned to Birmingham, his mechanics were out of whack and his control (and numbers) suffered badly as a result. He still missed bats, as he fanned 35 hitters (8.83 K/9) and allowed just 30 hits (.238 OBA) in 35 23 innings spanning nine starts; unfortunately, he also walked 42 hitters (10.60 BB/9), which shot his ERA and WHIP up to 6.56 and 2.02, respectively. As a result, Hansen was demoted to Winston-Salem, where his results weren’t much better over five starts (5.74 ERA, 1.98 WHIP, .250 OBA, 9.77 BB/9, 11.49 K/9). By the end of the year, Hansen dropped to 10th on the MLB Pipeline White Sox prospect list.

With someone as large as Hansen, mechanics will always be a concern. He has a 96-99 mph fastball with a significant downhill plane and running action, 12-6 curveball, power slider, and improving changeup that was actually more effective in AA ball than it was for Winston-Salem. Hansen is a classic high-ceiling, low-floor pitcher thanks to his command. When throwing strikes like he did in 2016 and 2017 in the White Sox organization, he’s basically unhittable. If not throwing strikes, he really wouldn’t be suitable for even a bullpen role — certainly not when he’s walking more than a hitter per inning.

Hansen is taking time off this offseason to help improve his mental focus and avoid any damage to his elbow. This year will be absolutely huge for him — if he returns to form, he could find himself pitching in Charlotte by the end of the year. But for now, Hansen likely will begin next season with Winston-Salem.

Lincoln Henzman
6´2´´
205 pounds
Age: 23

With the exception of two starts in his freshman season, Henzman was exclusively a reliever for the Louisville Cardinals. His best season was as a junior, when he pitched in 27 games (saving 16) totaling 37 23 innings with a terrific 1.67 ERA and 0.85 WHIP — allowing just 22 hits (.169 OBA) and 10 walks (2.39 BB/9), striking out 37 (8.84 K/9). With those results, the White Sox drafted Henzman in the fourth round of last year’s MLB draft, with the intention of converting him into a starter. After receiving a signing bonus of $450,000, Henzman pitched for the AZL Sox and Great Falls. In 11 combined outings (seven starts), he maintained a respectable 3.86 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 28 innings, allowing 27 hits (.262 OBA) and nine walks (2.89 BB/9) while striking out 17 (5.46 K/9).

Henzman went deeper into games in 2018 for Kannapolis, starting 13 and pitching 72 23 innings, with better-than-expected results. For the Intimidators, Henzman posted a 2.23 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, and allowed just 68 hits (.241 OBA) and eight walks (0.99 BB/9) while striking out 60 hitters (7.43 K/9). He was promoted to Winston-Salem on June 21, but was held to pitch counts as Henzman had already far exceeded his career high in innings. In 14 outings totaling 34 23 innings for the Dash, he posted a 2.60 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, ceding 34 hits (.256 OBA) and 10 walks (2.60 BB/9) while striking out 20 (5.19 K/9). It appears the White Sox made the right move in moving him to the rotation, as his walk and strikeout rates were far better when he was pitching more innings per game.

Henzman features a heavy sinking fastball that runs anywhere from 90-95 mph, and has produced an incredible 2.05 GO/AO rate in his first two seasons in the Sox organization. He throws an upper-80s cutter, while also throwing an above-average changeup which limited lefties to a .245 OBA, bettering his .249 OBA against righties. While Henzman has good stuff, he’s more about command and control, and is now ranked 30th among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline. Expect Henzman to return to Winston-Salem to begin next year, with an opportunity for promotion to Birmingham later in the year.

Blake Battenfield
6´3´´
220 pounds
Age: 24

Battenfield, a resident of Tulsa, remained in his native state to play collegiately with the Oklahoma State Cowboys. His first three years were primarily spent in the bullpen, where he crafted for a respectable 2.60 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 97 innings. During that time, he allowed 86 hits while posting a mediocre K/BB ratio (1.47), with 45 walks and 66 strikeouts. He split time evenly with the Cowboys as a senior (2017) between the rotation and bullpen, posting middling results: 4.91 ERA and 1.49 WHIP over 69 2⁄3 innings, while walking 31 and striking out 58. These results obviously weren’t spectacular, which explains why Battenfield slipped all the way to the 17th round of the 2017 MLB draft.

Battenfield served exclusively out of the bullpen last year for Great Falls, where he posted mediocre ERA (4.88) and WHIP numbers over 31 1⁄3 innings in the high altitude, but some of his peripherals stood out. Opposing hitters batted .271 against his offerings, but he punched out 40 hitters (28.6 K%) while walking only eight (5.7 BB%). Partly based on those numbers, the Sox decided to convert him to a starter for 2018.

Battenfield pitched outstandingly for Kannapolis this year in his 13 starts: 2.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 52 hits (.210 OBA), 16 walks (6.0 BB%), and 69 strikeouts (25.8 K%) over 67 2⁄3 innings, earning a promotion to Winston-Salem on June 21. As expected, Battenfield’s numbers declined a bit in nine starts (53 1⁄3 innings) for the Dash, but were still respectable: 4.22 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 50 hits (.248 OBA), 13 walks (6.0 BB%), and 46 strikeouts (21.1%). He was placed on the DL on August 15 due to an undisclosed injury, which to my knowledge, isn’t too severe. Battenfield pitched 121 innings this year, far more than he’s ever thrown; as a result, he may simply be going through some arm fatigue and the White Sox are merely (and hopefully) being cautious.

Battenfield has an impressive repertoire that includes a natural sinking fastball, a rising four-seamer, an effective slider, a big-breaking curveball with good spin and depth, and a changeup that has improved dramatically since his college days. He doesn’t appear to throw especially hard. I haven’t seen any projections, but we’re probably looking at the low 90s, as he was in the mid-80s as a varsity athlete according to Perfect Game and has gotten stronger since then. But the righthander’s movement and speed variations help his fastball play up. His changeup has yet to be mastered, as Carolina League lefties have batted .299 against him compared to .200 versus righties. Success with the changeup may dictate how Battenfield will progress going forward.

Battenfield should return to Winston-Salem for 2018, and if he continues to be successful, a promotion to Birmingham would be likely sometime around June.

Luis Martinez
6´6´´
190 pounds
Age: 24

Martinez, a native of Venezuela, signed a minor league contract as a 16-year-old on Dec. 16, 2011. He didn’t begin playing for the Sox organization until 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. He posted a combined a 2.93 ERA and 1.39 WHIP for the AZL Sox and Great Falls in 2014, and struggled badly the following year with Kannapolis.

Martinez rebounded in 2016, with a 3.81 ERA and 1.29 WHIP for the Intimidators, vastly improving his walk and strikeout rates. In 2017, Martinez struggled badly in five outings with Winston-Salem, posting a 9.00 ERA and 2.19 WHIP over 16 innings as he allowed 25 hits (.362 OBA) and 10 walks (5.63 BB/9) and striking out just eight (4.50 K/9). After being demoted to Kannapolis, Martinez fared quite well, with a 3.19 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 79 innings, relinquishing 69 hits (.232 OBA) and 24 walks (2.73 BB/9) while striking out 85 (9.68 K/9).

This year, exclusively with Winston-Salem, Martinez posted a 4.47 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in a career high-tying 137 innings. In those frames, he allowed 137 hits (.259 OBA) and 59 walks (3.88 BB/9) while fanning 113 hitters (7.42 K/9). As a tall hurler like Hansen, Martinez’s mechanics have a tendency to get out of whack, which has caused his walk rates to be a bit inflated. His fastball peaks at 95 mph, and he also features a slightly-above average slider and improving changeup, limiting the damage done by left-handed hitters.

Martinez hasn’t really made significant improvements in his career; thus, he still finds himself toiling in A-ball. I expect him to return to Winston-Salem to begin the season, and if he gets good results, he should be promoted to Birmingham at some point. However, if he posts middling numbers like he’s done during his White Sox career, he may be transitioned to the bullpen, where his fastball could gain a couple ticks. Like Adams, Martinez is eligible for selection in this year’s Rule 5 Draft.

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Summary

Eight of these 11 right-handed starters are ranked among the top 30 White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline. Most have terrific stuff, while some profile more as control-and-command guys. It’s a terrific mix that most teams would envy. Of course, despite this plethora of talent, not all will make it to the White Sox. Some will simply struggle with injuries or inconsistencies and miss out on making the majors entirely; others may be traded to other organizations when the team believes its competitive window has opened. Others like Kopech, Cease, Dunning and perhaps Hansen may have long futures in the White Sox rotation. Only time will tell, but it will be exciting to see how everything plays out.