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Deep Dive: left-handed starting pitcher edition, part 2

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

Role Reversal: John Parke continues a recent trend of the White Sox turning college relievers into minor league starters.
Tiffany Wintz (@TiffW96)/South Side Sox

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. 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.

The players’ ages listed below are as of April 1, 2019.


Charlotte Knights

Manny Banuelos
5´10´´
215 pounds
Age: 28

Manny Bañuelos, a native of Durango, Mexico, signed a minor league contract with the New York Yankees on March 30, 2008, and didn’t take long to move up the Yankees prospect charts. Thanks to a fastball that peaked around 98 mph and his success in every level of the Yankee system, Bañuelos finished 2011 with AAA Trenton and was ranked by MLB Pipeline as baseball’s 13th best prospect to begin 2012.

Unfortunately for Banuelos, he was shut down on May 21, and subsequently missed all of the 2013 season as well. He was held to low inning counts in the Yankees system in 2014, as he pitched just 76 23 innings in 26 appearances (25 starts). In those outings, he combined to post a 4.11 ERA and 1.24 WHIP while allowing 64 hits (.223 OBA) and 31 walks (9.5%) compared to 71 whiffs (21.8%).

The Braves acquired Bañuelos via trade on Jan. 1, 2015 for pitchers Chasen Shreve and David Carpenter. Bañuelos pitched well for the Braves AAA team in Gwinnett, posting a 2.23 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .215 OBA, 11.4 BB%, and 19.7 K%. When Bañuelos earned his first, and still only, major league promotion, he faltered, posting a 5.13 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. In 26 13 innings for the Braves, he allowed 30 hits (.283 OBA), 12 walks (9.9%) and 19 strikeouts (15.7%).

In between bouts on the DL, Bañuelos struggled in the Braves system — ultimately being released. The Los Angeles Angels claimed him in 2017, where he struggled in his season with Salt Lake City. After the Angels waived him, he made one appearance in the Mexican Pacific Winter League before the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him last November.

In his one year in the Dodgers system, Bañuelos did quite well. In the hitter-friendly parks of the Pacific Coast League, he posted a 3.73 ERA and 1.39 WHIP over 108 23 innings for Oklahoma City; in those innings, he relinquished 109 hits (.261 OBA) and just 42 walks (8.9%) while fanning 127 hitters (27.0%).

Bañuelos’ fastball peaks around 91-92 mph instead of the 97-98 from several years ago. However, he also features an above-average changeup, curveball, and slider/cutter. He has no options remaining, which means the White Sox must place him on the active roster or risk losing him via waivers. If he makes the big squad, he could play the southpaw swingman role that Hector Santiago filled last year; also, since it’s unlikely the Sox would carry four lefties in the bullpen, his addition could mean a demotion for either Aaron Bummer or Caleb Frare.

Jordan Guerrero
6´3´´
195 pounds
Age: 24

Guerrero, a native of Oxnard, Calif., was drafted in the 15th round by the White Sox as a lanky, 165-pound southpaw from Moorpark High School. His first two years were spent with Bristol, where he combined for a 3.93 ERA and 1.46 WHIP by allowing 41 hits (.301 OBA) and nine walks (6.2 BB%), while striking out 21 (14.5 K%) Appalachian League hitters over just 34 innings of work.

The spotlight started shining on Guerrero after a stellar 2014 with Kannapolis, in which he pitched in 27 games (nine starts) encompassing 78 innings. He enjoyed a 3.46 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, allowing 81 hits (.266 OBA) and 27 walks (8.0 BB%) while striking out 80 (23.8 K%).

He began the 2015 season as the No. 28 White Sox prospect according to MLB Pipeline, ascending to No. 9 in midseason rankings during a successful campaign with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, where Guerrero combined for 3.08 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 149 innings while allowing just 124 hits (.230 OBA) and 31 walks (5.3 BB%) and striking out 148 (25.1 K%).

Although Guerrero began the 2016 season as the White Sox’s No. 6 prospect, the wheels started falling off that year with Birmingham. Normally the possessor of terrific control, Guerrero walked more hitters (73) in 136 innings than he did in his previous three years (252 1⁄3 innings) combined. His walk rate increased to 12.2%, his punchout rate decreased to 18.1%, and his OBA increased to .260. As a result, his ERA and WHIP rose drastically, to 4.83 and 1.51.

Due to a combination of his 2016 slump and the acquisition of several elite prospects, Guerrero dropped to No. 21 in the organization’s MLB Pipeline rankings. He returned to Birmingham in 2017 with numbers that basically split his 2015 and 2016 results. Guerrero pitched his way to a 4.18 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 146 1⁄3 innings while allowing 150 hits (.270 OBA) and 43 walks (7.0 BB%), striking out 136 (22.1 K%). Despite the improvements, Guerrero fell off many prospect lists (including MLB Pipeline) and was left unprotected from last year’s Rule 5 draft, to the disgruntlement of Guerrero and many White Sox fans. However, he went unclaimed.

The White Sox surprised many by leaving Guerrero, Spencer Adams, and Jordan Stephens in Birmingham to begin 2018. While Stephens excelled to start the year and was promoted relatively quickly, Adams and Guerrero both struggled out of the gate. Prior to his promotion on June 29, Guerrero suffered through a rather unsightly season, with a 6.06 ERA and 1.58 ERA over 65 1⁄3 innings, allowing 84 hits (.315 OBA) and 19 walks (6.5 BB%) while striking out 58 (19.8 K%) Southern League hitters. A light switch seemed to turn on for Guerrero upon his promotion to Charlotte, as he pitched quite effectively despite working in a much more hitter-friendly ballpark. In 65 innings for the Knights, Guerrero’s ERA and WHIP fell to 3.46 and 1.42 by allowing just 64 hits (.251 OBA) and 28 walks (9.8 BB%) and inducing opponents to whiff 62 times (21.8 K%).

Guerrero, who is 24 and now hits the mound at 195 pounds, has a fastball that can run up to 94 mph according to FanGraphs, but typically clocks in the lower 90s. His changeup is considered by most scouts to be his best pitch — some sites, like FanGraphs, grade it a 60. Guerrero gets in trouble sometimes by living exclusively with the change, which typically works best as a secondary pitch if there’s a big enough disparity between it and the fastball. A third pitch for Guerrero is a curveball, which is average at best, but has hittable slurvy action at its worst. Guerrero’s fourth pitch is a slider, which he’s deployed much more during the past couple of years. Over the course of his career, righties have only hit Guerrero slightly better than lefties; however, while his change works well against righties, Guerrero doesn’t have a consistent out pitch against lefties, as his slider and curve are still works in progress.

Barring any free agent signings or trades, Guerrero could be in the mix for one of the final two spots in next year’s White Sox starting rotation (along with Bañuelos, Dylan Covey, Stephens and Adams). With that said, Guerrero is likelier to begin next season in Charlotte’s starting rotation. Guerrero is again eligible to be selected in this year’s Rule 5 draft.

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Birmingham Barons

Kodi Medeiros
6´2´´
180 pounds
Age: 22

When Medeiros finished his senior season with Waiakea H.S. (Hilo, Hawaii) with a 1.12 ERA, .178 OBA, and 16.7 K/9, PerfectGame ranked him as the sixth best prep prospect available in the 2014 MLB draft. Thus, it was no surprise when the Milwaukee Brewers selected him with their first round pick (12th overall). After receiving a $2.5 million signing bonus, Medeiros struggled with the AZL Brewers to the tune of a 7.13 ERA and 2.09 WHIP.

The following year, Medeiros bounced back somewhat with the Brewers’ A-affiliate Wisconsin, where he posted a 4.44 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 93 13 innings, allowing 79 hits (.228 OBA) and 40 walks (10.0%) and striking out 94 (23.5%). However, he slid back in 2016 and 2017 for the Brewers’ A+ affiliates in Brevard County and Carolina, where in a combined 213 13 innings, Medeiros posted a 5.36 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, .266 OBA, 11.9 BB%, and 19.9 K%.

In 20 outings (15 starts) for AA Biloxi in 2018, Medeiros was enjoying his best minor league season to date — a 3.14 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over 103 13 innings, allowing just 90 hits (.234 OBA) and 45 walks (10.1%) while striking out 107 (24.0%). On July 26, Medeiros was traded along with right-handed pitcher Wilber Perez to the White Sox for closer Joakim Soria. After the trade, Medeiros struggled a bit in seven starts totaling 34 13 innings, posting a 4.98 ERA and 1.54 WHIP while allowing 31 hits (.250 OBA), 22 walks (14.5%) and 34 strikeouts (22.4%).

Medeiros currently ranks 19th among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline. His fastball maxes out at 95-96 mph, with tailing action. He’s also got a plus slider which has a significant lateral break, and a solid changeup with good sink and fading action. However, he may have a more successful career as a closer for two reasons:

  1. He’s got a unique arm slot which makes it difficult for lefties to pick up: Lefties hit just .160 against him this year compared to .261 versus righties
  2. His control has been totally underwhelming: His career walk percentage in his four years of professional baseball is 11.4.

With that said, expect Medeiros to return to the Birmingham rotation to begin 2019.

Bernardo Flores
6’3´´
170 pounds
Age: 23

Flores spent his first season with USC as a reliever, but he was the Trojans swingman during his sophomore and junior seasons. After a respectable sophomore season, he struggled mightily in his junior year by posting a 6.70 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 41 23 innings, allowing 50 hits and 16 walks while striking out 36. Despite the results, the White Sox did their due diligence and drafted him in the seventh round in 2016, signing him to a $200,000 bonus.

Flores finished 2016 with the AZL Sox and Great Falls, where he combined to post a nifty 3.46 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 65 innings, allowing 67 hits (.270 OBA) and just 12 walks (4.5%) while fanning 52 hitters (19.6%). In 2017, Flores pitched a combined 118 13 innings for both Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, allowing just 116 hits (.257 OBA) and 32 walks (6.5%) while striking out 103 hitters (20.8%).

In 2018 with Winston-Salem and Birmingham, Flores combined to produce a 2.65 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over a career high 156 innings, ceding 154 hits (.261 OBA) and 31 walks (4.9%) while striking out 105 (16.5%).

Flores has been the model of consistency, despite the fact that his velocity has dropped from 96 mph to the low 90s. His repertoire includes an above-average changeup that still needs some refinement (righties hit .285 against him this year), a tight curveball, and an effective cutter. Flores is more pitcher than thrower, and with his ability to minimize walks (1.99 BB/9) and keep the ball down (1.49 GO/AO), he may be the closest thing to Mark Buehrle that the White Sox have in its vaunted system.

Though Flores split his time (and results) evenly between Winston-Salem and Birmingham last year, expect a return to Birmingham due to a potential logjam in Charlotte to begin the year. With that said, he should be a candidate for early promotion when an opening arises.

Tanner Banks
6’1´´
195 pounds
Age: 27

After Banks spent his first two years with Salt Lake C.C. (one of his teammates was Eddy Alvarez), he transferred to Utah for his junior and senior seasons. After a decent junior season with the Utes, Banks struggled badly in his senior season with a 5.71 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 52 innings, allowing 65 hits and 19 walks while striking out 39 batters. The White Sox, however, drafted Banks in the 18th round in 2014. Later that year, Banks posted a combined 1.48 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 24 13 innings, allowing 16 hits (.188 OBA) and six walks (6.5%) compared to 33 strikeouts (35.9%).

The 2015 season saw Banks split his time with Great Falls and Kannapolis, as he combined to post a 2.71 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 86 13 innings, relinquishing 85 hits (.256 OBA) and nine walks (2.6%) compared to 43 strikeouts (12.3%). Banks split his time in 2016 with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem over a career-high 159 13 innings, posting a respectable 3.50 ERA and 1.22 WHIP while allowing 164 hits (.265 OBA) and 31 walks (4.7%) compared to 116 strikeouts (17.6%). In 2017, Banks split time with Winston-Salem and Birmingham and combined to post a 4.28 ERA and 1.33 WHIP over 141 innings, as he relinquished 151 hits (.271 OBA) and 37 walks (6.1%) compared to 113 whiffs (18.7%).

Like last year, Banks pitched for both Winston-Salem and Birmingham in 2018, and this year, he posted far better numbers. In 146 innings, Banks combined to post a 2.59 ERA and 1.18 WHIP and ceded just 140 hits (.255 OBA) and 32 walks (5.4%) while striking out 100 (16.8%). Banks pitched in the Arizona Fall League and acquitted himself fairly well with a 4.43 ERA, which would’ve been much better if not for one disastrous appearance.

When one looks at Banks, he looks at a near-clone of former Sox hurler David Holmberg. His repertoire includes a fastball that peaks at 90 mph, an above-average curveball, a cutter and a changeup. He maximizes his results by keeping the ball down and throwing strikes. Although he doesn’t have elite stuff, he’s done enough to at least warrant a look at Charlotte to begin the season. He’ll have to keep producing results, however, to ward off the likes of Medeiros, Flores, and others going forward.


Winston-Salem Dash

John Parke
6´4´´
205 pounds
Age: 24

During Parke’s first two seasons with South Carolina, spanning 15 relief outings, he didn’t allow an earned run — although he walked 12 and struck out 13 in 12 innings of work. However, his luck failed with the Gamecocks in his junior season, when Parke suffered an 8.53 ERA and 1.74 WHIP by allowing 35 hits and nine walks while striking out 21 in his 25 innings of work. However, White Sox scouts clearly saw enough in Parke to grab him in the 21st round of last year’s MLB draft. After receiving a $30,000 signing bonus, Parke went on to pitch in 14 games (10 starts) for the AZL White Sox and posted a 2.77 ERA and 1.08 WHIP covering 68 13 innings, allowing 65 hits (.248 OBA) and just nine walks (3.3%) but striking out 46 (16.7%).

Parke bypassed Great Falls in 2018 and split the season with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. Combined for both teams, he managed a 3.53 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 153 innings, allowing 159 hits (.267 OBA) and 39 walks (6.0%) while fanning 119 hitters (18.2%). His numbers weren’t as good with Winston-Salem, for the obvious reasons reasons that it’s a hitters’ ballpark and the competition was stronger. However, Parke likely was undergoing some serious fatigue as he pitched 47 more innings than he he did in his combined three years with South Carolina and the AZL Sox.

Lefties and righties put up the same numbers against him, which indicates that Parke has a solid changeup to neutralize lefties. An above-average curveball is the third pitch in Parke’s repertoire. He doesn’t throw a blazing fastball (low 90s peak), so Parke relies on keeping the ball down and staying ahead of the hitters. I expect Parke to begin next season with Birmingham, but it’s not out of the question that he returns to Winston-Salem instead.

Andre Davis
6´6´´
230 pounds
Age: 25

After a successful junior season with Arkansas-Pine Bluff in 2015, in which he posted a 2.28 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 27 23 innings allowing 19 hits and nine walks while striking out 35 hitters, the Kansas City Royals signed Davis to a $25,000 bonus after drafting him in the eighth round that year. He began his professional career shortly afterward, but struggled with the Royals’ Appalachian squad in Burlington, where posted a 7.26 ERA and 1.99 WHIP. Davis did improve upon his return to Burlington in 2016, where he posted 4.76 ERA but nifty 1.13 WHIP over six starts, thanks in large part to a 33-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28 13 innings.

Davis posted similar numbers in 2017 with the Royals A-squad in Lexington, as he posted a 4.83 ERA but a higher 1.39 WHIP in 85 23 innings, allowing 96 hits (.280 OBA) and 23 walks (6.1%) but striking out 87 (23.1%). Because the Royals were interested in a postseason run in 2017, they traded Davis and right-handed starter A.J. Puckett to the White Sox for outfielder Melky Cabrera on July 30. After the trade, Davis made four appearances with Kannapolis (two starts) and did quite well, with a 2.84 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in an albeit short sample size.

Davis shows good command of all his pitches, and his funky delivery helps an otherwise fringe-slider play up against left-handed hitters. He sits 92-94 mph with some movement, and there’s a lot to like with his sturdy build. His strikeout rate has been a solid 23.3% throughout his career, while his walk rate has been a manageable 7.7% despite his large size. Davis was on the DL for the entire 2018 season (ironically enough, Puckett was also on the shelf) but was listed on the Winston-Salem roster.

With a combination of injury history, age, limited repertoire and funky delivery, Davis is best suited as a reliever; however, since lefties hit him at about the same right as righties, he may be more suited as a long reliever than a LOOGY. I expect him to begin the season, if healthy, in Winston-Salem’s bullpen.

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Summary

The White Sox have more southpaw starting pitchers in their system than most teams, led by a nice complement of arms in the upper levels, with Flores and Medeiros standing out presently. Several others have appeared in previous lists of top prospects, but inconsistencies and/or injuries have clouded their futures (Bañuelos, Guerrero, Ian Clarkin, and Andre Davis). I don’t really see any stars in the making, but southpaws can often get by with less stuff than righties can. There are a few guys who could potentially be swingmen or back-of-the-rotation guys, and also a few that could be converted into full-time relievers. Southpaws are always in demand, so some also could be available for trade when the window of contention finally arrives for the White Sox.