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Deep Dive: right-handed reliever edition, part 1

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A number of unheralded names show promise at the White Sox system’s lowest levels

Catching Up: Johan Dominguez, an older player dominant at Rookie League levels in 2018, is ready to challenge batters his age in Single-A this season.
Kim Contreras (@Cu_As)/South Side Sox

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. The relievers will be written up in five parts:

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

While most of the top right-handed reliever prospects finished the season with Winston-Salem or higher, the lowest levels also had their fair share of prospects as well. In order to avoid having this read like War and Peace, each squad is limited to five right-handed relievers — the relievers that aren’t detailed you’ll find listed at the end of each squad’s writeup. The players’ ages listed below are as of April 1, 2019.


Great Falls Voyagers

Nick Johnson
6´3´´
215 pounds
Age: 23

Johnson had a successful career with the Rhode Island Rams, where he compiled a 3.39 ERA and 1.36 WHIP, where all but 10 of his 62 appearances came out of the bullpen. It was his senior season that garnered the most attention, however, as the Worcester, Mass. resident saved nine games in 22 appearances. In those outings, the righty hurled 28 innings and allowed just 20 hits and 10 walks — all while striking out an incredible 47 hitters (15.11 K/9) without allowing a home run. As a result of his age (he turned 23 in July), the fact that he doesn’t throw 95 mph, and the fact he didn’t pitch in an elite conference, Johnson fell to the 21st round — where the White Sox were ecstatic to pick him up.

For Great Falls, Johnson picked up right where he left off. In 25 outings in the high altitude of the Pioneer League, he finished 19 games and saved five. Over 30 innings of work, he enjoyed an ERA of 0.90 and 1.00 WHIP while allowing just 25 hits (.221), five walks (4.1%), and no homers while striking out 28 (18.7%). Here are his impressive combined stats this year, combining NCAA and Rookie League play:

48 G, 14 SV, 58 IP, 45 H, 15 BB, 75 K, 0 HR

Johnson features a low-90s fastball that maxes out at 93 mph, according to MLBDraftReport; the fastball has increased from its peak at 85 when Johnson was a prep, so it’s possible he may still gain a tick or two. Johnson also uses a plus slider to set up his fastball. His third pitch is a changeup, which has improved significantly during the past two years. Lefties hit .243 against Johnson’s offerings in Great Falls, while righties batted just .211 against him; this may indicate that his changeup still needs a bit more work. Johnson should begin next season with Kannapolis, with an opportunity for a midseason promotion to Winston-Salem if all goes well.

Johan Dominguez
6´4´´
190 pounds
Age: 23

Dominguez, a native of the Dominican Republic, signed an international contract with the Milwaukee Brewers on May 8, 2016. Later that season, he spent half his time in the rotation of their DSL squad and posted a solid 2.78 ERA and 1.05 WHIP; in 58 13 innings, he allowed just 37 hits (.180 OBA) and 24 walks (10.2%) while striking out 62 (26.4%). Injuries held him back in 2017 with the DSL Brewers (he appeared in just four games), but he still posted a respectable 4.24 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 17 innings of work.

Dominguez spent the majority of the 2018 season with the DSL and AZL Brewers, and was pitching for the Brewers Pioneer League team in Helena when he was traded with outfielder Bryan Connell to the White Sox for southpaw Xavier Cedeno on August 31. For Great Falls, Dominguez pitched two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit while striking out four. Ultimately, with a combined four teams this year, Dominguez combined to post a 0.77 ERA and 0.85 WHIP over 35 innings, allowing just 16 hits (.138 OBA) and 13 walks (9.8%) while striking out 40 (30.1%). Though he only pitched a total of four innings in the Pioneer League, Dominguez should be ready to begin next season with Kannapolis due to both his age and the terrific stats he posted against overmatched competition.

Carter Love
6´6´´
225 pounds
Age: 23

Love’s stats were amazing with the College of Charleston. His entire four-year career was spent almost exclusively in relief, and he combined to post a 2.40 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 223 23 innings — in those innings, he relinquished just 194 hits and 44 walks while striking out 196 hitters. All Love did during his senior season was post a 1.38 ERA and 0.88 ERA over 71 12 innings, allowing just 54 hits and nine walks while striking out 57. With a pitcher of Love’s size, control, and exceptional performance against albeit weaker competition, it’s somewhat stunning that he went unselected in the 2018 MLB draft. One reason could be simply that he doesn’t throw a fastball much more than 90 mph. The White Sox signed him to a minor league contract after the draft, however, and assigned him to the AZL Sox.

In 15 outings with the AZL Sox and Great Falls, Love pretty much picked up where he left off. In his 50 23 innings, he combined to post a 2.66 ERA and 1.11 WHIP by allowing 51 hits (.254 OBA) and just five walks (2.4%) while striking out 62 (29.8%). Despite not having an elite fastball, Love still missed plenty of bats. It’s possible his combination of size and delivery may provide some degree of deception; it’s also possible his fastball may have some running action which is hard for hitters to pick up. Love also may have some other terrific secondary pitchers that keep hitters off balance.

No matter the reasons, it seems like Love can certainly pitch. While he could return to Great Falls, since all but two of his outings this year were in Arizona, it would be interesting to see what he can do against older and better competition next year in Kannapolis.

Austin Conway
6´1´´
210 pounds
Age: 24

Conway pitched four years for the Indiana State Sycamores, but because he was redshirted as a result of injury during his junior season, he transferred to Louisville as a fifth-year senior. In 20 appearances for the Cardinals totaling 24 innings, he posted a solid 2.25 ERA (but a 1.46 WHIP by allowing 18 hits and 17 walks) while striking out 27. As a result of his control issues, he wasn’t drafted until the 31st round by the White Sox in the 2018 MLB draft.

Conway split his 2018 season with the AZL Sox and Great Falls, combining to post a 3.47 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 36 innings (23 games), allowing 32 hits (.246 OBA) and 14 walks (9.5%) while striking out 32 (21.6%). While it’s possible he could return to Great Falls, Conway’s age indicates he’d be a far better fit with either Kannapolis or Winston-Salem. He likely will begin next year with Kannapolis, but may earn an opportunity with the Dash after the All-Star break.

Devon Perez
6´5´´
200 pounds
Age: 22

Perez spent his first two seasons with Iowa Western Community College before transferring to Oklahoma (one of the White Sox’s most favorite hunting grounds) for his junior and senior seasons. After a good junior season, Perez picked a bad time to slump. As a senior in 2018, he posted a 5.61 ERA and 1.54 WHIP as primarily a starting pitcher over 61 innings; in those innings, he allowed 74 hits (.296 OBA) and 20 walks while fanning 43 hitters. The White Sox liked Perez enough, however, to select him in the 26th round of the draft.

With the AZL Sox and Great Falls, Perez’s control was absolutely phenomenal. In a combined 41 23 innings spanning 19 games, he posted a 3.89 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, allowing 52 hits (.304 OBA) and two walks (that’s right, just two walks for a 1.1%) but striking out 52 batters (29.9%). If you take away two atrocious back-to-back outings in August, Perez would have posted instead a much more impressive 2.19 ERA and 1.16 WHIP overall. As it is, a 53-to-2 K/BB ratio is incredible. What was wrong with him in college seems fixed; Perez should also be a candidate to begin next season with Kannapolis.

Also finishing the season with Great Falls were Jack Maynard (22 years old), Wyatt Burns (24), Davis Martin (22), Michael McCormick (25), Vince Arobio (24) and Lane Ramsey (22)


Arizona League White Sox

Hunter Kiel
6´3´´
229 pounds
Age: 22

There’s no pitcher who better conveys the image of “Wild Thing” Ricky Vaughn from “Major League” quite like Kiel, who was drafted in 2017’s 18th round, out of last year’s NCAA World Series runner-up LSU. Just take a look at the collegiate stats from this Florence, Ala. native:

2015 (Pensacola State J.C.): 9 G, 5 2⁄3 IP, 9.53 ERA, 3.53 WHIP, 14.2 H/9, 11.12 K/9, 17.47 BB/9

2017 (LSU): 10 G, 6 IP, 18.47 ERA, 2.53 WHIP, 11.37 H/9, 12.79 K/9, 11.37 BB/9

In two short abbreviated seasons due to ineffectiveness, Kiel combined for 19 games, 11 2⁄3 innings, 14.25 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 12.7 H/9, 12.00 BB/9 and 14.25 BB/9. To sum up, in the equivalent of a nine-inning game, Kiel would have allowed 13 hits, 15 walks and 15 earned runs while striking out 12. It’s amazing that Kiel was drafted twice (the Arizona Diamondbacks picked him in the 29th round in 2016)! Just like seven-footers in the NBA draft, hard-throwing pitchers who can rush it close to 100 mph will nearly always get drafted.

Unfortunately, 2017 didn’t improve much for Kiel once he joined the AZL White Sox. In 11 innings of work over 12 games, he allowed 10 earned runs, 18 walks and 16 strikeouts while amassing an ERA of 8.18 and a 2.64 WHIP. However, Kiel was definitely making progress by the end of the year. Over his last five games, he pitched 5 1⁄3 innings while allowing just two walks while striking out 10; he didn’t allow a run over that time.

In 2018, Kiel was better, but much more work still needs to be done. In 17 innings (14 games) for the AZL Sox, he compiled a respectable 2.65 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. He relinquished just four hits (.077 OBA) and struck out an amazing 33 hitters (45.2%); however, he happened to walk 20 (27.4%).

Kiel has a four-pitch arsenal, featuring a fastball that reaches 97 mph, a tight slider, a curve, and a change — the latter two of which fluctuate in the low-to-mid 80s. With his frame, Kiel’s projections are still in flux. He hasn’t pitched many innings in college, so his arm is relatively fresh. Kiel hasn’t been able to harness the movement on his pitches, so his walk and strikeout rates both remain sky-high.

Kiel is the prototypical high-ceiling, low-floor pitcher that also happens to be a two-true-outcome pitcher. He’s still young, so one more return to Arizona isn’t out of the picture; eventually, however, the White Sox will have to promote him to Great Falls — perhaps giving manager Tim Esmay some gray hairs in the process.

Nelson Acosta
6´3´´
195 pounds
Age: 21

Acosta, a native of Venezuela, signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on Oct. 20, 2013. Despite solid results with the DSL Sox from 2014-16, he struggled badly in his 2017 return, with a 9.10 ERA and 2.02 WHIP over 29 23 innings. However, Acosta was promoted at last to the States and pitched all of 2018 with the AZL White Sox. His results were somewhere between what he did in his first three years and his disastrous 2017: In 16 outings covering 22 13 innings, Acosta posted a 4.76 ERA and 1.68 WHIP by relinquishing 25 hits (.272 OBA) and 13 walks (12.0%) compared to 19 strikeouts (17.6%). Controls been his big bugaboo for the past couple years, so expect him to work on that as he returns to the AZL next year.

Luke Shilling
6´4´´
230 pounds
Age: 21

Shilling, a native of Clarkston, Mich., pitched just two years in college, as he missed all of 2018 due to injury. His results weren’t really all that much to write about when he actually was pitching for the Illini. In 10 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons, Shilling compiled a 7.11 ERA and 2.12 WHIP over 31 23 innings, ceding 26 hits and 41 strikeouts while striking out 31. According to PerfectGame, Shilling features a mid-90s fastball with hard late life down low, an outstanding knee-buckling curveball with tight spin, and a good changeup.

Based more on potential than stats, the White Sox selected him in the 15th round of this year’s MLB draft and signed him for $125,000. He underwent surgery for a torn labrum in June (similar to Jake Peavy’s surgery), and missed the entire 2018 season. Expect him to begin next season with the AZL once he’s healthy, with the hopes that he’ll improve his control accordingly.

Jason Morgan
6´5´´
175 pounds
Age: 23

Morgan was quite the consistent pitcher with North Carolina during his three-year career, despite the fact that his role changed from year to year. He was a reliever as a freshman, starter as a sophomore, and swingman as a junior for the Tar Heels. Morgan’s season-ending ERA ranged from 3.91 to 4.10, while his season-ending WHIP ranged from 1.38 to 1.43.

In his final (junior) season over 18 games (seven starts), Morgan posted a 3.92 ERA and 1.40 WHIP over 43 23 innings, surrendering 41 hits (.246 OBA) and 20 walks while striking out 36. He features a three-pitch mix of fastball that runs from 92-96 mph, curveball and changeup. Morgan fell to the 35th round after missing his entire senior season due after Tommy John surgery in October 2017, so he should be ready to begin next season with the AZL Sox.

Chandler Ferguson
6´3´´
193 pounds
Age: 21

Ferguson was a a three-sport athlete for Jefferson H.S. in Lafayette, Ind., where he succeeded as a senior with a 2.01 ERA, .174 OBA and 93 strikeouts in 59 13 innings. Playing in several offseason tournaments, he was clocked with a 95 mph fastball, 82 mph changeup and 79 mph curveball. With his combination of results and pitching repertoire, the Cleveland Indians selected him in the 25th round of the 2017 draft.

Ferguson landed on the 60-day DL after his only outing with Cleveland’s AZL squad, in which he walked a batter and struck out two in his one inning of work. He apparently had Tommy John surgery and missed all of the 2018 season, and Cleveland released him at season’s end. The White Sox snapped Ferguson up, and he should be ready to pitch in the AZL in 2019.

Also finishing the season with the AZL Sox were Ramon Pineda, Felix Mercedes and Jacob Cooper.

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Dominican Summer League White Sox

Luis Nin
6´2´´
185 pounds
Age: 22

Born on Nov. 30, 1996, Luis is 17 months younger than his older brother, José, who pitched for Kannapolis this year. After signing with the San Diego Padres in February of last year, Luis pitched one season with the Padres DSL squad, appearing for 18 innings and garnering three saves. During that span, he allowed 14 hits (.209 OBA), nine walks (11.4 BB%) and 18 strikeouts (22.8 K%). The Padres allowed Luis to enter minor league free agency, and he was promptly signed by the White Sox on June 8.

This year in 15 games (13 finished) for the DSL White Sox, Nin amassed a 3.32 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 12.7 BB% and 26.6K% with five saves over 19 innings; if not for his final game of the season, his ERA, WHIP and OBA would have been just 1.89, 1.26 and .206 respectively. Due to his age, Nin may follow his older brother’s career path and begin next season with Kannapolis. However, due to the plethora of Great Falls pitchers who appear ready for promotion, don’t be surprised if Luis begins next season with Great Falls instead.

Daneuris Lagrange
6´3´´
175 pounds
Age: 20

Lagrange, a native of the Dominican Republic, signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on April 11. Although his numbers really weren’t that good, he looked like All-Star material compared to all other DSL relievers, with the exception of the aforementioned Luis Nin. In 16 outings (five starts) spanning 37 innings, Lagrange posted a 4.86 ERA and 1.57 WHIP by allowing 44 hits (.299 OBA) and 14 walks (8.4%) while fanning 38 batters (22.9%). His control seems adequate, but although he struck out more than a batter an inning, Lagrange needs to find a way to miss more bats. Thus, despite he was 1.6 years older than league average last year, he likely will return to the DSL Sox for 2019.

Erick Perez
6´1´´
175 pounds
Age: 20

In his second season with the DSL Sox, the Venezuela native improved his numbers — although not enough to warrant a promotion to the States. This year in 28 outings covering 38 13 innings, Perez posted a 4.76 ERA and 1.96 WHIP by relinquishing 38 hits (.271 OBA) and 37 walks (20.4%) while striking out 45 (24.9%). As shown by his strikeout rate, Perez can definitely put hitters away; however, he’s his own worst enemy by surrendering all those free passes. Thus, even though he was also older than league average this year, he’ll return to the DSL Sox to begin 2019.

Jesus Rondón
6´3´´
178 pounds
Age: 19

Rondón, another Venezula native, signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on February 2. This year for the DSL Sox, he pitched 24 innings (14 games) and compiled a 5.63 ERA and 1.67 WHIP, allowing 17 hits (.200 OBA) and 23 walks (20.7%) while striking out 27 batters (24.3%). The good news is that hitters didn’t pick him up well, as evidenced by the low OBA and high strikeout rate; the bad news is that Rondón couldn’t pick up the strike zone, as evidenced by his high walk rate. Lefties hit just .172 against his offerings, so he may have a decent changeup. Expect Rondón, however, to return to the DSL next year to work on his control.

Edgar Navarro
6´1´´
180 pounds
Age: 21

Navarro, yet another Venezuela native, signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on March 10. However, his year with the DSL Sox didn’t turn out as well as he had hoped. In 24 games (three starts) spanning 58 innings, Navarro posted a 6.36 ERA and 1.74 WHIP as he allowed 70 hits (.289 OBA) and 31 walks (10.7%) compared to 60 strikeouts (20.8%). Lefties hit a whopping .366 against his offerings last year, compared to .250 by righties. Perhaps a changeup drifting away from lefties should be in development? Approximately 1.6 years older than league average, Navarro can’t afford any more rough years if he expects a promotion to the States. Expect him to return to the DSL to begin next season.

Also finishing the season with the DSL White Sox were Francisco Benitez, Dionicio Jimenez and Carlos Mola.

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Summary

There are some intriguing right-handed relievers in the lowest levels of the White Sox system, with the majority finishing up last season in Great Falls. Most of the pitchers who toiled in Arizona were promoted to Great Falls at some point this year, leaving just relievers with poor control and/or injuries to remain by season’s end, as well as a couple converted hitters who finished the season early. The DSL had no such excuse — with the exception of Luis Nin (who was much older than his competition), the bullpen’s results were ugly, and a microcosm of the team itself. On the positive side, Great Falls finished the year with a solid right-handed relief corps that should pay dividends next season, and beyond.