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Deep Dive: right-handed reliever edition, part 2

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Taking a look into the right-handed relief pitchers at Single A in the White Sox system

Future first-class fireman: When Tyler Johnson’s control and command are on, he is unhittable. 
Tiffany Wintz/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

As we move up to Single-A ball, you’ll begin to see many of the top right-handed reliever prospects start to surface. In order to avoid having this read like War and Peace, each squad is limited to five right-handed relievers — the relievers I don’t detail are listed at the end of each squad’s writeup. The players’ ages listed below are as of April 1, 2019.


Winston-Salem Dash

Tyler Johnson
6´3´´
205 pounds
Age: 23

Johnson spent nearly all three of his seasons in the bullpen for South Carolina, with terrific results. As a sophomore in 29 games totaling 52 innings, Johnson saved nine games for the Gamecocks with a 2.42 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, allowing 34 hits and just eight walks while striking out 59. The following year, he posted a 2.39 ERA and 1.33 WHIP along with 10 saves; in his 19 games totaling 26 innings, he relinquished 20 hits and 15 walks while striking out 40.

Due to Johnson’s decrease in control during that junior season, his stock dropped a bit — and when Johnson fell to the fifth round of the 2017 MLB draft, the White Sox were ecstatic, picking him at No. 147 overall. Johnson struggled a bit after the draft with Great Falls and Kannapolis, as he posted a combined 3.86 ERA and 1.75 WHIP over 25 23 innings, allowing 26 hits (.263 OBA) and 19 walks (15.7%) while fanning 37 hitters (30.6%).

He returned to Kannapolis to begin the 2018 season, and embarrassed South Atlantic League hitters by posting a 1.33 ERA and 0.96 WHIP over 27 innings, allowing just 16 hits (.170 OBA) and 10 walks (9.3%) while striking out 46 (42.6%). Johnson fared even better after winning a promotion to Winston-Salem. In his 21 games for the Dash totaling 31 innings, he posted a 1.45 ERA and 0.81 WHIP — surrendering just 19 hits (.174 OBA) and six walks (5.1%) while fanning 43 (36.4%). Overall in 2018, Johnson compiled a 1.40 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, .172 OBA, 7.1 BB% and 39.4 K%. Of all the outstanding relievers in the White Sox system, Johnson had arguably the best year.

Johnson now ranks No. 24 among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline, though that ranking will likely rise entering the 2019 season. His fastball generally runs from the mid-to-upper 90s, peaking at triple digits, and is complemented by an above-average, low 80s slider. Johnson’s third pitch is a changeup that still needs work, although he did hold lefties to a respectable .230 average in 2018.

Johnson’s whole key is control and command; when on, like it was in his sophomore season at South Carolina or last year in the minors, he’s basically unhittable. If Johnson’s command drops off, he simply won’t be as dominant and becomes far more hittable. Expect Johnson to begin next season with Birmingham, with an opportunity for promotion to Charlotte before the end of the year.

Danny Dopico
6´2´´
190 pounds
Age: 25

Dopico was quite a well-traveled pitcher in college. He spent his freshman season with Siena, his sophomore campaign with Broward Junior College, and his junior year with Florida International. Dopico’s best year by far was his junior season with the Golden Panthers, compiling a 1.99 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 45 relief innings, surrendering just 25 hits and 20 walks while fanning 57 hitters. As a result, the White Sox selected him in the 11th round of the 2015 MLB draft. After receiving his $140,000 signing bonus, Dopico picked up where he left off, walking 14 but striking out 57 in 36 innings with the AZL Sox.

Dopico struggled out of the gate in 2016 with Winston-Salem but righted the ship somewhat with the AZL Sox and Kannapolis later in the year. For that entire season, he combined in 54 23 innings to post a 5.76 ERA and 1.83 WHIP, allowing 51 hits (.246 OBA) and 49 walks (18.6%) compared to 66 punchouts (25.0%). Dopico fared far better in a full season with Kannapolis in 2017, as he posted a 3.25 ERA and 0.95 WHIP; in his 69 13 innings, he allowed just 36 hits (.148 OBA) and 30 walks (10.4%) while fanning 96 hitters (33.2%).

In 2018, Dopico pitched nearly exclusively with Winston-Salem, where he posted a 2.98 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 57 13 innings, relinquishing 44 hits (.211 OBA) and 26 walks (10.8%) while striking out 76 (31.7%). He struggled badly in the Arizona Fall League, in part because he walked 12 in his 12 13 innings of work.

Dopico’s fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s; his secondary pitches include a low-80s slider and a low-80s splitter. His pitches play up because of their significant movement; in fact, that movement held lefties to hit just .172 against him this year. However, it’s that movement that causes Dopico significant command issues. In his four-year minor league career, opponents have only hit .204, while striking 30.8% of the time against his offerings; however, he’s walked one out of every eight hitters he’s faced (12.5%). Dopico should begin next season with Birmingham; if he can improve his control and command, he may have an opportunity to pitch in Charlotte before season’s end.

Mike Morrison
6´2´´
195 pounds
Age: 25

Though Morrison had a quality four-year career with Coastal Carolina, his senior season, in which the Chanticleers won the NCAA championship, was easily his best. In 34 games totaling 72 innings, Morrison posted a 1.50 ERA and 0.94 WHIP while saving 11 games; he allowed just 41 hits and 27 walks, while striking out 94. Despite those results for the NCAA champs, Morrison fell to the White Sox in the 27th round of the 2016 MLB draft. A fatigued Morrison finished his 2016 with Kannapolis, where he posted a respectable 3.68 ERA and 1.38 WHIP over 17 13 innings.

Morrison pitched sensationally for the Intimidators in 2017, where he posted an incredible 0.53 ERA and 0.45 WHIP in 33 23 innings of relief as he allowed just nine hits (.084 OBA) and six walks (5.1%) while fanning 42 (35.9%). However, he struggled after an in-season promotion to Winston-Salem. For the Dash in 34 innings, Morrison compiled a 5.03 ERA and 1.59 WHIP by allowing 36 hits (.277 OBA) and 18 walks (11.8%) while striking out 33 (21.6%).

In 2018, though control was still an issue, Morrison fared much better with the Dash. In 40 outings covering 60 13 innings, he posted a 3.13 ERA and 1.19 WHIP by allowing surrendering just 39 hits (.184 OBA) and 33 walks (13.1%) while punching out 55 hitters (21.8%).

In addition to a low-90s fastball, Morrison also features an effective curveball, slider and changeup. Like Carson Fulmer, Morrison has a violent delivery, which causes issues with his control and command. As evidenced by his senior season with Coastal Carolina and his dominant season with Kannapolis last year, Morrison is basically untouchable when throwing strikes. However, he doesn’t have the elite stuff to overcome being behind in the count. Minor league hitters have hit just .193 against Morrison’s offerings throughout his three-year career, and he’s fanned nearly 25% of the batters he’s faced; unfortunately, he’s walked nearly one of every nine hitters he’s faced (10.9%) as well. Morrison’s still an intriguing arm; he should begin next season with Winston-Salem and will go as far as his control will take him.

Devan Watts
6´0´´
205 pounds
Age: 23

Watts, after a good senior season as a senior with tiny Tusculum College in which he posted a respectable 3.10 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 49 relief outings, was selected in the 17th round of the 2016 MLB draft by the Atlanta Braves. After receiving his $60,000 signing bonus, he combined to pitch in 20 games (23 23 innings) for Rookie League Danville and Single-A Rome, posting an impressive 0.76 ERA and 0.72 WHIP by allowing just 11 hits (.143 OBA) and six walks (7.0%) while fanning 26 (30.2%).

Watts continued to excel last year with A+ Florida and AA Mississippi, combining to post a 2.15 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 58 23 innings, surrendering just 49 hits (.223 OBA) and 20 walks (8.1%) while striking out 65 (26.4%). Watts was shuttled back-and-forth between Florida and Mississippi in 2018, and struggled badly with Florida: in 10 outings covering 12 13 innings, he compiled a 9.49 ERA and 1.86 WHIP by allowing 17 hits (.333 OBA) and six walks (10.3%) while punching out 11 hitters (19.0%). Though he did reasonably well with Mississippi (3.29 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, .255 OBA, 8.8 BB%, 12.3 K% in 13 23 innings), he was released by the Braves on June 5.

Four weeks later, the White Sox signed Watts to a free agent contract. With Winston-Salem, he pitched in 13 games totaling 19 13 innings compiling a 2.75 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, relinquishing just 17 hits (.239 OBA) and four walks (5.2%) while fanning 16 (20.8%).

Watts features a heavy fastball that peaks at 95 mph, an above-average slider that works in the low-80s and has excellent bite, and a changeup which caused lefties to fare far worse than righties against his offerings this year. It’s interesting that the Braves would release Watts after his first signs of struggles, but they have an extremely deep system. A Braves scout compared Watts to Brandon Kintzler on FoxSports, which isn’t a bad comparison. Clearly both his command and control were off with the Atlanta organization this year as evidenced by his high OBA, high walk rate and low strikeout rate. However, it seems that Watts reverted to his 2017 form with Winston-Salem. Expect him to begin next season with Birmingham as a result.

Drew Hasler
6´6´´
245 pounds
Age: 25

The son of Sox bullpen coach Curt Hasler, Drew struggled badly in his sophomore and junior seasons with Valparaiso. In 11 games totaling 26 23 innings for the Crusaders, he posted a 6.07 ERA and 1.61 WHIP by allowing 36 hits and seven walks while striking out just seven hitters. Perhaps due to his dad’s role at the time (a roving minor league pitching coordinator), the White Sox selected Hasler in the 34th round of the 2015 MLB draft. Hasler held his own in hitter-friendly Great Falls that year in 29 23 innings, allowing 31 hits (.267 OBA) and nine walks (6.8%) while fanning 23 (17.3%).

The 2016 season saw Hasler pitching for Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, combining for a nifty 2.15 ERA and 0.96 WHIP over his 71 innings by allowing 56 hits (.215 OBA) and 12 walks (4.3%) while striking out 33 (11.9%). In 2017, he pitched for the top three White Sox minor league organizations and compiled a 3.07 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 73 13 innings, relinquishing 76 hits (.265 OBA) and 13 walks (4.2%) while punching out 35 (11.4%).

Hasler pitched 29 of his games this year with Winston-Salem (one other appearance came with Charlotte), and he struggled a bit, with a 4.38 ERA and 1.33 WHIP for the Dash in 61 23 innings as he allowed 71 hits (.291 OBA) and 11 walks (4.3%) compared to 42 strikeouts (16.3%).

Despite his large build, Hasler doesn’t have a blazing fastball, as evidenced by his low strikeout numbers; however, it’s a heavy sinking fastball that has helped him produce a nifty 1.50 AO/GO ratio. Because he limits his walks (an insane 4.5% throughout his career) and keeps the ball down, Hasler has been able to maintain a rock-solid 1.20 WHIP during his career despite a career .261 OBA. He’s allowed six homers in his 238 13 career innings, and that doesn’t hurt, either. The guy knows how to pitch; he just doesn’t have that put-away offering that could move him up the next level. I rank him above the guys listed below because of his pitchability, and the fact that those guys (even though they have much higher upside) either encountered significant control issues or major injuries this year.

Also finishing the season with the Winston-Salem Dash were Connor Walsh, Blake Hickman and Victor Diaz.

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Kannapolis Intimidators

Jose Nin
6´3´´
220 pounds
Age: 23

Though Jose Nin has only been pitching in the White Sox organization for two years, he has been playing professionally since signed by the Philadelphia Phillies on Jan. 22, 2014. Nin’s first two years in professional baseball were spent with the DSL Phillies, where he combined for a 3.09 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 58 13 innings of work, walking 21 (7.5 BB%) and striking out 46 (16.4 K%) while allowing 67 hits (.273 OBA). His numbers seemed to improve in 2016, as he pitched for three Phillies squads and ultimately made it to their A+ team in Clearwater. In 20 games totaling 22 23 innings, he combined for a 1.59 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, and surrendered just 18 hits (.231 OBA), five walks (5.7 BB%), and 17 strikeouts (19.5 K%). He also saved seven games overall. Despite those impressive numbers, Nin was released just prior to the 2017 season.

The Sox signed him on June 8 of last year, and he spent the full season with the DSL White Sox. In saving 12 games in 40 13 innings of work, Nin posted a 2.68 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while allowing 37 hits (.252 OBA) and just nine walks (5.5 BB%) while punching out 28 hitters (17.1 K%). While the numbers were good, they were relatively unexceptional considering he was three years older than the DSL’s average age.

Because of his age, Jose was promoted past the AZL White Sox and Great Falls and began this year with Kannapolis, where he posted even better results than he did in 2017 in the Dominican League. In 37 games (32 finished), Nin garnered 10 saves over 48 innings, with a 1.68 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. During this time, he only allowed 35 hits (.202 OBA) and 13 walks (6.8 BB%) while striking out 40 (21.0 K%). Thus, even though he pitched against a more age-appropriate league than he did last year, his numbers have basically improved across the board. Nin should be slated to begin next year with Winston-Salem.

Jake Elliott
6´7´´
230 pounds
Age: 24

After a solid first two years with the Oklahoma Sooners, Elliott picked an inopportune time to struggle in his third one. As a junior, Elliott posted a 6.02 ERA and 1.77 WHIP in 12 outings totaling 46 innings, relinquishing 58 hits (.320 OBA) and 24 walks while fanning just 30 batters. Strangely enough, he and teammate Alec Hansen both struggled badly that year with the Sooners despite their large physical builds. While Hansen fell to the second round, Elliott dropped all the way to the 15th round of the 2016 MLB draft as a result of his struggles. After receiving a $100,000 signing bonus, Elliott pitched for Great Falls and posted a respectable 4.30 ERA and 1.27 WHIP mostly in relief, allowing 39 hits (.273 OBA) and nine walks (5.7%) while striking out 45 (28.3%) in 37 23 innings.

Elliott has spent the last two seasons in the Kannapolis bullpen, and has done well enough to earn another promotion soon. In 2017, he posted a 2.29 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in 63 innings while allowing just 48 hits (.215 OBA) and 10 walks (4.1%) compared to 59 strikeouts (24.3%). This year, his numbers fell ever so slightly, although his strikeout rate improved significantly: in 75 13 innings while posting a 2.99 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, he relinquished 57 hits (.211 OBA) and 22 walks (7.3%) while fanning 86 (28.4%).

Elliott has drawn some comps to Ryan Madson, with his imposing build. His fastball peaks around 94-95 mph according to Baseball Draft Report, and he also features a upper-70s curveball and a plus changeup. It’s difficult to understand why Elliott hasn’t advanced more quickly in the White Sox system, but he should begin next season with Winston-Salem, with a potential additional move to Birmingham before season’s end if all goes well.

Will Kincanon
6´3´´
202 pounds
Age: 23

Kincanon spent his first two collegiate seasons with Chicago-area Triton Junior College, transferring to Indiana State for his junior season. For the Sycamores in 14 starts, he posted pedestrian numbers: 79 innings, 5.24 ERA and 1.48 WHIP, allowing 82 hits (.264 OBA) and 35 walks but striking out 90. The White Sox saw enough him to consider him a future reliever, ultimately drafting him in the 11th round in 2017 and signing him to a $150,000 bonus. With Great Falls in 29 23 innings of relief after the draft, Kincanon posted a solid 3.94 ERA and 1.25 WHIP — allowing 24 hits (.220 OBA) and 13 walks (10.2%) while striking out 29 (22.7%).

In 2018 with Kannapolis, Kincanon posted nearly identical numbers. In 26 games totaling 34 23 innings, he had a 3.63 ERA and 1.27 WHIP as he allowed just 29 hits (.218 OBA) and 15 walks (9.7%) compared to 42 strikeouts (27.3%). His fastball peaks at 97 mph, but usually runs 94-95— it’s a pitch that not only helps boosts his strikeout numbers, it’s also a heavy fastball that induces groundouts (his GO/AO rate is 2.02 for his career). His slider and changeup have proven to be quite effective, although they’ve been inconsistent at times. Kincanon should begin 2019 with Winston-Salem.

Ben Wright
6´0´´
185 pounds
Age: 24

After spending his first two collegiate seasons with Colorado Northwestern C.C., Wright transferred to UNLV. After a credible junior season, Wright struggled badly, with a 5.49 ERA and 1.50 WHIP — allowing 45 hits (.285 OBA) and 14 walks (8.9%) while fanning only 21 hitters (13.3%) in 39 innings. The White Sox saw enough in Wright to select him in the 16th round in 2016, signing him to a $10,000 bonus. Later that year for the AZL Sox and Great Falls, Wright combined to post a 4.03 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 38 innings, allowing 39 hits (.264 OBA) and just seven walks (4.4%) while striking out 32 (20.1%).

The 2017 season turned out even better for Wright with Kannapolis, as he posted a solid 3.19 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 59 13 innings — allowing 54 hits (.242 OBA) and 16 walks (6.5%) while fanning 55 (22.2%). However, before returning to the Intimidators for 2018, he was placed on the Restricted List on April 5 and stayed there the entire year. Assuming Wright returns from the that list to begin next season, he would likely begin with Winston-Salem; however, there’s a nearly equal chance he’d return to Kannapolis instead.

J.B. Olson
6´2´´
195 pounds
Age: 24

After spending his first two collegiate seasons with Seward County C.C. (Kan.), Olson transferred to Oklahoma and did quite well. After an outstanding junior season in the Sooners bullpen, Olson did even better as a senior, when he posted a 1.99 ERA and 1.28 WHIP — relinquishing 45 hits (.263 OBA) and 13 walks while striking out 46 hitters over 45 innings of work. As a result, the White Sox selected him in the 10th round in 2017. After Olson received a $10,000 signing bonus, he performed well for both Great Falls and Kannapols. Combined with both squads over 32 23 innings, he posted a 2.20 ERA and 1.07 WHIP as he allowed 30 hits (.234 OBA) and just five walks (3.7%) while fanning 31 hitters (23.0%).

Unfortunately, Olson underwent Tommy John surgery due to a torn ulnar collateral ligament and missed all of 2018. When he returns, he would likely spend time in Arizona for extended spring training. Once he’s ready, he likely will begin the season with Winston-Salem.

Also finishing the season with Kannapolis were Aron McRee (25), Spencer Moran (22) and Luis Ledo (23).


Summary

Kannapolis finished the year with a solid right-handed relief corps that should pay dividends next season and beyond. Meanwhile, Winston-Salem’s bullpen was led by Johnson, who may end up being the best of any reliever in the White Sox system. Nearly all of the guys listed in the Single-A profile have outstanding upside. Obviously not all these pitchers will establish themselves as major league fixtures. However, the plethora of quality arms in the bullpen will make it easier to complete deals for established big leaguers when the White Sox’s window of contention finally arrives.