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Deep Dive: right-handed reliever edition, part 3

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Taking a look at right-handed relievers at Birmingham and Charlotte

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Chicago White Sox
On the Edge: Ian Hamilton ranks 16th among White Sox prospects, and looks to be their future closer.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

“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

The White Sox are blessed with a plethora of high-ceiling right-handed relievers in its system, with four currently ranked in MLB Pipeline’s list of Top 30 White Sox prospects. Charlotte looks especially loaded, although several of its top guys finished the season with Chicago. However, with the recent trade for closer Alex Colomé and GM Rick Hahn’s promise of more late-inning help coming this offseason via trade or free agency, let’s assume at least a couple of those arms from late last year will end up starting the season in Charlotte.

In order to avoid having this read like War and Peace, the Birmingham Barons writeup is limited to five right-handed relievers, where the relievers I didn’t detail are listed after the fifth pitcher of each squad. The players’ ages listed below are as of April 1, 2019.

Charlotte Knights

Ian Hamilton
200 pounds
Age: 23

After spending two quality seasons in the bullpen for Washington State, Hamilton encountered some difficulties in the starting rotation during his junior season. In his 15 starts totaling 87 innings for the Cougars, he posted a pedestrian 4.86 ERA and 1.46 WHIP as he surrendered 96 hits (.293 OBA) and 31 walks against 62 strikeouts. Based on his overall stuff, in addition to his bullpen performance during his freshman and sophomore seasons, the White Sox signed him to a $101,800 bonus after selecting him in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB draft. That year, with the AZL Sox and Kannapolis over 32 23 innings, Hamilton posted a 3.58 ERA and 1.13 WHIP by allowing 22 hits (.196 OBA) and 15 walks (11.6%) while striking out 29 (22.5%).

In 2017, Hamilton split his time with Winston-Salem and Birmingham; he did struggle some, however, with the Barons, getting hit for a 5.21 ERA and 1.79 WHIP. For the year, thanks to his exceptional work with the Dash, overall Hamilton posted a 2.64 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 44 outings (71 23 innings) — yielding 59 hits (.222 OBA) and just 16 walks (5.6%) while striking out 74 (25.7%).

Hamilton split his minors time in 2018 between Birmingham and Charlotte, faring equally well with both squads. In 43 games over 51 23 combined innings, he compiled a 1.74 ERA and 1.05 WHIP and allowed just 38 hits (.204 OBA) and 16 walks (7.1%) while fanning 62 (30.1%). Hamilton earned his promotion to the White Sox on August 31, and held his own with a 4.50 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over 10 games (eight innings), as he allowed six hits (.207) and two walks (6.1%) while striking out five (15.2%).

Hamilton currently ranks 16th among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline. He features a 70-grade, mid-90s fastball that touches 99 and features hard sink. His hard slider can reach 90 mph and is considered a plus pitch. He also offers a legit changeup, as he held AAA lefties to a mere .167 average. Hamilton likely will begin the season in Chicago, barring a major influx of relievers attained via free agency or trade in the offseason.

Zack Burdi
205 pounds
Age: 24

Burdi, a native of suburban Downers Grove, enjoyed a solid three-year run pitching exclusively in Louisville’s bullpen. He saved 11 games in his junior season, with a solid 3.30 ERA and 0.87 WHIP for the Cardinals over 27 games; in his 30 innings, he allowed just 17 hits and nine walks while striking out 47. The White Sox opted to take a chance on this high-ceiling reliever by selecting him in 2016’s first round (26th pick), which was actually a compensation pick the White Sox received when the San Francisco Giants signed pitcher Jeff Samardzija via free agency.

After receiving a signing bonus of $2,128,500, Burdi scaled nearly every rung of the White Sox system in 2016 by pitching for the AZL Sox, Winston-Salem, Birmingham and Charlotte. In a combined 38 innings over 26 innings, he posted a terrific 3.32 ERA and 1.13 WHIP by allowing 23 hits (.174 OBA) and 20 walks (13.0%), striking out an incredible 51 batters (33.1%). Burdi returned to Charlotte in 2017, but struggled to a 4.05 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 33 13 innings, surrendering 30 hits (.231 OBA) and 17 walks (11.3%) while striking out 51 (33.8%). Perhaps the reason for his struggles was revealed in July, as Burdi succumbed to Tommy John surgery.

Burdi returned to the AZL Sox in 2018 for a rehab assignment that went reasonably well, all things considered. In 6 13 innings (seven games) for the AZL Sox, he compiled a 2.84 ERA and 1.42 WHIP and allowed five hits (.217 OBA) and four walks (14.8%) along with seven strikeouts (25.9%). He also pitched five games in the Arizona Fall League, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out five innings. He left Glendale early due to fatigue, and reports had Burdi still struggling to regain his velocity, but he was otherwise healthy.

Burdi currently ranks 17th among White Sox prospect,s according to MLB Pipeline. Before Burdi got hurt, he routinely ran it up at 95-100 mph and touched 102 with his fastball (that fastball has played at the lower end of that spectrum since his rehab began). Burdi’s slider reached the low 90s with good depth, and it’s a legitimate plus pitch that earns double-plus grades at its best. He hasn’t used it as much in pro ball, but Burdi also has a tumbling changeup that can make hitters look silly when they’re sitting on his fastball.

Still seen as a potential closer, not only will Burdi need to regain some of that lost velocity — he’ll also need to to get more consistent with his control and command, as a 12.3 BB% usually doesn’t cut it in the majors. He should begin next season with Charlotte, and earn an opportunity on the White Sox roster before the season’s out.

Jose Ruiz
190 pounds
Age: 24

Ruiz, a Venezuela native, was the 16th-ranked international prospect (two spots ahead of Miguel Andujar) as a catcher in 2011, when the Padres signed him for $1 million. Unfortunately for Ruiz, his bat didn’t advance as far as his glove and arm (he threw out 36.7% of attempted base stealers throughout his minor league career), hitting just .203 in 950 at-bats.

In the middle of the 2016 season, the Padres converted him to a pitcher. For three teams in 2016 covering 12 13 innings (11 games), Ruiz allowed just three hits (.081 OBA) and five walks (10.2%) while striking out 14 (28.6%).

In 2017 for the Padres A+ team in Lake Elsinore, Ruiz unsurprisingly struggled in his first full season as a pitcher, with a 5.98 ERA and 1.65 WHIP over 49 23 innings as he surrendered 57 hits (.291 OBA) and 25 walks (8.5%) while fanning 45 (15.3%). Despite his struggles, Ruiz actually pitched a game in the majors for the Padres, with a walk and strikeout in his one inning of work.

The White Sox were quick to pounce when the Padres placed him on waivers last December, an unsuccessful attempt to clear space on their 40-man roster. In 2018, in just his second full season as a pitcher, Ruiz pitched in a combined 43 games totaling 58 23 innings for Winston-Salem and Birmingham. In those innings, he compiled a 3.07 ERA and 1.07 WHIP by allowing just 39 hits (.188 OBA) and 24 walks (10.1%) while striking out 77 (32.5%).

Ruiz finished the year with the White Sox and made it into in six games totaling 4 13 innings — in that small sample size, he allowed five hits, three walks and six strikeouts. He currently ranks 25th among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline, and features a 94-97 mph fastball that has reached 99. The fastball generates a downward plane with a high 34 delivery. His second pitch is a mid-80s slider that has more power than bite, but keeps hitters from sitting on his heater, while his third pitch is a changeup that has kept lefties off balance (lefties hit just .162 against him in the minors in 2018). Ruiz actually has a nice repertoire for someone so new to pitching. There’s a strong chance that Ruiz will make the Sox on Opening Day next year; however, if the Sox make one or two additions to the bullpen during the offseason, he may begin the year at Charlotte instead.

Ryan Burr
225 pounds
Age: 24

On August 11, 2017, the White Sox traded international signing bonus pool money to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Burr, a former fifth round pick. At that time, Burr was rolling, rolling, rolling along with the Visalia Rawhide, the D-Backs A+ team. Since the trade, Burr has advanced rapidly, from Winston-Salem to Chicago, with a stop in-between at Birmingham and Charlotte in 2018.

Burr is the all-time saves leader for Arizona State, and posted a 2.91 ERA with 14 saves as he fanned 74 batters in 46 innings during his senior season. In his first two years of professional ball (with the D-Backs rookie squads and Kane County), Burr combined for a 2.05 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 8.9 BB% and 29.4 K%. For three teams in 2017 (including Winston-Salem), Burr combined for a 1.65 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 10.0 BB% and 33.8 K%.

Burr’s numbers in 2018 with Birmingham and Charlotte have been impressive as well, even after factoring his rough month of May, combining for a 2.45 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 12.0 BB% and 24.5 K%. Burr’s numbers are especially impressive considering he had a relatively difficult start to the season. From June 1 to August 22 when he was promoted to the White Sox, however, Burr made hitters ice cold by allowing just two earned runs, 16 hits and 10 walks, while striking out 37 over 30 23 innings. Burr was much more hittable after his promotion to the White Sox, as he posted a 7.45 ERA and 1.86 WHIP in eight games totaling 9 23 innings, in which he allowed 12 hits, three homers, six walks and six strikeouts.

Burr’s repertoire includes a mid-90s fastball that peaks at 97 mph; he also features an above-average slider. A changeup is Burr’s third pitch, but he doesn’t throw it often; since he held lefties in AA to the same average as righties, this doesn’t seem to be too big of an issue for him presently.

Burr’s opportunity to be on the White Sox bullpen on Opening Day will largely depend upon the pitchers the White Sox acquire during the offseason; he is likely ticketed to Charlotte because of the Colomé acquisition. If he starts 2019 as a Knight, Burr will be among the first pitchers called up when a reliever goes down due to injuries or ineffectiveness.

Thyago Vieira
210 pounds
Age: 25

Vieira, a native of Brazil, received a signing bonus of $65,000 from the Seattle Mariners on November 20, 2010, when he was 17. In his first six years in the Mariners system, Vieira advanced only as high as their A+ affiliate in Bakersfield. However, things finally picked up steam for him in 2017, when he pitched for AA Arkansas and AAA Tacoma; Vieira combined with both squads to pitch in 41 games totaling 54 innings posting a 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, allowing 48 hits (.236 OBA) and 22 walks (9.6%) while striking out 46 (20.1%). He even got his first taste of the majors, pitching a scoreless relief inning with one strikeout for the Mariners.

The White Sox acquired Vieira for international bonus pool money on November 16, 2017, and he began the 2018 season in Charlotte. For the Knights in 36 games totaling 41 innings, he posted a 5.05 ERA and 1.56 WHIP, allowing 40 hits (.252 OBA) and 24 walks (12.7%) while striking out 50 (26.5%). Despite those numbers, the White Sox called him up on July 27, and Vieira unsurprisingly struggled in his 16 games. In his 17 23 innings, he posted a 7.13 ERA and 1.70 WHIP, allowing 21 hits (.292 OBA) and nine walks (10.6%) while fanning 15 (17.6%).

Blessed with plus-plus arm strength, Vieira works 96-99 mph (peaking in triple digits) with his four-seam fastball. He also flashes a two-seam version that will sit 94-95 mph and top out at 96 mph, but it doesn’t always have great downward life and can stay on the same vertical plane and run arm-side. In addition to the two fastballs, Vieira has a deeper arsenal than most late-inning relievers, although all his secondary pitches are quite unrefined: a breaking ball (84-87 mph), and splitter (90-92 mph). The splitter is raw right now, with poor command and very inconsistent results; Vieira’s breaking ball is more of a hard slider that has wipe-out effectiveness on its best days, but extreme wildness on its worst. It has the potential of being a wipeout pitch with some downward plane and good late 10-to-4 break.

Even more than having difficulty with his secondary pitches, Vieira clearly has issues with command and control — mostly due to inconsistent mechanics. If he can harness his stuff and improve his control, all while developing a true secondary out pitch, Vieira could be closer material. Because Vieira has just one minor league option remaining, it will take a terrible spring — or at least one or two additional, bigtime offseason acquisitions for the bullpen — for him not to break camp in 2019 with the White Sox.

Carson Fulmer
195 pounds
Age: 25

Fulmer had an outstanding three-year career with Vanderbilt, with his freshman season spent as a reliever and his latter years in the Commodores rotation. Fulmer’s junior season was considered his best, as he posted a 14-2 record with a 1.83 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 127 23 innings, in which he relinquished just 81 hits (.180 OBA) and 50 walks while striking out 167. As a result, Fulmer was selected in the first round of the 2015 MLB draft (eighth overall) by the White Sox. After receiving his signing bonus of $3.47 million, Fulmer started a combined nine games with the AZL White Sox and Winston-Salem and compiled a 1.96 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 23 innings, allowing 17 hits (.210 OBA) and nine walks (9.7%) while striking out 26 (28.0%).

The 2016 season saw Fulmer pitch for Birmingham and Charlotte, before making his MLB debut. He struggled for the Barons and Knights, posting a combined 4.63 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over 103 innings, allowing 96 hits (.246 OBA) and 56 walks (12.2%) while fanning 104 (22.7%). Despite his pedestrian minor league results, Fulmer pitched in eight games for the White Sox totaling 11 23 innings, compiling an 8.49 ERA and 1.63 WHIP.

Fulmer returned to Charlotte to begin 2017 and posted a 5.79 ERA and 1.56 WHIP for the Knights over 126 innings, allowing 132 hits (.268 OBA) and 65 walks (11.4%) while punching out 96 batters (16.8%). He did earn another promotion to Chicago, and this time, he fared much better, with a 3.86 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 23 13 innings, allowing 16 hits (.188 OBA) and 13 walks (12.9%) while striking out 19 (18.8%).

Trusting Fulmer’s 2017 finish and not relying on his terrible spring training results, Fulmer broke camp with the White Sox and struggled horribly to begin the season. In nine games (eight starts) totaling 32 13 innings prior to his demotion on May 19, Fulmer posted an eye-popping 8.07 ERA and 1.89 WHIP by allowing 37 hits (.280 OBA) and 24 walks (14.6) while fanning 29 (17.7%).

Fulmer started nine games for the Knights after his demotion, then spent the remainder of 2018 in the bullpen. In his 25 games for the Knights totaling 67 23 innings, he posted a 5.32 ERA and 1.64 WHIP by relinquishing 70 hits (.271 OBA) and 41 walks (13.5%) while striking out 62 (204). If looking for a silver lining, Fulmer’s numbers out of the bullpen (4.37 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, .232 OBA, nine walks and 21 strikeouts in 22 23 innings) fared far better than his numbers in the Charlotte rotation (5.80 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, .290 OBA, 32 walks and 41 strikeouts in 45 innings).

Fulmer’s fastball played around 92 mph this year, but should hit around 94 or 95 with fewer innings under his belt as a reliever. His cutter, sitting in the upper 80s, actually may be his best pitch, although the movement has been inconsistent at best. Fulmer’s power curveball runs about 80 mph with a 11-to-5 break when it’s on, but the movement wanes the harder he throws it. A changeup is Fulmer’s fourth offering, but that’s been his least effective pitch based on the fact that lefties hit .305 against it in 2018.

Fulmer’s repertoire largely haven’t played up to potential because his command and control have been way off. Not only is he walking hitters at a high rate (13.8 in MLB, 12% in the minors), Fulmer has a tendency to groove pitches in the center of the zone. His herky-jerky delivery, combined with the speed of his delivery, likely need to be tempered significantly in order for him to maximize his command and movement going forward. Expect Fulmer to begin this season in the Charlotte bullpen, with an opportunity for promotion only when concerns regarding his command have been erased.

Evan Marshall
225 pounds
Age: 28

Marshall spent his three-year collegiate career with Kansas State, almost exclusively out the bullpen. He had his best season as a junior, in which he pitched 61 innings and posted a 1.62 ERA and 1.03 WHIP by allowing just 47 hits and 16 walks while striking out 55. The Diamondbacks couldn’t resist selecting him in the fourth round of the 2011 MLB draft, ultimately signing him to a $232,500 bonus. He worked his way through the Diamondbacks system that year, advancing as high as AA Mobile with a combined 1.16 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 31 innings by allowing 26 hits and seven walks while striking out 31.

After a solid return season in 2012 with Mobile and a decent season with AAA Reno for 2013, Marshall got off to a terrific start with Reno in 2014 in which he posted a 0.54 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 16 23 innings before earning a call-up in May. For the Diamondbacks in 57 outings covering 49 innings, Marshall posted a respectable 2.74 ERA and 1.36 WHIP by allowing just 50 hits (.266 OBA) and 17 walks (8.1%) compared to 54 strikeouts (25.7%).

After struggling wth the Diamondbacks to begin 2015, Marshall was optioned to Reno after a tough start. However, what happened with the Reno Aces was far worse than a simple demotion. His career was briefly stalled after being struck in the head by a line drive on Aug. 4, 2015. The ball, traveling 105 mph, struck Marshall in the right temple. He suffered a fractured skull, and 90 minutes later he underwent emergency surgery to relieve swelling and bleeding of the brain. Amazingly enough, Marshall returned to pitch for the Diamondbacks just a month later.

Since then, Marshall has continued to pitch for the Diamondbacks, Mariners and Cleveland with limited success in his cups of coffee, although he had significant success with the Indians AAA team in Columbus where he posted a 1.59 ERA and 0.97 in 34 innings, allowing just 28 hits and five walks while striking out 38. Marshall’s best pitch is a 94 mph sinking fastball. Right now, he’s with the White Sox for minor league depth, but I wouldn’t bet against him finding a way to make it to the White Sox at some point in 2019.

Also finishing the season with Charlotte was Jhoan Quijada (who actually spent most of the season with Kannapolis). He’s likely to begin next season with Winston-Salem, but is Rule 5 eligible.


Birmingham Barons

Matt Foster
195 pounds
Age: 24

Foster, a resident of the eastern Alabama community of Valley, has been quite the reliable workhorse since his varsity days. As a senior for Valley High, he logged 65 1⁄3 innings with an ERA of 0.96 and an impressive 115 strikeouts (an amazing 15.84 K/9); he finished with a bang by striking out 21 hitters in his final outing. These results prompted the Diamondbacks to draft him in the 29th round in 2013, but he opted for college ball instead.

As a two-year starter for Gulf State JC in Panama City, Fla., Foster combined for a 2.06 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over a total of 144 1⁄3 innings, allowing just 114 hits and 38 walks compared to 157 strikeouts. Foster, considered one of the top JUCO transfers in the nation, stayed close to home and transferred to the Alabama Crimson Tide. He adjusted well there as a reliever, where he enjoyed a 2.93 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 40 innings. surrendering just 33 hits and 16 walks while striking out 49. These results let to the White Sox drafting him in the 2016’s 20th round.

What Foster achieved in his first year in professional ball in 2016 was amazing. With the AZL White Sox and Great Falls, he combined for an incredible 0.61 ERA and 0.64 WHIP over the course of 22 games (29 2⁄3 IP); during that time, Foster allowed just 12 hits (.121 OBA) and seven walks (6.4 BB%) while striking out 49 (37.6 K%). He was also 11-for-11 in save opportunities that year. After a brief, self-imposed retirement, Foster began the 2017 campaign in June with Kannapolis and finished with Winston-Salem. Again, he dominated, with a combined ERA of 1.30 and WHIP of 0.76; during his 27 2⁄3 innings, he allowed just 16 hits (.168 OBA) and five walks (4.9 BB%) while punching out 33 hitters (32.04 K%).

Foster returned to Winston-Salem to begin 2018, where he continued to excel, to the tune of a 2.57 ERA and 1.14 WHIP; he saved seven games in his 28 innings for the Dash and allowed just 25 hits (.250 OBA) and seven walks (6.4 BB%) while striking out 40 hitters (36.4 K%). With all boxes checked, Foster was promoted on June 21 to Birmingham, where he turned in solid results despite initial struggles. In 24 outings with the Barons totaling 32 innings, Foster compiled a 3.94 ERA and 1.44 WHIP by 33 hits (.264 OBA) and 13 walks (9.4%) while striking out 30 (21.7%).

Foster has an impressive repertoire. In addition to a fastball that runs up to 95 mph, he throws a sharp slider which runs 82-85, a cutter which runs 90-93, and a plus 80-83 changeup which helped limit lefties to a .185 average in 2018. In fact, throughout his minor league career, Foster has actually fared better against lefties than righties, which speaks to the quality of that changeup (which is reminiscent of former White Sox closer Keith Foulke). Foster’s command and control have been outstanding throughout his career, with the exception of his first few outings with Birmingham. There’s a good chance that Foster begins next season with Charlotte, although there’s still a possibility he returns to Birmingham with a chance for early promotion if all goes well.

Zach Thompson
230 pounds
Age: 25

Thompson, despite his stuff and imposing build, didn’t exactly overwhelm with small school Texas-Arlington during his three-year college career. His junior season wasn’t quite as good as his freshman year, but was a marked improvement over his sophomore campaign. In that junior season, he posted a 4.64 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 16 games (all starts). In 87 innings, Thompson relinquished 97 hits and 32 walks while striking out 62. However, despite those modest numbers, the Sox selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 MLB draft due to his impressive stuff and imposing build.

Over 353 innings in the White Sox system from 2014-17, Thompson combined for a 4.31 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, to go along with a 10.1 BB% and 18.90 K%. Due to the lack of results, which had more to do with a lack of repertoire and poor control than velocity, Thompson was converted from the rotation to the bullpen to begin 2018.

In 2018, in a combined 41 games with Winston-Salem and Birmingham encompassing 75 13 innings, Thompson posted an exceptional 1.55 ERA and 1.14 WHIP by surrendering just 57 hits (.206 OBA) and 29 walks (9.4%) but striking out 76 batters (24.5%). After the minor league season was over, he pitched for Glendale in the Arizona Fall League and acquitted himself well, posting a 4.73 ERA but 1.20 WHIP in 13 13 innings by allowing 10 hits and six walks while striking out 15.

In 2017, MLB Pipeline graded Thompson out with a 60 fastball, 55 curveball, 40 changeup and 40 control. With only two solid pitches and poor control, it was somewhat inevitable that Thompson would shift to the bullpen as a reliever. His changeup may have been working better this year, as lefties hit about 10 points lower against his offerings than righties did. His fastball also may have played up a tick or two, as evidenced by his increased strikeout rate. While his walk rate improved this year, it still wasn’t great — but it should suffice in a seventh-inning type role in the bullpen. Thompson is not listed on the 40-man roster, so he is eligible for selection in December’s Rule 5 Draft. If unselected, he should begin next season with Charlotte.

Jake Johansen
235 pounds
Age: 28

Johansen, despite his incredible stuff, posted a middling three-year career with Dallas Baptist. His freshman and sophomore seasons were spent as a swingman, but he was exclusively a starter during his junior season. That season, he posted a 5.40 ERA and 1.53 ERA in his 15 starts totaling 88 innings, allowing 109 hits and 26 walks while striking out 75. Despite the lack of significant results, the Washington Nationals liked his potential and selected him in the second round of the 2013 MLB draft.

Johansen’s struggles began in 2013, when he was promoted to the Nationals A squad in Hagerstown. In late 2013 and all of 2014 for the Suns, his combined ERA was well over 5. The Nationals promoted him to their A+ squad in Potomac for 2015 while converting him to the bullpen; however, Johansen posted similar results: 5.44 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, .300 OBA, 11.5 BB%, and 20.5 K%. After a 2016 season split between Hagerstown and Potomac with a combined improved 3.19 ERA and 0.64 WHIP, and an even uglier beginning to the season with AA Harrisburg last year, the Nationals had enough and released Johansen on May 16, 2017. The White Sox claimed him shortly afterward, and Johansen posted respectable if unsensational results with Winston-Salem and Birmingham.

In 31 games for the Barons in 2018 covering 47 23 innings, he compiled a 4.15 ERA and 1.53 WHIP by allowing 57 hits (.291 OBA) and 16 walks (7.2%) while fanning 35 (15.8%). Despite a fastball that touches three digits, Johansen hasn’t advanced any further than AA ball due to his lack of command with his fastball and the inability to master his secondary pitches like his upper-80s slider, changeup, and curveball. As a result, he’s gotten hit harder than someone with his stuff should. Johansen turns 28 in January, and this former top prospect is now considered minor league depth at this point. It’s possible he returns to the Birmingham bullpen for 2019, but as is the case for such organizational players, he could also be on the outside looking in as well.

Felix Paulino
170 pounds
Age: 24

Paulino, as a native of the Dominican Republic, signed a minor league contract with the Philadelphia Phillies on April 15, 2014. In his first four years in the Phillies organization, from 2014 to 2017, he moved up the system gradually, from their DSL squad to their A-squad in Lakewood. In those four years (in which he primarily started), he combined to post a respectable 3.52 ERA and 1.20 WHIP by allowing 273 hits (.258 OBA) and 59 walks (5.1%) while fanning 233 (20.0%).

In 2018 in 25 outings for A+ Clearwater, Paulino primarily pitched in relief (25 games, three starts) and posted a 3.18 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 62 13 innings, surrendering 67 hits (.276 OBA) and 21 walks (7.8%) while striking out 54 (20.1%). On July 22, he was promoted to AA Reading and started all six of his outings; in his 29 23 innings, he posted a 5.46 ERA and 1.52 WHIP as he allowed 32 hits (.274 OBA) and 13 walks (9.7%) while punching out 20 hitters (14.9%). Just one month after his promotion, he was traded to the White Sox for southpaw reliever Luis Avilán. In two starts for Birmingham, he fared miserably, with a 9.00 ERA and 2.22 WHIP in nine innings by allowing 13 hits (.325 OBA) and seven walks (14.6%) while striking out just three hitters (6.3%).

Paulino’s repertoire includes a four-seam fastball that peaks at 95 mph, a cutter around 90, a slider and a changeup. His command and control were solid in hist four seasons with the Phillies organization, but Paulino has allowed more hits and walks as he’s faced more disciplined hitters. With his slight build, he’s better suited for a relief role. Since his fastball usually runs 92-94, Paulino is more suited for middle-relief than high-leverage situations. He should return to Birmingham to begin next season. He is eligible for this year’s Rule 5 draft, but isn’t likely to be selected due in part to his struggles in AA ball.

Mauricio Cabrera
225 pounds
Age: 25

Cabrera, a native of the Dominican Republic, received a $400,000 signing bonus from the Atlanta Braves on May 27, 2011. In his first five seasons with the Braves organization (2011-15), he split his time between the rotation and bullpen and struggled for the most part — reaching as high as AA Mississippi. During those five years, Cabrera combined to post a 4.32 ERA and 1.42 WHIP by allowing a .236 OBA, 12.3 BB%, and 19.4 K%.

The 2016 season was Cabrera’s best to date, as he posted a solid 3.21 ERA and 1.25 WHIP for Mississippi in 25 games, ultimately earning him a promotion to the Braves on June 27. In 41 games for Atlanta, Cabrera posted a 5-1 record with seven saves, with a 2.82 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, allowing just 31 hits (.225 OBA) and 19 walks (11.7%) while striking out 32 (19.8%) in 38 13 innings. Cabrera began last season on the DL, pitching for four Braves minor league squads and posting a whopping 6.20 ERA and 1.80 WHIP in 45 combined innings, allowing 35 hits (.211 OBA) but 46 walks (21.1%) while fanning 39 batters (17.9%).

When Cabrera struggled badly with the Braves A-team in Florida to begin 2018, he was released. The White Sox claimed him in July, but he performed poorly between DL stints. Combined with the AZL Sox and Birmingham, Cabrera posted an ugly 12.19 ERA and 2.32 WHIP in 10 13 innings (11 games) as he allowed 15 hits (.319 OBA) and nine walks (15.3%) while striking out 13 (22.0%).

Though Cabrera’s fastball runs triple digits consistently, it plays down for three reasons. He doesn’t offer any deception in his delivery, he lacks command and control as evidenced by his extremely high walk rates and surprisingly high OBA, and he throws his secondary pitches (curveball and changeup) so hard that they don’t provide enough speed variation to change how hitters approach him. Expect Cabrera to return to pitcher-friendly Birmingham for 2019, with hopes he could be promoted on the off-chance he figures things out.



Few teams can provide the bullpen depth that the White Sox presently offer. The top guys at Charlotte and Birmingham last year (Hamilton, Burdi, Burr, Ruiz, Foster, Thompson, Vieira and even Fulmer at times) have shown flashes of major league potential. Nearly all of the guys listed above have outstanding upside, and that doesn’t even include pitchers like Victor Diaz, who missed all of 2018 due to injury. Obviously not all these pitchers will establish themselves as MLB fixtures. However, the plethora of quality arms in the bullpen will make it easier to complete deals for established major leaguers when the White Sox’s window of contention finally arrives.