“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. The relievers will be written up in five parts:
- Depth in the lowest levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
- Depth in Class A (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the highest levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- Free-agent options at that position, plus sneak peeks into available players in the upcoming 2019 MLB draft
While many of the top southpaw relief prospects finished the season with Winston-Salem or higher, the lower levels also had their fair share of intriguing arms. The players’ ages listed below are as of April 1, 2019.
Great Falls Voyagers
Fernandez had his best year as a junior with Cal State-Dominguez Hills, which really isn’t saying much, as he posted a career 6.64 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, .263 OBA, 18.6 BB% and 17.0 K%. In 2018, he compiled a 4.99 ERA and 1.72 WHIP in 57 2⁄3 innings (12 starts) by allowing 47 hits and 52 walks as compared to 80 strikeouts. The White Sox liked his strikeout totals and saw him as a potential reliever, overlooking his unseemly numbers and drafting him in the 24th round of the draft.
The southpaw made his pro debut with 38 combined innings for the AZL Sox and Great Falls, compiling a 2.13 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, 27 hits (.199 OBA), 15 walks (9.5%) and 40 Ks (25.3%). On first glance at his high strikeout numbers, one would think he may be a LOOGY. However, lefties hit .261 against Fernandez’s offerings, while righties hit a paltry .186. Without a scouting report, and based solely on the numbers, Fernandez may well have a strong secondary pitch that neutralizes righties, say a changeup or screwball. Because Fernandez is still a project and most of his 2018 work was in Glendale, Fernandez will likely return to Great Falls to begin 2019.
Minier was a well-traveled collegian, pitching for Bethune-Cookman and Ventura J.C. (Calif.) before transferring to the University of Washington for his junior and senior seasons. For the Huskies, Minier posted decent stats — with his senior season being a little more effective. That year, he posted a 3.53 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 43 relief innings, as he relinquished 48 hits and 14 walks while striking out 41. Based in part on his projectable build, Minier was selected by the White Sox in the 32nd round of the 2017 draft.
Minier actually acquitted himself nicely with the AZL Sox last year in 17 2⁄3 innings, as he posted a 1.53 ERA and 1.30 WHIP by allowing 21 hits (.303 OBA) and just two walks (2.8%) while fanning 16 batters (22.5%).
This year was a different story for Minier. In eight games totaling 19 innings, he compiled an 8.05 ERA and 1.68 WHIP, as he allowed 26 hits (.325 OBA) and six walks (6.9%) compared to 16 strikeouts (18.4%). His last outing was on July 23, which indicates he may have either missed time due to injury or was released. Since Minier finished the year on the active roster, it’s reasonably safe to assume the former.
As a high-schooler in Oxnard, Calif., Minier featured a 91 mph fastball, with a changeup and curve both in the upper 70s. Likely he’s gained a bit of steam with age — especially with his fastball. Minier is still quite the project and needs an out pitch, as indicated by his career .315 OBA. He should return to Great Falls for 2019.
Arizona League White Sox
Weston was a three-year reliever for Spring Arbor University, a small NAIA school located in Michigan. Despite pitching for a small school, Weston’s numbers weren’t exactly overwhelming. In his three years with the Cougars, he compiled a 5.91 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 67 innings as he allowed 82 hits (.307 OBA) and 26 walks (8.4%) while striking out just 32 (10.4%). Despite those poor numbers, his senior season actually dragged them down: A 7.36 ERA and 2.05 WHIP in 29 1⁄3 innings, as Weston surrendered 44 hits (.352 OBA) and 16 walks (10.8%) while fanning 20 (13.5%).
Weston signed a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers in 2017 and pitched in five games (three starts) for their Gulf Coast League squad totaling 24 innings. In posting a 4.50 ERA and 2.05 WHIP, Weston allowed 38 hits (.349 OBA) and just two walks (1.8 BB%) while punching out 12 (10.6%). He was released by the Tigers at the end of the season.
The White Sox signed Weston to a minor league contract in April, and he pitched for both Great Falls and Arizona in 2018. Unsurprisingly, based on how hittable his repertoire has proven to be, Weston was hit pretty hard at Great Falls. He actually did quite well, however, after being demoted to the AZL Sox. Combined with both teams in 16 outings this year (totaling 24 innings), Weston posted a respectable 4.88 ERA and 1.17 WHIP by relinquishing 25 hits (.272 OBA) and three walks (3.0%) while striking out 19 (19.2%). Something clicked, and/or he was simply much older than the competition he faced, as Weston’s strikeout rate was almost double anything he had done prior in college or the pros. Lefties hit just .167 against his offerings this year, so perhaps Weston may have a niche as a soft-tossing LOOGY. He likely will begin 2019 with Great Falls.
Soto’s first two collegiate seasons were spent as a reliever with Tennessee, where he did well enough to compile a respectable 3.63 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 62 innings — allowing 54 hits and 19 walks while striking out 40 during his sophomore year. However, Soto missed all of 2017, and even though he transferred to Florida International to be closer to home, he didn’t pitch there in 2018, either. Nevertheless, the White Sox drafted him in the 32nd round of the 2018 draft.
After receiving a $5,000 signing bonus, Soto was healthy enough to pitch for the AZL Sox. Of course, with so much time between competitive games, his results were unsurprisingly poor. In 14 games (five starts) totaling 44 2⁄3 innings, Soto posted a 6.85 ERA and 1.50 WHIP by allowing 58 hits (.307 OBA) and nine walks (4.5%) as opposed to 44 strikeouts (21.9%). In reality, though, for such a long layoff, Soto’s control was actually much better than expected.
Soto features a four-pitch repertoire, which includes a 90 mph fastball, 12-to-6 curveball, cutter and plus changeup. Based on his results, he likely will return to the AZL Sox for 2019; however, if Soto is ultimately ready for promotion during the year, he could bypass Great Falls and head straight to Kannapolis due to his age.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Lara signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on Dec. 16, 2016. His first season in the organization was 2017 with the DSL Sox, where he posted a 4.05 ERA and 1.35 WHIP and allowed 31 hits (.248 OBA) and 14 walks (9.8%) while striking out 25 (17.5%). This year, after a successful return to the DSL, Lara finished the season with the AZL Sox — but struggled immensely. Overall in 2018, he compiled a 5.94 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in 33 1⁄3 innings (the same as last year) — relinquishing 45 hits (.315 OBA) and 11 walks (6.9%) while fanning 32 batters (20.0%). Thus, despite ceding fewer walks and striking out more hitters, Lara was much more hittable. Expect Lara to return to the AZL Sox for the 2019 season.
Ramos originally signed a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres on July 2, 2015, coming out of the Dominican Republic. In his only year with the DSL Padres , Ramos struggled miserably, with an 8.31 ERA and 2.83 WHIP, allowing 29 hits (.367 OBA) and 20 walks (20.0%) in 17 1⁄3 innings while striking out 11 (11.0%). After a bad outing to begin 2016, the Padres released him, and the White Sox immediately signed him to a new contract. In 2016 for the DSL Sox, Ramos performed much better, with a 3.31 ERA and 1.33 WHIP over 35 1⁄3 innings as he surrendered just 25 hits (.200 OBA) and 22 walks (14.7%) while fanning 34 (22.7%).
In his return to the DSL Sox in 2017, Ramos compiled a 3.75 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in a career-high 44 1⁄3 innings, relinquishing 31 hits (.203 OBA) and a sky-high 48 walks (22.5%) while punching out 41 hitters (19.2%). He’s got a tall, lanky build that would make a basketball fan proud; however, that build has likely made it difficult to repeat his mechanics, causing his control issues. If Ramos can cut his walks by more than half, the White Sox may have a diamond in the rough here. He missed all of 2018 due to injury, but because he was listed on the AZL Sox roster, I expect him to begin there next season.
After spending his freshman season with Johnson County C.C. (Kan.), Erickson transferred to his home state of Iowa to pitch for the Hawkeyes, where he split time between starting and relieving. He had arguably his best season as a senior, when he posted a 3.00 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in his 16 appearances (12 starts); during his 75 innings, he allowed 78 hits (.281 OBA) and 32 walks while striking out 48. The White Sox liked him enough to select him in the 30th round the 2017 draft. After receiving his $1,000 signing bonus, Erickson pitched for the AZL Sox and Great Falls, but struggled mightily with both. Combined for both teams in 16 relief outings, he compiled a 10.07 ERA and 2.59 WHIP in 19 2⁄3 innings by allowing 42 hits (.429 OBA) and nine walks (8.20%) while fanning 20 (18.2%).
Arm problems were likely the culprit of his struggles last year, as he missed all of 2018 due to injury. Erickson’s repertoire includes a low-90s fastball, a changeup, and a slider which appears to be his best pitch. With his age and coming off an injury, the Mason City resident will be behind the 8-ball when it comes to moving up in the organization. At best, he profiles as an organizational southpaw reliever. Assuming Erickson doesn’t begin with a full-season squad like Kannapolis, his ability to stay in the organization may depend upon who the White Sox draft in 2019.
Dominican Summer League White Sox
Ferrer, a Dominican Republic native, signed a minor league deal with the White Sox on April 27. In his first taste of professional ball, he pitched 3 2⁄3 innings for the DSL Sox, allowing four hits, three runs (none earned ... in typical DSL Sox fashion this year), four walks and five strikeouts. On June 15, however, Ferrer was suspended for 72 games after being flagged for using Stanozolol, a steroid and performance-enhancing substance, which sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Providing the White Sox forgive him of his transgression, Ferrer should return to the DSL Sox for 2019.
Castro signed with the DSL Sox in January, and was able to miss plenty of bats in his 12 outings in 2018; however, he also happened to miss much of the plate as well. In 10 1⁄3 innings, Castro compiled a 5.23 ERA and 1.74 WHIP by surrendering just five hits (.143 OBA) but walking 13 (26.0%) compared to 14 strikeouts (28.0%). He actually held righties to a microscopic .133 average, so there may be some hope here if he can find his control. Castro should return to the DSL Sox for 2019.
The best southpaw relievers (Sousa, Perez, and Escorcia) in the lower levels of the system finished with Kannapolis, leaving DSL, AZL and Great Falls somewhat bare. Yet others, like Fernandez and Soto, also have some upside. However, due to a combination of age, poor performance and injuries, the remainder of the White Sox’s lower level bullpen southpaws seem to be organizational depth, at best. It’s likely the Sox will continue to search for bullpen aid in next year’s draft to help strengthen the lefty relief corps from top-to-bottom.