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White Sox Minor League Weekly Update: Week 6

This was not Michael Kopech’s week, but Thyago Vieira, Jordan Stephens, Alex Call, and Laz Rivera helped soothe Sox fans’ minds

Move On Up: Jordan Stephens is the next top prospect in the system to be promoted.

It is that time of year, especially for Birmingham, Winston-Salem and Kannapolis, to look toward the playoffs. Though minor league records mean squat, more games for prospects is never a bad thing.

Charlotte is the odd team out, postseason-wise. They are 15-21, and 6 12 games out of first. However, they did call up Jordan Stephens on Monday, and that should help up their win total. Like the White Sox, the Knights figure to be much better come August.

Birmingham is 18-19 this season, and are five games back in the first half of the season. The organization just signed Johnny Giavotella and assigned him to the Barons for some much-needed depth. If the pitching comes around, the Barons should be in the thick of things near the end of the first half. If not, former Dash players called up to Birmingham should help a playoff push in the second half. Additionally, Alec Hansen should be back in the coming weeks to help bolster the pitching staff.

Winston-Salem is already near the top at 21-16, and one game back in the division. The playoff push is for the first half with this group. The hitters are top prospects, and many should be moved up to Birmingham sometime this season. The talent in Kannapolis that will be promoted to replace lost players is not at the same level. Plus, Luis Robert is still on track to debut around the end of May.

The real overachievers are in Kannapolis. They are tied for the division lead, at 24-12, with few top prospects. The help Kannapolis would receive is from top draft picks, in the second half of the season.

Charlotte Knights

Charlie Tilson: .269 BA, 4 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 SB

Patrick Leonard: .261 BA, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 5 K

Kevan Smith: .263 BA, 3 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 6 K

Casey Gillaspie: .333 BA, 1 BB, 4 K — only three games played

Michael Kopech: 6 13 IP, 9.39 FIP, 12.79 K/9, 11.37 BB/9

Thyago Vieira: 4 IP, 0.64 FIP, 15.75 K/9, 0.00 BB/9 ***MVP of the Week***

Tyler Danish: 5 13 IP, 2.45 FIP, 6.75 K/9, 1.69 BB/9

Thyago Vieira had his best week of the season. He punched out seven batters and did not walk a hitter over four innings pitched. His stellar week included a negative-FIP outing of -0.64 on May 10. Walks have been the biggest obstacle for Vieira this season, and this week he dispelled them. For the first time the season he had back-to-back outings without a walk, and he extended that to a third straight game! Even after this week, Vieira still has a BB/9 of 6.35. What is promising is his xFIP, which is at 3.28. xFIP is basically what Vieira’s FIP should be if his statistics matched the math. With Zack Burdi still on the shelf, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Vieira is the lone closer prospect in Charlotte; if he can put up more weeks like this past one, he should be in Chicago this season.

Kopech’s last two starts have been ones to forget. He only struck out one more batter (nine) than he walked (eight), and allowed 10 earned runs. Kopech did not make it past the fourth inning in either start. Walks were the big issue: His BB/9 before the week was 3.00, while this past week his BB/9 was 11.37, and his FIP rose from 2.24 to 3.60 because of it. However, there is no cause for concern. Kopech’s last few starts of spring training were as bad as his past week in Charlotte, and he bounced all the way in his first starts in Charlotte. Expect Kopech to fix his command and right the ship in the upcoming weeks.

Birmingham Barons

Eloy Jimenez: .367 BA, 1 HR, 4 R, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K

Seby Zavala: .208 BA, 3 HR, 5 R, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 7 K

Matt Rose: .182 BA, 1 HR, 4 R, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 6 K

Tito Polo: .333 BA, 2 R, 0 BB, 0 K, 2 SB

Jameson Fisher: .455 BA, 6 R, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K

Zack Collins .259 BA, 2 HR, 4 R, 4 RBI, 6 BB, 9 K

Ian Clarkin: 11 IP, 7.64 FIP, 4.09 K/9, 4.91 BB/9

Dane Dunning: 10 23 IP, 3.65 FIP, 7.59 K/9, 5.06 BB/9

Spencer Adams: 12 IP, 4.86 FIP, 3.75 K/9, 3.75 BB/9

Jordan Guerrero: 12 IP, 1.78 FIP, 10.5 K/9, 2.25 BB/9

Jordan Stephens: 12 23 IP, 1.79 FIP, 11.37 K/9, 4.00 BB/9 ***MVP of the Week***

Ian Hamilton: 2 23 IP, 1.11 FIP, 20.25 K/9, 6.75 BB/9, 2 saves

Ryan Burr: 4 IP, 7.36 FIP, 6.75 K/9, 6.75 BB/9

After the year Jordan Stephens has had at Birmingham, no pitcher was more deserving of a call-up. His K/9 (9.08) is up and his BB/9 (2.77) is down from last year in Birmingham. What makes his season more special is that his batted-ball data is much different than last year. His ground ball percentage is down 6%, and his fly balls are up 7%. His left on base percentage is even at a career low. His HR/9 is down to 0.23. Is this a new Jordan Stephens we are seeing? The answer is probably no, because his BABIP against is at a career high (.340), so it is possible those numbers normalize. The only real criticism of Stephens, if you can call it that, is his age. He will be 26 in December, which is not optimal for a prospect. He should be considered for a potential September call-up.

Even when Seby Zavala is not hitting for average, he still hits bombs —he had just three hits this past week, with an ISO of .375. Last week was an aberration for Zavala’s batting average, because his BABIP was at .143. There was nothing wrong with his approach; in fact, his strikeout percentage is down to 25.9%. The batted ball data continues to show great contact from Zavala. His fly ball rate is up 12% (to 52% overall) this year. The soon-to-be 25-year-old is a dark horse for a September call-up, but he has proven himself to be a serious catching prospect. He still leads the Southern League in home runs with nine, two ahead of teammates Eloy Jiménez and Matt Rose.

Winston-Salem Dash

Joel Booker: .118 BA, 4 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 1 K

Micker Adolfo: .308 BA, 6 R, 3 RBI, 6 BB, 6 K

Alex Call: .393 BA, 2 HR, 7 R, 10 RBI, 4 BB, 6 K ***MVP of the Week***

Luis Alexander Basabe: .182 BA, 2 R, 1 BB, 9 K

Blake Rutherford: .207 BA, 2 HR, 5 R, 10 RBI, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 SB

Gavin Sheets: .360 BA, 6 R, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K

Yeyson Yrizarri: .292 BA, 5 R, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 5 K

Dylan Cease: 8 IP, 3.52 FIP, 6.75 K/9, 4.50 BB/9

Bernardo Flores: 13 23 IP, 4.10 FIP, 6.59 K/9, 3.29 BB/9

Matt Foster: 5 IP, 0.32 FIP, 14.40 K/9, 0.00 BB/9

Alex Call is much improved from last year. He is slashing .278/.388/.491 on the season, with a career high in walk percentage (15.3%) and his lowest strikeout percentage since rookie ball (19.1%). He is also improving with a lower BABIP than normal (.318), which usually means more home runs or better contact — and Call has both. His home runs per fly ball is up to a career-high 11.9%. Meanwhile, though his fly ball rate is slightly down, his line-drive rate is its highest since rookie ball (18.3%). He has also more than doubled the amount of batted balls to the center of the diamond compared to last season (in 2017, his center of the diamond batted balls was at 20%, and this season, it’s at 41.2%). His BABIP, BB%, and K% seem to indicate that his hitting has developed positively, but he must remain at this level all season to become a true outfield option.

The fall of Luis Alexander Basabe’s average was easy to anticipate. Before this week, his BABIP was at .369, with a batting average of .299. This past week, his BABIP fell to .308 pushing his batting average down to .182. Basabe did seem to fall into old habits in his approach: His BB% was down to 4.3% and his K% was up to 39.1%, leading to a slash line of .182/.217./.227. Coming into the season, FanGraphs gave Basabe a 25 on the hit scale, and even with his current season batting average of .277, he is far exceeding expectations. Basabe is just regressing back towards the mean, but he is currently hitting for his highest batting average since rookie ball and is on track to have the most home runs in his career.

Kannapolis Intimidators

Tate Blackman: .286 BA, 2 R, 3 BB, 2 K

Craig Dedelow: .273 BA, 1 HR, 3 R, 2 RBI, 0 BB, 7 K

Laz Rivera: .455 BA, 2 HR, 3 R, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K ***MVP of the Week***

Luis Gonzalez: .333 BA, 2 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 5 K - only four games played

Justin Yurchak: .368 BA, 4 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 2 K

Evan Skoug: .304 BA, 6 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 3 K

Lincoln Henzman: 13 IP, 3.80 FIP, 5.54 K/9, 0.69 BB/9

Blake Battenfield: 13 IP, 2.26 FIP, 9.00 K/9, 1.38 BB/9

Jose Nin: 1 23 IP, 2.37 FIP, 5.40 K/9, 0.00 BB/9

Tyler Johnson: 2 IP, 1.07 FIP, 18.00 K/9, 4.50 BB/9, 1 save

Laz Rivera has been on fire all season. He is slashing .361/.401/.511. In 13 fewer games than last season, he already has more home runs (four) and stolen bases (four). However, the problem is his BABIP, which is at an unsustainable .407. There should be a regression period, but Rivera has put himself on the prospect map. During this past week, he showed a better approach at the plate; his BB%, though still not at a good number, was up to 4.2%, while his K/% was just 8.3%, which is very good. There are not many good ways to track fielding, but as a shortstop, Rivera has a fielding percentage at .970 — 20 points better than last season.

What was great about Kannapolis this week was that their best guys all played well, including Blake Battenfield. He has a 3.14 FIP on the season, with a K/9 of 9.09 and a BB/9 of 1.07. In other words, a command-friendly pitcher. He does have a high fly ball rate, at 50%, which is cause for concern, coupled with a .202 BABIP and 91.4% left-on-base percentage. Battenfield does seem to be lucky in his outings, but then again, his fly balls could be very weak contact. There is some evidence to back that up, as almost a quarter of his fly balls are infield flies. Only time will tell, but right now Kannapolis has a plethora of players playing at a high level.