Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. Next up is Blake Battenfield, who has provided impressive results since being drafted in 2017’s 17th round.
Blake Battenfield (RHSP) Winston-Salem Dash
Blake Battenfield, a resident of Tulsa, remained in his native state to play collegiate ball with the Oklahoma State Cowboys. His first three years were primarily spent in the bullpen, where he crafted for a respectable 2.60 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 97 innings. During that time, he allowed 86 hits while posting a mediocre K/BB ratio (1.47), with 45 walks and 66 strikeouts. He split time evenly with the Cowboys as a senior (2017) between the rotation and bullpen, posting middling results: 4.91 ERA and 1.49 WHIP over 69 2⁄3 innings, while walking 31 and striking out 58.
These results obviously weren’t spectacular, which explains why Battenfield slipped all the way to the 17th round of the 2017 MLB Draft. (As a side note, Blake’s younger brother Peyton just finished his sophomore season as a reliever with Oklahoma State, where he posted more strikeouts, albeit with less control, than Blake did in his sophomore season. Could Peyton be a potential late-round White Sox pick in 2019?)
Battenfield served exclusively out of the bullpen last year for Great Falls, where he posted mediocre ERA (4.88) and WHIP numbers over 31 1⁄3 innings in the high altitude, but some of his peripherals stood out. Opposing hitters did bat .271 against his offerings, but he punched out 40 hitters (28.6 K%) while walking only eight (5.7 BB%). Partly based on those numbers, the Sox decided to convert him to a starter for 2018.
The six-foot-three, 220-pound Battenfield pitched outstandingly for Kannapolis this year in his 13 starts: 2.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 52 hits (.210 OBA), 16 walks (6.0 BB%), and 69 strikeouts (25.8 K%) over 67 2⁄3 innings, earning him a promotion to Winston-Salem on June 21. As expected, his numbers declined a bit in nine starts (53 1⁄3 innings) for the Dash, but were still respectable: 4.22 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 50 hits (.248 OBA), 13 walks (6.0 BB%), and 46 strikeouts (21.1%). He was placed on the DL on August 15 due to an undisclosed injury, which to my knowledge, isn’t too severe. He has pitched 121 innings this year, which is far more than he’s ever pitched previously; as a result, he may simply be going through some arm fatigue and the White Sox are merely (and hopefully) being cautious.
Battenfield has an impressive repertoire that includes a natural sinking fastball, a rising four-seamer, an effective slider, a big-breaking curveball with good spin and depth, and a changeup that has improved dramatically since his college days.
Battenfield doesn’t appear to throw especially hard. I haven’t seen any projections, but we’re probably looking at low 90’s. He was in the mid-80’s as a varsity athlete according to Perfect Game, but he’s obviously gotten stronger since then. But the righthander’s movement and speed variations of his pitches help his fastball play up.
His changeup has yet to be mastered, as Carolina League lefties have batted .299 against him compared to .200 versus righties. Success with the changeup may dictate how Battenfield will progress going forward. Battenfield should return to Winston-Salem for 2018, and if he continues to be successful, a promotion to Birmingham would be likely sometime around June.
Battenfield’s ceiling seems to be as a back-of-the-rotation starter with excellent control (reminiscent of Brad Radke), while his floor seems to be that of a solid middle reliever/long man. He’ll be 24 for most of the baseball season next year, so he would be definitely age-appropriate for Birmingham when he lands there.