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Winston-Salem Season Recap: Hitting

A team will with dominant prospects won both division titles, but fell in their first playoff series

Rising Star: Because of his team’s regular season dominance, Omar Vizquel won the Carolina League’s Manager of the Year award.
James Geiser/Winston-Salem Dash

Finally, a playoff team! Winston-Salem won both division titles, for an overall record of 84-54. As you have seen with the Charlotte and Birmingham recaps, a lot of talent left the team after the first half of the year. However, it speaks to the depth of the lower levels of the Chicago White Sox farm system that the Dash did not lose much of a step when players were promoted out of Winston-Salem. Additionally, because of that depth, we have to break the Dash recap into two parts. This first half involves the hitters.

Omar Vizquel, seemingly the fan favorite future manager of the White Sox, won the Carolina League Manager of the Year award because of the success of the Dash.

But let’s look at the real reason for the Dash’s success — the players.

Luis Robert

Another injury-riddled season marred Robert’s second year in the system. In total, he played just 50 games, the majority of which were with the Dash. Unfortunately, his two separate thumb injuries mean that not much can be read of his season.

In the meantime, though, Robert did show fans that his speed is still there. He was able to steal 15 bases, and only got caught four times. However, at bat, he seemed to be pressing. With the Dash, he only walked about 6% of his plate appearances and struck out 26.4% of the time — not very good splits. On top of that, he showed no power (though it should be noted that scouts who saw him did see power ability, it just didn’t translate to on-field performance). Robert did not hit a home run, and had an ISO of .065 in A+. That, coupled with a lower batting average (.244) led to an 81 wRC+. Blame it on the injuries if you want, (and you probably should), but Robert is still raw. He also seems to be pretty good in center field because of his speed.

Nick Madrigal

Like Robert, not much can be made for Nick Madrigal’s season after being taken in the first round, especially now knowing he was dealing with hamstring issues after the draft, piled on top of his broken wrist in the spring.

Even with the injuries, playing against better competition than ever, and playing longer than ever, Madrigal was successful. In Winston-Salem, where Madrigal spent most of his 43 games, he ended the season with a slash line of .306/.355/.347 and a wRC+ of 103. So overall, he was about average, even with those three hindrances.

Though Madrigal did not show power, for obvious reasons, once he is healthy next season, he should show more. The best thing to take from this year is that Madrigal puts the ball in play: In 26 games with the Dash, he walked and struck out five times apiece. Even with the overwhelming majority of balls in play, Madrigal’s batting average of .306 looks real, with just a .319 BABIP. The power was not, and apparently was never going to be, there in this half-season, so look for more than just 24.7% fly balls next season, along with a few more homers.

Blake Rutherford

Rutherford was a surprise non-promotion at the halfway point, but that did not stop him from having a fantastic season, as he was named a postseason All-Star.

It wasn’t quite a breakout season, but Rutherford improved on multiple fronts. For a full season, he had a career-high wRC+ of 120, thanks in part to a slash line of .293/.345/.436, again career highs. Thanks to more career highs, in home runs, doubles, and triples, Rutherford had his highest ISO (.143). That is not a sign of fantastic power, but it is much improved. Along with the power, Rutherford also snatched a career-best 15 bases.

However, there still are some concerns, which might be why Rutherford did not get promoted to AA. This season, Rutherford actually increased his amount of ground balls, as his fly balls fell. That would usually mean less power and worse contact, yet Rutherford had those career highs in extra-base hits. The increase in pull percentage does indicate better contact, but the drop in fly balls should be noted.

Micker Adolfo

Adolfo suffered an elbow injury early in the spring, but was able to play through the injury for most of the year as a DH (like Shohei Ohtani). However, Adolfo had a setback with the elbow and required Tommy John surgery, which should keep him out of game action until May of next season. In the meantime, Adolfo had an electric season in the batters’ box with the Dash.

If Adolfo had been healthy, he certainly would have been called up to Birmingham with the season he had. He set a new career high in wRC+ with 137, as his power stayed about the same as last season (.182 ISO). The reason why the wRC+ increased without an ISO jump was because Adoldo had a career year in batting average (.282) and in plate discipline. He had a 10.1% BB rate along with a 27.4% K rate.

The fly balls were down compared to last year (to 31.7%), and Adolfo seemed to want to drive the ball more. His line-drive rate was at career best along, with a high 34.2% opposite field rate. That is where the increase in average came from, along with the slight decrease in power, but it worked out very well overall. Once Adolfo returns next season, it should be a year in which we find out if his line-drive approach is the new norm.

Luis Gonzalez

Gonzalez had the hitting equivalent season to Dylan Cease: Vast improvements and terrific results at both levels he played. The 2017 third round pick started in Kannapolis and hit .300/.358/.491, with an ISO of .191 and wRC+ at 141. In Winston-Salem, he was even better.

Gonzalez’s slash line improved to .313/.376/.504, as the ISO held steady at .190. Though his walks were down compared to last season at 9.4%, Gonzalez’s strikeouts were a career-low 16%. To put the strikeouts in perspective, Gonzalez averaged fewer than one strikeout per game in A+. That led to a slight bump to a 146 wRC+ with the Dash, a true breakout year for Gonzalez.

Though his ground balls fell about 7% from Kannapolis to Winston-Salem, Gonzalez’s pull percentage only fell 2%, to 50.%. Gonzalez was still hitting the crap out of the ball, but more so in the air. The HR/FB rate settled in at 8.2%, which is more in accordance with what scouts view as Gonzalez’s power numbers, but his line drive rate was up to a new high. Though it is great to see, unlike guys like Adolfo and Jimenez, a high pull percentage for a sub-40% fly ball hitter with average power is not optimal. Gonzalez will need to go with an outside pitch to the opposite field more often if the batted ball data stays put. But 2018 was still a breakout year, regardless of any small concerns.

Gavin Sheets

From a guy who showed more power than normal in Gonzalez, to a hitter that showed much less: Gavin Sheets. The 2017 second-rounder spent all season with the Dash and only mustered six home runs, most of which came in the latter half of the season. That led to a .114 ISO, far less than expected from Sheets. His fly ball percentage dropped to 33.4%, and pull percentage fell about 4%. Sheets just seemed to not have a lot of good contact — or at least enough to hit a substantial number of home runs.

Even with that, Sheets was still successful. He slashed .293/.368/.407 with a 123 wRC+, all very good. The walk percentage was up a little over one percent and the K rate more or less stayed the same. Sheets is just a professional hitter who doesn’t need to rely on power to be successful; just look at the people down on Zack Collins the next time somebody is upset that Sheets only had six home runs this season.

Laz Rivera

Rivera was picked in the 28th round last season, and was good out of the gate in 2017. However, he destroyed the baseball in Kannapolis in the first half of 2018. He left with a slash line of .346/.395/.502 and a wRC+ of 158 that is simply phenomenal. However, Rivera did have a .413 BABIP, with an increase in ground ball percentage to 46.2%, and his season, though still good, was not as successful in A+.

As Rivera’s BABIP fell to .318, the slash line fell accordingly, to .280/.325/.458 with a wRC+ of 120. BABIP will be very important for a player like Rivera because of how often he puts a ball in play. He only walked in 2.8% of his plate appearances with the Dash, along with 17.6% K rate. So the quality of contact is key for him, and it was good with the Dash. Rivera’s fly ball (33.1%) and line-drive rates (25.7%) were higher than his time with the I’s. On top of that, his HR/FB rate skyrocketed in 2018 to more than 10% in Low and High-A. Next season will tell if the HR/FB rate is real, but it seems like the hit tool is definitely there for Laz.

Honorable mention: Ti’Quan Forbes

Stayed tuned later today, when the W-S recap on the pitching staff is published.