clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How do you spell relief? The projected 2019 White Sox bullpen

In our first of a series of three, here’s a look at the South Side’s relief incumbents

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics
Closer clash: Alex Colomé will be competing with another new White Sox acquisition, Kelvin Herrera, for closing opportunities in 2019.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Before this offseason, the Chicago White Sox were loaded with high-ceiling, but not-ready-for-prime- time pitchers, like Ian Hamilton, Zack Burdi, Ryan Burr, and Thyago Vieira. With several recent additions via trade and free agency, the White Sox now have several veterans to add to this list. By my count, there are 21 pitchers who have the potential to pitch this year in a White Sox uniform:

  • The incumbents: Manny Bañuelos, Alex Colomé, Dylan Covey, Jace Fry, Kelvin Herrera, Nate Jones, Juan Minaya
  • On the cusp: Aaron Bummer, Ryan Burr, Caleb Frare, Ian Hamilton, José Ruiz, Jordan Stephens, Thyago Vieira
  • Longshots: Zack Burdi, Randall Delgado, Carson Fulmer, Jacob Lindgren, Evan Marshall, Zach Thompson, Colton Turner

This may even be on the light side, as I’m not including guys like Matt Foster, Tyler Johnson, and Hunter Schryver, who will likely begin the season with Birmingham. Obviously, not all 21 of these guys will make it to the big show this year; shoot, with this deep a group, some may get traded before the season even starts.

Anyway, let’s kick things off with the seven relievers most likely to break camp with the club come April.

Ages are as of April 1, 2019.

Manny Bañuelos (28): Bañuelos was once one of the top prospects in the game while in the New York Yankees system — he actually was ranked 12th among all MLB prospects before the 2012 season. However, thanks to myriad arm and shoulder injuries, he’s only pitched in seven major league games, with the Atlanta Braves in 2015. Last year, he enjoyed a solid AAA season for the Los Angeles Dodgers AAA squad in Oklahoma City (3.73 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 108.2 IP, .261 OBA, 8.9 BB%, 27.0 K%). Bañuelos was acquired on November 1 for Kannapolis first baseman Justin Yurchak, and is a contender (barring any future transactions) for the fifth spot in the rotation. If somebody else wins that role, however, he could still earn a spot as a southpaw swingman, a la Hector Santiago. The White Sox will risk losing him to waivers if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.

Alex Colomé (30): Acquired from Seattle in a trade for Omar Narvaez, Colomé has enjoyed a nice six-year career with the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners. His best years were 2016 and 2017 with the Rays, when he combined to post 84 saves while posting a 2.86 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 7.5 BB% and 25.4 K%. His numbers last year (14 SV, 3.04 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.4 BB%, 25.5 K%) were good, but fell just a notch below his usual standards. Colomé has been a bit lucky in his career, as his 3.04 career ERA has bettered his FIP of 3.48. His stuff isn’t as high-octane as others in this post, but it’s not bad. According to Baseball Savant, Colomé’s four-seam fastball averaged 95.1 mph, while his cutter and changeup averaged 90.4 and 89.5 respectively. However, he’s essentially a two-pitch pitcher (he threw only three changeups last year), which makes him far better suited for a closer or set-up role.

Dylan Covey (27): Covey has made 45 appearances over the past couple of seasons, 33 of them starts. Right now, he looks to be competing for the fifth spot in next year’s rotation. However, if somebody beats him out, he may make a better middle reliever, anyway. Last year, Covey’s starting ERA was 5.50, while his ERA in relief was 2.25. Also, his ERA in the first three innings of a contest was a respectable 4.35; in the fourth through sixth innings, his ERA swelled to 6.43. Of course, ERA isn’t the only category to evaluate pitchers; in this case, however, it tells enough of a story to indicate that Covey is a much better when he goes through a lineup just once. One of Covey’s best attributes is that he keeps the ball down: his GB/FB rate would have ranked among MLB’s Top 30 if he had met the minimum inning requirements. Covey does have two options remaining.

Jace Fry (25): Fry, despite some inconsistencies in his first full major league season, posted an excellent campaign last year for the White Sox. For the year, in 59 games totaling 51 innings, Fry surrendered 37 hits (.194 OBA) and 20 walks (9.3%) while fanning 70 (32.7%) while posting a 4.38 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Fry did have some bad luck last year, as his FIP was actually a quite impressive 2.67. Despite his great work, Fry’s consistency wasn’t quite there. For the months of July and September, he combined for a 10.13 ERA and 1.56; all other months, Fry posted a 1.78 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. Of course, ERA and WHIP don’t really tell the full story for a reliever, but those are huge variations. It is interesting to note that while Fry held righties to a .234 average, he was spectacular against lefties, throttling them to a paltry .143 in 84 at-bats. Despite having three options remaining, Fry is a lock as the highest-leverage southpaw in next year’s bullpen.

Kelvin Herrera (29): Herrera was the mainstay of the Kansas City Royals bullpen last June, when he was traded to the Washington Nationals. Unfortunately for the Nationals, Herrera struggled in part due to a shoulder injury prior to being put on the DL on August 27 due to a season-ending foot injury. Those were the first times Herrera had appeared on the DL during his eight-year major league career, in which he’s posted respectable career totals of a 2.82 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .230 OBA, 7.2 BB%, and 24.1 K%. Most recently, last year with the Royals and Nationals, Herrera combined to post a 2.44 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 44 13 innings as he surrendered 43 hits (.251 OBA), 10 walks (5.4%) and 38 strikeouts (20.7%) while saving 17 games. Presuming Herrera is healthy, he’ll compete with Colomé for the role of closer in 2019.

Nate Jones (33): Jones is the elder statesman on this list, as he turns 33 in January. He’s an eight-year major league veteran, although he’s only had three injury-free seasons (2012, 2013, 2016). When healthy, Jones has been among the league’s top relievers, as evidenced by a 2016 season in which he posted a 2.29 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over 70 23 innings by allowing 48 hits (.190) and 15 walks (5.5%) and fanning 80 (29.1). Jones’s career numbers are nice (3.11 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, .231 OBA, 8.9 BB% and 26.7 K%), but they took a bit of a hit with his 2018 season (3.00 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, .239 OBA, 10.9 BB%, and 23.4 K%). Despite injuries, Jones’s heavy sinking fastball averaged 97.3 mph last year, according to Baseball Savant. With the additions of Colomé and Herrera, Jones will be relegated mostly to a 7th inning role next year.

Juan Minaya (28): Minaya actually had his best season to date last year, posting a 0.9 bWAR in 46 23 innings — compiling a 3.28 ERA and 1.46 WHIP while allowing 39 hits (.220 OBA) and 29 walks (13.9%) while fanning 58 (27.8%). Excluding his first four outings, Minaya’s stats actually would’ve been much better (2.68 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .218 OBA, 10.6 BB%, and 25.9 K%). During his three years with the Sox, Minaya has posted a 3.93 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .231 OBA, 12.3 BB%, and 26.1 K%. Minaya actually fared much better against lefties (.164 OBA) compared to righties (.255 OBA) in 2018. His four-seam fastball averaged 95 mph per Baseball Savant, while his repertoire also includes his changeup which stymies lefties, a slider and curve. The odds are good that Minaya will begin 2019 on the White Sox roster.

With ever-swelling bullpens, (most teams carrying either seven-or-eight man bullpens), it’s a near guarantee that these seven veterans will all see significant time on the South Side in 2019. Rick Hahn’s deft acquisitions of Colomé and Herrera should have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the pen: Fry won’t be forced into any closing circumstances, Jones will be able to get between-game rest as necessary, and even solid arms like Minaya can steer clearer of higher leverage. Last year, the White Sox traded for Joakim Soria and Luis Avilán and signed Xavier Cedeño, all of whom had a stabilizing effect on what what otherwise a young playpen of a bullpen. Nabbing Colomé and Herrera should have a similar, and more permanent, stabilizing effect in 2019.