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2019 Winston-Salem Dash season preview

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The ‘super prospect’ team may be gone, but with Nick Madrigal and Luis Robert, the Dash are still top-heavy

Movin’ up: Luis Robert will get his start in A+ with the Dash, though he might not stay there for long.
Tiffany Wintz (@TiffW96)/South Side Sox

The Winston-Salem Dash, one of the best teams in all the minors in 2018, will probably not repeat the feat this season. The team is led by a new manager, Justin Jirschele, who was the manager in Kannapolis for the past two seasons. He was able to lead the I’s to two playoff appearances, and seems to be a managerial prospect for the White Sox, at the young age of 28.


Rotation

Per South Side Sox’s Daniel Victor, Lincoln Henzman should get the Opening Day start on Thursday, but let’s be honest: The starter we all have our eyes on with the Dash is Alec Hansen. Hansen was terrible coming back from injury last season and even got demoted, but even that did not help him get back on track. At both A+ and AA, Hansen walked more batters than he had innings pitched, and his strikeouts were not at his 2017 level.

Control is Hansen’s big fix, but it is not for Henzman, who had a brilliant season in 2018. Henzman started the year in Kannapolis and blew through the competition and his innings limit. Once he joined the Dash, Henzman was limited to three or four innings per outing in order to stay within his innings limit. His Kannapolis stats might be more beneficial to look at, and there Henzman had a 3.09 FIP with a minuscule 2.7% walk rate. He is not a strikeout pitcher, but the command is a plus.

John Parke and Blake Battenfield are safely a part of the rotation as well, after their successful first full seasons. Battenfield is probably higher on the prospect scale, but he was the slightly worse pitcher of the two last season. Battenfield’s Kannapolis season was great: a 3.19 FIP, with a healthy K and BB rate. After his call-up to A+, Battenfield struggled. He had a 4.80 FIP, mostly because his lack of ground balls finally caught up to him, with batters hitting a new high against him, at 46.5%. Parke also had a very good season at Kannapolis, with a 3.07 FIP, but (like Henzman) is more of a command pitcher. Parke’s walk rate is always low, but the K-rate is not overwhelming. Once he arrived at Winston-Salem, his fly ball rate went up, and so did his FIP, to 4.31. Both of these pitchers will need to induce more ground balls in order to succeed in 2019.

Luis Martinez and Zach Lewis should be in play for the last rotation spot. Martinez has had time with the Dash since 2017, but last season was his best. He had a FIP at 4.03 — not overwhelming, but productive. His walks were right around his norm, but his strikeouts fell, which is not a good sign. In the long run Martinez is probably a reliever, but for now the Sox are continuing to try him out in the rotation. Lewis’ future is also likely in the bullpen, as last season he split his time as a reliever and starter in Kannapolis, to the tune of a 3.91 FIP. His K-rate went up, but his BB-rate nearly doubled, which is where he ran into trouble the most. This will only be Lewis’ third season in pro ball, so he still has a lot of room to grow.


Bullpen

Will Kincanon and Jose Nin should be the two relievers in line for saves in 2019 for the Dash. After Tyler Johnson’s promotion, Nin became the primary closer for the Dash, and he was very good. His ERA was a lot better than the FIP, but a 3.49 FIP is nothing to sneeze at. Nin has good command, but again, he’s not a strikeout pitcher, which is concerning for a high-leverage reliever. However, Nin had a batting average against that was less than .200, and he was 10-of-11 in save opportunities. Kincanon was the secondary closer after Johnson left, and he seems to be more of a prototypical late-inning reliever. He had a mid-90s fastball the last time MLB Pipeline did a writeup on him (2017), and his strikeout rate reflects that. However, Kincanon walks too many batters at this stage of his career, which seems to be his biggest flaw at the moment. Even with that, Kincanon had a terrific 3.27 FIP last year.

The rest of the bullpen seem to be long-shots at getting to the majors but there are still interesting relievers. Jake Elliott and Kevin Escorcia are atop the list. Elliott has been productive in his three professional seasons but has not been promoted much. Last season he had a 3.26 FIP for the Intimidators. He showed great command and good strikeout stuff but he was 23 in low-A ball which should give some pause to his stats. Escorcia has been on an even slower track than Elliott and is coming off a great season. He had a 2.68 FIP and was able to keep his K/9 over 12 while his BB/9 almost fell by one. However, also like Elliott, Escorcia was older than his competition and more experienced in pro-ball. High-A ball should give people a much better read on the talent.

Unfortunately, the rest of the bullpen figures to be made up more of organizational players than prospects. Luis Ledo, Drew Hasler, and Connor Walsh should round out the bottom of the pen. Ledo seems to be the one with the most potential at this point because, well, he is younger than the other three. He has been with the White Sox since 2013, and 2018 was his first full season in the minors — he had a 4.84 FIP. Hasler has been floating around the minors since 2017, making appearances from A+ all the way to AAA. He actually has had good FIPs at every stop, but has not shown much with his pitching repertoire to garner enough strikeouts. Walsh is the oldest of the three, and has also floated around the White Sox organization. He does have strikeout stuff, but his command has been bad throughout his career.

Victor Diaz, of the Chris Sale trade Diazes, also seems to be slated to join this bullpen but he should start the year on the IL.


Catchers

Carlos Perez and Daniel González look to get the share of catching responsibilities. Perez has not been a great hitter since his rookie ball years, but he was much better in 2018. He had a 95 wRC+, which mainly was based on batting average. Though Perez does not strike out much, Perez only had a 1.4% BB-rate and a .105 ISO last season. He is known more for his catching work, which is not something found in many White Sox catchers. Meanwhile, González figures to be the backup, which was his role last season (he only played in 24 games for the Dash).


Corner Infielders

Tate Blackman and Zach Remillard will seemingly garner the at-bats as W-S’s corner infielders. Blackman tool Sox fans by storm with his hot bat out of the gate in 2018, but struggled during the summer months. He still ended up with a wRC+ at 117, with decent power for a second baseman (.162 ISO). However, it seems like Blackman will be at third for the Dash this year, and that power won’t be enough for that position. Blackman walked at a good clip (11.8% BB-rate) but his K-rate was an atrocious 29%. He was able to hit more fly balls than grounders, and his pull percentage coupled with the fly ball rate does indicate good contact, so if Blackman cuts down on the K’s, there could be a special season in store for him.

Remillard is more of a utility player, but figures to get a good amount of time at first base. Last year was his best full season in pro ball, with a 102 wRC+ for the Dash. He showed more patience, as his BB-rate rose to new heights, but his 24.6% K-rate was still too high for A+. Remillard showed a bit more pop compared to 2017, but his .145 ISO is not overwhelming. This will be his age 25 season, so this chances at promotion seem to be waning.


Middle Infielders

Nick Madrigal leads the the Dash in the middle infield, in what seemingly is an abbreviated stay in Winston-Salem. Madrigal should be healthy in his first full season of pro ball, unlike his first short stint after being drafted last year. Even with his wrist injury, Madrigal was able to hit .303, but with little power. He also rarely walked, but he still had more walks (seven) than strikeouts (five) in 43 games. This will be a big season for Madrigal to silence any rash doubters who drew negatives from his first 173 plate appearances as a pro.

Yeyson Yrizarri has not been overly good at the plate, as his 86 wRC+ from last year is near his career norm. Like Madrigal, Yrizarri does not walk that often; however, he strikes out quite a bit, with a 18.6% K-rate in 2018. Yrizarri also does not show much power yet, so his success largely relies on BABIP. He has some speed, with 16 stolen bases, and plays a good shortstop. Yrizarri has been in pro ball since 2014 but is still just 22, so he has plenty of time to improve his plate discipline.


Outfielders

The Dash had a great outfield to begin the year last year. However, the group won’t be as strong this year.

Luis Robert headlines in Winston-Salem. Robert had another injury-plagued season last year and only played in 50 games. Those 50 games were not that productive, as he slashed .269/.333/.360. As you can see, there was virtually no power in his game. Robert was able to play in the AFL, where he again missed time due to injury. There, Robert did show some more power (.800 OPS, and two homers). Usually, there would be some skill for an A+ prospect to work on, but with Robert, he just needs to stay healthy.

The corners should be manned by Tyler Frost and Craig Dedelow. Frost was very good in Kannapolis last season, with a 120 wRC+ mostly due to his good power — he hit 18 homers in 124 games for a .204 ISO. Like any other power hitter, Frost is able to walk at a decent clip but also strikes out at an increased rate. He mostly plays right field, so that is where he should slot. Dedelow was able to force his way into Kannapolis in 2017, after a good season in Great Falls. However, his full season in 2018 with the I’s was not as successful, with a 98 wRC+. Dedelow had average power (.161 ISO) and did not walk enough to support a 23.7% K-rate. Most of his time on the diamond has been in left field, and he should be the everyday player there.

JJ Muno is listed as an outfielder, but he plays wherever he’s needed on the field, and for whatever MiLB team. The 27th rounder in 2017 played for three different White Sox minor league teams and eight different positions (he was never a catcher, but did pitch in two games). Unfortunately for Muno, it seems at this point his ability to play anywhere is his best skill. He has not done well with the bat, and only received promotions to help cover injury depletions. However, it seems like he may be able to get more playing time this season.


This is definitely not as deep a team as the 2018 Dash, but Winston-Salem has two of the top White Sox prospects in Madrigal and Robert. Hansen will need to show improvement in order to join Madrigal and Robert in AA, but Henzman is also looking to move up White Sox prospect boards. There is not a ton of talent now, but the storylines early on for the Dash are important for the rebuild.

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Season Opener

April 4 6 p.m. CST @ Frederick Keys


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