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Deep Dive: White Sox A-Level Catchers

Injuries and offensive struggles dominate this list for Winston-Salem and Kannapolis.

Syndication: Greenville
Adam Hackenberg, seen here with Clemson, posted an outstanding .822 OPS for the AZL Sox and Kannapolis in 2021.
Ken Ruinard / staff, The Greenville News via Imagn Content Services, LLC

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Welcome to another year of Deep Dive, where we analyze the past, present and future for each position in the White Sox organization. Each position is broken into five parts:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Arizona)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one White Sox player
  5. Free agent options

With Yermín Mercedes and Seby Zavala both surpassing rookie qualifications this year, no catcher ranks in the Top 30 among White Sox prospects per MLB Pipeline. This doesn’t mean, however, that the organization is devoid of talent.

Below are the catchers who finished the year in A-ball (Winston-Salem and Kannapolis).

Ages are as of April 1, 2022

Winston-Salem Dash

Gunnar Troutwine
220 pounds
Age: 26
Bats/Throws: R/R
Other positions played: First base
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 51
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 76

Troutwine enjoyed easily his best collegiate season with Wichita State as a senior, when he slashed .302/.413/.505 for the Shockers with seven homers, 48 RBIs, 34 walks (15.6%) and 38 strikeouts (17.4%). Based largely on the strength of his offense, Troutwine was selected in the ninth round of the 2018 draft. He continued his offensive production with Great Falls later that year, as he slashed .316/.412/.419 with six doubles, two homers, 18 RBIs, 19 walks (13.8%) and 20 strikeouts (14.5%) in 35 games.

The 2019 season was a struggle in more ways than one for Troutwine. Offensively, his numbers slipped to .240/.341/.345 in 61 games as he hit 15 doubles, two homers, 14 walks (6.0%) and 31 strikeouts (13.3%). While he scuffled with Kannapolis offensively, his struggles were much worse behind the plate. In 2018 in 34 games for the Great Falls Voyagers, he committed just two passed balls; in 58 games as a backstop for the Intimidators during 2019, he committed a whopping 23. When you add 11 errors and just a 20.8% rate throwing out base-stealers, it certainly was a year that Troutwine would like to forget. It’s certainly possible that his defensive miscues took their toll on his confidence on both sides of the ball.

Troutwine enjoyed a much better all-around season in 2021 after the lost pandemic season, as he spent the year with both Winston-Salem and Birmingham. Combined with both squads, he slashed .278/.385/.426 over 53 games. In Troutwine’s 200 at-bats, he hit 10 doubles and five homers while walking 27 times (13.5%) and striking out 50 (25.0%). Fatigue was not a factor for him this year, as he slashed an amazing .433/.538/.653 in September! Defensively, he reduced his passed balls from 23 to 10, reduced his error total to six, and stifled potential base stealers at a 32.3% clip.

With improvements all the way across the board, it’s easy to envision Troutwine in Birmingham for 2022, with a chance for promotion to Charlotte by season’s end if he continues his all-around improvement.

Evan Skoug
200 pounds
Age: 26
Bats/Throws: L/R

A native of suburban Libertyville, Skoug enjoyed an impressive three-year run as the TCU backstop from 2015-17. In his junior season he hit for much more power, but at the expense of average and strikeouts. That season with the Horned Frogs, in which he shared the Big 12 Player of the Year award with Texas Tech’s Hunter Hargrove, Skoug slashed .272/.378/.544 with 11 doubles, 20 homers, 73 RBIs, 40 walks (12.8%) and 98 strikeouts (31.4%). His strikeout frequency, along with concerns about his defense, caused him to fall to the seventh round of the 2017 draft.

After a terrific four games for the AZL White Sox in 2017, Skoug was promoted to Kannapolis where, in 21 games, he slashed a meager .154/.263/.308. He returned to the Intimidators for the 2018 season, and continued his struggles by hitting just .192/.283/.299 in 83 games as he hit just five homers with 34 walks (10.9%) and 93 strikeouts (29.9%). In 2019, Skoug struggled equally with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, as he combined to slash just .168/.284/.330 in 62 games while producing 10 doubles, six homers and 32 walks (14.0%); Skoug countered his impressive walk total, but it came against 73 strikeouts (31.9%).

Skoug, who also had a cup of coffee with Triple-A Charlotte this year, continued to struggle at the dish in 2021, after the pandemic season cancellation. Combined with both teams, he slashed .174/.287/.360 (80 wRC+) with seven doubles, seven homers, 22 walks (11.7%) and 50 strikeouts (26.6%) in 161 at-bats. While he still walked plenty and cut down his strikeouts slightly, Skoug’s batting average remained unsightly. He did nail potential base stealers at an impressive 31.7% clip this year, which is nearly identical to his career average.

It’s possible that Skoug merits a promotion to Birmingham for next season, and if so, it’d be more as a tribute to his leadership skills and quick release than would be as a result of his present offensive prowess.

Kannapolis Cannon Ballers

Adam Hackenberg
225 pounds
Age 22
Bats/Throws: R/R

A Virginia native, Hackenberg was selected by the Royals in the 39th round in 2018 but opted to honor his verbal commitment to Clemson University. After going through some freshman struggles, he picked up his game during his sophomore and junior campaigns. The 2021 season saw him hit .258/.336/.392 in 120 at-bats for the Tigers with seven doubles, three homers, 17 RBIs, 13 walks (9.29%) and 27 strikeouts (19.29%).

It’s interesting to note his family’s athletic credentials:

  • His brother, Christian, was a Penn State quarterback who was drafted by the Jets in the second round.
  • His father played football at Virginia; his mother played volleyball at Lehigh.
  • His brother played soccer at Penn State and was drafted in the first round of the 2020 draft.
  • His uncle played football at Army.

With a pedigree like that, it’s no surprise that Hackenberg would succeed at the pro level. Combined with the AZL White Sox and Kannapolis, all he did was slash .320/.382/.440 in 100 at-bats with seven doubles, one triple, one homer, eight walks (7.3%) and 16 strikeouts (14.6%). He’s also not a bad defender, throwing out nearly 36% of attempted base stealers in 2021 as a pro.

Because most of Hackenberg’s time was spent with the AZL squad this year, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him return to Kannapolis for the 2022 campaign; with that said, he should be a lock to begin the year with Winston-Salem instead.

Daniel Millwee
205 pounds
Age 26
Bats/Throws: R/R

Millwee, a North Carolina native, played his first two years of college ball for Pitt Community College (Greenville, N.C.) before remaining in-state to play for the High Point University Panthers, where he slashed .293/.374/.468 during his senior year. Due in part to being a collegiate senior, his draft stock fell all the way to the 30th round in 2019. He did enjoy some success with the AZL Sox that season in 12 games, as he slashed .256/.408/.333 — but of course, his opponents were more than three years younger than he.

After the Covid-19 layoff, Millwee was chomping at the bit to make up for lost time, and did quite well for Kannapolis in 15 games this year as he slashed .250/.500/.300 (152 wRC+) with a terrific walk rate of 18%. Between his first and second stints with Kannapolis, Millwee spent some time with Winston-Salem where he slashed .182/.357/.318 (98 wRC+) in just eight games.

Due to spending significant time on the injured list this season, he only participated in 23 games but saw an incredible amount of pitches as he both walked (16.9%) and fanned (36.0%) much of the time. Millwee was successful in thwarting 17% of base stealing attempts this year.

Like the remainder of players on this list, it’s unclear what Millwee’s role will be for 2022. In Millwee’s case, concerns mostly apply to his age (he was nearly four years older than the league average in Kannapolis) and injuries.

Richard García
185 pounds
Age 23
Bats/Throws: R/R

García’s an unusual case. When a player spends three seasons the DSL, chances are slim they’d ever play Stateside. Fortunately for García, he has proven to be the exception. His offense showed improvement during each of his three seasons: From 2017 when he slashed .115/.193/.192 and 21 wRC+, 2018 when he slashed .195/.295/.285 and 60 wRC+, and 2019’s line of .278/.386/.333 (111 wRC+). Of course, like nearly every minor leaguer, he missed a year of playing time in 2020 due to Covid-19.

After an incredible three-game debut with the AZL Sox where García slashed .571/.571/1.429, his numbers crashed upon being promoted to Kannapolis in 14 games (.188/.222/.250 with a 29 wRC+). This is likely due to a combination of his facing more difficult competition, his reverting to his truer offensive form, and playing through injuries.

García’s defense is the real reason he’s made it thus far, and he was successful in stymying more than 24% of attempted base stealers. Garcia spent two stints on the injured list with Kannapolis, and ended the year there.

Because of his defense, García may get another opportunity for the White Sox — either with Kannapolis or Winston-Salem.

Iván González
190 pounds
Age 25
Bats/Throws: R/R

González, a Texas native, was considered a solid defensive catcher and good hitter, albeit without much power, during his four-year career for the Mountaineers of West Virginia University. Offensively, his senior year in 2019 was a microcosm of his college playing days, as he slashed .294/.397/.407 in 60 games with three homers. Upon being drafted in the eighth round of that year’s draft by the White Sox, he acquitted himself quite nicely with the AZL Sox and Great Falls by slashing .295/.363/.348 in 32 games with six doubles, 10 walks and 18 strikeouts.

Whether it was due to injuries, the pandemic break or just a dreadful slump, González got off to a disappointing start with Kannapolis this year. In his 20 games for the Cannon Ballers spanning 70 at-bats, González slashed just .186/.269/.271 (54 wRC+) with three doubles, a homer, six walks and 16 punch-outs. What’s more, he was only successful 14.7% of the time in deterring potential base-stealers. Ultimately, he was placed on the injured list on July 13 and never returned.

Kleyder Sánchez
170 pounds
Age 22
Bats/Throws: R/R
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 98

Sánchez was part of the massive 2016 class that signed on International Signing Day, a class that included Luis Mieses, Lenyn Sosa, and Anderson Comas among others. A former outfield prospect, Sánchez was converted to catcher just prior to 2016 and was recognized by Baseball America as having good hands, quick feet, and an accurate arm. Sánchez enjoyed a terrific campaign with the DSL White Sox in 2017, as he slashed .342/.383/.381 over 155 at-bats with six doubles, 14 RBIs, five walks (3.0%) and 24 strikeouts (14.4%).

Sánchez, a resident of Venezuela, struggled badly with the AZL White Sox in 2018 in part due to diminished playing time: .094/.197/.132 in 53 at-bats with two doubles, six RBIs, five walks (7.9%) and eight strikeouts (12.7%). In 2019 with Great Falls, Sánchez’s stats were basically a split between his 2016 and 2017 numbers. In 78 at-bats for the Voyagers, Sánchez slashed .218/.250/.269 with four doubles, 10 RBIs, four walks (4.8%) and 25 strikeouts (29.8%). Though he did strike out more frequently, Sánchez finished the year strongly as he slashed .400/.400/.467 in August.

After the pandemic season cancellation and much to the chagrin of Kleyder Sánchez fans everywhere, he earned virtually no playing time during his stints with Winston-Salem and Kannapolis in 2021. After an advanced developmental stay in Arizona to begin the season, Sánchez played a total of just 10 games with 23 at-bats from June through September. Due in part to that drastically sporadic playing time, he slashed a miniscule .087/.125/.130, with one walk and nine strikeouts.

There’s still hope, as Sánchez doesn’t turn 21 until December, but the memories of his outstanding 2017 campaign are fading in the rearview mirror.