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White Sox Deep Dive: Right-Handed Rookie League Starters

Three of the organization’s Top 30 prospects are found here, including the dominant Norge Vera.

Norge Vera dominated the DSL in 2021. Where will he pitch in 2022?
| @MLBPipeline

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican and 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 a White Sox player
  5. Free agent options

While most of the top right-handed starting pitching prospects finished the season in the full-season leagues, there are actually three on this list who currently rank among the organization’s Top 30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline. Plus, there are other intriguing arms who are short on success, but full on potential.

Ages below are as of April 1, 2022

ACL White Sox

Tanner McDougal
185 pounds
Age: 18

In 16 innings as a senior for Silverado H.S. in Las Vegas, McDougal fanned 33 in 16 innings while walking just three on his way to a 0.88 ERA and .109 OBA. Yet, it was difficult for scouts to gauge just how good he was based upon the fact that coaches would limit him to a two-inning limit through his junior year so his young body can catch up to the velocity of his arm.

With a fastball running in the low 90s and touching 96 according to MLB Pipeline, McDougal’s age and size indicated he’s capable of even more. McDougal’s heater sat at 2500 RPM with big ride, according to Prospects Live. He averaged close to 19 inches of induced vertical break over 132 pitches at June’s MLB draft combine. He showed good repeatability, rhythm and balance on the mound, which isn’t exactly common in pitchers his size — just ask Alec Hansen.

The curveball and changeup are McDougal’s primary secondaries, and they’re both pretty impressive. The bender is a super high-efficiency breaking ball with some hard sweeping action. He rips through it at more than 3000 RPM and generates -11.7 inches of induced vertical break. This curveball shape mirroring off the reasonably efficient fastball shape can be a nightmare for hitters, and runs mid-70s per MLB Pipeline. You’re talking about a two-pitch mix with serious tunneling, and a 30-inch and 20 mph differential!

McDougal’s changeup is also a really good offering. He kills spin really well, imposing 1500 RPM regularly. This pitch is however, in its nascent stage, as he never really needed to deploy it against his prep competitors. His release is highly-efficient, destroying lift: 5.22 inches of induced vertical break is already above average, but when you couple that off 19 inches of induced vertical break on the fastball, it fits into a killer quartet of pitches — so long as he can deploy them in any count. Let’s not forget the slider, which also topped 3000 rpm at the combine. The arsenal is kind of similar to someone like Zack Greinke, according to ProspectsLive.

Due to his lack of experience, and a strong commitment with the University of Oregon, McDougal slid to the fifth round where the White Sox gladly snatched him up. McDougal, the son of former minor leaguer Mike McDougal who reached as high as Triple-A Rochester in 2000, signed an over-slot bonus with the Sox for $850,000.

The White Sox took it easy on him, and McDougal thrived in his first three outings, where he produced a combined 3.60 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in a combined five innings with one walk and 10 strikeouts. He was roughed up in his fourth start, as he surrendered six runs via three hits and three walks in 1 13 innings. McDougal allowed four hits and two earned runs in three innings in his penultimate start, and sadly faced only one batter in his final September start to close the year. That last outing proved ominous, as it turned out he needed Tommy John surgery, which will mean he won’t be pitching until the 2023 season.

Due to his struggles in his last three starts, McDougal’s year-end totals ballooned to an 9.31 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, as he allowed 10 hits and five walks while fanning an incredible 17 hitters over 9 23 innings. MLB Pipeline currently ranks him 16th among Sox prospects, and gives him a 60 grade for fastball, with other good grades for his curveball (55) and slider (50). His changeup, due to its rudimentary nature, is graded at 45, while his control is also graded at 45. McDougal’s reputation is that he’s more of a control than command guy, which essentially means that while he throws strikes consistently, he doesn’t always pitch to the catcher’s mitt as frequently as one would like. This hopefully will come with age and experience.

Cristian Mena
170 pounds
Age: 19
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 82
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 94

Mena, as a 16-year-old Dominican native, was the highest-ranking pitching prospect who signed with the White Sox (for $200,000) on the International Signing Day of July 2, 2019. As many young players, he opted not to play ball until the following year. Unfortunately, Mena’s development was delayed thanks to the pandemic shutdown.

If Mena had played in 2020, it would’ve likely been with the DSL squad. Due to the lost 2020 season, however, he skipped the DSL and played ball at the higher-level ACL. His results were up-and-down, as he produced a 7.82 ERA and 1.86 WHIP in 13 games totaling 48 23 innings. In that span, he allowed 69 hits (.337 OBA), 21 walks (3.91/9 IP) and an impressive 62 strikeouts (11.54/9 IP).

Why does someone with such a high strike total relinquish so many hits? Well, for the answer, just repeat the famous real estate mantra: “Location, location, location.” While he possesses a low-90s heater with an above-average curveball and solid changeup, and he has already flashed above-average control for someone his age, Mena’s command is such that he hits too much of the plate. This is something that should improve with time and experience.

Mena is currently ranked 26th among Sox prospects per MLB Pipeline, despite his poor early results. His curve is graded the best at 55, while his fastball and change are both graded 50. His control is graded at 45, but that seems to be a misnomer. His BB/9 rate is actually decent for an 18-year-old and would probably put him around 50-55, but his command right now is something like 35-40.

Mena likely will begin next season with Kannapolis, but if he struggles at the outset, he may return to the ACL in order to hone his control. In the meantime, for your enjoyment, here’s a video of him before he signed. My knees are buckling just watching it!

Jacob Gilliland
180 pounds
Age: 22

Gilliland, as an 18-year-old from Ocean Springs, Miss., was expecting to hone his pitching skills with Chattahoochee Valley CC (Phenix City, Ala.) until the Los Angeles Dodgers selected him in the 32nd round of the 2018 MLB draft. He eschewed his college commitment and opted to pursue his baseball dream.

Gilliland got off to a respectable start with L.A.’s AZL squad in 13 outings (one start), as he posted a 4.19 ERA. Because of his low peripherals (high WHIP, low strikeout and high walk rates), he returned to L.A.’s ACL squad in 2019, where he posted a 3.26 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 38 23 innings. In those innings, he relinquished 36 hits and 22 walks (5.1 BB/9) while fanning 39 (9.1 K/9).

After the 2019 season, Prospects Live cited Gilliland as one of their Top 100 AZL prospects and said this about him: “He’s a projectable righty with an easy delivery and plus changeup. Gilliland oozes with untapped potential. He throws 89-91 but has a projectable 6´3´´ frame with an easy delivery. His curve was wildly inconsistent but flashed 55 with late break, and his changeup flashes plus with drop-off-the-table depth. There is a feasible path to back end starter potential, but Gilliland needs to embrace some player development risks to get there.”

Unfortunately for him, Gilliland didn’t receive that development time in 2020 due to the pandemic shutdown. Based upon the depth of the Dodger system, and because perhaps the team had more advanced prospects in their system, they traded Gilliland to the White Sox for cash considerations on April 28.

For the first time in his career, Gilliland was primarily a starter, and his results suffered with the adjustments. In 10 outings (seven starts) and 30 innings, Gilliland ceded 53 hits (.376 OBA) and 16 walks (4.8 BB/9) while striking out 31 (K/9). He obviously got hit hard, and to be fair, he may have been working on his repertoire.

Gilliland has now spent three years in Arizona, and his results seem to dictate he should return for a fourth. If he needs significant player development, however, he may be better suited to pitch for a full-season squad (i.e. Kannapolis) and inserted into lower-leverage situations. Gilliland still struck out his fair share of hitters this year, but his control/command issues seem to indicate he’s better for a mop-up role. If he succeeds in that role, he’d likely transition to higher-leverage situations as the year progresses.

DSL White Sox

Norge Vera
185 pounds
Age: 21
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 9

Vera’s father, Norge Luis Vera, was a pitching legend in Cuba (he actually pitched against José Abreu near the end of his career) and idol of former Sox World Series hero José Contreras. Thanks in part to the White Sox history of attracting Cubans to their roster, it was no surprise that Norge Vera, considered the best pitcher in the 2021 international class, signed with them.

While throwing in the mid-to-upper 90s in workouts before the Sox signed him, he actually picked up a few notches this year, as evidenced here:

James Fegan of The Athletic wrote a terrific story in November regarding Vera, Vera’s father and their relationship with Contreras. Since Norge’s dad wasn’t able to play in the U.S., Contreras is helping the rookie learn English and acquaint him with playing ball in America. This should only help him going forward.

In the meantime, the 21-year-old mowed down DSL hitters this year. In seven starts totaling 19 innings, he posted a 0.00 ERA and 0.74 WHIP by allowing nine hits, five walks and 34 strikeouts. As he was more than two years older than the league average, he was expected to dominate — which he most certainly did. It’s not just the fact that he posted a 49.3% strikeout rate as opposed to a 7.2% walk rate, but opposing hitters hit just .141 against him. In addition to his strikeouts, Vera kept the ball down, as evidenced by a whopping 78.3% ground ball rate when hitters did make contact against him.

He’s currently ranked ninth among White Sox prospects according to MLB Pipeline, but expect that ranking to rise — with perhaps a ranking among the league’s Top 100 prospects overall.

It’s not just his triple-digit heater that is drawing attention. Currently, Vera possesses at least a five-pitch repertoire including that four-seamer, curveball, changeup, cutter and slider. Oh, lest one forgets, he also is on the very nascent stages of a forkball. With so many pitches, he’ll eventually discover which he’ll have the most success with and mete out the ones that give him the most struggles. Certainly, Vera is not settled with where he is now, and is focused on becoming a true pitcher and not merely a hard thrower.

MLB Pipeline grades his tools as follows: 55 for his fastball, curveball and slider; 50 for changeup and control. All are excellent grades, but they could even be better once scouts see him perform Stateside.

Where will he pitch in 2021? If Vera had received his visa earlier, he would likely have begun in Kannapolis. It seems likely that is where he’ll pitch, but if he continues to dominate hitters early, expect a promotion before the All-Star break to Winston-Salem.

Yohemy Nolasco
160 pounds
Age: 18

Nolasco, a Dominican native who signed with the White Sox on January 20 of last year, didn’t play his first professional ball until 2021 due to the pandemic shutdown. In 13 games (seven starts) for the DSL squad in 2021, he posted a 5.32 ERA and 1.48 WHIP by allowing 26 hits (.271 OBA) and nine walks (3.42 BB/9) while fanning 19 (7.23 K/9). While he was sharp in July with a 3.52 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in five outings, he only posted two outings in August, which indicates he may have been injured. September was easily Nolasco’s worst month, perhaps due to that injury, as he posted a 6.59 ERA and 1.61 WHIP over six outings.

Not much is known about Nolasco’s repertoire. A 49.3% ground ball rate indicates he may possess a sinker or some other offering that has sinking action. He actually fared far better versus lefties (.194 OBA) than righties (.317), which may indicate he offers a plus changeup. His strikeout total is fairly low, which may be attributed to a fastball with little oomph — not surprising for someone of his size. With his height, he’s a projectable righty; if he can another 15-20 pounds of muscle, he would be expected to easily add another 4-5 mph on his fastball.

Brian Carrion
180 pounds
Age: 23

Carrion, a Dominican native who turns 23 in January, is considered quite ancient by DSL standards — 3.3 years older than league average. In eight outings (five starts) totaling 18 13 innings, however, he posted just a 5.40 ERA and 1.64 WHIP by surrendering 17 hits (.258 OBA) and 13 walks (6.38/9) while striking out 21 (10.31/9). He didn’t pitch beyond August 10, which may indicate an injury. Unlike Nolasco, it seems Carrion has got a good heater (as evidenced by his strikeout rate) but his results were mediocre thanks to relatively poor control and command. If he doesn’t possess a changeup, or any other pitch that could drift away from lefties, Carrion will need to work on one as lefties hit .308 against him (as opposed to .225 versus righties).

Because of his age, Carrion is unlikely to repeat the DSL. Thus, if he stays in the organization, he will likely begin the 2022 season in Arizona.

Adrian Gil
195 pounds
Age: 18

Gil only appeared in two games (both starts). The Venezuela native posted a 4.91 ERA and 2.45 WHIP in just 3 23 innings. He ceded five hits and four walks while fanning six in that span. Obviously, it’s difficult to analyze his repertoire in such a tiny sample size. The latter of his two outings, on July 10, showed four walks on his box score while only getting one out. Because he missed the final two months of the year, and that last outing was so short with a severe bout of bad control, it is most likely that Gil had tried to pitch through injury that day and was shelved shortly thereafter. If healthy enough to pitch in 2022, he’ll return to the DSL.

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