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White Sox Deep Dive: Charlotte Right-Handed Relievers

Power arms all — each finding some success at the higher levels.

Boston Red Sox v Detroit Tigers
New White Sox hopeful Yacksel Rios has played for several MLB teams — and has brought it for every one.
Duane Burleson/Getty Images

“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

Just one of the four right-handed relievers among the MLB Pipeline list of Top 30 prospects finished with either Birmingham or Charlotte. However, there are several right-handed relievers on this list who could help sooner rather than later.

Due to the vast amount amount of right-handed relievers that pitched for each team, and in order to conserve time for our readers, Deep Dives will be provided for just five relievers on each squad. Plus, the Barons and Knights are written up as separate posts, for the last time in the series.

Ages below are as of April 1, 2022

Charlotte Knights

Lane Ramsey
245 pounds
Age: 25
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 97
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 72

After transferring from Division II Newman University, Ramsey spent the final two years of his college career with the University of Oklahoma.

Yes, that’s correct. He transferred from Newman to Norman.

While Ramsey’s final season with the Sooners wasn’t anything to write home about, it was still his best (even including his year with Newman). In 2018 for the Sooners in 14 outings (three starts), Ramsey compiled a 5.24 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 22 innings by allowing 22 hits (.253 OBA) and 14 walks (13.2%) while striking out 18 (17.0%). The White Sox, liking his fastball and size, selected him in the 23rd round of that year’s MLB draft.

Despite throwing more strikes, Ramsey got roughed up a bit in the higher air of Great Falls (5.77 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, .316 OBA, 5.3 BB% and 16.9 K%) in 2018. In 2019 in Kannapolis, Ramsey fared far better in everything but the walk department. In 31 relief appearances totaling 52 ⅓ innings, he posted a 2.75 ERA and 1.18 WHIP by surrendering 42 hits (.215 OBA) and 20 walks (8.8%) while fanning 44 (19.3%). Ramsey was especially tough against righties (.153 OBA), but lefties hit him at a .298 clip — with his size and delivery, he may simply be more difficult to pick up by righties.

After missing the 2020 season thanks to the pandemic shutdown, Ramsey made up for lost time in 2021 by working his way up from Winston-Salem to Charlotte. He spent the first month of 2021 with the Dash, and excelled to the tune of a 1.64 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in 11 innings. The next seven weeks were spent with Birmingham, and he performed well for the Barons by posting a 3.21 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 14 innings. Things got a bit dicey with Charlotte during his final two months, however, as opponents tagged Ramsey with a 6.35 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP. He did keep the ball down for the Knights, as evidenced by a sturdy 45.5% ground ball rate, but his walk rate rose while his strikeout rate declined. It simply appears he lost his command, as while Double-A hitters pulled his offerings 43.2% of the time, Triple-A hitters pulled him 16% more often.

Combined with all three teams, Ramsey compiled a 4.34 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 44 appearances (three starts). In his 47 23 innings, he relinquished 46 hits (.249 OBA) and 21 walks (10.0%) while striking out 56 (26.8%). Ramsey has been credited with a mid-90s fastball, and will likely return to Charlotte to begin the 2022 season.

Tyler Johnson
210 pounds
Age: 26
2018 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 31
2019 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 18
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 16
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 22

Johnson pitched dominating baseball in his three years with the University of South Carolina. Even though his junior season wasn’t quite as good as his sophomore campaign, it was still worthy of notice. In 19 games spanning 26 innings, Johnson saved 10 games for the SEC powerhouse with a 2.39 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. For the Gamecocks that year, he allowed just 20 hits (.204 OBA) and 15 walks (12.9%) while striking out 40 (34.5%). With stats like these, the White Sox selected him in the fifth round of the 2017 draft.

Johnson split time with Great Falls and Kannapolis in 2017, and despite struggles with control, put up reasonably solid numbers considering he was just completing a long season. In a combined 22 games totaling 25 2⁄3 innings, he compiled a 3.86 ERA and 1.75 WHIP by relinquishing 26 hits (.263 OBA) and 19 walks (15.7%) while fanning 37 (30.6%).

The reliever started hitting many prospect lists after a terrific 2018 with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, as he combined to post a spectacular 14 saves, 1.40 ERA and 0.88 WHIP over 41 outings. In Johnson’s 58 innings for both teams, he surrendered just 35 hits (.172 OBA) and 16 walks (7.1%) while striking out a whopping 89 (39.4%).

After missing the first 2 1⁄2 months of the 2019 season with a lat strain, Johnson pitched in 10 rehab outings with the AZL White Sox and Winston-Salem before finally donning the Birmingham Barons uniform on July 22. In 12 games for the Barons spanning 18 1⁄3 innings, Johnson posted a respectable 3.44 ERA and 0.87 WHIP by ceding just 10 hits (.154 OBA) and six walks (8.5%) while striking out 23 (32.4%).

Johnson was assigned to the alternate site in Schaumburg for the 2020 season, but was not activated.

The 2021 season was largely a lost one for Johnson. Aside from a combined injury rehabbing with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem where he performed well, the rest of the season was a nightmare. In 13 appearances for the Knights totaling 12 13 innings, Johnson posted a 12.41 ERA and 3.00 WHIP by allowing 21 hits (.361 OBA) and 16 walks (21.1%) while striking out 17 (22.4%). Obviously things weren’t quite right for him, and he eventually needed season-ending surgery. In order for the White Sox to make room for newly-acquired César Hernández on the 40-man roster in July, the team had to release Johnson. To add insult to injury, Johnson didn’t know that he was released until he was reading his Twitter account after the surgery.

Fortunately, the White Sox have re-added Johnson into the fold and he should be ready to pitch at some point in 2022. The injury, and its ensuing results, led him to fall off many of the team’s Top 30 prospect lists. Before MLB Pipeline removed him from the Sox Top 30, they cited him a 65-grade fastball, which runs 92-96 mph but topping at 98. Other pitches in Johnson’s arsenal include a 50-grade slider and 45-grade changeup. (Lefties hit only .156 against him while with Birmingham in 2019, so the changeup may actually be better than the grade.) Johnson’s control is graded at 50, as he has walked hitters at a 9.5% clip in his three-year professional career. However, that control can be tolerated as long as he maintains his career 35.8% strikeout rate.

While Johnson has lost some shine off his prospect status, he will still have a shot to play for the White Sox in 2022. He’ll first have to show that he’s fully healed and closer to his 2018 form than the 2021 version.

Matt Foster
215 pounds
Age: 27
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 35

Foster, a resident of the eastern Alabama community of Valley, has been quite the reliable workhorse since his varsity days. As a senior for Valley High, he logged 65 1⁄3 innings with an ERA of 0.96 and an impressive 115 strikeouts (an amazing 15.84 K/9); he finished his career with a bang, by striking out 21 hitters in his final outing. These results prompted the Arizona Diamondbacks to draft him in the 29th round in 2013, but he opted for college ball instead.

As a two-year starter for Gulf State JC in Panama City, Fla., Foster combined for a 2.06 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over a total of 144 1⁄3 innings, allowing just 114 hits and 38 walks compared to 157 strikeouts. Foster, considered one of the top JUCO transfers in the nation, stayed close to home and joined the Alabama Crimson Tide. He adjusted well there as a reliever, where he enjoyed a 2.93 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 40 innings. surrendering just 33 hits and 16 walks while striking out 49. These results let to the White Sox drafting him in 2016’s 20th round.

What Foster achieved in his first year in professional ball in 2016 was amazing. With the AZL White Sox and Great Falls, he combined for an incredible 0.61 ERA and 0.64 WHIP over the course of 22 games (29 2⁄3 IP); during that time, Foster allowed just 12 hits (.121 OBA) and seven walks (6.4 BB%) while striking out 49 (37.6 K%). He was also 11-for-11 in save opportunities. After a brief, self-imposed retirement, Foster began the 2017 campaign in June with Kannapolis and finished with Winston-Salem. Again he dominated, with a combined ERA of 1.30 and WHIP of 0.76; during his 27 2⁄3 innings, he allowed just 16 hits (.168 OBA) and five walks (4.9 BB%) while punching out 33 hitters (32.04 K%).

Foster returned to Winston-Salem to begin 2018, where he continued to excel, to the tune of a 2.57 ERA and 1.14 WHIP; he saved seven games in his 28 innings for the Dash and allowed just 25 hits (.250 OBA) and seven walks (6.4 BB%) while striking out 40 hitters (36.4 K%). With all boxes checked, Foster was promoted on June 21 to Birmingham, where he turned in solid results despite initial struggles. In 24 outings with the Barons totaling 32 innings, Foster compiled a 3.94 ERA and 1.44 WHIP by 33 hits (.264 OBA) and 13 walks (9.4%) while striking out 30 (21.7%).

Beginning the 2019 season with six scoreless appearances for Birmingham totaling 9 23 innings, Foster held his own for Charlotte in 37 appearances totaling 55 innings. While a 3.76 and 1.18 is considered good anywhere, those stats were especially gaudy when considering half his games were played in the homer-friendly landscape of Truist Field. With both the Barons and Knights, he combined he pitched in 44 games. In his 64 23 innings, he compiled a 3.20 ERA and 1.08 WHIP by surrendering just 49 hits (.211 OBA) and 21 walks (8.2%) while striking out 74 (28.8%). Based upon these results, he was protected from that year’s Rule 5 Draft and added to the 40-man roster.

Foster didn’t seem intimidated when called up to the majors in July 2020. In 23 appearances totaling 28 23 innings for the Sox, he posted an impressive 2.20 ERA and 0.87 WHIP by allowing just 16 hits (.162 OBA) and nine walks (8.3%) while striking out 31 (28.4%). His ERA was nearly the same at home (2.35) as it was on the road (2.03), while lefties (.188) and righties (.137) both had difficulties figuring him out.

Alas, as the saying goes, relief pitching is often volatile from one year to the next. That adage definitely held true for Foster in 2021. In 37 appearances for the Sox totaling 39 innings, he relinquished 43 hits (.274 OBA) and 13 walks (7.5%) while striking out 40 (23.0%). While his control actually improved as indicated by a lower walk rate, his command struggled considerably. Not only did he strike out fewer hitters, his ground ball rate slid from 36.2% to 28.8%. He also had more trouble putting away batters this year, hitting .241 when Foster was ahead in the count as compared to just .043 the year before. When demoted to Charlotte on multiple occasions, Foster didn’t mope, as he performed respectably with a 4.30 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 14 relief appearances.

Foster’s command and control have been outstanding throughout his career, so it is hoped that 2021 was merely an aberration. His repertoire includes a four-seamer that averaged 93.6 mph, along with a 90.5 mph cutter, 85.2 mph slider and 84.3 changeup. He rarely used his cutter, and hitters slashed .318/.430/705 against his change as opposed to .171/.232/.286 the year before — this large a disparity indicates Foster either was tipping his changeup and/or simply wasn’t selling it with his delivery. He needs that pitch to help neutralize lefties while also providing necessary speed variation.

As Chicago’s middle relief situation is still unclear due to the lockdown, Foster is still in the running for a roster spot on Opening Day — provided of course that he enjoys a strong spring training. If he doesn’t make it for whatever reason, he still has two options remaining.

Yacksel Rios
205 pounds
Age: 28

As a native of Caguas, Puerto Rico, Rios was selected in the 12th round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. He slowly worked his way up the system, but he truly arrived in 2017. In 37 combined appearances with Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Rios posted an impressive 1.92 WHIP and 0.82 WHIP by limiting opponents to just 32 hits (.165 OBA) and 14 walks (6.5% while striking out 64 (29.9%). As a result, he made his MLB debut that year and posted a 4.41 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 16 13 innings for the Phillies.

Rios has now pitched in the majors in each of the last five seasons, and in addition to the Phillies, has also thrown for the Pirates, Mariners and Red Sox. In each of those years, he’s bounced back back and forth between the majors and Triple-A.

In 2021 at the major league level, Rios combined with the Mariners and Red Sox to post a respectable 4.28 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 23 relief appearances totaling 27 13 innings, allowing 18 hits (.189 OBA) and 16 walks (14.0%) while striking out 23 (20.2%). For their Triple-A affiliates at Durham and Worcester, he combined to post a 2.75 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 19 23 innings by relinquishing 18 hits (.243 OBA) and five walks (6.3%) while fanning 25 (31.3%).

Rios’ four-seam fastball averaged 96.9 mph last year, with numerous triple-digit readings. However, despite the velocity, he’s struck out relatively few hitters. In addition to that four-seamer, Rios actually offers a faster-moving, 97.3 mph, sinking fastball, 86.5 mph slider and 86.3 mph slider according to Baseball Savant. Of all those pitches, the four-seamer gets hit the hardest perhaps because it has relatively little life to it.

The White Sox signed Rios to a minor league contract on December 3. Based upon his experience, he’ll be given the opportunity to compete for one of the Sox middle-relief openings during spring training.

Peter Tago
205 pounds
Age: 29

Tago, who played varsity ball for Dana Hills H.S. (Dana Point, Calif.), was selected as first-round compensation by the Colorado Rockies for losing pitcher Jason Marquis via free agency. After struggling in his first four years of professional ball and never posting an ERA less than 5.47, he was claimed on waivers by the White Sox during the 2014 Winter Meetings. Tago actually pitched quite well from Kannapolis through Birmingham, as he combined for a 2.71 ERA and 1.18 ERA in 42 relief outings. He returned to the Barons in 2016, and despite striking out 78 in 59 23 innings, struggled somewhat with a 4.37 ERA and 1.34 WHIP.

Allowed to enter free agency in 2017, he signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners and played ball for Double-A Arkansas. Despite pitching well for the Travelers in 28 games, he opted to retire mid-season to pursue coaching opportunities. In 2019, Tago played independent league baseball in Mexico (Navajoa), Sioux City, Iowa and York, Penn., compiling a 9-4 record with a 3.69 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 40 appearances. He was denied opportunities to pitch anywhere in 2020 due to the pandemic, although he did receive a spring training invitation with the Mets.

Still pursuing his major league dream, he returned to the White Sox organization in 2021 and began the year with Birmingham. In 26 appearances totaling 45 13 innings for the Barons, he posted a respectable 3.97 ERA and 1.32 WHIP by limiting opponents to 42 hits (.253 OBA) and 18 walks (9.6%) while striking out 50 (26.7%). After receiving a promotion to Charlotte, which was his first stint in a Triple-A uniform in a career that’s spanned 11 years, he was absolutely amazing. In nine relief appearances for the Knights totaling 11 13 innings, he allowed just three hits (.086 OBA), four walks (9.8%), and nary an earned run while striking out 20 (48.8%). The White Sox could have added him to the 40-man roster but opted instead to let him declare free agency. If he re-signs with the White Sox, the long-time minor leaguer would be a viable contender for a bullpen role for next year’s Opening Day roster with a good spring training. What an incredible story that would be!