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White Sox Deep Dive: Kannapolis Left-Handed Relievers

A couple of stellar 2021 picks lead this list of Low-A lefties.

Texas Christian opens baseball practice
After winding up his career at TCU, Haylen Green turned heads in his first pro year by not allowing an earned run in nine relief appearances.
Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via 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

The White Sox system has no southpaw relievers currently among the MLB Pipeline list of Top 30 prospects, and the system’s best lefty prospects are pitching in the higher levels. However, there are three or four bullpen arms that are at least intriguing.

Below are those lefty relievers who finished the 2021 season with the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers.

Ages below are as of April 1, 2022

Kannapolis Cannon Ballers

Haylen Green
185 pounds
Age: 24

Green, a native of Lufkin, Texas, opted to stay in-state to play college ball for TCU. Primarily used as a reliever, with occasional starts here and there, Green was difficult to touch for Big 12 foes (except for his junior season in 2019, when opponents inexplicably hit .287 against him). He got off to a terrific start in 2020, when in eight games totaling 17 23 innings he surrendered nary an earned run by inducing just seven hits, five walks and 19 strikeouts. However, the season was cut short due to the pandemic shutdown. Perhaps because he doesn’t have power stuff, and also perhaps because the 2020 MLB draft consisted of only five rounds, Green went unselected.

So, Green returned to Fort Worth as a redshirt senior and basically picked up right where he left off. He saved 12 games among his 25 appearances, and produced a 3.33 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. In 48 23 innings for the Horned Frogs, he relinquished 43 hits (.234 OBA) and just five free passes (2.6%) while striking out 55 (28.4%). Thanks to his success, he was selected by the Sox in the 20th round of the 2021 draft.

In a combined small sample size with the ACL Sox and Kannapolis, Green produced a 0.00 ERA and 0.50 WHIP in nine appearances. True to form, he surrendered just six hits (.162 OBA) and no walks while striking out 14 (25.5%). Despite the high strikeouts and low OBA throughout his career, Green’s velocity typically sits in the mid-to-upper 80s. However, he helps himself with excellent control and command, a superb curve and a funky delivery that throws hitters’ timing off. Below is a prospect video taken by Prospect Pipeline last year:

Even though Green entered just two games for Kannapolis, he likely will begin next year with either Winston-Salem or Birmingham. He was more than a year older than his Low-A competition this year, so it really wouldn’t make much sense for him to return there — especially because his control and command are both terrific.

Gil Luna Jr.
173 pounds
Age: 22

Pitching for Casa Grande Union H.S. (Ariz.), Luna was named in 2016 a Louisville Slugger All-American. Supposedly it had something to do with posting a 1.16 ERA with 138 strikeouts as a junior. Not only did Luna win that award as a junior, he had a fantastic senior season as well, which enticed the prestigious University of Arizona to lure him into their program.

Luna struggled, however, in first three years as a Wildcat with ERAs of 5.32, 10.31 and 9.15. However, something clicked for him during his senior season in 2021. In 14 appearances totaling 21 13 innings, Luna posted a nifty 1.69 ERA and 1.13 WHIP by ceding just 13 hits (.178 OBA) and 11 walks (12.8%) while striking out 31 (36.1%). Based upon his potential and success that senior year, the White Sox selected him in the ninth round of the 2021 draft.

Combined with the ACL Sox and Kannapolis, Luna posted an exceptional 0.00 ERA and 0.72 WHIP over 10 relief appearances. Spanning a combined 15 13 innings, he relinquished just five hits (.106 OBA) and six walks (11.3%) while striking out 24 (45.3%): totally amazing stuff. While Luna’s walk rate was high, it was a far cry from his collegiate average of 19.9%. It’s fair to assume coaches can live with a little higher walk rate if he can somehow maintain those high K rates. Luna’s primary offerings are a fastball and curveball, and the MLB Network panel specifically cited him on Draft Day as possessing good arm strength and good movement on his 12-6 curveball.

It’s difficult to say where Luna will begin next year, as he only pitched four games for Kannapolis while being nearly a year younger than his competition. He may own the best stuff among southpaw relievers in the system, but the White Sox might give him more time to work on keeping the ball down, as his ground ball rate this year hovered near 30%.

Luna likely will be tested at Winston-Salem, where the ballpark is typically friendly to hitters.

Fraser Ellard
205 pounds
Age: 24

While a senior for King’s Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, Ga., Ellard posted a 7-1 record and 1.12 ERA as a senior. After spending a year with Truett-McConnell CC (Cleveland, Ga), Ellard spent the next three years pitching for tiny Lander University (Greenwood, S.C.), where as a senior he posted an impressive 1.38 ERA in 26 innings as a starter before the pandemic shutdown. Ellard transferred to Liberty University as a redshirt senior and posted a 3.65 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 26 outings while striking out 63 in 44 13 innings. The White Sox liked him enough to select him in the eighth round of this year’s draft.

While performing well in an abbreviated three-game stint with the ACL Sox, Ellard struggled a bit with Kannapolis, posting a 4.96 ERA and 1.73 WHIP in 11 appearances. In 16 13 innings for the Cannon Ballers, he surrendered 19 hits (.275 OBA) and 10 walks (12.3%) while fanning 21 (25.9%). He doesn’t possess blazing stuff, but he does have a fairly deceptive delivery that hides the ball until just the last moment.

Ellard has had difficulties with his control (15.8% college walk rate), so his ability to harness it may determine how far he advances. While his numbers didn’t approach those of Luna’s this year, Ellard likely will begin 2022 with Winston-Salem as well, as he was more than a year older than his Low-A competition this year.

Rigo Fernández
190 pounds
Age: 24

Fernández suffered through a difficult three seasons with Cal State-Dominguez Hills — especially with his control. In 12 starts totaling 57 23 innings during his junior year for the Toros, he posted a 4.99 ERA and 1.72 WHIP as he ceded 47 hits (.229 OBA) and 52 walks (19.0%) while striking out 80 (29.3%).

However, in part because Fernández is a lefty and also because he struck out his fair share of hitters, the White Sox selected him in the 24th round of the 2018 draft. Later that year for the AZL White Sox and Great Falls, he actually posted solid numbers in 18 combined games. In a total of 38 innings, Fernández had a solid 2.13 ERA and 1.11 WHIP by relinquishing 27 hits (.199 OBA) and 15 walks (9.5%) while striking out 40 (25.3%).

In 2019 for the Great Falls Voyagers, Fernández posted a 4.91 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 19 games spanning 33 innings as he allowed 28 hits (.228 OBA) and 20 walks (13.5%) while fanning 45 (30.4%). Much of the damage against him came in one June game; in a perfect world where that was treated as a mulligan, Fernández’s ERA and WHIP would’ve been just 3.09 and 1.22.

After the 2020 pandemic cancellation of the minors, the lefty’s numbers took a tumble in 2021 for Kannapolis, as he posted an unsightly 9.27 ERA and 2.09 WHIP in 23 relief appearances. Over 33 innings, Fernández surrendered 39 hits (.285 OBA) and allotted 30 free passes (17.5%) while striking out 41 (24.0%).

Baseball America lists Fernández as featuring a fastball that runs from 86 to 91 mph, while adding a solid curve and change to help him put hitters away. Without elite stuff, both control and command are imperative. Based on his numbers this year, with the high OBA and high walk totals, both were lacking this year for Fernández.

If he returns to the White Sox organization in 2022, it likely would be back to the Cannon Ballers, with an early advance to Winston-Salem if he gets off to a great start.

Garvin Alston Jr.
175 pounds
Age: 25
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 85
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 80

Alston is the son of long-time respected pitching and bullpen coach Garvin Alston, so he’s had baseball in his veins since birth. After struggling in two seasons as a reliever with Arizona State University, Alston transferred to the University of South Carolina-Aiken for his junior and senior seasons. As a senior, Alston was converted to the Pacers rotation and fared reasonably well despite a serious lack of control: In 16 appearances spanning 70 innings, he allowed 78 hits (.276 OBA) and 53 walks (15.3%) while striking out 63 (18.2%). The White Sox liked Alston, though, enough to select him in the 37th round of the 2019 draft. Ironically, he was drafted in that exact same round four years earlier by the White Sox, when Alston opted for Arizona State.

Alston seemed like a new pitcher with the AZL White Sox. In 13 relief outings totaling 18 innings, he compiled a solid 3.00 ERA and 1.22 WHIP by ceding 18 hits (.254 OBA) and just four walks (5.3%) while striking out 22 (28.9%). Lefties hit just .238 against his offerings, while righties fared a bit better at .260. When hitters made contact against Alston, they hit grounders at a frequent 51.1% clip.

After a season off due to 2020’s pandemic cancellation, 2021 was a disappointment for Alston, posting a 6.75 ERA for Kannapolis in 26 relief appearances. In 42 23 innings, he parceled out 48 hits (.286 OBA) and 28 walks (13.7%) while striking out 40 (19.5%). His numbers were similar to those of Fernández, with albeit lower walk and strikeout rates. Like Fernández, Alston will need to produce better command and control in order to advance past A-Ball. Also, like Fernández, he’ll likely return to Kannapolis despite his advanced age, with a possible advance to Winston-Salem provided he gets off to a great start.