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Winston-Salem Dash 2021 Season Preview

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The top prospects are down in Kannapolis, so this is a group of guys who need to prove something

The Dash will not have as many eyes on the team to start the year — but if Kannapolis reinforcements arrive, they sure will.
@WSDashBaseball

With all the prospects from the rebuild now in the majors or at least at Triple-A, the Single-A levels of the system now have the majority of the prospect talent. This is becoming a younger and younger system, and will trend even more so once several current MLBers come off the Top 30 prospect lists. If you want to see the next great pitching or hitting prospects, Winston-Salem and Kannapolis are probably the places to go to find them.

Again, each minor league level is going to have different rules, and High-A is no different, where there is a new step-off/balk rule. According to FanGraphs’ Brendan Gawlowski and Kevin Goldstein, “pitchers will be required to disengage the rubber before attempting a pickoff throw; violations will result in a balk.” It is a weird rule, but it is meant to keep the base paths more active. Stolen bases should go up, but balks probably will as well because this is a completely new rule that most pitchers haven’t been played with before.

The coaches that will help the young guys learn these new rules for the Dash are Ryan Newman at manager, Mike Daniel as the hitting coach, and friendly old face Danny Farquhar as the pitching coach. Newman is an MiLB lifer who has been a manager with the Sox farm system for almost 900 games. He last managed in Kannapolis in 2019, so again, there will be some familiarity there with many of these Dash players. Daniel does not have the coaching experience Newman has, but he did spend seven seasons in the minors after he was drafted in the seventh round in 2005. Farquhar rounds out the coaching staff, and we all know his story. He is a former White Sox and this is his first experience as a coach, though he was slated to be a pitching coach in 2020 before the year was cancelled.


Pitchers

The starting staff for the Dash does not have top prospect names but it is still a group with some potential. Jason Bilous might be the best of the group, but he had an interesting year in 2019. He started off as a reliever and he was good at it with a 2.96 ERA, though it was in more of a long relief role. When he went back to starting, his ERA jumped to 3.92 but the advanced stats did look a bit better.

From the same draft, Davis Martin had a bit of an inverse 2019 to Bilous. Martin was a starter throughout the year but his advanced numbers (3.90 FIP) looked better than the results (5.04 ERA). He averages about five innings a start and has good command. Hitters just seem to hit the ball well off of him and, usually well because his ground ball rate was just 40%.

Taylor Varnell and Johan Dominguez should make the starting rotation as well. Varnell actually has played in Winston-Salem before, in a good 2019 season. He went from a 3.23 ERA in Low-A to 3.38 in High-A, though strikeouts keep falling as he is promoted. Dominguez worked as both a starter and long reliever in 2019. With Kannapolis, he had a 2.98 ERA in 90 23 innings.

The bullpen is also not heavy on top prospects. but it does have a few good names, none more so than Caleb Freeman. The righty is rated as the 24th best Sox prospect per MLB.com because of a mid-90s fastball with good breaking pitches. Command will be the thing that either makes or breaks his trek to MLB. Chris Getz, in an interview with James Fegan, indicated that they think Freeman can move up quickly through the season. Lane Ramsey is another to keep an eye on and you cannot miss him, literally. He is 6´9´´ and is purely a reliever. Strikeout rate will be key for him, as it has not been stellar.

From the 2019 draft, Cooper Bradford got a decent-sized bonus after being selected in the 13th round. In his limited time in 2019, he showed good strikeout and walk rates but had a 4.80 ERA because of a .393 BABIP. Isaiah Carranza will also make his professional debut with the Dash. Carranza can start or be in the bullpen and had good strikeout stuff in college, he just hasn’t pitched in a game since 2018. Luke Shilling is in the same category as Carranza as an unknown, but the University of Illinois product is a true bullpen arm who had major control issues in college.


Hitters

Bryce Bush came out swinging in the rookie leagues the year he was drafted. He looked great early in the batter’s box, but a lot changed from there. Bush went from an everyday third baseman to right field because of 21 errors in just 40 games there in 2018 and 2019. His hitting also took a big hit in 2019 in Kannapolis, as his wRC+ fell to 86 due to K-rate of more than 30% and a batting average at the Mendoza Line. He still did show plate discipline at times, with a 9% walk rate, but that could not make up for the poor overall performance. Bush’s prospect stock has fallen quite a bit, but maybe a year off to improve is what he needed.

Since there were only five rounds in the rookie draft last season, the Sox signed some undrafted free agents that would have been picked in a normal year. Duke Ellis might be the best of that bunch. He showed good speed in college, with 57 stolen bases in 66 tries, and did walk a lot, 16.5% of his plate appearances. The downside is he is not that great with the bat, at least not right now. Ellis doesn’t have much power, and only hit above .300 at college levels once, the shortened 2020 season.

Lenyn Sosa should be the starting shortstop as he was in 2019, but could very easily move over to second. He is a contact hitter without much power (though his ISO has gone up each year in the minors) and he doesn’t walk much. Before 2019 his K-rate was good, but it jumped about 6% in 2019, his first full-season MiLB year. FanGraphs rates him as the 20th-best prospect with the White Sox and even though he has been in the system since 2017, he is only 21. Yolbert Sánchez will probably play whichever position Sosa is not playing in the middle infield, though they will flip from time to time. Sánchez is most known for his defense, with plus speed, but he still needs to prove he can hit at least a little bit. He is 24, so if he looks good early he could be up for a promotion to Double-A. Overall, he does not have much playing experience Stateside yet.

Evan Skoug looks to be the main catcher, and he is a former high draft pick with a high bonus. He had K-rate problems coming out of college and they have only gotten worse. He does come with pedigree (Libertyville High School, TCU) and potential because he does have good power and is a good clubhouse guy. This may be the make-or-break year for him in the Sox organization.

Rounding out the hitters are two very aggressive placements in Harvin Mendoza and Luis Mieses. Mendoza is 22, and this will be his first experience in full-season ball. He is a high-contact first baseman who walks at a good rate, around 10%, and doesn’t punch out a ton, though he has only been in rookie league so far. He also has not shown much power. Mieses is an outfielder who ranks 33rd in the Sox system according to FanGraphs. He turns 21 this month and is also going to be in full-season ball for the first time. He is very raw at the plate and his walk rate is very low, so he hasn’t shown much plate discipline yet.

There are some very aggressive assignments for this squad overall, but these guys will need to prove they deserved it, particularly the guys who have never been in full-season ball before. It will be a very different experience for everyone, especially after not playing since 2019.

Hopefully, the young guys are ready.