The Winston-Salem Dash enjoyed the most success of the White Sox' full-season affiliates, reaching the Carolina League playoffs courtesy of a remarkable midseason turnaround. They finished the first half in the Southern Division cellar at 30-40, only to go 45-23 after the break for the Carolina League's best second-half record since 1987.
It was well-earned, as the Winston-Salem Dash had the most promising assortment of talent for the level throughout the season. Guys like Trey Michalczewski and Jake Peter played spent all of 2015 at High-A, but the Dash finally hit their stride after the arrival of Carson Fulmer and three pitchers who had great years at Kannapolis.
The Carolina League baselines:
- Average age: 22.8
- Average line: .251/.320/.359
- Average strikeout rate: 18.9 percent
- Average walk rate: 8.2 percent
And BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem is considered one of the league's best parks for hitting. That makes the team's 3.13 ERA even more impressive.
Trey Michalczewski: The 20-year-old third baseman missed nearly two weeks toward the end of June with a back problem, and that seems to be a line of demarcation for his season.
- Through June 12: .271/.352/.444 with 15 doubles, three triples and six homers over 253 PA
- After June 12: .249/.319/.349, 20 homers, one triple, one homer over 279 PA
And that first line includes a rough April. From the start of May through the last game before the absence (he never went on the DL), Michalczewski hit .288/.374/.510 with all six of those homers. So if you're wondering why his production was on the lackluster side overall (.259/.335/.395), that'd be the Occam's Razor answer. Otherwise, his switch-hitting stats show no key vulnerability yet and he improved his playmaking in the field, so he managed to make good use of the season despite his back.
Jake Peter: Larry covered him in his write-up of White Sox prospects heading to the Arizona Fall League this season, so I'll just copy and paste that:
This 2014 7th rounder is looking like a nice bargain. Outside of a plus arm at second base, he's not going to wow anyone with his skills. The 22-year-old has decent contact skills from his short, line-drive swing from the left side but pretty limited power. His .260/.331/.352 line is about his offensive ceiling, give or take some BABIP luck. He's stolen 23 bases in 25 tries but that's less to do with speed and more to do with intelligence. The AFL will be a nice test for a guy who hasn't played in the upper minors.
Adam Engel: I've been following him since the Sox drafted him in the 19th round in 2013 because it's a blast to watch him run the bases and cover center field. He made use of that speed, stealing 65 bases in 76 attempts. His hit tool is still lacking: .251/.335/.369 with a 21.7 percent strikeout rate, and that's for a 23-year-old with collegiate experience at a big school (Louisville).
Keon Barnum: He hit .248/.322/.390 over 105 games this season, and only came up with nine homers, which isn't good for an age-appropriate first baseman who is supposed to hit for power. Here's another Larry write-up:
Another player who probably would have been going to the AFL regardless but needs reps after missing time injured. The first baseman missed three weeks, which is a running theme in his pro career. Drafted in 2012, he's only accrued a little over 1200 PA and he's pretty much stunk in all of them. The 22-year-old is in his second year at High-A and he's only shown small improvements from 2014. For an alleged left-handed power hitter, .249/.311/.381 is bad, particularly given his home stadium. The 7.6% BB rate and 27.0% K rate don't offer much promise, either.
Cleuluis Rondon: He played 55 games for the Dash last season, hitting .247/.315/.354 as a 20-year-old with an outstanding shortstop glove. If you told me he spent the whole season at Winston-Salem, I would've assumed it was only because Tim Anderson was getting all the reps at Birmingham. That was part of the reason, but a bigger one? Rondon had a miserable time of it, hitting .168/.235/.213 over 120 games, and he saved his worst for last by going 7-for-73 (.096) from August through the end of the season. As the Dash headed to the playoffs, he lost his starting job to...
Eddy Alvarez: Fresh off a silver medal in the 5,000-meter relay in short-track speed skating at the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014, Alvarez signed with the White Sox. It was more than a publicity stunt -- he was a shortstop at Salt Lake Community College in Utah -- but with his age and lack of reps, it was impossible to set expectations. One and a half years into his pro career, he's still an engima, but in the good way.
Working against him: He's 25 years old and hasn't played beyond A-ball, and he showed a suspect glove at Kannapolis.
Working for him: The switch-hitter batted .296/.409/.424 between the two levels and walked more than he struck out at both of them. He started to develop basestealing technique (53-for-68), and he played better as a shortstop in Winston-Salem.
He'll turn 26 in January, so he's always going to be well behind the curve in terms of age, but he's done all he can with the late start, and it's a cool story either way.
Carson Fulmer: After a few weeks to recover from Vanderbilt's College World Series run, Fulmer resumed pitching -- and made his pro debut -- in the Arizona League. After one whole outing, he joined the Dash for the rest of the season. He pitched in eight regular-season games for Winston-Salem, striking out 25 against 27 baserunners (16 hits, nine walks, two HBPs) over 22 innings, and added a successful three-inning start in the Carolina League playoffs. He never pitched more than three innings in any game, but he still topped 150 on the season between his pro and collegiate seasons. That gives him a leg up on the Sox' other recent collegiate success stories, but he is on a slower track otherwise.
Spencer Adams: Known for having unusually good control for a prep pitcher, the 19-year-old righty continued to pump strikes during his first full pro season. He spent most of the year in Kannapolis, posting a 3.24 ERA over 100 innigns, and with just 11 walks to 73 strikeouts. He did allow a fair amount of hits with the Intimidators (111), a byproduct of their leaky defense and his propensity for filling up the zone. He joined the Dash for his last four starts, and combined with a one-off start during a doubleheader in July, he survived both the jump in levels and innings. One development to monitor: He allowed a .313 batting average to lefties (.253 to righties), which could be the result of the change Keith Law talked about:
Adams is lean and projectable with a quick enough arm, but he has moved from the first base side of the rubber in high school over to the third base side, so he’s now cutting himself off and coming back across his body.
Jordan Guerrero: A 15th-round draft pick out of high school in California back in 2012, Guerrero's progress was slowed by a shoulder issue that cost him most of 2013. The lefty spent 2014 in Kannapolis in a piggyback system to get him throwing again, and that set the stage for a breakout season this year as a 21-year-old. He dominated the Sally League, allowing zero runs in five of his nine starts (and he averaged six innings a start). That warranted a promotion to Winston-Salem in early June, and while he took a beating early on, he eventually found his footing. Over his last eight starts, Guerrero went 5-1 with a 1.81 ERA, allowing a .227/.267/.290 line and just 50 baserunners to 49 strikeouts over 49⅓ innings.
He was efficient enough to throw 149 innings this season, even though the Sox used a couple of DL stints on him to give him breathers. Baseball America called his changeup the best in the White Sox system, which pairs well with his low-90s fastball.
Yency Almonte: The player to be named later in the Gordon Beckham deal -- and so much later that he joined the White Sox after Beckham re-signed with the Sox -- Almonte finally had his first healthy season, which allowed him to deliver on the promise that inspired the Angels to pony up for a $250,000 bonus after drafting him in the 17th round in the 2012 draft. After throwing just 102 innings over three season in the Anaheim system, he threw 137⅓ innings in 2015 across 17 games in Kannapolis and six in Winston-Salem.
He ran hot-and-cold more than anybody -- at one point in the middle of the season, he alternated non-quality starts with no-hit threats. However, he had no issue handling the promotion to Winston-Salem, allowing just 41 baserunners over 44⅔ innings while striking out 39. The White Sox reworked his mechanics to add life to a sinker-slider-change mix, and, of course, to keep him on the mound. It's been a success so far.
Brian Clark: While Fulmer was technically the starter after he arrived in Winston-Salem, Clark, the Sox' ninth-round pick out of Kent State in 2014, was the one who adopted a starter-type workload as a result. Fulmer would throw his two or three innings, after which Clark came in and picked up as much of the rest of the game as his pitch count allowed. He thrived in this tandem arrangement, picking up the win in each of his last seven games, with an 0.70 ERA over 38⅓ innings and peripherals to match. Fun fact: The 22-year-old lefty made it the entire year (89 innings) without allowing a homer.
Jace Fry: The White Sox' third-round pick in the 2014 draft threw 52 innings before undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. It was his second UCL repair.
Continuing our minor league recap coverage on the podcast, Winston-Salem Dash's Director of Media Relations, Brian Boesch, joined Josh to give us insight on Trey Michalczewski,Spencer Adams, and life on the road.