The Winston-Salem Dash struggled like most White Sox affiliates this season, finishing with a 56-83 record. The size of the Carolina League gives them a better excuse than others. They had the sixth-best record in an eight-team league, a lopsided one at that. The Dash finished 31 games behind first-place Salem (Red Sox), and 26 games behind Myrtle Beach (Cubs) in their own division.
Fortunately for the also-rans, the Carolina League is adding two teams next year, which will provide some welcome variety in opponents.
Here’s some context for the Carolina League:
- Carolina League hitters: 22.5 years old, .258/.333/.385, 9.2% BB, 19.9% K
- Winston-Salem hitters: 23.4 years old, .262/.331/.384, 8.6% BB, 19.0% K
- Winston-Salem pitchers: 23.1 years old, 4.27 ERA, 9.0% BB, 19.4% K
- Carolina League pitchers: 23.0 years old, 4.07 ERA
Two of the Dash’s younger pitchers — Spencer Adams and Thad Lowry — jumped up to Birmingham by the end of the season after making 42 appearances with the Dash between them.
Zack Collins: The White Sox’ first-round pick was considered to have one of the most polished bats in the 2016 draft class, and the plate discipline was immediately evident. He hit .258/.418/.467 in 36 games (153 plate appearances) at Winston-Salem from the left side, showing power both to the opposite field and against lefties. He played half his games behind the plate, where he’s more of a project. Baseball America summed up the divide in opinion in its write-up of the top Carolina League prospects:
Though Collins didn’t join the league until July 15, he played enough to qualify and impressed scouts not only with his lefthanded power bat, but also with the target he set behind the plate and his ability to help pitchers keep the ball down.
His blocking skills need refinement and his arm strength is just average, and he needs to quicken his transfer. He threw out just three of 19 basestealers while allowing four passed balls in 18 games behind the plate.
He missed some time with a concussion, but he’ll be able to make up for lost reps with work in the Arizona Fall League.
Nick Basto: The White Sox’ fifth-round pick of the 2012 draft was the Dash’s best full-season performer, as he hit .308/.385/.484 with 27 doubles, four triples, 12 homers and an above-average walk rate (11.7 percent) to an average strikeout rate (20.6 percent) over 403 plate appearances. A midseason trial at Double-A didn’t go so well. He returned to Winston-Salem after hitting .188/.253/.238 over 80 PA from early May to early June at Birmingham. He’ll be 23 when the 2017 season opens, and assuming he’ll try to be a Baron again, he’ll be under some pressure to perform, since he’s bounced from third base to the lesser corner positions.
Cleuluis Rondon: The defensive wizard is still stuck in A-ball due to his bat. He hit .212/.286/.261 in his second go-around in the Carolina League, which does represent an improvement, if only because he posted a .447 OPS the year before. He turns 23 at the start of next season, which will be his seventh in pro ball.
Jordan Stephens: Selected by the White Sox in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, Stephens entered this season with a few strikes against his durability — he’s on the smaller side (6’1”, 190 lbs.) for a starter, and he had Tommy John surgery while at Rice, a college program with a reputation for chewing through arms. The surgery interrupted a promising run as a starter, and the White Sox resisted the urge to resign him to relief work. It paid dividends: 27 starts, 141 innings, 155 strikeouts. He showed no signs of wearing down, either, throwing down a 2.23 ERA with 50 strikeouts to 41 baserunners in 36⅓ innings over his last seven starts. He said he threw harder than he ever had during this stretch, hitting 97 on the gun for the first time in late August. Stephens turned 24 shortly after the season, so he might have been a little too advanced for Carolina League hitters, but the environment allowed him to get his innings up.
Zach Thompson: Another slow-tracked fifth-round pick -- this one from 2014 — Thompson doesn’t have much in common with Stephens besides right-handedness. He’s a big man (6’7”, 230 lbs.) from a smaller program (University of Texas-Arlington) who was considered more of a project from the start. After throwing 75 unremarkable innings in Kannapolis in 2015, Thompson repeated the level with improved results. He made his first 16 starts with the Intimidators, posting a 2.62 ERA and 88 strikeouts over 86 innings. While he limited opponents to 58 hits, control problems — 39 walks, seven HBPs, 11 wild pitches — gave some bases back. He received a promotion to Winston-Salem in early July, and his performance took the usual hits, like a rising ERA (5.60) and a lower strikeout total (40) over 54⅔ innings. At least he threw more strikes, especially over his second half of his time with the Dash:
- First five starts: 11 walks, 1 HBP over 27 IP
- Last five starts: Four walks, zero HBP over 27⅔ IP.
He pitched well enough to rack up a massive innings increase, from 75 to 140. Despite being drafted a year earlier, Thompson is a year younger than Stephens. He turns 23 later this month.