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2016 Great Falls Voyagers season review

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Most successful White Sox affiliate controlled strike zone both hitting and pitching

The White Sox had the lowest winning percentage in baseball among its minor league affiliates. Amid this carnage, the Great Falls Voyagers provided the lone bright spot. A 15-game winning streak in the second half propelled them to a Pioneer League-best 47-28, although they lost to Billings in the divisional series.

They achieved this even after losing a few high 2016 draft picks to Kannapolis, second-rounder Alec Hansen and third-rounder Alex Call chief among them.

Some context for the level:

  • Pioneer League hitters: 20.5 years old, .286/.354/.434, 8.1% BB, 20.8% K
  • Voyagers hitters: 21.7 years old, .280/.365/.417, 9.1% BB, 19.3% K
  • Voyagers pitchers: 21.4 years old, 3.54 ERA, 6.6% BB, 24.8% K
  • Pioneer League pitchers: 21.5 years old, 4.99 ERA

Position players

Jameson Fisher: The fourth-round pick out of Southeastern Louisiana was NCAA Division I’s on-base king with a .558 OBP, and the outfielder showcased that skill in the Pioneer League, hitting .342/.436/.487 over 50 games. Of the 43 games he wore a glove, he wore it out in left field, where the former catcher twice injured his shoulder. One injury knocked him out for a couple of weeks, and the other cost him 11 days. He also stole 13 bases in 20 attempts, so the guy got a lot of exercise.

Corey Zangari: After a strong showing in the Arizona Rookie League and a six-game audition in Great Falls, the White Sox promoted their 2015 sixth-round pick aggressively. Zangari, 19, started the season in Kannapolis, where his power occasionally surfaced, but his rawness more so. He hit .166/.247/.314 with eight homers, 20 walks and 106 strikeouts over 248 plate appearances. As the short season approached, the White Sox gave him a breather before reassigning him to Great Falls, where he found the level more to his liking after early struggles. He hit .257/.330/.426 with a 31 percent strikeout rate, but his contact improved over his final month. He hit .271/.311/.543 in August, with more zero-strikeout games (six) than multi-strikeout ones (two). With 26 errors in 88 games at first base between the two levels, he’s still a major project on both sides of the ball.

Aaron Schnurbusch: Not a major project: Schnurbusch, a left-handed outfielder the Sox selected in the 28th round. He hit .357/.471/.542 in his pro-ball debut, with 14 doubles, six triples, six homers and 19 stolen bases in 27 attempts. This performance exceeded anything he did at Pitt, and the 23.7 percent strikeout rate is one potential fault line, but file this one away as a "Hmm." until a level humbles him.

Carlos Perez: Among the handful of intriguing teenage catchers the White Sox carry in the bottom rungs of their system, Perez was the one to get the nod for the highest available assignment. After two strong years in the Dominican Summer League, he spent only 11 games in the Fire League (.231/.268/.359) before moving up to the Voyagers. While he didn’t produce over 75 plate appearances (.186/.197/.214), he maintained his incredible contact skills, striking out just once. He also threw out nine of 25 runners with the Voyagers, allowing two passed balls over 20 games. The younger brother of Angels catcher Carlos Perez, this Carlos signed for $50,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2014.

Joel Booker: The White Sox picked Booker out of the University of Iowa in the 22nd round, and he made a name for himself with his speed. Between 33 games in the AZL and 32 games in the Pioneer League, he stole 41 bases in 44 attempts. The slash line wasn’t bad either, as he hit .312/.403/.404 with a 15 percent strikeout rate, and showed the ability to draw plunkings, too (13 in 65 games). Some of this success is age-based (a 22-year-old in the Pioneer League), but he was a late bloomer in college, and the speed stands out.

Pitchers

Chris Comito: The White Sox selected him out of Norwalk (Iowa) High School in the 15th round in 2015, paying $170,000 to keep him from joining Booker at Iowa. His season followed Zangari’s, as Comito struggled at Kannapolis as a 19-year-old before getting reassigned to Great Falls and finding his groove after turning 20.

  • Kanny: 9 GS, 6.48 ERA, 41.2 IP, 57 H, 4 HR, 11 BB, 27 K
  • GF: 14 GS, 3.43 ERA, 86.2 IP, 71 H, 7 HR, 15 BB, 89 K

The strikeout rate was a revelation, because only fanned 33 in 57 innings during an otherwise-impressive showing in the AZL in 2015. He was especially impressive down the stretch allowing just four runs (three earned) over his last four starts, lasting seven innings each time and striking out 39 to just six walks over those 28 innings. Entering the 2015 draft, Baseball America considered him projectable (he’s 6’5") and said he could be "something special if his fastball gains a tick." Kannapolis should tell us something next year.

Yosmer Solorzano: The surprise of the AZL White Sox last season continued to perform in the Pioneer League. The 19-year-old Dominican righty struck out 81 batters to 18 walks over 81 innings, and, like Comito, got stronger as the year got longer. He threw seven no-hit innings against Helena on Aug. 20, and after a burp his next time out, finished the year with a pair of complete games, the latter rain-shortened:

  • Aug. 30: 9 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 K
  • Sept. 4: 5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K

He recorded three times as many strikeouts (33) as hits allowed (11) over his final 27 innings. He signed for $100,000 in 2014.

Between the two of them:

Bernardo Flores: The seventh-round lefty out of USC enjoyed fine results (6-1, 3.66 ERA) despite shaky peripherals (59 IP, 63 H, 4 HR, 12 BB, 45 K) in his pro debut. He’ll take it, considering he wore a 6.70 ERA in 16 games during his junior year with the Trojans. He worked mainly out of the bullpen in college — Baseball America said he threw almost entirely fastballs — but the White Sox started him in all 11 games. He held left-handed hitters to a .595 OPS, 150 points lower than righties (.747).

Jake Elliott: A teammate of the second-round pick Hansen at Oklahoma, Elliott also shares a similar build (6’7", 230 pounds) and collegiate history (a disappointing decline in his junior year, which might be why the Sooners' pitching coach stepped down after the season). The White Sox signed Elliott for $100,000 after taking him in the 15th round, and he had a fine year out of the Voyagers bullpen. He pitched 16 of 18 games in relief, with 45 strikeouts to just nine walks over 37⅔ innings. His 4.30 ERA was inflated by two unsuccessful starts (10 earned runs over eight innings). He did throw five shutout innings in relief on July 15, so he’s not a complete stranger to success in longer outings.

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