Minor League Odds & Ends
Okay, so Keenyn Walker didn’t catch this one, but he was close! (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)
The nice thing about the minor leagues is that they are the realm of hope. Sure, the most accurate minor league analysts are often the most pessimistic, but there’s always a chance that some guy develops better than anyone ever realistically imagined, and until they get too old and bad, there’s usually someone rattling around the farm who is going to more fun to talk about than the current White Sox at the major league level.
Unfortunately, many of the first names you might click to have gotten off to slow starts. Courtney Hawkins is hitting .157/.228/.451 at A+, which was an aggressive promotion, and well…clearly his power is holding up. But he’s striking out in 59.6% of his plate appearances. For context, Adam Dunn is striking out 37.7% of his plate appearances. Clearly, he’s going to have to cut down his swing and focus on making more contact, but he’s also one year removed from high school and playing in A+. It’s nothing to freak out about.
Keenyn Walker is also dealing with a big promotion to AA, and while his walks are still there, he too is having trouble making contact, posting a .197/.333/.246 line. This is the 3rd level in a row where Walker has posted a K% around 29, which is pretty rough. Given Walker’s skillset, the most important thing for him offensively was always going to be getting on base so he can take advantage of his speed and plus defense, but at a certain point pitchers aren’t going to walk you if you can’t hit at all. It will be interesting to see what happens in his development.
Trayce Thompson was phenomenal in his first 58PAs at AA last year, and is getting his first full look at it this year. He’s hitting a perfectly fine .210/.310/.403 so far, especially given that he has cut his strikeout rate so far down to 23.8%, when previously it had been hovering between 28-35% in his career in the minors. Somewhat troubling, though, is that he is putting the ball on the ground much more than he ever has before.
Carlos Sanchez is only 21 and in AAA this year, so he should be given all of the time he needs to figure out these pitchers who are anywhere from 3-5 years his senior. Despite his middling .211/.329/.228 line, I am encouraged that he is controlling the zone to the tune of 10BBs to 11Ks. While his glove plays really, really well at 2B, they are still mixing in some starts for him at shortstop. Sanchez is still very likely to replace Gordon Beckham at 2B in the near future, but barring some absurd hot streak, I wouldn’t let him see the majors until at least September’s expanded rosters.
My super dark horse prospect Marcus Semien is still hitting well enough to provide some hope in AA, hitting .274/.390/.403 with 13BBs to only 6Ks. The danger of looking at powerless walks is that it may be more of a player being passive and just realizing that if he doesn’t swing most minor league pitchers are going to issue some walks whether they want to or not. However, the fact that he only has 6 strikeouts indicates that he’s surviving deep into counts with a deliberate (not passive) approach. Semien, if he makes the majors, is almost certainly never going to be more than a bench player – although, how nice would it be if the White Sox had a back up MIF who could take a walk right now?
Jared Mitchell was so unspeakably bad at AAA that the White Sox demoted him to AA to try to get him some semblance of confidence back. Nestor Molina continues to have nice K:BB numbers but get absolutely tattooed, and sometimes that’s just who a pitcher is – look at Ricky Nolasco.
So far, Erik Johnson is dominating AA in his limited innings. Through 18.1IP, Johnson has 15Ks to only 4BBs, is allowing less than a baserunner an inning, inducing 60% ground balls, and boasts a 1.47 ERA. It’s only been a few starts, but given the general optimism about him heading into the season, it’s not unrealistic to think he could contribute in the bullpen in September, and maybe even compete for a spot in the rotation next spring.
Huge caveat on all of these posts: It is really, really early. Minor league statistics are also only as important as they reflect how the player is developing and what they’re working on, and there is tons of volatility in terms of the players that they face (pitchers, defenses, etc.), and the parks that they’re playing in.