The Sox are (mercifully) off today as they travel back home after Wednesday’s marathon finale in Oakland. So this seems as good a time as any to take a look around the Sox minor leagues and check in on some of the top prospects and anyone else who is off to a solid start for the Sox affiliates.
AAA Charlotte Knights
The Sox top farm team doesn’t have as many of the big named prospects as it had last season, but there are still some names to keep an eye on here. The obvious one is Michael Kopech, the Sox top pitching prospect, who will likely see the big leagues sometime this year.
Kopech is scheduled to take the ball Friday night when the Knights play in Indianapolis. He has made two starts this season, tossing a total of 10 innings while allowing one run on seven hits with four walks and 11 strikeouts. He has thrown 66% of his pitches for strikes so far. Kopech will likely continue to work on his changeup while down at AAA, but if he keeps mowing down the opposition, his time with the big club could come sooner rather than later.
Outside of Kopech there aren’t a lot of pitching prospects at Charlotte, but there are some bullpen names to keep an eye one, especially considering the pen’s performance thus far. Jeanmar Gomez has tossed seven innings allowing just one unearned run while striking out six and walking one. Xavier Cedeno has allowed one run on two hits in 5.1 innings with seven strikeouts and hasn’t walked a batter.
Some of the position players at Charlotte to keep an eye on are off to a slow start. Casey Gillaspie is hitting just .200 with no extra base hits and 20 strikeouts in 45 at bats. Charlie Tilson is hitting .216 with four doubles and three stolen bases.
Catcher Kevan Smith has just rejoined the team after being hurt in spring training and his off to a nice start going 4-for-9 (.444) with a double and two RBI. Outfielder Daniel Palka has been the Knights best hitter so far, slashing .292/.382/.500 with three homers.
AA Birmingham Barons
Perhaps the most notable name at Birmingham is also the one off to the toughest start. Catcher Zack Collins, the Sox top pick in the 2016 draft, is hitting just .071 (2-for-28) to start the season. However, he has walked 10 times, the most on the team, to keep his OBP at .308 despite the terrible batting average. One of his two hits was a home run so at least he made it count.
The other catcher on the roster, Seby Zavala, is off to a great start. Zavala is slashing .353/.467/.618 with a couple of homers already. Third baseman Trey Michalczewski is also off to a good start hitting .306 with three doubles.
The good news for the fans in Birmingham is that top Sox prospect Eloy Jimenez is set to return from his spring training injury and join the club.
On the mound Ian Clarkin is 2-0 with a 0.73 ERA having allowed one run on 9 hits over 12.1 innings. He has struck out eight while walking only two batters.
Jordan Guerrero will take the ball tonight for the Barons. His first two starts have been solid, as he has allowed three runs over nine innings with eight strikeouts and two walks. He has thrown 68.5% of his pitches for strikes.
A+ Winston Salem Dash
Now here is a team that has been, and probably will continue to be, very fun to watch. Several of the Sox top prospects are already playing in Winston Salem, and they will likely be the first to get to watch Cuban phenom Luis Robert when he returns from injury as well.
Let’s start at the plate where the Dash have eight players hitting .289 or higher. Leading the way is the reigning Carolina League Player of the Week Micker Adolfo. The 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic is slashing .364/.417/.582 with two homers and six doubles.
Right behind him is Blake Rutherford, who is off to a .357/.404/.524 start with seven doubles. Joining them in the outfield is Luis Basabe who is hitting .353 with two homers, two triples, and four doubles. Outfielder Joel Booker is also off to a hot start, and all four of them have an OPS of .911 or better. It is certainly a crowded outfield in Winston Salem, and as we noted, Robert isn’t even there yet.
On the mound the two big names to watch are Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease. Dunning’s first two starts were incredible, allowing just one run on five hits over 11.1 innings while striking out 16 and walking just two. His last time out he was roughed up a little allowing four runs on eight hits in six innings, but he didn’t walk a batter and struck out seven more. His K/BB ratio currently 11.5 and his WHIP is 0.865, so he’s probably the next in line for promotion if he can keep this up.
Dylan Cease has also been good, although not quite as good as Dunning. Cease has allowed six earned runs on nine hits over 15.2 innings with 18 strikeouts and six walks. He’s throwing strikes on a little over 62% of his pitches, and has had some tough luck behind him defensively that have derailed some innings and driven up his pitch count. Still, a sub 1.00 WHIP and a three-to-one strikeout to walk ratio is pretty good.
A Kannapolis Intimidators
Not as many names to watch here as in some of the other places but there are certainly some guys off to a nice start in Kannapolis. Second baseman Tate Blackman is hitting .306 with three homers and a couple doubles. Although he has also struck out 18 times while only walking once.
On the hill John Parke is off to a great start having allowed only one run on five hits in his first two starts. He has 12 strikeouts in 12 innings and is yet to walk a batter.
Kade McClure is 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA through three starts with 20 strikeouts against six walks in 17.1 innings.
So that’s the roundup for now. Obviously the return of Eloy Jimenez is big news as he will look to pick up where he finished last season and that was by crushing AA pitching for the Barons. But the hot starts for the trio of Adolfo, Rutherford, and Basabe at Winston Salem is another great sign. The Sox have a ton of outfield depth in the minors, and that will really help them out in a few years.