Big move: Jonathan Stiever is ranked seventh among all White Sox prospects per MLB Pipeline, and is the highest-ranking pitcher who actually pitched in 2019. (@WSDashBaseball)
“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:
- Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
- Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- Free agent options at that position
Single-A boasts some very intriguing RHSP prospects, including the guy who is almost without doubt now the most exciting pitcher in the White Sox system. All players’ ages listed below are as of April 1, 2020.
Jonathan Stiever capped a great three-year run with the Indiana Hoosiers when he posted a 3.41 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 16 starts spanning 100 innings, surrendering just 94 hits and 32 walks while striking out 97. Alhough MLB Pipeline ranked him 88th among all draft prospects, Stiever mysteriously fell to the fifth round (138th overall) in the 2018 draft, where the White Sox happily snatched him up. Despite only pitching in just two- or three-inning spurts last year for Great Falls, he held his own for the Voyagers with a respectable 4.18 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 28 innings as he surrendered just 23 hits (.258 OBA) and nine walks (7.2%) while fanning 39 (33.2%).
In 2019, Stiever struggled unexpectedly for Kannapolis in 14 starts (77 innings) with a 4.74 ERA and 1.38 WHIP as he ceded 88 hits (.293 OBA) and 14 walks (4.4%) while fanning 77 (24.1%). A promotion on June 20 to Winston-Salem, against more advanced hitters and in a hitting-friendly ballpark to boot, saw Stiever turning in an incredible 12 starts for the Dash. Although his walk (13) and strikeout totals (77) were eerily similar to his Kannapolis numbers in nearly the same number of innings (71), hitters only batted .216 against his offerings. With the Dash Stiever elevated his fastball, which made it far more difficult for opponents to hit. Thus, while he maintained his solid walk (4.7%) and strikeout rates (28.0%) in A+ ball, his ERA and WHIP dropped precipitously, to 2.15 and 0.97.
MLB Pipeline has Stiever’s fastball typically averaging 92-96 mph with a peak of 98, and features plenty of running and sinking action. This actually is an increase of two mph from earlier in the year. Like his fastball, Stiever’s upper-70s spike-curveball is graded at 60 and varies significantly by shape and speed. Stiever’s third hard pitch is a hard slider that currently grades at 55 by MLB Pipeline, and he features a changeup as well (currently grading at 50, which he used to help stifle lefties to a .178 average while pitching for the Dash).
It’s really an incredible repertoire, and Stiever seems to be a morph between the harder-throwing Dylan Cease and more control-oriented Dane Dunning. With the control, stuff and power he displayed for the Dash, Stiever seems to be a lock to begin next year in Birmingham’s rotation. Stiever is ranked seventh among all White Sox prospects per MLB Pipeline, and is the highest-ranking of the team’s prospects who actually pitched in 2019.
A recent “Under the Radar” post was published regarding McClure. He should be pitching in Birmingham in 2020.
As a 16-year-old from Venezuela, Cavanerio signed a minor league contract with the Marlins organization. The diminutive righthander progressed ever so slowly in their organization, reaching as high as Double-A Jacksonville in 2015 and 2018. Through 2019, Cavanerio has made a total of 191 appearances (106 starts) with a career 3.97 ERA and 1.29 WHIP — all respectable numbers. He’s been hit hard on occasion, as reflected by his career OBA of .282, but that’s perhaps because he doesn’t have tremendously overpowering stuff and is more of a control specialist. His low career walk and strikeout rates (4.1% and 16.6%) attest to that.
Now that his career numbers are out in the open, how’d Cavanerio do this year? He signed as a free agent with the Mariners organization and played for their Double-A squad in Arkansas. Things did not go well for Cavanerio in seven outings totaling 16 innings, as he posted an uncharacteristically high ERA (7.88) and WHIP (1.81) due to opponents hitting .372 against his offerings.
After being released on May 7, the White Sox claimed him three days later and inserted him into the Winston-Salem rotation, where he finished the year. For the Dash, he posted a 9-3 record with a 3.13 ERA and 1.11 over 112 innings by allowing 102 hits (.242 OBA) and 22 walks (4.8%) while fanning 73 (16.0%). Though the walk and strikeout numbers are just a tad worse than his career averages, Cavanerio performed far better because he simply allowed fewer hits. It’s unclear whether he simply pitched in better luck or he figured out some way to induce less violent contact.
According to a Baseball Prospectus scouting report from three years ago, Cavanerio’s fastball typically runs 89-91 mph with a peak of 93; it was graded 55 at the time due to some sinking action in the lower part of the zone. His changeup was rated his best pitch at 60 due to its plus depth and his arm speed. A third pitch, a curveball, was given just a 45 due to its inconsistency and slurvy action. Cavanerio’s control (50) was graded well above his command (40), which makes sense because of of his low walk totals but high OBA. Because of Cavanerio’s lack of results at the Double-A level over his career, he may just be considered organizational depth at this point, as he is plenty older than the league average. As a result, he could end up being the right-handed version of Tanner Banks.
Expect Cavanerio to return to Winston-Salem to begin 2020, but if he begins the same way that he ended 2019, he could force his way into either a starting or long-relief role for Birmingham at some point.
Lewis, a native of suburban Palos Heights, pitched two years for JUCO powerhouse Wabash Valley College before transferring to Wichita State for his junior and senior seasons. After a senior season for the Shockers in which he posted a solid 3.07 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 15 outings totaling 82 innings, he went unselected in the 2017 draft. After signing with the White Sox about three weeks after the draft, Lewis then proceeded to put up exemplary numbers in 2017 for the AZL White Sox (2.72 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) and 2018 for Kannapolis (2.60 ERA, 1.13 WHIP).
Unfortunately for Lewis, he had a difficult 2019 for the Dash, as he posted a 5.83 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over 109 2/3 innings and surrendered 126 hits (.292 OBA) and 41 walks (8.2%) while striking out 97 (19.4%). His strikeout and walk rates were close to career norms, so the difference was that Lewis simply didn’t have the command this year and was hit hard as a result.
His scouting report, per 2080 Baseball as of August 2018, graded Lewis’s fastball at 40 due to an 86-88 mph fastball that does have some sinking movement and actually moves in toward right-handed hitters. Other pitches in his repertoire include a slider with sharp, late slant and a changeup he occasionally dusts off against lefties. With a lack of power stuff, especially against more advanced hitters, Lewis has to have pinpoint control and command in order to succeed.
Those attributes certainly weren’t in abundance for the Dash this season, but Lewis has enjoyed a sold organizational track record previously and merits another chance. Because of his lack of success this year, however, expect a return to Winston-Salem but perhaps a switch from starter to long reliever.
Dominguez has pitched exceptionally well since signing a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers on May 8, 2016 as a 20-year-old. Even though he pitched well for the Brewers DSL squad, with a 2.91 ERA combined over three years, it wasn’t until his third year that he finally earned a promotion to their AZL squad (June 24, 2018). Dominguez dominated the AZL in his 15 outings, posting a 0.00 ERA and 0.62 WHIP over 19 1/3 innings of relief. Shortly after yet another promotion, to the Brewers Pioneer League affiliate in Helena, he was traded along with outfielder Bryan Connell to the White Sox for southpaw reliever Xavier Cedeño during last year’s August trade deadline. After the trade, Dominguez pitched two scoreless innings while striking out four, pitching for his fourth team in 2018.
In his first year pitching in a full-season league, Dominguez certainly held his own. While he had pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen in his first three years of professional ball, he was used primarily as a starter in 2019. Because his career high in innings was 58 1/3 prior to this year, Kannapolis limited his workload and even inserted him into the bullpen from time to time to keep him from doing any damage to his arm. In 90 2/3 innings for the Intimidators spanning 24 outings (15 starts), Dominguez posted a rock-solid 2.98 ERA and 1.28 WHIP by relinquishing 83 hits (.239 OBA) and 33 walks (8.5%) while fanning 90 (23.1%). He allowed just two homers this year, which is quite an impressive figure even when considering Dominguez was pitching in a pitcher’s ballpark.
In striking out basically a batter per inning, Dominguez has shown the stuff to put away hitters when he needs to. While his numbers were quite both good in both roles, Dominguez’s stats were slightly better as a reliever this year. Lefties hit .213 against his offerings in 2019 compared to .259 against righties, which seems to indicate Dominguez has an above-average changeup to help neutralize lefties. Dominguez was about a year older than the average South Atlantic League player, so expect him to begin the 2020 campaign at Winston-Salem, with an eventual promotion to Birmingham (where he’ll be more age-appropriate) if all goes well.
Bilous was ranked among the Top 200 draft prospects by MLB Pipeline prior to the 2018 draft, but slipped to the 13th round due to concerns about his control. His fastball was graded 65, slider 55, changeup 50 and control 40 by MLB Pipeline at the time.
Bilous, in his junior season with Coastal Carolina, fanned a whopping 103 hitters but walked an incredibly-high 66; Bilous’ 7.13 BB/9 rate in 2018 for the Chanticleers was nearly identical to his overall college rate of 7.12. Upon being drafted, Bilous was immediately inserted into the Great Falls rotation, where he suffered through a 7.81 ERA and 1.95 WHIP, with 46 hits (.324 OBA) and 24 walks (13.9%) while striking out 31 (17.9%) in 39 innings.
The 2019 season was kinder to Bilous, as his ERA and WHIP improved to 3.70 and 1.39 respectively in his 31 appearances (17 starts) spanning 104 2/3 innings. Opponents hit just .220 against this year, while he improved his strikeout rate to 24.5%. Bilous’ walk rate did improve a bit, but was still way too high at 13.2%.
Bilous is athletic but has a long arm action in the back of his delivery that hampers him from repeating his release point and keeping his mechanics in sync. It’s that which hampers his control, which could ultimately force him into a bullpen role going forward. Bilous’ ERA out of the bullpen this year was 2.86 compared to 4.01 as a starter. Thanks to his ever-improving changeup, lefties hit just .184 against him while righties fared better at .242. If Bilous ever finds that release point, he could move up the system quickly. In the meantime, he may begin next season at hitting-friendly Winston-Salem.
Martin, who was projected to be drafted much higher in 2018, slipped to the 14th round as he struggled with Texas Tech to the tune of a 4.87 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. Martin did hold his own, however, with the AZL Sox and Great Falls as he combined to post a respectable 4.29 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in nine outings spanning 21 innings.
The 2019 season was fairly rocky for Martin, but it wasn’t a lost campaign by any means. In 27 starts totaling 144 2/3 innings, Martin allowed 152 hits (.266 OBA) and 38 walks (6.1%) while striking out 156 hitters (25.0%). Lefties and righties fared equally against his offerings, but aside from a fairly high batting average, Martin’s biggest issue was that he surrendered 17 homers — a high number considering the ballpark he pitched in. Martin’s first-half ERA, WHIP and OBA were awful at 6.35, 1.91 and .291 respectively; thankfully his second-half numbers improved to 3.87, 1.15 and .243. Thus, it appears that while Martin maintained his control throughout the season, he improved his command as he hit the locations he wanted.
According to MLB Draft Countdown in 2018, Martin’s fastball runs 89-93 mph while his curveball runs 80-83. He does feature both a four-seamer and a two-seamer, while his changeup helps neutralize lefties somewhat (although it was graded at just 40 prior to his draft selection). Martin features sound mechanics, and has seemingly improved upon his 45 grade command. With the significant improvement he showed at year’s end, Martin should be able to win a promotion to Winston-Salem for 2020.
Kevin Folman was signed by the White Sox last year as an undrafted free agent from North Dakota State, where he served as the team’s closer for the final two years. Folman performed well as a starter for the AZL Sox upon being drafted, and finished the season with two starts for Great Falls. After beginning this season in the bullpen, he was thrust into a starting role in mid-July. In 17 appearances for Kannapolis (10 starts) in 2019, Folman struggled with a 5.04 ERA and 1.46 WHIP as he relinquished 73 hits (.261 OBA) and 29 walks (9.1%) while fanning 71 (22.4%).
The above numbers weren’t good, especially when considering that Folman was more than two years older than league average. He did have one thing going for him however: his relief work. Out of the bullpen this year, Folman maintained a 2.66 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and .217 OBA — far better than as a starter when he posted numbers of 6.26, 1.61 and .282 respectively. Since those splits repeated his trends last year in the rookie leagues, it’s possible that Folman could establish himself as organizational bullpen depth going forward.