Deep Dive: Charlotte and Birmingham left-handed starters

Do-over: Bernardo Flores is the second-rated southpaw pitching prospect in the White Sox organization, according to MLB Pipeline. (@Bham Barons)

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  5. Free agent options at that position

Ages listed below are as of April 1, 2020.

Although the majority of players on this list are essentially organizational depth, there are a couple pitchers who could turn out to be something more.


Charlotte Knights

Matt Tomshaw
6´1´´
205 pounds
Age: 31

How long has Tomshaw been around? Well, he was pitching in college back when George W. Bush was President. Tomshaw pitched all four years of college ball (2008-11) with Jacksonville University, and enjoyed his best season as a senior starter by posting a 3.69 ERA and 1.32 WHIP 17 starts (102 innings). Being a college senior who lacked overwhelming stuff, Tomshaw lacked leverage and was ultimately selected in the 42nd round of the 2011 draft by the Minnesota Twins. The first four years of his minor-league career were spent with the Twins, reaching as high as High-A ball.

The Miami Marlins claimed him off of waivers, and though he reached Triple-A a couple of times, Tomshaw never received the ultimate promotion. His best year in their organization was his last one, 2017, in which he spent the full season with Triple-A Jacksonville. In 27 starts spanning 163 innings, he posted a solid 3.48 ERA and 1.26 WHIP by relinquishing 170 hits and 36 walks while striking out 114.

The White Sox claimed him as a minor league free-agent prior to the 2018 season, and he struggled badly with both Birmingham and Charlotte (combined 5.75 ERA, 1.54 WHIP , .320 OBP, 4.4 BB%, 17.8 K% in 148.2 IP).

The White Sox re-signed Tomshaw for the 2019 season, and the second time was a charm. For Birmingham in 15 appearances (12 starts) totaling 75 innings, he compiled a 2.40 ERA and 0.95 WHIP by allowing 62 hits (.218 OBA) and just nine walks (3.0%) while fanning 86 (28.8%). He also pitched well for Charlotte in 11 outings (five starts) over 36.2 IP by posting a 3.93 ERA and 1.34 WHIP by ceding 38 hits (.271 OBA) and 11 walks (7.2%) while striking out 32 (20.9%). Tomshaw finished the year strong, as he posted an amazing 1.57 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in four August starts.

By no means is Tomshaw considered a true prospect at this point in his career. However, as a southpaw without overpowering stuff, he’s managed to stick around because of his ability to throw strikes, durability and flexibility as a swingman-type. It’s possible the White Sox will re-sign him for 2020 and keep him in Charlotte, with the possibility of inserting him into an emergency role if the situation should arise. For this veteran hurler, a major league debut would be a long-awaited dream come true.

Kyle Kubat
6´1´´
195 pounds
Age: 27

Kubat ended his four-year career with the University of Nebraska on a high note, as he posted a superb 2.97 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 15 starts spanning 94 innings. However, because he only struck out 63 batters and he was a fourth-year senior, he wasn’t selected in the 2015 draft. He ultimately signed as a UDFA with the Kansas City Royals, and pitched well for the AZL Royals that year in 12 relief outings; he posted a spectacular 0.76 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 35 1/3 innings by surrendering 26 hits (.202 OBA) and just three walks (2.2%) while fanning 26 (19.4%). After another solid campaign in 2016 split between Low-A Lexington and High-A Wilmington, Kubat was traded in March 2017 to the White Sox for cash considerations.

Kubat split the 2017 season among three White Sox affiliates (Kannapolis, Winston-Salem and Birmingham) and excelled at each stop. In 35 outings (three starts) totaling 74 2/3 innings, he surrendered just 50 hits (.184 OBA) and 12 walks (4.1%) while striking out 77 (26.5%) in posting a combined 1.69 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. Despite that work, Kubat returned to Winston-Salem in 2018 and basically pitched there the entire year and did quite well despite some regression (3.55 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, .279 OBA, 3.5 BB%, 20.7 K%).

The 2019 season was the first time Kubat started more than he relieved, and he acquitted himself exceptionally well. In four starts for the Dash spanning 22 innings, he posted a 1.23 ERA and 0.73 WHIP by relinquishing just 11 hits (.145 OBA) and five walks (6.0%) while striking out 19 (22.6%). He then started eight games for Birmingham, and in his 48 1/3 innings for the Barons, he compiled a 2.42 ERA and 1.03 WHIP by ceding 43 hits (.239 OBA) and seven walks (3.7%) while fanning 35 (18.4%). He did meet his match, however, due to the different baseball and the favorable hitting dimensions of BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte: Kubat posted a 5.63 ERA and 1.38 WHIP for the Knights in 12 starts totaling 56 innings, as he allowed 60 hits (.278 OBA) and 17 walks (7.1%) while striking out 35 (14.7%). All nine homers he served up this year were with the Knights.

Kubat succeeds despite not having exceptional stuff because he throws strikes, keeps the ball down (47% ground ball rate), and isn’t afraid to use any of his four pitches (upper-80s fastball, curveball, slider, changeup) at any given time. While he succeeded against righties as a whole, he dominated lefties so it’s possible to see him in something of a Hector Santiago role for the White Sox if given the opportunity. In the meantime, expect him to begin the 2020 season in Charlotte if he goes unselected in this year’s Rule 5 draft.

Justin Nicolino
6´3´´
195 pounds
Age: 28

It’s hard to believe now, but Nicolino was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the second round of the 2010 draft out of University High School in Orlando. He didn’t pitch professionally until the 2011 season, but Nicolino pitched well for two seasons, ending the 2012 campaign in Low-A. Then, in November of that year, Nicolino was traded along with Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis, Anthony DeSciafani and Jake Marisnick in a blockbuster deal to the Marlins for Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes.

Nicolino continued to pitch well in the Marlins organization, and earned his first promotion to the majors in 2015. For the Marlins that year in 12 starts spanning 74 innings, he posted a respectable 4.01 ERA and 1.24 WHIP by relinquishing 72 hits (.267 OBA) and 20 walks (6.6%) but striking out a miniscule 23 (7.6%). From 2015 to 2017, Nicolino has compiled a 4.65 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 50 outings (33 starts) totaling 201 1/3 innings, allowing 234 hits (.297 OBA) and 60 walks (6.8%) while fanning 86 (9.8%). Since then, Nicolino has spent time in both the Reds and Twins organizations but didn’t get a call-up to the majors.

After the Twins released him on May 1, 2019, the White Sox picked him up four days later. In 24 appearances for Charlotte this year, Nicolino posted an unsightly 6.28 ERA and 1.44 WHIP covering 116 innings as he surrendered 134 hits (.290 OBA), 33 walks (5.6%), 84 strikeouts (14.5%) and a whopping 34 homers for the Knights. Nicolino serves up a marginal fastball with a curve and changeup, and he does provide decent control numbers. However, he has been way too hittable, as the numbers in Charlotte suggest. Lefties hit him even harder this year (.326) than righties (.276), so a situational role seems out of the question for now.

If Nicolino remains in the organization for 2020, it would be likely as a return to Charlotte for organizational depth — at least until the arms in Birmingham are ready for promotion.


Birmingham Barons

Bernardo Flores
6´2´´
190 pounds
Age: 24

Flores, a California native, spent his three years of college ball with the USC Trojans, and aside from a decent sophomore campaign, struggled in primarily a bullpen role. For his three years spanning 37 outings (eight starts) totaling 90 innings, Flores posted a pedestrian 5.32 ERA and 1.46 WHIP as he relinquished 98 hits and 35 walks while fanning 85. Yet the White Sox were intrigued enough to select him in the seventh round of the 2016 draft. Flores immediately made an impression that year with the AZL White Sox and Great Falls, as he combined to post a 3.46 ERA and 1.22 WHIP as he surrendered just 67 hits (.270 OBA) and 12 walks (4.5%) while striking out 55 (20.8%).

Flores has been consistently good since his draft season. In a 2017 split between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, he combined for a 3.42 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 118 1/3 innings as he allowed 116 hits (.257 OBA), 32 walks (6.5%) and 103 strikeouts (20.8%). Flores fared even better the following year with Winston-Salem and Birmingham, as he posted a combined 2.65 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in a career-high 156 innings by relinquishing 154 hits (.261 OBA) and 31 walks (4.9%) as opposed to 105 strikeouts (16.5%).

This year, Flores was sidelined from late May through early August (not including some rehab stints in the interim) due to a strained oblique. He did do quite well, however, in his 15 starts this year for the Barons as he posted a solid 3.33 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 78 1/3 innings by ceding 74 hits (.243 OBA) and 15 walks (4.7%) while fanning 69 (21.5%). In fact, in 156 2/3 innings for the Barons spanning 28 starts since 2018, Flores has compiled a 3.04 ERA and 1.16 WHIP by surrendering 153 hits (.256 OBA) and just 29 walks (4.6%) while fanning 116 (18.2%)

MLB Pipeline ranks Flores 28th among White Sox prospects, and second (behind only Konnor Pilkington) among all the system’s southpaws. According to MLB, Flores’ fastball typically runs 89-92 mph with a peak of 94, while also displaying an adequate curve and slider. His changeup, with a 55 grade, is considered his best pitch although righties hit him better this year (.264) than lefties (.198).

Despite lacking an overwhelming fastball or out pitch, Flores succeeds by throwing strikes, keeping the ball down (as evidenced by this year’s 53.3% ground ball rate), fielding his position well and controlling the running game. Of all the starters who finished this season with Birmingham, Flores seems the likeliest to begin the 2020 season with Charlotte. He is eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft, so there would be a possibility he could be drafted away unless the White Sox add him to the 40-man roster.

John Parke
6´4´´
205 pounds
Age: 25

Parke was a recent subject of an Under the Radar article. He is likely to return to Birmingham for 2020, with an opportunity for early promotion if he does well.

Tanner Banks
6´1´´
210 pounds
Age: 28

Banks pitched for Salt Lake Community College for two years before transferring to the University of Utah for his junior and senior seasons. His draft stock fell after a difficult senior campaign for the Utes, however, as he posted a 5.71 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 18 outings (eight starts) totaling 52 innings, ceding 65 hits and 19 walks while striking out 39. As a result, he slipped to the 18th round of the 2014 draft, where the White Sox gladly snatched him up. He pitched well for the AZL White Sox that year, and certainly held his own with Great Falls and Kannapolis the following season.

The 2016 season saw Banks split time with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, combining for a respectable 3.50 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 159 1/3 innings by surrendering 164 hits (.265 OBA) and 31 walks (4.7%) while striking out 116 (17.6%). Parke pitched well for Winston-Salem in 2017 but struggled badly for Birmingham, which explains why he returned to Winston-Salem for the 2018 season. In 2018, however, Banks pitched exemplary baseball for both the Dash and the Barons as he combined to post a 2.59 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 146 innings by allowing 140 hits (.255 OBA) and 32 walks (5.4%) while fanning 100 (16.8%). Banks received the honor of pitching in the Arizona Fall League at the conclusion of the season, but finished with a 5.64 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.

Though Banks appeared in two relief outings for Charlotte, he spent the vast majority of the 2019 season as a starter for the Barons. In 30 outings altogether this year (21 starts), he combined for a 4.19 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 126 2/3 innings as he surrendered 136 hits (.274 OBA) and 22 walks (4.2%) while striking out 88 (16.6%). According to FutureSox, Banks’ repertoire includes an upper-80s fastball, an 85-to-87 mph cutter, seldom-used changeup and above-average curveball. He’s been able to succeed because he keeps the ball down (his ground ball rate has never fallen below 40% at the professional level) and he throws strikes. However, because he was a four-year senior without a blazing heater, it seems he’s considered as organizational depth.

Banks will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year, and if unselected, he may begin the season with Charlotte. However, because of injuries to Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert to begin the season, a return to Birmingham wouldn’t be out of the question either.

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