Monday Minors Recap: Week 2

The first week of the season was terrible across the board for the White Sox system, but week 2 brought much better fortunes. After a 6-13 start, the organization combined for a 15-9 record in the second go around, and every team but one had a winning week.

Kannapolis Intimidators, A-ball (6-5)

After a poor first week that saw only 1 Intimidator win, the boys in Kannapolis turned things around this week and got over .500 by rattling off 5 wins in 6 days. The run included several close games, extra-inning affairs, and walk-off wins.

The Intimidators also become the first team in the White Sox system to experience a batch of roster changes. Former Voyager SS Kyle Eveland and infielder Grant Buckner were called to Kannapolis from extended spring training. Eveland spent sizeable chunks of time with both the Voyagers and Kannapolis last season, and the 24-year old even picked up 11 at bats in 6 games with Winston-Salem. He hit .234 with a .358 OBP for the Voyagers in 40 games last year. To make space on the roster, C Jim Jacquot was released from the organization and 2011 Voyager Joe De Pinto was transferred to extended spring training. De Pinto was hitting .214 with a .674 OPS in 28 at bats with the Intimidators. He also committed 3 errors, tied for the team lead.

After taking his first professional loss in his first start, 2011 Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year Blair Walters picked up his game in his second effort. Last Wednesday, Walters matched a career high with 10 strikeouts in one game as he held the Delmarva Shorebirds to just 1 run in 6 innings. He didn’t earn a decision, but the Intimidators took a lead after he left and won 2-1. Walters now has a 2.70 ERA with a whopping 15 K’s in just 10 innings and has allowed only 6 hits and 3 walks.

Fellow starter Kevin Vance has been another bright spot in the Intimidators rotation, allowing only 1 run and 6 hits while striking out 10 in 2 starts. Though Vance walked 6 in his 10 innings of work, his ERA still sits at a miniscule 0.90.

Offensively, not much has changed since last week as Rangel Ravelo and Leighton Pangilinan are still far outpacing the rest of the squad. With 14 hits, 6 RBI, 1 home run, and 5 doubles or triples each, the two are neck-and-neck for early-season team MVP status. Ravelo has the edge in OPS – 1.050 to .931 – thusfar, but this early in the season just one big game could tip the scales towards Pangilinan.

The Intimidators continue their week-long road trip tonight as they start a 3 game series with the Hickory Crawdads. On Thursday, they return home for a 4-game set with the Lexington Legends.

Winston-Salem Dash, High A-ball (5-4)

Like the Intimidators, the Dash started the season with only 1 win in the first week but picked things up in week 2. A strong 4-2 week put the Dash in a tie for first place in the Southern Division of the Carolina League. Offense was the main reason for the surge as the Dash scored 37 runs in the 6 games, averaging of over 6 runs per contest, but the week also included a pair of top-notch pitching performances as well.

The winning run began on Wednesday with a 13-0 drubbing of the Frederick Keys, and it showcased Dash talent in both sides of the game. Matthew Heidenreich got the start – his first appearance of the season – and promptly threw 5 shutout innings while striking out 6 and allowing only 3 hits. Justin Collop, Paul Burnside, and Kyle Bellamy combined to work 4 hitless bullpen innings to preserve Heidenreich’s well-earned win.  Collop has established himself as the go-to setup man in the Dash bullpen with a 1-0 record in 3 appearances. While he has only struck out two opposing hitters in his 7 innings of work, he has managed to disrupt hitters in other ways, allowing only 5 hits and boasting a 1.29 ERA. Meanwhile, 9 different Dash had hits in the contest and 6 had RBI.

Andre Rienzo got the start on Friday and dominated en route to a 1-0 Dash win. Outdueling Carolina Mudcat starter Mike Rayl, Rienzo threw 6 shutout innings while striking out 9. In the 6’ 3” 24-year old’s 2 starts this year, he’s gone 11 innings, allowed just 1 run and 8 hits, struck out 14, and complied an ERA of 0.82.

The offense has been deep and well-balanced for the Dash with 8 different players with 5 or more runs scored and 7 different players with an OPS above .716, but 3B Carlos Sanchez and LF Bray Shoemaker have provided the heaviest lifting. Both are getting on base at very high rates – Sanchez leads the team with a .488 OBP with Shoemaker in third at .395 – and slugging effectively as well. Former Voyager Michael Early is also putting forth good offensive numbers with 1 home run, 5 RBI, and a .292 batting average.

Winston-Salem plays the first of 3 in Myrtle Beach tonight, then returns home for 4 games with the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

Birmingham Barons, AA (5-6)

Birmingham continued the trend of an improved week two by following up their 1-4 start with a 4-2 second week of play. The Barons won 3 games of their Southern League signature 5-game series with the Huntsville Stars, and then won the first of 5 with the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Henry Mabee has continued to be the key member of the Baron bullpen, and after 5 more scoreless innings this week he sits at 9.1 shutout innings to start the season. Mabee has picked up a pair of wins and a save in the process, giving him a key statistic in 3 of the Baron’s 5 wins. In the Southern League since 2009, it may be critical that Mabee continue to totally shut-down opponents if he wants to be the next Voyager in the White Sox big-league plans.

Offensively, Jared Mitchell is eclipsing the rest of the team by a wide margin.  The 23rd overall pick in the 2009 draft, Mitchell missed all of 2010 with an injury and then disappointed last year in Winston-Salem. Still talented, the White Sox decided to challenge him by aggressively moving the speedy center fielder up to AA, giving him an opportunity to reestablish himself as a major piece in the franchise’s plans. Mitchell has responded with a tremendous start, collecting 12 hits in 35 at bats – a .343 average – along with 3 doubles, 2 triples, and 10 RBI. It is still very early, but his 1.053 OPS ranks fourth in the Southern League, and the 3 players ahead of Mitchell all play offensively-minded corner infield positions. Perhaps most important to Mitchell’s long term development is his renewed control of the strike zone. He struck out 183 times while only drawing 52 walks last season: a devastatingly poor ratio for a speedy, on-base type. This year, Mitchell has reestablished his patience and drawn 11 walks while striking out 11 times. This has resulted in Mitchell reaching base in over 50% of his plate appearances. Obviously, any speedy, solid-defending center fielder with good on base skills is a premium asset for major league teams, and Mitchell has to have the White Sox hopeful that he’s ready to fulfill his high promise.

The Barons finish out their last 4 games in Chattanooga starting tonight before returning to Regions Park to host the Mississippi Braves for 5 games.

Charlotte Knights, AAA (4-7)

Charlotte had the best record in the White Sox system by the last edition of Monday Minors Recap, but they still sat below .500 at 2-3 and faced a long week on the road in week 2. Unlike the other teams in the system, the Knights didn’t put together a winning week, lost 4 of 6 games, and fell to last in the International League South. Pitching wasn’t the problem, as the Knights only allowed 16 runs in 6 days: a 2.66 run-per-game average. While the offense outscored the pitching with 20 runs, the runs didn’t come at the right times and the team dropped 4 one-run contests.

The Knights have a pair of starters who have excelled so far in Dylan Axelrod and Eric Stults. Stults is a 31 year-old lefty the White Sox signed out of free agency. He’s spent parts of 5 different seasons on various MLB rosters since 2007 and is expected to be ready if the White Sox need help on the major league staff. Through two starts, he’s pitched 11 innings, allowing only 2 runs – a 1.64 ERA – and struck out 9.

Axelrod has similar numbers: 2 starts, 12 innings, 2 runs – a 1.50 ERA – and 14 strikeouts, but his career outlook is much different. A 26 year-old from UC-Irvine, Axelrod commands four different pitches and is usually ranked among the White Sox best half-dozen prospects. Axelrod is seeking to prove his abilities as a solid 4th or 5th starter on a good major league team, and a dominating start against International League competition puts him on the right track.

Offensively, Jordan Danks was probably the highlight of a bad week for the Knights. Danks is coming into today riding a 5-game hitting streak, and he also drew 7 walks in the last week. All this adds up to give the center fielder a .432 OBP and an .886 OPS. Danks has also showed a bit of gap power with 3 extra base hits while only striking out 8 times. The 6’ 4”, left-handed, former Texas Longhorn is in his third full season in AAA and has improved at the plate every season. If he can sustain something like his current pace, it may be time for the 25 year-old to finally break through to the bigs.

The Knights will hope a little home cooking will reverse their fortunes this week as they return to Knight Stadium for a 7-game homestand. 4 games with the Durham Bulls are followed by a 3-game weekend set with the Gwinnett Braves.

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