Monday Minors Recap, Week 8: A-Ball

Things are starting to get crazy in Voyager land as we prepare for the oncoming season. With the home opener on June 20 (and the seasons 1st game on June 18 in Helena) there are many programs to print, tickets to distribute, questions to answer, and things of every kind to clean. As a result, there isn’t enough time in any given day to write the entire Monday Minors Recap, so I’ve decided to break it up into 2 pieces. Today, I’m passing along the word on 2 White Sox A-ball teams and tomorrow I’ll dig into the teams higher in the system.

Kannapolis Intimidators, A-ball (22-28)

Kannapolis righted the ship this week after their dreadful 1-7 run in week 7 and put up a nice 5-2 record to sneak a few games closer to .500. The definitely took advantage of a week opponents by beating up on the division worst West Virginia Power during a 4-game visit to the Pittsburg-affiliated franchise. The Intimidators then won game one against the Rome Braves to start a 3-game home series against the worst team in the South Atlantic League.

The Intimidators had a huge batch of roster moves over the holiday weekend starting with an extended spring swap on Friday. 2011 Voyager lefty Brandon Parrent struggled mightily in his first run in full-season ball and was finally replaced on the roster and sent back to Glendale, AZ. Parrent had 34.1 innings in 8 starts but had walked 22, allowed 40 hits, and held a 7.34 ERA. The 21 year-old is still quite young and has plenty of time to recover, return to season play, and continue on his way after a good 2011 in Great Falls.

Parrent was replaced on the roster by a player I’d pegged as a very exciting potential 2012 Voyager: righty fireballer Jeff Soptic. Drafted in the 3rd round after pitching two years for Johnson County Community College, the 6-6 hurler is reported to have a serious arm. Boasting velocity in the high 90’s and solid mechanics, his upside had scouts drooling. His control is what could turn that nuclear arm into a full blown meltdown: he walked 72 hitters in 100 innings against weak JUCO competition. Very little professional knowledge is available on Soptic – he pitched only 2 innings for Bristol last year – but apparently he’s done enough good work in spring to get his chance at the A-ball level. TO be honest, I’m disappointed the Voyagers may miss out of seeing this kid as he guaranteed excitement with his “rear back and just throw” approach.

The Intimidators experienced a bit of a roster clear-out on Sunday as space was made for incoming signings. Voyager favorite Jo De Pinto was sent back to Arizona as he again failed to prove himself in limited playing time. Pitcher Jason Van Skike travelled to Glendale with De Pinto. Outfielder Dusty Harvard, a 2010 Voyager who struggled mightily in Bristol and Kannapolis last season, had continued to struggle in Kannapolis this year – he had just a .190 batting average – and was given his release at the same time De Pinto and Skike were sent to Glendale. The Casper Wyoming Native may be done in affiliated baseball if he cannot catch fire with an independent team. Last, one player was added to the team on Sunday as Steven Upchurch was sent to Kannapolis from Winston-Salem. Upchurch has just been sent up to the Carolina League but didn’t fare well in his first appearance and was sent back to the Intimidators for more seasoning.

All these moves left the Intimidators with two empty roster spots and the team filled those the next day with a pair of independent league signings. Outfielders Cyle Hankerd, from the Amarillo Sox of the American Association, and William Rice, from the Camden Riversharks of the Atlantic League, will have their chance in 2012 affiliated baseball. Rice, a 23 year-old played 68 games in the Phillies minor leagues last year where he hit .313 with a .837 OPS. News on why Rice was not with the Phillies again this year after those solid numbers isn’t available, but the Intimidators hope to reap the rewards of that curious fact. Hankerd is quite a bit older than Rice at 27 years old and has minor league experience dating back to 2006. Once a hot prospect as a 3rd round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Hankerd has played as high as AAA but has bounced around independent leagues for the last couple of years. Hankerd hit .355 with 10 homers and 30 doubles for Amarillo last year, so he can definitely hit against weaker completion. He was generally a very strong hitter in his days at the A level as well, so the Intimidators should be able to expect some major offensive help from the new addition.

Kannapolis continues its 3 game series with the Rome Braves tonight before the Lakewood BlueClaws come to town to play 4 games over the weekend. Neither of those opponents is within 10 games of .500, so the Intimidators have a golden chance to continue their momentum from last week and pick up a bunch of home wins against struggling teams.

Winston-Salem Dash, High A-ball (29-20)

The Dash had another good week as the recovered from 2 quick losses to rattle off 4 wins in a row and finish with a 5-3 record. The Dash did lose 2 of 3 to the 2nd place Salem Red Sox, but Salem struggled as the Dash beat up on the Carolina Mudcats over the weekend so the Dash come into the day with a 2 game lead in the division.

Much like Kannapolis, Winston-Salem experienced a rash of transactions, but many of the Dash’s were for very different reasons. The injury bug bit in Winston-Salem this week as shortstop Marcus Semien hit the 7-day DL with a right shoulder injury. The injury is a definite blow to both the team and the player as Semien has been excelling as the everyday shortstop with an excellent .823 OPS. Hopefully the 21 year-old California native will return soon and continue to succeed in the Sox system.

One day after Semien, pitcher Taylor Thompson also hit the 7-day DL. The nature of Thompson’s injury was undisclosed, but it may help explain his struggles this season. After being a dominant setup man for the Dash last season – he had a 2.52 ERA in 53.2 IP – Thompson has allowed 10 runs in 11.2 IP so far in 2012. His high strikeout numbers were still there as he had 13 K’s, but the sudden jump is still a statistical red flag. The Dash will be watching for his return closely as Thompson returning to form would bolster an already strong bullpen.

The Dash received one player from a somewhat unexpected source as 3B Kyle Shelton was assigned to the Dash from AAA Charlotte. Shelton is back in A-ball after spending all his time since early last year in AA and AAA, and it has to be considered a humbling move for the 26 year-old. Shelton was playing very little in AAA and was only 8 for 56 over 2 seasons there, so the move may ultimately be positive in Shelton can get on track with more playing time. There will be some pressure on the veteran to produce if he wants to return to the gateway to the majors in AAA.

The Dash continue their long home series with the Frederick Keys through Thursday before the Carolina Mudcats come to town for a weekend set.

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