With White Sox fifth starter/top prospect Daniel Hudson now in Arizona (in exchange for Edwin Jackson), it’s time to think about who’s next in line regarding pitching prospects within the Sox farm system.
And who better to tell us than Kirk Champion, White Sox Minor League Pitching Coordinator.
By Paul M. Banks
Before we begin analyzing Sox pitching prospects, I’d like to thank Marty Maloney, the Coordinator of Public Relations for the White Sox for setting this up, and Kirk Champion for taking the time to answer our questions.
-2010 First Round pick Chris Sale was drafted 13th overall this past June out of Florida Gulf Coast University. Sale went 11-0 with a 2.01 ERA (23 ER/103.0 IP), 14 walks and 146 strikeouts in 17 games (15 starts). In college, he led all Division I pitchers in strikeouts, ranked fifth in wins and 10th in ERA.
He has been pushed aggressively through the system and is currently with the AAA Charlotte Knights (2.84 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in 6 innings of work). Before the promotion, he had a 2.25 ERA in four relief appearances with the Winston-Salem Dash. Champion talked about how Sale’s response to moving up the system so quickly.
“Chris has done really well from a mental standpoint. He’s been prepared and goes about his business every day. He’s got really good poise on the mound. He’s handled it in the clubhouse. I was talking to Randy Williams about that actually. Chris is prepared and he knows how to get ready. He’s got those things that sometimes young and inexperienced pitchers need a little guidance, but he’s handled it so far.”
–Jeff Marquez, who made his MLB debut on July 9th, pitching the final inning of a blowout win over Kansas City is currently 8-5 with a 4.08 ERA, and 1.37 WHIP at Charlotte. I asked Champion about Marquez’s upside.
“Jeff’s got a pretty good feel for his pitches. He didn’t have his best stuff a year ago, but now I think he’s got his best equipment to go out there. And now it’s just learning what his style is, like are we gonna sink the ball, are we gonna change speeds a little bit more? I think he understands what his strengths are. I think when he gets on the same page with a good approach, he’s got three pitches that he can use in an at bat. The velocity is coming up, he can move his fastball when he has to.”
And I followed up with a question about his sinker:
“I think his sinker is a real plus pitch for him, and it seems like he can get away from it some times. There’s times he needs to just trust it. Groundballs sometimes find holes and it can get a little frustrating when they do, but I think that it’s a plus pitch for him and it’s something that you’re gonna see more when he’s on the mound in a longer role. Maybe as a middle guy, or a starter down the road, but that sinker will be much more prominent.”
Charles Leesman is an under the radar pitcher whose talent isn’t really reflected by his numbers.
“Even in his rough outings in Winston-Salem, there were portions of each one of those games that he stands out. Understanding how to minimize the damage or being able to step off the mound and grab the rosin bag and regroup sometimes. He had an outstanding outing just the other day in West Tennessee for Birmingham when you look at his line. When you hear things like back to front, or staying on your pitches or having real good direction; those are things he has to do to have consistency. In my mind, when a guy starts doing that 2-3-4 times in a row, mechanically they’ve got it. That’s what you hope for with a guy like Leesman. He’s left-handed with an average to above-average fastball. There’s a lot of good things.”
And finally Carlos Torres (7-7, 3.42 ERA, 1.24 WHIP at Charlotte) is one of the highest rated guys in the system. Champion talked about him, and mentioned some lesser known names:
“Torres had a bad outing the other day, but he’s still the same guy that became a AAA All-Star. The thing you have to be careful about with a guy like Carlos is “I did it before but I’m not quite there now, so I have to do more.”
Lucas Harrell has had a real good run. He threw a great ballgame a few days ago in Indianapolis. He’s 9-9, but at one time I think he was 1-6 or whatever. Marquez has had pop and some real good games. Brandon Hynick, the guy from the Jose Contreras trade, is just starting to come back from a late start out of spring training. Matt Zaleski, not on the 40-man but a AAA grinder.
Johnnie Lowe in Birmingham has shown us some really good games. Charles Shirek had a real good first half at Birmingham. There’s been a lot of interest in Shirek. Terry Doyle in Winston-Salem, record-wise is probably even but he’s been pitching well. He has a plus breaking ball. You’ve got to command three pitches as a starter and watch your first pitch strikes.”
Finally, the career and accomplishments of Kirk Champion himself. He’s in his seventh full season as Minor League pitching coordinator after serving for 14 seasons as a pitching coach in the White Sox system. He worked as a pitching coach in the Arizona Fall League in 1998 and 2008 and was the pitching coach for Team USA in the 2006 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Havana, Cuba, where the team won gold.
In 2001, Champion was the pitching coach for the USA squad that won the silver medal at the World Cup in Taiwan and for the International League All-Star Team. He was a coach for the World Team at the 2000 Futures Game in Atlanta and was pitching coach in the Venezuelan Winter League in 1990 and 1992-93.
Champion talked about how he got selected for the US World Cup team, and about the experience overall
“In 2001, it was about 10 days after 9/11 and Terry Francona called me and asked “Would you do it?”. We’d been together at Birmingham and there weren’t a lot of people wanting to jump on planes any time soon, so that’s how I did it in 2001. In 09, Dave Walls backed out at the last second and they needed someone to do it so they called me and I went to Europe for a month.
This year I’ll be in the Pan-American Qualifier down in Puerto Rico and they asked me first. I have great respect for it and it’s a great experience. This year is a non-40 man format, but it’s really a unique experience. I spent 14-15 days last year in Italy and Germany, it’s taken me all over.”
Paul M. Banks is President and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com
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