White Sox fans are well aware of the lengthy list of pitching prospects battling for the five spots in the team’s rotation of the future.
Michael Kopech is one of the top 10 prospects in baseball. Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease are also top-100 guys. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are already pitching at the major league level. And Carlos Rodon is nearing his return to the big league mound.
A name that fans might want to add to their rebuild radars: Blake Battenfield.
Yes, despite terrific May performances from Dunning, Cease and other more advanced prospects like Jordan Stephens, it was Battenfield, a 17th-round pick in last year’s draft, who earned the organization’s minor league pitcher of the month honors. And he was definitely deserving. In six May starts with Class A Kannapolis, Battenfield posted a 1.25 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 36 innings of work.
A 17th-rounder doesn’t get the kind of attention — or inclusion in a team’s long-term plans — that some of the top 100 prospects in baseball do. But rebuilds are so often full of surprises, and if he can keep throwing like this, there’s no telling what Battenfield could do for his future prospects within the organization.
“There’s a bunch of really talented pitchers in this organization. I’m just glad that I could be recognized for what I did this past month,” Battenfield said on a Sunday conference call. “Hopefully I can continue to produce.
“When I first got to Great Falls last year after I got drafted, I was mainly sinker, slider, just really two pitches. And I learned really quickly that that wasn’t really going to fly, it really didn’t work for me. Since then, I worked a lot with (pitching coach) John Ely in developing my changeup and getting a more consistent pitch with that. Adding a curveball and staying more primarily with a four-seam fastball, letting it ride.
“So really the four-pitch mix has been a big reason why I’ve had success here lately, and I’m hoping to continue to develop the curveball and the changeup, always keep fastball command good because it always starts with the fastball.”
Battenfield’s season numbers are just as good as his May-exclusive ones. On the campaign, he’s got a 1.57 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 51.2 innings.
There are plenty of pitchers at the lower levels of the system who warrant attention, guys like Kade McClure and Lincoln Henzman and others who aren’t receiving the same hype as the guys who could be starring on the South Side within the next couple seasons. It speaks to the White Sox goal of building depth and using this rebuilding process as a bridge to perennial contention rather than just a year or two of success.
In other words, the battle for those future spots in the White Sox big league rotation, it’s a lot more crowded than you might realize.
“We’ve got a really good, talented group of guys down here,” Battenfield said. “And we all work our butts off every day trying to get better, and we just want to produce in the field. Sometimes you get the results. Right now, I’ve got a really good streak, and I hope to keep it going. But there’s a lot of guys in here. Our entire pitching staff is putting up good numbers.
“There’s a lot of talent in the organization. … There’s definitely things I’ll take from guys that I watch, especially big leaguers. It’s a weird feeling knowing 'OK, I want guys especially on the Intimidators right now because I’m really good friends with all of them, I want them to do well. But you are still competing for the same job.'
“But it’s always good to see you and your teammates do well. It’s always good to pick their brains. The farther I go up hopefully I’ll be able to learn from guys. Even in spring training, I was able to pick the brains of guys in Double-A and Triple-A. They have a lot of good information and stuff they’ve been through, I’m starting to go through or haven’t gone through that yet. It’s always good to have a talent pool to pull from and get some knowledge.”