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Deep Dive: Winston-Salem and Kannapolis right-handed relievers

Even though none rank in MLB Pipeline's Top 30 White Sox Prospect list, there is indeed some quality under-the-radar talent here. In fact, the strength of the Kannapolis squad this year may well have been its right-handed relief corps.

Top Cannon: Several interesting bullpen prospects can be found here, with perhaps Will Kinnanon above being the best of the bunch. (@WSDashBaseball)

“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

Even though none of the relievers below rank in MLB Pipeline's Top 30 White Sox Prospect list, there is indeed some quality under-the-radar talent here. In fact, the strength of the Kannapolis squad this year may well have been its right-handed relief corps.

Ages below are as of April 1, 2020

Winston-Salem Dash

Will Kincanon
202 pounds
Age: 24

Kincanon, a native of suburban Brookfield, pitched for nearby Triton College for two season before transferring to Indiana State University. In his junior season with the Sycamores, he actually posted lackluster numbers (5.24 ERA, 1.48 WHIP) as a starting pitcher. In 14 starts totaling 79 innings, he surrendered 82 hits (.264 OBA) and 35 walks (9.6%) while striking out 93 (25.4%). Nonetheless, the White Sox selected him in the 11th round of the 2017 draft with the intent of converting him to a reliever. After receiving a $150,000 signing bonus, Kincanon entered 21 games for Great Falls and did quite well: a 3.94 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 29 2/3 innings with three saves, 24 hits (.220 OBA), 13 walks (10.2%) and 29 strikeouts (22.7%).

Last year with Kannapolis, Kincanon continued to put solid numbers on the board although his control was lacking at times. In 26 games spanning 34 2/3 innings for the Intimidators, he compiled a 3.63 ERA and 1.27 WHIP by relinquishing 29 hits (.218 OBA) and 15 walks (9.7%) while fanning 42 (27.3%). This year in Winston-Salem, Kincanon enjoyed his best season yet with a 1.86 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, saving eight games and ceding 45 hits (.208 OBA) and 26 walks (10.6%) while striking out 71 (28.9%).

At the time Kincanon was drafted, Baseball America said of him, "Kincanon has touched 93-95 mph at his best, but he's thrown more strikes when he gears down a little, relying on a low-90s sinker. His changeup gives him a second average pitch while he also throws a fringy slider." It's been reported that his fastball now runs 94-96 mph and occasionally touches 97 — it's also helped keep his amazing ground ball rate at 57.4%. Lefties hit just .194 against him, which indicates that his changeup may have been working well this year. His slider now runs 83-86 with depth, and he's recently started using a curveball to great effect. It's actually a great arsenal of pitches, and it's one that should give Kincanon continued success with Birmingham next season. If he can avoid the free passes, he may find his way to Charlotte before season's end.

Luis Ledo
208 pounds
Age: 24

It's hard to believe, but Ledo has now pitched seven years for the White Sox organization, as the Dominican native played ball for the DSL White Sox just two weeks after signing a minor league contract in June 2013. Ledo spent three years with the DSL squad before earning his first stateside promotion to the AZL White Sox in 2016. Even though he spent part of 2017 with three affiliates (AZL, Great Falls and Kannapolis), he only pitched 10 games that year due to injury.

The 2018 campaign was a difficult one for Ledo, as he struggled for Kannapolis with a 4.95 ERA and 1.67 in 32 appearances. In his 56 1/3 innings, he relinquished 56 hits (.267 OBA) and a whopping 38 walks (14.9% while striking out 59 (23.1%). However, Ledo bounced back in a big way this year with a promotion to Winston-Salem: In 34 appearances spanning 44 1/3 innings, he posted a terrific 1.83 ERA and 1.26 WHIP by surrendering 35 hits (.227 OBA) and 21 walks (11.8%) while fanning 41 (23.0%). FanGraphs stated earlier this year that Ledo possesses a mid-90s fastball and a plus splitter. Although Ledo still needs to hone his control, he is also a great candidate to begin the 2020 season with Birmingham. That is, of course, if he isn't claimed in the upcoming Rule 5 draft.

Jose Nin
220 pounds
Age: 24

Nin, who signed an international contract with the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the 2014 season, pitched well for their organization and ultimately reached their High-A team in Clearwater before being released prior to the 2017 season. The White Sox picked him up, inserting him into the DSL bullpen that season where he excelled against hitters typically more than three years younger.

Nin excelled with Kannapolis in 2018, as he posted a 1.68 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 37 outings. In his 48 1/3 innings for the Intimidators, he allowed just 35 hits (.202 OBA) and 13 walks (6.8%) while striking out 40 (20.8%). Nin's 2019 numbers with Winston-Salem weren't nearly as gaudy, however, as he compiled a 3.93 ERA and 1.44 WHIP for the Dash in 40 outings totaling 55 innings — relinquishing 57 hits (.269 OBA) and 22 walks (9.3%) while fanning 44 (18.6%). On the plus side, he recovered from a sluggish start to post a 2.70 ERA and 1.28 WHIP once the calendar hit July. Nin will be a borderline pick to begin the 2020 season with Birmingham, and will be eligible for this year's Rule 5 draft.

Jake Elliott
230 pounds
Age: 25

After an above-average first two years with the University of Oklahoma, Elliott picked a bad time to have an off-year. In his junior season, he posted a 6.02 ERA and 1.77 WHIP in 12 appearances (10 starts) totaling 46 innings for the Sooners by allowing 58 hits and 24 walks while striking out 30. As a result of those struggles, Elliott slipped to the White Sox in the 15th round of the 2016 draft. After the draft, he was immediately inserted into the Great Falls bullpen where he posted a respectable 4.30 ERA and 1.27 WHIP while providing a nifty 5:1 K/BB ratio.

Despite putting up solid numbers for Kannapolis during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, he received only a fleeting promotion to the Dash for an emergency appearance. In those two seasons combined for the Intimidators, he combined to post a 2.67 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 138 1/3 innings by surrendering 105 hits (.211 OBA) and 32 walks (5.9%) while striking out 145 (26.6%).

This year, Elliott didn't pitch badly for the Dash but his numbers weren't at their usual high standards, either. In addition to the two games he pitched for Birmingham, Elliott combined for a 4.75 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 35 appearances (66 1/3 innings) by allowing 63 hits (.252 OBA) and 27 walks (9.2%) while fanning 57 (19.3%). He especially struggled in August, with a 7.31 ERA and 1.69 WHIP in 16 innings as he allowed 17 hits and 10 walks while striking out 11. He throws a 91-93 mph fastball according to 2080 Baseball, along with a 78-80 changeup. His control had been terrific at the professional level prior to this year. Elliott will also be available for selection in this year's Rule 5 draft.

Wyatt Burns
185 pounds
Age: 25

Burns pitched all four of his college seasons for Samford University, and pitched all but one of his 108 games for the Bulldogs out of the bullpen. He was a model of consistency for the Bulldogs, as his season-ending ERAs ranged from 1.59 to 3.61. In his senior season, Burns posted a 2.19 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 28 appearances (65 2/3 innings) as he relinquished 45 hits and 13 walks while striking out 79. Despite his gaudy numbers, Burns was unselected in the 2018 draft but the White Sox signed him as an undrafted free agent shortly afterward. Burns finished the season with Great Falls and provided the Voyagers with a 3.92 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 43 2/3 innings, as he relinquished 56 hits (.322 OBA) and seven walks (3.7%) while fanning 29 (15.4%).

Burns began this season with Kannapolis, but in his 10 outings, struggled with his control. In 17 innings for the Intimidators, he posted a 5.82 ERA and 1.82 WHIP as he surrendered 17 hits (.246 OBA) and 14 walks (16.9%) while also striking out 14. He pitched his best ball for Winston-Salem, as he compiled a 2.78 ERA and 1.18 WHIP for the Dash as he allowed 29 hits (.225 OBA) and 13 walks (8.7%) while striking out 33 in 35 2/3 innings (22.1%). Burns also spent some time in Birmingham this year, but struggled badly in six outings there (9.82 ERA, 2.05 WHIP). Interestingly, for a sidearmer, lefties hit him for a lower average than had righties at all three stops. Burns should have another opportunity to redeem himself at Birmingham this year.

Other pitchers who finished with Winston-Salem
Victor Diaz and Drew Hasler both missed the entire 2019 season due to injury.

Kannapolis Intimidators

Austin Conway
210 pounds
Age: 25

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Conway actually pitched five college seasons — four with Indiana State and a final one with Louisville. He was able to do so since he was an injury redshirt for the Sycamores during his junior season in 2016. Conway saved 12 games for Indiana State in 2017, but struggled with his control for Louisville in 2018 with 17 walks in 24 innings. Partly because of those controls and also because he was a fifth--year senior who lacked leverage, Conway fell to the White Sox in the 31st round of the 2018 draft.

Conway entered 23 games for the AZL White Sox and Great Falls upon receiving his signing bonus, and combined to post a 3.00 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 36 innings. In those innings, he ceded 32 hits (.246 OBA) and 14 walks (8.9%) while striking out 32 (20.3%).

Most of Conway's 2019 season was spent with Kannapolis, where he pitched exceptional ball. In 26 appearances for the Intimidators totaling 34 innings, he compiled a 1.59 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 13 saves. During that span, he relinquished just 18 hits (.155 OBA) and 17 walks (12.5%) while fanning 48 (35.3%). He struggled badly with Winston-Salem in three appearances, and that's where he'll be expected to begin the 2020 season. He'll be more than 18 months older than the average Carolina League player next year, so he'll likely move up quickly provided he throws strikes consistently. According to 2080 Baseball, Conway's fastball runs 93-95 mph while peaking at 96; his changeup runs 86-87, while his slider (which is his out pitch) typically runs 83-86.

Caleb Freeman
190 pounds
Age: 22

Despite incredible stuff, Freeman struggled for Texas Tech largely because of his lack of control and command. His best year with the Red Raiders was his sophomore one in 2018, when he finished with a 5.18 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 22 contests spanning 33 innings, as he allowed 35 hits and 18 walks while fanning 31. Freeman's junior season this year saw him slip to a 6.89 ERA and 2.49 WHIP in 15 2/3 innings, as he relinquished 26 hits (.388 OBA) and 13 walks (16.3%) while also striking out 13. The White Sox drafted Freeman, however, in the 15th round with the hopes that they could help him reach his high ceiling.

Freeman did well at all three of his stops (AZL, Great Falls and Kannapolis) this year. In a combined 17 games totaling 24 2/3 innings, he saved four with a 2.19 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. In those innings, Freeman allowed just 15 hits (.170 OBA) and nine walks (8.9%) while striking out a whopping 38 batters (37.6%). It's like he found his control and command overnight.

Just before the draft, Baseball America stated Freeman's fastball typically runs 94-98 mph and flashes of a plus curve. However, they continued, his 20-grade control and command keeps him from taking advantage of his high-end stuff. Freeman will likely to return to Kannapolis to begin the 2020 season, as he only entered two games for the Intimidators before season's end. If he can continue to hone both his command and control next year, expect him to move up the ranks rather quickly.

Devon Perez
200 pounds
Age: 23

Perez spent his first two seasons of college ball with Iowa Western C.C. before transferring to the University of Oklahoma for his junior and senior campaigns. While he performed respectably for the Sooners during his junior year with a 3.50 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, his numbers fell dramatically during his senior season. As a senior for the Sooners in 17 outings (13 starts) spanning 61 innings, Perez posted a 5.61 ERA and 1.54 WHIP by ceding 74 hits (.296 OBA) and 20 walks (7.2%) while striking out 43 (15.4%). As a result, he slipped to the 26th round, where the White Sox selected him in the 2018 draft.

Perez was a revelation last year for the AZL White Sox and Great Falls as he combined for a 3.89 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 41 2/3 innings, allowing 52 hits (.304 OBA) and just two walks (1.1%) while fanning 53 hitters (30.5%). That's an incredible 26.5:1 K/99 ratio, folks! This year for Kannapolis, Perez allowed a few more walks but limited the damage against him. In 21 outings for the Intimidators spanning 56 1/3 innings, Perez posted a 3.20 ERA and 1.27 WHIP by relinquishing 47 hits (.227 OBA) and 15 walks (6.6) while striking out 55 (24.1%).

Baseball Draft Report listed Perez's fastball at 89-93 mph, his changeup at 80-84, and a good changeup at 76-80. Hitters didn't have much trouble elevating his pitches as they hit grounders at just a 17.5% clip this year, so he'll need to work on that in order to have success next year at hitter-friendly Winston-Salem.

Lane Ramsey
245 pounds
Age: 23

After transferring from Division II Newman University, Ramsey spent the final two years of his college career with the University of Oklahoma. Yes, that's correct. He transferred from Newman to Norman. While his final season with the Sooners wasn't anything to write about, it was still Ramsey's best (even including his year with Newman). In 2018 for the Sooners in 14 outings (three starts), Ramsey compiled a 5.24 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 22 innings by allowing 22 hits (.253 OBA) and 14 walks (13.2%) while striking out 18 (17.0%). The White Sox, liking his fastball and size, selected him in the 23rd round year of that year's MLB draft.

Despite throwing more strikes, Ramsey got roughed up a bit in the higher air of Great Falls (5.77 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, .316 OBA, 5.3 BB% and 16.9 K%) in 2018. This year, Ramsey fared far better in everything but the walk department, for Kannapolis. In 31 relief appearances totaling 52 1/3 innings, he posted a 2.75 ERA and 1.18 WHIP by surrendering 42 hits (.215 OBA) and 20 walks (8.8%) while fanning 44 (19.3%). Ramsey was especially tough against righties this year (.153 OBA), but lefties hit him at a .298 clip. With his size and delivery, Ramsey may simply be more difficult to pick up by righties. Baseball Draft last year credited Ramsey with a peak 95 mph fastball. Opponents hit grounders at a 53% rate against him this year, which should hold him in good stead for Winston-Salem next year.

Wilber Perez
170 pounds
Age: 22

Just weeks before the DSL season was about to begin in 2017, the Milwaukee Brewers signed Wilber Perez to a $50,000 bonus. Perez, a Dominican native, pitched reasonably well that year (3.45 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 12.3 BB%, 21.9 K%). In a return to the Brewers in 2018, he was having a fantastic season when he was traded along with southpaw Kodi Medeiros for the services of White Sox closer Joakim Soria.

Perez continued excelling for the DSL White Sox after the swap. Overall for the 2018 season, he combined for 14 appearances (13 starts) totaling 70 1/3 innings and posted a 1.92 ERA and 0.92 WHIP; he also allowed 44 hits (.182 OBA) and 21 walks (7.6%) while fanning 75 hitters (27.2%).

Perez bypassed the AZL White Sox and Great Falls, and pitched for Kannapolis during the entire 2019 season. Although he walked more hitters, he continued avoiding bats by allowing fewer hits and striking out his fair share of hitters. In 32 appearances (one start) for the Intimidators encompassing 70 innings, Perez surrendered just 36 hits (.149 OBA) but 45 walks (15.5%) while striking out 74 (25.5%).

According to Baseball Prospectus last year, his repertoire includes an 88-91 mph fastball, cutter, curve and changeup. With that said, based upon the high number of strikeouts, it's possible Perez's velocity may have jumped up a couple ticks. Lefties hit him at a nearly identical clip (.148) as had righties (.149). Perez will likely begin 2020 with Winston-Salem, but will need to throw more strikes against the tougher competition.

Other right-handed relievers who finished the season with Kannapolis
Declan Cronin, a 36th round selection from Holy Cross, combined with the AZL White Sox and Kannapolis for an outstanding 2.88 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.

Justin O'Conner, a former first-round pick of the Rays way back in 2010, converted from catcher to pitcher and did stellar work. Although his combined numbers were solid in 14 innings (4.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .250 OBP, one walk (1.7%) and 17 strikeouts (29.3%. However, if you remove the only ugly outing of his 14 appearances, his numbers would have been the following: 0.64 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, .152 OBA, 1.9 BB%, 32.7 K%. He definitely is someone to watch for 2020.

Hansen Butler, a 25th round pick from North Carolina, pitched well for the AZL White Sox and Great Falls before struggling with Kannapolis to finish the year. He combined with all three teams for a 4.67 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 14 relief outings.

J.B. Olson, who missed the entire 2018 season due to injury, struggled upon his return to Kannapolis with a 5.83 ERA and 1.58 WHIP. While he pitched well in stretches, he gave up several big innings did serious damage to his numbers. Like Hansen Butler above, Olson seems a good candidate to return to Kannapolis for 2020.

Ben Wright has been on the restricted list since 2018. As a result, he hasn't pitched since the 2017 season.