Early-season strikeouts and Adam Dunn

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Early-season strikeouts and Adam Dunn

The glaring number from Friday's home opener victory against Max Scherzer and the Tigers is 15: the number of strikeouts by White Sox batters. The total pushed their season total to a bloated 57.

In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter, since they're 4-2. They're also forcing opposingteams to throw an average of 150.2 pitches per game, which is important. But just for fun, let's look at this list:

Most strikeouts (by batters) in first six games of season, White Sox history 1918-present:

YearTotalMain culprit
201257Adam Dunn (10)
199654Danny Tartbull (8)
198746Ron Karkovice (8)
200943Jim Thome (7)
199742Chris SnopekRay Durham (7)

Baseball-Reference.com's fantastic database only goes back to 1918, and judging from trends, I'm pretty comfortable in saying that the 57 is most likely the Sox franchise record through six games: from 1918 to 1933, they have averaged only 17.2 strikeouts in the season's first six games.

The strikeouts may seem alarming because over the last two seasons, the whiff totals had been fairly low. In 2011, the Sox had the second fewest in the AL; they along with the Rangers were the only teams with less than 1000. And in 2010, the Sox had the second fewest as well, with only the Royals going down swinging less often.

Dunn of course tends to get singled out again, getting his golden sombrero refitted for the 2012 season, but I'll write Friday off to facing Scherzer, possessor of one of baseball's most potent sliders. Dunn battled in every plate appearance, almost always working the count full before his strikeouts, and overall his vision at the plate looks considerably better this season.

Numerically, Dunn is seeing 5.42 pitches per plate appearance, easily the best in the AL. That's 141 pitches seen over 26 plate appearances. Perhaps I dwell on this number a bit much, but it sets off a chain reaction of good things. First, it forces the starter out early. Next it wears out a bullpen over the course of a series. When you're seeing the 11th and 12th best arms in an opponent's bullpen, that's a thing of importance, so do your thing, Canyonero.

Dunn strikeouts by count:

Count201120120-22701-24912-2
55
13-2468
Dunn strikeouts by number of pitches:

Pitches seen
2011 Ks
2012 Ks
325044105481634572218
4
2
931

Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe, Victor Diaz and the rest of the return for Chris Sale

Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe, Victor Diaz and the rest of the return for Chris Sale

The White Sox return for Chris Sale has been generally praised in the aftermath of Tuesday’s megadeal with the Boston Red Sox, with the headliner being 21-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada

But the White Sox also acquired three other prospects with varying ranges of hype: 20-year-old right-hander Michael Kopech, 20-year-old outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and 22-year-old right-hander Victor Diaz. Baseball America ranked all three among the top 20 prospects in the Red Sox farm system, while MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Kopech No. 5, Basabe No. 8 and Diaz No. 28 in Boston’s farm system. 

Kopech is a hard-throwing former No. 33 overall pick out of Mount Pleasant, Texas who was rated as a top 100 prospect in baseball by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2016 season. Over three minor league seasons from rookie ball to high Single-A, Kopech has 172 strikeouts, 69 walks and only three home runs allowed in 134 2/3 innings with a 2.61 ERA.

Whether or not Kopech sticks as a starting pitcher (35 of his 36 professional games have been starts) remains a point of contention among prospect evaluators, though he features a power slider and a low-90’s changeup that Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser wrote has drawn comparisons to New York Mets ace Noah Syndergaard. He also reportedly threw a 105 mph pitch last summer with Double-A Salem — and even if that radar gun reading was inaccurate, he’s able to fairly regularly throw his fastball at or above 100 mph. 

[Complete coverage of the White Sox-Red Sox Chris Sale blockbuster trade]

There have been two off-the-field issues with Kopech, though, that are why he’s been dinged in some prospect rankings. In 2015, he was suspended for the final 50 games of the season after testing positive for amphetamine use, and in March of 2016 he fractured his hand following an altercation with a teammate

Basabe — not to be confused with his twin brother, infielder Luis Alejandro Basabe, who the Red Sox traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer — is a toolsy outfielder who hit .264/.328/.452 with 25 stolen bases in 30 attempts between Single-A Greenville and high Single-A Salem last year. FutureSox’s Rob Young wrote that Basabe has “immense upside” as a potential five-tool player, while Baseball America’s best-case is Basabe’s raw talent develops into a "top of the order center fielder" 

Over four minor league seasons, Basabe has a .253/.353/.408 slash line with 21 home runs, 25 triples and 73 stolen bases in 93 attempts (78 percent). 

Diaz has had some control issues, issuing an average of 3.97 walks per nine innings, over his first two professional seasons. The hard-throwing right-hander posted a 3.88 ERA with 63 strikeouts out of Single-A Greenville’s bullpen last year, and with a fastball touching 100 mph, he could develop into a legitimate relief option down the road if he can find the strike zone more consistently. 

What’s worth noting here is the depth of the trade for the White Sox. This is a farm system that lacked both top-end and raw talent when Rick Hahn & Co. woke up on Tuesday, but adding Moncada, Kopech, Basabe and Diaz to a group headlined by recent draft picks like right-hander Carson Fulmer, catcher Zack Collins and right-hander Zack Burdi should have a significant impact on the quality of the White Sox minor league ranks. 

Examining Yoan Moncada, baseball’s No. 1 prospect and the newest member of the White Sox

Examining Yoan Moncada, baseball’s No. 1 prospect and the newest member of the White Sox

The White Sox pulled off what may be the biggest deal in team history on Tuesday, dealing ace left-hander Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for four prospects. The rebuild is officially underway on 35th and Shields. 

In trading Sale, the White Sox acquired infielder/outfielder Yoan Moncada, outfielder Luis Basabe and right-handers Michael Kopech and Victor Diaz.  Moncada, though, is regarded by some as the best prospect in baseball and is certainly the prize return in the megadeal.

A 21-year-old, 6-foot-2, 205 pound switch hitting native of Cuba, Moncada regarded as baseball’s top prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America. One of the comparisons MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo offered for Moncada was “Robinson Cano with more speed,” referring to the Seattle Mariners All-Star (and possible future Hall of Fame) second baseman who has 278 home runs and a .307/.355/.498 career slash line.

Moncada had a monster season in the minors in 2016, slamming 31 home runs with a 45 stolen bases and a .294/.407/.511 slash line in 491 plate appearances across high Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. In 2015, his first season in the Red Sox farm system, Moncada hit eight home runs with 49 stolen bases a .278/.380/.817 slash line over 81 games with Single-A Greenville. 

[Complete coverage of the White Sox-Red Sox Chris Sale blockbuster trade]

What position Moncada ultimately winds up playing remains to be seen, but he has the flexibility to play second base, third base or center field. He played 163 of his minor league games at second base and has played 15 games at third base between the minors and majors. The White Sox, though, reportedly see Moncada playing his natural position of second base.

From MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo’s analysis of Moncada:

Few middle infielders can match Moncada's huge offensive ceiling, which earns him comparisons to Robinson Cano with more speed. He's a switch-hitter with outstanding bat speed who makes consistent hard contact from both sides of the plate. Moncada has added some loft to his swing in 2016 and has the potential for 20-25 home runs per season.
Moncada's best pure tool is his well-above-average speed, which he has put to good use with back-to-back 45-steal seasons and an 86 percent success rate in the Minors. His quickness doesn't translate consistently as well in the field, though he has the range and arm strength to play almost anywhere on the diamond he might be needed. 
The biggest knock on Moncada is his 24.2 percent strikeout rate over his 854 minor league at-bats. That percentage spiked to 30.9 in 207 Double-A plate appearances, though his walk rate remained high there too (13 percent).

And here’s FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, who projects Moncada to be worth five-plus WAR per season, on the newest member of the White Sox organization:

A plus-hitting middle infielder with plus raw and game power as well as 70-grade wheels is basically in-his-prime Ian Kinsler, except faster. That’s really good, and Moncada is debuting three years earlier than Kinsler, who is still stroking it at age 34, did. This is the best prospect in baseball, a player I think will be a perennial All-Star and a potential MVP type of talent, with tools so deafeningly loud that it may be a while before we hear the echoes of his historical significance. 

Moncada and White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu briefly played together for Cienfuegos in Cuba in 2012, two years before Abreu defected and signed a six-year contract with the White Sox. In his age-17 and age-18 seasons, Moncada hit .277/.388/.380 with four home runs for Cienfuegos in 2012 and 2013. The Red Sox shelled out $63 million to sign Moncada in February of 2015.

If Moncada remains Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect — as he was in their midseason 2016 rankings — he’ll join an illustrious group of players with that designation:

2016: Corey Seager (SS, Dodgers)
2015: Kris Bryant (3B, Cubs)
2014: Byron Buxton (OF, Twins)
2013: Jurickson Profar (IF, Rangers)
2012: Bryce Harper (OF, Nationals)
2011: Bryce Harper (OF, Nationals)
2010: Jason Heyward (OF, Braves)
2009: Matt Wieters (C, Orioles)
2008: Jay Bruce (OF, Reds)
2007: Daisuke Matsuzaka (RHP, Red Sox)
2006: Delmon Young (OF, Rays)
2005: Joe Mauer (C, Twins)
2004: Joe Mauer (C, Twins)
2003: Mark Teixeira (3B, Rangers)
2002: Josh Beckett (RHP, Marlins)
2001: Josh Hamilton (OF, Rays)
2000: Rick Ankiel (RHP, Cardinals)