2018 Great Falls Voyagers season review

Running down the top performances for the one White Sox affiliate that won it all in 2018

Of the three White Sox minor league affiliates to reach the postseason, the Great Falls Voyagers were the only club to win a game. What’s more, they won all four of their games to sweep their way to the Pioneer League championship after coming up short in the finals in 2017.

The record shows the Voyagers somehow won the title with a regular-season record of 34-41, good for last place in the Pioneer League North and the second-worst record in the league. You can think of it more like the Voyagers took the second half off, because they locked up a postseason spot by winning the division’s first half title with a record of 22-16. They also finished the season with a positive run differential, for what that’s worth.

The Voyagers were on the older side of the league in terms of the average age of their hitters (20.9; league average 20.5) and pitchers (21.8; 21.1). They finished fifth out of eight teams in runs per game, and second in runs allowed.

The peripherals break down like such:

  • Voyagers hitters: 5.59 R/G; .271/.334/.434, 21.9% K, 7.2% BB
  • Voyagers pitchers: 5.49 R/G; 22.1% K, 6.8% BB
  • The league: 5.97 R/G; .278/.349/.428, 20.8% K, 8.7% BB

The good news is that the White Sox had some big performances where it counted, although more on the position player side.

Pitchers

*Jonathan Stiever, whom the White Sox selected in the fifth round, entered pro ball already having thrown a career-high 100 innings for the Indiana Hoosiers. The White Sox kept pitching him, but they limited him to two or three innings a start. He ended up tacking on 34 more innings over 15 outings, 10 of which were scoreless.  He struck out 41 batters to just 10 walks and 27 hits allowed. He’s seems likely to start in Kannapolis next season.

*Codi Heuer, another college righty selected on Day 2 one round after Stiever, worked a little harder than Stiever with the Voyagers, since he only threw 78 innings at Wichita State after making the jump to the rotation. He threw 44 innings over 16 starts with the Voyagers, giving up a high number of hits (60), although he managed to cut his walk rate, by roughly one per nine innings.

*Jason Bilous was a project when drafted out of Coastal Carolina in the 14th round, and he looks like a project after posting a 7.85 ERA over 14 starts with Great Falls. Walks were a problem in college, and they ballooned on him toward the end of the season, as he allowed 12 over his last 8⅓ innings. He also allowed 51 hits and struck out just 34 batters over 39 innings, so there’s work remaining on all fronts. He was projected as a reliever due to the control issues, and considering the White Sox signed him for $65,000 over the allotted max for third-day picks, I’m assuming they’re in it for the long haul.

Position players

*Amado Nunez ranks as one of the biggest surprises of the season, at least among incumbent prospects. After an uninspiring tour with Great Falls as a 19-year-old in 2017, the infielder hit .357/.394/.568 with 21 doubles, six triples and six homers over 60 games. That line includes a sluggish first 11 games. From the start of July through the end of the season, Nunez batted .396/.431/.634 and ended the season with a 18-game hitting streak. The reasons for concern are multifold: The 5.8 percent walk rate is too low, the 27.4 percent walk rate is too high, his BABIP was an astounding .482, and he committed 17 errors over 46 games at second base. Still, it’s the first meaningful progress for the $900,000 signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2014.

*Bryce Bush was certainly the biggest surprise among 2018 draft picks. For starters, he didn’t seem likely to sign himself out of a commitment to Mississippi State after being selected in the 33rd round, but a $290,000 bonus got it done. If that wasn’t enough, he forced his way out of the Arizona Rookie League by hitting .442/.538/.605 with eight walks to four strikeouts over 14 games. The Pioneer League posed a greater challenge for the 18-year-old, limiting him to a .250/.327/.385 line, although that doesn’t include his performance in the poseason. He went 5-for-12 with a homer and five walks over the four games, striking out thrice. He made all of his defensive appearances at third base and committed 24 errors over 60 games, so that’s one advantage Jake Burger holds should they have to battle for assignments in A-ball.

*Lenyn Sosa looked like the international signing to beat early, roaring out of the gate and carrying a .313 average and an .800 OPS through the end of July. A pedestrian August took some of the shine off his numbers, but he still finished his age-18 season by hitting .293/.317/.406 with just 36 strikeouts over 65 games, and just five errors committed over 49 games at shortstop, which gives him fewer immediate concerns that Nunez. The lack of patience is a more pressing issue, as he walked in just 2.4 percent of his plate appearances.

*Romy Gonzalez, a guy the Sox touted more than his 18th-round draft status suggested he deserved, hit .254/.323/.498 over 223 plate appearances. He led the Voyagers in both homers and stolen bases with 10 apiece, and while the strikeout rate was high (29 percent), at least he carried an average walk rate (8 percent) with it. He had the tendency to run hot and cold, as evidenced by his performance in the postseason:

  • Divisional championship: 0-for-10, five strikeouts
  • Championship round: 6-for-9, two doubles, one walk

Perhaps it’s because the Voyagers already had a ton of infielders, but Gonzalez, who was a utility player with the Miami Hurricanes, split time only between DH and center field.

*Camilo Quinteiro added to the infield depth at the end of the season, striking out three times around a sac fly in two games with Great Falls. He spent his first 48 games of the season with the AZL White Sox, serving as the second baseman and table-setter with a .286/.436/.320 line. Given his age (21) and background (signed out of Cuba for $300,000), he was likely too experienced for rookie ball to reflect anything meaningful.

*Jhoandro Alfaro, a catcher like his brother Jorge, got an aggressive assignment to Great Falls after failing to distinguish himself as a hitter between the Dominican Summer League and Arizona Rookie League. Given this background, he fared OK by hitting .250/.298/.385 and allowing just two passed balls over 28 games. Regression in August muted the effects of a breakout July, and it doesn’t help that he only walked three times over 106 plate appearances. He signed for $750,000 in 2014.

*Gunnar Troutwine, a ninth-round senior signing out of Wichita State, grabbed the majority of the playing time behind the plate, outhitting Alfaro handily (.316/.412/.419). Alfaro was a bigger deterrent against the running game. Opponents were 45-for-59 (76 percent) with Troutwine behind the plate, as opposed to 37-for-54 (69 percent) over the 28 games where Alfaro caught.

*Maiker Feliz is somebody who’s had a run of decent performances at intriguing ages in the AZL and DSL, but he didn’t stand out in his age-20 season with the Voyagers. He hit just .240/.310/.333, and while he played most of his games at third base, he’s not much of a defender. This is probably where he drops off the radar until further notice.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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peejsox

It just occurred to me that not only do Trubisky and Moncada both make me want to cry- but they also both wear #10!

Trooper Galactus

Bryce Bush had 12 errors in 30 games at 3B. I looked at his B-Ref page because I only remembered him playing in about 40 games this season (38) and it looks like they double-counted his fielding stats for some reason. Obviously still bad, but a bit more attributable to small sample size.